An Interview with Jim Haggerty

Recently, I got a chance to ask filmmaker Jim Haggerty a few questions about his upcoming films and about his company, Yellow Ape Productions. Actually, Jim can say it better than I can in my clumsy introduction, so I’ll hand the blog over to him for a few minutes. Here is the interview:

PS: Jim, it’s great to talk with you again and thanks for the interview. It looks like 2012 will be another busy year for you and the crew at Yellow Ape Productions. Could you tell us about your upcoming projects and your recent DVD releases on Tempe?

JH: Well, the good folks at Tempe Video have just put FROM THE INSIDE and IS THIS A JOKE? into wide release which is very exciting – I never felt those films found the audience they could have, but that’s because they were only available at our website. And in April we will be premiering the all new WHEN DEATH CALLS starring my old friend Suzi Lorraine and the great Tina Krause. So it is an exciting time.

PS: I read that you are working on your first short film, for the festival circuit?

JH: Well, it’s written and I’m very happy with the script. I’ve discovered a wonderful actress who is perfect for the lead role named Risa Cohen. But that’s as far as we are with it. We have to finish casting and shoot it, but I don’t have anything scheduled yet. But I think it’s the kind of film that we will get some festival attention with. It’s a bit of a departure, it’s very character-driven and serious. Can’t wait to do it.

PS: Your most recent film is the horror anthology “When Death Calls”. Without giving away any secrets, could you tell us a little about the stories in the film?

JH: The stories are all pretty cool and they really run the gamut of horror styles, I think. It feels to me more like a mini horror movie festival. There’s a monster movie, a slasher movie, a dark comedy – a bunch of different styles pulled together.

PS: What draws you to the anthology format?

JH: Well, it gives you some variety – it’s not like week after week you’re telling the same story with the same characters and the same actors. You shoot a short segment for a few days, then you get to delve into something completely different. Like sketch comedy, it’s a like treat bag – you’re always excited as to what will come out next!

PS: How did the shoot for “When Death Calls” compare to the shoot for your other anthology film, “Grave Danger”?

JH: Well, we’ve certainly come a long way since GRAVE DANGER, so it’s a much more polished affair. Originally we were going to do a sequel to GRAVE DANGER, but for various reasons we decided WHEN DEATH CALLS should have it’s own identity. Though fans of GRAVE DANGER will notice one or two recurring characters, wink wink!

PS: “When Death Calls” stars the lovely Suzi Lorraine (who also starred in “Witchmaster General”) and the equally lovely scream-queen Tina Krause. Tell us about the casting process of “When Death Calls” and how both Suzi and Tina became involved.

JH: Well, Suzi is always a pleasure to work with and always an asset on screen. We were thrilled to work with her again. Tina came on board last – we had a role that she would be right for and I ended up getting in contact with her, so I asked her if she would do it. And I was delighted she did it since I’m such a fan and she was so great to work with. Apart from that, a lot of the casting was done for a different project called THE HOTEL KILLER which we were unable to do at this point for various reasons. So we shifted gears at the last minute to do what was originally going to be GRAVE DANGER 2 and utilized a lot of the people we’d cast in that film like Nathalie Bryant, Pooya Mohseni, Darlene McCullogh – as well as our old friends like Jae Mosc, Rebecca Rose McCain, Robert Lincourt, and Stephen Alan Wilson. And what a great cast we came out with.

PS: Along with Suzi, you are also working with a lot of the actors from your previous films such as Jae Mosc, Robert Lincourt, etc. After 10 years of working with some actors, what is the working relationship like and what have you learned, as a filmmaker, from your actors?

JH: That’s a good question. It really varies from person to person. Some I’m very close friends with, others I only see on set – it’s a very business-only relationship, which is fine. I certainly like all of my returning actors, and they keep coming back so they probably don’t hate me (laughs). And even if they do, by coming back they must respect what I do to come back. But I think everyone likes me, I just don’t see them all socially. But I’m hard to know on the set, I think – I tend to be very quiet when working on a film. Not to be rude, but my mind is going in so many different directions, I can’t really be too social. But I like to think we’re all friends to varying degrees.

PS: I read that you have been working with an expanded crew. Your wife Susan is editing and you have a production assistant and cinematographer/lighting director. Also, you have reconnected with the composer who worked on some of your previous films. Could you tell us more about the new additions to the Yellow Ape team?

JH: Well, my wife Susan is always a big help. It’s tough for her because it’s not really her passion, but thankfully she is so supportive and so talented as an editor. Of course my right hand man Dennis Newman who’s been with us since GRAVE DANGER is always invaluable – and has developed into something of a good actor in recent films.

PS: Was it strange letting others handle those tasks that you used to do?

JH: It’s always odd relinquishing control when you started out being kind of a one-man act. But it feels good to have help and to be able to rely on people and trust them.

PS: Now that you are able to focus more on writing, directing, and producing has it changed your approach to filmmaking?

JH: Well, I’ve always focused on these things. I think the approach changes the more you grow and learn. And I’ve learned from all of my films. And I’m pleased to say we’ve grown and improved each time.

PS: “Is This a Joke?” encapsulates your sense of humor and your comedic side. What were some of your influences on the film?

JH: It was really an attempt to create an old-fashioned ‘dirty joke’ movie from the 70’s – these were a little-known genre where actors performed old dirty jokes as skits. And I think we really captured it – the jokes we selected, the performances, the look of the film, the sound effects, the music. I’m quite proud of it, it’s a lot of fun. And I love that when we did the screening it went over well with the audience. Comedy is tough to do, so I’m glad it worked. But it was interesting that some of the stuff I didn’t think was that funny got the biggest laughs and things that I thought were hysterical didn’t get as big a response. That’s why comedy is tough.

PS: Looking back on “From the Inside”, how do you feel about the film now? I know that it was a passion project for years and honestly, I think it is one of your best films. Now that it has had a wider DVD release, what has the reaction been to it?

JH: Thank you, I am extremely proud of the film. Until WHEN DEATH CALLS, I believed it was my best film. It’s really a solid film – such a great ensemble cast, and I’m very proud of the story and the script. I think it really works – it’s the kind of story that you can put yourself into, and it also asks moral questions. What would I do if…? I think it’s solid – certainly my darkest movie, but a real triumph. Now that Tempe has it out there I hope it will find a larger audience.

PS: You really are one of the busiest and most productive guys I know. What keeps you motivated and what is your ultimate goal, as a filmmaker?

JH: Well thank you, I always try to be productive – it’s real easy to get lazy. But I guess the ultimate goal is to just keep on keeping on. I want to keep making movies and keep making the kind of movies I make. I love what I do, and I love my films that I’ve made.

PS: I’ve been wanting to ask you this one for awhile. What is your definition of a “Midnight Movie”?

JH: I guess to me a midnight movie is about freedom. The term comes from back when movies that were considered ‘cult’ movies used to show in theaters on weekends at midnight. And to me theses were always the movies that were free – they were different. They didn’t have to play by rules, they could be vulgar, they could be silly, they could be violent – they didn’t have to fit into the mainstream. Those were the kind of movies I set out to make, and I like to think I succeeded.

PS: I just want to say thanks again, Jim, and best wishes for 2012. What are some important calendar dates for Yellow Ape Productions and where can readers find out more about Jim Haggerty and his films?

JH: Thank You Peter, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. Not sure when this will be published, but I will be at the Macabre Faire on Long Island with a Yellow Ape table on April 13-15, and then on the 28th we have the WHEN DEATH CALLS premiere. Suzi and Tina are both attending, so those in the NY area may want to try and make it. And I will be there as well!


Interview by Peter Syslo

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