In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves.  This installment features writer/director team the Deagol Brothers, who were kind enough to answer our questions about Make-Out With Violence, a sort of coming of age zombie movie which has been hitting the awards circuit with a fervor, including winning awards at Oxford and Atlanta, and playing SXSW.  Check out the film’s official site here, the Non-Commissioned Officers (the band behind the film’s soundtrack) here.

Golden Grouches: People seem to have difficulty pigeonholing Make-Out with Violence, with its coming-of-age story in a teen drama with a romantic triangle and a zombie.  Did you intentionally set out to make that defied genre, or is that just where the story took you?

The Deagol Brothers: We set out to make something interesting, that could be accomplished on a minimal budget.  A John Hughes-esque Rite-de-passage seemed like a doable genre given our resources – we are 4 writers in our mid-20’s who are old high school friends.  The horror element came into play after we saw Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and loved how odd it was.

Initial drafts of the screenplay were written in a more straightforward narrative that worked with a typical zombie movie trajectory – a third act involving a last stand against the zombies coupled with a big reveal of what was causing the dead to walk the earth.  Most of us were coming to filmmaking from a non-narrative experimental video, painting and fine art background but we thought something that was very traditional and genre-specific would allow us to cement a reputation as feature film directors and we could worry about any “artistic” inclinations later in our careers.  Or at the very least it would be easy to get into Horror film festivals and hopefully make a splash.

Although early drafts of the script had a traditional structure we tried to add as many weird and ostentatious details into the setups and payoffs as we could.  This resulted in an amalgam of body horror and teen comedy that could only be described as Cronenberg meets American Pie.  No one was happy with the direction the script was taking.

It was decided if we were going to make the commitment to shoot this feature we should personalize the story to a greater degree and resolve ourselves to stick with what elements we found interesting not what we thought commercial.  The new story began to heavily reflect our shared experiences in high school.  We became less concerned with the undead story thread and thought it more appropriate Wendy’s back story remain a mystery.  The writing process became about exploring unresolved and unrequited past loves and taking the story into unexpected places emotionally.

For the most part the film’s supporters seem to embrace the plot’s dream logic and liken it to stories of magic realist literature.  Our detractors just think the movie doesn’t make any sense and feel jerked around by the constantly shifting genre elements.

GG: You talk about Texas Chainsaw Massacre as an inspiration to jump into the horror genre.  Was there any specific reason you all ended up going with a zombie film, as opposed to, say, a slasher or ghost film?

TDB: We wanted a plot device that had some thematic relevance to an unrequited love story.  The resurrection aspect of a zombie is a good fit for a second chance at a relationship.  It’s interesting that you mention a “ghost film” because we thought of Wendy as a ghost trapped in a body rather than a traditional zombie.  If further rewrites on the script had taken place prior to production the story probably would’ve veered even more in that direction at the expense of zombie conventions.  However, Wendy is a very physical and antagonistic presence in the movie so even a ghost version of her would retain some carnality.  Ultimately we hoped to subvert the idea of zombie genre and make Wendy as indefinable as possible which would also play to Patrick’s perceptions of her either living or dead.

GG: On that note, how much changed from the script you started with to the final cut?

TDB: The skeleton of the story remained the same but the specifics changed quite a bit over the course of production.  Because we were working on such a small budget many ideas proved too costly to film.  Initially Patrick and Carol were to be played as identical twins by actor Cody De Vos and a stand in.  When the stand in quit, they were rewritten as fraternal and one of the deagols (Eric Lehning) had to move from a directing role to an acting one.  The movie was shot piecemeal over the course of 2 years which allowed us the time to edit footage between shoots.  We used this advantage to constantly analyze and reevaluate scenes.  At no point did we stop the writing process so we were constantly coming up with new ideas and new takes on old ones.  Some scenes were shot upwards of three times and then edited together from the various shoots to create the final version.  Since all the cast were friends in real life and available for shooting we were constantly filming just in case we needed elements to montage.

The script was written in such a way that the entire movie was essentially a single giant montage (this was chosen to alleviate any burden of continuity, add the illusion of production value and to give more choices to our editor) so we knew the more footage shot, the more we’d have to facilitate a fractured and kaleidoscopic edit.  Our first version of the film was 3 and half hours long and the entire thing was crosscut.  Since the plot involves melodramatic teenage love, we thought this whirlwind approach would best serve the story.  We showed it to people and the overwhelming response was that they had been assaulted by the movie.  We made the decision to recut the film in a more linear and palpable fashion, deleting any flashforwards and relegating all flashbacks to the first act.  In the process the film was shortened by half its runtime.  The biggest changes were the deletion and montaging of subplots.  The longer version of the film contained more exploration regarding Wendy’s reanimated state, Patrick’s descent into forlorn hope, Addy’s courtship of Brian and the general day to day lives of the characters.

GG: You mention that some people make a comparison to magic realism while others are perhaps less kind.  Which probably is going to happen, not everyone loves Garcia Marquez.  But is there anything you say, or would like to say to reviewers (or filmgoers) who don’t love your film?

TDB: Most of the negative reaction we garner is because the movie doesn’t play out to the standard conventions one would expect of a zombie film.  But to trifle on those expectations was one of our goals.  Every decision in the movie is a deliberate one.  We would hope that audiences understand there’s always a reason behind any element you see onscreen even if it’s something like us trying to see how much vocal-driven pop music can be played against scenes before it becomes annoying.  We’re first time filmmakers so there’s a lot of experimentation going on for us during the process.  Sometimes that means we ask actors to perform scenes in unnatural ways just to see the result or we leave plot threads hanging to make the narrative more provocative.  The idea was to make something distinct and iconic not necessarily at the expense of palatability to a general audience, but it wasn’t a concern of ours if people didn’t like it.  If you make something genuinely different and interesting people will react to it.  That seems to be the ultimate reason to make a film in the first place.  So if you feel the need to be unkind at least you engaged with it and it repulsed you, which is better than casual indifference.

GG: The film has been making the festival rounds, appearing in almost a dozen, by my count.  What has that experience been like?  As grueling as you imagined?

TDB: It’s much more intensive and expensive than any of us imagined.  Especially when we started gaining acceptance into various festivals and then needing to raise money for press materials, posters, screeners, travel, lodging, etc.  The cost of mastering to whatever specific format a particular festival requires was unforeseen and since there’s no universal standard it adds up.  The festivals themselves have been a lot of fun.  We’ve met some great people that have really helped us along the way.  Winning the Atlanta FF last year really set us up to do as well as we have in recent months.  Free food and free passes to movies doesn’t prove to be very grueling as long as you have the means to attend the festivals.  If nothing else we’ve made some great friends over the past year and have put ourselves in a position to work on another film in the future.

GG: Do you have any goals about the audience for the movie?  Not necessarily number of people seeing it, but do you ever talk about dream scenarios?

TDB: Not exactly sure what the first question is asking.  Each of us probably has a different dream scenario that they’d like to see played out – some want to be famous, some want to be rich, some want the ability to make films with total creative freedom.  For the most part it’s agreed that we hope the movie is successful enough so that we can pay back all of our investors and then some.  We raised the money by asking every friend and family member to donate what they could.  We were upfront about the chances of them making their money back but they believed in us and the film and it would be nice to see that faith rewarded.

GG: I have to ask.  If I attempted to make a film with my brothers, I’m not sure we’d all make it to the end.  What’s your trick?

TDB: Well not all of us made it to the end.  Over the 4 years it took to make the film some deagols quit, some were fired and all failed on some level not only as filmmakers and artists but also as human beings.  Making a film (especially a no budget one that can last years) tends to bring out the best and worst in everyone.  It was interesting to watch some of us rise to the occasion while others failed to do so.  Luckily there were enough of us around at the end to put a stop to a very long and tumultuous chapter of our lives.  I guess the trick is to not actually be brothers – at least not brothers of the blood-related variety.

GG: It sounds like your budget concerns had a definite impact on the final product.  Probably both positively and negatively.  Would a larger budget have helped you to do more, or do you think the restrictions of working with a small one helped focus your energies?

TDB: If we had a larger budget the movie could’ve been finished back in 2007 – possibly as early as 2006.  We could have payed for a professional sound mix and color correction as opposed to doing it ourselves.  And the strain put on friendships and creative partnerships might have been less.  Of course under those circumstances an entirely different movie would’ve been made.  That it was shot piecemeal over such a long time afforded us the ability to reconsider our footage and refine the most intriguing version of the story.  It would’ve been nice to have more money but we would not have been happier with the finished product.  A small budget doesn’t necessarily help to focus energies but it does require that you sacrifice your time.  In our experience time is a more important commodity than money.

GG: Have you all thought about what’s next on the horizon?  Will there be a next film, and if so, have you started tossing around ideas for it?

TDB: It’s going to be difficult to assemble the same creative team behind this one to undertake another production.  The movie was finished a year and half ago and people have moved on to different avenues which have nothing to do with filmmaking.  We’ll just have to see if everyone is up for another go.  We’re still trying to sell MAKE-OUT with VIOLENCE so we haven’t committed to another project.  Most of the interest we’ve gotten hasn’t been toward distribution anyway but rather developing other scripts so we are bouncing some ideas around.  Currently we’re writing a story very loosely inspired by the lives of the Bronte sisters.  The response to our soundtrack has also been very positive – so much so that The Non-Commissioned Officers (a band made up of actors and crew from the movie) are becoming a real band.  They’ll be touring this summer selling soundtracks and trying to get the word out about the movie.

We’d like to thank The Deagol Brothers for their time.  Also, they assure me that “Cronenberg meets American Pie wasn’t as awesome as it sounds.  We wish them the best of luck with the film and in future endeavors.  If you have any suggestions or tips for interviews, please e-mail us at GoldenGrouchesATgmailDOTcom.