who's that fat tub of fuck covered in doo-doo? well that's me. in fact, it's the oldest photograph of me that i know of. and don't worry, it's chocolate pudding. i look pretty funny in most of these old photos and super 8 films. this was back in the early 80s, and at the time taking a picture or shooting some super 8 was actually really exciting. there were no digital cameras and video was rare, so you had to wait to get the pictures or film developed. but it was fun doing stuff in front of the camera,
and then waiting to see what it looked like. to sum it up, the camera brought the beast out in me. but in real life i was extremely shy, and throughout high school hardly uttered a word. classmates would ask me, like things like, "hey, come on james, talk. tell us something about yourself." "what do you do when you go home?" and i'd answer, "well, i make movies." it was the last thing anybody expected to hear.
then they'd ask me where, how, what, when, and why. well, i could answer all of that, except for "why". i don't know why. it's just something i do. and that's the story of my life. [yelling, screaming] to this day, i've made 199 films, and right now, that number is changing to 200. what's my 200th movie? you're watching it right now. this is cinemassacre 200, my own documentary on how it happened. it all started at a very young age
when i got an audio tape recorder for christmas. i began recording my own stories, complete with sound effects and doing voices for all the different characters. [young james]what about me? get me down from this [unintelligible] [young james]get me down before i kick your butt! then i got a camera, and i spent most of my days going out in the yard with my friends and taking pictures of everybody making silly faces. then we started having fights with nerf swords and plastic baseball bats,
and started making up adventure stories, largely inspired by video games like legend of zelda and cartoons like ninja turtles. we would pretend that a street light was a long-necked dragon, that a turtle-shaped sandbox was an evil monster, and my dog was the vicious four-winged terror. sometimes i would even draw on the pictures. i arranged all these photographs in albums and wrote stuff next to them, so by putting them all in order to tell the story, i was sort of learning the basic concept of editing.
so, after telling stories with just audio, to telling them with just visuals, i was introduced to the video camera. hi dad! hello [unintelligible] [yelling] oh my god! [both screaming] now, it wasn't just about picture and sound, but movement also. and the best part about it, unlike film, was that you get instant results.
you pop the tape in the video player and there you go, it's right on your tv. wait, is this... it's [unintelligible] pants! what the heck was that? now at the time, vhs cameras were expensive. it was more like for family events, but as time went on and i continued to abuse it more and more, it gradually became my own. ah, you're upside-down! look down! look down! i said look down, not up! look down! i often used to run around with the camera,
like some kind of virtual reality flying simulator. soon my ambitions were growing higher. i wanted to make movies, so i got my friends together and staged these little slapstick comedies. tastes pretty bad. tastes worse than beer. take a bite outta crime. [fighting sounds] nothing we did was rehearsed, and that's the way most people felt comfortable. but once i started writing scripts,
everybody had trouble remembering their lines and eventually lost interest, so some of my early movies never got finished. so i started making movies without actors. instead i used puppets or action figures. [making machine gun sound] [growl] it's almost like playing with toys through the eye of a kid. sometimes i'd actually act in the films myself, and the plot would involve my toys coming to life.
this was before toy story. whoah! little did i realize, i was learning the basics of composition: how to use foreground and background space, and to get the characters to move i would sometimes use strings, but most of the time it was just me, moving them with my hand, so i had to be careful not to show my fingers. and this was also good practice for framing shots. when making a movie, you're often trying to crop out stuff,
like lights, crew, or a fake set, so this was good training in a way. eventually i got tired of these action figure films, so i started focusing on other forms of art, such as drawing, do you see the lion in this picture? painting, and using primitive computer programs. i wrote books by hand, one of them based on the legend of zelda. i also illustrated a series of adventure comic books which i kept up with on a monthly basis. i was even making movies on good old mario paint.
[monster mash playing] eventually i started taking saturday classes at an art university for animation. here i was able to take advantage of the school's animation equipment. basically just a camera pointing down at a table connected to a time-lapse vcr. i made a series of cutouts and turned them into adventure epics. i was only thirteen, and i realized what i wanted to do with my life: i wanted to make movies. but not like this. it was too tedious. i wanted to do live-action.
meanwhile i was becoming quite a movie buff and had already collected hundreds of films, whether they were taped off tv, or i bought them with whatever money i could scrap up. i loved movies, especially slapstick comedies and classic horror films, and i just wanted to make my own. my biggest problem at the time was finding actors. so i decided, screw it: i'm just gonna make a movie, even if i have to act in it myself. and that's what i did. at the time i was already running an annual haunted house exhibit for halloween
and had collected a whole bunch of costumes and props, so i decided to use whatever i had, and i acted as every character in the film, not to mention i was also the camera operator. and no, i didn't have a tripod. i was stacking the damn thing up on books. i literally did everything, and this was especially difficult because there was no such thing as editing yet, at least not for me. the raw footage was simply the finished movie. when i would push record, the camera had a three-second delay. that was just enough time for me to run into frame and do my thing.
and when the shot was done, i'd have to rewind the tape and cue it to the exact spot where the next shot was supposed to start. i couldn't even possibly describe how difficult this was, especially this shot where i had to get inside the closet before the camera would start and shut the doors. a lot of times the costume would get caught in the door, and if i messed up i'd have to rewind the tape, cue it up again, and give it another try. also i was relentlessly switching costumes back and forth
because everything was shot in order. when i showed the half-finished product to my friends, they got real excited, and they wanted to be in it. so i got my actors back and started making movies again. and i've been making them ever since. i was fifteen, and this movie, a night of total terror, was the turning point of my life. it's no doubt that my early films sucked real bad, but as time went on they progressively got better for two reasons:
one, my own sensibilities, and the other because of technical advancements. the real problem was editing. from the beginning there wasn't really any way to do it. that's why my approach was blunt and simple: don't edit. get it right on the original raw tape; stop and record was the way to go. but this caused lots of problems for reasons i don't even need to explain, and it makes me sick to think i made so many movies this way. it drove me nuts, and i was desperate to find a way to edit, no matter how crude.
so, eventually i started using two vcrs. what you do here is connect two vcrs, like they're mating, you play your original raw tapes in the first vcr, cue up the scene, and hit record on the other. the first drawback is obviously the fact that this is linear editing, so everything must be done in order from beginning to end. but you can't even get a frame accurate cut. you just have to be lucky. when queuing the edited tape, you'll find the exact moment where you want the cut to happen,
you'll pause it here, and then hit record. it'll go into a standby mode, yet the tape will be cued a few seconds from where you stopped it at. so, then you play the source tape, and when the spot comes you want to cut to, you hit record. now, once again, there's a delay, so you have to time it perfectly. it was a nightmare. but i cut so many movies this way, i actually became a master at it. my favorite moment was the fight scene
in kung fu werewolf from outer space. the actors would go through the choreography several times, and--god bless them, it was freezing cold--and i would keep changing my camera angles, and then with the two vcrs have to match cut them all together. i also did a music video for a black sabbath song in which several different images would flash by, some of them only lasting a fraction of a second. now there's thirty frames a second,
and i knew that the delay on the vcr was thirteen frames. it was that sick. i had it down. [black sabbath playing] still, there were limitations with this. i couldn't do cross-dissolves or anything other than straight editing. i had no flexibility to go back and change anything without re-editing the whole thing, and titles was another story. back in the old days i used to just write them on paper and shoot it, but i wanted to know how to superimpose them on the screen.
you know, like they do in real movies. so i put some plastic wrap on the tv screen, and i wrote on it with a marker. then i'd just shoot the screen. it was kind of an interesting effect. but the one effect which i could use consistently was when i discovered my camera had a titling feature. but it was really weird. you still had to write the title on paper, preferably in a bold black marker. you point the camera at the paper and you hold down the memory button. and then it makes like a digital image of it on the screen.
you had to be careful not to get shadows in there, and often the effect was quite messy, but it did the job. but this also meant that your titles would have to be shot live. so when i was shooting the movie i'd have all my pieces of papers with me and the titles ready. the only way i knew how to lay the titles in later was, again, to record the tv screen. but then i thought, well, if i have to draw the titles on the screen, why not draw anything?
so lots of times i used to make my friends interact with ghosts and all kinds of weird creatures. eventually i purchased a title maker for two hundred bucks. for me, it was a lot of money back then. it was basically just a keyboard. i'd connect it to my duo vcr editing system, set up a title, and while recording i'd make it appear. so not only was i editing, but at the same time i had to make the titles come up on cue.
you could fade the titles in and out, and then i was like, hey, wait, if i just make a solid background color, i could fade to black. but unfortunately you can still see through it a little bit--it was transparent, but fading to white was perfect and solid, especially if it was a snow scene, it worked out fine and actually looked pretty good. sometimes i wanted to use fast speed, like an old silent comedy. the only way to do it was hit fast forward and record it. depending on the tape or the vcr, it would usually have a lot of junk on the screen,
but sometimes it would come out pretty clear. other times i'd want to use slow motion. sometimes vcrs had a slow motion feature, but either they'd be too slow or cause too much distortion, so lots of times i was just hitting pause and unpause really fast. and sometimes i'd want to play it in reverse. another problem was trying to make images upside-down. for this shot i was trying to create the illusion of a shit monster crawling up a building.
the effect would be accomplished by simply dumping the quote unquote shit upside-down, but the only way to get an upside-down shot was to film it upside-down. now the biggest problem of all was audio. from the beginning, my first concern was trying to add music. the first approach was simple: cue up the music on a cassette player and hold it next to the camera. yeah, live, while shooting the damn movie. if i cut camera, music would cut too.
not to mention i couldn't do a mix to balance the dialog with the music. so the second method was to record the tv screen, using the audio from both the tv speaker and the tape player. it was a mess, but it worked. the third technique, for about fifty dollars i bought a controller that had an audio dubbing feature. now i could dub music right on the first generation tape without having to record the screen. but the problem here was that it erased all the original audio,
replacing it with the new audio. so if i wanted music, dialog, and sound effects all at the same time, i had to get all the actors together and re-record their lines. the voices would never sync up properly, so we used it for comedic effect. hey your mother's ma! [yelling] the fourth and final technique was a complicated one, but it worked most effectively. i'd edit like normal, keeping all the natural audio and dialog. then i'd copy the edited movie on to a third-generation tape.
while this was copying, i was dubbing all the additional audio without erasing the original. i was fading the music in and out while doing all the foley sound effects at the same time, basically performing the entire soundtrack live. [making fighting sounds] it's very hard to explain how this all worked, but just trust me, it was hell. and then i got a computer, and that was the end of all that bullshit. in college we shot film and did everything the old-fashioned way.
splicing the film by hand is probably the worst thing ever. but with the advent of digital video and non-linear editing, things are much easier now. the more recent you're born, the more luxury you have. to me, it didn't matter how things would get done, it was just a matter of doing it. one thing i always enjoyed was cheap special effects. sometimes the fact that you can tell something is fake only adds to the charm, because it engages the audience
in the creative process of what it takes to make a movie. cinemaphobia was one of my favorites. it's a psychological portrait of an overworked film actor who's being chased by an evil camera. whether he's imagining it or it's really happening is up to the viewer. now there's a part where the camera walks down the steps, i throw a candle at it, lighting the whole living room on fire, and it was obviously all done with special effects. the fire was just a fog machine and red lights,
and there were a few shots which showed a real fire, but that was done outside far away from the house on just a small piece of carpet and a cardboard wall. i also got a fire engine into the movie, and that was just because i had access to it, so i wrote it in, and that's what you gotta do sometimes, but this film got me a lot of positive reactions, and it allowed me to let loose with the camera work. after all, movies are a visual art, and it's fun to be able to do this kind of stuff,
and, you know, just open your subconscious. curse of the cat lover's grave was my junior film in college. it was a horror film done in three acts, each representing a different style: the chiller, the shocker, and then the splatter flick. for the chiller, i had a scene in which a guy robs a grave. now, rather than have him actually dig a five-foot hole in the ground and stall the production, i dug it beforehand, by myself in a blizzard i might add, and then i layered boards of woods over top,
covered it in a tarp, and then put dead leaves over it. so, he would only pretend to dig, and then we'd uncover the hole. i was shooting film at the time, and the whole fucking roll came back black, wasting over a hundred dollars and a precious day of shooting. luckily, i shot video as a backup. now, screening the film at the junior film festival was a huge success. the reactions i got was out of this world. i mean, there were shock moments in the film that actually made people jump out of their seats.
[snarl] the stabbing scene had everybody laughing so loud you couldn't even hear the movie. the satisfaction i got from this, from making people laugh and making them scared, was the best time i had yet. i mean, i like to find the humor in horror films. just to see how fake the blood is; i mean, this is something i've been doing for a long time. i used red food coloring, ketchup, kool-aid, anything you can think of.
i enjoyed doing comedy horror flicks, but for my senior film, i decided to try a more serious approach. the jersey odysseys, episode one, legend of the blue hole, was based on urban legends in new jersey. it's a portrait of a rebel and his search for the unknown. when he learns of the blue hole, rumored to be bottomless and the home of the jersey devil, he becomes determined to find it. rather than special effects or gags,
i was going for trying to draw the audience into the story, and hit them with a twist ending. it went over so well that my school screened it twice. my first post-graduate film was a return to horror comedy, the deader the better. it's about two guys who work in a cemetery, making a living killing the dead. i used the same sort of splattery blood effects that i'd been doing, but this time i was experimenting with some digital tricks. like, we'd have the person lay down
and then smash a watermelon or something. then we put the two shots together, and there you go. aside from being a gore fest, the big thing about it was that i built the cemetery in my parents' garage. i covered the floor with black tarp, spread out piles of dead leaves, hung black fabric from the walls, brought in real trees and hung them by string. then i carved all the tombstones out of styrofoam and painted it to look old. i got a big spotlight for the moon, flooded the place with fog,
and there you go, a creepy cemetery. it took a long time, and it was a lot of work to put together. and some people have asked, why not just shoot in a real cemetery? well, several reasons. i mean, one, you know, the kind of stuff we were doing, may be a little sacrilegious, you know? two, well the whole thing takes place at night, and if we used a real cemetery, you know, we couldn't shoot during the day, whereas in the garage we could shoot all day long, and it's still night. but, most important, i wanted complete control over the lighting.
i wanted it to look like an artificial graveyard, to have the style of a 1930s horror film. there was also a scene where a zombie crawls out from a grave, so i had a layer of drywall and wood which i propped up on cinder blocks. the zombie would lay down underneath, and then come up through the hole. because of this setup, we had to shoot this scene first, and then take it down, and then set up the rest of the cemetery. this is one of several times i used the garage. as i mentioned earlier, i had an annual haunted house exhibit for halloween,
and there were paper walls dividing all the rooms, and all this was in the same garage, and i kept it a halloween tradition for six years in a row, all through high school. then for the legend of the blue hole, there was a scene which took place in a mysterious antique shop, so i collected a bunch of old weird stuff and set it all up in a corner with some spooky lighting, and there you go. most people thought it was a real store, but nope, it was just the garage. over the years i've recycled locations and props countless times.
i've made all kinds of crazy movies in every back-ass kind of way possible. i've defined my own style, my own taste, and craft, but what i lacked was a way to show my work. after blindly sending out to film festivals without any idea what they're looking for, i started hosting my movies on my own website, cinemassacre.com, and as a result, i proved that the internet is the best place to get stuff seen, and is the ultimate form of exposure. a short series i did of angry video game reviews was launched into a franchise.
it was just one little thing i did as a joke, ironically taking less effort than most of my other work, but because of its connection with retro gamers, and anyone with a good sense of humor i guess, it exploded on the internet, and it's kept me busy producing episodes on a regular basis, and it's slowing down my other projects, but at the same time it's bringing more attention to my other work, and on top of that, it's the first time i've ever gotten paid to do what i do. so, that's my life story. i just like making movies,
from the writing, the pre-production stages, the collaborating, the shooting, the editing, and eventually the audience reactions. [laughing] it's a rewarding experience. now most of the movies i made are shorts, but i have plans for features in the works. from the beginning, my films have always had an independent, do-it-yourself attitude, and that's what cinemassacre refers to: it's the insane driving power behind my work.
[screams] making movies is not easy, and today more and more people are doing it. and it's not something you can do and expect to be rewarded; i mean, you can't have any superficial goals with it; it's just something that you have to have a natural passion for. so, to all fellow filmmakers, i have the most respect. i hope you enjoyed hearing my story, maybe you can relate to it, and if not, hope you found it inspiring. it's simply my goal to just keep doing the stuff,
and there should be big stuff coming in the future. thank you for watching cinemassacre's 200th film.