After visiting the 2005 New York City Horror Film Festival it occurred to me that some of the best horror films that Ive seen in a while, are either shorts or privately produced creations – independent films for the most part. I wondered, as a fan, how the hell do I get my hands on copies of these gems. How does the average horror fan get access to this? Hollywood has been guilty of churning out such overplayed and commercially correct and star-drenched crap over so many years – I thought to myself, Ive got to set the public free of these restrictions, and get them back to the roots of what drew them to horror movies to begin with.
Thus sparked the idea of doing a series of interviews with some of the more talked about up and coming filmmakers of today and tomorrow. An effort to expose the fresh underbelly of the movie macabre. I’m telling you – after seeing films like Graeme Whifler’s “Neighborhood Watch”, it’s apparent that much of the best horror has to offer is still under rocks and in closets. These films and shorts should not remain buried beneath the suffocating shroud of commercialism, so in the coming weeks, I will do my best to bring them to the surface.
Today lets take a closer look at director Mark Mardini. Mark was born in Norwalk, Connecticut and spent most of his later years growing up in Las Vegas. He graduated from Chapman University in 1997. There he earned the Filmmaker-of-the-Year award with his two shorts (Lust for Life and Early Innocence). After graduation, he turned his attention to writing, earning the best screenplay at the 1999 Nevada Screenwriter’s Competition. He later became a quarterfinalist at the Nichol Fellowship Screenwriting Competition with a thriller entitled, Visionaries. In 2001, he wrote and directed an anti-smoking PSA on 35mm for the American Cancer Society.
His most recent short film, Road Kill, won the Audience Choice award at the New York City Horror Film Festival. I recently got the chance to ask the young director a few questions, and get a feel for how he’s found himself three films into his new career.
HoH: Growing up, were there any directors or movies in particular that inspired you to become a filmmaker?
Mardini: My list of inspiration is long and still continues to this day. However, I have to give credit to those films and directors that left such a profound impact on me. John Carpenter started it all with Halloween. Eight years old and scared to death. Afterwards, I said to myself…I want to make movies. The Flicker Palace was a theater that I would go to on the weekends, so whatever was there…I would see. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was huge on my upbringing. I would catch the first feature which was usually tame in comparison to the midnight movie. Superman and Dawn of the Dead. Swiss Family Robinson and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The Goonies and Happy Birthday to Me. Arthur and Carrie. It was a great place to watch films. When I got older and watched Taxi Driver for the first time….that just catapulted me into such an obsession for films.
HoH: The whole idea of two serial killers coming across each other was unique. The acting chemistry actually made me laugh – you did a good job on the script. Is this a style of filmmaking that you’ll be doing more of in the future, comedy horror? Or will you be leaning towards one over the other…
Mardini: I would like to consider myself a storyteller and I have no desire with staying in one genre. The best kind of comedies are the ones that have a tragic element underneath. The Cohen Brothers have succeeded at that and Raising Arizona is one of my favorite films. My next script is a story that is horrific, but the one before that was a straight comedy and the script before that was a drama. So, I guess I’m all over the map… but that is also how my mind works.
HoH: Tom Arnold executive produced? Not Tom Arnold…
Mardini: Yes it is the Tom Arnold. Tom read a script of mine (Johnny Tacco) and really enjoyed it and loved the writing so much that he attached himself as Producer to the script and in one of the supporting roles. As we were trying to get financing attached, I was writing Road Kill and he read it and donated some money to help make the film. So, to show my appreciation… he received an Executive Producer credit and we continue to try and work on other projects together.
HoH: Does Sean Whalen realize that he resembles Steve Buschemi?
Mardini: Haaaa! Yes he does. We actually wrote a feature together called Johnny Tacco that we are trying to get off the ground. We wrote a part for Buschemi, hoping he would play his father.
HoH: Tara Lynn Barr was very endearing in her role as The Sunshine Girl. Her presence at the end of the movie couldn’t have been done better. She was a great choice. How did you come to cast her?
Mardini: My casting director Katie Taylor had brought 30 girls to my attention. We auditioned every one of them and Tara just came in and took over. She had such an innocence about her, but was also professional and talented enough that she just nailed the part. During rehearsals, she never ceased to amaze me and I consider myself lucky that I found her. Her role in the film was an added bonus to the talent I already had with Steve and Sean.
HoH: Congratulations, by the way, on winning the Audience Choice award at the New York City Horror Film Festival this year. What did you think of the festival?
Mardini: I have to say that it was one of the best experiences of my life. Michael and Anthony showed this short so much love. I mean to have it screened right before Roger Corman’s tribute was an award on its own. Mr. Corman sat right behind me with his wife during the screening and I all I remember was my heart pounding. Here is a guy who had made Bucket of Blood that I remember watching as a kid and I couldn’t believe he was watching my short. I am flattered by the award and I am so happy that the audience loved it, but the festival itself was all about the love for indie filmmaking and the horror genre… and that is what stood out the most.
HoH: With so many viewers and quality entries, it must have felt great to win the Audience Choice award…
Mardini: I’m not going to lie. Of course it felt great, because all I ever want is people to see my films and connect with them on a certain level. Whether they laugh, cry, or get scared shitless.
HoH: Are you working on anything currently – whats next?
Mardini: I am currently writing another feature with hopes of getting that off the ground in 2006. This one deals with horrific events, but the comedy is completely gone this time around.
HoH: How can horror fans get a hold of Road Kill on DVD or VHS?
Mardini: Hey if the film has fans out there and they really want to see it. Please, email me and I will send you a copy as quickly as I can.
Any fans who would like to take Mark up on his very generous offer can email him here and request a copy.