You may have seen Graham Skipper in one of a billion indie horror films, such as Beyond the Gates, The Mind's Eye, of Almost Human. If you were lucky, you saw him star as Dr. Herbert West in Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator the Musical. In addition to acting, he's slipped into the director's chair, most notably with Sequence Break. The film is now exclusively on the rad, all-horror streaming service Shudder, and reunites Chase Williamson and Fabianne Therese, both of John Dies at the End, among other hot indie films.
I spoke to Skipper on the challenges of making Sequence Break, his new feature in which Williamson plays Oz, am introverted arcade game repair man and designer who finds himself way too connected to a particular game over a series of strange events. Check out the trailer after the interview!
Was the influence of David Cronenberg on Sequence Break a conscious choice? I also see a little Carpenter in there, such as Christine and Prince of Darkness, along with themes of Cronenberg’s Videodrome and eXistenZ.
Yes! All of those things were in there! I knew I wanted to make Oz's story a body horror tale, and who better to be your guide than Cronenberg? Videodrome was the most direct influence, but eXistenZ certainly played a role, and a lot of Oz and Tess's relationship took inspiration from Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis in The Fly. And yes, Christine was a major influence in terms of Oz's lustful relationship with the machine, and the jealous nature of the machine's relationship with Tess.
How did you get involved with Adam and Amanda at Destroy All Entertainment?
I've been friends with the two of them for years, and of course had worked with Amanda on Beyond The Gates, so I was really happy when they agreed to come on board and help out.
You’re primarily known as an actor; was making the jump to writing and directing difficult or easy, and how so?
It was an interesting adjustment! The easiest part was probably working with the actors - I found that part really fun and exciting to watch the cast bring new and exciting ideas to the table to really help craft the relationships. Otherwise it was just really eye opening to experience all the facets that go into helming a film, and the holistic attitude you have to have to make sure that the world you're creating stays consistent and believable as you piece the overall work together.
I see you’re also the director of a short film (Scratches) and another feature, Space Clown. Do tell us about Space Clown!
Ha! Good ol' Space Clown. Space Clown was kind of an experiment that I started working on like 6 years ago, really just an excuse to shoot a movie on a cheap camera in my backyard with my friends. It's super weird and vulgar, and while I'm certainly proud of it, Sequence Break is definitely what I would consider to be my true first professional foray into filmmaking.
What were the most important or interesting things you learned while in production?
Stuart Gordon gave a piece of advice before I started shooting, which was advice that Roger Corman gave him: "Wear comfortable shoes and sit down often. It's a marathon, not a sprint." And that was so true. You have to be mentally sharp for the whole process, because every decision is crucial and time is short, so it's vital that you stay rested and focused. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to direct a film, so that was probably the biggest eye opener for me.
What were the most challenging things about making Sequence Break, and how did you overcome them?
The shoot went remarkably smoothly, to be honest, but I guess the biggest challenge was time, or lack thereof. When you're on a tight schedule you have to figure out how to maximize cinematic quality and artistic value with the practicality of getting the movie in the can. So really we overcame that just by being very organized, but also thinking creatively and outside the box whenever we could, to ensure that every choice was the boldest one we could possibly make.
Might there be a Sequence Break sequel or prequel, or perhaps another story about this particular arcade game?
There's definitely a story or stories within this universe that could still be told! I've had some fleeting thoughts about possibilities there, but nothing concrete or planned currently. But never say never...
The ‘80s have been popping up in films lately, as our generation has grown into storytellers. Do you see this trend slowing down anytime soon?
I worry a little bit about "80s fatigue," but I think the draw of nostalgia is strong, and the filmmakers making movies right now are the same kids that grew up in the 80s, so it makes sense that they (we) would draw so heavily on that which inspired them. I think the Force is still strong with the general 80s trend and will be around for a while longer, at least.
As of press time, Sequence Break will be available exclusively on Shudder. What was it like working with them? Were you approached at a festival?
Shudder has been excellent! Really wonderful to work with, very artist friendly, and they really know their stuff when it comes to horror. They've really been a delight. As to how we got connected, I've been lucky enough to know their two main programmers, Colin Geddes and Sam Zimmerman, for years, so I'm sure that's how I was on their radar. Then they liked the film and the rest is history! I've been very lucky to get to work with them.
What films have you recently seen that you’re excited about?
I recently saw Coralie Fargeat's incredible Revenge, which just totally blew me away. Super stylish and it turns the rape-revenge genre on its head. I've also been watching the true crime series EVIL GENIUS on Netflix which is fantastic, and proves that sometimes real life horror is far more bizarre than anything you could make up in a movie.
What’s next for you?
I'm in a couple of films on the festival circuit right now --- All The Creatures Were Stirring and Dementia Part 2 --- and I've got a couple of things on the horizon acting wise and producing wise that I'm very excited about, although I can't talk about them just yet... Stay tuned!