Exclusive Interview: Jesse Baget, Director of WrestleManiac
23rd May 07
WrestleManiac is currently getting some rave reviews and with it’s blend of nudity (the cast are shooting a low-budget porn film) and gore (there just happens to be an insane wrestler hanging around who enjoys ripping people’s faces off!), there’s more than enough to please your average (ie us!) horror / exploitation fan.
The film was directed by first-timer Jess Baget, who judging from the final end product of WrestleManiac is certainly someone to keep an eye on. We caught up with the director to ask him a few questions about his debut feature film (available now from Revolver Entertainment, rrp £12.99), the joys of low-budget film-making and what’s up next for this talented filmmaker.
Eatmybrains: Hey Jesse. First of all a big thank-you for putting out a horror movie that doesn’t chicken out when it comes to splashing out the gore and, even better, manages to be a damn sight more entertaining than a lot of the stuff masquerading under the guise of a horror movie currently out there.
I have to ask, what made you change the title from the rather provocative The Mexican Porn Massacre to Wrestlemaniac?
Jesse Baget: I fought for The Mexican Porn Massacre title, like one of those Romans with the eight packs in 300! It's always been the title I felt summed up
The first image that popped into my mind when I came up with the idea for this movie was a hot girl with her legs behind her back in a contortionist position hiding from a Mexican wrestler. How else do you sum that up?
Unfortunately, changing the title was a condition for getting the film financed, which it's too bad because I think it could have been one of those catchy Snakes on a Plane titles that would have propelled the film over the Internet.
I will say that pitching that title around Hollywood, I realized how offended people were by the word "porn." Even the idea that the characters in the film were driving to Mexico to make a porno turned a lot of people off - if you can imagine that. And I always thought porn was supposed to turn people on. What was I thinking?
As for the movie, I made it for horror / cult film fans because that's what I am. I didn't do it to make a quick buck off a wrestling concept, as the Wrestlemaniac title might suggest. I have had a lot of people who work in the horror world email me saying they weren't looking forward to watching the movie due to the title, but once it was playing they had a great time.
So I hope word spreads that the movie has a broader audience than the title might allow.
EMB: How did you go about getting the $150,000 (according to imdb.com) budget for the movie?
JB: I worked my ass off to save a decent portion of the budget and to show potential investors that I was very serious about getting the film made. Producer Jake Schmidt came on board because he really believed in the project and bumped the budget up. I think the movie finally came in at around $250,000.
EMB: The finished product looks very polished. How did you manage to make such
a minimal budget stretch so far on the screen?
JB: I am very pleased with the way the film looks considering the budget and problems we encountered. While we had some bad luck, we also had some good breaks.
We lost our original cinematographer due to schedule conflicts and two days before shooting Tabbert Fiiller took over the job. I had never met Tabbert or even had a chance to look at his reel, but there he was, wearing the greatest sideburns I have ever laid my eyes on, scouting the location only one day before we were set to shoot! How's that for pressure? But we really hit it off from the start and I felt like we went into shooting as if we'd known each other for years.
He's very laid back and our extreme time constraints didn't seem to bother him a bit. He just showed up on set and worked until the cows came home. He managed to give the film a great look despite having only a 13-day shoot with one day to prep.
The movie was shot on HD, and when I first saw the film projected on a big screen I was impressed at how film-like it looked. As someone who doesn't like HD I was always very weary of how it would look in a theatre. Quite a few bigger budget HD films have been released in theaters recently and I think ours looks better than most of them. Tabbert is to thank for that.
Getting back to the question, we stretched out the budget by not paying a lot of people. One of my best friends, Fareed Kassamali, shot our behind the scenes footage and stayed on the set overnight so we didn't have to pay a guard to watch the equipment. My girlfriend worked gratis as the costume designer and the production designer of the "trophy room," where Steve fights El Mascarado.
My friend Andy B., who is an art director and movie editor in her own right, came out and worked her ass off for days in the art department and didn't take a penny. Composer Jim Lang (who has done John Carpenter films) did an amazing job with the score for way less than he deserves. Even both my parents came out and helped in every way possible. I could go on forever. But that's exactly the way you make money stretch, by getting talented people who give a shit to work for little or no money. And thank God for those folks.
EMB: Was it a pacing decision or a budgetary necessity to have the film’s running time at around 79 minutes?
JB: Originally, the film was written to take place almost entirely in an insane asylum. I had found this amazing location only twenty minutes from Downtown LA, where they shot the great horror movie Bubba-Hotep. It had once been an actual insane asylum and it is now abandoned.
We spent over a month preparing the location, cleaning it out, building our sets and the day
before shooting, the local film commission revoked our film permit and shut us down saying the buildings were condemned. The producer decided we had to find a new location fast or the movie might not happen at all.
Three days later, we’re starting principal photography in a Mexican ghost town, so I had to rewrite the entire script in three days to make sense in an open ghost town from an enclosed insane asylum.
We also lost two shooting days as a result of the money we sank into the first location. In the end, a lot of the filming was improvised as we went. This is the main reason the movie ended up at under eighty minutes. Ninety would have been ideal but I think most people like their horror movies short and sweet.
EMB: The idea for the killer is unique! What gave you the idea of a having a murdering Luchador?
JB: I’d had the idea to write something with a Mexican wrestler for quite a while. When I decided to write a low budget horror, I thought it fitted perfectly. I’m a big fan of the cult Lucha horror films that were made in the 60s and 70s. While my friends were watching Good Will Hunting, I grew up watching films like Santo vs. the Martian Invasion and Santo vs. the Werewolf Women among others. They were some of the inspirations for the character of El Mascarado.
EMB: Obviously getting an actual lucha wrestler cast was a must, how did you go about selling the role to Rey Misterio Snr?
JB: I think he responded to the idea of bringing back Lucha Libre to cinema. He's a big fan of those movies as well. He was so thrilled to be a part of the project that he helped me design the mask he wore as El Mascarado.
EMB: Aside from the nods to Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre I noticed on the side of one of the buildings the name ‘Voorhees’ perhaps in reference to a certain Jason. Were there any other movies that you referenced or perhaps influenced your picture?
JB: Italian giallo films like Dario Argento’s Deep Red were also inspiration for the film, as well as for some of the long steady cam shots I used. Russ Meyer's films, especially Faster Pussycat Kill, Kill, was also inspiration for some of the composition I used to shoot the female characters.
EMB: Any plans to have the Luchador El Mascarado (a.k.a. The Masked Man) return for another outing?
JB: I’m not big on sequels but I have a lot of ideas of where El Mascarado could be headed next. It’s really just a matter of people wanting to see more of him.
EMB - What did you have more fun planning and filming – the gore or the nudity?
JB: Everyone always talks about what a nightmare nude / sex scenes are to film, but ours went rather smooth. Those types of scenes are always a bit uncomfortable but it was one of the few things we had all rehearsed and by that time all the actors had gotten to know each other so we had fun. The gore, of course, is always the most fun to shoot though.
Bashing Adam Huss' (Alfonse) teeth, ripping off Margaret Scarbourough's (Debbie) face and watching Rey Misterio beat the crap out of Jeremy Radin (Steve) were definitely the best times we all had making this movie.
EMB: What can you tell us about your next project Oz Land? Can we expect it anytime soon?
JB: With Oz Land, we're going to explore more the exploitation horror rather than the slasher horror like WrestleManiac, but still done with a touch of tongue in cheek thrown in. The movie incorporates references from Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland (a bit like in David Lynch's Wild at Heart). On top of all that, there's going to be some hardcore shoot 'em up action sequences.
The film is about three girls, who are taken into an insane, dark world, but when they escape, these chicks don't run for their lives; they take up arms and kick some ass. It's being produced by Patriot Pictures which made True Romance and recently Lord of War.
EMB - Will you wearing as many hats this time round or will you be having a break from editing duties?
JB: I love every part of the film making process and editing is such an integral part of movie making it's hard to see myself not doing it... I would at least like an assistant next time though!