"I love the practical reality of making movies with a smaller budget, when you have to be creative and solve problems. More like the real world… I believe very passionately in the language of cinema, so not for one moment do you compromise just because
Larry Fessenden is an American director, producer, writer, actor, and overall force to be reckoned with. A true indie film pioneer in the horror world, Larry’s career highlights include 1995’s gritty vampire drama, Habit, 2001’s Wendigo, and The Last Winter, Starring Ron Perelman.
Larry’s latest movie, Depraved, is a gritty and modern take on Frankenstein with a number of interesting questions posed about the ethics of scientific advancements in medicine.
Larry is also a very accomplished producer, but beyond that, Larry is one of those rare gentle mentors in the industry, who really goes to great lengths to give new directors a start. Quite a few notable directors have bloomed under Larry's guidance including Jim Mickle and Ti West. Today, his company Glass Eye Pics continues to put out uniquely voiced genre films that rock the independent horror world to its core.
Larry is a fellow native born New Yorker and I really had a wonderful time speaking to him.
Here’s a summary of key advice from this conversation with Larry Fessenden:
- Find a cast & crew who are in it for the passion. When making indepenent films, the pay is low, and the hours are grueling, therefore, it’s critical that you find people who want to be in your movie for the right reasons. The right reasons being the desire & drive to create. The people you want to work with will be more concerned about the project and their creative contributions and less concerned about their contracts, hours, and overtime. That being said, the other side of this is that you cannot abuse or take advantage of them, whatsoever. As an indie director, you have to hold up your end of the bargain by ensuring that your cast and crew is always respected, safe and listened to. All of these elements are what make a creative and cohesive family unit on set. The spirit of independent filmmaking thrives on perseverance, not just from the director but from everyone around him. Find people who will willingly remain in the trenches with you and treat them like gold.
- Follow the Punk Rock ethos of filmmaking. As Larry says, work outside the system if the system won’t have you. This is largely why he embraced the DIY (do it yourself) ethos of punk rock when he produced his films. This stresses the importance of working outside of the system and not constantly waiting around for someone to give you clearance and permission but creatively finding a way to get the shots yourself with what you have access to. Which brings me to my next point.
- Embrace the challenge. Larry mentioned how the fun of making independent movies is finding a way to get the shots without the resources. Again, this speaks to how important the quality of resourcefulness is in directors and filmmakers. This partially requires taking a mental inventory of everything you have access to whenever you face a production challenge. Larry mentioned how on one movie he needed a crane shot that he couldn’t afford but remembered that he had a neighbor with a cherrypicker, so he got the shot that way. Nearly everyone has unexpected advantages and access to unique resources, discover what yours are and structure your script around them.
- Face your fears. Larry is noted for saying that horror is the only genre that unflinchingly faces reality; it’s been widely documented that trendy horror genres throughout the years are effective because they serve as metaphors for current anxieties (Godzilla came from the fear of the atomic age, torture porn rose during a culture of disgust over military mistreatment of foreign POWs, etc, etc. The level of unflinching honesty that horror directors are able to achieve when confronting real fears and social anxieties is one of the reasons why horror matters so much as a genre. Larry’s advice is to really confront and face your own fears and sources of unrest, and to channel them into your work. The more honest you are about what scares you, the more your work will resonate with people on a gut level and the more effective the horror element will be. As Larry says, "denial is dangerous,” the horror genre is there to not only entertain us, but remind us of reality and hard truths.
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