Jim Towns [Interview]
March 31, 2014 Leave a comment
Ever once in a great while, I tend to come across an individual in the independent film world that strikes me as absolutely amazing, and I become amazed that their talents are only now beginning to become acknowledged. And they each seem to have one common aspect with one another: Drive! Regular readers may remember folks like Jacob Vaughan or Dan Dobi or Christian Grillo, etc., who we interview some time ago. Well, now I have a really damn great filmmaker in our digital pages. Introducing (although I shouldn’t have to), the great Jim Towns.
I recently discovered Mr. Towns when I got word that his latest film, House of Bad, had completely sold out on Amazon, and I was instantly intrigued. I have spoken with several different folks from the indie horror world, and I knew this was quite the feet that should not be ignored. I became instantly intrigued and decided I just had to investigate further. And that is even before I watched House of Bad, and instantly understood the mass appeal. It is an amazing film with the perfect blend of tension and terror. It is a beautifully crafted indie horror masterpiece. So, I thought it would be great to steal a few words from Jim Towns to tell us a bit more about House of Bad, his introduction to the film world, and……working on the TV show Reba. Yep, Reba. Enjoy!
When did you first realize you wanted to work in the world of film?
I came up through illustration, painting and comics, actually. That’s what I majored in in college. But growing up I’d always shot films with my friends and that cinematic style always influenced me in my artwork. It wasn’t until about 1999 when digital video and non-linear editing systems really came on that I started seeing the possibilities for taking the stories I was trying to tell on paper and making them come to life. One of the first digital films my friend Mike McKown and I created was a short called The Sleep of Reason, about a man in a turn-of-the-century insane asylum who’s in love with the nurse giving him electro shock treatment. It’s up on Youtube. I’d done it as a short black and white comic in college, but what I found was I could imbue the story with so many more subtleties in this new medium- for me, there was really no going back.
Has directing always been your number one goal when it comes to being a part of the world of film?
Pretty much. I enjoy screenwriting and have written a few films for other directors, but I enjoy taking on the challenge of taking something from the page that I wrote months or even years ago and making it come to life. Writing is a very solitary exercise, which can be nice, but I’ve always enjoyed the camaraderie that happens on set when you have a gang of folks all busting their humps to get all the day’s shots done before wrap. It’s hard but when you work with good people like I do, that challenge can be a lot of fun.
How did you come up with the concept for House of Bad? What was your “inspiration” per say?
I’d had the idea of these three women stuck in a room (originally it was a motel room) with a suitcase full of stolen drugs for a long time. From back when I was doing comics and illustration. So it was originally going to be a graphic novel. Then when I started getting into film I was doing a lot of more artistic/experimental work, and I had the idea to put it on as a black box theater play, and then film it. Ultimately the cinematic nature of the story asserted itself, and in 2011 when I was looking for a straight-up bare bones thriller to shoot, there it was waiting for me. The idea of marrying the supernatural horror of the house with the real-world terror of the girls being hunted by the drug dealer they stole from emerged around that time, and from there the story all fell into place.
The release was kind of exciting and frustrating and mind-blowing all at once. I’ve never had a film come out on this level, with this much press and critical acclaim and all. The ramp up was really intense- that whole month of November I was doing tons of web interviews and radio and we were promoting online like crazy, so it was all a bit of a blur, but an amazing blur. I think Amazon wasn’t quite ready for how big the demand was going to be, and we were sold out by like 4PM the day of the release. Crazy. Then they restocked and we sold out again the next week. Our awesome PR chief Clint Morris and my producers Scott and Dorota and I were constantly communicating with a lot of fans online asking for their patience until all the backordered copies finally shipped, but they did and hopefully everyone thought it was worth the wait.
It’s an incredible compliment to have that kind of demand for something you’ve created, and I’m really appreciative to my producers, our distributor Osiris, October Coast PR, and the cast and crew for all pitching in to help get us to this point.
I noticed through some research (on IMDB, so it could be wrong) that you worked as a Production Assistant on the hit television show Reba. That is quite a different setting from the terror filled movies you create in your own time! But tell us if you will, are there any similarities to working on a family friendly show featuring a country music sensation and working on an independent horror film? And besides the obvious things like budgets and special effects, what is so drastically different between the two?
Reba was my first real gig when I moved out to LA in 2005 with everything I could fit in the back of my Saturn. I was lucky to get the job, and luckier still that my first experience on a studio production was with the nicest production company and crew working in TV. In my experience that kind of attitude always comes straight down from the top. I’m not a huge country fan, but I knew who Reba was of course (one of our first conversations was about one of my favorite films, Tremors). It was intimidating at first, but Reba’s an incredible blend of talent and instinct and class, mixed with humility, courtesy, an incredible work ethic and an unrelenting drive to be the absolute best she can be. I’ve since worked with more than a few people that are labeled “superstars”, but let me tell you, that woman owns the title. What I learned from Reba is, when you’re the head of whatever you’re making, be it a sitcom or a film or whatever, if you really want to inspire everyone you have to set the example as far as your work ethic goes, which is what she always did. I really hope I’ll get to work with her again in some capacity someday.
As far as being different- I mean really, whatever format you’re doing- a 30 minute TV comedy or a 90 minute horror film- it’s really just all about actors saying lines and recording them on some form of media until you can put it together to make a complete story. At its most basic level that’s all we do… so the difference is maybe less than some people might think. Of course a studio-budgeted sitcom works on a much bigger scale than a small indie horror film. There are a lot more assets and luxuries- which are nice of course- but along with all those come a lot more people to please: producers to listen to, stars to manage, network executives to deal with. It’s not exactly a streamlined process. At the moment I’m pitching a ½ hour zombie sitcom around, so I very well may find myself in a similar position someday soon, but for right now I enjoy the fluidity of working small and fast, lean and mean.
Can you tell us anything about your upcoming project 13 Girls?
13 Girls is on track to hopefully film this summer. It’s about a troubled female detective who is assigned to investigate the group suicide of a graduating class at an all-girls Catholic high school. As she delves deeper into the mystery, she discovers a demonic force at work behind the scenes, and is forced to face her own dark past in order to confront the evil and protect her world. The film stars Sadie Katz from House of Bad, who’s fantastic of course, on and off set, as well as some cool genre actors folks may know, like Daniel Roebuck and P.J. Soles. It’s a real step up in scale from House of Bad, and I think people are gonna dig it.
What else does the future hold for Jim Towns? Any other projects you are working on that you can tell us about?
We’re in the early stages on a film I wrote which was originally called A Man with a Gun, but is now titled 2 Hell and Back. It’s set in the American Dustbowl era, and is about a retired gunman who makes a deal with the devil after his wife and son are killed. It’s got tons of action and horror and martial arts, so it should be a real cool film. So far we’ve attached Tony Todd and Dani Lennon to star in it, and right now we’re looking at locations to shoot as diverse as New Mexico, Spain, Canada and Australia.
If you could tell (or re-tell) the story of any famous serial killer, psychopath, murderer, etc. in history what would it be? Why?
Hmm… that’s tough. I’m actually not that huge into the whole serial killer/true crime thing. It’s pretty done. I really liked Caleb Carr’s books The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, which both have a loose base in historical fact. Those would be fun to try to adapt into films, I think. I’ve also worked up what I think is a pretty unique take on Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, which might make it a little more cinematically dynamic than what’s been done to date. Hopefully that may happen someday.
My wife and I recently adopted an alley cat who used to hang out around our place, and now he’s pretty comfortable around us. Sometimes I leave my door open when I write, and he’ll wander in and hang out. He’s pretty good at letting me bounce ideas off him. Every writer should have a trusty assistant like that.
Pick up your own copy of House of Bad, which is once again available at Amazon.com