Making MODEL HUNGER with Debbie Rochon, Tiffany Shepis & Lynn Lowry (UPDATED)
by, 08-04-2012 at 07:14 PM (3753 Views)
Back in 2009, on a Buffalo location for Slime City Massacre, I told Debbie Rochon she should direct a feature of her own. She told me she planned to do just that at some point, but I’m sure neither one of us imagined that three years later to the month we’d be working together on Model Hunger, her directorial debut, once more in Buffalo, where I live.
Model Hunger was written and executive produced by James Morgart, who directed Debbie in Won Ton Baby, an outrageous comedy which paralleled SCM’s production and release. We’re forbidden to divulge plot details at this time, except to say that James’s script deals with the extreme pressure that the entertainment industry places on women to appear thin for the camera. The film is based on “Ginny,” a short story James wrote for GoreZone. The three show stopping horror scenes James wrote are as intense as anything I’ve read, but I’m happy to say there’s also a lot of subtext and character interplay that I appreciated as a writer.
Debbie announced Model Hunger as her directorial debut just a few months ago, in the pages of Fangoria #314, which featured her on the cover. When she asked if I would produce the film if she and James brought it to Buffalo, I couldn’t refuse. Fortunately, my wife understands that I need to work on film productions periodically, and after the great job Debbie did for me on SCM, I welcomed the chance to pay her back.
My official title on the film is Line Producer; Shannon Lark is the producer. I made it clear from the start that I would also be the First Assistant Director. The script was extremely ambitious for our budget, and I knew that everyone would have to work hard to stay on schedule. I secured the locations necessary for the story, enlisted local crew members, and found housing for the many actors and crew people coming to Buffalo. I also recommended an insurance courier, sought help from Tim Clark and Rich Wall at the Buffalo Niagara Film Commission, and created the shooting schedule, a very tricky bit of business when you’re dealing with so many actors coming to town for limited blocks of time over eighteen shooting days. This was not a guerrilla shoot, but a full production.
My contributions were logistical, not creative; this is Debbie’s and James’s film. During pre-production James was in Pennsylvania, studying for tests to get his doctorate while planning the Viscera Film Festival, and Debbie, between other film projects, was based in another country. This left me as the point man in Buffalo and prevented any real production meetings, except between myself and the locals I brought on for various positions. A lot of e-mails were exchanged and we soldiered on; it's what we do.
Debbie and James shot some highly unusual scenes at a soundstage in New York City, at the School of Visual Arts, courtesy of my friend and former film instructor, Roy Frumkes of Street Trash fame. I’m not at liberty to say what they shot, but I will reveal that the scenes involve Suzi Lorraine as you’ve never seen her before. We were only able to get SVA very close to the commencement of principal photography in Buffalo, so Debbie had less time to prepare here than she would have liked.
The bulk of the film was shot at a two-family house in the heart of Buffalo, off the Elmwood strip, which consists of bars, galleries, and hippies galore. The exterior of the house and the first floor served as the home of Lynn Lowry’s character, and the exterior of the house next door and the second floor of the first house served as the home of the characters played by Tiffany Shepis and Carmine Capobianco of Galactic Gigolo fame. In the real world, our DP, Wolfgang Meyer, and gaffer, Dan Lipski, lived at that location, our base of operations, as did several actors, including Carmine, who I found to be a real counterpart: we’re two middle aged guys who made our bones in the 1980s era of VHS releases. When we shot on one floor, the equipment, costumes, props, and make-up department had to be on the other floor, and vice versa.
James brought his own special make-up effects team comprised of Ingrid Okala and Marissa Masella, so I brought Rod Durick, my SFX supervisor on SCM, and author of Filming the Undead: How to Make Your Own Zombie Movie, on as a set carpenter; he built a coffin with breakaway sides, an important closet, and a false wall for his basement, which served as a key location. He also became the landlord for Debbie, Ingrid, Marissa, and David Marancik (an actor in the film and our set photographer). After talking shop with Ingrid and Marissa, Rod was enlisted to serve on the SFX team as well, and everyone was pleased with his work. The things that man can do with a banana…
When Carmine, Debbie and I started out in the 80s, it was surprisingly easy to find volunteers who would bust their butts on a film for the chance to learn and contribute. In recent years, because of the glut of micro-budget films being produced it’s become a lot harder; it’s difficult for prospective volunteers to know which projects are worth their time. For Model Hunger, I was able to enlist a top crew of truly dedicated individuals that rose to the occasion, including:
Sam Qualiana, 2nd AD, winner of the first Buffalo Screams Filmmaker to Watch Award and director of the upcoming feature Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, which I co-produced; Stacey Book, script supervisor, now a Buffalo Screams volunteer; Ben Kamm, boom operator, an intern from SUNY Fredonia; Phil Marinucci, camera PA, another Buffalo Screams Filmmaker to Watch; Paul McGinnis, who assisted our production designer, Jen Morgart, and became the driver for out of town actors; Sunny Halecki, our costume designer; Brenda Rickert, who assisted Marissa with make-up early on and helped us score an important location and a necessary picture vehicle; Jenn Rodman Brown, our coffee PA and runner; our fight choreographers, Alex and Manny McBryde, who stepped in on short notice; our caterers, Samantha Ryan and Amy Dunphy; and the notorious WIL Keiper of the website Horror Yearbook, who once again made friends in record time.
There were others – there are always others, it takes a village to make a movie. When I first met Tiffany, at a festival in Florida five years ago, she fawned over my daughter because she missed hers; on this shoot, I enjoyed spending scattered moments with her daughter Mia while my girl was in New York City. Stacy Pipi Hammon, who arrived from LA with Shannon midway through the shoot to conduct behind the scenes interviews, quickly took responsibility for making sure we had craft services and that they arrived at our various locations. If you’re reading this as a fan, take my word for how important seemingly small details like this are.
As for the local actors who worked on the film – Lisa Dee, Samantha Hoy, Michael O’Hear, Bob Bozek, John Renna, Kathy Thiel, Jennifer Bihl-McMahon – every one of them did our city and me proud.
Wolf did an excellent job as cinematographer and Dan was almost supernatural in his lighting ability; their refrain that scenes looked “sick” mercifully replaced “Oh, snap!” from SCM as the catch phrase on Model Hunger. Adam Bloch, our sound mixer, turned every location into a portable recording studio; I laughed the night he was set up on the porch roof and someone called him “a fucking mad scientist.” Actor Michael Thurber – soon to impress the world in Richard Marr-Griffin’s disturbing Exhumed - is one of the nicest and most talented guys in the world; fellow actor Brian Fortune, who traveled all the way from Ireland, is uniquely devoted to his craft; I can’t describe what Kaylee Williams and Rachel Conn did without revealing spoilers, but they did it supremely well; Mary Bogle, my longtime friend who’s appeared in all of my films, was as excellent as a bitchy mom (on very little sleep); and Michael Varrati transported us all to another decade. There are a couple of other bit players I’d like to mention – special “guest stars” – but their identities must remain secret until we unveil our website.
Tiffany and Lynn were extraordinary in their starring roles. It was fascinating to see the short hand Tiffany and Debbie used to communicate with each other (they’ve worked together several times). In one dramatic scene, Tiffany brought me to the brink of tears; the only other actress to ever do that was Debbie, during her monologue in SCM. I’ve been a fan of Lynn’s for years, and it was a thrill to have her involved, but nothing prepared me for her professionalism and the performance she gave; I honestly believe her portrayal of Ginny will be remembered as one of the great villainesses in the genre, with a Tennessee Williams twist. Even when I sat out of sight during some takes (because the basement set was so crowded) her line deliveries gave me chills. Additional performers you may know include the musician Voltaire and Lloyd Kaufman from Troma Entertainment.
It should come as no surprise that Debbie did a great job on this film, in the face of tough conditions (long hours, low budget, lack of pre-production time), but she did better than that: as I posted elsewhere, she isn’t just an actor-director, but an actor’s director. It was a true pleasure and a real eye opener to watch her work with the cast; she identified how to get the best performance from each person, whether that involved pushing buttons, firing up the energy, or just standing back. I imagine that Model Hunger will be completed at the end of the year for a 2013 release, and I predict that it will feature the best acting of any genre film released that year. It makes sense that a professional actress would work hard to get the performances she desires as a director, but Debbie cut no corners. Few people realize how hard it is to direct a film, especially one involving thirty speaking roles, and working fifteen hour days (on set; then we go home and prepare for the next day) takes its toll on everyone; those of us who have been through this before learn to run on exhaustion rather than cave in to it. La Rochon held up well; a little battered, a little scarred, and a lot more knowledgeable about what directors deal with behind the scenes. Welcome to the club!
I recently visited the production headquarters of Troma’s Return to the Class of Nuke Em High in Niagara Falls (a funeral home!), where Lloyd Kaufman (who visited the set of Model Hunger) articulated the same philosophy of filmmaking that I have: “This isn’t about being a nice guy, it isn’t about having fun – you have to be ready to go to war!” That attitude really is necessary, especially on a low budget film with a tight schedule. In the end, the finished film is all that matters.
For exclusive photos from Model Hunger, check out this online Fangoria article:
UPDATED: Fangoria.com has already posted a second article on MODEL HUNGER, announcing the full cast and featuring quotes from the stars:
The deadline for submissions for Buffalo Screams Horror Film Festival is September 1st; this year we’ve added a special contest: the filmmaker who makes the best Faux Grindhouse trailer will receive a $500 cash prize.
Fangoria #316, available this month, features a lengthy interview with me conducted by David Goodfellow, who also visited the set of Model Hunger.
My latest books, the zombie novella Carnage Road and the werewolf novel The Frenzy War, are available in print, Kindle, and Nook editions.
Come visit me at the Medallion Press booth, where I’ll appear with Booker T, at Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, August 9th – 12th; Rue Morgue’s Festival of Fear, August 23rd – 29th; and at New York Comic Con in October.
The Jake Helman Files: Afterlife Project, a free ap for ipad users featuring two dozen illustrations chronicling Jake Helman’s exploits, will be available October 8th at www.medallionpress.com.
Tortured Spirits, Book Four of The Jake Helman Files, will be available October 1st. I promise it’s my biggest and best book yet! To prepare, read the first three books in the series: Personal Demons, Desperate Souls, and Cosmic Forces – all are available in print, Kindle, Nook, and Audible.com audio book editions.
Snow Shark: Ancient Snow Beast, directed by Sam Qualiana and co-produced by me, will be available on DVD from Alternative Cinema this winter.