Many will be well aware of actor Robert Rusler from appearances in cult movies such as A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Weird Science or Vamp. Now, after 29 years as an actor, he has decided it is time to draw from his experiences in acting and particular love for all things horror to direct the self-penned film Black Asylum. As Robert is a firm believer in making movies both by and for the audience he has opted to take the kickstarter crowdfunding programme route in an attempt to avoid studio mentalities and ensure his stamp is maintained to film what he considers to be killer content. Robert was kind enough to spare some phone time with us to share with us exactly what audiences can expect from Black Asylum and how you, the fans, can help create a movie everyone can be proud of. Before the interview please take a moment to watch Robert’s kickstarter video.
So after almost 30 years in the film business why have you chosen to direct your first feature film only now?
Well, a couple of years ago I created a new production company, Entertainment Playground, for which we now have ten films written, four of which I’ve written myself so I have spent quite a few years writing. I have been strategising this project for quite some time and it is only recently that I have had the opportunity to try my hand at film making and all my acting experience has really served to help. I have in fact been teaching actors for a couple of years now, all the while schooling myself in directing them.
So you set up Entertainment Playground with Jay Montalvo who has more of a comedy related track record with films like Get Shorty and The Onion Movie. How did you come to work with Jay?
Well I met Jay in the 90s when he hired me for a film called Wasted in Babylon and we befriended each other and built up a rapport. When I decided to embark on becoming a writer/producer/director I needed someone who I could trust and who would be comfortable in the logistic part of the company. Ultimately, I lean more towards the creative side of the company whilst Jay leans more towards the business side of things.
Watching the kickstarter plea video, you clearly have a lot of support from some amazing talent. It must bring you a lot of confidence safe in the knowledge that you have such support. HAving said that, tt must be creepy owing money to Hannibal Lecter.
Ha, well we tried to approach that video with a sense of humour. I have been so fortunate to have met a lot of excellent talent over the years and all the people involved in the video are good buddies. They all wanted to step up to the plate to support the film. Right now I’m not in a position to attach actors to the film until the actual budget goal is reached. It’s become a bit sensitive about getting actors attached to your films before you have your money and escrow account. I mean, sure it’s an advantage having friends in the business as you know you have access to these actors but I really don’t want to take advantage of these relationships and use their names to get the money. For this reason they were all willing to ask for support but in this tongue in cheek style.
At the end of the day I know we’re not curing cancer here, we’re just trying to make a film. I don’t take myself seriously but I certainly do take my work very seriously.
So, what about the film itself? Based on the trailer it looks like you have a significant part of the film completed. Is that the case?
To be absolutely honest, the trailer is in no way related to the film. That came about when I was talking to some finance and distribution people who had asked me if the film was going to be horror or a psychological thriller. I asked them if it was really necessary to pigeonhole it and they said they would be more comfortable knowing exactly where the film lay. My reply was that it was going to be a horror, thriller, drama, action, psychological thriller and comedy as it combined all of these elements.
I mean, I’m trying to tell a whole story here and, like in life, no single story is just one tone. In the end they asked me to show them exactly what I had envisaged so I went to Matthew Perry’s father’s ranch together with a cast and crew of friends to shoot this trailer. The shoot cost me a total of 200 dollars in groceries to feed the cast and crew. Some of my acting buddies, who are in the trailer, will also be in the film but I just wanted to give a glimpse of the tone and style. I wrote the whole teaser specifically for that and there is actually no content from the film whatsoever.
I’m really trying to be as ambiguous as I can about the film as it will be a stronger hand for me. Once I get the budget to make the film the way I want to do it it’s going to be a combination of the likes of Leone and Hitchcock with influences of other present day directors. I’ve had the privilege of working with people like Craven and King who have really inspired me and I just think it’s time to stamp myself as a director now.
With so much acting experience, particularly in the horror field, are you not interested in appearing in your directorial debut?
Well it would certainly be feasible but I really want to focus on the direction side of things as I don’t want this film to be just about me. I may do a small walk-on part in the same vain as Hitchcock used to do but nothing more than that.
There is another film that I have written which we hope to produce at a later date called Pray For The Dead and I really want a part in that one. That is a combination of a spaghetti western, science-fiction and horror.
Entertainment Playground is planning all kinds of genres but I just feel it makes sense to start off with a genre that I have built a good fanbase for. I also believe it is the least risk/highest reward genre at the moment. It should take a bit of pressure off recouping the money.
I also see that you have various incentives for people donating to your kickstarter project. One of these perks is for people to feature in their own death scene. Does this mean we can expect a film replete with gory deaths?
Well yes there will be plenty of cool death scenes in the film and the reason I wanted to do it that way is not just to have them for gratuitous measures. The story is really frightening because of the reality of the situation. One of the twists, which I’ll briefly talk about, are some characters who I haven’t really introduced. One of these is Leonard Gorman’s younger brother Dave.
Basically, Dave has everything on the outside that quantifies the American dream – a beautiful wife, lovely children, a secure job and a house with a white picket fence. On the inside he’s carrying a deadly, dark secret that will be revealed. His brother Leonard is quite the opposite, having grown up institutionalised. First he went to reform school, then juvenile hall and then prison before being remanded to one of the most dangerous insane asylums in the nation. When Leonard masterminds his escape and forms this cult, he secretly integrates into a small town with his sinister plan, a bit like the Manson family. He has these grandiose ideas of what he wants to do and how he intends to gain power.
Eventually, when the two long-lost brothers meet this is when the chaos begins and it becomes a night of murder, betrayal and survival of the fittest. A lot of the death scenes occur because Leonard becomes afraid that he will be exposed so he is willing to go to any lengths to protect what he believes in.
So all this begs the question, why did you decide the best route would be kickstarter?
I’m going to be honest. I met a few financers, distributors and executive producers and a couple of them weren’t giving us what we thought was a fair deal. It felt as if they were pressuring us and were not allowing me the creative control I wanted. I don’t want to assassinate any characters or mention any names but I just think they had these formulaic ideas that work for them and I just didn’t believe in that. I mean, I certainly do believe in compromising but in no way do I want to compromise my characters as I want to produce a performance based film. For me, most of today’s horror films lack a good plot and solid acting. These guys’ ideas just didn’t seem to fit with mine and they also got greedy as they were aware of my connections and wanted to cast about ten famous actors in the film. I certainly do have a few things up my sleeve and I hope to include some of my acting buddies for some smaller roles but ten big actors in lead roles is just not realistic. Funnily enough, all actors thus far who I have let read the script have told me which characters they would love to play. Nine times out of ten they have picked exactly who I imagined they would.
Basically, as this is my directing debut I just want to give it my best effort and show people what I am capable of. For me, first you have to make the art and then comes the business and that is precisely why I have opted for kickstarter.
So how can everyone help you get this project off the ground?
I want to make it clear that the reason I’m not asking all of my movie friends for money is because I want them to remain my friends. *laughs* I want this film to be by and for the fans.
The best everyone one can do, first and foremost, is spread the word. I don’t have a big publicity machine behind me and to be totally honest, I’m starting from scratch. I’m getting along but I just don’t have the 1.2 million dollars so people can just go on Kickstarrter and make a pledge. I just want people to be comfortable. If they just want to put in a dollar that’s totally fine.
Something that is not mentioned on my Kickstarter page is that there will be some other cool incentives because I want to be able to send out lots of mementos to random investors to surprise fans with a bit of extra memorabilia.
What we promise back is a lot of good movies and I want to start right here. One thing that is certain is that, despite having various genres lined up, I want to make sure that every 3rd or 4th movie is a horror movie as those fans have supported me the most over the years. I try and keep confident that we’ll hit the target and whatever happens at the end of the day I certainly have no intention of quitting.
We’d like to thank Robert for taking a moment to speak to us and we encourage you to head on over to his kickstarter page to help in whatever way you can. Although Robert told us that the trailer for Black Asylum contains no actual material from the final film it does provide a taste of what’s in store so please enjoy the teaser below.
You can also find out much more about the project over at the website entertainmentplayground.net.