Friday, April 4, 2014

DEVIANT INTERVIEW: Talking PITY with JOHN PATA


After I watched John Pata's film, Pity (a short film that Jill Sixx also produced)...I was speechless. The credits rolled along with that great soundtrack of the quiet thunderstorm in the background and I instantly reached for my trusty little notepad in which to scribble down words like "awe" and "understated perfection". And when the lights came on in the HorrorHound screening room I was left with two thoughts in my Deviant little head. I knew that this film was unlike anything I've ever seen before...and I knew that I had to meet the man who made this film. And so, I did.




DEVIANT: How do you like working in this awesome genre of ours, man?

JOHN PATA: I love it! It's so great. I grew up as a horror kid and everything but, I didn't really experience what the horror community was like until 2007 when I did a $700 29-minute film called Better Off Undead. It was my first attempt at doing a semi-legit production and I would just buy tables at conventions and try to sell this DVD that had like 3 hours of special features for this 29-minute film. But, it kind of hit me then...here's some dumb kid from Wisconsin going...."Do you guys like dick jokes? Do you like zombies? Would you like those things if they got combined?? Well...check this movie out!" And people where totally receptive to that. You know, horror gets such a bad rap. You're a fucking sicko...there's something wrong with you. How can you like these movies where people are dying and stuff?? And that's just such a small part of it...the other bigger part of it is that experience of finding that community of fans that are just like you. I love it because it's so supportive. And when you have events like the conventions and the film festivals or even when they're both combined, people are gonna come and check it out. For us, we screened at 1 o'clock, which was when the big Evil Dead  panel was happening across the street...and that was probably the biggest event of the weekend. And yet, there were like 50 or 60 people that came to watch 3 independent short films. And that's fucking awesome! I mean...I love horror; I like the cerebral stuff, I like fun stuff, the gooey stuff and everything. But, it's really the community with is such a big part of why I love being in it.

DEVIANT: What's your favorite horror movie?

JOHN PATA: My favorite horror movie is The Evil Dead. Flat out, the first one. I don't like Evil Dead 2, I don't like Army of Darkness. I watched The Evil Dead  when I was ten years old...blind, not knowing shit...and it BLEW MY MIND. Growing up, it was a lot of Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Hellraiser...and you know, like all the studio stuff. But, The Evil Dead  was the first time that I saw what it was like to just drop everything and go make a film. You know, these guys just dropped out of college, they weren't film students or anything...they just went and did it. And grant it, at the time, I didn't fully comprehend that concept. But, I saw something that was just so raw and visceral and because it was such a passion project, it just changed me. I refuse to watch the remake, though. *laughter* I'm told that it's good and worthwhile...but, no. I will not be fair to that film...so, I'm not gonna do it!

Official PITY Clapperboard (photo courtesy of Mary Manchester)

DEVIANT: Talk about your long road to getting Pity  to premiere here at HorrorHound Weekend.

JOHN PATA: Pity  is actually my third production. Better Off Undead  was the first, which was basically a step above a backyard movie. And then, in 2011 my close friend Adam Bartlett and I co-wrote and co-directed a feature called Dead Weight, which came out in 2012. So, we hit the festival circuit with that one and it screened at HorrorHound Weekend in Indianapolis in that same year which is when I met Jerry Pyle and also one of the first times I hung out with Jill (Sixx)...as well as a lot of the other filmmakers. It was such a super-special weekend for us all where we just got together and bonded. We were these like-minded individuals doing the same thing...who were more concerned with just being friends, instead of stroking each others dicks talking about..."Oh, my movie this...and my movie that.."...it was more like..."Hey, you wanna talk about Kurt Russell? 'Cause I kinda wanna talk about Kurt Russell." It was one of those weekends. *laughter* And so, with Dead Weight, Adam and I got to know a lot of people and travel quite a bit...and we really wanted to do another film right away...but, with Dead Weight  we just got distribution and we have all these investors that we need to pay back before we can do another feature. So, I focused my attention on Pity.

Pity  is actually based on a short story that is found in the liner notes of a CD called "Prowler in the Yard" by a grindcore band called Pig Destroyer. When I was in college, I went over to a friend's house one day, who was also another horror movie fanatic. He handed me the liner notes and was just like...dude, read this. So, I read this four paragraph story. And the opening line was..."I'm parked at the elementary school across the street from her house listening to the rain pound against the roof of the car." And I'm like...what...is...this?? And so, I read it...and it always stuck with me. I instantly saw it as a short film and I always had that idea in my head. And before Dead Weight  even started, Jake Martin who plays the main character in Pity, Anonymous, is a good friend of mine...was into this story that I initially pitched to him. And we were so into doing it...but, you know, jobs came up and life kind of just happened...so, we were like....some day.

So, anyway...after Dead Weight, I wanted to do a short, just to keep learning and keep my craft sharp. And, so I reached out to the band (Pig Destroyer) about making this film. I pitched them the whole thing because they wanted to know the visuals and stuff. I mean, they've never been approached by anything like this before. So, they got on board and were excited to see it when the film was done. In 2013, we began production in November. We went through all kinds of different line-up changes...raised the $5,000 budget...and shot it. It was awesome how everything happened...just when I found out that Jill's Call Girl  was going to screen and Jerry's  Service was also going to play here, I felt like everything was lining up perfectly.

From Left: Jake Martin and John Pata (photo courtesy of Mary Manchester)

DEVIANT: One of the best elements about Pity  is that it takes place with just one character in one small location and everything that Jake puts into it is just so amazing. Such a great fucking performance, man! What was it like working with him for this role?

JOHN PATA: This was such a unique experience for filming because, well, normally, you rehearse and you give your direction before anything happens. You walk through the scene and work out all this technical stuff with your body and all the emotions. And then, you watch the actor as he does everything and give him notes after he's done. The way that we did Pity  was so different from any of that. We shot the whole thing in a hanger and I had this walkie-talkie while Jake had one beside him on the car seat. So, I gave him keywords that would point him to the next thing that he had to do. If I said street light, he would look at the street light. It was constant communication the whole time. It was all instant direction...not so much the before and after. It was very interesting because Jake and I have been friends for a very long time...but, it was this different level of intimacy that we were experiencing because when he's screaming, letting out all that anger...I'm just screaming back into the walkie-talkie. So, he's screaming because I'm screaming at him and constantly pushing him. Sometimes there's that fine-line where certain things might not sit well with him...but, if we're in this moment...we're gonna stay in the moment together. It was very, very personal....for him, especially. He's in this car and there's like 20 crew people around him...while he's basically by himself. All he knows is my voice. Looking back on it...I'm probably never going to work like that again...but, looking back now I'm aware that trust was the biggest element of that shoot. He put his trust in me to basically allow me to change things on the fly with him. It was such an organic experience.

DEVIANT: Talk about the look of the film and how the sound is so impeccable, which made the film feel so rich and lush, despite the scant budget. The soundtrack and sound design is part of the entire feel. 

JOHN PATA: Wow...thank you. Well, the look of the film comes down to the DP, Robert Stern. He just has this interesting sense to him. He went to school for documentary filmmaking and has never taken a cinematography class or lighting class. This is all stuff that he learned on his own. So, for the look...I gave him two references. I told him that I really wanted to sort of mix The Crow  and Sin City. So, from early on...we really had the look down. And then working with our production designer, Sarah Sharp, we wanted this timeless feel. So, we got this '82 Cutlass Supreme that we used and you see cassette tapes in it and he's wearing these plain work-type clothes...he uses a Zippo. We just wanted to make sure that everything, while you're watching it...has you convinced that it could be the 80's or 90's or whatever with that authentic timeless feel to it. And from day one, I wanted this film to stand out visually and really be an audio assault, as well. I think that in filmmaking, as a whole, the importance of audio often gets overlooked. People just don't understand the importance of sound.

Nicholas Elert was the man who scored Dead Weight  and we had such a great working relationship so, we wanted him to do the score for Pity. I'm not really an audio guy, I'm more about the visuals. So, when I'm telling him about certain music queues that I want, I'm basically trying to explain with visuals and whatnot...until Nick is breathing it out with his score. When he approached me, initially, he told me that he wanted to build the score with Jake's voice. So, everything you hear comes from Jake's voice. I gave Nick all the voice over sessions and ADR stuff and he came back with stuff that blew my mind. Most of the score is Jake breathing, yelling and him saying the line..."I used to toy with her nipple ring and seven digits". So, what he did was put it all into a synthesizer, basically made each bit, each yell or word into the base of a note. Then, he stretched it and changed the tempo to finally become what you hear. I can hardly explain the exact process to you...but, I'm so proud of it because what he did for those seven minutes was compose a perfect score for this film! Nick is a wizard!

DEVIANT: That's so cool, man because when you explain all that about the sound and the score, it just adds to that organic feel of the film that you talked about and makes complete sense. Really cool stuff! Any plans for distributing this film after the conventions? People really need to see this film!

JOHN PATA: Yes, absolutely! We're gonna do this festival circuit...and the thing that's kind of tough about doing the festivals is that it's kind of frowned upon if your film is available on YouTube or Vimeo or anything like that. So, we're gonna keep it offline for now. But, I'm hoping that we're gonna maintain a healthy 12-15 month run with the festivals and conventions...and whenever that end comes, we'll put it up on YouTube or Vimeo and we're also gonna do a special DVD/Blu-ray release of Pity, eventually. And, especially because I'm a special features nut and love the process of filmmaking so much, there's going to be like an hour and a half making of featurette on there. There's going to be a black and white version of the film on there. And all kinds of extras...just a full package of the film because I got into filmmaking because I love the process of it so much and I know that there's other people that do, as well. Also, it's really to show people that you don't have to have a million bucks or ten thousand, or whatever. You can have a thousand bucks and just do something really great with it. I mean, I have no formal training in filmmaking, or anything. For me...I'm going to watch all these special features and read books and just soak in as much as I can. I come from a punk rock background, so it's a really DIY kind of ethics that I embrace and put into anything that I do. So, I really want to show that in these special features. If you have a really cool idea...just fucking do it and keep trying!

The PITY Crew: Jake Martin is the winner of this picture (photo courtesy of Mary Manchester)

DEVIANT: So...what's next, man?

JOHN PATA: There's a couple of ideas that Adam Bartlett and I are brainstorming for a feature. The one-line pitch that we're building from is...IF JOHN CARPENTER DIRECTED THE X-FILES. And I also have a feature that I'm outlining right now that is based on a Wisconsin legend that will be a sort of backwoods movie that does different things. The goal is to never do the same thing twice. Better Off Undead  is this beer and pizza movie, while Dead Weight  is a post-apocalyptic love story and Pity  is a portrait of a man at the worst point of his life. So, the idea is to keep expanding and doing things differently. I definitely want to keep things grounded in genre filmmaking. Horror is my first love...so, it's hard to get away from it. Especially when you see all the support coming back at you, it's hard to even think about stepping away from that. What am I gonna do a fucking drama? Or a kid's movie?? *laughter* There's no kid's movie conventions or anything. This is such a special group of individuals and such a special level of cinema.

DEVIANT: What's the last good horror film that you've seen?

JOHN PATA: Heartless  from 2009. Phillip Ridley, who also did Reflecting Skin  with Viggo Mortensen wrote and directed that one. I would go so far as to say that it is one of the most emotional horror films that I have ever seen. I connected with it on a personal level, which I think carried that emotion for me...but, I was just so wrapped up in it and just thought that it was a very unique story. It really focused on real-life horrors, which, I guess, is kind of a theme that I really enjoy. It's not so much about the monsters that might exist, it's about the monsters that do exist in our society and in our minds. I love Mike Flanagan's Absentia, too! So excited for Oculus!

DEVIANT: Awesome! Yeah...me, too! John...thank you so much for doing this interview with me!

JOHN PATA: No, thank YOU! And thank you for enduring my "long-winded" conversation! *laughter*




Pity  is such a juggernaut of filmmaking. In it's short 7 minute running time, it manages to do so much more, emotionally than most full-length features could ever hope to accomplish. I'm so glad that I got to hang out with John Pata and talk about his film and everything else about the genre. The sky's the limit for this super talented horror filmmaker.



Thanks for reading,

bryan.




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