"Money is just a problem to be solved, filmmaking is all about problem solving. If you only have 200 bucks, then make a 200 dollar movie" - Henrique Couto
Greetings Henrique! Welcome to the lab here - great speaking with you again!
So happy to be here sir!
You and I first met years ago when you were hosting a television show as "Dr. Freak," the world's youngest horror host, at an all-night movie marathon being held in Dayton, hosted by A. Ghastlee Ghoul. Tell me about that experience, making a show at such a young age.
Cult theater was absolutely a labor of love, I was just 12 years old when I started shooting episodes, I was learning a lot about how to make videos and cobbling together a crew. Between finding crew, trial and error, and needing my mother to shuttle me around to get things done it was really quite the undertaking.
What lessons do you think you learned doing that show that carried over to Indy film making?
The biggest lesson to be learned there was how to schedule a shoot, call up all your crew and get started first thing in the morning. For a pre-teen that’s a pretty impressive thing, to be so motivated. But I made some mistakes, huge mistakes, luckily most of those are lost in the cable access ether for no one to find.
So how long after the horror host show did you make your first film, or was there an overlap?
My first short films were a few years after I started doing cable access TV shows, along side the Cult Theater show I also dabbled in a variety show and a talk show. All of these were great training grounds along with having filmmaker Andrew Copp as a mentor during that time. I had managed to purchase my own video equipment at 15 so from there I spent less and less time on TV shows and more and more time learning how to make movies.
What is the main difference in the two ventures?
In those days TV shows had a lot less permanence to them, they weren’t likely to be kept by the audience unless they taped them off of television. It was easy to spit a show out and not look back. When I was making short films I had to factor in that people would own copies of them. It made me want to try to up my quality to really give people value as best I was capable.
Who were your inspirations, creatively speaking, as both a horror host and a film maker (I am sure Barry Hobart, aka Dr. Creep, played a big part, as well as Bob Hinton, A. Ghastlee Ghoul)?
Barry and Bob were huge parts of my creative beginnings, they inspired as well as encouraged me to work hard and keep creating. By far my biggest influence as a young man was Andrew Copp, he had a huge hand in guiding me through technical and artistic elements of video and film production.
Your first movie was HEADCHEESE. Tell me about that. You wrote, directed, shot, edited - even starred in it. Was that out of necessity?
I think that was my first movie that was over 60 minutes long, but it was most certainly a backyard zero-budget affair. I did as many jobs as I could on it because I was the only one with the time to dedicate, so I would pull whatever weight had to be pulled to get the film done. Some call it tireless work ethic, I call it insanity. I gathered a group of my friends together for 4 days during spring break and we just filmed every single day. No script, some fake blood, and a lot of energy. That’s how we made that flick.
What are your thoughts looking back on it 12 years later?
I think the movie showed a lot of promise, it showed a lot of talent starting to be cultivated, but at the end of the day it was a 16 year olds movie that literally took place mostly in the backyard. I am proud of it because I remember how much fun it was realizing I had found something I loved so deeply.
So your next project was an anthology, FACES OF SCHLOCK, in 2005. Was the decision to work with other directors for individual segments born out of the experience of Headcheese? Or perhaps a way just to get the project finished quicker?
Faces of Schlock was about wanting to make a feature length project quickly and cheaply with filmmakers I had become great friends with. We loved being packaged together and worked tirelessly to bring it together. We loved it so much, we did it a few more times in fact! That first one had Andrew Shearer and Chris LaMartina on it, after that we brought on Justin Channell and really went over the top.
Talk about the pros and cons of working with other directors.
The pros are without a doubt getting together varied voices. Each person and their team brought a totally different voice to the project which made it much more interesting. The con of course is just keeping everything on track, so much can happen in people’s lives myself included. Any one of us having a major life issue could halt production.
Your next films were SATAN'S HOUSE OF YOGA, and FACES OF SCHLOCK 2, both also made in 2005. Then you took a break until 2011. Why the long break between projects?
Satan’s House of Yoga was actually never completed, but I can’t get that IMDb page taken down. That was the only film I never quite managed to pull together. Faces of Schlock 2 was actually followed by my first full blown soley directed feature film Marty Jenkins and the Vampire Bitches.
After Marty Jenkins I got a job for a film studio call Alternative Cinema and moved across the country, from there I spent a few years learning the business and trying to get new films off the ground. In 2008 I produced a reboot of Faces of Schlock with the original directors that was more high quality and marketable. Then in 2009 I began production on Bleeding Through, which got stuck in Post-production hell until nearly 2011.
The reason for this break is very simple, I fell into a serious crippling depression. I had no job, no money and had completely lost my desire to do anything that made me happy. I spent months on the couch feeling sorry for myself, feeling like a failure, and trying to pull myself back up. Which I did, and I haven’t stopped since.
Your next project was a short film called COMPLETELY DEFECTIVE, 2011. This was your first film working off someone else's script. How was it working with another writer's material?
Completely Defective was a short film I did with Faces of Schlock alum Andrew Shearer, it was a fun experience and Andrew was on set with me so it was very easy to get the film up to both of our visions. He and I have very similar attitudes on story and humor so it was a perfect fit.
This was also your first HD film, shot widescreen. I assume you upgraded your gear during the break between films?
Actually Bleeding Through was my first film shot in HD, but it came out on home video later than this short was released. That being said, I actually shot Completely Defective on the equipment I bought to make Depression: The Movie. I saved every dime I could, got a job, finished Bleeding Through, premiered it, and started to realize people wanted to see what I had to say. After I rolled camera on Depression: The Movie, I never stopped.
BLEEDING THROUGH deals with the subject of suicide, a tough subject. The following year Andy Copp committed suicide, and I know it was a huge blow to the Dayton movie scene. Talk more about Andy Copp if you would. I met him at that Dayton movie marathon when I first met you. Extremely talented guy, don't know if anyone knew how troubled he was.
Andy was my best friend. He was my main male role model growing up, he was my mentor, and frequent collaborator later on. When I came back to Dayton Ohio Andy got me a job with him working at an access station, I saw him every day for 2 years, then one day he was gone. It was the most heartbreaking moment of my entire life, I saw him the day before he died. Everyone that knew Andy knew he had struggles with bi-polar disorder, but he had kept secret just how bad thing had gotten when he finally decided to take his own life. For all of his problems he was generally a funny and light hearted person, very very giving and sweet. I miss Andy every single day, I never knew that you could actually miss someone every single day until Andy died. Nothing has ever been the same for me or the many many people who he touched with his work and his good nature.
Your next film was DEPRESSION, also in 2012. You wrote both BLEEDING THROUGH and DEPRESSION - what do you feel led you to explore such dark subject matter at that point in your life?
When I wrote Bleeding Through in 2008 I didn’t realize how depressed I was, I wouldn’t figure that out until years later. I had done a horror-comedy before that and I wanted to explore something darker and more experimental. I made a movie about a woman who ruined her life via crippling anxiety and depression, and after it was shot I started ruining my life with crippling anxiety and depression.
Depression: The Movie was my comeback film, after Bleeding Through had gotten great reviews and national distribution I realized that if I got up off the couch and believed in myself I could accomplish amazing things. I spent every dime I had in the world and made Depression. It was a humorous look at sad elements of life. I had so much I wanted to get off my chest when I did it, I think it’s possible my best work simply because I was working so much sickness out of myself at the time.
Depression: The Movie was life voodoo, depression had harmed me so much over the years I changed what the word meant. Not when I heard “depression” I don’t just think of misery, I think of a movie that I couldn’t be more proud of.
Your next film was a return to the slasher genre, BABYSITTER MASSACRE, 2013. I was looking at the message boards on IMDB and the headline for the first post says, "Excellent Movie." The next one says, "Terrible Movie." Any time you put a work of art into the world, it's tough, as you are exposing yourself as a creative individual. How do you feel about critics, fans, and criticisms of your work, both positive and negative?
Babysitter Massacre was me getting back into the game, ready to make films and get them out into the market. Babysitter Massacre was the last independent feature to be on the shelves of Blockbuster before they closed, so I think I did something right. Alternative Cinema financed and distributed the film shortly after releasing Bleeding Through. It was my first film that started me on the path to really being a film professional.
Critics are tough, they can be wonderful and supportive and completely make you feel like you have done everything right in your life. They can also take everything you love about your work away and make you feel like you don’t ever deserve to flip burgers. No matter how long I do this job every single negative review breaks my heart a little, but I can handle it because that’s the job. I just prefer when they are constructive rather than destructive. Luckily the fans have been amazing, they love the work and are so kind and generous with their support.
Talk about your next film, A BULLDOG FOR CHRISTMAS. I haven't seen this one, but am intrigued. Tell me about that one, and how was the reception for your first non-horror feature?
I did Bulldog immediately following Babysitter Massacre with the same cast and crew but boy was it a world apart.
This wasn’t my first non-horror feature, Depression: The Movie was, but it was my first family friendly film and I was worried no one would want it. The response was HUGE on it, it was my first film shot entirely on professional industry standard cameras and lenses and it sold HUGE. It went to Wal-Mart, Family Video and even played Sony Movie Network in the United Kingdom!
I wanted to make a marketable Christmas movie that satisfied my desire for sentimental drama and broad comedy, so I wrote a script that was full of heartfelt family dynamics and a talking dog. It was the first film I made after Andy Copp had died and it is completely tinged with it. The theme of Bulldog is loss, it is about a family who misses their grandfather and how some of them cannot function properly without him. You wouldn’t expect so much depth for a talking dog movie, but that’s what I did and I am so proud of that film.
You are now working full-time as a film maker, supporting yourself solely through your work. How difficult was that leap to make, and how does that feel?
Being a filmmaker for a living was incredibly scary, it isn’t a very stable job but it is what I love to do the most in the world. I was fired from a job I hated in cable access television suddenly and kind of pushed into it and I am so glad it happened. I haven’t looked back and my first year had ups and downs but it is going great.
All of your newer projects have bigger budgets. Do you use crowd funding to raise those, or have you found investors? What are your thoughts on crowd funding, and what advice do you have for other filmmakers on raising money for features?
I crowd fund about one feature film per year, and I always make it something special, like a heartfelt comedy or an intense offbeat drama. Something that isn’t easy to market but that I want to make solely for the love of filmmaking. It’s been incredibly humbling to see people support my work so tirelessly. Most of my other features are financed by investors or studios, but sometimes I pull out my check book and put my money where my mouth is.
If you want to raise money to make a movie you are getting too far ahead of yourself. You need to make a movie to prove yourself before anyone should be expected to shell out their hard earned money. Money is just a problem to be solved, filmmaking is all about problem solving. If you only have 200 bucks, then make a 200 dollar movie. Get out there, start working and get yourself noticed. Never let anything stop you.
What's your favorite part of the film process? Writing? Shooting? Editing?
My favorite part is by far shooting/directing. I don’t hate writing or editing, but I truly love producing and directing. I love being on set and the speedy spontaneous creativity that we get to experience. If I could be on set every single day, I would totally go for it.
Your most recent two films are both Westerns, JESSE JAMES: LAWMAN and CALAMITY JANE'S REVENGE. I'm a huge Western fan, and really glad to see the genre receiving something of a renaissance lately. What were some of the challenges of shooting a period piece?
I didn’t direct Jesse James: Lawman, but I was a director of photography on a it.
Shooting a western had lots of challenges including horses, costumes, props, makeup, and weather. Weather was the worst by far, shooting mostly exteriors gave lots of chances for us to get rained on and we did a few times. The biggest problem with a period piece was hiding power lines, modern roads, and airplanes in the sky. But you just go out there and shoot and do the best you can on the limited funds and schedule you have.
You always screen your films in a local theater for cast and crew when they're finished for their WORLD PREMIERE. That must be a great experience, watching your work projected on the big screen with an appreciative crowd.
Nothing will ever beat showing your work to an excited crowd, hearing them laugh or scream where you want them to. That is how you really get the chance to feel like a successful director.
Do you enjoy the marketing side of the business, promoting the films and going to conventions?
I have always enjoyed marketing my work, I love the movies I make and I love connecting them with the people who would enjoy them. I think all of my success could be attributed to my promotion and marketing efforts which I have always taken into my own hands.
Finally, what are some projects you have lined up or would like to pursue in the future?
I am shooting a romantic comedy called Making Out in about a month, I can’t wait! It’s a story I have had bouncing around my head for several years and I just love hitting new genres. I have two other films lined up but I just can’t talk about them quite yet.
Thanks for spending some time here in the haunted lab, Henrique. Watch our for the vampire bats on the way out, they haven't been fed lately.
Damn bats always get in my hair.
Showoff! To find out more about Henrique look him up on Facebook or find him on YouTube
Thanks again, Henrique.
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