On a crisp evening in the fall of 2006, a visibly nervous man in a crimson shirt paced the lobby of a packed art-house theater in the Capitol Hill district of Seattle. As he retraced the same erratic path through the theater time and time again, adjusting framed posters and occasionally running his hands through his short brown hair, a patch of which stood out a bright white against the rest – the result of a birthmark, he was stopped by attendees for the occasional hug, handshake, or photograph. He kept the conversations short but amicable, thanking each person for coming by and smiling warmly before going back to wandering the lobby.
The man in question is independent film maker and NewGil head honcho Robbie Newman, and he has a legitimate reason to be nervous. There’s a full house in the theater tonight, and they’re all here to see his film Clown.
For the next ninety minutes, Newman, who has seated himself in the left front row, transitions from watching the giant clown on screen murder horny teenagers, to watching the crowd’s reactions to the grisly scenes. He seems pleased at the squeals and the laughter.
As the credits roll, the theater gives Newman a standing ovation, ear splitting whistles ring from the back row, and a visibly relieved Robbie grins wide and invites his cast to stand and take a bow.
This man has just made movie that he deems successful on a virtually nonexistent budget. For the second time. The first time was almost four years prior, with a film titled GHI Presents: The Graveyard Shift, a documentary film that I, and other WF contributors actually played a large part in, and still are occasionally recognized from to this day.
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Robbie and pick his brain about the past, present, and future of NewGil Pictures, his favorite films, his movie Clown, and his thoughts on his first major independent feature The Graveyard Shift.
WF: So, Mr. Newman, how long have you been making independent films?
RN: Well in terms of “independent”, only for the last decade. I’ve been running around with a video camera since I was maybe 11 or 12. I’m almost 30 now. Fuck.
WF: Damn. That’s old. How long has NewGil Pictures been around, and what was the catalyst for it’s beginnings?
RN: NewGil Pictures started as a business project my sophomore year of high school. (94-95) I had a partner for it, and essentially we took our knowledge at the time of video production and went around to different businesses to see if we could shoot any type of video, whether it be commercial, industrial, whatever. We shot over 20 videos total thoughout the semester. It wasn’t until 1997, did we take out knowledge and the business practices that we learned, and created NewGil Pictures as a surrogate for other indie filmmakers.
WF: So,why independent?
RN: Well, for a couple reasons. Independent filmmakers obviously don’t have the backing and support of a major studio, but with the sponsorship we receive, and our group of professionals that started just like the indie filmmaker, we can work together to make a dream come true. It’s kind of a little middle finger to Hollywood and the crap they produce. Everyone should be able to convey their artistic viewpoint to the world. Not to say I’m against Hollywood completely… our motion pictures stem from there, so they’re not without credit.
WF: So, tell me about NewGil Pictures’ latest indie project : Clown.
RN: Well, every other year or so, our group of filmmakers and crew get together to make what we like to call a “free-for-all film.” I know, very original. I started writing Clown back in 2004 and had planned on it being that type of film. A slasher of sorts. I got together with a couple of film students at University of Washington and asked if they would be interested in helping out. For a period of about 3 months, I would write more and more, changing things as I went along. After about five or six months, the screenplay had evolved, yet we didn’t have our shit together as far as locations, etc, etc. Needless to say, the plan never went through and it sat on my laptop for a good two years.
In early 2006, I let my friend (and also the star of Clown) use my laptop because she was working on a script of her own. She happened upon my Clown screenplay, and literally read the whole thing in one sitting and was terrified. Once she told me that, I got the “bug” back and decided to add to the little 40 page draft. I immediately started getting a crew together and from January to June of 2006, I had written, cast and come up with a budget. Filming began July of 2006. I should clarify also, that a “free-for-all” film is utilized for us to practice so we don’t get rusty…or make a film that resembles a Uwe Boll turd.
WF: Ugh. I saw Boll’s House of the Dead. Absolutely awful.
So for the readers who havent figured it out yet by the title, poster, or trailer, the film is about a killer clown stalking a group of horny vacationing teens during their stay at a cabin in the woods. I was lucky enough to catch the film at one of it’s first theatrical screenings, and it definitely has a late 70’s, early 80’s slasher flick vibe… was that the intention from the get-go?
RN: Actually, no. It wasn’t until I had cast a kid I knew back in the day to play “the clown”, that I remembered he had an old 1966 Chevy Suburban. I had toyed with the idea of making the film look “grind house” before the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez films ever were mentioned. I was still unsure because I had never made a film set in a different time period. Anyway, once Ryan was on board, I had decided to rewrite the characters and setting as more of an ambiguous “70s” era. Granted, I wasn’t actually alive then, but most of the films I had seen working at a video store in my teens were from that time period; a lot from the gore/exploitation genre. I wanted to pay homage, but try not to copy anyone else. Ryan gladly let us use his Suburban as a time piece of sorts. The film basically revolves around that fucking thing (laughs).
WF: Hollywood is pumping millions of dollars into their new slasher flicks, and, well.. they suck. What are they missing?
RN: Well, Hollywood is focusing way too much on remakes of great films; slapping the name of the original on them and making nostalgic people flock to the theater. It’s all about how much money can be made and how many “Rachel Evan Woods” or “Freddie Prinze Jrs” we can put in a movie. It’s about the pretty face and the marketability. The story gets left out in the cold. I also think with the amount of directors in the pool, too many of them are trying to be unique with their artistic licenses, and ending up with the same style as every other schmuck in the business who is trying to be unique. It’s depressing, because while they’re doing that, who is advocating for the little guy, the guy who has a great film that hasn’t been seen?
WF: Even Sundance seems to be catering to the big studios. I mean, sure, the films shown are from the big studios’ “independent” branches, but they’ve still got the backing of major studios. Any favorite film festivals that are catering to the right people? Has Clown made any festival appearances?
RN: I wish I knew more about arena of film festivals and which ones are the “best”. Unfortunately, I can’t give any preference, other than to say that the festivals to look for are the ones who will swear up and down that they want INDIE films. Sure, Sundance is all about “indie” but oddly enough, a majority of their films shown are bought up by “indie” subsidiaries of multi-million dollar studios. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, but to call them a supporter of a real indie film is just blind ignorance.
As for Clown, it has appeared in several film festivals throughout the country, including the Big Damn Film Festival in Kansas City and the Seattle Crypticon festival of 2008. I’m greatful that these types of events happen and that we get to be a part of them.
WF: Are you afraid of clowns?
RN: I remember over at my Aunt’s house, when I was little, she had a magnet on her fridge of Bozo the Clown. It was 3D and everything. I remember no matter where I was, that son of a bitch was eye-balling me. I could never say I am actually scared of clowns. I believe them to have a creep factor about them, because anything that can keep on a smile no matter what the situation, is worth putting into a slasher flicks. The same rule applies to teenage sex.
WF: I think that teenage sex is a staple of slasher flicks. If it’s not there, the film has already disappointed. I’m glad to see that you managed to squeeze some sex into Clown. Hell, you managed to put breasts in The Graveyard Shift. I still don’t know how you managed that last one
RN: Oh shit yeah, the best part is posting on a call board essentially saying, “we need a female who will show her breasts…but we can’t pay you.”
WF: I’ve heard it said that “breasts are the cheapest special effects you can use in a film”, so you guys got an awesome deal.
RN: Indeed I did. I can honestly say that one hundred percent of my feature films have tit in them. I’m giving myself a pat on the back.
WF: Alright, while we’re on the subject, let’s crank the crank the clock back a few years and talk about a little film called GHI Presents: The Graveyard Shift.
RN: Ah yes, The Graveyard Shift was my first feature. I remember contacting you, Greg, when I saw the original Ghost Hunters, Incorporated website. We’re talking October of 2002 here. The Graveyard Shift was an interesting feat for us, as I was doing something that hadn’t been experimented much with low budget film making at the time : infusing dramatic footage with documentary footage.
WF: Yeah, we should remind people that this was well before the Booth Brothers came along.
RN: Right. The film plays out over three days, the “daytime” scenes being how GHI interacts with each other and the general public, and the night time scenes are all actual ghost hunting documentary footage of GHI hunts. I’d never done any type of hunt such as these, but I enjoyed the thrill of alleged haunted places, especially with a group who were so bound and determined to see what the score really was. Needless to say, I found out things about the paranormal that I really wasn’t ready for. Is anybody really?
WF: I think the film definitely makes the point of saying “be careful what you wish for”.
RN: Exactly. It’s not something I feel I could go and do again, just because of what I’ve learned since the principle shoots, about how much we were really fucking with then. But that could be why it’s turned into the little cult classic gem that it has.
WF: So knowing now what you didn’t know then, as the director of a film in which the bulk is made up of expeditions into legendary hot spots known for their paranormal activity, what’s your take on the sudden popularity of paranormal reality entertainment?
RN: Well I’m quite the wrong person to ask. It’s all about ratings when it comes to reality TV. In particular, with paranormal reality entertainment, I think. It’s a crock… well, most of it is anyway. It seems funny that these shows can go on for all of these seasons, and almost every time, there is something of paranormal impression. These shows can’t live without making you believe that there is something worth watching.
WF: So basically what you’re saying is, Ghost Hunters, Inc. and NewGil are awesome because they caught something legitimately strange in The Graveyard Shift, without the help of fishing line or even much of a budget, for that matter.
RN: If I, as a filmmaker, were able to produce “real” paranormal phenomena every time, I’d be a rich motha’ fucker. Consider our film : we had no real budget, and we have never tried to keep anything going. There was one shot, no sequel or series. If paranormal reality TV shows were just a one time deal, then their legitimacy would be more founded in reality.
WF: Bingo. I think that really shines through in the film, because you never came to GHI with a promise of popularity or money or any of that.. just the proposition of a cool indie film idea; something people would enjoy watching, something that hadn’t really been done before.
RN: That’s what it is. I loved the GHI story, the background. Even the adventures that are portrayed on the GHI website don’t point directly to proof of paranormal…it’s never conveyed that all of your findings must be supernatural to be believed.
WF: So that being said, what kind of relevancy do you think the film holds in the post-TAPS era of television special effects and Paranormal State style pre-destined, demonomania storylines?
RN: Unfortunately, it gives the film a bad rap at this point, because it’s already been exposed that these “demons” and “ghosts” that they’re trying to exploit are just ways to keep the ratings up and the studios happy, so people will more than likely automatically assume that of everything if they’re smart.
WF: Alright, here’s a random one. If you were to force the people you like to watch five films, what films would they be? Now, if you could force your enemies to watch five, what would they be?
RN: Five films that I’d force people to watch if I liked them? Hm.. The original Dawn of the Dead, House of 1000 Corpses, My Best Friend’s Girl (I hate Dane Cook, but fuck was he funny in that movie), Pet Semetary, and Cannibal Holocaust.
As for movies I’d force upon people that I don’t like? Waiting to Exhale, Pootie Tang, Manos: Hands of Fate, Dracula 2000, and again, Cannibal Holocaust. You have to be a pretty fucked up individual to actually enjoy Cannibal Holocaust, but I feel that even people who wouldn’t like it, should see it.
WF: Alright, so what’s coming down the pipeline for yourself and NewGil pictures? What can people expect to see in the future?
RN: Well, we’re actually working on several scripts, most notably, a sequel to Clown with a much bigger budget. I’m pretty excited also, as we plan to re-release GHI Presents: The Graveyard Shift, with an extended beginning and more interviews. We’re looking at shooting additional footage at the beginning of summer, so I suggest that anyone who might be interested in helping out to contact myself at NewGil Pictures, or get ahold of one of the GHI guys.
WF: Finishing up, is there any advice you’d like to include to budding independent filmmakers out there?
RN: I just want to stress that if you are a filmmaker, or hell, even someone interested in the paranormal: don’t give up just because someone tells you too. If you’re inspired to make a film with your own vision, or if you want to hope over the fence of that cemetery after hours to look for ghosts, I say do what makes you happy. There are people out there that will back you up if you look for them. There were a lot of times I wanted to give this film making thing up, but then I sat down and realized why I was doing it. It’s fun, I like to do it, and anyone who is a naysayer can kiss my ass.
Robbie Newman’s Film Clown is now on DVD and can be purchased at the official Clown website and more information on the film, the cast, crew, reviews of the film, and even news on the upcoming filming of Clown II can be found on the official Clown MySpace page. Look for the re-release of Ghost Hunters, Inc. Presents: The Graveyard Shift sometime in the near future. But if you can’t wait, you can always google the damn thing and find plenty of video clips from the film.