Slamdance 2017: Introducing Filmmaker Brian Harrison And His Short Film HELL FOLLOWS
As 2017 begins the first important film festival for emerging filmmakers kicks off in Park City, Utah, at the end of the month. Running counter to the bigger named festival, Slamdance`s mandate has always been to support up and coming and independent filmmakers.
We at ScreenAnarchy are pleased to introduce a filmmaker to you that will likely turned some heads at the festival and in the years to come. Brian Harrison will debut his short film Hell Follows at Slamdance in their aptly named Anarchy program.
Betrayed by his clan and murdered for his past evil deeds, a sadistic killer's soul possesses his identical twin's body and sets out onto the road of vengeance for one final crusade of extermination. Everywhere he goes ... HELL FOLLOWS.
After watching Hell Follows the first thing I said to myself is that Harrison is the demon spawn of Miike and Tsukamoto if the surrogate mother dropped hits of acid while the baby came to term. And that is a compliment! I had yet to see anyone outside of Japan capture the possessed spirit and demonic essence of the early works of those directors, and others, in such a short running time. Their influences scream at you from the top of their lungs through the ravaged throat of Hell Follows`central character.
ScreenAnarchy will be pleased to share the trailer for Hell Follows with the community as the festival approaches. For now we have a gallery as well as a motion poster and two Stereoscopic clips to share with you.
We also shot some questions over to Harrison so you too can discover how a kid from blue collar America falls in love with Japan`s VCinema and maverick `sinema` filmmakers. Harrison`s knowledge of Japanese cinema exceeds encyclopedic; it transcends into a full blown passion for that era of filmmaking.
ScreenAnarchy - Can we start off with you introducing yourself to the ScreenAnarchy family? Tell us a little bit about yourself, please.
Brian Harrison - Well. How does someone talk about themselves? This is something I have always found somewhat difficult to fully integrate into my consciousness. How do we pick what we say and we leave out. I believe most of us paint the best picture of ourselves, not only to others, but when we look in the mirror as well. We hoist up our better qualities and diminish our faults. It's a natural thing. But, it goes deeper than self-absorption or the want and need to be judged as a “good” … or “bad” if that’s your fancy... it also touches on the human sense of what reality is and what it may not be. We include ourselves in this analysis on a second by second basis. Who we are, what we feel, how we feel about others, the world, and everyone's place in it. I suppose what I am trying to convey here is that I am like any other person striving to maintain their reality and the self. A difficult task.
If you want to know where I come from and who I am today, well, that answer is extremely complicated (especially the who I am today).
But, some basics about me:
I come from a blue-collar family. Florida kid. NYC young adult. Los Angeles man. Immigrants on both sides. Some from recent times, some from more than a hundred years ago. Hard working folk that have sacrificed everything for a better life for their family. In a sense, true American alchemy. It's funny to say that, considering where we may be headed as a society, but it's true. I'm tough sometimes, too tough often. That's getting better with age. I hurt most days, with brighter days ahead - always. I struggle with faults, sometimes for too long. I love. I accept love. I have done selfless things for many people in my life. I have also hurt many people in my life, selfishly. I see the good in people, but recognize the bad. I strive to think of life as art itself. Everything you see. Everything you do. With a purpose. A way. I am obsessed with cinema, the truest form of art in my mind because it combines all the rest.
All of these things make me who I am and are what you should know about me. I use all these things in my work and in my life. I am like you, and you like me. A human being.
SA - The short bio I was sent as an introduction to you states right off the hop, “Since the early age of 6 Brian Harrison was first introduced and inducted into the world of Asian cinema”.
Reading that, having watched Hell Follows and noting Japan’s maverick directors that have influenced your short film, one can only be concerned that you were weaned on these characters and not something a little softer like Ghibli.
I can only ask, Who was responsible for this? How did all begin?
BH - It is true that there are a number of maverick Japanese writers, directors, cinematographers and art directors that have influenced this short film and me in general. Some of directors you have named below. There are others. Many. It is also true that I was not weaned on softer faire. I was thrown into the fire at age 6 so to speak (I guess somewhat inappropriately) and have never looked back. The answer to who is responsible is pretty simple. My father. He was a huge fan of Asian cinema and so I became one. He loved these films, so I loved these films. It is what I first knew as movies (at this early age)… with a few key American pictures – like Apocalypse Now, which I also saw at 6 or 7. The first film though, was Shogun Assassin (the American/British re-cut version of the first 2 films in the Lone Wolf and Cub series [Sword of Vengeance + Baby Cart at the River Styx]). Heads flying. Blood gushing, spraying. Samurai. Ninja. Ladies in waiting. Vengeance. Redemption. Nudity. Tradition. Custom. Honor. All out awesomeness. It all escalated from there. Into a myriad of films, even into some of the more risqué ones in the pinky cinema vaults. I could name hundreds that started this journey and continue it today. Most of these pictures, from the late 1950s-the 70s. I’ll put it to you this way, I own more than 40 of Fukusaku-san’s films. That’s just one guy.
SA - The list of Japanese directors that have influenced Hell Follows are Suzuki Seijun (Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter), Oshima Nagisa (Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence), Fukusaku Kinji (Battle Royale and Battles Without Honor and Humanity), Miike Takashi (Ichi the Killer and Audition) and Tsukamoto Shinya (Tetsuo the Iron Man and A Snake of June). What is it about their work, apart from the obvious visual cues, that drew you in?
BH - Let me correct this just a bit. These are SOME of the directors that have influenced this picture. The list, all in all, is probably more like 20+ (that you can see [well at least I can] direct influences. From all over the globe, from all different decades and generations. I guess, when you look at it like that, what it really is, is just an adoption of everything I love from all the films and directors I love… then pushing it in and out of my oddly wired brain, covering it in experiences and creating my own specific style, vibe and sonic palate. Strangely enough though, my two biggest influences are not even filmmakers in the traditional sense. One was a painter, artist, scientist, socialite, weirdo, intellectual… and well I guess he was a filmmaker too, of sorts. And the second a writer, comedian, and all around badass. But, I’ll leave that for another discussion.
As far as the director’s above, each has their own specific nuances that I am attracted to. Little things. Sometimes obvious things. Sometimes just a feeling. All masters at the craft.
Suzuki-san = Theatre + Art.
Oshima-san = Emotion + Rebellion.
Fukusaku-san = Violence + Character.
Miike-san = Surrealism + Madness.
Tsukamoto-san = Loneliness + Nightmares.
SA - Hell Follows will not end at just the short film. Please share with our readers what your ambitions and goals are for this project.
BH - To know where this idea is headed, I suppose we have to begin at where “it” began. The whole idea for this film started with a novella I wrote about 2 years ago, entitled BLACK AS HELL DARK AS NIGHT. The book contains parts of this story and 2 other stories, all of them related/intertwined through familial relationships. Some of it takes place in Japan, some in the US. All of it hyper-violent and hyper-real. The novella itself has never been published, but I may do so after the feature if things work the way I intend.
After writing the novella, I started in on the feature screenplay. When the first draft was completed, I took a step back and realized something that I may have done here, which was that I may have created my own manga world. Or in other words, created a manga comic, sans the actual comic books. Holy buckets of water Batman. The world, the feeling, the characters… all seemed to have that flavor to them, although the feature film is set a vastly non-manga city – a hyper-realistic ghetto in Osaka called Airin-chiku. Once I realized that, I immediately started in with my concept artist, Jack Gregory, and we began the process of creating the manga. So that’s where we are now. We have the short film – which is taken from the feature, a kind of nightmare sequence – the feature screenplay, the novella, and now the manga in production. The intention is release these in a sort of Suicide Club (Sono - 2001) manner. The feature, the novella and then the manga. With room for additional stories within these stories – all in the same manner. A huge lofty goal for sure, but a plan nonetheless.
I would love to get into more detail about the status of the feature, and I will come back to you as soon as I can on that… just know that the process is moving rapidly. I fully intend to be in Osaka in Fall 2017 shooting this… and will probably actually move there first in May or June. Let’s see where the road takes us. I can promise this though, the film will be made and it will be the best fucking film I can make. I have been preparing my whole life for it.
***Editor`s Note - The feature film Harrision has planned will go by the same name at the novella Black As Hell Dark As Night.
SA - You shot Hell Follows on 16mm, Super 8 and in 4K. Why did you choose to shoot in these polar opposite formats?
BH - Let me say first, that I am the “type” that loves shooting on film and wants to continue using that format as much as humanly possible. I don’t scoff at digital, of course not, it is where we are in cinema, but there is just something about film – we all kind of know that. A feeling. A look. A richness. A history. A sense of cinema. So, when Alex Bergman (my creative other half and cinematographer) and I began discussing how we would shoot this, we decided right away on using B&W Kodak Tri-X Reversal film… all to be shot on a Canon Scoopic. Why? Well, Tsukamoto shot all of Tetsuo on one, so that was an obvious choice for both of us. That’s why you get the feeling from the film. I believe. Alex had already shot some stuff in Africa on one, so, he was familiar... and off we went. To be honest, Alex Bergman has a grasp over the film format like I never encountered in a young cinematographer. He can do amazing things with it. On a complete other level.
So, we shot some of it with the Scoopic, developed it, saw what we had and decided to shoot more. Next we went digital, but stayed true to ourselves and used some incredible 1950s and 1960s glass. It was the intention from the beginning to have this film feel like it was partly shot in another time, years ago… but with no real exact sense of when. Using the vintage lenses helped with that, along with the costuming, art direction and practical FX we did (including the snow – which is not digital).
Lastly, one of my close friends and creative partners, editor Dave Kebo, who also has a story by credit on the feature (FYI – he is the nephew of Toshiro Mifune believe it or not) had his grandfather’s old 8MM camera lying around. I was over the house one day and asked if I could borrow it to shoot for the film. The 8mm kind of happened by chance, not plan. So, I brought it to set and shot some specific cut-ins with it, and then used it to shoot some B-roll of Kaizo to have some things to play with in the edit for the drug sequence.
So, I guess you could say that choosing to use all 3 of these formats seemed appropriate because they kind of represent my personality/who I am. Someone who is completed enthralled to be in 2017, but who also loves the feeling analog formats bring to the table. A young man of sorts, with an old soul. If that makes sense.
SA - Hell Follows will debut at Slamdance. For our readers who cannot be at the festival and be the first to see it is it’s Festival Dance Card starting to fill up? Is it booked at other film festivals?
BH - I can tell you that I am ecstatic to be premiering this picture at Slamdance, in the Anarchy section – which seems quite appropriate I suppose. The Slamdance family is filled with some amazing people… with incredible talent and dedication to cinema… Rebels With A Cause… oh you see what I did there? It is a great honor and I could not be happier about it. We have a ton of people coming out for it, which will make it even more special. I think we may end up 15 deep in Park City this year. I do hope that whoever can make it out to Park City does and sees not only this picture but the numerous other wonderful, mind bending, rebel cinema they have programmed. I personally can’t wait!
As far as the other festivals, yes there are a myriad of them, but none that I can announce until after Slamdance. I guess check back on Facebook or Instagram for those. But, in all, yes this will be shown all throughout the US and abroad in the coming year. After that, the short may go into the vaults and never come out again.