Saturday, 12 April 2014

interview: Joel D Wynkoop

When I e-mailed actor Joel D Wynkoop (star of such notorious low-budget indies as Creep and Dirty Cop No Donut) half a dozen questions in April 2008 I was expecting a few short replies. But Joel went to town with some massively detailed answers, as you can see.

At what point in your career did you realise/discover that your name on a video sleeve might have some value to a film-maker?
“When I did Creep in 1995. Tim Ritter, my partner, got a call from a young movie maker named Marcus Koch who had seen Creep and asked Tim if he could get me in his movie Rot. Tim got a hold of me and told me. I called Marcus and we talked for a couple hours about the part I would play. It sounded like fun and the money was good so I said yes.  While I was in Tampa making Rot, another movie maker heard I was in town and contacted Marcus to see if he could get me in his movie Brain Robbers from Outer Space. I worked out a deal with Garland Hewlett the director of the movie and ended up doing his movie while I was in town doing Rot.

“Right after this, Kevin Lindenmuth called Tim and asked him if he could get myself to appear in his movie Alien Agenda: Out of the Darkness. I accepted; it was a bit part but it got me the front cover of Alternative Cinema. Out of the Darkness led Kevin to ask Tim again, could you get Joel in another movie of mine entitled Alien Agenda: Endangered Species? This was a bigger role and a lot of fun to play. Shortly after this Kevin again asked Tim, can you get Joel to do a part for me in Addicted to Murder 2: Tainted Blood? Again I accepted, I think that was in 1996.

“Tim and I kept doing movies together but soon I started getting calls from movie makers all over the country wanting me to be in their movies. I even had distributors tell me the only reason they picked up the movie was because I was in it and my name meant something in the low budget movie arena. Other parts I got were from Ryan Cavalline of 4th Floor Productions and Mike Hoffman of Wet Floor Productions, all because of my previous track record with the movies Tim and I were cranking out. So it was and is pretty cool to have other directors and producers seek me out because of my past work and offer me rolls in their flicks.”

Realistically, how happy are you, making films for a few hundred bucks? Do you have (or did you ever have) any serious ambitions or dreams to take things to the next level?
“Realistically I am very happy doing low budget movies. I ask $300 a day now but I'll work within the movie maker’s means. Besides just being paid for your performance there are other attributes like a place to stay, your meals covered and airfare or gas depending how far away the shoot is. I have always had the dream to take it to the next level. That's every actor’s dream. If this is what it takes to get to that level then so be it. When I finally make it I can look back and say, 'Man, I really worked hard to get to where I am now.'

“A lot of actors just make indie movies, a lot of actors just do what their agent gets them. I do both, plus I am invited to conventions as well and I do voice-over work also, so it balances everything out pretty even. When I do make it to that next level I would still like to do the indies because I love acting, whether it's the big time or not.”

At this low, low level of film-making, there must be plenty of BS-merchants: how can you spot them and avoid them?
“My partner Tim Ritter and I have heard it all, trust me. Every time I hear, ‘I'm making this little independent movie and I might even have Tom Cruise in it,’ - while everyone else is going, ‘Wow, did you hear that? He's getting Tom Cruise in his movie,’ I'm the first one to say, ‘Oh really, well bring him by when you get him so I can say hi.’

“I've always said when I hear, ‘I'm waiting for a million dollars to do my movie,’ I always say, ‘You keep waiting for that million dollars and I'll have knocked out 20 B-movies in that time.’ Now there are the times where the money does come through but most of the time it's just talk. Another is: ‘Give me your movie and I'll make you a million dollars. Just sign on the dotted line that I get all the rights and I'll take care of you.’

“Tim and I really got burned on our movie Creep. The distributor's cheques all bounced and they were impossible to track down because they would keep packing up and moving their offices to avoid us and our lawyers. I've seen so many movie makers make deals with distributors and they all got burned - the distributor never pays or if they do it's so very little. Okay, I take that back, most of the deals I've seen the movie maker has gotten burned. There are of course the exceptions; with us it is Ron Bonk of Sub Rosa Studios. Ron has always given us a fair shake. He has gotten our flicks out into the market and we have seen return on our movies.

“As far as spotting a distributor I would say just look over what they have to offer and ask other movie makers if they have dealt with them and see what their experiences were. I'm not downing all distributors, I'm just pointing out the ones we have dealt with. Other ways to look at it are: some will take your flick and get it out there all over the place and you get nothing or very little so it's up to the movie maker to make his or her choice. Honestly I don't think anybody becomes a millionaire off indie flicks, even the Blair Witch and Open Water deals are few and far between.”

How has the production and distribution of low-budget indies changed over the 20-odd years that you've been making them?
“Tim Ritter and I started back in 1984 with a little video called Twisted Illusions. At this time there wasn't any indie production at our level or others going on then. Tim and I were one of the first to really start this low budget, video-released industry. Yeah, there were the big boys like Herschell Gordon Lewis and George Romero but they were still studio-released stuff, I'm talking like it is today where everyone and his brother has a camcorder and is flooding the market with indies. When Tim and I started there wasn't any. I mean Blood Cult I think came out the same time we released Truth or Dare and Peter Jackson's Bad Taste came out right after Truth or Dare. Peerless Films had put out a line of shot-on-video features called Video to Video but with very limited release.

Truth or Dare was really the first big deal in the low budget arena (low budget meaning one million dollars). Killing Spree was next and still fairly new to the low budget movie arena. By the time we got Creep out everybody was shooting low budget indie movies. Nowadays the market is flooded, it seems everyone is shooting a movie. It is hard to get something released when there's so much product these distributors have to go through.

“Of course the more money you spent the harder it was to get back. Truth or Dare made all its money back and then some almost right away. A lot of Truth or Dare though was Tim going to Chicago to secure financing and do all the red tape stuff to get the ball rolling so it's not like we shot it in our backyard, a lot of time went into getting that movie going. Nowadays I think it is a lot harder. Well, there's two ways to look at it: then it was hard because no one was giving money to do it, we really had to be persistent or it never would have happened. Nowadays there's so much but no one really wants to give you anything for your work, or very little.

“Like I said, no one says, ‘Wow, cool movie you made, here's a million dollars for it." Also CGI, you didn't have that in the ‘80s, not like today where you can make the whole damn movie on your computer. (Well, I can't but people that know computers can. I can't even turn mine on.)

“Distribution I think is the same. Truth or Dare got out all over the country and overseas but that is the same with most distributors as well today, I don't think that is any different. All our movies are released all over the world. I think production just relies on the amount of money you have to spend on the movie. In Truth or Dare we were blowing things up right and left, we had Bob Shelley from Ghostbusters and Invasion USA and Jere Berry from Prom Night and Sharkey’s Machine. On Killing Spree the budget was a lot less but you make the best out of what you got. When I did Lost Faith there was no budget, actors worked because they wanted to be in a movie and all my catering was donated by local establishments. Money never stopped Tim and I from making a movie, I mean we wouldn't wait on a certain budget we'd just start shooting. Don't let the money stop you. Today there's just a lot more going on with indie movies then when Tim and I started in the ‘80s.”

What can you tell me about your role in Phil Herman's Into the Woods?
“Uh oh, another in-depth answer coming here. Phil has been a friend of mine for over 13 years. I read an article on him and Falcon Video (his company) in Independent Video, a now defunct independent movie magazine. I called Phil and we became immediate friends, we talked about Burglar from Hell and Creep. We started a crossover friendship right off the bat. He started appearing in my movies and I started appearing in his. Phil was supposed to play the detective in Screaming for Sanity but a scheduling problem occurred and we had to use someone else at the last second. In Screaming for Sanity we changed one of the lines Kathy Kay Kurtz was saying to: ‘And Mr Herman thinks he's the Jacker.’

“Another movie I was acting in had a board in the background with people's names on it who were to be ‘reaped’ (I played a Reaper, sickle and all) in this particular movie and I wrote Phil's name on it. That was Jason Liquori's All Wrapped Up segment called 'Bogged Down'. Phil had me do scenes in Jacker 2: Descent to Hell, Tales for the Midnight Hour, Tales Till the End and most recently we collaborated on Always Midnight which was the wrap-up to the Midnight series: Around Midnight and After Midnight. Cathy my wife and I shot three segments for this: The Bronze Princess (which everyone hates), Andrea’s Revenge and Kill Her, Arnold and we did the wraparound.

“Originally I was doing The Bite for Phil's Midnight series but I took too long to finish and he had to release it without The Bite. Now I had a short with nowhere to put it so I made lemonade out of lemons and turned The Bite into an 80-minute feature. I still owed Phil a segment so we shot a short called Kill Her, Arnold and Phil used it in the next Midnight movie, Always Midnight.

“Finally when Always Midnight was finished (that's another story in itself), Phil told me he was going to make another feature. I told him, ‘Cool - otherwise people tend to forget we can do full features.’ Tim had told me the same thing before I started The Bite. ’Man,’ he said, 'you need to do another feature otherwise people forget what you've done in the past and they just see you doing shorts and say: is that all he can do?’

“Anyway, Phil asked me right away if I and Cathy would do a cameo in the movie, my answer was yes. As said above, Phil and I have always helped each other, appearing in each other’s movies as well as whatever else we do for other movie makers. Phil had told me he needed a scene where two guards were watching a monitor in the Mental Institution. Like I said it's just a cameo and if you sneeze you will miss it but it was a lot of fun doing it and it is always fun working with Phil. I still say his best performance is in Tales Till the End when Phil (Parker) recounts the making of Burglar from Hell in The Distributor segment.

“In Into the Woods, the patient we are watching is Phil's crazed character, so it was a fun scene to do knowing we were looking at Phil. To give you an idea of the conversation, one of the guards (played by my wife) is asking all these questions about the crazed psycho we're watching on the monitor. She asks all these questions about his life and what drove him to the murders, she goes on and on (like this interview) with the questions about his life and rehabilitation and I simply say, ‘He's a crazy, fucked up son of a bitch! If you ask me, give 'em the chair!’"

It's clear from the trailers and reviews that many of the films you have appeared in are not what one might call 'morally uplifting'. Is there any conflict between your work and your faith? Have you had any criticism from other Christians about appearing in sexy, violent movies?
“Well, I am a Christian. I argue with myself sometimes about this. I'm a Christian so am I bad to do this? No, good vs evil has been around forever: look at The Bible. Sometimes to tell a cool, uplifting story you have to battle evil and you have to show the evil because it makes the story so much better when the evil is destroyed. How could you make The Exorcist without showing the evil? What, the priest just shows up to exorcise the girl but you don't show why? The hero takes down the vampire with a cross but you don't show why? If you skip the evil parts no one will know why your hero is killing the bad guy or bringing him to justice.

“Great example: there was an episode of The Brady Bunch where Bobby makes Jesse James his hero. His teachers are upset and show his parents so they let Bobby stay up and watch Jesse James to show how evil Jesse James was and how he killed many people... except they cut out all the killing and Bobby said at the end of the scene: ‘Wow, Jesse James is great - he didn't even kill anybody.’ Point made: the evil has to be shown as well as the good to tell a good story.

“I've done slasher movies, sci-fi, comedies, dramatic pieces, martial arts and Christian sci-fi. I don't think an actor that just does Christian movies would get anywhere very far, just like I don't think an actor that just did slasher movies would get very far. I think you have to take on all roles and decide what you think you can get away with. What I mean is, for example, on Rot the director Marcus Koch wanted me, in the script, to call the toilet ‘God’ (purely for shock value). I told him no I would not do that. He asked if I was a Christian and I said, ‘Yes, I'm a Christian and I'm not going to call the toilet ‘God’. I'll talk to it but I'm not going to call it ‘God’." (Also this was not in the script that I had received so it's not like I backed out of doing the scene, it was added later.)

“I am not judging the writing or Marcus, it was just me personally that I did not want to do this. Marcus is very cool and very talented and I have very much respect for him as a person and FX man and movie maker. In fact I'll be working again with Marcus in June on a movie called Body in a Dumpster for Kristian Day. I guess using that as an example I'm trying to say there are some things I will not do in a flick that question my Christianity. However if I never did Twisted Illusions, Truth or Dare, Killing Spree (pretty much all horror related) I never would have done anything, and therefore probably never would have had the track record I do today.

“Another thing is that when we started I wasn't thinking in that vein, I was a kid that loved Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and Chuck Norris and I just wanted to make a movie. I guess I never thought about it like: ‘Oh, this is blood and gore’, I just thought this is my chance to make a movie or be in a movie. I will always say - and have said - ‘It's just entertainment.’ Others will argue: ‘Well then, so is a snuff film.’ What I mean is if you can walk away saying this was just entertainment and no one got hurt and it wasn't too far over the edge, it's just another part.

“I think it's funny though that a lot of people will question me about my actions in a movie but if it's a big star like Michael Keaton who does a questionable flick, it's okay. Point being Batman and Pacific Heights. Even with Batman you have the people saying, ‘It's too violent.’ Well let me tell you something: that's the real world. If there were a DC world with the criminally insane Joker killing people we'd want a Batman to kick the crap out of him. Forget the DC world, look at our own world. Every time you turn on the TV you see that someone killed somebody, Hell, we need a Batman. Sorry, in Batman Micheal Keaton plays a good guy and cult icon that stands for truth and justice; in Pacific Heights he's an out-of-his-freaking-mind psycho. He had a role where he had to play a sick, twisted character. If he really looked at the moral implications of it he would have turned it down and probably every movie he has ever done. Even Nightshift: someone out there would say, ‘That's terrible - they are promoting prostitution.’

“Okay, let me get off this soapbox. There, that's better.

“Also an actor does what the script calls for. Like I said, you wouldn't be a working actor if you kept turning everything down because you found something you didn't like in the script - because that could go on through your entire career (like this answer). I guess to sum that up, I don't look back and say, ‘I'm evil because of the movies I've been in (Wicked Games, Creep, Truth or Dare, Screaming for Sanity, Rot...). They’re entertainment, they’re just roles an actor plays. When the role goes too far I'll decide if I'm going to do it or not. I think my friend Joe Davison sums it up the best: ‘It's just acting.’ The actor must decide how far he wants to go with the role.

“Now on the other side of the coin. have you seen Lost Faith? Lost Faith is about a man who has lost his faith in God and what he goes through to get it back. It's a lot of martial arts, which I enjoy bringing to life in characters I play. It's a story about Steve Nekoda and his wife being kidnapped; the law is crooked and Nekoda goes after his wife to save her and has to fight all the bad guys to get her back. In the end, the Master beats Nekoda and Steve calls on God to help him in this situation, to regain his faith and beat his enemy and save his wife and other captives. His faith is restored and he is able to vanquish his enemy and get God back in his life.

“Ya see, it's much easier to bash somebody than it is to pay a compliment. If someone says, ‘You swear too much and kill people in your movies. You're evil.’ and I say, ‘But look at these movies where I do good and witness to many people through the movie,’ they answer, ‘Yeah but in that other movie you kill people.’ I can't win. Of course no one will bring that up (the good I might portray in a movie.) because they just want to knock the horror part of me.

“As a writer and actor you have to be flexible I think and cover all avenues (and I don't mean pornos, there's someone out there right now going, ‘What about pornos man?’). Also Lost Faith and The Bite are two movies I wrote on my own so I was able to control what goes into the story. A lot of people think too that you should not raise your fist to another man, however if you are threatened or you have to defend yourself you may just have to fight. I knew a guy once and he is a Christian and it came up about defending yourself and he said, ‘I would let the guy beat me to a pulp before I tried to fight back." Wrong! I can guarantee you God does not want you to get beat up.

The Bite it was a vampire/martial arts movie which pitted my character Nick Hazzard against vampires and evil in general. A lot of times I feel like God is tapping me on the back as I write and saying, ‘Where's my part?’ This happened on The Bite. As I was writing the characters of good and evil came out which created conflict for Nick and then he met Madame Ora who questioned his faith and gave examples of the evil on Earth and it was up to Nick to destroy it. Simply saying, ‘Hey, all you vampires are doing bad things, you guys go away now and be good,’ wasn't going to cut it.

“To destroy evil sometimes you got to get a little medieval yourself in your story writing, not to mention it makes a better movie. Did anyone ever question The Bible and say go back and take out all the evil and mean stuff in it? I don't think so. That's life! Even though The Bite was martial arts and vampires I still worked God into the story because I wanted to. I thought in Fright Night it was so cool when the vampire said, ‘You have to have faith in that for it to work on me!’ and when he knocks down Peter Vincent because he didn't have any faith Charlie grabs the cross and puts it right in the vampire’s face who then cowers away. I thought that was great! Charlie had faith but Vincent did not.

“If I can work God into one of my stories I will, that's my way of witnessing for the Lord. My dad did it on a pulpit, I'll do it in the movies. I don't force it down someone's throat, I just make it part of the story. But like I said, no one mentions that like, ‘Oh, that was cool how you mentioned God in that story," they just go for: "Ya, but you ripped that guy’s head off in Wicked Games, man." How 'bout a story about a guy who goes against all these others that are trying to force their ways on other people (and are killing them) and this hero stands up against them with just a jaw bone of an animal and kills them all... violently? Those people would say, ‘That’s terrible - you can't show that! All those people being killed by that man, what an awful story.’ Really? It's in The Bible, it was Samson. See what I mean?

“On another note, I was asked by John Martin to do a short called The Survivors of Rimec for his anthology movie called Not of This Earth. It is a sci-fi about a starship crew going to the planet of Rimec to search for survivors. Upon finding them, the crew have found that they have lost their faith in God and have forgotten all what was taught to them in the past, but in the end it is clear they had never lost faith. You know what I'll get for this? ‘That was boring, it needed more action, you should have hit somebody.’ See, I can't win.

Rimec is a cool little ‘uplifting’ story but I'll still get those same people saying, ‘Well, it's not a true Christian story because there's a spaceship in it.’ But I wanted to do this kind of story, the script really spoke to me as well as many of the cast members; also it was the first time I got to play a ‘Captain Kirk’ role, and what actor hasn't wanted to play Kirk?

“Summed up? I guess to the Christians that say, ‘Those are violent and have too much sex in them," ... actually I can't even say ‘just Christians’ - there are plenty of people that are not Christians that don't like violence or nudity, it depends on the person. So to the people that don't like it: I'm sorry but that's what happens in real life. There's sex and there's violence and it's just a movie when you come right down to it. I had a guy tear me apart on our Twisted Illusions site saying, ‘Wynkoop needs to find God and get his mouth washed out with soap.’ This was because of my performance in Dirty Cop No Donut. My character Gus used the F-bomb like a million times. Well that's the way Gus spoke, not me. Do you think that guy ever wrote me and said, ‘I saw Lost Faith and it was a fun karate movie and the message it carried about God was great to see in a movie and it really spoke to me and changed my life...’? No, that guy will say, ‘You hit too many people and that was not nice of you. You are a meany, Mr Wynkoop.’ Okay I'm being funny now but you get the point.

“I try to change every character I play so they don't all come off the same. Some swear, some don't, some swear a lot and some swear a real lot, like Gus Kimble and Angus Lynch. It's just part of the character. If I said the same about Pacino where he uses the F-bomb, that same complaining guy would say, ‘Well, he's a genius the way he uses it,’ so I can't win either way. It's just a movie. From a family standpoint? My sisters do not like my movies, nor my Mom or my brothers but they know I have a passion for it, they don't condemn me for it (at least not that I know of.) My sister loves me and wishes I would just stick with TV commercials. Oh, one thing I did learn long ago: you can't please everybody.”

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