Today I sit down with Michael S. Ojeda who recently directed the horror film Avenged which I waxed lyrical about a few days ago (here). I was really pleased to be able to chat to Michael and learn a little more about the film and his approach to the rather unusual material. Read on to hear about how Michael discovered the excellent Amanda Adrienne, how he balanced a film that’s part horror, part action, part love story and much more…
Hello there, thanks for taking some time out to chat with me today! How are you?
I’m good. It’s been a long string of interviews, but I never get tired of talking about my baby.
First things first I had a really good time with Avenged. Thank you for making such a fun and inventive film which mixes together a load of genres and which really delivers on all sides. How did the ideas for the film develop? Did you start with the horror aspect, the love aspect, the action…?
Making movies is a big ordeal, you hit a lot of pitfalls and it cost a lot of money. So, if I’m going to make a movie I want to give the audience an experience, I want them to feel everything: love, hate, sorrow, victory. I knew I wanted to make a supernatural horror film and one that showcased my strength at executing action scenes. So, I toyed with spirit possession, revenge, a female protagonist who becomes a zombie, shot in the desert, a doom fated love story, and presto… Avenged.
Hmm and which of the film’s many aspects was the hardest to write and direct for you?
I wouldn’t say Avenged was hard to write at all. It’s pretty basic in concept, the driving force is the characters rage for those who killed her and knowing she will never be united with the man she loves, despite him searching for her. It’s kind of sad, because we know going in, there can be no happy ending. As far as directing, again, nothing too difficult, I chose amazing actors, we devised a solid plan of execution for every scene. It’s only difficult when a department doesn’t deliver or something goes wrong, (a prop you needed, a vehicle breaks down, wardrobe rips) it’s a low budget film. Things happen, so you have to improvise on the fly.
Wasn’t it tricky to balance out each element? Because on paper a decomposing zombie seeking revenge through outlandish action sounds tricky enough to make believable, let alone when you mix in the love story element!
When writing, I let the characters drive the story and take me where I need to go. They want something, somebody’s in their way, they have to find a way around it or fail, even worse perish. You have to check all the characters along the way, make sure they surface and face obstacles. Most important, know where you want everyone to be at the end.
The movie wouldn’t be the same without Amanda in the role. She embodies the character in so many ways and I knew she was perfect the moment I laid eyes on her. How I found her is quite extraordinary. You see, in the early stages we didn’t have financing for a casting director, so we placed adds on various casting websites, including Craigslist. Amanda saw the ad in Craigslist and her headshot was the first one we received. We auditioned her, along with others, but she blew us away.
And did she have any stunt training before? She really sells the action scenes here…
Seven months passed between the time we shot the scenes to help raise financing and the actual production. So, Amanda, having faith we would pull it together, took Martial Arts courses during that time and on her own dime. She’s just a real pro. Once we got closer to shooting, our fight choreographer worked with Amanda to fine tune her moves.
What was the thinking behind making her deaf and mute? It’s an unusual trait for a protagonist but I think an effective one…
1) I wanted the audience to connect and sympathise with Zoe from the start.
2) I like films about underdogs.
3) Have you ever seen a zombie talk. It doesn’t work. It’s comical.
Haha fair enough! There’s a bunch of films out there with ‘zombie’ protagonists but none have been anywhere near as effective in my mind. The decision to make her continue to decay over the course of the film was quite a brave one as we should really be completely repulsed and afraid of her, but I for one never lost my empathy for Zoe. Did you ever consider not making her decay like that as in The Crow?
Zoe’s body decaying is my favourite aspect of the story, combined with her fiancés desperate search for her. The closer he gets to finding her, the worse she gets: she oozes fluids, body parts fall off, maggots start to grow, quite hideous. This is where the stories heartbeat lies. It’s what makes Avenged a story worth telling. Otherwise it’s just a revenge film. And I’m not interested in making just another of anything.
Yeah I love that aspect too. It seems to me that you really understand the horror genre to the point where you can successfully play around with it, but there’s all sorts of other films in here too. Perhaps most notably Kill Bill; it’s as if the Bride never woke up in the hospital!
Honesty, I didn’t really look at any films and say I want to make a film like that. I ask myself what kind of story am I in the mood to see now, I feel a void, then go from there. Yes, Avenged has been compared to I Spit on Your Grave, but I’m not a big fan of straight up revenge, torture movies. I can watch it, yes. But to me, movies that try to depict the dark side of reality aren’t much fun. I like protagonists that are bigger in life, villains that seem untouchable. I like movies that allow us to live vicariously through someone else, who are exceptional and achieve the impossible. Those are the kinds of films I want to make.
It sounds good to me Michael! What other ideas do you want to explore in your films? What should we be keeping our eyes open for?
I just finished a screenplay and have begun development on a feature, called Dominique about a female Russian assassin who befriends a homeless girl, and decides to rescue her sister from human traffickers. Since everyone likes to draw comparisons, it’s along the lines of Leon – the Professional meets La Femme Nikita. We hope to be in production by end of the year.
Haha, great! Thanks again for chatting with me today.
I hope you all enjoyed this interview with Michael and are now tempted to go and check out Avenged/Savaged! Let me know what you’re thinking in the comment box below!