Sunday, July 24, 2016

Digging Up the Dirt with KillDozer and Independent Film Maker Jim Towns

Jim Towns is a writer and director, currently finishing up State of Desolation and already thinking about what he'll do next. He took some time to answer KillDozer's questions about filmmaking, funding, and his upcoming film.

KillDozer: First let's start with a quick intro of who you are and what you do. I realize that asking what you do could lead to you writing volumes since it seems as though you do everything from music and writing to editing and animation. 

Jim Towns: Mostly, I write and direct films. Mostly horror, but I’m looking to branch out in the future. I’ve also published some short weird fiction, I edit and do illustration, graphic design, and animation as well. I’m kind of a creative one-stop-shop.

KillDozer: You have an extremely impressive list of projects under your belt with no less then 9 taking place in 2016 alone. Do you prefer the producer or director role? Do you pick one over the other due to time constraints?

Jim: There are some projects which are all mine and I want to have 100% creative control over bringing to life- like State of Desolation and the anthology shorts I’ve been having a blast making lately. There are other projects I create as a vehicle to work with other talented filmmakers I know, and it’s neat to generate an idea and then see where someone else takes it. There’s always a maelstrom of projects circling in the creative kettle… usually chance and timing play a big part in which ones will suddenly happen and which ones need more time to stew. 

KillDozer:  Why are you so dedicated to this genre? What motivates you to go from making a black and white silent film like Prometheus Triumphant to a zombie film like State of Desolation?

Jim: At the end of the day, all movies are just a series of separate shots (usually filmed out of order) which are then strung together to tell a compelling visual story, which you hope viewers will connect to. In that sense, a silent gothic film and a post-apocalyptic thriller aren’t really that different. The mechanics are basically the same. 

I started out doing silent films as a way to begin at the beginning of film- its simplest and purest narrative form- and from there begin to hone my craft and develop my skills in writing dialogue and working with actors. I had some missteps on the way, but by the time I got to House of Bad (2012) I felt like I’d gotten the knack for how I approached modern filmmaking, at least. The horror genre has many things going for it- in a way it’s the most pristine and unchanged genre of film. All the others- dramas, action films, romantic comedies- have evolved and changed drastically since the advent of motion pictures. That’s not to say horror hasn’t become more sophisticated in the last 100 years since Thomas Edison’s silent version of Frankenstein. It absolutely has. But I feel like horror is the genre that’s most proud of its antecedents, and in a way that makes us all inheritors of those genius works- and that makes all horror fans and filmmakers a bit of a family. You can totally feel it at Monsterpalooza or Days of the Dead. We’re a group united by our mutual love for monsters. I feel at home here, and these are the stories I want to tell.

KillDozer: Do you edit your own trailers? If so what are the benefits? Is it harder to edit a trailer for an independent film knowing that most of your audience's only exposure to it will be through the trailer?

Jim: I’ve edited some of my own trailers and distributors have edited trailers for me. Usually I prefer my own edits, but I’m sure that’s not surprising. Editing a trailer is a bit like making a music video. Normally there’s a structure in place and sometimes a set piece of music to cut the footage to. It’s like reverse engineering, and it couldn’t be more different from making the film itself, but it’s a fun challenge to create something that showcases the best of what you created in an efficient manner, without giving too much away. Again, I like to have control over as many aspects of my films as possible, so I get very hands on with the teasers and trailers that promote my films.

KillDozer: How does your background in art translate to your film making? Are you still able to work on paintings or does film take up all you time?

Jim: You know it’s all about telling a story with pictures, whether they move or not. I think the advantage my art background gives me is in the writing/planning stages, where I can conceive the action of a scene visually in three dimensions in my mind, and storyboard it out so that everyone on set, cast and crew, all know how all the bits we’re shooting will eventually fit together, so by the time we’re filming, a lot of the creative work is already done.

It’s funny how painting and fiction writing have become my things to do to take a break from filmmaking. They’re both solitary creative endeavors which don’t require a cast or crew or a budget or craft service or anything- so the pace I progress at is all my own. I’m doing a series of portraits now of famous monster actors in and OUT of their makeup- Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, etc. It’s very meditative and after a tough film shoot it’s a great way for me to burn off any leftover creative energy.

KillDozer: Do you watch your films with audiences when they travel the festival circuit? If so why, and what is that experience like? Do you ever wish you could take the film back and re-edit after it screens based on audience reaction?

Jim: The funny thing about watching one of my films with an audience is that half the time I’m just watching the audience watching the film and gauging their response, and the other half I find myself seeing it through their eyes in this kind of detached state, and asking myself “who made this weird thing?” But for the most part watching my own films with an audience is an excruciating experience and it’s one I try to avoid. Usually I’ll stand in the back for a bit and then hang out in the lobby for the larger part. By the time I finish a film I’m usually sick to death of it and just want to move on to the next project. It takes a few months for that feeling to fade. I’ve learned valuable lessons from the experience though, so it’s something I’d say is definitely worth making yourself do. I’ve never had the urge to re-cut the film at that stage- by the time you’re screening it’s pretty much done and scored so it’s too late to change anything- you gotta live with what you created.

KillDozer: What is fundraising like when trying to get a project off the ground? Do you support films with your own money?

Jim: The state of funding in independent film right now is in a really, really bad place. There’s a glut of content being generated by filmmakers now that floods the market, so it’s incredibly hard to do something that stands out and can get funding behind it. Also the elements that attract a lot of funding aren’t necessarily the elements that make a good film.

KillDozer: What attracts you to a certain screenplay? Do you have favorite writers that you prefer to work with?

Jim: I write all my own stuff, so I don’t read too much but I like a script that flows and reads very narratively. Some screenplays read like some sort of math equation or diagram. Those can become great films, of course- but they’re not a lot of fun to read.

KillDozer: What is your most recent project? How did you get involved with it?

Jim: We’re finishing up the final post for State of Desolation right now. I’d been working on doing something unusual in the post-apocalyptic genre for a while, but was focused on another project at the time. Jamie Bernadette and I have known each other for years and have always wanted to do a project together. Then in 2014 circumstances came together with locations, talent and funding so State of Desolation seemed destined to become a reality, and we both jumped at it. 

KillDozer: Making a zombie movie seems like risky business as most genre fans have turned pessimistic when it comes to that subgenre. What made you want to take the risk? How is your film different?

Jim: Usually I avoid going in a direction that is over-saturated with content like the zombie subgenre. What really attracted me to doing SoD was that it’s really a father/daughter story that happens to take place within the context of the zombie apocalypse. I’d written a good deal of it as my first screenplay when I moved to LA in 2005, so it was a perfect chance to finally get to realize some of the concepts and scenes from that script in a new and contemporary way. I think the story we’re telling and the characters we’ve created are incredibly relatable, and I don’t think the viewer necessarily needs to be a huge horror fan to get engaged in it. At the same time, it’s also maybe the most extreme film I’ve made to date, so it’s not like some candy-ass drama version of a zombie film, either. There are bits that will full-on freak people out. We go places most other zombie films haven’t gone, and in many cases we go deeper than anyone else has ever delved. I’m very proud of what we created.

KillDozer: When and where can we go to see/purchase your work? Do you have a web page or instagram?

Jim: All my films and fiction are available on Amazon and multiple other sites. If you’re in the Midwest and still have a Family Video near you, they carry a lot of my films for rent. You can also keep up with what’s coming up here: 
Twitter @jim_towns

KillDozer: Okay, here are some fun quick questions. If you could own one piece of movie memorabilia what would it be?

Jim: Probably one of the Millennium Falcon miniatures. Maybe Christopher Lambert’s claymore from Highlander. Or one of the puppets from Mad Monster Party.

KillDozer: What is your dream budget for a project?

Jim: Honestly, a couple million. I want to keep some of the autonomy that goes with being a smaller blip on the radar.

KillDozer: What is the last film you watched in a theatre that blew your mind?

Jim: Honestly, the Richard Stanley documentary Lost Soul. I think every filmmaker connected with the hell he went through. I saw a screening of Halloween III in a packed theater last year as well, and it was amazing how enthusiastic everyone was about what’s commonly considered a misfire in the franchise. It was a fun time. Tom Atkins and I are talking about doing something together next year that I think will absolutely blow folks away. He’s a great guy and we’re from the same hometown, so I really hope that one comes to pass.

KillDozer: What's better: a synth or symphonic score?

Jim: Depends on the film. My first film Prometheus had a great blend of organic/synthetic music Lucien Desar composed for it. Sean Gould’s State of Desolation’s score has a mix of strings and digital elements and you’d be hard pressed to tell which is which. Last year I made an 80’s era trailer for a fake film called Arbor Day and Jeffrey Dean did a really Carpenter-esque synth score for it that was perfect. Someday I’d like to do a film with an all-cello score. I’ve always thought that would be neat. It’s such a dark, resonant, haunted sound.

KillDozer: If you wrote a book about your life what would the title be?

Jim: Man on the Range, because that title’s only funny if you’re me and it’s my book. So there.

You can get updates on Jim Towns's work on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And find out more about his past, current and future projects are on IMDB

Below is the trailer for Jim's upcoming film State of Desolation.

And this is the trailer for House of Bad which came out in 2013.


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