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Discussion in 'General' started by Shawn Francis, May 25, 2011.
Interview: ‘Dear God No!’ Director James Bickert
BRUTAL AS HELL: Several days ago we showed off a killer trailer for a new gory exploitation flick called Dear God No! Immediately noticeable was the authentic feeling the trailer exuded. Whereas most modern grindhouse flicks are obvious homages, you’d be hard pressed to look at Dear God No! and point to anything in the trailer that indicated this film was made post-1985.
Much in the same way that Ti West created The House of the Devil in such a realistic way that you truly believed it was a product of the 80’s, James Bickert went straight for the jugular by putting authenticity at the top of the importance pile.
While James Bickert is a new name for a new generation of horror and exploitation fans he’s actually not new to this game at all. He’s been making films since the early 90’s. His last film, Dumpster Baby was released by Troma back in 1999. After Dumpster Baby Bickert took a break from filmmaking to focus on his career as a graphic artist. Urged by friends to get back into the game he concocted an outlandish concept for a biker film gone mad. Dear God No! is the result.
James and I caught up and talked all about making a film that is sure to have people talking over the coming months. The following interview is the result…
BAH: So Dear God No! is the first film you’ve written/directed since Dumpster Baby?
James: This is the first film in 10 years. I was sucked into the lucrative world of graphic design for awhile. (laughing)
BAH: Let’s get to it then! Obviously you have experience with 16mm. Was there even a thought about going with digital over 16mm, or was the idea of digital a total non-consideration?
James: Yeah, you’re right. Although many friends tried to convince me, I never really considered shooting digital. Technology had changed quite a bit since Dumpster Baby. I ran some tests but even with the technological advancements, digital still has a cold and artificial quality. As it turns out, film stock has also advanced quite a bit over the past ten years, just more quietly. Fuji’s Eterna Vivid is the nicest I have ever seen. I instantly fell in lust over it. The cost and development isn’t that expensive but the HD transfer is pretty steep. It’s worth it for the authenticity and production value it brings. We had some big help paying for the telecine through Kickstarter contributions. I wanted to make a beautiful lost 70’s drive-in exploitation film so the faux grindhouse look was never in the playbook. I like a natural grain, color saturation and softer focus. Fuji Film is beer goggles compared to digital when naked flesh and blood are captured. It just looks so right. Sorry, that sounded kind of creepy.
BAH: No worries on the creepy. We get that a lot! But I agree. Taking reference back to Northville Cemetery Massacre, which I mentioned earlier – I don’t know if you’ve seen that film, but when I watched your trailer it was obvious it wasn’t faux anything. There were a a couple shots that looked spot on to that film – and I’ll get to the detail of the content in a second, but there is a clear difference between distressed digital made to look and feel like 16mm and true 16mm. I do a lot of photography – well not as much as I used to – and I still swear by film. It’s more expensive to process, but I can do really cool things that can’t be replicated even with the best iPhone app.
James: Right on! My background is photography. The Northville Cemetery Massacre is a wonderful film but nothing was intentionally borrowed from it. Not consciously anyway. There may be a close visual resemblance because it wasn’t shot in California like the majority of biker films. No ocean or desert. I don’t recall Northville Cemetery Massacre having many custom choppers either. I think they were beat up rat bikes which would be another similarity to Dear God No! Hmmm… maybe you’re on to something.
BAH: So, if you hadn’t made a film for 10 years, what prompted you to go back and pick the camera up again? And double to that – where did the idea for the story come from?
James: Two of my producers Shane Morton and Nick Morgan had been bugging me pretty hard to get back into film. They were over one night for some beer at my backyard drive-in and I threw out some script ideas. They were drawn to the idea of a regional 70′s biker film so we ended up watching Savage Seven, Killer’s on Wheels, Werewolves on Wheels and a few others until sunrise. After seeing their enthusiasm, I started working on a script that would be fun, original, unique to Georgia and have something personal controlling the theme. The gallows humor running throughout just came natural. I Drink Your Blood and Death Weekend were the main influences and that’s what I showed to my cinematographer. What ended up taking shape was one fucked up version of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening! I’m really proud of the end result. It’s exactly what I wanted to make and the type of film I’ve been trying to discover for years.
BAH: A backyard drive-in? Why aren’t we neighbors!?
James: Anytime you’re in Atlanta, I’ll open the drive-in!
BAH: Sweet! You just mentioned the bikes – and that’s something I wanted to hit on. Like you said, they weren’t riding custom choppers in Northville. They were just a pack of all Harley’s. So I did want to ask about the bikes, and the riders. You mention beat up rat bikes. Are you stocking the film with some biker friends, or what’s the scoop? And are there any cool rides? And by cool – I consider a “beat up rat bike” to be pretty damn cool.
James: Billy Rat from the band Truckadelic plays the strip club owner and he turned us on to this crazy character Ronzo who owns All American Motorcycles. He and his son Bo have just about anything you want. The bikers in Dear God No! needed to be filthy nomad drug runners who probably ran a bike into the ground and then stole another one as needed. Ronzo supplied us with several pre 1975 Harley’s and even tossed in two Knuckleheads from the 40′s! All the actors had ridden before except one and Ronzo taught him in an hour! Georgia has a pretty strict helmet law so we paid a Sheriff in Mansfield Georgia to use a country highway where they had flipped some vehicles for The Walking Dead pilot. It looked like some abandoned pork project. A beautiful empty road through farmland that went nowhere. Well, there was a donkey named Jack at the end. He was friendly and a hit with our two child actors.
Other bike shots we just winged it. We had some more background Harley’s from locals at a pretty tough joint called The Tucker Saloon. While location scouting, I saw a UPS driver in uniform beat the shit out of a trucker so I knew it was authentic! Before we could use that location we had to get permission from a biker named Mad Dog. The Saloon is periodically a hangout for The Outlaws Motorcycle Club and I guess Mad Dog had to clear us or something. He was more excited than scary and we even put a squib on him. Turned out to be a nice guy. We even squibbed the manager, a bartender and several regulars. One of our actors had ties to The Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club and that location made him pretty edgy. He was the most accomplished rider and a whiz with a suicide clutch but he was also the only one to drop a bike!
BAH: That’s a fantastic story. I can imagine the tension. From what I understand there’s no love lost between The Outlaws and The Hell’s Angel’s. Fuck – they hate each other! I live near Laconia NH, so both clubs have a presence in the state. Come bike week… Damn, things get wild. And I love the bit about the UPS guy. A suicide clutch scares the shit out of me. Of course, I’m just learning to ride, so right now just running a straight line is pretty key. My background is really with hot rods – old Chevy’s and the ilk.
James: Nice! We used a late 50′s Bel Air for the Sheriff car in the film to give them a Mayberry feel. I love old cars and we feature some beautiful ones. There’s a 64 Falcon and a badass Challenger just off the top of my head.
BAH: So what of this crazy bigfoot or monster element that’s barely hinted at? Is mum the word, or is there something you can hint at around that? And then let’s talk about blood and gore before we get to wrapping it up.
James: Ahh Bigfoot. Well, he’s in there and he’s a killer. Likes to decapitate and rip folks in half. I’ve been down playing this element because it’s a major plot and thematic device that I don’t want to spoil. He’s the contributor to some of the nastiest gore in film. Let’s just say the film has Bigfoot… and Nazis! (laughing) That’s all I can say right now. If viewers just approach it as a Biker film, it will knock their socks or head off.
BAH: So – I won’t ask any more about the bigfoot monster. I think fans should be happy with Bigfoot, Nazi’s and Bikers. And real bikers at that! Now, let’s talk gore!
James: The gore SPFX and Bigfoot design were done by Silver Scream Spookshow host Shane Morton who runs a big Halloween attraction called The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse where you actually get to shoot zombies with paintball guns! He also worked on Rob Zombie’s H2 and Garret DeHart’s The Tell Tale Heart. It was pretty cool seeing the evolution of Bigfoot on set. For some shots he’s mechanical. In others he’s played by stuntman Nick Hood, and when he gets full screen time it’s gigantic actor Jim Stacy in full make-up. Nick Morgan and his fiancee Shawn McCarthy also supplied some major FX. They are involved with Luke Godfrey’s Gorehound Productions who run an adult themed haunted house called Chamber of Horrors and host the film series Splatter Cinema at The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta.
My favorite FX are squibs. They should set up a thrill ride at an amusement park where people get squibbed and shot. It’s the ultimate one second of terror and then the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. Everyone loves them and breaks into applause after you yell cut. I can’t get enough of squibs. I wish I could I squib something right now. (laughing)
BAH: What’s your technique on the squibs? You go basic with a little blood pouch? I know there’s some sort of air compression method too. You pack in little chunks of fleshy meat to add to the effect?
James: (Laughs) These were old school blood filled condoms and firecrackers set off by an electrical charge. We did have some blood shot with an air compressor gizmo but I was too busy working with the actors and camera crew to ask for blueprints. They also had old fire extinguishers shooting blood. That was pretty cool. The prosthetics were just down right gruesome. Full of tubes shooting blood all over the place. There was three locations where you couldn’t stand in one place for very long or your feet would get stuck to the floor from all the kayo syrup. The film slate is so stained it looks like a newborn. Shane Morton did have to shell out some money for home repairs!
BAH: That’s nuts. If you could squib anyone – and I mean let’s do it right with a big shotgun blast – who would it be?
James: If I could squib anyone with a shotgun blast, it would be Don Stroud. Just because I would be working with Don Stroud! Hell, Sid Haig, Fred Williamson, Franco Nero, Pam Grier, Sho Aikawa, Antonio Fargas, David Hess, Tomas Milian, Edwige Fenech, Lina Romay, Meiko Kaji and Vic Diaz! I would love to squib all of them too!
BAH: Meiko Kaji?! What did she ever do to you?! (laughing) That’s a great list.
Last question – Is there anything our readers should know about the film that we haven’t discussed already, or is there anything I didn’t ask that you were kinda hoping I might?
James: You might want to add this because it’s pretty interesting: All the bikers had full tattoo sleeves but we kept them covered up because they didn’t resemble the tattoo work you could get in the 1970s. The lead biker Jett Bryant is ironically lead singer for the stoner rock band Bigfoot.
BAH: And it keeps getting better. Well listen James – Thanks for all your time talking to us. It should go without saying, I’m really looking forward to seeing this film. Hopefully we’ve just gotten a hell of a lot more people excited for it as well.
Currently Dear God No! is finalizing post-production and will start to be rolling out to select festivals and showings following. Keep it tuned in here for updates as James and crew continue their progress, and take a moment to check out that awesome trailer again, right below.
this movie looks amazing. that bigfoot looks amazing. i need to see this.
Director talks Dear God No!
KILLER FILM: While it seems like since Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse, a slew of other similar styled throwback films have cluttered up our appreciation of drive-ins, James Bickert’s upcoming biker/horror film Dear God No! is going to change that, giving us a loving “lost” film in the vein of Werewolves on Wheels. Killer Film caught up with the director, who’s in post-production finishing the score and sound mix as we speak, for the low down on what should be a fan favorite soon.
Jon: If IMDb is to be believed, it’s been about 10 years since your last directed film in Troma’s Dumpster Baby. During this interval, what led to Dear God No‘s inception?
James Bickert: IMDB is correct. Dear God No! was one of many projects I had planned to do 10 years ago. It was called The Sketchy Seven and more of a biker Seven Samurai-meets-Cemetery without Crosses. When Dumpster Baby came out, Troma botched the sound duplication which had been mastered by Todd A.O. Edit Works (Independence Day). They didn’t seem to care that you could no longer hear the dialog track and shipped thousands of units and even put it on Netflix.
I knew we were not going to make any money with Troma, but getting the film in big box stores was the goal so I could find investors for more films. But that was impossible to do with the product they put out, especially when they put “unrated directors cut” on the box. It stopped my momentum dead. My experience with Troma had me so frustrated, so broke, and so upset that I quit making films. Time healed some wounds and hanging out with producers Nick Morgan and Shane Morton helped me remember that it’s all about the love of the genre and making films you want to see.
Jon: Most filmmakers strive to have no limitations, yet you confined yourself with the same limitations most directors of the 1970s had. What were these restrictions and how did they ultimately benefit Dear God No?
James Bickert: The equipment from the era wasn’t a limitation at all. We used a ton of practical effects from blanks to explosions. It is way more fun filming these things on location than sitting at a computer. The biggest restrictions we put on ourselves was time and crew. I’ve always been fascinated with Roger Corman shooting Little Shop of Horrors in 48 hours and wanted to experience that insanity.
We shot for 7 days with another ½ day for some inserts. It was nuts. To achieve this we had to stream line crew to perform multiple positions and have several months of planning every second. We didn’t have any P.A.’s because I knew they would just get in the way and slow us down. When your shooting 12 pages a day on film it’s easier to walk over and move something or grab something than ask somebody to do it. There was one 20 hour day where I almost had a mutiny, but we can drink beer together and laugh about it now. (laughs)
I think it benefits the film because it has a personal and immediate quality that regional exploitation films had in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Luckily I had a good A.D. (Michelle McCall), cinematographer (Jonathan Hilton) and Gaffer (Dave Osborne) to oversee my nonsense.
Jon: There’s an artificial feeling to these recent grindhouse type of films, but not Dear God No. You claimed you wanted to make the film feel as if it’s a long lost 70s film, instead of something run through some post-production effects. What led to this decision and how was it achieved naturally with today’s technology?
James Bickert: I grew up in the south and we didn’t have anything like a 42nd street. We had drive-ins and the prints didn’t look that bad. I had the pleasure of meeting David Friedman at The Starlight Six Drive-In in Atlanta and he still had original prints of She–Freak that looked better than most grindhouse homages. I just felt it would be silly to shoot digital and try to make it look like scratched up film when you can just use some of the amazing film stocks Fuji is currently producing.
Then it doesn’t need After Effects. You can use that program for adding muzzle flashes to a temperamental Tommy Gun or removing a brand new dishwasher from a shot. The quest for the ultimate high definition has become kind of absurd. I’m not against digital at all, but for this project it would have been a hindrance. I did use the faux grindhouse artifice at the beginning of our trailer as a joke. Dear God No! itself contains none of these gimmicks. We play it all very straight. If you really want to make a digital film look old, use a pink filter and hold a bottle of vinegar under your nose. (laughs) That probably wouldn’t look right either.
Jon: You were also proud of using 14 naked women, all natural, in the film. Sex and boobs are all pre-requisites for those movies in the 70s, but nudity as it is today, is different. How has nudity changed over the decades in your opinion, and what was the intentions for this in Dear God No?
James Bickert: Nudity today doesn’t seem very natural. It’s like our culture has gotten away from the care free depiction present in the films of Russ Meyer and Paul Glickler’s wonderful The Cheerleaders. They celebrated the beauty of women. Anna Biller got it right with her film Viva, but what little nudity there is now in mainstream film seems to be accompanied with a shocking swelling score. Nudity can be so much more fun than the click of a mouse to some cheap cougar banging.
I approached it like it was no big deal. I tried to keep nudity separate from the violence towards women but there are some overlaps. Hell, there is a great deal of nudity in Dear God No! and much more violence towards men than women. You can call me out as a sexist pig or something, but I’m a dude who likes nude women.
I know women are smarter than men, so maybe they’ll cut me some slack. (laughs) My wife does. The model firing the Thompson in the trailer had such nice breasts that crew members, including women, were betting on if they were real! I’m happy to report they are 100% natural.
Jon: Can you talk about casting Madeline Brumby, Jett Bryant, and the rest?
James Bickert: Madeline Brumby we found in a casting call along with Paul McComiskey and Olivia LaCroix. She had the most amazing big anime eyes. Madeline had the difficult task of being the only sympathetic character in the film and those eyes really help sell it. Paul and Olivia were phenomenal. Paul plays Madeline’s father with more secrets and evil motivation than a Evangelical preacher. His enthusiasm for the project was contagious and he really acted circles around the rest of us. I can’t go into Olivia’s role because it’s a plot twist, but she was so intense she scared the shit out of everyone. She even creeps out Richard Davis who is doing the score and has never met her!
Jett’s role was written with him in mind. He’s an extremely talented local legend who is Snake Plisken and R.J. MacReady wrapped into one. Jett’s the real deal. The most helpful and professional actor I’ve ever worked with who will be a big star one day: count on it.
Jon: One of the fun surprises in the film is the FX work on the creature Bigfoot. I believe the work was done by Shane Morton (Rob Zombie’s Halloween II)? The film has this Werewolves on Wheels feel. What were some of Dear God No‘s inspirations?
James Bickert: Shane did some amazing FX. It was fun to watch the evolution of Bigfoot on set from a mechanical Bigfoot, Nick Hood the stunt double to Jim Stacy in full make-up. There are some really good old school blood gags Shane, Nick Morgan and Shawn McConathy pulled off. One effect in particular should have everyone cheering.
Although the plot is truly unique, there were tons of inspirations for this film. Jon, you have a good eye! The opening credit montage was inspired by Werewolves on Wheels. There are also nods to I Drink Your Blood, Cool Hand Luke, Grizzly, and Death Weekend. Hell, the cans in the bait store scene have Jess Franco, D.B. Cooper, Antonio Fargas and Bruno Mattei’s face on them. The beer the bikers drink other than PBR is called Corman’s Malt Liquor. Those props aren’t even noticeable; I don’t hang on a close up of them. They were there for actors and crew so we could be in the 70’s.
The script uses my favorite characteristic of films from this period. When you take a meaningful social theme and basically destroy it because the exploitation overshadows the idea. This was probably never done intentionally, but it was with Dear God No! I guess the ultimate example of that is Cannibal Holocaust, which the bikers’ logo is modeled after.
We also have this amazing Mc5 / James Gang 70’s rock soundtrack supervised by Bryan Malone from The Forty Fives, but we also included a folk song called “Dear God No!” that sounds like it’s from Born Losers. I always like that weird juxtaposition like Larry Cohen’s Black Caesar has this wicked James Brown music and then one song with Larry’s wife singing that seems totally out of place. That is part of the era and that’s what this film is all about. Living a 70’s drive-in film and not trying to show how clever we are because a boom mike enters a shot or adding a fake film look.
I can’t wait to hit the streets with this film so I can make another and return to the 70s. It won’t be 10 years this time.
New Poster. For all those on facebook, 'LIKE' DEAR GOD, NO's page and you'll be entered into a drawing to win it. THey'll be drawing 10 random names on 10/31.
I had not heard of this until just now- actually looks pretty interesting - im sure i wont be able to see it around where I live but ill check it out for sure when its released on dvd/blu
First review of the movie.
COUCH CUTTER: I literally just got home from the premiere of James Anthony Bickert’s “Dear God No!”. As any of our regular readers would know, I was in love with this film about a year ago when I first visited the set. But two of the producers literally took me to the side tonight and said “Be brutal.”
I can do that.
If you are looking for a highly stylized, glossy throwback to grindhouse style cinema, watch “Hobo with a Shotgun”. If you want a grindhouse film that actually looks and acts like one of the originals, then “Dear God No!” was made for you. “Dear God No!” is a grindhouse homage in the most sincere sense that I think has been seen in the 21st century. For better and for worse.
Set in the seventies, it was shot on Super 16mm film, boasts a breast-count of 31, and employs only practical effects (which are f#$king fantastic). But the technology is not the only thing that feels so genuine when comparing to the films that Mr. Bickert seeks to mimic. There are naked dancing scenes that last way too long, actors stumbling on their lines (yet still making the final cut), and sex (rape) scenes in which the perpetrators and / or the victims are still wearing their underwear. All that said, these are among the truest aspects of the genre of film being honored here. This will likely be respected, even admired by purists and film buffs, while audiences that learned the word “Grindhouse” from Quentin Tarantino will probably be turned off by these elements.
The film itself is a lot smarter than one would expect from a dirty-biker-bigfoot flick. There are some amazingly creative scenes and snappy dialog that typically falls flat in independent films, but the cast pulls it off really well. As for the rest of the acting performances, they are hit and miss. As I was watching, I made the assumption that most of the scenes had been shot in one take. This was later confirmed by one of the producers (keep in mind, shooting on film stock can get expensive).
I will say, though, lead actor Jett Bryant is a rock star! I don’t know if he will win any Oscars in the future, but he was born to play this role. His epic beard and naturally gravel-heavy voice are pure magic. I also really enjoyed Shane Morton’s performance. His character was probably the only one I really cared about when it came to living or dying.
But make no mistake, this movie is FUN! It really doesn’t get boring (and the only time it gets even close, you are staring at boobs, sooooo…) There are vintage motorcycles, topless gun fights, great gore, and some extreme, boundary-pushing shit that I won’t spoil for you.
Forget about everything you know when it comes to grindhouse homages. “Dear God No!” is the closest to the real thing that can reasonably be expected in this century.
Limited Edition DVD and 1080p HD Blu-ray
Anamorphic Widescreen transfer from original Super 16mm film.
Director & Composer commentary.
Behind the scenes gag reel.
Vlog the Magnificent at the world Premiere.
Torture Porn promo.
Art & Still slideshow.
6 Easter Eggs!
I saw this at a screening here in Atlanta recently and enjoyed the hell out of it--definitely picking this up!!!!! :banana:
Actual reviews are rolling in...and they haven't been pretty.
Reviews of the film or the quality of the disc?
The film itself. It seems like a lot of the initial positive buzz was a bunch of bullshit. And now that it's actually been seen by folks not involved in the production, it appears Dear God is a steaming pile of crap...
But who knows; I mean--you liked it.
I usually love the Bigfoot horror film sub-genre but must admit the trailer for this does very little for me.
I bought into the hype for Black Devil Doll which also claimed that grindhouse type feel and thought it was a major piece of crap. A cool premise that degenerated into a softcore porno cheapie.
I may check this out, but doubt it will rival Night Of The Demon for pure Sasquatch sleaze and entertainment.
Just watched this and enjoyed it quite a bit... definitely urge grindhouse fans to check it out!
I caught it a couple months ago and didn't care for it at all. While they did shoot on film, it was still quite amateurish and really uneven.
Well, I also love most of the stuff Something Weird Video puts out, so that should give you an idea of its quality. I mean, it's not supposed to be "good"...I don't think so anyway.
Yup, a lot of the REAL Grindhous movies from the 60-70:s was very amateurish and badly acted as well.
Sadly the Tarantino/Rodriguez "Grindhouse" movie, gave most people the wrong idea of what these movies was like back in the day, as that double feature was made way to slick and had perfect state of the art SPX etc.