One man movie machine

Dustin Ferguson on the art of making films fast

by Jennie Kermode

Dustin Ferguson, multi award-winning filmmaker
Dustin Ferguson, multi award-winning filmmaker

Known for films like Camp Blood 4, Silent Night Bloody Night 2 and Demon Dolls, Kansas-born director Dustin Ferguson has also made a name for himself in production, working with 42ND Street Films, Sinister Studios and more. He recently directed RoboWoman with Dawna Lee Heising and Mel Noval and he's currently developing a remake of Umberto Lenzi's Ghosthouse. Given his lifelong commitment to the horror genre, I ask if he loved films of that sort as a child.

Alan Maxson (the Blood Beast) chokes director Dustin Ferguson
Alan Maxson (the Blood Beast) chokes director Dustin Ferguson

"Yes, actually," he says. "The earliest movie memory I have is watching Night Of The Living Dead, Day Of The Triffids and Psychomania with my parents on the old Goodtimes VHS releases of the mid Eighties. When I started getting an allowance the first horror movie I ever bought was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS at an indoor flea market. It was between that and the original Halloween, but I could only afford one and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre had the scarier cover. I grew up during the video store era, and even went on to open my own – Old Skool Video back in Nebraska. Movies, horror especially, had a strong presence in my life."

As a director, how did he make the jump from music videos to movies?

"It's sort of always been about doing a 'trade'. I would direct a music video for a band in exchange for being able to use their music in one of my films. I would usually stick to the bands I really love and grew up with so it would be that much cooler for me to have their talent involved in my films."

He's worked in numerous different roles in film production. Has this given him a better understanding of the needs of the crew members he works with? Has it contributed to the way he approaches directing?

"I've discovered (i.e. been told many times) that I move at a rapid fire pace. I don't even do that intentionally, it's just by nature for me. I think on a level of what is the most efficient way to do things. Even in the past I would get punished at my 'regular jobs' for always being the first one done with my duties for the day or first to go home. People would always suspect that I was cutting corners or cheating my way through it. But it's just how I operate and always have.

"With that said, I feel it's best for me, when I am making around eight movies a year, to wear most of the hats so to speak. Sometimes I just need to go out quick and murder someone in the woods down the street for whatever current project I'm working on and it's just much easier for me to arrange what works best for the actor and then manage the camera, light and sound (and usually special f/x) myself so it can actually get done and done quickly rather than trying to organise a whole crew...which means working with everyone else's schedules too as well as paying everyone, dealing with the one or two who can't do it last minute and having to manage it all during the shoot. Ten minutes can turn into an hour once you add just a couple people.

Moon Of The Blood Beast poster
Moon Of The Blood Beast poster

"When I have more time and money, I go for that. But when you do as much as I do, that isn't always the case. And because I have such a strong passion for filmmaking, I never let that get in the way of doing what I love."

He's directed some great exploitation films, I observe. When ideas come his way, how does he work out which are likely to find an audience and which are not? What does he look for?

"It's always different, ya know? As an artist I guess, at least for me, ideas seem to happen spontaneously," he says. "I'll come up with something and if I like it, ideas start flowing fast on how to get it done and I develop a sudden sense of urgency in getting it planned out and made. Because I'm a fan of the genre, obviously my work is inspired by the greats before me. From the low budget Kings like Wynorski, Olen Ray, Corman and Band to the more mainstream masters of the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties like Argento, Carpenter, Romero, Dante, Fulci and Hooper. I take slices from everything I enjoy about those films and sort of mix them all together in a melting pot of my own horror obsession and creations like Meathook Massacre and RoboWoman end up happening, haha. Because to me it's just all about having fun and doing what you love, otherwise, why put yourself through the insane amount of insanity that goes on in this industry?

"You have to love it or you just won't last and to me then there is no point to life. I'm not afraid to take chances any more with that outlook so I'm never concerned with what 'audiences' per se want because it's always been sort of for personal reasons why I do it in the first place. Audiences have found my work, and many of my fans support all my films, becoming a fan of me as an artist rather than just a specific movie. Sure, some of my films cater to more fans than others, but that's the beauty of doing so much. I have something I've worked on that almost anyone can find entertainment value in."

What's his secret, on set, to getting so much done at such an impressive pace?

Dustin accepting his Best Director Award at the Lucky Strikes Film Festival
Dustin accepting his Best Director Award at the Lucky Strikes Film Festival

"As mentioned earlier, a big part of it is just being a one or two man show. I can move at my own pace, have my own plan and then go get it done. I usually edit my footage on the same day we shot it so I can keep on top of it. Otherwise I would slowly fall behind and quickly be buried in my own work. Then theoretically on the last day of shooting I only have that footage left to edit and then rough cut is already done and I can release a trailer and keep the hype train rolling into the next project. People often ask me when do I sleep, but honestly, I go to bed pretty early every night! I'm just up early every day excited to create more and grow as an artist with it all."

I ask which stars he's been most excited to work with, but he hesitates to answer.

"I don't think it's fair to name names, because I don't want anyone in particular to feel left out. But it's always been an honour to work with the stars from the films I grew up on. Getting to watch someone in a major horror film over and over as a child and then directing them on my own set is nothing short of surreal. However, you learn they are just people too and have bills to pay like the rest of us. But it's certainly one of the more exciting parts about doing what I do, and I've met and worked with some incredible people over the years!"

I have a particular fondness for giant shark movies, I nore. Can you reveal anything about his forthcoming film Los Angeles Shark Attack? What makes it different from other films in the shark subgenre?

"I've always been a fan of beach-set Horror films, the obvious ones like Jaws and Piranha but also all the fun obscure ones too like Cruel Jaws, Up From The Depths and Blood Beach. Something was lost in translation between 1995 and the mid 2000s. Shark films became a big joke in the industry. [film id=24512]Sharknado[/film] became a viral hit, and then it was hip to make an over-the-top SyFy Channel level shark film. Seemingly, that's what was selling. Smaller, indie films like Open Water and The Shallows would find minor success, but hit nowhere near the level of success of the ones that seemed to not even respect the genre.

"I want to go back to the old way of making a shark film that can be scary and campy. Re-align the balance and give people a real reason to go back in the water, while still relieving the tension with some pot humour or the running gag. Make something memorable that people will still want to watch in 10 years. Not something that is forgotten like everything else in the last 15 years. At least, that's what I would hope to accomplish. The plot is back to basics but we have some modern twists, so if anything I hope to inspire more films of this type to head in this direction."

Direct To Video poster
Direct To Video poster

What else does he have coming up and what should fans know about it?

"Where to start? Ha! OK, in June I launch an On Demand channel. It's $4.99 a month and will have tons of movies from my back catalogue as well as brand new films and flicks I have licensed too. It'll be the initial platform for releasing my future SoCal Cinema Studios films in sort of an attempt to gain more overall control of my brand and products. Specific films to be on the lookout for are Moon Of The Blood Beast and Meathook Massacre: The Final Chapter, both of which had television premières, the latter on the Monster Channel. Also, Celluloid Slaughter, our very own Video Magazine that harkens back to the days of Gorgon Video Magazine and Full Moon's Video Zone.

"You can also soon see Grindspoitation 8, which I directed the wrap-around and a faux trailer for, and I edited the film as well. There is Malvolia's Movie Matinee which is a series of four films I have licensed that Jennifer Nangle is hosting as Malvolia: the Queen of Screams, which includes my own film Summerhouse Slaughter with Ari Lehman (Jason Voorhees, Friday The 13th) and Jennifer Banko (Leatherface's Daughter, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3). Additionally, my 2017 sci-fi sequel epic Nemesis 5: The New Model, executive produced by Albert Pyun (Cyborg, Mean Guns, Nemesis) hits DVD on June 11th. And finally, I'm currently in production on Direct To Video, a documentary about the Nineties 'direct to video' horror films. It features several interviews with many directors and stars of the era and will be available before the end of the year.

"Also, I'm a rapper known as Dirty D. I have a new album called Facts, and the second single, called Jelly, just had a music video released directed by Michael J Epistein and Sophia Cacciola. I also am in City Bros with fellow filmmaker friend and rapper Augusto Gomez (aka Double Gee). You can follow those projects more closely on my Instagram."

Finally, what sort of films does he enjoy watching for relaxation and fun?

"I enjoy a strange mixture of films really. It just depends in my mood. Most often it's horror films from the Seventies to Nineties. It's usually something my partner hasn't seen yet. That's the excuse I use to re-watch something again, haha. My absolute favourites are Seventies and Eighties anthologies, summertime/beach-set horror, early Eighties slashers, Nineties direct to video sequels and thrillers, giallos and late Eighties cheese. But I like to break the routine to watch the newest films like everyone else, but I tend to stay within the horror realm."

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