Director Andy Palmer went from small-town actor to editor and director of many feature films, including the recent horror films Camp Cold Brook starring Chad Michael Murray (One Tree Hill) and Danielle Harris (Halloween) and The Funhouse Massacre, which featured a cavalcade of cameos from familiar faces.
The Funhouse Massacre and Camp Cold Brook are both horror films. However, they could not be more different. Funhouse takes a more comedic approach and weaves in a bit of rom-com into things while delivering over-the-top death scenes and some deliciously gory practical effects. Meanwhile, Cold Brook crawls under viewers’ skin for the runtime. There’s a fraction of the gore or laughs, but the film is thick with the tension and terror.
Andy liked movies like any other kid, but becoming a filmmaker wasn’t his goal early on. “I wanted to be a cop when I was a little kid because I loved Miami Vice and thought Don Johnson was the coolest guy ever.”
A day out on the water with his dad changed the course of things. “I remember hanging out with my dad. We had this little sailboat. I told him I wanted to be a cop. He suggested I be an actor that way, I can play any part and not get shot. That sounded like a better deal.”
Andy grew up in a small town where he “… got into acting and did all sorts of plays and stuff.” After high school, he went into college as a theatre major. “I went to my first acting class and realized that I grew up in a town with like nine people, and I was the best actor in a town of nine people. But hanging out with these people who were amazing actors I realized ‘Oh, you’re terrible at this.’”
The would-be editor and director was still in love with the world of creating entertainment on film. “I started dabbling in writing and camera work. That morphed into wanting to be a director. I went to a school for editing.”
Why editing? “I’d done a short film in college that we shot weekend after weekend, not knowing a thing about editing. Once we edited it together, I realized we could’ve shot it in one weekend if I would’ve known what I wanted and how things cut together.”
Young Andy learned, “… the power of prep and the power of storytelling.” He credits being an editor as a significant influence on his skill as a director and storyteller. “That’s why I’m so grateful I came up in editing because editing is a form of storytelling that’s taking a story and crafting it to be the leanest and most effective story possible. That informs me as a writer and director because I know how things cut together.”
Filmmaking is never easy, and there’s an ever-present enemy looming. “… your biggest enemy is time. There’s never enough time or not enough days. We only have this actor for two days.”
Case in point, Robert Englund. The legendary actor who played Freddy Krueger appears in The Funhouse Massacre. “We only had him on set for two days. It’s only an extended cameo, but it’s still about 10 minutes of screen time in multiple locations.”
For fans of Englund who might be wondering, Andy says, “He’s just the kindest, warmest man. He’s so much fun to work with.”
Funhouse Massacre features cameos from Clint Howard (Star Trek, The Waterboy), Jere Burns (Burn Notice), and Courtney Gains (Children of the Corn). What’s key to working with young and veteran talent? “For actors, it’s important to establish trust so that they feel they’re in good hands.”
Veteran actors like Howard or England know their stuff and expect their director to know their stuff. Andy’s approach is to create trust. “As soon as we started our rhythm — block, light, last looks, shoot — everyone feels at ease.”
Reality Of Reality
Andy’s filmography includes editing a lot of reality television like Rock of Love with Bret Michaels and Flavor of Love with Flavor Flav! “I feel fortunate that I came up through reality television because it made me a better narrative filmmaker.”
But reality is a whole other world. “With reality, you have this whole mess of footage … you have a beat sheet. ‘Here’s the things we have to accomplish.’ You have to look at that footage and manipulate the footage to create that story.”
For Andy, those muscles flexed while editing reality television makes him look at filmmaking differently. “I don’t look at a film as what we have, but what could it be?”
The filmmaking process, they say, creates three films—the film that’s written, the film that’s shot, and the film that’s edited. “The most important thing is the tone. When I’m directing something or editing, you can sometimes play fast and loose with script elements as long as you don’t bone the tone. The tone is everything. How we get there is up to interpretation, but it needs to feel a certain way.”
Filmmaking requires creative, on-your-feet thinking, particularly when time and money are not plentiful. “With Camp Cold Brook, I had to deviate from the script purely out of financial reasons.” Andy explains, “In the original script, there was a big lake with all these underwater scenes with the ghost kids underwater. It was fucking amazing. But on our budget, I was never going to be able to pull that off.”
The solution is in the tone. “So, it was all about saying ‘Tonally, what are we trying to say here? How are we trying to convey this scare? How can we make it so that we can afford to do it? We don’t have a lake, but we have a creek and a spillway so let’s build the legend around that.’”
Like Spielberg compensating for when the shark didn’t want to work in Jaws, filmmakers must “… take what you have and figure out ways to make it work.”
Andy’s decades of experience allow him to share some insight into being a better director. “Young directors when they’re coming up get so obsessed with shots. ‘Oh, I’m going to get this shot and this shot.’ I was very guilty of that on my first films. And they don’t take time to focus on blocking. If you take a look at Spielberg and Hitchcock, the way that they moved characters in the scene informed how the camera moved.”
Andy connects this advice with his own learning experience. “When my cinematographer, Filip Vandewal and I sat down for Funhouse, he made me switch my brain off from ‘This shot’s going to be cool, and this shot’s going to be cool’ to ‘What are these actors doing in a scene? How is that going to be interesting? How will that inform the camera? I took that to heart and became very passionate about it.”
That’s not to say there’s no room for some fun flare or “cool shots.” “There’s always a style shot, but if the characters are doing interesting things, then the actors get into it more, their performance feels more genuine, and then the whole movie feels better.”
There are many filmmakers to draw inspiration from, and Andy shares some who live in his creative DNA. “When I came up in film and fell in love with film, the guy I wanted to emulate was … Robert Rodriguez was the guy that made me flip that switch to wanting to be a director. I read Rebel Without A Crew in my freshman/sophomore year in college and thought, ‘We can do this!’ Rodriguez is probably the guy who propelled me the most to want to be a director. But I loved Kevin Smith (Dogma) for his writing. Edward Burns (Brothers McMullen). Those are the guys who I looked up to. They made these indie movies for nothing and got noticed then got to make a studio movie after. I love Peter Berg. He’s a versatile director. I love the style of his films and bridging raw action with a topical story. I thought Patriot’s Day was incredible. I love Ron Howard.”
In the age of remakes, Andy knows precisely what movie he’d love to reimagine for the 21st century. “My dream would be to remake The Cannonball Run. I love the Cannonball Run movies. They’re perfect movies to remake because they’re not maybe considered classics, but they’re super-fun. It’s not The Goonies. But with modern cameras and some cool CG plus a smorgasbord of cameos from A-list celebrities, I think Cannonball Run would be an awesome movie to remake.”
Funhouse Massacre and Camp Cold Brook are available on Amazon Prime Video. What’s next for Andy? “… another movie I directed called Witness Infection is in the middle of its festival run. It’s another horror-comedy. It’s got a ton of Funhouse alums in it. Carlos Alazraqui, one of the Funhouse DJs, wrote it and produced it. Robert Peters, the other DJ, is in it. Erick Chavarria, who played Machete [in Funhouse], is in it. It’s a zombie comedy about two mob families from New Jersey that get witness relocated to the same town, Lake Elsinore, California. Because they’re the only two Italian families in town, they’re always fighting with each other. They call a truce, and the son of one family is going to marry the daughter of the other, but he’s not in love with her. Amid this weird courtship, a zombie apocalypse breaks out. It’s a lot of fun.”
Andy’s films as a director make a few things clear. He loves horror, and he loves comedy, and he’s not shy about mixing the two. “With everything going on in the world, comedy is a good place to be. I’m working on a comedy — no horror this time — that we’re in the midst of casting.”
Are The Funhouse Massacre or Camp Cold Brook on your watch list?
Thanks to Andy Palmer for making this interview possible.
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