Perhaps one of the most shocking and evocatively titled movies in quite some time AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER proved with no budget and a home video camera it is indeed still possible to produce an enthralling and brutally controversial movie. Long popular with the team at SGM Towers (both on its initial video then more recent DVD release), SGM jumped at the chance to discuss the movie with its writer/director Shane Ryan so got indie die hard Stu Willis onto the case…
Stu: AMATEUR PORN STAR KILLER is a very provocative title. How important was the title in terms of getting noticed?
Shane: I can't remember where I came up with the title but I knew that it would get noticed with a name like that. I've always been very picky with choosing a title, either it's simple like my films "Isolation", "Piñata", "Yesterday", "The Cleansing", etc., (and has many meanings behind it) or long and weird (sometimes very direct) like "So, We Killed Our Parents", and "The Snake's Kiss Good-Bye", "Big Boobs, Blonde Babes, Bad Blood" and APSK.
APSK quickly became my most noticed film. I got a lot of attention with "So, We Killed Our Parents" (probably our most recognized short film, though "Isolation" picked up the awards and critical praise) but APSK definitely beat that. There would be sites that had maybe 100 views per page, and then the APSK review page would have around 50,000. It was ridiculous and laughable how much attention a movie can get simply by adding the word "porn".
Stu: Has the title led to problems for the film? I can imagine some festivals, for example, would hear the title and fear the worst before even watching the film.
Shane: Some people have argued with APSK saying that it is a bit off-putting (and maybe it is), but I have three things to say about that. The first; people say that there are no "Porn Stars" in the movie. They're right, there isn't, but it's called "Amateur Porn Star". The blonde girl in the movie is clearly aware that she is making an amateur porn video. The main girl, however, is unwillingly making an amateur porn video, but she's still the star of it. So, right there, we have two amateur porn stars, so that's that. The second; I knew the title would draw attention to people wanting to see gratuitous nudity and horror. But that said, it delivers just that. I just didn't tell them that the nudity would be anything but titillating, and that the gore is off screen. But the whole point of the film is to question why people really want to see something like that, so you need that title to draw them in to a campy gratuitous horror movie so that way you can hit them over the head with real life rape and murder, and make them question just how much fun is it to watch a naked girl get murdered. The third thing; people are so A.D.D. nowadays that they don't usually even finish reading the title. They say "Amateur Porn…" and then go, "you made a porno". They can't seem to even finish the title to end at the word "killer", or they're just too stupid or close-minded to think that this might possibly be something a little bit more heavy than porn. So, that has been the biggest problem. The word "porn" will get your movie a shitload of attention, and it will also get you banned and shunned upon by a lot of people.
As far as festivals, I only entered it in a few because I was dead broke from all the entry fees I spent on entering fests with my short films. My main goal was distribution, so I went straight for that. It did cause some trouble with that though but it wasn't the "porn" part. It was the "killer" part. Many places said they didn't want any more horror films but I really don't consider this a horror film. "True Horror" yes, but I think more than anything that it should be in the "drama" section, or maybe "thriller".
The other problem is a lot of sites block out the word porn so you can't even put the title of the movie up when trying to promote it. And the final problem is the trailers. Many sites automatically think it's porn and delete it. Youtube, Ifilm.com and several others, deleted trailers we made specifically for their sites as they contained no nudity. Fucking myspace has deleted 15 of our accounts, those fucks should be paying us for all the work they make us do. The good news, though, is once again the title gets noticed. We'll get about half a million hits on our trailers a week at myspace, when we normally only get about 50 hits a year ("a year") for each video (yeah, an unspeakable fucking difference). But those fuckers usually delete our accounts within the hour.
Stu: As unsettling as your film is, have you encountered people who are disappointed by the lack of gore on offer?
Shane: All the time. Some even say they had to wait the whole film for the girl to die. It's pretty sick, I think, when people complain they had to wait for an innocent girl to die. That was the whole point, to capture that ultimate realism, so by the time she dies you feel like she's a real person. And nobody in their right mind would want a real innocent person to die. I don't even like the thought of guilty people dying because it's such a horrible thing. It's "the end" and the end is scary as hell when it's not natural ("natural" meaning like somebody dying of cancer or old age).
People are meant to die in horror films, I know that, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I still wanted to question peoples fascination with that. And some of these films I feel are just plain sick. When people are honestly trying to tell a good story, or send a message, and use good filmmaking skills to show the horrifying nature of murder, I think that's fine. When it's done in a campy way where it's not meant to be taken seriously (like "Evil Dead" for instance), I think that's fine, too. But these "torture-porn" films where naked girls are tortured in a very disturbing realistic way, just for the sake of our entertainment, now that I find fucking demented. I wanted to attract people like that and hopefully get them to question why they find that sort of thing attractive. I also really just wanted to explore human behaviour, how a "victim" would deal with that situation. But some people were pissed to find the film was more about that and less about blood.
Stu: What's the worst reaction your film has garnered?
Shane: I think actress Leslie Ann Warren getting my promotional materials banned from theatres after I spent nearly 3 years trying to get the film distributed was the worst, dealing with her shit. And she's starred in films that were very risqué sexually, like "Secretary" for instance. It's about S&M, self-mutilation, bondage, etc. And "The Color of Night" which had to be cut for an R-rating because of the hardcore sex scenes, let alone the film had plenty of violence. This just reminds me that the worst reaction I've had is the hypocrisy of people. That theatre, and theatres in those areas, focus on independent films and show stuff like "Irreversible" (a real blow job, a 10 minute ass-raping scene and heads getting bashed), "The Brown Bunny" (a real graphic blowjob) "9 Songs" (real sex, multiple times) and "Baise-Moi" (well, take those 3 films and multiple it by 10, plus extreme graphic sexual violence) but they had a problem with mine (a blowjob you can't see and a murder off screen). Netflix and Blockbuster Online carry all these films but rejected mine for content. Yeah. F-u-c-k-i-n-g H-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e-s. Spell it bitches.
Stu: How did the lead actors prepare for APSK? How do you possibly research such dark and/or desperate characters?
Shane: Michiko says she experienced something similar in real life (obviously she didn't die though) so playing the role of a victim was easy for her. Well, easy to get into, but not easy mentally. She says it still fucked her up to this day, a little bit of emotional trauma sinking into something like that. She only had about half an hour to prep, however. I had the concept, told her about her character and what the basic idea was, and then met up with her a little before filming to go over details, so it all happened quick. I'm not really sure how I got into it. I've seen lots of films about Ted Bundy and like serial killers. I've always remembered one thing I heard in "The Talented Mr. Ripley". Matt Damon says "no matter who you are or what you've done, nobody thinks they're a bad person" or something like, that everybody believes that what they are doing is okay, or maybe they're just too sick to help themselves. So, I try to always think of that when playing a character, regardless of how evil the character is. Aside from that I was more worried about shooting so I didn't focus too much on preparing for my role. But I ended up blocking a lot of the experience out because once we started filming I found it to be very stressful and discomforting playing such a character. So, emotionally, we were both hurting from it.
Stu: What difficulties did you encounter when shooting the film?
Shane: Aside from it fucking us up emotionally I don't think it was too bad. Apparently Michiko had some old guys try to pick her up right before I did, so that just goes to show how real the movie is, but I can't remember anything else that got in the way.
Stu: How old was Michiko at the time of filming APSK? Just to put the moral brigade's minds at rest!
Shane: She said she was 18 but was really 13, just like the character. I'm telling ya, realism! Just kidding, don't arrest me. She was nearly 20 when we shot it. Both girls were on the verge of turning 20 actually. I was only 17, however, lol.
Stu: Having watched the short films on the DVD, it's clear that you and Michiko know each other well. Tell us more about the relationship there - how and when it began, how it grew etc.
Shane: I met her when she was 16 through a filmmaker friend of mine, Jerell Gray. I think I said "hi" to her and that was it, there were a lot of people there. I later ran into Michiko and a friend, and we hung out for a couple hours. She seemed pretty cool but it was just some random people who all decided to hang out, that's how it works in small towns like Lompoc, so I didn't talk to them again. Then, when I was getting ready to make "The More The Better" I needed an 18 year old girl to play a 15 year old. Michiko was 18 but still looked very young, so I asked her if she'd want to do it and she said yeah. She was really good (this was an improvised role) so I had her act in my short film "The Cold Heat" in which we did a lot of sex scenes, so that's how we got comfortable together. This film was scripted however, and even though it was just a few lines, I realized that she was much better at improvising. So, when I had the idea for APSK, knowing that she could improvise, and that we would be comfortable sexually, I asked her and she agreed. We actually shot another improvised film shortly before APSK but nothing ever happened with that. We just used it for Alter Ego Cinema promos.
Stu: APSK relies heavily on dialogue, much to its benefit. How much of this was scripted? Did any improvisations lead to rewrites?
Shane: None of it was scripted, aside from that she needed to reveal her character's real age at some point. I didn't even want to know her name, I told her to pick it and tell me when her character tells me, that's why I had trouble remembering it. I wanted everything to be real, aside from the fact that we know we're playing characters, but everything was to be said the spur of the moment so we react naturally. Aside from staging the camera before getting punched and being suffocated, all of the action was improvised as well. Mainly that would be the sex stuff. We agreed that we would take it as far as we wanted, with the way he treats her and pushes her around, the amount of sex, etc. If anything were to be too much we'd just call "cut". But we were both down.
Stu: If you could change anything about the finished film, what would it be and why?
Shane: Nothing. If this were a big budget film I would have had much more options and room for regret. But it being the spur of a moment idea, as if I was throwing together a painting, I have to step back away from my artwork and accept it for what it is. And, since we're making a sequel, I can add more stuff and do different things I've thought of since.
Stu: Is there anything that was suggested and dismissed? For example, did any ideas get rejected for going "too far"? If so, can you share them here?
Shane: Many will hate me for this but I didn't think, once I started editing, that people needed to clearly see the blowjob. The way it's presented is the reality of the situation. You know this little girl is being forced into giving this act, and you can even see it for real if you look closely. For me, that was plenty to make the point. Any more would be unwarranted exploitation, and the point of this film was to question stuff like that. So, I darkened it so you couldn't see it.
APSK2 will take it all the way though (sexually). I feel the second should contain the whole spectrum of the vulgar nature of the situation, and it deals with a new kind of victim, so I don't feel that graphic sex would hurt the film in this case.
Stu: As a filmmaker, what do you feel is your moral responsibility?
Shane: I think that if you're making a film that has a point or message to it that you should make the best story you can come to life. Be honest. If it's for entertainment, make it campy, make it funny, make it exciting, make it dramatic. But I don't think it's right to take real life tragedies and make a joke out of them while still trying to pull of a serious film. It's a very contradicting thing to do, and that is the only thing I have a problem with. Otherwise fuck responsibility! You're expressing yourself. In all honesty I can't even condemn those kinds of films I hate because it's art. Art shouldn't be censored. I just don't think they're right, that's all. But I still would shake the hands of these filmmakers, even be their friends if they were kind in real life. Hell, I can't stand Lloyd Kaufman's films, they disgust me, but I had no problem hanging out with him in Park City and helping him promote his festival. It was fun and he was a cool motherfucker.
Stu: The lack of graphic violence in APSK - is that a conscious step away from the likes of AUGUST UNDERGROUND, or a budgetary concession?
Shane: Both. Sort of. I never heard of August Underground or the Guinea Pig films before I made APSK. I had no idea what they were until people started comparing my film and saying I ripped it off but I never even fucking heard of it, let alone see it. And now that I've heard of it, I refuse to see it. Since we're making several more APSK films, I don't want the AU movies to have any part of my creative process. Not to say anything bad about those movies, I just don't care to see them. I actually really don't like gore. Blood is fine, like a John Woo bloodbath flick, I love Woo. But I have a weak stomach for graphic violence, which is why I've never really been a horror fan. I love thrills and being scared, and what scares me more than anything is true crime because it's real and freaks you out even beyond being in the theatre, but it doesn't have to have any gore at all.
So, my thing was that I wanted to explore something real, though I wasn't trying to "step away" from other horror movies, simply make my own, and not being a horror fan, I figured it would automatically be a new take on the genre. But it definitely was also a great way to cut the budget. I had no money, just enough for the motel room and tapes, so I knew I couldn't afford gore and/or blood, so I just thought of how could we pull that off.
That's when I recalled a death scene in a film that fucked me up more than anything I had seen. A girl is stabbed to death, and you never see a drop of blood or the knife enter her body. Just the look on her face was enough. But it was so effective that my mind decided it was a graphic scene. I swore that it was bloody. It wasn't until listening to the commentary by the filmmaker when he explained that you never see anything, and I was like "Holy Shit, what an illusion!" Not to mention in the background of the girl being stabbed you see a home video of her playing on the television. It was shot moments before her death when she was happily playing with her family, so that's really what did it.
The movie was Carl Franklin's "One False Move" and I always remember that scene, so I wanted to see if I could make a scene, actually make an entire movie, feel disturbing and violent, without ever showing a single drop of blood.
Stu: I haven't seen the original version of APSK, but I understand it was a lot more simple - am I right in thinking the onscreen text that bookends the film has been added for this new cut? What was the decision behind that?
Shane: It was already there but drastically changed, the original didn't explain much at the end. I added the stuff about him placing the videos in the stores because I realized that for it to be considered a snuff film that it would need to be available to the public for entertainment and distribution, not just for the killer and police evidence. I also added the States "Brandon" travelled through, and the fact that he's never been caught, to hopefully have the impact I was talking about where after you leave the theatre or turn off your DVD, you continue to look over your shoulder. If a film can do that, then you have a winner. The end text lets you know that this didn't just happen in some small little town you've never heard of, it's been happening all over the western side of the country, and the police can't track this guy down, and you might be next.
I also added the onscreen titles here and there because I thought it helped point out certain lines he probably uses over and over, and typical things the victims probably say, to sort of show his strategy. They're not meant to help you better understand the dialogue, they're meant as highlights. Almost like, never talk to strangers when they use these sentences, "my mom said to pick you up", "I'm a friend of the family", etc. That's why they're all at the beginning, when it's the most important, because once he has her, he has her. There's only one more title card after that and it's in the middle of the film when she states her real age, which I feel is the biggest shock of the whole film, the turning point, because then it moves over into the kiddy porn territory, and really makes one question if they want to keep watching. That's hopefully when peoples morals start to sink in, even if it is just a film and an overage actress.
Stu: Of all the positive press the film has received, which review stands out for you?
Shane: Wow, I dunno. In the beginning everything did, now I guess I just take it for granted, though I'm always thrilled and surprised to see this get a good review. The most surprising was probably PollyStaffle.com because it was a perfect four out of four star rating. But I was truly shocked to see you guys give it a great review, simply because the words "gore" and "mutants" are 2/3 of what your site stands for and my film has neither. Even more of a shock was to see yet another amazing quote by you guys when reviewing some other film, and it was one of the best quotes I believe I've seen. "The inimitable Shane Ryan has merrily shocked the horror underground with his unique brand of shocking cinema; Amateur Porn Star Killer is a malevolent classic.." That surely stood out. Creature-Corner.com was another startling review. I looked at about 10 reviews by them and most had around a 4/10 rating, the highest being "I am Legend" with an 8/10 which is what APSK got. Having no creatures, and seeing how hard they were on some really cool films, I never expected a high rating. And it's a major surprise to see that APSK is the Number One selling DVD at mrskinshop.com.
Stu: Do you worry that a film like APSK - which clearly takes itself seriously and is an effective lesson to young kids (and parents) - could appeal to the "wrong kind" of people?
Shane: It already has. I've seen plenty of reviews where people bitch they couldn't see the blowjob and that it took forever for the girl to get killed, and then the kill wasn't even graphic. I mean, that's the complete opposite of what the film stands for. How much do you really need to see a 13 year old girl give a creepy child molester serial killer oral sex? And why do you need to actually see her head get bashed in? Isn't hearing it and knowing that it's happening to this little girl bad enough? I hoped that sitting there with her for an hour in a normal everyday type of situation would have the effect of making her feel real to you, like she could be your daughter or sister. I didn't want people to actually enjoy it, and I thought by presenting it the way it was, that it would be anything but enjoyable, but apparently there are plenty of sickos out there, just like "Brandon". I hoped that with the title it would lure those types of people in and then hit them over the head with how it's presented. And thank God it did work out that way for lots of the people who came to the showings and critics who reviewed it, but there's always the sick few that can't be helped. Actually, I'm sounding like a fucking prick at this point. If a person knows the girl is really over age and that it's just a movie and she's really alive, they're off course not as bad as the killer, if bad at all, but you get my drift.
Stu: What do you have planned for the future?
Shane: APSK is doing so well that we already have a sequel coming out this Spring, with more to follow. I never wanted to do a sequel to anything but if that's what I gotta do to get my name out there, this is the film to do it with. Some may feel that it will get old really quick, but I think there's plenty more to explore with this character.
APSK2 deals with a new type of victim, one who's almost a handful for the killer due to her sexual nature and taste for domination, S&M, etc. It also focuses a lot more on voyeurism which will hopefully spook people out even more and show the type of world we're living in today where any creep can just grab a camera, head over to the beach, and film your daughter half-naked unknowingly and put it on youtube. It also explores Brandon's background a little bit, and showcases other footage presented in more of a "Forensic Files" type of way, with dates, names of victims, etc. APSK3 will deal with web cam girls.
I'm still trying to find funding for "Romance Road Killers", loosely based on the Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate case from 1958. And we're getting ready to shoot a film on 24P (finally a film look) called "I Fell In Love With The Devil's Daughter". It's about a Japanese Girl in a small American town who doesn't speak English, sex, murder, cannibalism and that's all I'll say for now. This film will be my first "strictly entertainment" movie. No message, just fun and thrills.
And it's possible that my brother, Jeremy Williams, will direct APSK4, but as a regular movie, not a mockumentary. We plan on co-directing APSK3 together.
Shane: No, no. Thank you!
For more details on the Amateur Porn Star Killer movies) and even how to get your name listed in the latest films credits) visit the official site here.
Special thanks to Shane Ryan and all at Alter Ego Cinema.