The Horror Honeys: Head Honey Interview - Harrison Smith

Head Honey Interview - Harrison Smith

Writer/Director/Producer Harrison Smith is a busy boy...and because of that, and that he's such an endearingly chatty kind of guy, he's managed to weasel no less than 3 reviews out of us here at thehorrorhoneys.com (The Fields, DeadTV and 6 Degrees of Hell).

We might have to kill him.

Straight out of the gate, I have to say that the title of your blog amuses the fuck out of me. I consider myself an extremely cynical person, but also an obsessive lover of film- why do you think "Cynicism is killing Entertainment"?

When Ed Wood made Plan 9 From Outer Space, he didn't sit in his living room painting hubcaps and pie tins thinking, "How can I screw the audience." While not that talented, he felt he was making art, and was passionate about what he was making. Unfortunately that is a rare commodity in the mainstream world where now the goal of making product is the name of the game. I will argue Jaws the Revenge is one of the worst films ever made because it was spawned by a desire to simply spend studio money on a vacation to the Bahamas and with absolute contempt for audiences and the original film. No one cared and even Michael Caine will tell you that. My blog defines this on this film. Jaws the Revenge sucked and it did so deliberately and was made by people who knew better and simply did not care.

Thor The Dark World is another example. This is simply a SyFy Channel movie with a budget. It is a product to cash in on the super hero wave and get us through the next Avengers movie. Few will remember this film in 20 years and the script is terrible, the actors are embarrassing...Hopkins is so cheesy and bad in these films and Hemsworth is doing all he can to take this seriously, but if this guy were smart he'd take the check, bank it and look for really good films. Yet people accept it. The ending to Thor The Dark World is so blatantly cynical...it's just there to keep a lucrative character and defies all logic in the film. The reason why: "who cares? It's a super hero movie and people are stupid." It's blatant contempt for the viewing audience to preserve a franchise and there's no arguing it any other way.

I know from previous conversations with you that your previous films, (The Fields, and 6 Degrees of Hell specifically) are films that you wrote as love letters or valentines to your past.  As a writer, how much of yourself do you put into these films and how much is good ol' artistic license?  

The Fields is about 85% as it happened. I felt the directors took more license than I would have liked, but in the end it was their film and I simply wrote it. But The Fields was the most personal of my scripts as it was indeed a valentine to my grandparents. When it came to their relationships, The Fields treated it with delicate care. However there were things I would have done differently. The same goes for 6 Degrees, which is nothing director Joe Raffa and I have not discussed already. However it was Joe's film and I am not a helicopter producer, constantly hovering. I think my love for the genre in 6 Degrees would have made a different film had I directed because I am literally 20 years older than Joe and have a whole different take on the genre. So with my characters, etc. I put a lot of me into those scripts. Whether it's people I met, etc. it comes down to what Mark Twain said, "Write what you know."

When you compare your previous films (The Fields, 6 Degrees of Hell) to ones that are in production now (DeadTV/Camp Dread and ZKEG) how do you view your progress as a creator?  If you had anything to do over...would you?

Bigger budgets without doubt. However The Fields was written as a tight suspense thriller and I felt the directors took it down the art house route and in the end it is an uneven mix of both. Some of the scenes simply have no payoff after considerable buildup. However, they had a vision and so be it. Simply, I would have done it differently but that doesn't mean I would have done it better. Critics and audiences are divided over the film who expected it to be one thing and got another. I think it should have been more a suspense thriller and at times it moves way too slowly.

6 Degrees needed more money without doubt. Character backgrounds would have been expanded and this would have filled in some of the story gaps that the final picture reflects. I would have made 6 a far more physical picture, ramping things up more by the third act. I would do over the budget to give us more monsters, and more to the set-pieces. However, I think 6 Degrees is gaining a cult following and deservedly so because it has so much in it, you need to watch it a few times. There is a lot there and I think the worst I can say about it is that its ambitions were bigger than its budget.

As someone who has a relatively safe/aloof position as a reviewer, I'm always curious about how reviews affect the creators.  As someone who has written a film about something very personal (your relationship with your grandparents for example), how do you deal with criticism, both the constructive and the downright awful? 

The problem is that now anyone with a computer and blog thinks they are a critic, similar to the fact that any schmuck with a Best Buy camcorder and Final Cut thinks they're a filmmaker. To give an example, and I will call it out, The Bloody Disgusting review for The Fields was poorly written and executed. I have read negative reviews of The Fields which I walked away saying, okay, that hurt, but it was well written and done in objective and well founded criticism. However this guy with Bloody Disgusting had no clue. He wrote that the scene with Gladys and the little boy discussing the "N Word" was my thought at being funny. The scene was not written for humor. It was written as a woman being confronted with her own casual racism and it is a bonding moment between grandmother and grandson. This reviewer was either too young to get this or simply expected a horror film, didn't get that and went gunning for us. Sloppily written and unfounded in most of its wrongly directed criticism, the bad review was off base and pissed off Cloris Leachman. She wanted to call this guy and tell him he was an asshole because she fought to keep that scene in the film. I should have let her. He's entitled to his opinion, but he was way off base and should probably understand film criticism better. As said, I have read other negative reviews that were well done, well written and took them as constructive. This one was just off in many ways and disconnected.

And now for the obligatory "Where do you get your ideas from" question.  Who are your inspirations?  

I get all of those from the world around me. I listen to people and how they talk, the stories they tell, their reactions to life. That's why I hope my scripts connect. Simply, write what you know and make sure you are excited to write. Because if you are then people will be excited to read and watch what you have done and given them.

Slightly linked to the previous question, our Revenge Honey recently reviewed DeadTV/Camp Dread which features a unique storyline - can you explain a little bit of your process surrounding the concept for this film?  I know I personally want to see every reality show turn into a bloodbath...

Reality TV is just a way for people to be lazy and live their lives through others instead of actually going out and doing something. We have become a society fearful of failure. We scare our children that there are monsters everywhere: whether allergies, or pedophiles or terrorists...we've become a nation of pussies who passively sit back and watch the world go by and feel that if we comment on it that's enough. Many parents wish to live their failed dreams through their kids. Their kids have to have perfect grade averages, be the best at everything and can't be allowed to have genuine criticism leveled at their kids. The fact is the world is indeed a dangerous place but it also a beautiful one with some wonderful and dreadful characters along the way. And you will fail. It happens. And there are winners and there are losers and not everyone is the same. Period. You may think that all sounds wonderful, but it just isn't the way reality works. And many of these kids go through school being told they are special and have done nothing to prove that. They are special because their idiot parents and elementary teachers told them that. Then they go on American Idol and X Factor or some other "talent" show and are told they aren't special. And what do they say? "But my mom...my family...my friends...tell me I am!" as they blubber and cry and people can comment the next day on articles and billboards.

Our film takes a swipe at people living this bullshit voyeur life. We don't watch The Biggest Loser or Hoarders for the feel good happy ending. We watch to see people suffer. To cry. To show pain so we feel better about ourselves. We watch Hell's Kitchen not to see someone win a life dream of their own restaurant. We watch to see Ramsey berate people and break them. This is no different than the Roman circuses where people gathered to watch killings for real. Our lives have become so empty, the only thing that stimulates is pain.

A reality show like Scare Tactics is scum. Deliberately terrorizing people for entertainment? Really? And if you think I am too serious about all of this, let's make a reality show where people dressed as cops or military personnel come up to the homes of people who have sons or daughters in service and tell them they are dead so we can get their reactions. Then in the end tell them it was just a TV prank and throw some money at them. Wouldn't that be so funny? NO? Well that's what Scare Tactics does.

The kids in Dead.tv are totally disposable. One recent review said we did not make the most out of the reality show device. We DELIBERATELY didn't because that was not the point of what Julian was up to! The ending makes that very, very clear. But oh well, I digress.

I have to ask about casting - I'm curious to know how it all works and if you ever get who you were hoping for in a role.  Can you give me an example of where it worked for you (like, WOW SHAZAM POW) and where it didn't (sad trombone)?

Cloris Leachman. She was the ONLY ONE who could play my grandmother. And she didn't play her, she CHANNELED HER. That's exactly how my grandmother was and every time I see the film I see the real Gladys, not Cloris playing a role. In my opinion Cloris deserved an Oscar nomination for that role.

A loss? Yeah, I went for Jack Nicholson for my grandfather and well...cue the trombone...

You've been many things to your films - a writer, producer and director, sometimes all three for the same film.  How hard is it to give your story to someone else to interpret?  How involved do you get to be in the process?  

As said, I am not a helicopter producer. If I turn the film over to other directors you let them with their vision and let the chips fall as they may. Unless you see it's gonna go off the rails or over budget, you hired them for a reason.

When you're not able to be in the directors chair, have you ever lost part of a story that you thought was essential due to a directorial decision?  Has anything you've written been completely changed?
Absolutely. The Fields is a shining example with the amusement park. It was not written that way, and the way it was written added an incredible psycho sexual element to the film. The final scene is more of a wasted "Boo!" moment with no payoff and a waste of time in my opinion. Some people like it, but not me. I voiced my opinion onset the day they shot it and was told to trust my director's vision. Lesson learned.

Being able to write, produce, and direct your own feature is a control freak's dream come true... What made you want to step into a director role?  How do you feel about this decision?  Could you ever go back to just being a writer? 

My financier for Dead.tv said no one but me would direct this film. That was part of the deal. I would love to be just a writer. One day I want a cabin on a lake in Montana or Wyoming on 1000 acres and just write and hit "send."

When is ZKEG set for release? (Can we get a screener? *nudge nudge*) You've proven yourself to be an extremely prolific filmmaker, what's next for Class of '85? 

ZKEG is set for a late summer release. We are on time and it is going great. I am loving the polished FX and feel very good about this movie.

Thank you for the "prolific" compliment but Class of '85 has a number of things on the plate. However I don't crow until the egg is laid but I can say I just optioned the rights for a book by Adrienne Barbeau called "Love Bites" and  have a kick ass witch script setting up for financing.


As we're quite active on the Twitter machine, and have interacted with each of your movies individually, Monster Honey in particular is curious to know how you manage all of the social media (because we're pretty sure it's all you)? There are SO many films with twitter accounts that are so fake and don't actually interact with people or attempt to create a connection.  How important do you feel social media is to independent filmmakers and entertainment in general?

I am not happy with the whole social media thing. People are fucking lazy. Sometimes you get the "If I have time I'll go like your Facebook." Have time? What the hell are you doing? It's a click, douchebag! Time? Get off the llama porn and use your free hand click the godamned LIKE button. Have the time? Jesus Christ have we become that lazy? It appears so. We interact, flirt, post pics and talk with people. Hell, we even lose followers for expressing an unpopular tweet. Yet you got scores of people following products like Miracle Whip, Tampax, Gator Ade. WTF? Really? So what's Miracle Whip tweeting to you today? What's so fascinating about the Doritos account? And here we are shilling for attention, dancing our heart out onstage and crickets in return. So it's a tough call, but we keep doing it and hope suddenly one day we will go viral and people say, "Wow, this is pretty cool. That movie actually gives a rat's ass." We don't phone in the social media. Sure we hock our film, but that's part of it but just go through our Timeline and you'll see we do a pretty damned good job talking with people. Actions speak louder than words.

Monster Honey is also curious about your take on independent horror as a genre to itself-- Do you have advice for filmmakers/writers/directors starting out on their own? What are your thoughts on crowd-funding, "the business" (aka- drama), fake people, sycophants, and "playing the game" on your own terms? (Answer as much or as little as you like, that was a long one!) 

Yeah, your bullshit $5000 film is not going to be the next Paranormal Activity. All those viral, found footage films were incepted by major studios with fat budgets for promotion and advertising. They were gimmick movies. So no, don't go out and spend your tuition to make the next one because no one cares. Demand It! and all those other "bring this movie to your town" schemes were data gathering maneuvers by studios to collect free demographic statistics. The stupid movie was coming to your town anyway. You were all had.

As for crowd funding, how do you fault people for pursuing their dreams? There's one guy on Twitter who has been shilling for money for two years to make his zombie film. We RT him and help when we can, but I hate to tell him, it will be the most expensive DVD on his shelf if he gets it made. More than likely it will never get picked up but he followed his dream, so God bless him.

I am waiting for the first crowd funding lawsuit on a film. Someone who feels they are really a "producer" and wants creative control over the film and when denied is gonna sue. Especially if the film is perceived to have success. I hope people crowd funding have their legal asses covered, that's all I can say.

Something fun - if you could be reincarnated as your favorite horror film character - who would you be and why?

That is a fun question. I would say Freddy Krueger or maybe The Invisible Man. Both have almost no boundaries, whether seeing hot girls naked or just fucking with people, both those horror guys seemed to be having a ton of fun doing what they did.

With Billy Zane on the set of ZKEG
Itching to watch some of Harrison's films now?  Yeah you are.

You can find The Fields and 6 Degrees of Hell everywhere: VOD, Netflix, iTunes, Best Buy, Wal Mart, FYE, stores, Hulu...you name it!

Dead.tv is now "Camp Dread" and coming April 2014 from Image Entertainment and will be everywhere.

And if you read the review, you'll know that Harrison is serious about his social media.

Check them out on:
Facebook
Twitter
Website