Jay Lee [Interview]

Welcome to Day 13 of Trainwreck’d Society’s Month of Horror Showcase. Every day during the month of October, we will have a horror related interview and/or film review for your fright-filled reading pleasure! The set up will be the same as usual, but the topics will be far more terrifying. Enjoy!

Today’s interview subject is a cat who brings a whole new bit of light into our observations into the world of horror. While probably best being known for his work as the director of the incredible Robert England and Jenna Jameson fronted horror/comedy Zombie Strippers, Mr. Jay Lee is also a renowned editor in the world of horror. And I have personally believed that editing is very important factor in the world of horror. Sort of like the music, or the lack of music. It is all one collective puzzle with intricate pieces that all have to fit together. And once that puzzle is made, it is the editor’s job to proverbial slap the Elmer’s atop of it and make it all stick together to make a work of hard that is presentable for your grandmother’s wall. Okay, may the this is a very specific metaphor, but I think you get the point. The editor’s job is one that is often greatly over looked, until it goes horribly wrong. This could very well be a reason that Jay Lee is better known for his work in directing horror films, yet has achieved amazing success as an editor as well.

So with that, we were very excited that Jay could make time for us to talk about the incredible film Zombie Strippers and more, as well telling us a bit about what it means to edit a horror piece. So with that, please enjoy some amazing words from the extremely talented and multi-faceted human being, the brilliant Jay Lee!

When did you discover you had a passion for the world of film? What got you into this business?

I remember my mother taking me to see Fantasia when I was a kid.  I might have been 6 years old.  Growing up in Los Angeles there has always opportunities to see classic films (and even not-so-classic) in a movie theater.  She took me to Fantasia for the dinosaurs, but I remember being changed by the experience, not just seeing living breathing dinosaurs, but also the total immersion of experiences, the music, the artistry, the dancing hippos and giant demons – who would have ever thought there was something better than dinosaurs!  My uncle had a Super 8 movie camera, so every time there’d be a family holiday I’d grab his camera and make a little 3 minute movie.  When I was in my early teens my older sister used one of her credit cards and helped me get my own Super 8 camera and I’d mow lawns around the neighborhood for the price of film and developing. I rode my bike to every movie theater in the West San Fernando Valley to see anything and everything out there, a couple of the theaters even let me into the R-rated movies.  There was a revival house theater somewhat close by, it was a good bike-ride away, but worth it.  They played all the classics back in a day when none of it was available on VHS or wasn’t edited down or censored for TV.  So when most people I knew were watching Three’s Company and Brady Bunch reruns I was immersing myself in John Ford and Buster Keaton and Fellini and Kurosawa and Bergman and Orson Welles to name but a few, not to mention current releases that had a huge impact on me – Alien, An American Werewolf in London, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conan, Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, The Thing, Bo Derek’s Tarzan.  I had one goal, USC Film School.  I applied only there.  I got in.  One semester taught me there was no way I could afford USC Film School.  So I got a job as a production assistant with a company that made movies of the week.  I was 19.  From then on I worked in as many areas of film production that I could so I could do one thing and one thing only – make movies.

You have worked in just about every job there is behind the camera! From writer/director to cinematographer to location manager. You have proven to be a very multi-faceted person in the film world to say the least. But, overall, what would you consider to be your favorite part of the film world? What brings you the most joy in the business?

I truly believe that in the past 100 years movies have made this world a better place.  And I have contributed to that, granted it’s a very small part, but still, I played a part.  I am very proud to have left a patch or two in the social fabric of popular culture.  And not just in the abstract, the “big picture” of modern society, but in a personal way, too.  I’ll share a bittersweet story.  Robert Englund told me this.  There was a 13 year old boy who was in hospice, dying of cancer.  His favorite movie was Zombie Strippers.  There was a news story about this because the hospital wasn’t going to let him watch an R-rated movie, him being only 13.  So when Robert heard about this he went to visit this kid, gave him his official cast and crew Zombie Strippers T-shirt even.  This made bigger news, thanks to Robert, and so the hospital gave in and let this kid watch his favorite movie for the rest of his tragically short life.  Don’t get me wrong, by no means did I make Zombie Strippers with a goal of helping children with cancer, but here is an instance where something I created happened to make someone’s life better, something that actually made a difference.  Movies can do this and I’m very happy to be part of it.  But also there was Robert.  When he told me that story there was aura about him, he held himself in a way that I could only call noble.  Maybe I helped make his world a little better, too.


I feel as though an editor’s job in horror film is extremely important, and severely underrated. As previously mentioned, you have done just about job in the business. But when it comes to editing specifically, what do you believe is the most important aspect of editing a horror film? What has to be done to make the film transition smoothly?

The editor has two really difficult jobs in a horror film.  One is to make some otherwise dreadful performances into somewhat passable performances.  Let’s face it, sometimes the girl that will take her top off and run through the woods screaming might not be Meryl Streep, but she’ll take her top off, so she gets the part.  A lot can be salvaged from either an inexperienced or outright bad actor’s footage if sifted through with a fine tooth comb and a magician’s touch of misdirection.  The other challenge for an editor is to go unnoticed for a good portion of the film.  It’s the same concept of hiding around a corner waiting to leap out and scare someone – the second you draw attention to yourself the scare is blown.  So the editing has to try and be as sleek and effortless as possible until the time when it really counts.


What is it about the horror world specifically that you enjoy, and makes you want to keep working in it?

Horror fans can be very hard to please.  I think they’re also some of the smartest film-goers out there.  They need to be CHALLENGED.  That right there pushes me as a filmmaker, challenges me to be better.  There is no real format to a horror movie.  You can do anything.  The ending is always an experiment in shocking your audience.  It’s truly the freest form of story telling.  It’s also the best genre for subtext, for metaphor and allegory, entertaining your audience and all the while slipping your message in, like a knife blade.  It’s also a genre where your creativity can run wild, it can also be extremely cathartic as you butcher all those characters (aka you father, your ex, members of congress) and on top of all of that it can truly be one of the best times on a set you’ll ever have.  It’s hard, hard work.  But I like hard work.

What is your favorite scary movie?

My favorite scary movie I think is still the first Alien.  I find it the perfect storm of story, artistry, monster and technical proficiency.  The monster design and development, the sets, the characters, the lighting and cinematography, the performances, the direction and writing after many, many viewings still manages to inspire me, dazzle me, awe me.  I find it one of the most sophisticated horror movies too.  I still remember being really young (probably too young) and seeing it in a movie theater way back when.  Back then the movie ticket was a little stiff-papered chit they tore in half, like at a carnival ride.  I had that ticket stub in my hand the whole movie and by the end my palms had sweated so much that stub had completely dissolved in my hand, leaving a wet red pulpy smear.

What are your plans for this upcoming Halloween? Do you have any sort of traditions that you try to uphold each year?

Halloween for me was a big deal when I was a kid, when I’d turn our place into a house of horrors.  Then for a while it was more of a scramble getting films ready for film festivals, or the disappointment of not getting in any.  Recently its been more just hoping to get invited to a party where pretty girls dress up in those sexy costumes.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Yes.  I’ve been working with the same special effects make-up artist for over ten years, Patrick Magee.  Patrick just directed his first feature film which I helped him with, I wrote the script with Patrick, shot it and edited it.  It’s called Primal Rage.  It’s a bigfoot movie with some the the best practical make-up effects I’ve ever seen – think Harry and the Hendersons meets Predator.  Distribution is in the works, there’s a trailer on YouTube.  Primal Rage – the best bigfoot movie ever.  No joke.

Here’s a YouTube link to the teaser Primal Rage trailer (this is our own we did before distribution, so I’m sure the distribution company will be doing another at some point):

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Pictures of baby elephants in the new National Geographic.

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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