"Dead Weight" Interview with Adam Bartlett, John Pata, and Nicholas Elert: Part II

While covering the Milwaukee Film Festival I had the opportunity to sit down with the co-directors & co-writers of Dead Weight, Adam Barlett and John Pata, as well as the film's composer Nicholas Elert. What follows is the second half of my interview with the filmmakers as we discuss the music of Dead Weight and the state of Indie-horror filmmaking.

Andy_BGH: When you think about the horror genre in film one of the primary stylistic components that gets discussed is how sound influences your audience. Music can be incredibly important in a horror film as it keys us in to a scare or its more subdued to build an overall tone. It can also be aggressively cheesy or overbearing. Nicholas Elert did you find the balancing act of creating mood but not overextending in your score for Dead Weight challenging or did it come naturally for you?

Nicholas Elert: It’s kind of half and half. I knew what I was getting into by saying that I knew I wanted to do a horror story. Because I’ve also been listening to horror scores for so long that I knew it was an important part of [the genre]. That could be me just being a music dork and not paying attention to the rest of the movie. But once I had spoken with Adam and John about what they wanted the answer was, “Yes!”. I’ve been making music like that for so long that it came naturally to me most of the time. There was only a few instances where my creative thought process wanted to go one way but the scene was demanding I go another way. Why I certainly have a lot of restarts that these guys have never heard before most of everything was just right there.

Adam Bartlett: And we should note too that we only turned down one piece that Nick ever sent to us.

John Pata: “OFFICIALLY” turned down **Laughs**

AB: Otherwise he was going in the right direction every time.

ABGH: Nick you mentioned that this is already like the music you make. What type of music is that?

NE: Adam knows me from a band I play in called Northless. It’s a metal band that he released on his label. So when I originally came to him and said I wanted to do some music for your movie he was just like “Well we don’t want it to sound like metal!” **Both Laugh**

AB: I wasn’t that much of a dick about it!

NE: I know I’m paraphrasing, dude!

ABGH: Did he actually spit at you?

NE: He did ONCE. But, no, I’ve been playing music since I was 10…I also play in a band called Canyons of Static. It’s post-rock, ambient music and that’s what I’m doing now and what I showed them. A lot of the stuff used in Dead Weight is extended technique guitar and things of that nature. I’ve been working on that for about 10 years or so. I was doing solo shows around Milwaukee for a while. So I had a stockpile of those recordings that never got released or were really short run. So it was kinda like, “I got a whole bunch of that stuff that you’re looking for…in the back.” **All Laugh**

But I didn’t use any old stuff in this score. Everything used [in Dead Weight] was all fresh stuff. I just took all the history I had with that [music] and refined it further.

ABGH: You can tell a lot of effort went into the music here. The ambience of the score works really well. Not only that but I haven’t seen very many Indie-Horror films that capture a very specific tone. And I feel like tone is something that Dead Weight does very well.

AB: Good job, Nick **All Laugh**

ABGH: And I’ve been watching a lot more Indie-Horror lately and I am curious to hear what your takes are regarding the place of Indie-Horror now and what Indie-Horror is going to become. Because now with the type of technology and distribution that is available to filmmakers it seems like there are more and more diverse films coming out. For example there’s V/H/S. It’s a little bit of a different story because it had some decent money and people behind them. But that’s another example of a type of film that wouldn’t normally get as much attention as what it’s getting now. If anything I feel like the passed 7 or 8 years horror is no longer as niche as what it used to be. What do you guys see Indie-Horror becoming and what do you see yourselves doing?

AB: I’ll let John answer most of this because he definitely has his finger on the pulse much more than I when it comes to horror, especially a lot of the Indie-Horror stuff. Just going from our experience and the way we were able to produce the film, I can only see it getting easier and easier. You can grab a DSLR and have someone competent behind the camera that knows what they are doing and knows how to light a scene you can do anything really when it comes down to it. That’s the first big step, getting it to look [professional]. That’s just getting easier and easier to do. The camera that we shot on, the Sony F3, was a very affordable camera in regards to professional filmmaking. And it worked beautifully. You can plug XLR audio cables right in to it so we didn’t have to synch audio in post-production. It was already all synched up.

I do think the problem that could arise is along the same lines of what happens with independent music where home recording is getting easier and cheaper and that allows for so much more music. Which has its pros and cons. There is so much creative art getting out there, which is fantastic. The downside is that there is so much more music to wade through that might drown out the quality. I’m not going to say its bad. I’m not going to say it’s good. If someone’s following through in making a record or a film they’re dedicated to and they are seeing something through to the end, that’s admirable. But the amount of stuff to wade through that for many it might make things less accessible. For some filmmakers that might make things harder. Especially for those who are doing something special and very unique it might be harder for them to be recognized because there’s going to be such a flood of films coming through.

JP: I think “flood” is a great way to put it because quite frankly it’s oversaturated. Indie-music is oversaturated. Indie-film is oversaturated. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s great that people can have an idea and [be able to execute it]…You don’t need to have an editing bay. I edited “Dead Weight” in my bedroom. So that’s awesome but it also makes it more difficult to draw attention to yourself. There’s always going to be good film. There’s always going to be bad film.

But I think what’s also good for Indie-film is that Hollywood is fucking themselves over because they are doing remakes, after remakes, after remakes. Yeah they make money but I think it’s starting to backlash. I think the audience is growing tired of it.

ABGH: Yea, I think you’re right. Hollywood has had a really shitty summer relatively speaking.

JP: Exactly! And really, what was the last horror film, the last non-remake horror film that was big in the theater?

AB: Would you say Cabin in the Woods ?

JP: Maybe. Cabin in the Woods was big in the horror crowd but I wouldn’t say it was a huge commercial success.

ABGH: Like on the level of The Exorcist that was so pervasive on a larger cultural scale. It seems that no horror movie recently has come close to capturing that scale.

AB: Everyone’s parents have seen The Exorcist. In that generation, everyone knew what it was.

JP: Right, and then today a “Big” horror movie is really only something horror fans see. You know, maybe some other mainstream audiences that leak in. [It’s not like Jaws or The Exorcist]. So I think the remakes that were cash crop for a time are starting to trickle off. And I think that’s only going to pave the way for Independent films. And I say “independent” referring to bigger budget Independent films that have a producer behind them. Or that have an actor in them. Or are associated with somebody that’s tied into the [Hollywood] world. But even looking at films like Hatchett. That was an Independent film that brought attention back to original horror.

I also think VOD and all these different ways to get your film out to more people helpful but they can also potentially damage your chances. Because distribution companies aren’t going to look at these film [in the sense of] a theatrical release, unless it’s like the gimmick of the week. So no one’s going to want to take that chance to do the theatrical release. But with VOD you have next to no cost. Whereas with a theatrical release you have to get prints made. You have to get how many thousands of copies of prints sent out. And so I think VOD is going to become the new way for horror. VOD, iTunes, all those different mediums.

AB: We did hear recently that there is something coming along that is similar to what Bandcamp does for bands.

JP: It’s Vimeo. Vimeo’s going to have a “tip jar”. I think they launched in [early-mid October]. But it’s called the “tip jar.”

AB: Pay what you want film viewing.

JP: Yep. And so Vimeo takes there cut but then the rest goes right back to the filmmakers.

AB: Right. I’ve been waiting for a Bandcamp equivalent in the Independent film industry because I think Bandcamp is one of the best things to happen to Independent music online in the last 5 or 10 years. And Vimeo is filling that void for film.

JP: A little bit of the difference between music and film is that for music, yea it costs money to make a record but I would say it costs less money to make a record than a film.

AB: Far less. **Laughs**

NE: One day of filming is more expensive than any record I’ve ever made. **All Laugh**

JP: But I think this “tip jar” thing will be beneficial. With Dead Weight we have investors in the film that gave us money to make it. We have to pay back those investors. So the only way were going to be able to make another film is if we can pay back these investors and stay on good terms with them. They know they gave us money and got it back. I trust these guys. And so with the “tip jar” if somebody likes a film, and they donate that money, that’s essentially saying, “Please make another movie”.

AB: You’re literally voting with your dollar.

JP: Especially in the Independent world.

AB: When people support you directly on a small scale like that it gives you the drive, financially and emotionally, to go on and keep making films…If you do things right and keep meeting the right people in the right places you can potentially become very successful. That would be awesome if that happened to us but we’re not going to cross our fingers or hold our breath. We’re just going to try to keep doing things by the skin or our teeth because we love it. And we love working with these people. What did Peter Jackson say when they start filming “The Hobbit”?

JP: Films are challenging and tough and exhausting…

AB: Difficult to make

JP: Difficult to make. But it’s the people you make them with that make them special and push you along.

AB: And that’s been our total drive. It would be great to make some money. We want to at least be able to pay people back and keep doing this. But our main drive is to keep getting community involved. Dead Weight was such a special thing. We call it the ”Dead Weight” family for a reason. It’s not a farce and not some romantic idea we like to put in people’s heads. There was serious bonding that happened when we made this movie. Cast and crew alike we were a family.

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