With “Chastity Bites” hitting DVD this week, we figured we should have a quick chat with director John V. Knowles and ask a few questions.
LEGLESSCORPSE “Chastity Bites” has been a long time in the making. The original screenplay was written by your wife, LOTTI PHARRISS KNOWLES, over 9 years ago. Were you always attached to direct the project? If not, how did you becoming director play out?
JOHN V. KNOWLES I was not attached at the beginning, no. We went the traditional route of trying to get other parties interested in making the film; at one point it was optioned and a director was interested, but nothing came of that. But all that time I was gaining more experience as a director, so when Lotti started thinking seriously about producing it herself I was the obvious choice.
LC: This being your first feature film as director, were you intimidated at all, especially with your wife’s story in your hands.
JK: I think your first time is always intimidating, no matter what! But I was actually very lucky to have my wife as a collaborator in the process. We share similar tastes and we’re both perfectionists by nature so there was a shorthand already established. And she trusted me implicitly with her story, allowing me to work my way without looking over my shoulder. As a first-time director you couldn’t ask for a better scenario!
LC: With the story being around for 9 years, what was the biggest challenge getting it in front of the cameras?
JK: Money, money and money. It’s harder than ever to raise funds for independent films right now, and we had a really tough time finding investors. We thought we needed a substantial budget to pull it off (well over a million dollars), but luckily we partnered with the right Production team who were able to get the budget down much lower and we eventually found enough investors to get the ball rolling.
LC: Making a good horror/comedy is no easy task. Was there a conscious effort on your part to balance the horror/comedy or did you just flow with the script?
JK: I was very concerned about the tone of the film, absolutely. It’s a very tricky balancing act — you want people to laugh at the jokes while still giving them a scary ride. The script definitely read like a horror/comedy, but executing it well during shooting was still a challenge. It was a conscious choice to avoid excessive blood and gore because we would lose half the audience; at the same time I was directing the actors to play it straight and avoid making the comedy bits goofy or too campy, so as not to lose the other half of the audience.
LC: Since your wife wrote the screenplay, how easy, or hard was it to make suggestions/changes to the story or dialogue?
JK: It was pretty easy to make suggestions. Even though the script had been her baby for so long, Lotti didn’t get overly previous or protective of it when it came to making changes. If it affected the budget then it was an easy call – it had to go! For example, there’s a flashback scene set in the 1600s that originally called for a horse and carriage. Once she saw how much it cost to rent a horse for a day she immediately took it out and simplified the whole scene. Other things we finessed in the editing room – cutting dialogue, moving scenes around and even adding subplots that weren’t in the script. Once she saw how they positively affected the flow of the movie, she was all for it.
LC: Now that you have had your first feature film experience as a director, are you looking to direct more projects? Do you have any new projects lined up?
JK: Yes, absolutely! I’m keeping my ears out for interesting projects and hopefully the exposure from the DVD release will get my name out there. I’m also developing another independent feature, based on one of my scripts this time. I’m more of a Science Fiction guy at heart and I want my next project to showcase my love for that genre. But I have a taste for horror now, so expect it to have some dark, bloody business as well.
LC: In an age where VOD and streaming is getting more popular by the second, as a director, do you prefer the VOD distribution process or the physical product (DVD/BLu-Ray)?
JK: I think they both have their place in the new Distribution model. VOD gives instant gratification -– your fans can watch your film whenever and however they want, and you can really target your audience. But I also think a lot of people still enjoy physical media (myself included), maybe because it doesn’t seem “real” unless they can hold a product in their hand. It’s very gratifying that people want to own our film on disc, because it means they care enough about it to make it part of their collection.
LC: “Chastity Bites” has a great young cast. What was the casting process like and how long did it take to cast the project.
JK: We were very lucky have the dynamic casting duo of Matthew Lessall and Monika Mikkelsen; without them I don’t think we would have had access to the level of talent that came in the door. Allison Scagliotti had been attached to the project for a while, and we found the rest of the cast in about a month. I was a little worried because we hadn’t found our villain and were only a few weeks away from shooting, but then Louise Griffiths came in at the 11th hour and blew us away with her audition. You always hear that 90% of directing is casting — and it’s true! If you assemble a great group of actors then all you really need to do is point them in the right direction, then stand back and let them work.
LC: What film directors to you admire or have inspired you?
JK: Oh man, how much time do you have? My old school favorites will always be guys like Lucas, Spielberg and Coppola for igniting my imagination and early interest in movies. I really admire James Cameron because of the way he invented himself and forged his own path — and “The Terminator” has to be one of the best low-budget SciFi films of all time. I also appreciate the technical precision and perfectionism of directors like Christopher Nolan and Ridley Scott (“Blade Runner” is one of my favorite films). Kathryn Bigelow has a great eye for action and atmosphere. I love Guillermo del Toro’s imagination. I’m in awe of Peter Jackson’s stamina. John Badham has done incredible work with his actors. And I have to give credit to someone like David Lean who, in an era before CGI, green screens or even a camera monitor, was out there in the bush making beautiful, epic films like “Bridge on the River Kwai” or “Lawrence of Arabia”. And that’s just the START of my list!
LC: What was the best experience shooting “Chastity Bites”?
JK: I’ll give you one of my favorite memories: we were shooting the flashback scene I mentioned, inside a mausoleum that we had transformed into the crypt of an old castle. Everything was lit with moonlight and flickering candles. We had five virgin girls dressed in white, minions with robes and rotten teeth, guards with spears and blood. LOTS of blood. It was all designed to resemble the Hammer horror movies that we both loved as kids, and it really felt like one of those old classics. It was the first day I really felt like we were making a horror movie and it was pretty cool.
Honestly though, the best experience was just making the film, from start to finish. We had a lot of fun on set, and I think it shows through in the final film. I would have my moments of panic and doubt, but then I would take a step back and think, “wow — I’m really doing this. I’m making a MOVIE!” I hope I never lose that sense of joy, because seeing all your hard work up on screen with a crowd that’s laughing and screaming has to be one of the best feelings in the world!
Checkout www.chastitybites.com for more info.
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