Monday, February 15, 2010


Above: Damon Packard directs himself in 2007's SpaceDisco One.

First off, if you haven't read the post I wrote about Damon Packard ('Damon Packard Is Bukowski Making Movies On LSD') last month, go back and do so immediately. The guy's stuff is nothing short of amazing, and his 2002 opus Reflections of Evil has quickly risen to the very top of my "greatest underground flicks of all time" list since I first saw it back in December.

I am very honored that he took some time out to answer 10 quick questions for IC, and also eternally grateful to former Contributing Writer and Old School She-Bro K-Rock for hooking this up in the first place. Not only did she make the initial connection between Mr. Packard and myself, but lit a fire under my ass to follow up and get this thing finished after a series of email-related mishaps tangled it all up. Mad respect, girl.
That being said, take a couple minutes to watch (or re-watch, if that's the case) the trailer for Reflections. After the dust has settled and the scar tissue has formed in your temporal lube, feel free to continue...

IC: I enjoy many aspects of your early film Dawn of an Evil Millenium, but I think my favorite part might be the sound design. How did you go about creating those effects, the gore splatters, demon voices, etc.? Was it as simple as running the audio through an effects box, or was it a more complicated process? How has your sound design process changed since then? Don't be afraid to get technical.

DP: Well, I've always been a sound buff from the very start (early 80's) admiring the pioneers in the field, Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, the Lucasfilm camp, etc, so... I was always trying to inject this in my films. And I would spend a lot of time collecting a library of sounds from various sources, playing around with them, processing sounds, even doing radio dramas from time to time. Heck I can even remember bringing a hi-fi tape recorder into movie theaters back in the '82/83 era to collect sounds.
Unfortunately I was working with very crude means up until the Final Cut Pro era (2001) Prior to that it was analog single system, usually a sound on sound dubbing method or multi-track tape recorders. Dawn (1988) was a case where I was trying to do a Lucasfilm mix with a Chinon Super8 sound-on-sound projector, right onto the mag stripe, talk about primitive, you get one chance to lay down your mix (hardly what you could even call a "mix") and if you screw up the timing your stuck with it. But this was pretty much cost-wise for me the only way to do it through the 80's & 90's. I dabbled a bit on the Media 100 & Avid but only via an operator and it was just too cost prohibitive. Even the complicated double system analog process for Super8 & 16 was too expensive.

IC: Speaking of Evil Millenium, that film seems very influenced by Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series (this is a good thing). I know much of your early work was inspired by George Lucas and Steven Speilberg, has there been a rotating cast of directors who influence and/or inspire your work over the years? Who is your current fascination?

DP: Yes indeed it was, as well as the Mad Max films, Blade Runner and others. In those days my influences came from mostly mainstream sources (George Miller, Ridley Scott, Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, Carpenter, Landis, Bakshi, Ken Russell, etc).
These days more so from foreign directors, past & present. Tarkovsky, Skolimowski, Wadja, Losey, Von Trier, Miyazaki, Suzuki, Sukarov, Bela-Tarr, as well the American indies Altman, Cassavetes, Frank Perry, Arthur Hiller and many of the great unsung TV directors/writers Like Paul Wendkos, Bernard Kowalski, John Lewlyn Moxey, Leo Penn, William H. Graham, Levinson-Link, and others.

IC: I've heard contradicting accounts of exactly how much trouble you got in from George Lucas for the Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary and Steven Speilberg for Reflections of Evil. Were there actual problems wih these guys, even legal ramifications? What are some of your thoughts on copyright infringement, especially when it comes to "sampling" somebody onscreen?

DP: Those are all intentional rumors, never got in any trouble. I'm way off that kind of radar, could only be so lucky. My thoughts on copyright infringement are mixed and complicated. Everything is a rip-off of everything else now anyway, so why even bother with any restrictions?

IC: Your most recent film, Beyond The Valley of the Wind, is an adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki's manga Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Your Wikipedia page claims that "Reaction on the net from devoted anime and Miyazaki fans is one of outrage, chagrin and contempt", which you've already told me is only partly true. What has been the REAL reaction so far? Admittedly, I've never read the original manga, but the film seems in no way disrespectful or patronizing. Are people pissed off?

DP: That was a joke, I was only basing that on some of the YouTube comments (from the trailer) from people who seemed to think it was a "real" film and were somehow in a state of shock or dismay. I expected those kind of reactions. I suppose the film is professional looking enough to create that impression, it doesn't have the usual characteristic of a no-budget amateur "fan-film". It was my experimental love-letter to Miyazaki and his worlds.


IC: You've also said that you regret ever making Reflections of Evil, a film that has become something of a cult phenomenon. People seem to love it, but success also has a way of pigeon-holing people. Do you see Reflections as a triumph, a curse, or something in between?

DP: In some or many ways it is a curse but I'm certainly glad I made it. It's mainly a curse from the standpoint of people thinking I'm ONLY capable of making that kind of scattered, non-linear film. That style of humor. I have zero interest in "shock value", gratuitous gore, sophomoric satire, violence or vulgarity, am not even necessarily a "horror" buff. If only people would see the potential instead of the superficiality, mainly I'm speaking of a certain undefined camp of "people", those that have eschewed, disregarded and ignored, and/or potentially those benefactors which could have led to bigger and better things. But this is hypothetical thinking.

IC: Another topic I've heard and read conflicting accounts of is the state of poverty you were in while shooting your early films. You've said that reports about you "living out of your car" in the late 80's and early 90's are exaggerated, but did it ever come down to "buy film equipment" vs. "pay rent"? I've also read that you lived in a tent in Hawaii while filming Apple, which you'd never know from the finished product. It must have been hell trying to keep your gear dry, or even keeping in contact with the cast. What was the reality of this period?

DP: Yes, it has come down to buying film and paying actors more than rent on many occasions in the past. I did whatever necessary to get a new film made in those days. It was a driving obsession.

IC: I know you have a healthy obsession with Jerry Goldsmith, from your extensive Facebook posting about him to your use of his actual music in 'The Early 70's Horror Movie Trailer'. Indulge another Goldsmith fan and tell me what your favorite Goldsmith score is. Do you like the weird stuff or the more traditional stuff better? Who are a couple other composers you admire, and how does music affect your work in general?

DP: I am indeed, he is my favorite composer, right up there with Williams, Barry, Horner, Fielding, Morricone, Donaggio, LeGrand and so many others. I own every score he ever wrote. In fact as I write these very responses I'm playing "Twilight Zone: The Movie" in iTunes (the new FSM release). Favorite Goldsmiths? So many: Poltergeist, Damnation Alley, Mephisto Waltz, Capricorn One, Logan's Run, Under Fire, the Rambos, Treks, etc...
What I love so much about composers like Goldsmith, Williams, etc. is not only their ability to write beautiful melodies but the individual stamp they put on every score they do, regardless of the type of film, material, budget, instructions, etc. Every score is a musical gem in itself, each one has its identity, melodic structure and so forth.
I completely separate score from film, some truly awful films that Goldsmith scored (like Timeline and Star Trek: Nemesis) are some of his most beautiful works.
I not only equate the great classic composers of the past (Stravinski, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.) to the modern day equivalent of Williams and Goldsmith but also think they have accomplished even so much more.

IC: Unlike most directors, you post all of your work freely on YouTube. Is there any part of you that feels like something is being lost when someone watches your movies on a computer rather than in a theater or even on DVD? Do you see it as a "necessary evil" to get quick and effective distribution?

DP: Yeah, I'm not crazy about it being reduced to a low-res flash clip... In the early days of Youube I was bothered by this tremendously. However quality standards have improved in recent years. Certainly it's a necessarily evil, how often do proper screenings at good venues come along? Like the intent of most filmmakers many of my films, shorts, trailers, etc. are or were more or less "spec" pieces (if you will) in some shape or film that I wanted to lead to bigger and better things. Well that sure never happened.

IC: In the last 20-25 years, your movies have really run the gamut from really over-the-top and goofy to pretty serious and even introspective. For example, Dawn of an Evil Millenium seems like the complete opposite of Apple, style-wise, and more recently SpaceDisco One seems like kind of a jokey counterpart to Valley of the Wind. Is this a conscious decision or just a result of your eclectic taste? The Nausicaa adaptation seems pretty serious, should we expect comedy next?

DP: Well, I suppose I have a proclivity to humor and satire, SF and fantasy but mainly because of working within a no-budget realm. If I had actors as good as Bergman or Tarkovsky, writing skills as good as Paddy Chayefvsky or Tennessee Williams I'd be making different types of films. And this is another example of being pigeonholed into a limited realm of capabilities. I know every filmmaker feels this way and it's perhaps an unrealistic thought but if only someone with money would see the possibilities, not the surface. What is realistic? Learning to become a self-made millionaire? Is this such an easy feat?

IC: What is your current project? What can we expect from Damon Packard in the future, and is there anything else you'd like to add?

DP: I am working something new that will change the very nature of reality, however only miracles will make it happen.
Miracles can and do occur, the question is do we really make them happen?

Damon Packard on Myspace
His YouTube channel (Watch ALL of his stuff for FREE!)


Anonymous said...

"He's getting drunk on liquor candies!"
-Reflections of Evil

Kevin Reitzel

Lord Kabballash III said...

That was a superb interview. Seemed like you really connected with him.

On the strength of this, your previous post and Packard's YouTube pieces, I'm going to see if I can buy the DVDs from him. Really amazing stuff.