It goes without saying that horror is a genre made by the fans, for the fans. Die-hard horror hounds generally don’t care much about big studio film releases anymore because more often than not, these types of films lack heart; they lack that certain essence that only a fellow horror fans can bring to a genre picture. Big studio-produced horror (or “Hollywood Horror” as I like to call it) is usually comprised of cheap thrills, one-dimensional characters and washed-out plot devices that are thrown together into a sad excuse of a screenplay by a bunch of middle-aged never-has-beens in suits. These people could really care less about the genuine appeal of horror; they’re just in it to make a quick buck.
But the light within the damp, dark tunnel of monsters, madmen and sinister storytelling comes from the plethora of “little guys”, AKA independent filmmakers, that are out there draining their blood, sweat and tears—and often sacrificing the bear necessities of life—to bring their creative visions of the macabre to life on screen. There are thousands upon thousands of indie horror flicks that will sadly very likely never see the light of day. So when a struggling up-and-coming filmmaker actually manages to climb to the top of the aforementioned heap, get noticed and be given the opportunity of a lifetime to have their first feature-length film screened at one of the most acclaimed genre festivals in the state of California, it is understandably a huge cause for excitement. Such is the case with Chicago-born filmmaker Gary Michael Schultz, whose feature-length directorial debut, Devil in my Ride, will be celebrating its world premiere at California’s Shriekfest this weekend on Sunday, October 6th. Diabolique recently sat down to congratulate Schultz on his monumental achievement and his recent life-altering joyride with the devil.
Diabolique: How did the idea for Devil in my Ride come to fruition?
Gary Michael Schultz: It’s hard to sum that up in a short idea but I’ll try to do my best. I grew up loving horror films. I loved being scared and I loved scaring people. And I also loved comedies; I loved to laugh. I always loved films that took risks to mash genres together, and I don’t think it’s a very easy thing to do. I think a lot of filmmakers fail when they try it. But the ones that succeed are films that have stories that have really stuck with me throughout my life. I wanted to do something like that.
How it began originally was we did a short film and we shot it in like two days in a warehouse; that was the short film that Devil in my Ride is based off of. It basically came out of the fact that I wanted to film something and my co-writer, Mike Dozier, had this junky minivan and I talked him into allowing me to use this minivan in the movie so that we could destroy it. And Frank Zieger and Joey Bicicchi, who are in Devil in my Ride, were two of my best friends and two of the best actors I knew, and I wanted to do something with them. People really liked it, which was crazy because it was supposed to be just this fun little thing. So from there, I put together a feature-film idea version of it that we were going to film and shoot basically on our own. I went and did the producing with the little bit of money that we had to make it.
We shot the whole thing on DSLRs, and we had a lot of people telling us that we couldn’t just go out and make a feature film on your own that’s any good. So we used that as motivation, and put a big chip on our shoulder and went out and tried to do something cool. I’ve always been attracted to genre films, but what I’m really attracted to is story telling and characters. And I think what separates your usual throw-blood-against-the-wall slasher fare—which I think is fine, I like those kinds of films as well but that’s just not the kind of film that I wanted to make at the time—so to me what separates those kinds of films and the kinds of films that I want to make are the characters. If you make these really amazing characters then the audience will care about them and care about the adventure that you put them in. So that’s what we tried to focus on when Mike and I were writing it, was trying to come up with amazing characters.
The one thing I had were three really great actors. Like I said, Frank and Joey are people that I had worked with before. We went through a pretty lazy audition process and Erin Breen just destroyed everyone at the audition as the evil bride. Then I went hunting for my Johnny Priest character and I ended up discovering a blues musician named Llou Johnson, who had done some acting and just had this amazing voice and charisma. I ended up casting him. The last piece of the puzzle was to get us a horror icon, and from day one, I wanted Sid Haig because I’m such a huge fan of his. Obviously if you know anything about Sid Haig you know about the films he did in the ‘70s, the films he did with Jack Hill. He was in a film called Black Mama, White Mama with my favorite actress, Pam Grier, and we named our hero van—the van that we drove from Chicago to Las Vegas and back—we named it “Black Mama”. It says “Black Mama” across the black with lightning bolts, and there are flames down the sides of it. You can imagine driving that thing through a bunch of red states. That was interesting. [laughs]
Diabolique: What specifically made you want to cast Sid Haig in the role of Iggy as opposed to any of the other major genre veterans, such as Bill Moseley, Kane Hodder, etc…?
Schultz: Well, because the role that I wanted Sid to play was a character named Iggy, and Iggy is kind of a spirit guide to the story. When I see Sid’s performances, he’s so animated and he has such a great face and a great voice and I felt like—and I had only met Sid once and I never worked with him—but I knew in my heart this guy’s really fun and that he would get it. So when I sent the script to my agent and to him, he did get it. He was like, ‘This is pretty cool,’ and it was only a short amount of work. It was a chance for him to go and do some comedy where, most of the time, he’s asked to play pretty horrific characters that are quite evil. He’s fantastic at those characters, but I wanted to see him do something that he doesn’t always do, and he’s never done comedy but he’s hilarious.
There’s just something about him. The Devil’s Rejects is one of my favorite films. And, like I said, I love everything of his going back to Spiderbaby. So it’s just one of those things where you just draw certain actors. I love Bill Moseley as well but I felt like Sid’s personality and his characteristics just fit this role better than anyone else I could think of. So we’re just really happy and lucky to have him in the film. It was really cool to work with him.
Diabolique: Was it at all difficult to get in touch with him and get him on board for the film?
Schultz: We went through the traditional process: I called up his agent and I sent her the script and he read it. He liked the script right away. From there it was a matter of trying to figure out his schedule because we were filming in September and part of October, and October [is a busy month] for people that do a lot of horror films because of all the conventions. What I actually did is I shot all the principle photography and then held up Sid’s scenes for about three weeks and then had to get the whole crew and cast back together, and we did Sid’s stuff after the principle stuff. So, I mean, literally I wanted him so bad that we were willing to hold up the production for him, to get him to come out and do it. And we totally did, and it was worth it.
Diabolique: You mentioned that you have been a fan of the genre throughout your life. Are there any specific horror films that inspired you to create Devil in my Ride?
Schultz: I don’t know if there’s really any one film [that inspired me]. I’m a big believer that you’re inspired by everything around you: movies you watch, people you interact with, things you see, the way you grow up. The way life affects you; that’s what affects your voice and what you can bring to a film. So for me, I don’t want to make an impression—I don’t want to do an impression of somebody else.
But with that being said, there’s definitely stuff that I love that has influenced me. I would say movies that I really like that have influenced me would be Ghostbusters, Evil Dead II, a little bit of Drag Me to Hell in there—which, I think, is essentially just a more polished version of Evil Dead II—those films that kind of have that element of horror and comedy. I took the comedy in this film really, really seriously. My writing partner is a comedian and writes comedy pretty much surely. And so when we did that, it wasn’t just about writing stuff that’s funny. It was about writing stuff that was funny but with characters that are believable. You can put somebody into a ridiculous situation if that character believes that the situation is real. And for me, that’s how comedy works in this kind of world. But you know, I’ve probably been influenced by a thousand films.
Diabolique: Based on your belief that in some way or another everything in real life manifests itself through your art, was there any particular event in your life or perhaps something that you witnessed through the media that had a profound influence on Devil in my Ride?
Schultz: When I get an idea for something and I start to write something, it surprises me how much of my life that I take for granted. It’s like, ‘Oh that’s just how I grew up,’ or, ‘Oh that’s just how that relationship went,’ or, ‘Oh, that’s just how that situation went.’ You don’t think about it when it happens. And then in months or days or years later, you’re like, ‘Oh, my perspective of that is different than everyone else’s that I’ve talked about it to, and I wonder why.’ And so I try to further explore that.
So it’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but again, it’s coming back to being conscious of what you’ve done and how your voice is and how it affects your story telling. It’s kind of a hard thing to pin down and say, ‘This is what inspired that’. Change can really make you work hard on something, like when you go into transitions. I don’t know how to explain that exactly but it can certainly motivate you.
Diabolique: Your partner Mike Dozier co-wrote Devil in my Ride. How did you two come to work together? Are you long time friends? Did you work on anything together prior to writing Devil in my Ride?
Schultz: I’ve known him for about thirteen years. I met him at my stepfather’s mother’s funeral. He was just getting out of high school and I was in college, and I was making a student zombie film. I needed one more role to be filled. I needed a brace-faced 17-year-old that would let me do anything I wanted to him—you know, throw him at a moving car, bury him alive… whatever. And Mike just seemed game enough for that.
So he was in all of my student films. And we just always stayed tight and became really good friends. When I came up with the idea for Devil in my Ride, I just felt that if you’re going to write a comedy, it’s a really good idea to have people to bounce ideas off of, and Mike was the funniest person I knew. So I asked him to come in and write it with me. It was a good decision because there are a lot of really great things in the story that he came up with. So yeah, that’s the back-story about us, but, yes, we’ve made a lot of films together. I like to work with a lot of the same people if I can—if it’s possible, because things are always changing, people’s schedules are always getting busy. There are four or five people in this world whose opinions and talents I really, really value so I try to work with them as much as possible.
Diabolique: So Devil in my Ride is your feature-length directorial debut?
Schultz: As far as directing goes, yes. This is the first feature that I’ve directed. I’ve produced a lot of features and worked on a couple other features in certain capacities. The last feature I did was William H. Macy’s directorial debut. We just finished that in May. So yes, this is my first feature, and you know, it opened a lot of doors. We wanted to show people what we could do on our own, without studio support, without huge fancy crews, and show people that we could tell a really engaging story. I’m really excited for people to see it for the first time at Shriekfest, and see what doors it opens up. I already have my second feature green-lit, which I’m really excited about.
Diabolique: How did you end up producing William H. Macy’s first feature?
Schultz: Well I was a co-producer on it and the head producer, Keith Kjarval, over at Unified Pictures, I had done a couple of pictures with them. Unified Pictures owns the company Red Band Films that picked up Devil in my Ride. Red Band Films is their subsidiary label that focuses on genre content. And so I really liked how they approached filmmaking. You know, it wasn’t a bunch of suits trying to make films. It was a bunch of artists. So when I came out to L.A., I came out to work with Unified, specifically. They needed producing help so I jumped on and produced three films with them in the last year—one called Trust Me that Clark Gregg directed, one called Beautiful Now that Daniela Amavia directed and then Rudderless that William H. Macy directed.
And that’s the thing about being a filmmaker, you just get out there and you just try to contribute and be a good leader and a good contributor. You can probably at best direct one feature a year if you’re really cooking. But what do you do with those other couple months? I’d rather be creating than sitting on my butt.
Diabolique: You’ve made several short films before Devil in my Ride. How does the process of making a short film compare to that of making a feature-length?
Schultz: I would compare it as being more rewarding. It’s a longer relationship. I mean really, it’s the same process. It’s filmmaking. I don’t care if I’m making a film with a crew of 12 people or with a crew of 100 people. It’s essentially the same process you’re going through. You still have to block it, light it, rehearse it and shoot it. It’s still the same rules that apply. I think the difference is the endurance factor of a feature. You know, you go and shoot a feature for a month or three months or six months. There’s an endurance factor that you have to be aware of. So one of the things that I try to do is I try to take better care of myself when I’m on a feature, obviously. Which doesn’t always happen, [laughing], but you know… That’s really the only main difference is that instead of shooting for say four days, you’re shooting for say 30. Then the pre-production is obviously longer. And generally on short films most people don’t get paid. So on features it’s nice to actually be making a living doing it as well.
Diabolique: Would you say that directing your first feature was easier or more difficult than you had anticipated?
Schultz: Wow, you know, no one’s ever asked me that question. I don’t even know that I’ve ever thought about that. I knew it would be hard, but it never crossed my mind, you know, if it would be impossible. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t have a back up plan. I’m a filmmaker. That’s what I do—for better or for worse. I could be a homeless filmmaker or I could be a successful filmmaker. But for whatever reason, I was put on this earth to tell stories. So I guess that’s what I’m supposed to do.
So, I don’t know if it’s harder or anything like that. Devil in my Ride, I imagine in some respects, might be the hardest film I ever do because I had to wear so many hats. As your films get bigger you get more support and more of a team around you. But with that being said, Devil in my Ride was definitely a labor of love. I was excited to show up to set every single day, and really thankful for all the help I had from people, and that my small crew was really excited about the film as well. We just tried to have fun every single day and tried to do something and make it special… and then you see where it comes up.
Diabolique: What was the production schedule of Devil in my Ride like and what were some of the obstacles that you and the crew found yourselves up against along the way?
Schultz: Well, we did 15 days of principle photography. We shot pretty well the whole movie in 15 days, and then we did a pick-up day. There may have been a couple of evenings where I went out and grabbed an exterior shot here or there, just trying to improve things in the film. And then we were on the road with the van. So for the road trip, we drove from Chicago to Las Vegas, which was two and a half days in a really slow moving van filming landscape stuff along the way; we met in Vegas with the actors and filmed for two nights in Vegas. So we only filmed in Vegas for two nights, up and down the strip and on Fremont Street. And let me tell you, there’s something really cool about two guys in bloody tuxedos carrying a devil bride over their shoulders down Fremont Street. The creepy thing was, we barely got looks on the strip. But you know, apparently that’s common [in Las Vegas]—a passed out bride, covered in blood and vomit.
We had a lot of challenges. We had a lot of run-ins with people that would stop us and ask us what we were doing—from police officers, to firemen, to security guards. Joey and myself were stopped by the FBI in the middle of New Mexico and they were wanting to know why we were taking pictures on top of the bridge. The good news: we are not terrorists; our records came up clean, which we were both very, very happy about. So when you’re on top of a bridge and some dude pulls out a badge claiming to be a cop, and it’s the FBI, that’s when you go ‘Oh fuck’. That was my first ‘F’ bomb in the interview and I was trying to keep it clean. Fail.
Diabolique: So the world premiere of Devil in my Ride is happening at Shriekfest on October 6th. How did you get involved in the festival and what can you tell us about the screening?
Schultz: Yeah, I’m really, really excited about that. Shriekfest—in my opinion—is the best, the premier horror film festival in California. So we’re really excited to be on their bill and be one of the 10 features that they’re going to show this year. So that’ll be our US/world premiere. Then after that we’re going to be doing the Bram Stoker International Film Festival in England. Then we’re going to work on getting a distribution company that is right for us, and hopefully get the film out there into everybody’s hands and make it more accessible. But over the next couple months we’re going to keep doing the festival circuit and try to bring the movie to the people that I wanted to make it for.
It’s strange to me; people that aren’t into horror films and genre films of this kind, they have no idea about our world. They have no idea—they don’t go to the conventions, they don’t go to the festivals, and when they experience these things for the first time, they’re just like, “Holy shit!” They just don’t understand that horror fans, fans of ridiculous comedies and fans of sci-fi support these kinds of cinema stronger than any other demographic of movie fans. It’s overwhelming sometimes. It’s such an amazing thing to be apart of—people that love these kinds of films. So I’m really hoping that they feel that way about Devil in my Ride because it was going to those festivals and being around those kinds of fans that really was what sparked us to really want to do this.
Diabolique: Going into Devil in my Ride for the first time, what would you say genre fans should expect?
Schultz: Genre fans can expect exactly what I’m saying we’re going to deliver, which is a horror-comedy road trip film; it’s a traditional odd-couple movie about two guys that don’t like each other that have to get over their differences for the sake of a mutual interest—which is Hank’s wife and Travis’ sister, Doreen, who’s been possessed by the devil, and they’ve got 72 hours to get from Chicago to Las Vegas to find this homeless exorcist priest, and they have to get the demon out of her soul or she could be lost forever. The movie is really funny, and it’s really, really well formed, really well acted. I think it’s one of the best-acted independent horror films I’ve seen in a long time—and most certainly one of the best-acted comedies I’ve seen in a long time. So those are probably the film’s strengths. And they’re going to see a film that was a made by independent filmmakers, by real people out there just making it; not by a bunch of suits sitting behind a desk telling you what fans of horror and comedy want to see. So people are going to see something genuine.
Diabolique: What other projects are you currently working on? What does the future hold for GMS Films?
Schultz: I’m working on a film with Unified Pictures that we’re developing right now. It was just given the green light last week. I don’t want to give too much away about it, but I’m really, really stoked on it. It’s about two people from different environments that maybe aren’t as different as they think they are, and they fall in love against this backdrop of a really violent world. So it’s not a horror film; it’s essentially a drama. But it’s a pretty violent film. It’s definitely darker than Devil in my Ride and also pretty personal, I would say.
Devil in My Ride premieres at 4:00 p.m. at Shriekfest 2013 this Sunday, October 6th. For more information on the film, you can visit its official Facebook page and to get tickets, please visit its official Shriekfest page. You can also follow Gary Michael Schultz on Twitter: @garymschultz. For more Devil in My Ride news, check back to DiaboliqueMagazine.com.
[Special Thanks to Mike Heffler and GMS Films.]