Known widely for his work rejuvenating the seminal FANGORIA magazine, few may not realise that Chris Alexander is also an accomplished musician and now feature filmmaker. Our very own Marc Lissenburg caught up with Chris to discuss his debut feature BLOOD FOR IRINA …
Marc: Hi there thank you so much for talking SGM. I went into my first viewing of BLOOD FOR IRINA with no knowledge of the movie whatsoever and I am so glad I did as it was a REAL breath of fresh air! Congratulations on being daring enough to create something so surreal and imaginative....OK so when did you first conceive the idea of BLOOD FOR IRINA and what challenges were there in getting the project off the ground initially?
Chris: I was in LA, en route to – believe it or not –Gene Simmons’ house! – when I got a call from a colleague of mine asking if I wanted to direct a film. He said he had a bit of cash to make a small, low budget film. So I started the designs of a picture to be called BLOOD OPERA. I found a rotten motel on the water in Ontario that was set for demolition, opted to make an expressionist vampire film that was arty and slow and emotional, erotic, moody...all the things I loved about the European horror films like Herzog’s NOSFERATU, Rollin, Franco...Morrissey’s BLOOD FOR DRACULA. Anyway, after a year of dancing, there was no money, no movie. But I was ready. I still wanted to do this thing. And the motel was still standing AND I had written the music. So I went to my friend David Gregory and asked if he’d want to take the film on, lay a few bucks on me for blood and to secure the motel and let me make my movie. He had just joined with Derek Curl and Lewis Tice to form Autonomy Pictures and they green-lit it. I asked for only one thing: complete creative control. I got it. BLOOD OPERA became BLOOD FOR IRINA – further nodding to Morrissey – and we shot the thing in a few days. I cut it myself too and that took a few months of tinkering and timing....et voila, my first film. An honest attempt to create a small, fevered work of personal art.
Marc: I was captivated by the opening frames of the movie which served as a hook to the very deliberate style and pace. I am a massive fan of Jean Rollin but felt BFI was more than simply a Rollin Homage. Could you tell us yourself what your inspiration was for such a distinct artful design?
Chris: Well, the film is really the last two days in the lifespan of a vampire that is dying – or a woman who is mentally ill, that’s up for interpretation. Her life – as well as the life of the other two people who orbit her – is dark, sad, washed out, drained...and repetitive. So I wanted the film to exemplify how she felt. I wanted dread. I wanted heaviness. I didn’t want a crowd pleaser; I wanted an immersive experience where the audience kind of gets lost in her mind, in her world. There are moments in Rollin and Franco where this happens, but maybe aesthetically IRINA is more along the lines of – dare I say –Terrance Mallick? I especially admired TREE OF LIFE.
Marc: There are a couple of instances of spoken words but no dialogue as such and soundtrack really added another trancelike layer to the movie. Tell us a little about the music driving the film along with the collaboration with Carrie Gemmell for the movies score?
Chris: As I mentioned, I made most of the music first. And then structured the film around the emotions I felt when I listened to that music. Carrie and I have worked together for a long time, even made a few kids together. I know her. I trust her. She has a beautiful voice and firm grasp on mood. So the music I designed for IRINA is all analog keyboards, guitar feedback, human voices, breathing, strings scraping...all smashed together, slowed down, sped up...a really dense, detailed experimental soundscape that is just as much a character in the movie as the cast and the motel itself.
Marc: Even though I only had a streaming access to the movie the picture quality was excellent. Tell us a little about what camera and equipment you used in the making of the movie if you could?
Chris: Well that’s a testament to consumer quality and our own creativity. One thing I hate is how digital has made all indie movies look the same. Clean. Glossy. Evenly lit. We could have shot RED but went the other way. BLOOD FOR IRINA was shot with a $300 prosumer HD cam, a waterproof GO-PRO cam for the blood vomiting and...my iPhone! We shot naturally, with only a few red lights for the interior of Irina’s room - to match the exit signs and of course to echo the endless spilled blood – and I did absolutely no color correcting at all. I wanted the film to look natural, as it was....we may have shot digital but I wanted no interference from software sheens in the final cut. I think the film has a really interesting personality in its look....sometimes it looks like film. Sometimes like video. Sometimes like something else?
Marc: There was some really striking imagery within the picture. With that in mind, I am very interested in the creative process. Did you initially have this vivid imagery in your head that you incorporated into the movie or did the narrative actually dictate them?
Chris: We call this an experimental film though my producer, co-DP and star David Goodfellow says no, that everything we shot was intentional and that everything on screen was as we planned. True. The experiment was in creating a rhythm and using deliberate techniques that I knew would challenge the audience’s patience. I feel that the film has a look and a tone that asks you to enter it and stay with it. I created that mood from the very beginning and I always say if it doesn’t hook you from frame one, it probably won’t ever work for you.
Marc: I observed the recurring theme of "loneliness" inherent in the picture that was relevant to both the human and vampiric characters. I feel this is an element that has been lost in contemporary and more glamorous vampire cinema and just wanted to know your thoughts on that?
Chris: Agreed. Roger Ebert said of Herzog’s NOSFERATU that it was a collection of images and moods surrounding the idea of the vampire. I really love that film. It’s my favourite vampire movie and I wanted so very much to really condense that sense of tired, cold loneliness blended with the beauty and the ambivalence of the natural world. That said, all of my favourite horror films trade in loneliness too. ANGEL HEART. The best moments of DAWN OF THE DEAD in the mall, NIGHT OF THE HUNTER. Oddly – and this is obscure – but BLOOD FOR IRINA owes a lot to the opening credits of PSYCHO III. Watch that film, watch that beautiful credits sequence, listen to Carter Burwell’s music....pure, stark, loneliness. Beautiful stuff. But yes, vampires should be lonely. They are outcasts. Killers by nature, not by choice. They stick around in the dark while things like light and love are denied them. They are addicts. I can’t imagine a worse scenario. I lived in an area of Toronto for years that was ripe with drugs and prostitution. I felt so sad for these addict hookers. I always wanted to help them but I knew I could not. I feel very sorry for people who make bad choices and are left in that limbo, that Hell that exists simpatico with us. That is vampirism to me.
Marc: I felt Shauna Henry had an authentic and believable look about her without ticking any stereotypical female vampire boxes. Could you tell us a little about the casting process?
Chris: I didn’t want actors. Shauna is not an actor. Well, she is now. But she is really just a very interesting physical presence. I saw in her socially something that could be moulded on screen. I think she gives a fantastic performance, a really dark portrait of a lost woman at the end of her tether. And again. IS she even a vampire?
Marc: Considering the run time is just under 70 minutes, what can you tell us about the post production editing process?
Chris: I cut so much from the film. But I wanted it to do what it came to do and then leave. There was no need to overplot it and ruin the very deliberate, fragile confines of its running time. It’s just long enough to be a feature and long enough to feel like an intimate epic, I think....
Marc: If there is one thing you learned personally…and one thing you learned professionally from the BLOOD FOR IRINA project what would they be?
Chris: I learned that I can make a film my way with limited resources and endless creativity and still find an audience. I have learned that it’s true, you make something with love and honesty and imprint yourself on it and at the end of the day, good reviews or bad you don’t care because you made exactly the piece of work you wanted to make. I am not a filmmaker by trade but I will keep making films that exemplify my themes and how I see the world. I will do this for my own pleasure and if anyone gets something out of that work, well then...I’ll be thrilled. But either way, I now have the confidence and the desire to keep making motion pictures.
Marc: I have often heard independent filmmakers say something along the lines of "making a picture is easy... distributing it is extremely difficult". What is your take on that concept?
Chris: Agreed. Which is why I kept my costs low, and secured distribution first. I am the editor of the world’s largest horror magazine, I have kids, I write books, I make music...I’m busy. When I move it has to be with purpose and a clear line towards completion. I see far too many indie filmmakers living in a dream world where they and their friends create bubbles that have no relevance anywhere else. They make a film that pretends its Hollywood, they high five each other and then they hit the streets with no idea what to do next. They realize –wow – EVERYONE is making movies and I’m just another face in the crowd. Then the hustle that Welles always spoke of begins....as an outsider, it drives me crazy to see this and it drives the people making the movies even crazier. Literally! I’ve watched marriages unravel and psyches destroyed after these guys blow all their dough playing George Lucas and then end up broke, lost....no matter what, have a clear battle plan for any film you make, I think. That’s the only way to roll.
Marc: I have to mention Paul Jones "Blood Effects" as they added a real element of realism to the film by being lurid but not gratuitous. How specific were you with him about what you wanted in this respect?
Chris: Paul is a friend and a genius who never gets his dues. He was kind enough to make me vats of delicious mouth blood that we liberally tossed everywhere. Paul’s blood LOOKS great...like the melted crayon blood in DAWN OF THE DEAD....bright, unreal and very, very dramatic. There’s an art there and though IRINA is not an FX heavy picture, those moments of blood are rather striking.
Marc: I only had access to the movie on my laptop and given the movies aesthetic I would love to see it on a big cinema screen. Have there been, or are there any plans for, screenings in Europe and the UK?
Chris: We have thus far screened everywhere! Bruges, Mexico, US, Canada, Ireland...even South Africa. Won some awards. It looks and sounds great on a huge screen, properly framed. I’d love to show it in the UK...
Marc: So what does the future hold for Chris Alexander?
Chris: More FANGO stuff – including my revamp of GOREZONE– a book about THE TWILIGHT ZONE, a few feature film soundtracks and the follow-up to BLOOD FOR IRINA, THE QUEEN OF BLOOD. Part of a series of "BLOOD" movies I’m making if I can lock the financing. And probably more stuff. I love to work and communicate. I am very fortunate I am where I am that I have so many outlets to do so!
Special thanks to Chris Alexander and Lee at TLA Releasing
BLOOD FOR IRINA is available now on DVD from Autonomy Pictures/TLA Releasing