Tim Sullivan [Interview by Jori]

Jori and Tim Sullivan

Jori and Tim Sullivan.

One of the things I love about meeting people at conventions is that I am always surprised.  I was really expecting Tim Sullivan to be… Hollywood.  Instead I found a regular guy who loves horror movies as much as I do and is very passionate about making films!  He is so animated that it’s really very entertaining just listening to him talk.  Luckily, I eventually remembered that I was supposed to do an interview and not just chat.

I admit, I was a big chicken and never really got the nerve to tell him that I didn’t like 2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams.  What I did do however was ask him what the hell happened.  (
See what I did there?  I implied something was wrong without being a jerk and saying it out loud.)

Well, the first one we made in 2003 and we shot it on 35 mm film and it was very successful so a sequel was inevitable.  What happened was a lot of time went on between the two of them, I didn’t want to do a sequel right away.  I did my movie Driftwood, which was totally different — it was a more dramatic horror film than a “splatstick” — and when we got time to do Field of Screams Robert (Englund) unfortunately was not available,  he had another commitment.  So much time had gone by and I had raised the money and it was like if I don’t film it now I’ll never get to film it.  It was a tough choice to make it without Robert but he himself said go for it.  I love Bill Moseley — I adore Bill Moseley — and in my mind if it’s not going to be Robert Englund who else could possibly do it?  That was Bill.  I had to make the movie on a third of the budget I made the first one, which immediately meant I couldn’t shoot at the Civil War reenactment town which lent a lot of atmosphere to the first one.  Basically we knew we could shoot in Iowa for the tax incentives, so I just thought I want to do something different — I always felt like with the Friday the 13ths where it’s Camp Crystal Lake but with just a new crop of kids.  I figured in the first Beverly Hills Cop Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy) went to Beverly Hills and the second one those guys went to Detroit so I thought OK, let’s take the maniacs on the road. We can do a traveling sort of carnival, we can set it up anywhere just put the tents — and that’s what we did!  I really wanted to expand on the humor that had worked successfully in the first one and I didn’t want to repeat myself so I went for a very Fellini-esque, surreal milieu and just threw everything I could at the wall. 

One of the things that was unfortunate about Field of Screams, which the film suffers for unfairly, is despite the budget problems we worked very hard to create this very beautiful 5.1 surround mix.  I worked very hard to give the film a certain saturated color and it’s amazing what can happen.  You carry the torch for two years and unfortunately at some point you have to let go and give it to the distributor and they completely fucked up!  They screwed up the mix.  They basically took the surround mix and messed it up so that it was mono!  When you watch it, the dialogue is almost silent!  The colors looked like shit!  It’s like what do I have to do? Actually go to the lab?  Well yeah.  That’s what I do now.  It was like you spend 18 years raising a child only to have it go out into the woods and have some junkies turn it into a drug addict!  It was awful!  What killed me was so many of the reviews focused on the shitty way it looked and the shitty way it sounded and how low budget and I assure you it’s not like that at all.  I caught all this!  When we first released this people were going nuts and I didn’t blame them!  I said to the studio, we’ve got to recall this, but they would not do it.  I was angry and unfortunately I became the bad guy as far as the studio was concerned because I told fans not to buy this.  They threatened to sue me for blocking commerce.  I said this is my name!  This is just one of your films — you have five coming out this month — this is my baby!  My name is on this and my fans deserve better.  That is now a studio I will never work with, but quite frankly I would never fucking want to work with them because they took my baby and fucking raped it and when I tried to tell people what had been done they made me the bad guy.  The good news is I was able to do a beautiful surround sound and color mix for the German edition.  The German edition is the film the way it’s supposed to look and sound, it makes such a huge difference, and the presentation is in a slip case.  It’s exactly how I wanted it to be.  For those who have an all region player (any horror fan should get one for like 70 bucks) you can get this and you can watch it in English and it will look and sound exactly how I wanted it to.  I think some people who may not have been happy with it as they were with the first one might appreciate it a little bit more.

Fair enough.  But what about Bill Moseley’s ill-fitting suit?  And the eye patch on the wrong eye?

Well as far as the eye goes it’s interesting.  A day before filming, we had the eye patch and all of a sudden he says, “You do know I’m a lefty.”  I go what do you mean?  And he says, “I’m a lefty!  You gotta have the eye patch on the other side, otherwise if I’m wielding a sword I won’t be able to see anything and I’m going to kill somebody!”  We never thought of that!  Think about it!  So we switched it to the other side and then I thought you know what? That kind of makes it cool because that differentiates Bill’s Buckman from Robert’s Buckman!  As far as his suit goes, honestly it maybe looked too big but I never thought of it.  I never noticed that.  Surely we could have tightened it but he liked the way it fit because it gave him a flexibility for the sword fights and all that.  We were kind of going for a military look.  For Robert it was more of a southern dandy.  All the costumes changed because I didn’t want to make the same film twice.  The first one — they were in their home town, they were more like a southern dinner look and for field of screams I wanted it to be more of a military look, like they’re on the road as an army.  All the costumes reflected that.

I picked up a copy of the I Was a Teenage Werebear – the extended cut and I was curious because I heard that it was meant to be a stand alone movie.

Teenage Werebear was always designed to be a part of Chillerama What happened was we all filmed it on our own.  Most anthology films have the same director, but we went off and did our own.  We actually took it on the road to film festivals (gay and lesbian film festivals), we did like six months on the road and we did so well with it.  Then the guys finally finished their episodes and we cut it all together and it was like oh my god this is like a two and a half hour movie, it’s way too long!  We all had to figure out some things to cut.  And it was so tough because I had already cut it down.  My first cut was 42 minutes, and then I cut it down to 35 and that was tough.  And then I realized, “Shit, I really gotta get this down to 27”.  (We all had to get ours down to 27).  So I’m going from 45 minutes to 27 minutes — that’s a lot!  There was nothing I could see that I could cut out because it was already so tight, but I knew that I could probably get away with cutting a couple of the songs out.  It hurt, but I figured Chillerama is really a horror movie and this is one aspect of it so I think it works without the songs in the body of Chillerama.  I was able to live with that knowing that one day we would do a special edition of the full length movie. In Chillerama, I like how it ends with Talon’s death because it really puts the emphasis on the tragedy of his death, but I also like the full length version because all musicals have to have that final number.  I’m all about making things available to the fans.

How did you come up with the concept for Werebear?

Originally it was I Was a Teenage Vampire.  We came up with this idea (me and Adam Rifkin) while we were doing Detroit Rock City about 12 years ago.  We got along so well that we wanted to do another movie and we both love drive-ins so we thought how cool would it be to do a movie at a drive-in and there’s four different monsters playing — the classic monsters of Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dracula.  So we thought it would be one of each.  I love those 50s films where the kids are so full of angst.  The monster stuff is a metaphor for like the worst case of acne you could ever have!  The sexual identity crisis!  In those films there’s always the older characters who are supposed to be taking care of these kids and they end up being the ones who are manipulating them and turning them into monsters (or don’t believe them, in the case of The Blob) so I thought this is perfect for my episode.  Each one was going to be a decade, so I said I want to do the 50s and I want to do a teenage movie.  It was not a musical and I figured there was teenage Frankenstein, teenage werewolf but there never had been a teenage vampire.  That was 10 years ago.  Cut to when we finally get to make the movie and now we’re in Twilight land!  It’s just done already. 

One day Joe Lynch called me, he was at Disneyland and he said he had this vision. He was watching the High School Musical float and he thought what if Zac Efron got horny and turned into Ron Jeremy?  Just the image!  And he said that’s a werebear.  It was like something just kind of came into focus and that was all I needed.  This is great!  It still wasn’t a musical — I wrote it and realized it was way too expensive to shoot in a high school where it originally took place.  I was told that the beach was free in California, so why  not shoot the whole thing there?  So Adam (Rifkin) said hey you love all those Beach Blanket Bingo movies from the 50s, why don’t you make it a musical?  I said oh my god!  I always thought those kids went to school on the beach in those movies when I was growing up!  He said that’s great,  just turn the bathrooms into a set and just shoot the whole thing there. 

So it’s a process, an evolution.  You’re constantly adapting to what you have to work with.  You take your financial and scheduling obstacles and you turn them into creative choices.  I just structured it around Grease and it came together.

At the time of the interview (August 2012) Tim’s new movie Bloody Bloody Bible Camp was screening at the convention.  It is now available on DVD, and if you’re lucky you might be able to snag an autographed copy here.

My experience with First Look so tainted me that I really just have to do this all myself.  I literally have to be the guy going to the lab, dropping off the master (copy), making sure it’s right.  I have to be the guy that goes to the manufacturing plant and makes sure the DVDs are manufactured the right way.  You know what?  I’m happy to do that!  Because I don’t want to work so hard and have one idiot ruin it and then call me the bad guy!  The way the costs have lowered now with filmmaking in terms of cheaper cameras, the digital process, editing — we’re just going to make our own films and manufacture and distribute directly to the fans.  The extended edition of Werebears was the first and Bloody Bloody Bible Camp is the second.  There will be a sequel!  I think it’s going to be called Bloody Bloody Bible Camp: The Second Coming of Sister Mary Chopper.

Do you plan to continue making horror movies?

Oh yes!  I have the follow up to Chillerama, I have the follow up to Bloody Bloody on the table.  I have a queer fear horror anthology that I’m doing with Sean Paul Lockhart that Brian McCulley is going to be co-director on.  I’m very blessed in that I have several different niches and fan bases.  I have splatstick which I’ll continue to do, I’ve been very blessed to be on the forefront of the queer fear horror genre that Clive Barker kind of started.  On the other hand I did Detroit Rock City.  I love music and rock and roll and as much as I love KISS, The Doors are among my favorites and I’m currently writing and directing a film based on Ray Manzarek’s book The Poet in Exile.  It’s a novel about what if Jim Morrison hadn’t died and now in present time reaches out to Ray to explain where he’s been and why he’s coming out now.  That’s a big budget film and people like Harrison Ford and Kurt Russell want to get involved.  Kurt Russell wants to play Jim Morrison at age 65.  It’s a total other side of the extreme of these little indie shock and roll movies but it’s another side of me and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.

What are some of your favorite horror movies?

The stuff I do tends to be more of that slapstick Evil Dead horror/comedy but the real scary ones are my favorites.  The Exorcist is number one because the theme is that sometimes it takes a confrontation with evil for us to acknowledge the presence of good.  That really to me is the underlying theme of all great horror films.  That’s the whole point sometimes of going to a horror movie.  You go and you sit safely in a darkened theater and  you face evil.  But you leave there and say I’ve seen evil so now I acknowledge the good in life.  Hopefully.  Unless you’re sick and you come out of that and decide you want to go do something you saw in the movie.  In which case don’t.  Don’t go out there and kill people because you saw my movie.  Please. 

What is your favorite breakfast cereal?

Raisin bran.  I always liked Count Chocula, the box — the idea of it — but I always hated the cereal.  When I was younger Cap’n Crunch was a favorite but I don’t eat that kind of stuff anymore. 

As a reviewer, it is very easy for me to sit back and throw words at faceless people.  Does this interview change my mind about Field of Screams?  Not really.  But I’ll tell you what, it certainly gives a better perspective for the entire process involved in making a film.  I don’t think many of us give any thought to the finished product.  We assume that the final cut has been approved by everyone involved and fuck them for not giving us something we like.  Sullivan is passionate about his films and is a great conversationalist.  You can feel his love for the genre emanating from his very core and connects with his fans at their level.  This isn’t just some guy cashing in a paycheck.  Besides, after watching Bloody Bloody Bible Camp how could I not love him?

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About Jori

Being a stubborn girl, Jori insisted on watching scary movies as a little girl and proclaiming "I'm not scared!" from behind her oma's rocking chair. Much sleep was lost in the early years due to paralyzing fear, and her uncle Albert deserves a special mention for unwittingly showing her Monkey Shines. Jori spends her adult life trying to recapture that initial feeling of terror that she experienced as a child. Follow her on Twitter at @fvjori.
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