Wicked Channel Interview-Joston El Rey Theney (Axeman and Adam K)

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Most recently I had the chance to view “ Adam K” the new film by director Joston El Rey Theney. The second the film ended, I had to hit the conversation with this young gentleman. I told him, “ we have to do an interview”. “ Adam K” is that film, that people are going to talk about. For this film to be the follow up to “ Axeman”, is all the reason I needed to know, I had to get this man on the site to speak. That is the number one priority, is people to speak and me to shut the fuck up. Enjoy….

1. Joston, this is an honor, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk to us. Usually I ask a director, what was the first film to inspire them to direct or an actor or actress what was the first film that made them want to chase acting. . This one is a little tricky, you have directed, starred, written, produced, composed and many other hats that you have worn. What was the first film or television show to make you want to be a “ jack of all trades”?

First, I have to thank YOU for reaching out to do the interview. I’m honored that you find an interview with me a welcomed addition to your site, so I’m grateful 100 times over. What inspired me to be a jack of all trades? I’d probably have to say Rodriguez’ FROM DUSK TIL DAWN. Though not one of AFI’s Top 100 movies of all time, it’s an effective piece that was well-written, shot, edited, scored and directed. I’ve had countless films that’ve made me fall in love with horror (FRIGHT NIGHT, THE KINDRED, THE MUTILATOR, etc) and many films that’ve made me fall in love with films in general (PULP FICTION, SHORT CUTS, RESERVOIR DOGS, THE SETTLEMENT, etc), but the film, I think, that inspired me to get out and make it at all costs would probably have to have been From Dusk Til Dawn.

2. You are directing Farrah Abraham in a horror film called “ Adam K”. How did this actually come about? Did Farrah’s people reach out to you? A mutual friend? LA Weekly ad answered?

I wish that I could say I had the kind of clout that would make agents reach out to place their clients in my films, lol, but that’s not the case. Farrah and I became really good friends after working together on a previous film and I’m very appreciative that she enjoyed working with me as much as I did with her. She let me know that whenever I have something else, and her schedule allows for it, she’s there. So, when the role came up for Karen Simms, I immediately thought of her and reached out. She read it and loved it and the twist that she presents in the story, and from there we were off to the races.

3. I have to ask, when casting started for this film. Was Farrah’s name mentioned early on, or did you hire other talents and she became available? I have to admit, I am speechless. Farrah Abraham in a horror film, it is like thinking of The Olsen Twins in a horror film. These are successful business people, who you would assume would never associate themselves with our genre. (unless they are taking a picture in a throwback t shirt)

Hahaha, I agree. Before I’d reached out to Farrah for a previous film, I didn’t really think I’d have a snowball’s chance in Hell of getting her to be part of one of my projects. She’s widely popular and is trending #1 on most social media platforms at any given moment. For someone like that, it kinda places them out of reach unless you’re a studio picture doing EPIC MOVIE or some such stuff. But realizing nothing beats a try except success, I reached out and, to my surprise, she was open to the idea.

4. Last Farrah question. How was she on set? Did the cast and crew (in her face, at least) get along with her? Were people open to working with her?

Farrah has an awesome way disarming most people and deflating that blown-up image that MTV “Teen Mom” and the tabloids promote. She’s bubbly, bright and a consummate professional so the teams from both films have had a great time working with her. And she and I have gotten along professionally as well because she works very much like I do; I love to do tons of homework and studying upfront and by the time I make it to set, the course has already been set and we’re at full sail. She’s the same way. There are very few people who keep me on my toes the way she does. She puts so much thought into her characters and the story that it helps you understand your own work in a different way and helps elevate the performances of others around her.

5. Horror fans know you from, “ Axeman at Cutter’s Creek” or “ Axeman” when it was released on home video. Looking back on that film today, were you happy with the finished product? If you could change anything about it, what would you change?

You know, that was probably the film I learned the most from. And it humbled me quite a bit. I have some awesome fans from that film that still interact with me to this day regarding it, asking tons of questions and trying to understand every nuance of the Axeman universe. Probably for those reasons, I wouldn’t change anything about it. It helped me understand pacing a bit more, how effectively “proper editing” could enhance a movie, and how to stick to my guns when it comes to knowing what’s best for a project. I made the film by committee, and I’ll never use that as an excuse as to why it’s a good or bad movie, but I’ll use it as the reason I didn’t feel like it was MY movie. There are things I would’ve done differently to keep it consistent with MY tone. Overall though, it found an audience, it taught me tons about myself personally, professionally and artistically, and for that, I’m grateful and wouldn’t change a thing.

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6. I have read you directed a film called “ Bleed 4 Me”. I did not want to come across as a dumb ass, so I tried to do some research. The problem is, I could not find any hint or clue to this film. Is there a story or reason?

Yeah, it was stillborn. And it sucks because I felt Brinke Stevens and Tiffany Shepis turned in great performances on that film. It was a horror/action, unlikely buddy-cop-kinda flick that teamed a demon-hunter with someone who was being haunted. Had cool characters, a tight story and tons of twists and turns. Then I turned it over to a now-defunct, hole-in-the-wall distributor and they went out of business before they even released it. And this was before I learned about bankruptcy and dissolution clauses in contracts so my film became part of the library of assets they sold off and I’ve not heard who it was sold to or their plans for release.

7. As you know with “ Axeman”, you put out a film and people are going to have a voice about it. Do you read all the press and reviews your films get? Does the bad reviews get to you?

I’ve read every single review and comment. You have to – you owe it to yourself and your art to know what’s what. Now, do I think those reviews and comments influence my taste or my voice or the tone that I like to make my films in? No, not in the slightest. I have two goals every time I start development on a film now: to serve myself by making my film my way, and to serve as large a percentage of the masses I can while doing it. Now, to clarify the comments and reviews that I take seriously: If someone posts, “That was the shittiest film I’ve ever seen. I give it a zero out of 1000.” I say, wow that guy/gal hates themselves or their work so much that they have to go out of their way to try to make someone feel shitty as they do. But if they write, “This movie didn’t work for me on this level, for these reasons…,” I take out my pen and paper and start writing it down. These reviews and comments and feedback really help me grow as an artist and as a businessman in this industry. So keep it up. I waiting and reading;)

8. What do you think is the biggest misconception of getting your film signed?

That there is a ‘standard deal.’ That all distributors are supposed to get their marketing spend back plus a large portion of your profits. It’s b.s., there is no standard deal. Make the deal that makes the most sense to you. When I hear that someone signed the standard deal presented to them without any revisions or negotiation whatsoever, I buy them the stiffest drink on the menu and tell them it’s not nearly as stiff as the dick they’re about to take. If you sign with a distributor who is not a “major” and you’re offered no minimum guarantee and you’re not sharing in the profits from the first dollar out, you won’t see a dime. End of story. And always, ALWAYS, reach out to producers who’ve done films with distributors you’re considering and ask them about their experiences. Collect a minimum of 5 opinions from each distribution company you’re considering – it’s easy to find one person who’s just happy to have their film available for viewing, much harder to find 5 professionals who saw a return and are happy with a crappy distributor. Think of yourself as an employer, employing a distributor to work for you – you’d better do your homework to avoid a stinker. It’s better to self-distribute and make $50K than to go with a distributor and sell over 15K copies and still see no money.

9. People love to throw the words “ indie film” around. Do you think people truly know what an indie film is?

Not anymore. The term ‘indie film’ gets thrown around now to mean any film that went to film festivals first or straight to video. That could be Paramount’s new $10 million feature starring Jennifer Aniston, Kate Winslet and Cillian Murphy as turn of the century puppeteers who’ve been recruited for a new super-task-force to face off against shapeshifting, alien puppet masters or it could also mean my buddy’s $1,000 experimental piece that has one location, one actor and one crew member about the loneliness of sitting naked in a public bathroom, eating bland oatmeal with a spork. The term is so loose now, who even knows what indie is anymore. I just say film is film, and movies are movies. Pick what you’re passionate about, do the best you can with it and don’t marry yourself to any one ideal about it. It’s ever changing and fluid, and you should be too.

10. Let’s assume you could never get a break in film. What was your backup plan?

I’ve always been a writer at heart, so I would’ve went the novelist route. I was published very early on – 16, I believe, and have enjoyed a pretty good run in that department. I’ve been lucky enough to have ghost-written on some pretty popular projects and have always said that when I’m too old to run a one-man-band type of shoot, I’ll fall back on writing. So if the film thing had never worked out for me, writing is where I would’ve ended up.

11. Piracy has killed both the music industry and indie film market. Do you feel our government has done all it can do to stop this issue? If you were in charge, what would you do different?

Piracy has always existed. You know how many crappy pirated VHS videos I still find at secondhand shops? How many pirated cassette tapes and CDs are in those same shops? Piracy hasn’t killed anything. The same kind of people who would’ve paid to listen to RUN DMC beatbox in a bathroom stall, calling it an album or watch the fat African guy sing “She’s Your Queen to Be” in Coming to America, are the same kind people who would pay to listen to Justin Belieber fart into a microphone or watch Leonardo DiCaprio do the harlem shake in Wolf of Wall Street. Nothing’s changed. It’s an excuse people use to explain why they didn’t make any money. People pirated Axeman to hell and back – so what? The pirating pieces of shit out there (yes, if you pirate films that you can afford, you are a pirating piece of shit) are going to pirate, it’s what they do. The key is to capture the paying audience’s attention. Don’t make excuses, make money.

12. I have always wanted to ask this question to someone. So, you sign a deal for Axeman. Do they offer you the chance to give ideas for the dvd cover? Or, is the art work all their idea? Say, the film is slated to hit stores in January, around the 9th. Do they send you a finished copy first to get your final approval, or just release it? Once you sign a contract, do you lose your voice altogether or can you offer input?

The more clout you garner throughout your career, the more say you’ll have – down to what shade of red the blood is on your key art. But at this level, no. No say whatsoever. Sure they may share with you their design, but they’ve already had their conversations about the direction of the key art, what they’ll highlight, etc, and just share the end result to be nice. Make you feel special. A good friend of mine is a working entertainment pro who works on super huge budget films and tv shows. And the first thing he told me to learn was how to let go. He said, “Never marry yourself to anything in the film or any part of the process. That way it’ll be easier to take it in the ass when you realize you were never in control.”

13. What advice would you give someone just wanting to get a foot in the door in this business?

Don’t wait for the door to open before shoving your foot in. Kick the damn thing off the hinges, walk into the lobby and scream your own name. When they ask what the Hell it means, tell them it means you’ve arrived. I’m not joking. In the beginning, people called me arrogant. Then they called me a troublemaker. Now they call me for advice. See how that works?

14. When a film is being attacked in reviews. Do you think it is fair when the director blames budget and time restraints for why the film failed? Do you think the cast have a right to attack that film as well?

I think everyone is allowed to do whatever they see fit with their freedom of speech. And the funny thing about that is – you ever hear that saying, “Remain silent and some may think you’re a fool, but speak and you’ll remove all doubt”? Yeah, that’s most people who attack films. They sound terribly foolish. When actors attack films they’ve worked on, I think it limits their appeal for another filmmaker to work with them. We are all very sensitive with regard to our art and when we can see that others can willfully disparage another artist’s work, we don’t necessarily want to work with them. I know I don’t. As for a director who blames budget and time restraints for their lackluster film, I say grow up. You shot it and did the best you could. Accept it and move on. It’s terribly low to not accept blame and push it off to other people or things. I’ve seen people shoot features in 3 days… 3 DAYS!!! And they are better than what I’ve seen other filmmakers do in 3 months. Get off it. Do your best. Learn. Apply it next time. If you make excuses, you cheat yourself, your audience, your journey and your own career.

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15. I have seen many directors and stars for that matter hurt their careers by doing dumb things online. I have seen certain directors take their contracts they are being offered and post them online. I have seen stars and directors attack a film company. I have seen stars attack directors and vice versa. Do you think this behavior is justified? I would think your past with contracts and certain actresses or actors was not all flowers and wine. Is there any director who have had a past on a film set, that everything ran smoothly and everyone got along?

Film making is probably the passionate of careers you can pursue. You’re working extremely long hours. And it can get crazy stressful. Tensions can run high. If you take everything personal and have to fight every battle that comes your way, you won’t last long. You’ll burn out and look like a fool while it’s happening. I’ve called out shitty distributors, sales reps and executive producers – and if you need me to do it again and with great detail, I oblige you so that you don’t make the same mistakes. But what I don’t do is attack or retaliate. I educate others openly, honestly and publicly so that others don’t have to repeat my misfortunes. If we all did that as a community, we’d be much better off.

16. Let’s discuss Adam K, I just finished watching it. This is not exactly the follow up I was expecting after Axeman. Was it your goal to break away from the normal horror formula and do a character driven sadistic thriller?

It was. My thinking was, following on the heels of Axeman, when we would’ve been seeing a sequel coming shortly thereafter, it would’ve been great to see something that was completely different. Something where we weren’t heavily emphasizing the 80’s feel of horror but something more contemporary. Something darker. Something scarily more familiar. And something that works to make a sadistic character more appealing, relatable and sympathetic. I wanted to create a new breed of serial killer that could be anyone of us. A lonely soul that would do anything to get close to someone, anyone. He’d kill to be someone’s friend.

17. Are you afraid that fans of Axeman, may not be ready for this kind of departure?

You know, that’s the risk you take when you decide to try something new. It’s a risk worth taking, though. I think most of Axeman’s fans are gore-hounds. They want to see a good, strong story with strong characters and blood and gore, lol. The only thing this story is missing is a 7-ft tall, axe-wielding giant and a few laughs, lol. Not to mention, I’ve learned a lot from making Axeman. How to get a greater sense of dread out of a scene, how to push the boundaries better and give audiences the payoffs they’re looking for – I’ve become a better storyteller and more importantly, a better, more sadistic storyteller, lol.

18. There are two very disturbing and graphic death sequences in this film. I will not spoil them for people. Do you feel at times the violence and sadistic nature of this film may have been too much? I mean, the pregnant woman scene alone would probably have the MPAA in cardiac arrest.

For me it’s all about context. I think scenes can go too far in certain contexts. If the pregnant woman’s scene had existed in let’s say, a Goosebumps movie, people would be like WTF!? Way too much! How dare you?! But in the context of a film of this nature, a film where escapism is at it’s most extreme, with someone who is suffering from the type of mental anguish our character is, I don’t know. It feels right. It feels like I pushed the boundaries a bit in the right direction on what’s acceptable. That I took the narrative and made audiences say, “holy shit, didn’t see it going there.” But it doesn’t seem too much for me, but then again, what do I know. I love sick, sadistic shit.

19. Most films these days are released. Then, we find out, they were intended to be longer. So, we get a director’s cut. Adam K in the form it is in right now, is more than like the theatrical cut. Did you have material on the cutting room floor that may find it’s way into a dvd or director’s cut?

The film was originally a little under the 3 hour mark when it was locked. Then I had to whittle away at it until it came in at just 90 mins. So there’s a whole other feature on the cutting room floor with probably more characters there than the number of characters that made it into the final product. But do I think there’ll be an alternate cut? Or a separate director’s cut? No, this is the story I wanted to tell and it was only trimmed to meet the pacing requirements I felt the film needed. We will include all the deleted and extended scenes as special features along with commentary on why they we shortened or deleted them all together. It hurt to do it because I felt there were some amazing performances and very memorable characters who ended up on the cutting room floor – definitely moments that further examined how each character is linked. Because it’s not explained in the feature as it currently exists, they are all linked to two events that put them on a collision course which will be further explained in later films.

20. I have to say right up front, I am bowing to you for doing this. This is where people will want to know what is coming up next for you, and where they can see this film Adam K?

Well, I have to bow to you, sir, for the interest in speaking with me and giving me the forum to speak openly. ADAM K. has a Halloween 2016 release date for DVD/Blu-ray. They can be pre-ordered via the Facebook page at Facebook.com/AdamKTheMovie so that you can have them in time for Halloween viewing parties;) VOD release date is set November 22 for buy/rent – like the Facebook page to stay up to date. And we’re heading into production later this year on the follow-up to Axeman, titled AXEMAN 2.5: EVE OF DESTRUCTION which picks up right where the first film left off – with the axe coming down on our two reluctant heroes. Some great names have already been attached and will be announced in the coming months.