How often is it that you get to talk to someone whose work really inspires you in a number of different ways? I have interviewed quite a few interesting, cool, or occasionally funny people... but filmmaker, actor, writer and musician Rusty Nails was all of these things rolled into one exceptionally talented guy. Last year, Go Kart Films released Rusty's film, ACNE, which I found to be one of the best independent films of 2005. He is currently finishing a new documentary called "Highway Robbery" as well as editing and filming "DEAD ON: The life and cinema of George A. Romero" - the ultimate George Romero (director of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Martin, Creepshow) documentary. As if all of that wasn't enough... he is putting the finishing touches on a brilliant new script for a film called "Teenagers From Mars" and has a compilation of short films and videos coming
out soon! Enough of that, let's get to the phone!
Sarah Miller: (phone rings)
Rusty Nails: Hello?
SM: This is Tastes Like Chicken.
RN: Excuse me?!
SM: Tastes like chicken.
RN: I didn't order any food... and I'm a vegetarian.
SM: No man, this is a magazine.
RN: I thought paper tasted more like crackers.
SM: (Thinking) Hmm... Tastes like crackers... it does have a certain ring to it (Note to editor... take note).
SM: What made you want to make films?
RN: I remember when I was a little kid, I always thought of these really fantastic and weird ideas. I often created interesting scenarios in my head and had bizarre and fun situations going on. By the time I was 12 I knew I wanted to make movies and create wild and weird new places for people to see. Movies are a place where people look forward to being taken to a new place and shown new things. Too many current filmmakers don't take advantage of that situation! We have to grab the opportunity and run wild and free with it.
SM: I saw your film ACNE recently. It's really interesting mixture of horror, sci-fi, film noir and french new wave films... yet it's all holds together very well and is very unique. It seems very fresh and new. And you somehow pay tribute to many styles without taking anything from other films. I can't say I've seen many other directors pull this off besides Guy Maddin, Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut. The humor goes from extreme complexity to utterly silliness... which I loved.
RN: Great! I didn't really want to rip off scenes or ideas from other films. I actually went to painstaking efforts to avoid doing that. Instead, I tried to imagine what it was like to live in these other time periods and what it was like to make movies in different eras. The largest challlenge was making everything come together in it's own way.
SM: How did you try to achieve that?
RN: When other films try to recreate the mood of film eras past... they will often add this forced stylized type of acting which is supposed to represent those eras but usually comes off looking phony and misplaced. We treated everything seriously. No hamming anything up... especially with the comedic moments... the jokes come off better if someone isn't winking at the camera the whole time.
SM: ACNE also seems like the first independent film I've seen in a long time that really holds up on it's end of keeping the film free of typical Hollywood formulaic garbage just done on a small budget. It reminds me of the gritty true independent films that my Aunt always brought home for us to see... like Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos, Repo Man, Sweetie, Stranger Than Paradise.
RN: Thanks. Glad to hear it.
SM: I heard someone was interested in making a comic book from the film ACNE.
RN: Actually, someone approached my distributor about that recently. I'm trying to figure out how that might work and what new things I might want to incorporate into a comic. It could be really exciting.
SM: You've made videos for a number of great bands like Erase Errata, The Locust, Arab on Radar and Tilt - to
name a few. How did that happen?
RN: I actually picked the bands. If there was a band that I liked I would call them up and ask if they were touring anytime soon and figure out when they would be stopping through Chicago and ask them to send me their newest music so I could find a song that inspired me. I would also ask them to send me the lyrics for the music to see if I could relate to the words or how I would interprit them.
SM: Were the bands fun to work with?
RN: They were all generally nice. But band members aren't willing to do as much in a video as actors or your friends will... they're a bit worried about looking silly... which is funny because they often make rediculous poses on stage.
SM: Talking about actors... do you use professional actors?
RN: I have worked with a number of professional actors. I have worked with actors who are in the union as well as non-union actors. I have also worked with friends who have wanted to act and friends I thought would fit in particular roles well. I find that people who are excited and want to be in your film tend to give good performances or are willing to rehearse until their performance is good; this goes for everyone across the board, as long as they're excited and into it, a good director can usually craft a good performance of a willing participant.
SM: Tell me about DEAD ON: The life and Cinema of George A. Romero.
RN: It's a documentary about the man... George A. Romero... who is, in my opinion, one of the most important American filmmakers of the last fifty years. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, The Crazies, Martin, Knightriders, Day of the Dead... his films are in many ways about America's weaknesses, desires, darknesses and truths. He was one of the first truly independent filmmakers. George was one of the first directors to work consistently outside of Hollywood and New York as well as being a director who helped elevate, broaden and intellectualize many concepts in the horror genre over the last four decades. We're making a documentary about George's life and filmmaking process and including many other artists and looking at their experiences... people like Stephen King, Rob Zombie, Penn from Penn & Teller, John Waters, Roger Ebert, Danny Boyle, Wim Wenders and many others.
SM: Who are some of your main inspirations?
RN: Salvador Dali, The Dead Kennedys, Leanora Carrington, X, The Ramones, Minor Threat, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Orson Welles, Crass, Man Ray, Maya Daren, Kurt Vonnegut, The Marx Brothers, Sam Fuller, Buster Keaton, Diane Arbus, Max Ernst, J. D. Salinger, Albert Camus...
SM: You just named the craziest list of painters, bands, filmmakers and photographers.
RN: My films are a combination of every and anything that happens to me. Good and bad. That's the way it is for everyone. My real influences coming from being with friends and getting into various types of trouble. But I try to never incorporate other people's work into my own... I don't want to copy other people's work. I like to evoke other periods using my own style.
SM: Your films tend to incorporate quite a few surreal edges.
RN: I love surrealism. Life is surreal and fantastic. A lot of films portray day to day living as this dry existence. Life is far too exciting to be portrayed in such a drab manner.
SM: What is your documentary Highway Robbery about?
RN: I'm just finishing that right now. It's about a 65-year-old blind veteran cowboy whose land was stolen by the federal government in order to put up an unnecessary 17 million dollar highway.
SM: A blind veteran... is there no shame?
RN: And his property had wetlands and Native American burial grounds on it.
SM: That sounds fascinating and intense.
RN: It was definitely intense... and it's almost done.
SM: Are you writing anything right now?
RN: I am currently working on a film called "Teenagers From Mars."
SM: What's the story on that?
RN: I can't give away too many details at the moment... but I can say that it's going to be a very atmospheric film which has dramatic and horrific elements. The film is basically about a small town and it's secrets... the town acts as a stand in for America.
SM: There are a lot of places you can go with that.
RN: Absolutely. And I plan on going many many places with the story. But again, I don't want to give away too many of the main ingredients.
SM: What are your thoughts on the current state of affairs, as far as politics go, in America?
RN: There are so many answers to that question. First of all, we've been fighting the Iraqi war for quite a few years now without solid evidence as to who the culprits are or who we should be looking for. Going in and bombing everything in Iraq until the entire country is just dirt, and still not finding Usama Bin Laden to take him in for questioning... is outrageous. How many billions of dollars have we spent on technology to send something that looks like a roller skate to Mars... while people are starving to death... and we can't just find one person in over 5 years? The hubris! You want to find someone? Find someone to cure Aids! I don't believe there are any just wars... wars are not the means of communication by poor people or people in the lower classes speak... wars are started by people with the most power and the largest sums of money: Religious bodies, government, big business, military.
SM: And who ends up fighting wars?
RN: Who ends up fighting the wars started by people in the positions of power? Poor people... in America poor people and wage slaves end up joining the Army for the benefits, job security, possible college tuition, and slightly better pay... some enjoy being in the service but many join because they feel they have nowhere else to go. Imagine getting a position in the only job that will have you and finding out that you are being sent to a foreign country to possibly kill people?!! That's devestating! It's mind blowing. But it's all you have at that point and you feel like you have to follow orders... it's your job... and what an awful, wrong job that is. There have been many points in history where you have to equally blame the president and the people who voted for the president for letting the president do so many corrupt, thoughless, greedy things... but now that votes are being manipulated and changed by the president's and his people we can fully blame the president, congress and the supreme court for all of their evil egocentric terrorist behaviours. There is no need for us to continue using gasoline for cars when so many fuel alternatives are available including solar, electric, hydropower and number of others alternatives.
SM: Those are all very important and valid points.
RN: There is no need for our country not to have implemented various fully functioning recycling programs. Everyone in this country should be able to get a job, housing, healthcare and schooling. And when I say schooling... I mean everyone should have the right to go to schools and have an equal level of education as any rich kid in a private school. Homophobia should be a thing of a very distant past... honestly, if you're homophobic at this point in history you should be forced to wear a Klu Klux Klan robe and hood... who cares what sexual interests people hold when they're in love? It's sickening to see people so filled with fear and hostility over two people being in love. All farms should be organic. We need to stop using GMOs (genetically modified objects) to make food... the FDA is allowing our food to be poisoned and manipulated... when you go into a convenience store 95% of all of the edible products.. if not 100% are junk foods and candy and soda pop... people don't know how to eat because proper food health is not taught in schools... instead we get protein myth lies supported by the beef industry. We are the most unhealthy nation in the world and instead of learning how we can eat better and excercise properly we try to figure out quicker ways to resolve heart attacks.
SM: I agree with everything you've just said but don't you feel some people will be overwhelmed by all of these ideas?
RN: Absolutely not. People regaurd the America public as simple people... and they're not... no one is really. But the way to act on all of the things I mentioned above is to incorporate them into your life and not stress your self out about it. Treat yourself and the world around you better.
SM: Do you ever feel pressure to stay away from certain subject matter when you make your films?
RN: No. That's one of the most important tools you have as far as being an actual independent filmmaker. If your entire budget consists of purchasing/borrowing your camera and equipment and tape stock, which is outrageously cheap... tapes are $6 now, you have no one breathing down your neck and telling you what to do. Use this precious moment in your artistic history and do everything you ever wanted to do on a project without worrying what your friends, family, neighbors or critics think. I run a film festival called the Movieside Film Festival and I am saddened by how many lackluster, Hollywood-wanna-be entries we get from people working on shoestring budget films... the advantage of making films with no money is that you're supposed to go wild and let your most rediculous dreams come true. The world is riddled with bland middle of the road, safe Hollywood, Foreign and Independent films... people are afraid of questioning the idiotic stances of the government and then run around saying how important it is for everyone to live in this "Free" country where the government has been recording our phone conversations to find out if the general public is full of terrorists. I say, use the little freedom you have here wisely before Homeland security completely dibilitates people from spoofing or lampooning the sheer idiocity going on in our government! The power structure and leaders of this country are begging to be made fun of and criticized.
SM: Do you write all of your scripts?
RN: So far I have yes.
SM: What interests you about the writing process?
RN: Challenging myself to write interesting stories and come up with interesting ideas and create new worlds... not alien worlds... but worlds which are much the same as the one that we're living on and populate my writing with interesting characters. I think people are fascinating... they are very complex and funny and bizarre and challenging. I find it challenging to write people as interesting as they actually are.
SM: What do you have coming up in the future?
RN: I'm putting together a collection of 18 short films for a dvd compilation of my shorts and music videos. Putting on finishing touches for the Teenagers From Mars script. Looking for a distributor for the Highway Robbery documentary. Finishing up the George Romero documentary.
SM: In other words... you're doing everything!
RN: Feels like it... Thanks Tastes Like Crackers!
SM: Thank you!