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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Interview with Cameron McCasland + a short review of his new film; H.P. Lovecraft’s The Beast In The Cave

Cameron McCasland (left) & Larry Underwood
Cameron McCasland, Nashville based filmmaker, generously gave me a chunk of his time a few days ago, as well as a free early sneak peak at his latest short film, to talk about the particularly interesting recent events in his career. Cameron is by now a valued friend of 5D, with two of his previous offerings The Lashman & Tailypo having been featured by my good self. Nevertheless, he still came back for more.

So without much further ado (in other words, for a change it means that there will be no initial pointless ramblings from me) I'll begin with a rather excellent in-depth interview with the man himself. Following that there is a consideration by my good self of his latest, and rather fine offering, H.P. Lovecraft's The Beast In The Cave.

The Interview bit with Cameron McCasland

Q) It's been quite a year for you with the release of Tailypo - give us a flavour of what the experience and reaction has been.

Tailypo has been a fantastic experience in almost every respect. I missed our big screen premiere at Imaginaruim Film Fest because I was in San Fransisco California with a feature film I produced called Paternity Leave at the California Independent Film Festival. Both Paternity Leave and Tailypo played Imaginarium, and we found out after we left the screening they had both won awards. So the first time I got to see it on a big screen was at a Drive-In event that Dr. Gangrene (my long time television producing partner Larry Underwood) hosted. It played between the Goonies and A Nightmare On Elm Street. It was just an incredible evening. I had never had a movie screen at a drive-in and it was just amazing to have that experience. It went on to play a ton of film festivals (count is at 37 Film Fest selections currently) and I've been able to travel to a number of those. 

It's really refreshing to get to talk with other film makers and see their movies. Just gives you a breath of fresh air creatively. I’ve seen some great movies out there. Its a bit like going to summer camp. We got nominated for an Emmy, and that was special this time around as my dad made the trip to the ceremony. He had a pretty bad accident last year and spent about six weeks in the hospital. It was his first real trip out, and I was just really happy he was able to be there. And we won the Rondo Award, which was a huge honor. Oddly enough I got a text that we won during the premiere of “What’s The Matter With Gerald” at the Nashville Film Festival. Which is a movie I produced for Matt Riddlehoover, who also directed Paternity Leave. So that's a nice book end to that story.

Tailypo in some exalted company.
Q) Urban myths such as Tailypo can be a rich source of inspiration for filmmakers. Would you consider another, or even a series of Urban legend films?

Yes for sure. And that's another interesting thing about being able to take it out to screen it. I have met scores of people that had heard a separate version of the story, or had another boogeyman story to tell me that they grew up on. I learnt a lot about local legends. Each place has their own myths but they all share certain elements. But for me Tailypo was special, as it was the story that scared me at a young age. So doing another one would be a bit of a different journey for me at this point. I can’t get that childhood fear back. But I love creature features, and I hope I get to make another one someday.

Q) I enjoyed immensely your feature-length slasher movie, The Lashman from a couple of years ago. Why have you concentrated on shorts rather than feature length films recently?

Well, I have and I haven’t. While Lashman is the last feature film that I directed I have produced a few other feature films with director Matt Riddlehoover and that scratches a certain itch for me. I mentioned Paternity Leave, but we have a new film titled ‘What’s The Matter With Gerald’ that is currently screening at festivals as well. But the shorts kind of came from a different place. It was really tough getting Lashman made, in that I spent my own money on it and we had a few bumps getting it to the home stretch. I'm really proud of what we did, but its a wonder that we pulled that off sometimes. 

With Tailypo, it was just a story that i wanted to get out of my head and it made sense as a short. Then i had the idea that id do an anthology but get other film makers to do segments, but that didn’t happen as easily as i thought it would so I just started trying to put them together myself. So that's whats happening now. I'm filming shorts and sending them out to festivals, but plan to collect them all in one place for more mass consumption later. And its been great, because its allowing me to work with actors who might not can commit for a month of shooting a feature, but they are available for a few days to do a short. And its really nice being able to turn something around in a few months as opposed to a year or so from script to screen on a feature. The other part of it was I was doing a lot of music videos and documentaries which is a different kind of film making that I enjoy. That also helps pay the bills.

Q) Being a big H.P. Lovecraft fan I was excited to hear that your latest short was an adaptation of one of his stories, The Beast in the Cave. What do you find special about Lovecraft?

Lovecraft is a pretty interesting guy. I don’t consider my expert by any means. But I think he is special in the way that he created a new mythos with Cthulhu & the Necronomicon to name just a few aspects of his body of work. That's rare, and the kind of thing every story teller dreams of doing. And with Beast in the Cave specifically I was just amazed that he wrote it at the age of 14. That story isn’t as widely known as some of his greater works, but I think it does clue you into the idea that he was dedicated from the start to be a storyteller, and he never really wavered from that.

Q) Why in particular choose The Beast in the Cave?

Well, I had a few reasons, but honestly it was sheer logistics. Robert Rodriguez wrote a book called Rebel Without A Crew that I have taken as my film making Bible over the years. In it he talks about making a list of things you have access to. Equipment, actors, locations, etc. We had access to an actual cave just north of town and Larry Underwood came to me with the idea of doing it. I talk to Larry on the phone a couple of times a week, but it had been a little while since we had done a project together as we just kind of needed a break after wrapping up our TV show Dr. Gangrene Presents. I had been working on Tailypo, and he had been doing this series on Vincent Price and writing a book. We also invited Chuck Angell to come out and shoot and do some creature design. He used to direct the old Dr. Gangrene show before I came on board, so in a way it was just getting the band back together to see how it still fit. 

And it offered some challenges for me. We had to backpack in a few miles, and there wasn’t any power so we shot everything with battery operated Led lamp and firelight. We also had to limit the gear, as it was a bit of a treacherous pass to get there. The story was fairly straight forward with limited actors. The way the story is narrated made sound less of a concern, which was nice because we didn’t want to have to come back.  We cast Wynn Reichert who is a friend here in Nashville. He had been in a few things I produced and he host a radio show here in town called Nashville Film Radio that I had been on a handful of times. Mark Greenbaum who plays the guide has worked on a few Dr. Gangrene live events as well as the TV show. And the guy in the creature suit was Joey Drake, who was also the guy in the creature suit when I made Tailypo. So you kind of had this mix of people I wanted to work with as well as being able to turn it around fairly quick. And just the challenge, of shooting on location in an actual cave which was interesting. It was hot outside, but the cave was comfortable climate wise on a summer day. But we also had to all stand bowlegged for a good part of the day because the cave got narrow at points.

Q) There is a rich source of Lovecraft material for future adaptations -  would you do any others? (The Dunwich Horror is my particular favourite)

I think its hard to make horror movies and not at the very least have some indirect influence from the guy. And any time you do an adaptation like this you open yourself up to people looking for that in your work. I actually attended a Lovecraft panel with W. Scott Poole (who is an expert on Lovecraft) during Crimson Screen Film Festival in Charleston, South Carolina and he showcased a lot of that in his discussion. It was really interesting for me as I had just completed Beast In The Cave. I actually sent it to Scott just to see if I got it right, and he gave me a great quote that we have been sending out with our festival kit.  

“In the flood of short films attempting to interpret Lovecraft’s work, Cameron McCasland’s The Beast in the Cave rises above them all like Cthulhu from the corpse haunted city. Taking one of Lovecraft’s little known juvenile tales and adding his penchant for memorable characters and thoughtfully crafted frights, McCasland’s brilliant little chiller places him at the cutting edge of a new kind of horror; brainy, shocking and, haunting the viewer at the edges of sleep. Lovecraft wouldn’t have admitted it, but he would have be undeniably pleased.”
W. Scott Poole, author of In the Mountains of Madness: The Life and Extraordinary Afterlife of H.P. Lovecraft

But as far as doing another straight Lovecraft adaptation? I don’t have anything in the works at the moment. But I'm open to the idea if an opportunity presented itself.

Q) What is the current state of the independent movie scene in the States at the moment?

Well, that's a really interesting question. I'm really happy with the democracy of the whole thing currently I suppose. Its possible to shoot things cheap and make them look great, that is if you have talent. But because its so cheap to make things you see a lot of junk getting passed off. But I like the idea Amazon put forward about getting payed for how much the audience watches when it comes to streaming. It forces people to try and make something watchable, where as before a slick poster and trailer could sucker them into buying something that wasn’t great. But the DVD market is gone, and no one really wants to pay for streaming. Netflix doesn’t really want indies anymore, and that's where the core of the audience is. 

Back in the old days you could share space at a rental store. So Terminator 2 was next to Toxic Avenger. That isn’t the case now. I don’t know anyone that is really selling to distributors for any upfront cash anymore. Its either film makers marketing direct to fans, or taking back end deals that never really pay off. But crowdfunding helps it seems. But I'm not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. And every few years something comes along and changes the game. That's a good thing. 

Honestly, the thing I'd like to see more of is people doing more house party & bar screenings. Just pop up events with indie films. Pass the plate around and keep film makers out touring like a rock band. We need more interesting venues to screen, because the big chain theatres are cost prohibitive. And I still think there are people who want to sit with like minded people and watch movies. We just need a better way to get them together. We don’t more movies really, just more places to show them.

Q) You've recently completed another short film, Prisoner of Perdition. What can you tell us about the plot, inspiration and plans for the film?

Prisoner Of Perdition has been amazing to make. We just finished shooting about a month ago in Hopkinsville Kentucky at the Copper Canyon Ranch where we made Tailypo and a big chunk of Lashman. Its kind of my movie home away from home at this point. I wanted to do a western for a long time. If you think about it, Lashman has a western element and Tailypo does too in a certain light. But those were more horror films dressed up in a western. With this I had a few things I wanted in the story. I gave those elements to Larry Underwood who put a script together that we were both really happy with. It’s not a straight western, but I'm not certain Id call it a horror movie either. It's kind of like those westerns they made on the Twilight Zone. It has this other world element to it, but its not right out front. It came together nicely too.

I met an actor named Rusty James earlier in the year in Evansville Indiana at the Alhambra Theatre Film Festival where Tailypo was screening. We had a few conversations at the festival and when we started putting the cast together he came to mind. And John Wells is in it. I had admired his work for a while. He has a great on screen presence, and he was the first person who came to mind so I’m glad he liked the script and jumped on board. And Michael Longstreth who I had worked with many moons ago on a short fills out the room. It was just a lot of fun to see these guys play together. We had a large cast of extras, and it all went smoothly save for the heat and long hours. But that just comes with the territory. 

We’re in the editing phase now, and I have a really good gut feeling about it. I'm excited to show it off. Hoping to do a full festival run on it, and then pair it in our anthology of weird tales.

Q) What are the future plans for Cameron McCasland?

Well Tailypo is beginning to wind down now. We have a few more engagements this year but I'm not planning on touring with it anymore after October. My new short film H.P. Lovecraft’s Beast In The Cave starts its festival run this month Perdition should start the same around the first of the year. Lashman is finally getting a DVD release soon. I know people have been waiting forever on that one. And I produced a short film called ‘Heart Of The City’ which was directed by my long time director of photography Josh Ickes. Hope to have that one out real soon. 

Outside of that I'm about to shoot another short titled “Retrieval Service” after the story of the same name that Larry Underwood wrote for his book “Tales from parts unknown”. Outside of that I’ve got both a feature length western and a car chase movie in development that i hope to shoot next year. The shorts have been great but I'm ready to climb the feature film mountain again. In my personal life the kids are about to start back to school and I'm just hanging out with my wife and friends as much as I can. Its a good life really.

The review bit for H.P. Lovecraft's The Beast In The Cave.

I'll put this out there right now just in case you didn't catch it in the interview, but I'm a HUGE fan of H.P Lovecraft. In fact I would probably go as far as declaring that he's my favourite ever writer of horror fiction. I would go even further in suggesting that The Dunwich Horror is THE example of almost pitch-perfect atmospheric story telling leading on to a mesmerising and chilling climax. In other words, I quite like Lovecraft.

This means that I often become a little, how can I say, 'unsettled' when it comes to film adaptations of his work. The thing is, some filmmakers seem seem more interested in simply having Lovecraft's name being attached to their work rather than an possessing an authentic passion for the source material. The result is often less than acceptable when it comes to transferring his work onto the screen. 

I have absolutely no problem at all that some adaptations can alter markedly from the original text, as long as the feel and passion for the narrative remains authentic. Sadly, this is not always the case. Thankfully, Cameron McCasland has produced not only a sympathetic Lovecraft adaptation, but also a hugely assured and enjoyable slice of chilling storytelling. 

H.P. Lovecraft's The Beast In The Cave tells the story of a man who has become separated from the rest of his touring party which had been exploring the huge cave systems on the outer reaches of the city limits. After wandering lost for some time his torch finally expires leaving him in total darkness. His despair at not being able to find a way out of the cave systems is soon replaced by abject terror as he hears the sound of footsteps and muffled noises approach him - and they don't sound human!

The story was adapted for the screen by Larry Underwood (who also co-produced the film with McCasland) and as you would expect the dialogue - particularly the narration - is satisfyingly authentic without ever distracting from the visual events. It must be said that the sound quality of the film is consistently excellent and a joy to listen to.

At just over five minutes in length there is hardly time to refill ones glass of wine (a prerequisite drink and perfect accompaniment for any Lovecraft tale and something in which I believe you'll find by law you have to indulge in). Nevertheless you'll find that it's also five minutes of genuine enjoyment (even without the wine) as we are transported into a subterranean world of hidden terror. 

One of Lovecraft's many talents was to condense into just a few pages his stories of horror with such a descriptive adeptness that the length of the tale became an irrelevance. This can't have been easy for the film makers in this 'in your face fright-fest' horror era that we sometimes find ourselves in. However McCasland and Underwood have crafted an evocative and chilling example of impending terror exemplified by some excellent lighting and camerawork that must had been something of a challenge in the conditions to say the least. 

I don't want to give too much away for those who are unfamiliar with this, one of Lovecraft's less familiar short stories. All I will say at this point is that the ending was extremely satisfying - both in terms of the chilling climax and the realism of the beast that awaits our unfortunate lost soul.

H.P. Lovecraft's The Beast In The Cave is making its world premiere the weekend of August 19-21 at both the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Providence, RI and GenreBlast Film Festival in Culpepper, VA (where Tailypo is also screening). 

I would like to go on record in thanking Cameron McCasland for once again allowing we here at 5D time and opportunity to talk with him and to get an early look at his work.

You can find out more about Cameron McCasland via his Twitter handle @CamMcCasland and his Facebook page RIGHT HERE.

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