Interview with Kody Zimmerman, writer and director of the short film, THE FAMILIAR
FR: What is your short film about?
KZ: It’s about being fascinated with something only to have the reality of it crash down on you. That could be anything—a girl you have a crush on, a career you’re pursuing, a sports hero you admire. In this case, it happens to be a kid who’s obsessed with vampires, the same way someone might be obsessed with “Star Trek” or “Star Wars.”
I read a story once where Bruce Springsteen hopped the fence to Graceland to meet Elvis. At the last minute, he turned back. He knew the reality could never live up to what he built up in his mind. Unfortunately, in my film, the main character decides to go through with meeting his “idol” and pays a price for it.
FR: What inspired you to come up with this story?
KZ: I’ve worked in the film industry for a while and have done my fair share of assistant work: producer’s assistant, actor’s assistant—you name it.
The majority of the people I’ve met are great—real salt-of-the-earth types. But every once in a while, you find yourself in bad company: the screamers, the damaged souls, the power trippers.
One job in particular, I realized I wasn’t serving a sane person, and this is someone whose work I admired. I started sympathizing with the Renfield character in “Dracula”—just a meager slave trying to survive the top dog’s demands.
Since most people can relate to their boss as a bloodsucking fiend from Hell, the metaphor fit.
FR: Romanticized vampires such as in TWILIGHT, TRUE BLOOD, and VAMPIRE DIARIES are in vogue right now, yet you take a more “old school” approach. Was this deliberate?
KZ: I can’t speak for “True Blood” (I still have the DVD box set in wrapping on the table), but “Twilight” and “Vampire Diaries” are marketed to a completely different audience that aren’t tried-and-true horror fans.
I was raised on movies like “Fright Night,” “Lost Boys” and “Near Dark.” I like my vamps charismatic, dark and shrouded in the supernatural, so I’m more inclined to show that version.
It’s funny though. I showed a rough cut of the film to a friend of my wife’s who criticized my portrayal of vampires. She’s a huge “Twilight” fan and informed me vampires don’t smell bad or sleep in coffins, but are perfect beings who constantly struggle with their humanity.
Which, in a roundabout way, does sum up Sam’s journey in the movie. He’s bound by his own misconceptions. He thinks these guys are rock stars – rich, misunderstood, and confident. What he actually encounters is a petty and downright evil bastard.
You can’t miscalculate something like that – even when you think the tiger’s been de-clawed, you still better watch out for the fangs.
FR: Both leads are very engaging and amusing, how did you go about casting your film?
KZ: Torrance Coombs – who plays Sam – has this open vulnerability to him that just cried out to be abused by some evil Satanic force. He had to be a complete contrast to the vampire’s world-weariness. It helped as well that Torry’s a sci-fi fan, so he understood the “being obsessed” angle right away and the sarcastic attitude that goes with it.
We lucked out with Paul Hubbard, our vampire. My producer worked on a commercial with him, so when it came to finding our bloodsucker, he told me he was a “must meet.” Paul has this whole “lived-in” aura to him and gave the bloodsucker a shifting personality that went from threatening to belligerent to neurotic.
FR: How did the production come together? What was the budget & how long did it take to shoot?
KZ: Five days and fifteen grand. We had a heap of help from the Vancouver film industry that would’ve thrown it into the six-digit mark if a final total were tallied up.
My producer Riley Walsh and I called in favors, and thankfully, fortune favors the foolish.
The production designer of “X-Files 2” gave us a ton of flats to build our sets with and then proceeded to build the sets for us. William F Whites delivered a five-ton truck of lights and grip equipment. We got a great deal on our Sony F-900 camera package from Sim Video, who also transferred the footage and made the dubs for us. North Shore Studios opened up an empty stage for us to shoot in, and Sharpe Sound threw everything and the kitchen sink into the sound editing, foley, mix and design.
Our crew was comprised of professional industry vets. People who usually get paid $500 to $700 a day were coming out for free, treating it like a professional film set.
In post-production, we were privileged to get great work out of VFX, music and sound design.
FR: What do you hope your short film achieves?
KZ: At the end of the day, anyone sitting behind a monitor with a script in hand really wants to tell an audience: this is how I see things, I hope you like it. If someone has a good time watching it, that makes me happy.
I also think every short is built as a calling card for bigger projects. Hopefully it does that too.
FR: How did you get into filmmaking?
KZ: Without sounding too much like a cliché, my dad took me to “Star Wars” when I was a kid, and that was it. I grew up in Northern British Columbia, where you spend seven months of the year sheltered from the elements. I overdosed on all sorts of movies and started writing my own screenplays on a banged up typewriter.
I screwed around with video cameras and Super-8, stole film books from the public library (thank you to the Prince George library for my set of “Cult Movies” by Dan Peary) and eventually went to film school in Oregon.
FR: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
KZ: Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons, choose your partners carefully and make your own luck.
FR: Which filmmakers inspire you and why?
KZ: That question is a Pandora’s Box, but I’ll do my best to keep the list as brief as I can.
John Carpenter’s up at the top. He has this unmistakable style – the flowing camera, the uncompromising characters. It’s easy to throw out props to “Halloween” and “The Thing,” but I could watch “Christine” or “Prince of Darkness” any night of the week too. That man knows how to end a movie.
James Cameron has never made I film I disliked. When I lay down money to see a Jim Cameron movie, I know I’m going to be entertained. He’s the consummate filmmaker: a technical genius and incredible writer. He knows dialogue and character.
Martin Scorsese’s style seems effortless. He’s the definition of filmmaking. You watch something like “After Hours” and there’s a shot where Griffin Dunne is in a diner and decides to talk to Roseanna Arquette. With one camera move, you understand everything there is to know about that scene, the emotions, the character’s state of mind. Who else can do that?
I also have to mention Sam Raimi. If he isn’t the Patron Saint of indie horror filmmakers, I don’t know who is. When I was a teenager, I was reading some horror zine (probably Fangoria), and there was a picture of Sam wearing a white lab coat, some safety goggles and splattered with fake blood. He had a grin on his face and his thumb “up.” I remember telling my best friend that this guy looks like he’s got the best-damned job on the planet. I think I was right.
FR: What is next for you?
KZ: A feature called “The Hollow Season.” It’s an old-style haunted house movie with a “Candyman” tone rooted in it. It’s a different approach than “The Familiar” as it’s a serious, no-holds-barred horror film and I’m taking that statement completely to heart.
First and foremost, I’m a horror fan. I appreciate genre films that make the effort to scare you by creating suspenseful sequences, painting the screen with shadow, following believable characters. Right now, we’re putting the team in place to deliver that kind of film.