Johnny Daggers of Daggervision Films is soon set to release and screen his new independent horror documentary Blood on the Reel: The Guts Behind Indie Horror. We talked with the independent writer/actor/director and owner of Daggervision Films about how he got his start in the industry, his thoughts on the current state of horror, and most importantly about his upcoming documentary that features interviews with tons of indie horror filmmakers about the challenges of making a truly independent horror film.
Corey here from HouseByTheVideoStore.com with director Johnny Daggers. How goes it sir?
Very well. Thank you.
Now in the short time I’ve been in contact you Johnny, I’ve noticed that you are quite a busy guy. Mind telling me what all you are currently involved with, in and outside of the world of indie horror?
This year has probably been my most productive and chaotic year of the past five years. I just wrapped on my upcoming film Blood On The Reel: The Guts Behind Indie Horror. I just did a voice for an upcoming animated horror film from director Thomas Slama entitled Grass County Alien Invasion. I will be starring in a film by Michael Kyne and Bianca Allaine entitled Zombinatrix. And I will be directing a music video for Mishkin Fitzgerald who sings for the UK band Birdeatsbaby and Samson Samson. Aside from that I am working on two books which will be published through Burning Bulb Press. One of those books was converted into a dark childrens story from a film I shot that was narrated by Doug Bradley. And lastly I am sorting out scripts and plotting my next film which will begin production in 2016.
Jeez. How do you find time for everything with so many projects going on at once? I think my brain would shut off.
It literally takes working from the time that I wake until the time that I go to sleep. I went through the whole phase of being in the “filmmaker party scene” and then about two years ago I really buckled down and decided that I was going to dedicate myself completely to filmmaking.
What got you started into making films?
I got in to film by accident. In 2010 I made a short film entitled Samhain: Night Feast. The film was made for fun. Simply for me and my friends. I never intended on having the film released or for anyone to even see it. About two weeks after the film was completed I received an email that the film was screening at The Bastards Of Horror Short Film Fest. To my surprise, the film won. After that I decided that I would start an actual production company and that is how I got my start.
As a fan, any influences or memories that you’d like to mention that absolutely sold you on the genre?
My love for horror dates back to my very early childhood years. It would be safe to say that I loved horror before I had even seen my first horror movie. If it was a monster I loved it. Halloween was very big in my household and I remember watching my uncle make his own latex monster masks. He also had a skeleton coffin bank where you would put a penny on the side and the skeletons hand would reach out, grab it and pull it in. These are my most fond memories. I was watching shows like Twilight Zone, Hitchcock Presents, Dark Shadows,The Munsters and Outer Limits with my father when was three or four. Shortly after that I fell in love with the Universal Monsters and movies like the “Abbott And Costello Meet….” And then a little later on came Tales From The Crypt. All of these were major influences on me growing up.
I am an absolute Tales from the Crypt junkie, so that’s cool that it was such a huge influence. Your new documentary, Blood on the Reel, is set to screen in October. How did the actual making of this film come about?
The film will be screening at the Virginia Independent Horror Film Festival over Halloween weekend. The exact day and time has not yet been set. For those who are interested, please stay posted on my official Facebook page and I will be sure to keep you all updated. But as for the actual release date, I am not sure. That would be up to SGL Entertainment who is the distribution company that’s going to be releasing it.
The premise of the film came about after a sleepless night of anxiety as I tried to determine the fate of my production company, Daggervision Films. I had just relocated to Baltimore, leaving my staff behind in Pennsylvania. Here I was with no staff, no camera man and no gear of my own. All of this on the eve of what would mark the five year anniversary of Daggervision. Since the inception of the company I had always vowed that if we reached the five year mark that I wanted to release something special. Five years may not seem like a lot, but to an independent production company, that can be quite a long time. When you are self funding and working on a minimal budget, it is hard enough to complete your first film let alone still be alive and kicking after five years.
I started thinking back on all of the things that had happened to me over the five years. Crazy stories like nearly being shot by a military officer while filming Caustic Zombies, or nearly being fined for shooting without permits while filming Samhain: Night Feast. I contemplated sharing these stories as extra DVD features for an anniversary release of those films but the idea didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to rehash the old films, I wanted to release something new. The question was what and how.
Wait, wait. You almost got shot while filming?? Wow, talk about going off script…what happened there?
Yes. Very scary. I really can’t go in to much detail because there is a lengthly discussion on this in Blood On The Reel, but without giving too much away, the incident happened because I was on a government location filming without permits. I can’t give all of the gory details but you’ll be able to hear the whole story in my film.
Now im really intrigued! Sorry for inturrupting haha. My appologies, continue.
No worries. Anyways, It then occurred to me that many of my filmmaking friends have encountered similar issues while trying to complete their films. That is when the idea hit me to reach out and ask them if they wanted to share the stories as well so I could make a documentary on the hardships of indie filmmaking. Initially I had only planned on reaching out to a handful of filmmakers but through the help of my friends and film critic Tim Gross, the list snowballed in to nearly 80 filmmakers from all over the world who wanted to be a part of the documentary and share their stories. Now just over a year later, here we are.
So how long was the filming process for Blood On The Reel? There seem to be alot of people involved in this so it had to be pretty time consuming.
A little over a year. Which isn’t a bad turn around ratio when you think about it. I use to rush through my films when I first started. It is an easy and natural thing to do when you first start making films. You are so excited to get the film done and you start mapping out plans for the next and then you find that you are not really giving the current film your all. Once I buckled down and got serious I vowed that I would never rush through a film again, and the first film to come about from my new outlook and approach was Blood On The Reel. I think that the film will reflect that.
What other filmmakers take part in this documentary?
There are so many talented people. Some of the ones that really stick out are James Balsamo of Acid Bath Productions. Vito Trabucco of the soon to be cult classic Bloody Bloody Bible Camp. Michael S. Rodriquez, Massimilliano Cerchi, Mike Hartman of Silver Bullet Productions. Mike has worked closely with Troma. Kelly Hughes who has a very interesting mix of Jon Waters and David Lynch that I admire. The “Evil Twins”, Luna Wolf and Priscilla Riberio who are filmmakers/models from the UK. Craig Everett Earl who has made the Intrusion films, which the most recent stars Corey Feldman and Tiffany Shepis. There is Greg Ansin and Michael Neel. Keith Voigt Jr who has been working with Toe Tag Productions. The Von Claude Brothers who happen to be two extreme and talented filmmakers from New Zealand. And I can’t forget about two very important people in and behind the film, Michael Kyne of Bee Stung Productions and his lovely wife and extremely talented horror hostess for the documentary, Bianca Allaine. I didnt wanna make this too long so if I didnt name someone, I truly apologize. Its early here and I’m only on my first pot of coffee.
I noticed in the trailer for Blood on the Reel that the other directors shared quite a mutual disdain for corporate Hollywood horror and the boring trend of remakes and unoriginal ideas. Mind telling me your stance on the current state of horror?
I despise it. Anyone who has followed Daggervision since the beginning knows my disdain for Hollywood. The remakes and sequels must end. More so the remakes. Sequels bother me but not as much, but they can go too far and ruin a good thing. I think one sequel is sufficient. We do not need twelve or thirteen sequels from the same franchise. Then you are just becoming a parody of yourself.
Fair enough. Now as far as indie horror films, they seem to be a dime a dozen now a days. I think it’s a craft that really takes hard work and dedication to truly get your dream on film, and it usually shows whether that aspect is there in most horror films of today. To make it short, I’ve seen a ton of terrible films in the last few years. Do you ever wonder how some of these people get the budgets they get with seemingly no heart instilled in their movies?
I do often wonder that, but then again, that is most Hollywood films. Hollywood isn’t concerned if the film has heart. I would go as far as to say that they don’t even care if the film is awful. As long as they can get you to the box office with a cleverly edited trailer only showing you the good parts then they already have your money and they don’t care if the film has a backbone that will withstand time. All they care about is a well oiled assembly line of massed produced products which will be and are intended to be replaced next month by a new product, or what they call film.
After comparing typical Hollywood budgets to indie films, do you think true indie horror is a dying breed? Or do you think its just beginning to show its true potential?
Everything comes in waves. Current technology has made it much easier for someone to make a film so there’s more competition now than ever before. If someone makes a successful film, that’s great. They raise the bar and push me to go above and beyond with my next film. Because technology has made it easier to make a film, there are also going to be a lot more bad films being made too. Those filmmakers will probably make one film, get a bad review and quit. The technology is there to do it but you need to passion to make it. I personally think that the over all current state of indie horror is stronger and better than ever before. You may have to dig deeper below the surface to find it, but it is there. That is how it has always been. If you want good music, you dig to the indie level, the punk rock level. Dig to the subculture that is not noticed by the mainstream. In music and film that is where you will find the legends.
Obviously it seems like making a film can be a pretty big struggle. Any advice to someone trying to become an indie film maker?
If you are serious about the craft than you have to be dedicated. I learned the ropes the hard way. As mentioned I went through the social party scene of the business and although I really had a lot of success since film one, my career took off three fold once I decide to regiment myself and take it as a serious job. I am glad that I learned the hard way and I think that the majority of aspiring filmmakers will learn the hard way. It is a rite of passage so to speak.
What is it you want to achieve by releasing this doc to the public?
I want to open eyes. Blood On The Reel is the first and only documentary of its kind. Yes, there have been horror documentaries but none of them cater to indie horror. They cater to the legends like Universal or Hammer, but no one has seemed concerned enough to expose the indie filmmakers and the films that they make.
Indie horror gets a bad rap for being too cheesy, for having bad acting, you name it. People love to complain about how awful some indie horror films are. And yes, lets face it, many of them are god awful. What people have to realize is that these filmmakers have put everything that they have on the line to make these films. They are self funding, self casting and making their own props. I want people to realize the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into not only making but completing a film. Even the worst indie films are successful to me because they did something. How many people critiquing at home can say that they have done something with their life where they showed their passion to thousands of people. Most people don’t have the guts and are afraid of ridicule and put the dreams on the back burner. Say what you want about indie horror, but you must respect it.
I’m really excited for the release of this documentary. It’s the first film that I can ever remember seeing that gives you insight on the trials and tribulations involved with making an independent horror film. I’m guessing this is something you’re pretty proud of.
Very, very proud of. It never occurred to me at the time that I was making a ground breaking documentary. I was too focused and too closely attached to it. It wasn’t until SGL picked the film up for an international distribution deal and other filmmakers started telling me that they have been waiting years and years to share these stories. It was then that it really hit me on how important this film is. This is the one film that I can really look back fondly of when I am on my death bed. I left the world with something really good.
Any last minute shout outs or things fans need to check out?
A big thanks to all of the filmmakers involved with the film. I have been very fortunate and blessed to work with the nicest group of talented people whom I’ve now formed life long friendships with. People who I also wish that I got to stay in contact with more, but our busy lives of filmmaking prevent us from speaking as much as I would like. I hope they all know that I do think of them all often even though we may not get to speak on a daily basis.
Also, I would like to thank all of the fans and future fans for their love and support. I do have to mention that I have recently revamped my website and have new merch and new merch coming, so please take a look at that.
Johnny, its been an absolute pleasure talking with you. Good luck with the films release, we cant wait to check it out.
Thank you for everything. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me speak my mind and share my art with the community. Most appreciated.