Interview w/ Bradley Sullivan, Director of 'I Didn't Come Here to Die'

Where the backwoods horror meets an inner city mentality, you're sure to see the kind of films that inspired our latest guest, Bradley Sullivan. A movie maker at his core and a film fan at heart, Sullivan is among the many indie directors that I would consider to be fully aware of what constitutes not only a "good" horror film, but an entertaining one as well.

Inspired less by any famous movie monsters, however, Sullivan's latest feature film, I Didn't Come Here to Die, relies more on the shady morality of human nature for its scare factor. Thankfully, he spared a few moments between post-production editing, sound recording and traveling across the country to elaborate on his inspirations for the film and explain when we might be able to get a better look at the film whether it be on the big screen or DVD.
Great to have you here, Bradley Can you tell us a little about your background, how did you get started in film-making?

Well, I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin. I had (note: have) an active imagination, so movies were always my way of escaping the doldrums of country life. In a small town, the only films that play locally are the big studio films. So my love of movies really stems from big-budget blockbusters. I'm a little embarrassed to say it now, but Independence Day was actually the film that made me want to make films (I was 10 when I saw it). After seeing ID4, I got a making-of book on it. That was were I learned that a lot of people work on films, and I wanted to be one of those people. After that, I was always pushing towards that goal.

Instead of doing book reports in school, I started shooting sequels to books like The Most Dangerous Game with my parent's VHS camera. Those all started to go over really well, so I got a job so that I could start buying better cameras. By the time I was a junior in high school, I had done enough stuff that a local wedding video place was willing to hire me. That's really where I learned to edit, and shoot on-the-fly. I did that for a couple of years, then traveled with a volunteer service for a year, and went to film school at the Zaki Gordon Institute for Independent Filmmaking.

Photo courtesy of Bradley Sullivan and Robert Garza

After film school, I had to decide on what to do and where to go. It seemed like if I went to LA, I'd be just another fish in a very big, dirty pond. So based on my love for Robert Rodriguez and his way of making movies, I moved out to Austin instead. I got really lucky and scored a gig as the editing PA on a teen film called Bandslam within a month of moving there. That led to getting a gig as the prop department PA on the Robert Rodriguez movie Shorts. More things came about from there, and hopefully it continues on.

That's an overly-long explanation of how I got in to the film business, but the important thing is that it started Will Smith punching an alien in the face and saying, "Now that's what I call a close encounter". Come to think of it, are there any other movies where aliens get punched in the face? If so, I need to see 'em.

You're currently wrapping up post-production on a new film, I Didn't Come Here to Die. What's the basic plot of the film?

A national service-based volunteer program called Volunteers in America Generating Goodwill a.k.a. VAGG (joke intended) sends a group of six young folks out on a project in the woods. They're miles away from civilization, and are building a summer camp for under-priviledged kids. Well, that's what's supposed to be happening. If you've read the title or seen the trailer, it's safe to assume that things don't really go as planned.

Campgrounds and young teens trapped in the woods has become somewhat of a hallmark for horror films. How is your film different than say, Friday the 13th of Evil Dead?

While I love those films (especially the Evil Dead series), it's more in line with a movie like Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave. It's less about an outside influence of horror, and more about making decisions that turn a situation from "bad" to "worse". I had a little film festival at my apartment for the key crew before we started pre-production. We watched Shallow Grave, Cabin Fever, High Tension, All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, and The Ruins. So if you like any of those films, that's the kind of experience I was aiming for with IDCHTD.

I was in a volunteer program very similar to the one in the film. So this is kind of my play on that situation if everything had gone bat-shit crazy wrong. These are the circumstances that you might get yourself into if you didn't listen to your gut in that setting. So, hopefully it's different because you could say to yourself, "Oh yeah, I could see that happening". It's also just meant to be a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

Photo courtesy of Bradley Sullivan and Robert Garza

I Didn’t Come Here To Die is also the first feature-length horror film shot on a GH1 Digital SLR Camera. What made you choose this specific type of camera?

When I see a trailer for a low-buget movie, and it looks like video, I immediately don't want to see it. I can't help it, it's just a natural reaction. It just doesn't feel like a movie. I'll still watch it, but now it has to fight it's way beyond that preconceived notion that it's gonna suck. I didn't want anyone to have that thought when they saw this movie. I'm a huge fan of digital, but it's all about getting it to look like film. Before the HDSLRs came out I was looking at the RED (too expensive and big), or using 35mm adapters on prosumer cameras (too bulky and clunky). A HDSLR was just the easiest, smallest, and most cinematic camera for the job. We degraded the footage intentionally for the look of the film, but the raw images that came out of the camera are just ridiculously gorgeous. You can do a lot with these.

HDSLRs aren't without their faults though. There are a lot of downsides to shooting with them too, but the benefits far outweighed the drawbacks on this project. I don't think that HDSLRs are the future of filmmaking that some are saying, but they are the best tool out there now (for low-buget filmmakers). They're working on cameras that have all the great things about DSLRs, but with a more traditional camera body. When those come out they might really be the game-changers.

You shot the entire production within a week's time, that seems incredibly fast. Was budget a factor in your scheduling or is that time frame typical of most indie films?

I think that 10 - 14 days is more typical for an indie of this size. Budget was a big part of the issue, but we still could have gone for a couple more days. It was more about people's window of time that they could work on the film. 7 days to shoot a feature was crazy. I'd recommend 9 - 10 at least.

What was a typical day on set like for you and the crew? Any weird stories or superstitious rituals before or during filming?

No, the typical day was "shoot, shoot, shoot". It's really all a blur. With 7 days, you don't have time for any rituals or anything. I'm really just getting to see what it was like via the behind-the-scenes videos. It was very stressful at the time of filming, but watching the process in retrospect it looks like fun.

How about marketing, what's been your strategy promoting the film?

There hasn't really been any effort on marketing yet. The big thing is just pushing to get it into some festivals. I put together a website and cut a trailer more as a way for family and friends to see what it was I was doing. Luckily a bunch of sites (including yours, thank you) picked it up, and we got a ton of attention from that. Now that people know the film is out there, the hope is that it plays in some festivals and picks up some buzz.

How big of a role do you think social media has been for promoting and funding independent films such as yours?

The fan pages have been a great way for people interested in the film to keep up with news, but they haven't played as big of a part as I would have liked. Originally, I wanted to do videos and interviews from the set everyday. Follow the entire post-prodution, and have it be a live "making-of an ultra low-budget movie". The problem was that we were just too stretched on resources. I personally didn't have time to to anything but focus on the film. The visual FX guy (William J. Meyer) shot all the behind-the-scenes stuff, but he was crazy busy with his FX duties too. I learned that if you really want to do something like that, you need to have a dedicated EPK or social media person.

Photo courtesy of Bradley Sullivan and Robert Garza

The lastest trailer for the film indicates a 2010 release date, are you planning on a theatrical premiere or will the film be released directly on DVD?

It would be great to get a theatrical premiere. That's what we're shooting for, and we've definitely been talking to folks about it. We'll be playing at some festivals in the fall, and hopefully the buzz is big enough and the audiences/distributors like it enough to give it that kind of push. It'll be out in some form for the general public eventually, but wether that happens before the end of this year is still to be seen.

This isn't your first foray behind the director's chair. You also wrote and directed a student film called Stache: Origin of a Hitman. What lessons did you carry forward with you from Stache to IDCHTD?

The best thing I took from Stache was some of the crew. C.J. Izzo and David Templin (the AD and Special Effect guys on IDCHTD respectively) both worked on Stache with me, and I'll have them back as long as they're willing in the future.

With Stache I attempted to make something fun and immensely watchable (as much as you can with a $350 budget). Most student films are either really pretentious, dreadfully serious, just plan boring, and sometimes all of those. I usually hate watching them myself. The taglines for Stache were, "Blood, Guts, and Facial Hair" and "A Mustache Ride Like No Other". I just wanted to make something that people actually had fun with, and were able to leave with a smile. A lot of the same problems with student films can also happen with low-budget feature films. People will avoid them, or watch them because of the fact that they're "bad". So with IDCHTD I just tried to make a movie so fun and tense, that you're never thinking about it's size or limitations.

Who are some of your greatest influences as a director?

Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, and Danny Boyle. I actually named all my characters after directors I admire (Danny, Steve, Chris, Sophia, Julie, and Miranda). I thought that it might be good luck to have all of them "involved" with the film. Robert Rodriguez was a huge influence growing up as well. Just fom the way he shoots, runs things, and does everything digital. His book Rebel Without a Crew was by my side throughout high school, still is.

Speaking of Robert Rodriguez, you mentioned being a Prop Production Assistant on his kids-friendly film, Shorts. Did you get to meet Rodriguez in person?

I didn't really. I mean, he said "Hi" to me a few times, but my time was split 3 ways on that film. I spent equal time in the prop shop, out buying props and supplies, and on set. So it wasn't like I was always there, and when I was it was pretty crazy busy. He had a million other legitimate things to deal with before chatting it up with a PA. I hope to really meet him though. I'd love for him to see this movie. We'll see.

Remakes, re-envisionings and reboots have become big business in Hollywood these days (and a hot button for many fans). What's your stance on this "trend" and if offered your pick, what film would you most like to put your personal spin on?

I don't like the remake trend at all. I can understand it for really old films. I'd rather the studios just clean-up the print, maybe fix-up some outdated effects, and re-release the original. I just saw a cleaned-up print of Aliens a few months ago, and it was kick-ass. Overall, I'd rather just see new and original content. I don't need a remake of Total Recall, I need more new and exciting sci-fi like Inception. You know?

Rebooting a terrible movie or franchise, on the other hand, is fine by me. I'd love to reboot Doom someday. Not only because the movie was awful, but they didn't even attempt to use the story from the game. The original game is about man-mad wormholes on military bases on the moons of Mars, and they inadvertently open a gate to Hell. Why would you not go with that? In the movie they changed it to a story about genetic engineering gone bad. That's fine, but then don't call it Doom. I'd be fine with rebooting that. There's an epic sci-fi/horror film just waiting to be made there.

Okay, time to fess up. What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

When I was five, we lived next door to Dick Van Dyke's granddaughter. She was the same age as well, and even though I have a horrible memory, I can vividly remember playing the board games Mouse Trap and Guess Who? over at her house. I think we also played The Little Mermaid on NES a lot, but we'll just ignore that fact. Anyways, apparently we were hanging out in the front yard one day, and broke into a game of "You show me yours. I'll show you mine". My mom is coming home from work right as this is going on, sees us, slams on the brakes, ends the party, and takes me home. So that's when I got the talk about how boys and girls are different, and how it's apparently not OK to whip your cock out in public.

Haha! Indeed. I think there's only two times in a man's life when that's socially acceptable... when he's born and and when he's too old to care anymore.

Learn more about IDCHTD on it's official website or check for updates via Facebook or Twitter.


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