reel to real
As we’ve professed many times before, Austin is a hotbed of independent filmmaking talent. Following in the footsteps of guys like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez, Austin has grown to breed and nurture not only a new generation of young filmmakers but also an ingratiating and supportive community in which those filmmakers can thrive no matter where on the continuum of experience they happen to fall. One such fledgling filmmaker is Jason Murphy.
I sat down with Murphy at his favorite Austin bar, where a roaring cavalcade of punk rock tracks underscored our entire conversation. Over a few rounds of Scotch, we talked about his movie, In the Blood of the Wicked. As we are fast-approaching Halloween, I thought it all the more appropriate to chat about his micro-budget horror film. Murphy is making this film with a lack of funding and an absence of resources that would positively terrify most filmmakers. But because he’s making his movie in Austin, Jason fearlessly ventures forward.
So tell me about the plot of In The Blood of the Wicked.
The plot is about as simple as it gets, really. It's a series of murders perpetrated by some crazy vagabond. And he's the hero. As the story progresses, you realize that he's got deeper motivations than just bloodlust. It's very 70s, in a way, as it was inspired by the gradually-paced thrillers of that era. I'm being a bit too vague to really entice anyone, but it's the product of watching those. It's dirty and brutal and hopefully unfolds with some very deliberate tension.
What got you interested in filmmaking?
After trying (and failing) to write a novel several years ago, my dear friend Craig Lunceford asked me if I wanted to write a script and try to do a short. I jumped at the chance and we've been gradually churning out shorts ever since. Finally, I mustered up the courage to just get out there and take the next step. I was determined to make a feature length, just to prove to myself that I could.
What are some of the challenges you face trying to make this movie on a shoestring budget?
Oh, you know... everything. I spread myself way too thin, of course. When you're trying to juggle all of the duties, everything gets short shrift. If you're flying through scenes, trying to get everything you need, you often fail to catch little things that can snowball into catastrophes—like something as simple as forgetting to recharge a single battery. Sounds silly, and it is, but if you're going in 20 directions at once, some small thing will get overlooked and ruin your whole day. Then there's the problem of shooting in a public location. We were at a local park, shooting what should have been an easy conversation. Halfway through the scene, a wedding party showed up and started setting up all around us. Needless to say, we had to relocate and start over.
Apart from being interrupted by nuptials, how has the shooting process been so far?
It's been fun mostly. If you surround yourself with the right people, it can be a blast. Still, it's a lot of work to keep all of the plates spinning. It's exhausting and the rewards are deferred until you see the finished product. I'm just hoping that humiliation for everyone isn't the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
What are you shooting on?
I'm using a Canon 60D. It's easy to use and affordable for such fantastic image quality. A word of warning, though: the onboard mic is almost worthless. I learned that the hard way.
Have you found living in Austin has fostered your creativity?
I wouldn't be doing this if I lived anywhere else. You have such resources around you and 99% of those are people. Whether it is actors, editors or sound techs, there are a lot of passionate people who genuinely love movies and have a wild desire to make them. Combine that with a vibrant film appreciation scene and this is the perfect place for a micro-budget production. Sure, a large portion of the people helping me out were friends, but the outpouring of other folks in the scene who just wanted to be involved was amazing. You can find people who want to be in a movie anywhere you go, but can you find talented ones? If you're in Austin, you'll be overwhelmed with the avalanche of skilled and reliable contributors.
Who has been your most valued collaborator during this production?
My gal, Allison Andrews, is a wizard at makeup and art design. I couldn't have done it without her. She reined me in when I was going overboard and made me slow down when I was about to run the train off the rails. It's not always advisable to work with your significant other, but if you're lucky, you'll get one that fills in all of the gaps in your skill set. And even if they're not into filmmaking, make sure they at least support you. Every Alfred needs his Alma. Every Gomez needs his Morticia.
Who are your cinematic influences?
I'm a 35-year-old male; so naturally, The Empire Strikes Back is one of my favorite films. It's neck and neck with the original (and local!) Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The intensity of that latter film is so powerful I would be stupid to even try to recreate it in my own horror endeavors. Such a visceral, dirty film. And then there's David Cronenberg. His influence seeps into so many of my projects (but none of his talent and intelligence, unfortunately). If I could absorb even a drop of his creepy genius, I'd be 10 times the filmmaker I am now.
What advice might you have for other Austin-based aspiring filmmakers?
Talent and resources be damned, just get out there and do it. You'll learn a lot along the way. So many people I speak to spin their wheels planning, writing, and talking about the project that they want to do. I did that for 10 years! The only way it's going to happen is if you make it happen, Write a simple script, grab a camera, and stop waiting for some angel to bless you with an opportunity.
As a particularly rowdy track by The Misfits starts up, one of his favorites, it strikes me that Jason displays much of that same punk rock rebellious spirit and do-it-yourself chaos as a filmmaker. In every way, he is a model of Austin’s filmmaking spirit; no rules, no constraints, pure passion.