Today I'm sitting down with filmmaker Jose Prendes to discuss his films, his writing and the fascinating path he's taken... enjoy!
Q: Could you give me a little bit of background on how you got into screenwriting/film making?
I was an only child, and I lost my parents when I was five, so I was very lucky to find myself in the hands of my Godparents, who I came to see as my parents. My dad was a huge movie buff, and he never really set limits on anything I could watch, so banished away my loneliness by plunging into movies and books and things like that. I knew very early on that I wanted to be a part of the movie world. At first, I wanted to be an actor, and I dabble here and there, but I discovered a knack, and an unquenchable love, for writing, and realized that the real power behind a film was the writer/director, so I set my sites on that and haven't looked back since!
Q: You’ve been making films since 2001, The Monster Man been your first credited feature, which stars genre legends Linnea Quigley and Tom Savini how did that come about?
I had just finished film school and wanted to put my learning to the test, which is something that a lot of film school graduates fail to do. I decided to shoot a modest movie, on DV, with my friends as crew, and it ended up getting distribution, which blew my mind. It remains to this day my all time favorite filmmaking experience.
Q: You wrote, directed, produced and starred in The Monster Man, labour of love or only way to get it made?
Everything you make should be a labor of love, because in the end what is the point to any of it? I did all that because I wanted to do all that, and yes, I knew there was no other way
to get it made, and I wasn’t going to wait around for something to make my dreams come true, I was going to force them into reality myself. That’s sound advice for anyone who wants to be a filmmaker. If you can do it yourself, then do it yourself, it’s more rewarding.
Q: How did you go about funding it?
I had family loan me the money, and I was very grateful to them for that!
Q: Did your family get their loan back with interest?
No. No, they did not. But it was an investment in my future! A farm doesn’t usual pull a crop the first year.
Q: Your next work seems to be as a screenwriter on Song of the Vampire, how did that come about?
I got that because the female lead in MONSTER MAN, Denice Duff, was going to make that film her directorial debut, and she asked me to come on board and do a re-write to make it less goofy. It's funny, because MONSTER MAN is a comedy, but she had a feeling I could add something to it, and I tried my best. It was a fun project and I loved going to the New Orleans set and hanging with the crew. Good memories.
Q: A lot of writer/directors start out with short films, you jumped straight into features, did you try shorts?
I did try shorts, in film school. The truth is shorts are worthless in the commercial sense. They are great for practice and cutting your teeth on a set and figuring things out, but as a professional filmmaker, it does nothing for your career. Now, there are exceptions, and career’s have been started based off of shorts, but when you compare it to the amount of shorts that get forgotten the odds are astronomical. It’s a way better bet to make a feature, because then you can at least try for distribution. With a short, all you can do is play festivals, because no one buys shorts. I did shoot a short on 35mm in black and white, with an eye to incorporating it into a feature, which eventually became by second feature, CORPSES ARE FOREVER.
Q: Your next film, Corpses are Forever, you take on multiple hats again, do you enjoy the different roles?
Again, it was a case of no one is going to push this train down the track faster and harder than me, so I took all those jobs (and more that I didn’t credit myself for) with a glad heart because I was making my dreams come true. That film was bigger in scope, with 35mm cameras, and a larger cast, but I had a bigger crew, who kicked ass and we got it through. I got to work with the amazing Brinke Stevens, Debbie Rochon, Felissa Rose, and Linnea again, as well as the now-late icons Richard Lynch and Don Calfa. I also met my wife on that set, so it has very fond memories.
Q: There’s a gap of five or six years before your next work, what were you working on during that period?
I wasn’t able to afford another movie, so I busied myself writing novels, and scripts, and getting married, and moving to Los Angeles.
Q: Your next few films are as a writer, all genre fare, were these spec scripts or commissioned gigs?
Commission gigs, and the less said about these, the better.
Q: You’ve also worked in TV, with Veronique Von Venom and Rest for the Wicked (and others), what are the biggest differences to Film in your opinion?
Well, it’s not really TV, they were youtube shows. We shot them pretty much how we would shoot a film, so no real difference.
Q: Some of your more recent work has been writing for Asylum, how is it working for them and how did you break in?
Asylum distributed CORPSES ARE FOREVER, so that’s how I came to work for them. I’ll be honest, I can be rather frustrating at times, and I hate feeling like a typist, but they gave me a shot to make films, and I will forever be grateful to them for the opportunity.
Q: What’s your personal fave in the work with Asylum?
THE HAUNTING OF WHALEY HOUSE, hands down, because I got to write and direct that sucker, and got to cast with talented young actors and had an amazing crew, and we really got left alone to make our own movie, and people tell me that it doesn’t feel like the typical Asylum film. That’s probably why I wasn’t asked to direct again, and we went our separate ways.
Q: You wrote and directed the 2015 release Blood Brothers/The Divine Tragedies, what can you tell us about it?
It’s based on the Leopold and Loeb case of 1924, about two men who decide to pull off the perfect murder to prove their mastery over mankind with their intelligence. I took a David Lynch/David Cronenberg stab at the idea and turned it into this surreal story about serial killer brothers.
Q: Blood Brothers has a different tone to the Asylum work and some of your earlier projects, was this a conscious shift?
Blood Brothers was a different type of movie than CORPSES or WHALEY, and I knew it needed to have room to breath, so I left it decide for itself what it wanted to be. It was conscious up to a point, deciding on colors and music and aesthetic things like that, but for tone I look back at the script and what came out of there. Sometimes I don’t know what the characters are going to say or what is going to happen, and that’s exciting, that’s when the movie takes on a life of it’s own.
Q: Again you’ve managed to assemble a great genre cast, including Barbara Crampton, Ken Foree, do you hire these specifically? If so why?
Casting was interesting for this one. I had the two brothers in mind since the beginning, and then we spent a few months tracking everyone down. I’ll be honest and say that we didn’t have anyone in mind for the roles of Barbara and Ken, but when they names came up it was as if the universe had delivered them to the movie, like they were always supposed to be a part of it. I love their work and they loved the script and the characters, so it was an easy slam dunk.
Q: Any amusing anecdotes about the famous (to genre fans) stars you’ve managed to work with over the years?
Nothing I can share. Hahaha!
Q: You have Unspeakable Horrors: The Plan 9 Conspiracy, coming up... it sounds fascinating and again the cast(?), part documentary I’m guessing?
It’s a documentary exploring the hidden meanings behind Ed Wood’s infamously “bad” movie PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. We get in a lot of trouble with the government over that, and I’m not sure how much I can saw about it before they com and arrest me. I was honored that folks like Joe Dante, Mick Garris, Fred Olen Ray, William Lustig, and others would join me in exposing the truth and hopefully redeeming Ed’s work. It will premier in London at the end of April, if MI-6 doesn’t shut us down.
Q: Any other projects in the works we should be looking out for?
I published a novel a few years back called SHARCANO, which was a direct response to SHARKNADO, but I wanted to tell that kind of story with no regard to budget or studio interference, so I wrote the most kick-ass, action packed version of a B-grade shark movie, and it’s done very well. People usually pick it up as a joke, and then they read it and realize it’s less like a Syfy Channel movie, and more like a Michael Chricton novel meet a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Anyway, the sequel will be coming out on 2017, hopefully, and it’s titled: SHARKS OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Also, I published my first two non-fiction books in 2016: THE HIGH-CONCEPT MASSACRE, featuring interviews with 13 genre screenwriters including Carl Gottlieb and S.S. Wilson, and THE ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE DARK CAMPFIRE COMPANION, an episode guide/interview book about the beloved Nickelodeon tv series from the 90s. Both are available on Amazon, as well as SHARCANO.
Okay onto some writing specific questions...
Q: When it comes to feature scripts, how do you approach structure in your scripts? Do you follow any particular method?
I don’t like to worry about method, my concern is the story. Odds are if you’ve seen a ton of movies, you will know what structure is and what feels right, and if the structure makes sense or not, and if a story is solid, meaning it contains a beginning, middle, and end, then it has a perfect structure.
Q: There are a ton of people out there who offer coverage services, position themselves as gurus etc, what’s your view on such services?
Don’t do it. It’s pointless. Agents and managers don’t care about that. They are basically frustrated writers who want to leach off of you to make money. Trust your gut.
Q: What are your thoughts on the business side of screenwriting, getting your scripts ‘out there’ and networking to make connections?
Getting anyone to read your shit is the toughest part. I’ve had good experiences and bad experiences and some led to a rep, while most didn’t lead to anything. There is no hard and fast way in. I would suggest some prestigious festivals that tout the fact that agents read the winnings scripts, because even if you didn’t win there is a chance that someone who knows someone read your thing and loved it and wants to pass it on. I’ve just passed on scripts to folks, who have passed it on and on, and until something happens. I haven’t been able to shake anything loose for very long, but then again I realize I am not the commission guy. I tried it, and I didn’t like it, so I want to focus on making my own shit.
Q: If you’ve used services/sites like Inktip, SimplyScripts, The Blacklist, what’s your view on this type of model for screenwriters to get their scripts seen, and hopefully picked up?
Never used them.
Q: What’s the best and worse screenwriting advice you’ve been given?
Best and worst advice I got was: “quit”. It was the worst, because it’s so negative, but it was the best because it set that fire in my gut upon hearing it and I knew I wasn’t going to quit just to prove him wrong.
Now for a few ‘getting to know Jose questions
Q: What’s your favourite film? And favourite
script, if they’re different.
My favorite film is a tie between Jaws and It’s A Wonderful Life… very different, but very similar for the effect it had on me. Both of those films are brilliantly scripted.
Q: Favourite author and book?
Favorite author is Mark Twain, a kindred soul, and my favorite book is probably Tom Sawyer, or The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, I can’t decide.
Q: Beer or Wine (or something else)? And which variety?
Scotch. Any variety.
Q: Favourite food?
Hamburgers and fries. I’m a simple guy.
Q: Any other interests and passions?
I’m in a weird position where my hobby is a my career, so I have no side interested. However, I am putting on my own convention in June 2017. It’s called Kid Kon, and it will be the world’s first kid-centric pop culture convention. It’s a ton of work and planning, but like anything I endeavor in it is a labor of love.
Q: I believe you also run Kid Kon in Pasadena, what can you tell us about it and how’d it come about?
I’ve been wanting to put on a convention for a while, but never had a solid enough idea. As a father of two, I realized that there wasn’t anything that really spoke to the young fandom, it all seemed to be middle-aged guys, so I wanted to create something that was strictly geared to kids and the stuff they love. So Kid Kon was born!
Q: Any final thoughts for the screenwriters reading this?
One word: quit.
Thanks to Jose for such an enlightening interview. Follow Jose on twitter @JosePrendes
About the interviewer: Anthony is an award winning screenwriter from the UK with 2 Features optioned and over 30 Short scripts optioned, or purchased, including 8 filmed. Outside of his screenwriting career, he’s a published short story writer and movie reviewer. Links to his films and details of his scripts can be found at www.anthonycawood.co.uk.