Julie Streble in “Fear for Sinners Here.”
P. J. Starks is a prolific filmmaker and producer, best known for his work on The Confession of Fred Krueger, Volumes of Blood and its sequel that just came out and which I had the pleasure of viewing, “Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories.”Starks is truly a filmmaking machine but he doesn’t sacrifice quantity for quality, as is apparent in his most recent outing, “Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories.” He has managed to assemble a stellar cast and crew of up and coming horror directors, writers, special effects artists and actors to work on this film. Guys like Nathan Milliner and Justin Seaman and actors/actresses like Kevin Roach, Cindy Maples, Jessica Shroeder and Jay Woolston just to name a few. I have to admit, haven’t seen the first “Volume of Blood,” and despite a bit of “long-windedness” near the end, I really enjoyed this film. The stand out “segments” in this anthology film to me are, “Fear for Sinners Here,” “Murder Death Killer,” “The Deathday party” and “Feeding Time.” There are some truly memorable moments in this film, excellent set design and cinematography, along with some surprisingly good acting and some hilariously ingenious kills! What it all boils down to is Starks is the kind of producer you want backing you up as a filmmaker. He’s inventive, relentless in his goals and also seems to just really love horror films. This film is truly a gem and I recommend it to even the most jaded horror fan.
Below is my interview with P.J. Starks.
EW: How did you go about deciding on directors for this film?
PJ: In some instances, it was directors that I had wanted to work with in the case of Jon Maynard and Sean Blevins. Nathan Thomas Milliner had written and directed a sequence on the first film and we’ve become good friends, so we definitely wanted him back for the sequel. I knew of James Treakle and knew that he was really talented, so when a director fell away from the project due to a scheduling conflict I asked him if he’d like to come on board. With Justin Seaman, he’d directed “The Barn” and it looked really badass and I said to myself, I wanna work with this guy. So I contacted him and the rest is history. John Holt was a part of the crew as Director of Photography and sent me some of his stuff to look at. I watched his short Broken and knew he’d be perfect for “Feeding Time.”
EW: How involved were you in the casting/crewing process?
PJ: I was pretty much a part of every process in the film. Myself and my good friend and fellow producer Eric Huskisson. We were both very picky when it came to casting the film. When most people think “indie”, they tend to think of shitty acting. We set out to show them that a horror film can be more than arterial sprays and subpar acting. Ultimately with the help of John and Nathan we found all the actors we needed for the roles. There’s so many incredible performances in the film. I’m sure that I’m biased when I make comments regarding the acting like,” better than most ultra-low budget horror films.” But I truly believe that. As far as the crew, we had some issues with various crew members early on in the process. Chris Bower contacted me asking about the project and wanting to audition. I saw that he had produced before so we started talking and almost immediately hit it off. I’ve been told that I’m the Owensboro version of Bower and he’s the Paducah version of me. Anyway, before long I found out that he had an entire crew and we eventually met up, hit it off and now we’ve got a really kickass film under our belts.
EW: What were your goals for this film as it relates to the first Volumes of Blood?
PJ: Basically our goal was to retool the successes of the first film so they feel fresh and don’t retread on similar ground. To pretty much outdo the first film in every way possible. From look, to scope, to acting and special effects. The sequence “Encyclopedia Satanica” got a majority of the accolades in the first film. Mostly because it had the superior story and some of the strongest acting. Before we started pre-production on VOBHS, I told Eric that EVERY segment in the sequel had to be Encyclopedia Satanica. We had a pretty amazing cast and crew on this film and I feel we did that.
EW: What things did you want to expand on from the first film?
PJ: After the success of the first Volumes of Blood I knew that we were onto something really cool and I wanted to create this whole universe of story lines and characters. Like real life, our own movie is constantly changing genres and intertwining with others own personal journeys. I felt like this could be accomplished with the foundation that was created with the first movie. So when I came up with the concept for the sequel I didn’t want it to be a traditional continuation of the already established story. I wanted to take it in an entirely different direction and expand on the universe using a few characters and arcs from the first film, but ultimately create a new viewing experience for audiences that maybe haven’t seen the first movie.
EW: Do you plan on a third film in this series?
PJ: I do have a concept for the third and final anthology installment. Once again it’ll be its own beast, but expand on a few story lines and reoccurring characters.
PJ Starks (in the Jaws T-shirt)
EW: What was it like collaborating with so many filmmakers?
PJ: I absolutely love collaboration. It’s really cool to work directly with different artists who all have different interpretations of how they want to create their vision. As a producer I try not to micromanage, which can be hard sometimes, especially when I’ve written some of the scripts. However, I realize that I’m not the only creative entity on the project and that everyone brings something cool and unique to the table. We want them to direct these sequences for a reason, so unless it looks like they might go in a direction that takes the project off the rails, we stay outta the way and let them do their own thing. I’ve been very lucky to work with some incredibly good and passionate auteurs.
EW: How much of a factor was fans feedback from the first film in the writing and making of this film?
PJ: Feedback from the first film was insanely humbling, so we knew exactly what would work. It would have been very easy for us to just redo the same exact thing with a few tweaks, but that wasn’t the intention. We knew that taking the project in a different direction could make haters out of established fans, but we wanted to make the movie we wanted to make. We’ve been pretty lucky so far that a majority of those who’ve seen the film really appreciated what we did and the reviews have been positive overall thus far.
EW: I heard one of your directors dropped out at the last minute and had to be replaced by Nathan Milliner. What section was he scheduled to direct and would it have been a vastly different take on the material if he had stayed on to direct?
PJ: Originally he was slated to direct the Christmas segment “Fear, For Sinners Here,” but Nathan, who also served as writer on that, fell in love with his script and traded it with another film maker for the segment “Murder Death Killer.” That is pretty much a straight forward slasher premise. Nathan has an incredible eye for detail and is very meticulous with placing meaning within any given scene and the other film maker is very run and gun, very stylized from execution to editing. Looking back I believe that both segments needed to be with Nathan, but had any other film maker made these sequences they would have been entirely different. Still good, but different.
EW: Can you tell me a little bit about the film’s journey from script to screen?
PJ: It was the most stressful and equally enjoyable experience I’ve ever had producing a project. We had a myriad of hurdles and doors close along the way, but every time we hit a brick wall it seemed like another door opened up giving us a much better option. We went from almost no crew to finding a crew that took the film to the next level from a visual stand point, we lost a writer and gained three really strong and passionate writers that added a lot of strength to the stories and characters, we lost our whole effects department after the first sequence and that’s when Cassandra Baker fell into our laps. She is an incredible talent and took our kills and gore to a whole new level. We were extremely lucky to get her. I’m not religious, but if I was, I’d say that we were blessed making this film.
EW: What do you consider the best “section” of the film in regards to the overall impact of the story?
PJ: Yikes, that’s a tough question. This might be a cop out answer, but I honestly feel that each story offers something completely different and new for the viewer. There’s so many layers, maybe too many for some, and colorful characters, varying atmospheres, kills and genre blending that there really is something for everyone.
EW: Can you tell me about the struggles or ease of shooting “on location?”
PJ: Shooting on location was a lot tougher than it probably should have been. Our main location was a large Victorian home that was on the market, we were slated to shoot in the home for six months and then they found a buyer so we had to adjust our schedule several times. We ended up shooting in multiple homes. We found several along the way, empty homes on the market and right when we were about to film they’d find a buyer. Blood Moon Pictures was really good for homes that needed to be sold. We even lost a location due to a situation that involves the police, not anything we did, but it’s a long story that we’ll wait and tell on the 20th Anniversary Steel Book.
Jay Woolston in “The Deathday Party”
EW: What is your favorite moment in the film?
PJ: My favorite moment in the film involves a butcher knife, some vomit and a man’s ass. I’ll say no more.
EW: What are some projects that you are working on right now?
PJ: Right now I’m executive producing two other anthologies. The first is a Halloween themed journey through the macabre called 10/31/16 and it’s directed by Rocky Gray, who is one of the most talented composers I know. The other is an anthology of monsters called Cryptids and it’s got some very talented directors attached such as our own Justin M. Seaman and Zane Hershberger. I’m co-producing a drug induced demonic opus called Deimosimine, directed by Chad Armstrong of LeglessCorpse Films. There might be a few other things on the horizon.
EW: What is your favorite character in the film?
PJ: I really like the character of Boone from “Feeding Time,” he was played by Caleb Shore and he fucking nailed the role. Boone is the everyman who’s stuck in a dead end job, he’s got a sick father and bills piling up. Suddenly he’s thrust into this impossible situation. I also really like Mr. Stine, the realtor from “A Killer House” portrayed by Christopher Bower. Chris came onto the project at the 11th hour when we lost the original actor due to some creative and professional differences. Chris could not have been more perfect for the role. The character is bad, but he’s not. He’s very conflicted, but also very creepy and tongue in cheek. He has some of my favorite lines in the entire film. Julie Streble played the role of The Woman, in “Fear, For Sinners Here” and her portrayal was just spot on. She’s funny, but wicked and evil all at the same time. She has this very over-the-top reason for doing what she does. I’ve always likened her to a super villain and Julie was just incredible in the role.
EW: What surprises, good or bad, did you discover while making this film?
PJ: There were things that happened along the way that seemed bad at the time, only we found out very quickly that they turned out to be blessings in disguise. Whether it was a location falling through or a crew members falling away for whatever reason, nothing stopped us from forging ahead. If I were to be completely candid anyone or anything we needed to replace was done so with something that offered more to the project than the previous. Our goal from the get go was to take the project to the next level and it seemed that even fate was on our side.
EW: Can you tell us a little bit of how you managed to raise the funds and borrow, barter and trade to get this film finished?
PJ: We had some incredible sponsors help us fund the film. If it weren’t for David Justice with Blue Star Restoration, Devin Taylor with Castlen Realty, Matt Stiff with Book & Music Exchange, Heather Montgomery with First Liberty Financial Mortgage, Bad Apple Records, Pace Field Service, 3 Monkey’s Pub, Terry’s Tee’s and Soak-N-Wet Car Wash there’s no way we’d have been able to make this movie. So far they all seemed to be very happy with their involvement and we hope to have them on the next.
EW: If you could choose any actors/actresses currently working in the film industry to cast in your films who would they be? Why?
PJ: Tom Hanks. I mean who doesn’t want to work with Tom Hanks!?
Christopher Bower aka “Mr. Stine”
EW: Who are some of your cinematic influences?
PJ: Spielberg and Reitman were who I grew up on, so they kick started my love. Later in life my taste in humor was impacted greatly by Kevin Smith, I’m a sucker for dick and fart jokes. Maybe I should rephrase that!? Over the last decade I’ve definitely been influenced by J.J. Abrams, Adam Green, Jason Blum and several others. There’s almost too many fantastic directors and producers to mention.
EW: Favorite films?
PJ: My list is constantly changing and I love everything from Momento to Pootytang. I’ll give you a list of my ten desert island movies. The Return of the Living Dead, Ghostbusters, The Green Mile, Crash, The Lords of Ring trilogy, The Prowler, My Bloody Valentine, The Trigger Effect, An American Werewolf In London and
EW: What got you started in filmmaking?
PJ: My love for film started with Ghostbusters. Wanting to be involved in the visual storytelling process came much later. But it was my grandfather and grandmother for sure. He bought me my first RCA camcorder and she instilled a love for the horror genre, so all of this was their fault.
EW: What are some recent horror films that you really enjoyed?
PJ: Lights Out was one that I really liked. Green Room, Boy Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Plus One, POD, Late Phases and a ton more.
EW: Do you have any dream projects that you want to make in the future?
PJ: Believe it or not, but I would absolutely love to make the live action reboot of Inspector Gadget. Someone needs to do it right where Disney got it all wrong. Steve Carell would make an incredible Gadget.
EW: What is some advice that you can give to filmmakers just starting out?
PJ: Best advice I can give is if you have a passion for this, get off your ass and do it. Don’t be like those guys that talk about it all the time and then have nothing to show for themselves. Commit to the process and finish it out. No matter how hard it gets, reach that finish line. And if you start a project, see it through before you start on the next. Nothing gets under peoples skin more than being a part of something that never sees the light of day. I know because I’m guilty of it. It happened once and I vowed that it’ll never happen again. So far I’ve kept that promise.
Erick Wofford is a writer/director and independent filmmaker known for his award winning short film, “The Music of Erich Zann.” He is currently in production on his first feature film entitled, “Splatterpunk!“
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