by Paul Blom

An interview with Ryan Nicholson, Canadian make-up FX artist and director of Gutterballs.
He was set to visit South Africa for its screening at the first X FEST Extreme & Cult Film Festival, but due to unforseen circumstances this unfortunately did not transpire.
Copies of his movie Live Feed will however be up for grabs at the 5th annual South African HORRORFEST.

Paul Blom: What is your first cinematic memory?

Ryan Nicholson: I remember when I was a kid watching a Canadian horror/comedy variety show called "The Hilarious House of Frightenstein". It starred a brilliant actor named Billy Van who played all these different
characters in the show. And it also had Vincent Price close out each episode with a creepy epilogue. The show really was a huge inspiration to me and I've since rediscovered it on DVD. Watching it is like re-living my childhood!

PB: How did you get into the Horror genre in particular?

RN: I loved monsters! Magazines like "Famous Monsters" and "Fangoria" caught my eye and my Grandfather would buy issues for me I didn't have. I collected all the magazines and got really into horror movies after seeing the original "Dawn of the Dead", it blew me away! I started watching George Romero movies and John Carpenter movies. My father took me to see David Cronenberg’s "The Fly" and I knew I wanted to do make-up FX and make movies. The horror genre was the only genre I knew. I love all genres really, but horror was in my blood!

PB: How did you get into the movie business?

RN: I was on the Westcoast of Canada when "Hollywood North" really took off. I had worked all across Canada doing make-up FX but decided to settle down in Vancouver - a beautiful city with a lot to offer. I was always interested in making movies, and doing make-up FX gave me the opportunity to watch famous directors work their magic. Film-making is like going to war, you assemble the troops (the crew), you have your map (the script) and you bring everything you've got to the frontline. And in our cases, it's always a bloodbath.

PB: Tell us a bit about the productions you've worked on.

RN: I've had the pleasure of working on some great movies. I did the first "Final Destination" before it became a franchise. It was cool at first because it was an original idea and the kills were secondary to the script. But they did away with that later and decided gory kills is all the audience wants to see. I did the movie "Scary Movie"
and that was a blast! I'm a fan of the Wayans series "In Living Color" from the 90's so working with them was awesome. I've also done action movies like the recent Jet Li/Jason Statham movie "War". We did all the gory fight deaths and prosthetics. Seeing the fight director work the action scenes out was fantastic. It's amazing how the camera moves play so much into the dynamics of a fight scene. A punch is much more effective with the camera swiping across the movement and giving a slight shake also lends to the chaos. I've done the typical
low-budget horror movies that basically share the same mold and are very stale like week old bread. Those aren't always fun to work on because you're usually working with washed up stars on their last legs and they're very miserable, or you’re working with some new out-of-film school director that thinks he's Stanley Kubrick and this movie will be number one with a bullet. Those are the movies I dread having anything to do with.

PB: What do you think attracts filmmakers and audiences to the horror genre respectively, as opposed to something like romantic comedies?

RN: It's morbid curiosity. People in general are very morbid. Movies like "Saw" and "Hostel" make a killing at the box office because the audiences want to see the carnage, the torture. Those movies aren't scary to most people, they're just disgusting and people love that. They love to watch a person other than themselves suffer at the hands of a murderer. Romantic comedies can be torture too! Have you seen the last couple of Farrelly Bros. movies?

PB: Do you think audiences are becoming saturated with a barrage of images, in effect causing it to lose its impact?

RN: Oh, for sure. That's why the methods of killing off people in movies are becoming so outlandish. I mean, what hasn't been done already a thousand times? The audiences have seen it all and then some. So the onscreen deaths are just becoming like science-fiction now, they're not practical and nor realistic but just throw some blood in the mix and the audience will pay to see it. That mind-set is why most movies nowadays throw the story away and focus on the carnage. Audiences are numb. You need to light a fire under their ass to get them going.
The last thing that shocked me was "Rambo". It was so over the top with the gore, I was laughing out loud. How can John Rambo get away with this onscreen and get an R-rating yet little movies like "Live Feed" are given an NC-17 unless I cut all the gore out? The movie business is full of double standards.

PB: What do you personally enjoy about movies in general, and horror in particular?

RN: I love how anyone can make a movie in this day and age, so there's a lot to choose from and usually the cheaper it is, the more I'll like it. When you have no money, you're forced to be creative and it's the little direct to DVD movies that I'll go out and buy. That's what I'm a part of. Horror is a very open genre and you're very likely to have your movie seen due to the huge volume of fans. If you're making a horror movie, you generally can't lose. You have a market, albeit saturated with tons of product, but you still have a market. For me, my market is myself and a few select people. I made "Live Feed" for me, because it was a challenge and I like challenges. "Gutterballs" was an even bigger challenge but that's what is so great about doing this. You set a goal and you see it happen before your eyes. Anyone can do this, you just need a camcorder and some pocket money.

PB: How hard is it to stick to your guns in the horror film industry?

RN: It's not hard when you're making small movies because you have the creative control, it's mostly your money and your say. When you start making bigger movies and it's other peoples money, you have less and less creative control and your vision can be compromised. I've seen it happen. That's why "Plotdigger Films" is a small company, we like doing things our way. To get wider distribution, sure I'll cut the movie down to an R-rating, but you can bet I'll be pushing the Uncut, Unrated version hard and that's the version most people will see. The
R-rated versions usually end up in the big video stores where the mainstream public who wants to see a horror movie on a Friday night rents it. The hardcore audience will source the Uncut version. That's the movie that I want seen and if someone, a horrorfan for instance rents the R-rated movie and complains about the lack of gore,
etc... I've been known to send them the Uncut. This has happened a few times and I'm more than happy to do so.

PB: Who are your favourite horror moviemakers and why?

RN: I'm a fan of Alexandre Aja, I think "High Tension" is brilliant. As well as David Slade, "Hard Candy" was amazing. These are film-makers that you know love horror, love suspense and it shows. Movies that producers spend tons of money making aren't the kinds of movies I like. Mind you, I did enjoy "Transformers" but that's another genre. I'm a big fan of Argento and Romero as well, as long as they keep making movies, I'll be watching them.

PB: What's your top 10 horror movies, and top 10 general favourites?

RN: Zombie, Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria, Re-Animator, The Thing (1981), The Fly (1985), The Howling, Videodrome, The Beyond, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (orig)

Midnight Cowboy, The Godfather trilogy, Porky's, Jaws, The French Connection, Midnight Express, Scarface, Once Upon A Time In The West, Dirty Harry, MASK (not the Jim Carrey one)

PB: Contrary to belief, Canada is not a carbon copy of the USA - what do you like about it and what makes working in the film industry there different?

RN: Canada, in global terms, is a peaceful nation and we generally keep to ourselves unless it's helping others. Whereas I cannot say the same about the USA. It's night and day. Now, I'm not saying we're a perfect country, we have a problem with guns and crime in our major cities like the US but our culture isn't one of violence. The film industry has long been fueled by US dollars and I'd say 99% of the movies made in Canada aren't Canadian. I'd like to see Canadians making movies. It's not common here. Our own film industry is a joke. The Canadian government makes it so hard to get any kind of support. My last two movies were entirely free of government
grants and it's more or less because what I make isn't shot in Quebec, where the government of Canada seems to like to support that specific province when it comes to film-making. Bizarre, because a few years back, Quebec wanted nothing to do with Canada. I lived there and I can tell you that it's the sad truth. But they want our money.

PB: What was it like growing up in Canada?

RN: I grew up for the most part on the prairies, in Edmonton, Alberta which was very cold and very flat for miles. But I still love it there. When I was about 11, we moved to the USA, to Altlanta. Where it was very hot and at the time, The Atlanta Child Murderer was loose, so it was scary times. We then moved to Portland, Oregon where we lived for about 4 years. It's a very nice city. Finally we moved to Victoria, BC, back in Canada. This was all due to my Father getting his education to become a Chiropractor, which he spent several years practicing before joining me in the film business. He's actually gone back into practice.

PB: When was the first time you came to South Africa?

RN: I traveled to Cape Town in 2003 to shoot a cell phone commercial that we had built this big creature for, my Father was actually the man inside the suit! He was very excited about acting in the suit but when I put it on him in South Africa, he was hot as hell and sweating up a storm. He regretted it the moment we arrived there and found out that Cape Town was no place to wear a 100 pound foam latex creature suit covering every inch of your body and the suit was 2 inches thick in parts! That aside, Cape Town was so awesome! I loved it there and didn't want to leave.

PB: Are you psyched to attend the X Fest?

RN: I'm very excited. I've wanted to get back to Cape Town the moment I left. The X-Fest is a brilliant festival with it's extreme program. The line-up of movies is very diverse but they all share the notoriety of being anti-establishment, anti-mainstream or for lack of better words, fucking cool.

PB: What can people expect from your movie Gutterballs?

RN: The movie is campy, so that's the first thing audiences should expect. But it's also very brutal. The gore is over the top as is everything else in the movie. It's odd because you really don't know to laugh or feel sick, or both. It's a hard movie to describe because it's all fun and games until someone gets raped. But then it switches gears
and becomes this killing spree with deaths that don't stop coming. It's a fun movie but not for the whole family.

PB: What's next for you?

RN: I'm working on a movie I've written called "Star Vehicle", it's kind of like "Falling Down" meets "One Hour Photo" meets "Last House on the Left". We're slated to shoot early this summer. I have a creature feature in development as well. Other than that, "Live Feed 2" still is running through my veins. I have a wicked idea that goes beyond this torture porn crap that is old news. But we'll see. In the meantime, I have balls to play with ;)

- Paul Blom

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