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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH BRAD SYKES, HORROR WRITER, DIRECTOR, PRODUCER AND ACTOR
By James Whittington, Thursday 10th May 2007
Brad Sykes is a multi talented kind of guy who seems to be at home performing most tasks for his movies whether it be directing, writing, producing or even acting. We tracked down this busy and in demand all rounder to discover his influences and his plans for future projects. By the way, if you like what you read check out his movies Goth and Death Factory which are showing to great acclaim here on Zone Horror.

ZH: Have you always been interested in the movie industry?

BRAD SYKES: Well, when I was growing up, my parents took to me to see a lot of films – mostly sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. One of the first films that left a big impression on me as a kid was Clash of the Titans – I can still remember that movie scene-for-scene. Around age ten or eleven, I started buying magazines like Fangoria and Cinefantastique, learning about filmmakers and discovering all kinds of obscure movies. A few years later, I bought John Russo’s “Making Movies, which was probably the first technical book about filmmaking I ever read and really got me thinking about filmmaking as a possible profession. Of course I wasn’t thinking of movies as an “industry” back then, it wasn’t till years later, when I moved to L.A. and began working that I started to see it that way.

ZH: Did you have any cinematic heroes when you were younger?

BRAD SYKES: George Romero was a big one; I still consider Dawn of the Dead to be one of the top ten films ever made. His incredibly personal filmmaking style and the way he made his films independently had a huge impact on me. Sam Raimi and his first two Evil Dead movies were also very inspirational. John Carpenter and Wes Craven were also big influences, especially their early work. Dario Argento came a little bit later but opened me up to the “nightmare logic” of Italian horror. And there were a few non-horror idols, too: Paul Verhoeven, Walter Hill, Michael Mann…I’m still a fan of all these guys today.

ZH: Have you always been a horror fan?

BRAD SYKES: Like I said, a lot of the films I saw as a child, whether it was Clash of the Titans or Metalstorm or The Dark Crystal, tended to be fantasy-oriented, as were a lot of the books I was reading; “Beowulf” is still one of my favourite pieces of literature. I guess my interest in fantasy took a darker turn as I got into my teens, and I started watching movies like Re-Animator and Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Suspiria – and they just blew me away, really opened my mind to what kinds of stories you could tell, and showed imaginative new ways of using the camera, sound, everything. I really believe that at its best, horror is the most cinematic genre.

ZH: How did you get started in your line of work?

BRAD SYKES: Between my third and fourth year of college at Boston University, I spent the summer in Los Angeles doing two internships. One was a production assistant job on a Paramount film, Kiss The Girls. The other was a reader job at Ridley and Tony Scott’s “Scott Free Productions” I really enjoyed both but in the end, I preferred working on set to being in an office, and so I pursued more production work after moving permanently to L.A. in May 1997. I was extremely fortunate that director Jeff Burr (Leatherface, Straight Into Darkness) took me under his wing around that time and really helped me start my career. I worked as Jeff’s assistant on several films, one of which was shot in Romania, where I met my future wife Josephina, so I guess I owe Jeff more than just my career, but my marriage too!

ZH: Tell us about the movies you made before you attended University.

BRAD SYKES: I got my first video camera at age fourteen, and immediately started making shorts with my friends with titles like “Shock Night” and “Demonville”. Then at age seventeen, we got more ambitious and decided to make a feature, a vampire epic titled “Bad Blood”. I sent it to Film Threat Video Guide, a great little magazine that reviewed indie/amateur films back then. They reviewed it, gave it a two out of ten or something like that, but we were encouraged enough to try again. We did a few more features over the next few years, the last of which, “The Pact” was made when I was twenty. I think we did eight features in total. They were shot mostly on weekends when I was in high school. After I started college, we would shoot during summer or winter breaks. It was just a few dedicated friends, a Hi 8 camera, shooting in all kinds of crazy conditions and me. We got kicked out of plenty of places around town, even got arrested a few times. These movies were made purely for the love of filmmaking; none of us intended to use them as “calling cards”. Although I did get my first paid directing job after showing “The Pact” to a producer I had done some work for.

ZH: What was it like working on Witchcraft XII? A franchise that was more than well established, was it a daunting prospect?

BRAD SYKES: I had seen a few of the Witchcraft films when I was asked to write and direct Witchcraft XII. The only thing I had to do screenplay-wise was keep the character of Will Spanner, who had been a continuing character in the last few films. Otherwise, I was free to invent an entirely new story. I thought the idea of a Manson-like female “snake cult” would be cool, and also added a stronger police/mystery angle to the story. It was a fun but challenging shoot and everyone seemed pretty happy with the finished movie. For a long time I thought mine would be the last until recently I found out someone went and did a part XIII!

ZH: Death Factory is showing here on Zone Horror, how did that movie come about?

BRAD SYKES: When the producer called me, all they had was a title and a one-paragraph description. I started writing the script around a location we thought we had access to, which later fell through. Luckily, our associate producer found us a local haunted attraction that was closed till the Halloween season. This location was even better than the original one and I then rewrote the script around its many rooms and hallways. Even though it wasn’t a “factory” per se, it was certainly spooky and atmospheric, with real spiders and rats to boot! An interesting shoot to say the least…

ZH: Did you have much of a budget?

BRAD SYKES: Not as much as we needed. The conditions were ridiculous on that movie…barely any crew, no bathrooms, no running water…and yet it came together pretty well in the end. It was my first film to be released in Blockbuster!

ZH: Do you always prefer to direct movies that you’ve also written?

BRAD SYKES: Of course - there’s nothing more rewarding than seeing the scenes you wrote come to life. That said it’s much easier to direct another writer’s work. I try to find a style that fits the material, but don’t obsess as much over everything having a certain “look” and “feel” the way I do when directing my own scripts.

ZH: Do you ever censor yourself?

BRAD SYKES: Not usually. I think there’s enough watered-down horror out there, and I want my films to deliver the goods. Usually the “censoring”, if any, takes place on set, when you have to cut or compromise a scene or an effect, or in the editing, after a distributor or exec producer requests cuts for whatever reason. My film Demon’s Kiss, for example, had a few of the gorier scenes cut out of the release version after the distributor decided he wanted the film to be more of an erotic thriller than horror – in his words, less “demon”, more “kiss”!

ZH: Another of your movies that we’re showing is Goth, what was your inspiration for this one?

BRAD SYKES: For me, most scripts start with an image. For Goth, it was the image of a disturbed “Goth girl” who takes her own identification with Goth subculture to an extreme: she has literally named herself “Goth” and has the word tattooed into her chest. Then I wondered what would happen if “Goth” met up with two naïve kids and took them on a hellish “night ride” that they would never forget. After that, the script practically wrote itself. One thing I have to say about Goth is that I never intended the film to be a blanket statement about the Goth subculture, or to paint all Goths in a wholly negative light. If anything, I wanted to use the three main characters to show how different individuals deal with being part of a larger group. Some people completely lose their individuality and become a “different person”, as the character of Crissy does in the film. Others twist its philosophies to their own ends, as when “Goth” starts torturing and killing people. Others, like the third character, Boone, are able to find a balance between the two. This is what Goth is all about, and while it might sound like a lot for a low-budget horror movie to take on, why not challenge the audience a bit? There’s already enough dumbed-down horror out there.

ZH: Are you happy with the way in which it turned out?

BRAD SYKES: Very much so. We took a lot of chances on Goth; it was more character and dialogue-driven than your average horror movie, and the entire movie was shot handheld, almost documentary-style, capturing events as they “happen”. It doesn’t cater to the usual exploitation tastes; the violence is more psychological than physical, even the sex in the film is unpleasant and hard to watch. And right from the title, we were essentially opening the door to criticism from the Goth community. But everyone involved – especially the three leads – gave a hundred percent and never shied away from anything that I asked for. Goth has gotten out there and reached a fair number of people, even if it continues to divide and even piss off audiences. I’m glad that it’s playing on Zone Horror, so at least more horror fans can check it out and decide for themselves what they think about the film.

ZH: Would you ever do sequels to your movies?

BRAD SYKES: I have done a few sequels to Camp Blood, a slasher film I directed in 1999. The last sequel, Within the Woods, came out in 2005. I don’t think there’ll be any more. I’d rather focus on making originals at this point anyway.

ZH: What’s your honest opinion of Hollywood today?

BRAD SYKES: Well, there are different levels to what people call “Hollywood”. Most people associate the term with studio filmmaking, although studios are increasingly going to Canada or overseas to make their big films. A lot of the filmmaking in “Hollywood”, or Los Angeles in general, is being done by small companies or independent producers. The problem is that there is a dearth of originality on both the studio and independent level out here. We all know about the endless cycle of sequels and remakes, which I won’t bother commenting on except to say that since the Dawn of the Dead remake, I have put a permanent ban on watching any of them. But even most of the “original” horror films being made nowadays are knockoffs of indie hits like Saw or Hostel. Studio horror seems to be petering out a bit lately; I don’t think there’s been one bona fide hit so far this year. So the genre might be reaching saturation point again, like it did in the eighties. I think the time is right for some fresh concepts, with more emphasis on good scripts and characterization. The best gore and CGI effects in the world don’t matter if you don’t give a damn about the people on screen.

ZH: What have you got in development at the moment?

BRAD SYKES: Right now, I’m in the middle of editing Plaguers, a sci-fi/horror film we shot last year. My wife Josephina produced and I wrote and directed for our Nightfall Pictures banner. It’s about an alien virus that infects the crew of a spaceship, turning them into bloodthirsty mutants. I describe it as 28 Days Later meets Alien, but it’s also kind of a throwback to those fun eighties’ sci-fi/horror hybrids like Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror, Creature, etc. I’m very excited about this one, as it’s my biggest budget ever, has great special effects by Monster FX (Tamara, 2001 Maniacs) and stars Steve Railsback (Lifeforce, Ed Gein, Devil’s Rejects), who was awesome to work with. It’s coming together well, and we should have it finished over the next few months. We also have a website going up – check www.plaguers.com for updates. Who knows – maybe it’ll end up playing on Zone Horror someday. I’ll keep you guys posted!

ZH: Brad Sykes, thank you very much

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