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Interview with Kelly Greene, writer and director of Attack of the Bat Monsters
By James Whittington, Tuesday 27th February 2018
Making movies can be a tough business but to have to wait almost two decades to release your work takes true dedication. At Horror Channel FrightFest Glasgow this weekend Kelly Greene's Attack of the Bat Monsters is finally unleashed. Here he tells us the story behind this celebration of 1950s creature features.
HC: You were inspired to write Attack of the Bat Monsters when you were researching 50s movies, did it take long to write?
KG: It took quite a while because I was working 50 to 60 hours a week at a video production facility while raising a 2-year old and 8-year old, along with my wife, who was also working. I would write at night between 9 and 11pm, and maybe a little more on the weekends. I wrote in quotas, believe it or not. My goal was 2 pages a session. I didn't take a day off, so I was knocking out abut 15 pages a week. I had one mantra, "Don't get it right, get it written." I did NOT rewrite as I went along. The first draft took six weeks, and was pretty hideous.
HC: Did it change much during the writing process?
KG: Before I started, the initial outline went through radical revisions; for instance, originally the shooting of the three day film was the middle act of the script. The first act was about "recruiting the team"; and the third act consisted of the screening of the film months later, which was loosely based on the premiere of Eyes Without A Face where members of the audience became nauseated, passed out and/or walked out because Chuck had pushed the edges of gore and nudity with re-shoots. Once I tossed out that third act, the story took shape, and after that first draft, I mainly cleaned up dialogue and deleted scenes, and dropped two sections; one, where Chuck recruits a poster artist, and another involving the monster-maker building the bat monster so large that he can't get it out of his studio.
HC: Was it written with a cast in mind?
KG: The two main characters, Francis and Chuck, were always written for Marco Perella and Michael Dalmon, and I also had Ryan Wickerham in mind to play Jack Haroldson. We just couldn't fulfill even the ultra low budget requirements for SAG, so Marco bowed out. You can go online to the Attack Of The Bat Monsters Facebook page to watch a scene we shot on spec that I ended up cutting from the shooting script. Marco plays Francis in that scene.
HC: The film has plenty for film buffs to look out for but also has lots to offer casual fans too, was it hard to make sure the film had a broad appeal?
I didn't design it that way. I simply made a film that I, as a fan of the genre, would want to see. Even if films about film making are perceived as a niche market, I always assumed that the film would tap into the same audience That Ed Wood had been made for, or Matinee, or even Living In Oblivion. And since we produced Attack Of The Bat Monsters for a fraction of those films' costs, my hope was that a cagey distributor would see its value, pick it up and push it in that direction.
HC: It does look and feel like it was shot in the era its set, was that hard to achieve?
KG: Like the 1950s exploitation films themselves, the film's visual style was a direct reflection of its budget. I had initially assumed I would shoot in two radically different modes; the first, in colour, handheld, with long takes, like a documentary, that covered the actions of Chuck, Francis and the crew, which required a high shooting ratio. The second style, in black-and-white, would mimic the visual look and feel of the '50s exploitation film. The plan was to shoot Beta SP video and create a "film look" in post, but then Tom Hennig entered the project late in pre-production with his Aton Super 16MM camera. Suddenly half the budget was now going to film and processing! So we had to shoot the entire film conservatively, cover action minimally to keep our shooting ratio down - all the trademarks of a Corman quickie.
HC: Is it true it was to be part of a proposed trilogy?
KG: Only if the first film had been successful. I never wrote the scripts, just jotted down the outlines. The second installment took place in 1965 in a small town in Mexico where the lone movie house there shows Attack Of The Bat Monsters over and over again and the eponymous Bat Monster has become a local sensation. A lucha libre masked wrestler hatches a plot to shoot a crossover film in which he fights the Bat Monster, along the lines of Santo Versus The Vampire Women. Naturally Chuck and Francis get involved. Believe it or not, two of my influences for that were Spirit Of The Beehive and Dassin's Night And The City! The final film in the trilogy takes place closer to home for me, in Austin, Texas in 1974 where Chuck is now a film instructor at the University of Texas and gets the idea for a horror film with a plot similar to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
HC: What was the initial shoot like?
KG: I was fighting a cold and I got badly sunburned shooting long days at the quarry. I handled stress as best I could. It was a bit of a blur. You may have heard of Goleman's Six Leadership Styles - Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pace setting, and Commanding? I was none of those! But we kept on budget and on schedule. The cast and crew stayed in good spirits. Mark Rance and I want to have a private screening in Austin and get as many of them back together as possible.
HC: How did it feel to have a movie ready to be distributed but no one would pick it up?
KG: How did it feel? Pretty much like those stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining and depression; I don't think I've ever gotten to acceptance mode, because Attack Of The Bat Monsters is an "evergreen" movie. Nothing really dates it. Now that Watchmaker is repping the film, I think it will be available through a variety of formats - 2K and 4KDCPs, streaming, DVD, Blu-ray, etc.
HC: It's been almost two decades since you shot Attack of the Bat Monsters, how does it feel to have it finally unleashed properly?
KG: I'll quote Eddie Felsen from The Hustler - "Tight but good." I've only seen it projected in standard definition, or as a rough 1920x1080 file; never as a 2K DCP. To call this screening a restoration is a bit of a misnomer: the more accurate term is upgraded, since Bat Monsters has never looked as good as it will in Glasgow on Friday! So I'm exhilarated, and also grateful to FrightFest for their inclusion of my little movie in their incredible line-up.
HC: The title sequence is just wonderful, you must be happy how that turned out?
KG: I am. I think the title sequence, which is heavily indebted to Saul Bass' work for Anatomy Of A Murder, signals several things to the audience. It clues them to the time period, to the pastiche-like nature of the film they're about to see, and most of all it alerts them that the movie they are about to see pays homage, that it aims to pay tribute. I originally created the sequence in standard definition using the crude rudiments of Avid DVE and it always looked horrible in festival screenings blown up in projection because of the frame size and pixilation and interlacing aliasing. Yuck! Now my daughter, Matty, has rebuilt it in After Effects in progressive video and adjustable rastering and it looks great! Plus, Matty was able to approximate some of Bass' 2D effects much better than I was, so it looks even more like a sequence generated from an animation stand. And in true Corman fashion it didn't cost me a dime. Nothing like exploiting your kid's talents.
HC: How has the industry changed since you made Attack of the Bat Monsters?
KG: Two big differences are that, even with inflation, I could make Attack of the Bat Monsters today with less money and it would look, technically, comparable and arguably better. That's because of the relatively low cost of 4K cameras with CMOS sensors, versus the cost of film and processing and negative cutting and print striking and all those steps which have been rendered obsolete by digital technology. The other change, of course, involves the rise of different kinds of distribution paths. When Bat Monsters was shot, there was Theatrical, TV and VHS. End of story. Today, video-on-demand means a film can reside on multiple platforms and devices, with the net result that demand for original content has skyrocketed.
HC: This is your first piece, did the experience put you off the film industry so much that you walked away?
KG: I returned to corporate video production in 2002. I had given it my best shot at that point, and we were dead broke. Our two girls would both need help financially to get through college in just a few years. Today, as of just a few weeks ago, we're empty nesters and I'm looking at this new cinematic landscape and licking my chops!
HC: So, what are you working on at the moment?
KG: I'm really excited about a script called American Monsters, first in a series loosely based on the Lovecraftian model of dimensions parallel to our own chock-full of loathsome entities, and people in this world determined to open the floodgates to let them in - never a good idea! That project requires some real low-budget financing. I'm just as hopeful that I can do another micro-budget project on my own, in particular one designed around the Christmas season, because I have a story to tell in that genre. I'm also currently brainstorming with another writer-director, Jeff Stohland, and Bat Monsters' cinematographer Tom Hennig, on a low-budget genre bender.
HC: Kelly Greene, thank you very much.
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