Longtime followers of this blog who migrated over from the original Joseph Luster Report are no doubt familiar with independent filmmaker Jules Carrozza, or his more notorious former moniker, Kojiro Abe. If you’re just joining us, stop by some of the classic posts for a bit of a refresher course, or just start watching some wild stuff on his YouTube channel.
Carrozza’s current production, Alison in Wonderland, is also his first stab at a feature. Now that production is nearly a wrap, I sat down with him once more to pick boogers from his bizarre brain.
Let’s start off with a little catch up. Where are you now in production of Alison in Wonderland, your first feature?
We are almost done shooting, with six more days of complete shooting to go plus some minor green screen pick-up shots. Right now, I am getting ready to do a big scene in January where Kendahl/Alison and Holly/the Red Queen sit down to a candlelit dinner of grotesque delicacies like flamingo and ape’s brain and discuss liberty vs. despotism. It’s going to be one of the best scenes in the film I think, I am putting wedding veil over the camera lenses and lighting about 50 candles to make the scene look like a vintage painting. I call the scene the Barry Lyndon sequence. But I don’t have an actress for the role of the Queen’s Geisha-like maid servant, the girl I originally cast pulled out because she went back to school, so I am looking for an Asian girl right now. We also will be soon reshooting the school scenes with Jake Schwartz (the Mad Hatter) also playing the role of Alison’s soon to be ex-boyfriend Derek.
How long has this been in the works, from inception to today? Tell us how it all began.
It will have been almost seven years by the time its done in 2013. It’s a long story spanning almost a decade. I’ve been thinking about this movie since shortly after I finished Little Red Riding Hood really. It all began back in 2007 even before Dream House went into production. After Red Riding Hood I was eager to make another fantasy/fairy tale based movie and of course Alice in Wonderland was a natural choice. Ryan Murphy was also making his Wizard of Oz comedy No Place Like Home while I was doing Dream House, so that was getting me psyched to make Alice. I even considered shooting both Dream House and Alice the same summer, but that of course didn’t work out.
After Dream House and its lukewarm reception, I was especially eager to make the film, but I’d say the original script was just as bad as Dream House’s . It was just a knock off really. I tried to get the original incarnation of the film made back in summer of 2008. Ryan, whom I hoped would help me with the movie, and I got in conflict over Alice and it helped ended our friendship. Finally, the ship was sunk when the actress I had hired walked off set after an hour of shooting, bemoaning my lack of the professional resources. It was the most intensely frustrating summer of my life and that’s partially why I made the ultraviolent and twisted The Magic Forest.
At the same time, I was going to a horrible corporate art college that I hated, I wound up dropping out and I went home for a year. It was at that point I decided to return to Alice in Wonderland and I kind of changed it around. The original script was very simple and only 25 or so pages long, it has some of the elements of the final version there but not all: Alice gets depressed when she gets dumped by her boyfriend, the White Rabbit is a girl in a Playboy Bunny get-up, the Caterpillar is a pothead and Alison is almost executed by the Red Queen (who in this version was a Japanese noblewoman named Lady Asano). The new script I penned in late 2008 was a completely new animal, almost 70 pages long. I changed the title to Alison in Wonderland and the name of the protagonist to emphasize that it’s a new, modernized version of Alice in Wonderland. One of the biggest problems in the old script was that Alice/Alison was not a very well developed character, in this version I tried to write her as a real, flesh and blood, troubled young woman and added a layer of political satire. In a way all the characters of Wonderland in Alison represent different dysfunctional elements of our society. The Mad Hatter was given a redux to make him a complete psychopath with Heath Ledger’s Joker as a big influence. The Red Queen was changed into a sort of cruel medieval warrior queen like Elizabeth Bathory.
Though I did a fair amount of conceptual work for Alison in 2009, my time was mostly occupied with Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou and I didn’t start working on it until late 2010 when I began building the props. I began casting for it in spring of 2011 and began shooting in August 2011 after production was delayed due to a myriad of problems. Then we shot for a month or two and production was delayed again until this year and I was able to get a considerable amount of the movie shot including all the Mad Hatter scenes. But sadly this year, with the Red Queen scenes, I ran into trouble again and things are stretching out a little into next year, though I am still aiming to have a finished film by August 2013.
What equipment are you using, and what kind of roof does your budget have?
It is the very first HD shot Gen-Y Films production. I am shooting with a DSLR and an HD camcorder for moving shots and B-roll coverage. Those DSLRs are a wonderful invention, they really put some polished looking images in the filmmaker’s hand for a minuscule price but they’re not perfect either and don‘t hold up well with handheld camerawork. My earlier films, especially Dream House, had a heavy use of wide angle lenses, the shooting style of Alison in Wonderrland uses more long lenses than usual. I am starting to like them more, they’re good for a slicker, more Hollywood look. I have shot something like 25 hours of footage, more than all my previous big projects put together. The movie will have wound up costing $20-30 grand at the end of the day. All the delays have driven the budget way up.
How have you been funding the film along the way? Have you had to have any investors step in and help?
I actually met someone at Myrtle Beach when I was there in late 2009 showing the recut Little Red Riding Hood who seemed interested in backing Alison but as deals made on a handshake and a few beers often do, nothing came of it. I tried Kickstarter as well but that was just pathetic, a few people told me to go fuck myself when I politely asked for a possible donation. I raised like $200 when I wanted twenty thousand. My mother and grandmother put up the money at the end of the day.
What are some of the challenges you’ve discovered in transitioning from shorts to working on a feature?
A short is like a half mile at most jog. A feature film is like running a marathon. That’s the best analogy I can make. It’s not really too different, you’re doing the same thing: telling a story with cameras and actors, but you’re in it for a much longer haul and it consumes far more energy. Scheduling is the toughest thing, most of my actors work so I have to make sure I book a shooting date up to three weeks in advance oftentimes and then there’s the fucking weather to contend with if we‘re outdoors, if it rains it‘s bad news indeed. We’ve been shooting mostly on Mondays because that’s the one day Kendahl has off from work. Keeping good continuity is another big struggle and is all the harder with a feature, with Alison I am trying as hard as I can to make a film that is as perfect as can be made and that is probably the hardest thing for a mortal to attempt. Everything is more of a challenge and I always am disappointed with the footage when I first get it because the images in my head are so fine. But gradually I grow to accept my footage once I edit it as nothing made by a mere mortal man can ever be perfect.
It seems you’ve hit a lot of snags in the process; actors flaking, etc. Hit me with the biggest horror story yet during production.
The film would have been finished probably six months ago if not for me getting screwed over by certain people. The way these people’s minds work poses so many questions in my head. How can they sleep at night after knowing that they’ve hindered someone’s dream? How do they survive in this world being seemingly completely unable to do anything concrete? Why the fuck did they say yes in the beginning or even apply to my Craigslist postings when they had no intention of ever following through?
The worst incidents, of which there’s been three occurrences, is when we’re literally all set to film and the actors just decided to play hooky and not show up for shooting. That enrages me. One of the worst times was when the first girl who was supposed to play the White Rabbit and promised she would come ended up not showing up when we were in the midst of shooting leading up to her scene. I was angry enough to smash a camera that day. Actually, finding a girl to play the White Rabbit was a real nightmare, nobody wanted to do it and get in that Playboy Bunny outfit. Literally about a dozen girls turned the part down before I finally found Diana, the actress who wound up doing it like two weeks before we were set to film. More recently, this one actor I had cast and actually filmed a day of footage with just decided to only come to shooting when he felt like it and I would up having to fire him and his footage had to be reshot so we lost a lot of time and money. It’s partially because of this that shooting has to stretch out another several months.
Speaking of actors, how has it been working with those who’ve stuck around? Judging from the production diaries it seems most everyone is having a good time. Do you feel you’re getting the best possible performances out of them?
One of the biggest joys of shooting has been working with the actors who have been professionals. That’s one thing about Alison in Wonderland that I think will particularly pleasantly surprise people, it has by far the best acting of any of my movies. Kendahl Light, Alison’s actress, is particularly great. She’s really turned Alison into a living, breathing person and brought this great sense of humanity to the role. Without her, there is no movie. Jake Schwartz has also done an excellent job playing a terrifying Hatter straight out of my mind. He’s just this insanely fucked up character, he’s pure evil, like unadulterated predatory “id” in human form. Comparisons with Dave Luce are sort of inevitable, but their methods are fairly different, it’s like comparing, say, Christopher Lee and Vincent Price, really quite pointless.
Also Holly Schaff is a joy to work with and very good and intimidating in the footage we’ve shot of her as the Red Queen, and Becky Howland is very on key as Molly. Aria David, who plays the March Hare and several other roles, has become one of my best friends and Eamonn McGrail, who plays two roles, is another good friend of mine and fellow filmmaker and I helped him edit his movie A Separate War. Jeff DeBiase, who was the lead in that film and plays a card guard and is my film’s fighting instructor, is always fun to have around on set too. Speaking of Dave, he and I have reconciled and he’s back playing a couple of macabre roles for anyone that missed him.
Did you come close to calling it quits? What’s kept you going throughout?
I never really considered outright quitting but most recently I almost decided to just forget shooting the Queen stuff and cut a shorter film out of it about the Mad Hatter as sole antagonist. You know, quitting while I was ahead. But I decided to, in spite of how difficult it was, start shooting the Red Queen footage anyways. However, I am thoroughly burned out so after this and the final cut of Black Sunshine: T.F. Mou are done I’m definitely taking some time away from making movies for a while. Who the heck knows how long it’ll take for my next project to get off the ground anyways; people in the industry could love Alison and be eager to fund my next project but it could be (and often more likely is) a years-long uphill battle.
What keeps me going is a mix of the love of filmmaking that I have with the strong urge to prove myself. You have to love it so much that you can put up with the myriad of frustrations along the way. Of course I really want to prove to myself that I can do it in the first place. I will be very happy once this over and I have a feature film in my hands. There are also more selfish, egotistical reasons for my perseverance too like sticking it to my enemies by succeeding.
How do you feel this compares to your past work so far? Critics (read: me) haven’t been as high on your projects following Little Red Riding Hood; do you feel you’ve improved as a filmmaker?
I can say, with as much objectivity that I can heap upon my own work, that it will be my best movie to date, though I am also pretty happy with Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou too. Dream House and the failure of the first Alice in a way were not entirely unproductive experiences. They taught me, at least, what NOT to do when making a film, sort of the Film School of Hard Knocks. Alison hearkens back to Red Riding Hood and very much looks like the same pair of hands made it but is a superior film narratively and aesthetically. It has a lot of similar ideas and elements to Red Riding Hood: Red and Alison are both held captive and tied up in the exact same spot by the Wolf and the Mad Hatter respectively in a grungy, horrible shack with depraved decorations. Ironically we used the same location for both scenes.
Alison is also going to duel the Red Queen in a scene very reminiscent of Red Riding Hood’s finale. I think I’ve matured immensely as a filmmaker since 2006, I can shoot and edit far better, but part of that maturity is realizing that making a movie is a lot more than just knowing how to shoot and cut. I have put in a massive amount of work and have tried to put a lot of attention to detail into every single scene from Alison’s cute, stuffed animal and poster-filled room to the dark, disgusting and dingy Mad Hatter’s house filled with sex toys, mutilated and blood stained dolls, human remains and a mix of porn DVDs and kids movies. I even aged up a lot of the props and wardrobe for a “lived-in” look, I wanted every detail to be right. I am sort of trying make the ultimate low budget Gen-Y Films production with a lot of the elements from my prior films brought to perfect synergy.
Has working on Alison gotten you any action with the ladies? What’s the love life of The Artist Formerly Known as Kojiro Abe like at the moment?
I wish I could tell you that there’s been some scandalous romances and decadence going on, but that hasn‘t really been the case. But I think I will succeed in my quest for love at the end of the day. Believe it or not, in spite of all the trussed up girls, dildos and teriyaki grannies in my current work, settling down with a woman who understands me and starting a family is very much in my plans.
After this, do you plan on continuing with the whole “fractured fairy tales” thing? Don’t you feel it’s a little played out at this point?
No and yes. First off it really kind of is played out, some people even questioned why I was making a movie like this to begin with. I mean, I already made Little Red Riding Hood. But I really thought there was more to be said with this, and besides, Alison in Wonderland really has little in common with Lewis Carroll, it’s more akin to Red Riding Hood actually, it has the basic skeleton of Alice in Wonderland but the flesh is pure Carrozza. I have finished scripts for my next two projects, The Witch’s Castle and Coup D’Etat,and one is a gritty drama about a murder and the other is a twisted and dark dramedy about a girl in a Christian school who decides to violently overthrow her school’s principal. I am also about 10 pages away from writing “the end” on my script Horror Colony and that project has more in common with Alison.
Really, Red Riding Hood, Alison and Horror Colony are sort of a ’fucked folklore’ trilogy. Dave Luce and I came up with the idea for Horror Colony, it’s an ultraviolent zombie film set in 1676 during King Phillip’s War when the English settlers and Wampanoag Indians were in violent conflict. I am from Plymouth County—in fact, one of my ancestors came off the Mayflower—and I have realized that really, the whole story of how the Pilgrims and Native Americans cheerfully sat down to a turkey dinner and all that is as much of a fairy tale as Red or Alice. Ironically Dave, when he was about 17 or 18, actually spray painted “Made in Taiwan” on Plymouth Rock which made the news and got him a few weeks of jail time. Horror Colony will be this scathing political satire about the injustices of America’s genesis and the script is as gruesome as Man Behind the Sun. The Red Queen scenes in Alison with the Queen speaking in archaic dialect a la your Bard’s Tale movies are a bit of a dry run for Horror Colony. The fact is that fairy tales, mythology and folklore will always be part of my oeuvre. My biggest dream project is to make Neon Genesis Evangelion into a live-action trilogy shot simultaneously like Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. You know, Little Red Riding Hood, Alice in Wonderland, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, even Godzilla and Evangelion, they’re all fairy tales really and part of man’s legacy.
It appears you’ve put on considerable weight during the process. Has the stress of filmmaking negatively affected your body, or are you going for more of a literal transformation into pre-surgery Peter Jackson?
Oh God no, I am greatly displeased by it, though it seems like Peter Jackson has gained a lot of his weight back from watching The Hobbit stuff. It’s all stress and I am trying to lose it again now. I hope to be slimmed down considerably by the premiere.
Is there anyone else you would point fans of your work to as far as low-budget indie filmmakers like yourself go? Who are your big influences right now outside of Hollywood and other industries, if anyone?
I don’t watch many modern independent films nowadays, some of it is really pretentious. In fact, in general, I watch less new movies than I used because I’m pretty busy. But I generally enjoy all the stuff I see at the couple of film festivals I’ve been to. One of my favorite movies I saw at Myrtle Beach was a film called My Sweet Misery—basically this dark and twisted romantic dramedy about a man’s struggles with his depression and post traumatic stress disorder. I actually tried to give Alison somewhat similar of a tone. The director, Matt Jordan, and I, talked for a while and I gave him a copies of Two Short Films and Alison’s script, he e-mailed me later and said he loved them both.
And of course there’s a lot of fun stuff on the internet, one of my favorite series of online videos is the Jiz series, episodes of Jem and the Holograms redubbed to make them really perverted. Jem is this horrible sexually depraved drug addicted apparently transsexual sociopath named Jiz. The Starlight Girls in the orphanage are now a bunch of underaged prostitutes and the house is a big brothel where Jiz gives them abortions. There’s even an episode where this runaway kid is turned into a young gay prostitute who defecates on people for a living. It’s great fun and awesome that the anonymous creator of those videos can turn a sappy girls show like Jem into something so unwholesome.
Finally, hit us up with some J.L. Carrozza advice for anyone who might
have similar aspirations.
Just keep doing it. That’s all I can really say. Tenacity is key to achieving anything worthwhile. Keep an open mind and learn from your mistakes and just keep plugging away.