Nerdlocker Interview: Director E.L. Katz


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Director Evan (E.L.) Katz photo by Jack Plunkett

ABCs of Death 2, the sequel to the popular 2012 horror anthology, hits theaters on Friday, October 31st (Halloween). It continues in the tradition of it’s predecessor with 26 gruesome shorts, one for every letter of the alphabet, each with different directors and limited to five minutes.

At Fantastic Fest, I had the chance to sit down with E.L. Katz, director of the A is for Amateur segment of ABCs of Death 2 and the 2013 cult/critical favorite Cheap Thrills. We discussed both of those films, other projects he’s working on, and normal things like working with roaches and eating dog. Check it out!

Salty Winters– How has your Fantastic Fest been so far?

E.L. Katz– It’s been good. This is my third or fourth time here and it’s really fun. If you like movies it’s like a fuckin’ vacation.

SW– Yeah, it’s kind of like camp. You meet lots of people throughout the week and develop a nice camaraderie.

ELK– Yeah, a lot of camaraderie, about 10 more pounds, and a bad liver.

SW– Ha! Your short A is for Amateur kicks off ABCs of Death 2. Congrats on having the opening slot.

ELK– Thank you.

SW– Did you get to pick?

ELK– No, I never would’ve picked A. I don’t have the ego. (In a funny voice) Give me the first one guys, I’m gonna set it off!

SW– (funny voice) Or I’m not doing the picture!

ELKA or nothin’.

SW– (laughs)

ELK– No, I told them to surprise me with the letter, then they surprised me and I was like, “oh fuck, now I’m screwed.”

SW– I watched the making of documentary of your film Cheap Thrills about your experience as a first-time director. How did your ABC’s of Death 2 shoot compare?

ELK– Well, I didn’t have to deal with any producers on set. You know, like my brother was a producer. It was different because I had more time. I had five days to shoot the short. It’s a five minute short. I pushed for those extra days. For Cheap Thrills I only had 14 days to shoot the whole thing, so I obviously had more time (this time). The funny thing is, it’s like when someone starts making more money but they’re still at the same economic level in some ways because they just raise their standards and spend more money. So, it still felt like a rush, since I had more time, I was like, “oh, I can use more equipment, I can use dollies, I can use this, I can light it, I can do this.” You spend more time, because you have more time and at the end of the day, you’re like, “we don’t have that much time to do shit.”

It was different in that sense and good for me to see how long it takes to set up stuff at a certain level. It takes more time with more equipment. It takes a long time to set up your Steadicam. It takes a long time to set up a dolly. So you can have a smoother shot, but you don’t get as many shots.

SW– Do you have any set stories you’d like to share from ABCs of Death 2?

ELK– We had a bug wrangler who came in with cockroaches, her special cockroaches. I don’t know what they were but they were very rare, and she was like, “I dropped them all on the carpet and if anybody steps on one, they have to pay me $100.” So we had people that were picking up cockroaches everywhere, and picking up maggots, and we lost some hours because we had to gather up all these critters, and people really had to watch where they were stepping. It was a whole thing.

SW– I really enjoyed Cheap Thrills. What is the craziest thing that you’ve ever done for money or the craziest thing you’ve ever done on a dare?

ELK– Hmm, well one thing –and I’ve said this before- me and my friend tried to smuggle a man out of Mexico because he worked for my friend’s dad’s auto shop. We were unsuccessful. We were paid one hundred bucks to go and try to do this.

SW– To smuggle someone across the border?

ELK– Yeah (laughs) that was one of the dumbest things. I also joined a traveling magazine sales company when I was really young and stupid, before I knew how infamously dangerous and fucked up the magazine crew subculture was.

SW– That’s funny, I went on a few dates with a girl that I met in a movie theater parking lot playing hacky sack. She was going around the country selling magazines and her friends were crazy. I’ve got some stories.

ELK– Oh, I’m sure man (big laugh), everybody on those crews were so crazy, it was such a weird group.

SW– Speaking of Cheap Thrills, would you eat a plate of dog for $50,000?

ELK– Well listen, if I go to Thailand or Vietnam, and they got some well-prepared Asian dish with dog… 50,000 dollars man, that’ll fuckin’ pay for a lot of trips (laughs). But a dog that was just put in the oven as it was in Cheap Thrills, I don’t think I would fuckin’ do that.

SW– What did they eat while shooting the movie?

ELK– That was rotisserie chicken. Chicken with fake fur.

SW– Who are your biggest influences?

ELK– I would say the Coen brothers, John Carpenter, David Gordon Green, Jody Hill, Judd Apatow, Scorsese, you know, a whole bunch. Tobe Hooper, Friedkin, and a lot of the European guys like Refn. It’s such a weird mish mash. Jim Jarmusch.

SW– Would you like to work in other genres? Which genres would you like to tackle?

ELK– I think… I don’t know, I’m working on a crime one, but it’s gonna be sort of funny, sort of tragic, sort of sad, sort of horrific, and sort of ridiculous. And then I’m working on something that has elements of romantic comedy, but people still die in it.

SW– Cool, can you go into any detail on the crime film?

ELK– It’s about somebody who’s incredibly awful and everybody knows that he’s awful and he thinks he’s worthy of a second chance, but he’s completely self-diluted. It’s sort of like a tragic comedy in some ways, but I don’t know, when you look at Cheap Thrills, part of it is, the stories we tell about who we are in contrast with what we’re actually doing and it’s like everyone is the hero of their own movie, “I’m a good guy, I’m doing this for this reason” and I wanted to push that even further and create a guy that is so obviously a bad person, to everyone, except him.  He just won’t accept it. That’s the thing that makes me the most amused because no matter how fucked up they are, they’re all the hero of their own movie. So I’m trying to do that in a crime movie setting.

SW– Sounds awesome. I look forward to seeing it.

ELK– Thank you. Well cool, great meeting you. Have fun the rest of the festival.

SW– Nice meeting you too. I’ll see you around.

ELK– Oh yeah, I’m gonna be here the whole time.

ABCs of Death 2 red carpet at Fantastic Fest photo by Jack Plunkett
ABCs of Death 2 at Fantastic Fest photo by Jack Plunkett
photo by Jack Plunkett
Fantastic Fest screening photo by Jack Plunkett
photo by Jack Plunkett
photo by Jack Plunkett

Vital Heat: The Making of Cheap Thrills:

[youtube id=”V6gbMQDf5G4″ width=”620″ height=”360″]

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Salty Winters

Salty Winters once said, "Everything I learned I learned from the movies." He was quoting Audrey Hepburn.