INTERVIEW: Director Terrance Williams
Interviewed by Bryan Schuessler
Once again, Terrence, thanks for agreeing to do this interview.
I was just chatting with the admin of Horror Society, who along with my own blog, are the two sites I write for and he was telling me that when your film, The Hood Has Eyez was being screened at the Cincinnati Film Festival that during it some patrons were walking out because it was too much for them to handle.
How do you feel about that? Does that make you proud as a filmmaker because you made a horror film that was so extreme that some people had to leave the theater because they could not watch anymore of it, or do you think that you went farther with it than you intended?
It not only makes me proud but it makes me feel accomplished… That as a filmmaker I have reached a point where I have honed my skills enough to be able to rattle people’s nerves. For me the true quality of a good movie is its ability to make you react regardless if it is in anger or enjoyment or disgust. When producer Nicole Williams and I set out to make ‘The Hood’ we began with one basic concept… To make a film that would attempt to offend everyone, regardless of sex, color or creed. I know that might sound pretentious to some people, but at the time we conceived the idea to make the film, a lot of horror movies were being released that were claiming to be ‘the most brutal film EVER made,’ ‘that they would take the horror film to a place never before seen in history,’ and ‘their film was the most graphic horror film EVER committed to celluloid,’ etc, etc. and then you would watch it and it would suck ass and not be any of those things except maybe a cheap imitation of Hostel or Saw, at best! So, as a horror lover and fan I turned to my partner and said, ‘we can do better than that. We can deliver.’
Did any of the actors or actresses think some scenes were too much for them to act in? Did any oppose to doing any scenes of nudity or gore?
Oh yes. Initially, I tried to cast actresses I had worked with in the past since I felt we had established a working ‘relationship’ and that they would understand what I was trying to do with a project of this nature. I thought they would see the brilliance in starring in such a ‘risky’ endeavor and that it would give them a good challenge acting wise, which would benefit everyone involved. I figured I could trust them with such a ‘touchy’ subject matter and I felt they could trust me as a director who wouldn’t ‘exploit’ them or secretly be some scumbag out to get his jollies and possibly hurt them off camera, but that was a big mistake. Most of them I discovered really didn’t want to go the distance when it came to acting. They wanted to play it safe, do soap operas and reality TV, and be celebrities. When I told them I had a new script written and I had a character in mind for them to play they lit up like a Christmas tree, but once I sent it over to them and they discovered it wasn’t a Titanic-esque romance film suddenly they had to be out of town that exact week we were going to be shooting, their twin sisters were having babies on those exact same dates at the exact same time and so on and so forth. Or I just got silence. So we went out and searched for new talent. Even some of the male actors flaked out. They said they were ‘down’ to do it but once principal photography neared they all of a sudden had other commitments and things to do that they hadn’t realized were taking place on those exact same dates. I guess what peeved me is that they didn’t have the balls to say, ‘this is trash cinema and I do not want to be associated with this tasteless thing you call a movie.’ I honestly wouldn’t have taken offense. I would have said, ‘thank you, at least we know we’re on the right track.’ I just hate when people, especially actors bullshit me. This is all business, my feelings won’t be hurt, but they choose to play these games regardless of that fact. Anyhow, most of those people aren’t even acting now. It was just a fad for them. It sounded ‘cool’ at the time to be an actor. We ended up finding good people who understood what this was, even if they now have second thoughts.
Where did you come up with the scenes of humiliation, torture, and rape? As awful as these acts may seem, did any of the scenes come from the news or situations that you personally knew of?
I grew up in Inglewood, California, right off of Crenshaw and Imperial. For those who don’t know where that is, let’s just say it isn’t pretty over there. A lot of shit goes on in that area, mainly due to the high level of gang-bangers and drug dealers. So I grew up around some monsters like Psycho and Joker who did things just because. Just for kicks. A few of the incidents in the film were things I witnessed first hand and a few were things that people told me. Every Monday morning when I would return to school there would be rumors, some true some not, of what such and such from such and such a gang did. I was a tagger in high school so I was constantly having run-ins with gangsters. Some wanted to kick my ass, others wanted me to give up the spray cans and join the hood, some where good friends of mine. This allowed me to see a lot of stuff most normal sane people wouldn’t see. I drew 50% of my inspiration from there. The other 50 came from sick ideas me and Nicole (producer) thought would repulse and gross people the fuck out. I thought that taking those urban elements that are very real for a lot of people and using them as a template for a rape/revenge film would be more effective because it would be more realistic. Plus, it hadn’t been done and it was what I knew.
Were there any scenes that you wanted to film but did not have the money or the right people to film the scenes with? Did you scrap any scenes that you really wanted to do or had written in the script but decided not to after filming started?
Originally there were supposed to be four gangsters but at the last minute one of those flaky actors I was talking about earlier in the interview began making excuses on why he could not be in the film and it became crystal clear that he didn’t want to be associated with the project. It wasn’t his cup of forty water. Which is fine, but he had signed a contract, got fitted for wardrobe, came to the script reading, etc., and we were a few days away from shooting so it would have been virtually impossible to find someone in time unless we postponed shooting. At that point we feared that the entire cast might actually read the script and decide not to do it. So we said ‘fuck it’ and merged his character with Joker’s, which in the end worked better I believe. It gave Joker’s character more screen time and more to do. It allowed me to develop him more and it gave me more time to focus on Kimmy’s torture of Psycho, which would have been shorter had the other gangster’s character remained. Another small thing we cut out the film that did bug me was the scene where Psycho is banging Rachel’s pussy with the beer bottle, originally there was a shot where he pulls it out and there is pussy juice on the bottle and Psycho licks it off and says one of his clever one liners… well the actress who played Rachel objected to that and me nor the rest of the cast could understand the logic behind this because she is already getting banged by a fuckin’ bottle! I doubt she could pop that scene in the way it currently is on Thanksgiving and say, ‘look mom and dad, I’m getting banged by a beer bottle but at least he doesn’t lick the pussy remnants off the tip of the bottle when he’s done.’ I guess that would have been crossing the line for her, so we cut it. It’s a small thing – actually the only thing we cut gore wise. Aside from that what you see in the finished film was 99% of what was in the shooting script.
Where, exactly, was The Hood Have Eyez filmed? I know that Echo Park was mentioned in the dialogue, as well as East L.A. – was any of it really filmed there, on location?
Some parts were filmed in South L.A., a few exteriors were done in East L.A. and Echo Park, but the bulk of the movie was shot in Baldwin Hills, all in all though it’s all Los Angeles, just different vicinities. Ironically Baldwin Hills is a nicer part of L.A.
One of the reasons I enjoyed this film was because at some points in the film where the “action” really heats up, I was expecting the camera to turn away and the scene then is filmed in a way that lets the viewer think in their head what they assume is going to happen-kinda like letting one’s imagination wander and get ahead of itself. But your film actually shows everything that happens and does not cut away or censor the blood, the nudity, the gore, or what I felt may have been taboo elements in most films.
Do you feel that showing everything, sometimes with microscope in some scenes almost (the hanger abortion scene is a prime example) give the viewer too much information, so to say?
For me as a director it all depends on the situation. You can have a seen where a guy pulls out another guy’s teeth with a set of pliers and cut away just as he places the pliers in the victims mouth and is about to pull, if the sound effects are good and the expression shots are convincing it will make you wince and be just as powerful as if you see him actually pull out the teeth. With ‘The Hood’ we wanted to catch people off guard. They typically do expect for the camera to cut away when something as gruesome as an abortion is about to take place so we decided it would be best to show rather than insinuate. Early on we decided we would show 90% of the gore in all its bright red glory and spare the viewer nothing.
Were there any really big lessons you learned while filming The Hood Has Eyez?
Yeah. If you want to torture, rape and humiliate people for hours without getting caught come to Los Angeles. We filmed for 10 days out in the open in the middle of a State Park and no one ever bothered us. Even when a couple passed by while we were filming the scene where Psycho is bound and gagged with his pants down and Kimmy is about to shove a stick up his ass, they didn’t stop to ask what the fuck we were doing. They just looked over at us, saw the blood, bondage and stick in Kimmy’s hand and kept on their way. The police didn’t even show up, which I thought for sure they would have called. I learned that when you think a shoot is going to be easy it’s not and when you think it’s going to be hard it’s easy. ‘The Hood’ was one of the easiest films I’ve ever directed and I expected it to be a challenge. I think because the cast just said ‘to hell with it’ it made everything run so smoothly. The location not having a lot of onlookers and police presence really surprised me though.
In the hanger scene, the genitalia of “Shy Girl” looks impressive and extremely real. I almost feel embarrassed to ask, was that a vagina-prop or was that really the actress’s vagina?
Don’t feel embarrassed, many people have asked and/or thought it was really Shy Girl’s pussy. Anne Stinnett (Shy Girl) is one hell of a committed actress but I wouldn’t have subjected her to that treatment in real life. During pre-production we met with her and discussed her vagina and how it looked and she even had to show it to us so that we could match the prosthetic vagina to her real vagina. At the time we all had a good laugh because it did seem like we were some hellafied perverts that just wanted to sneak a peek. ‘Let me see your pussy so that I can duplicate it accurately in the film, Wink, Wink.’ I’m just glad it worked.
Are you going to continue making horror films, or will you be making films in other genres?
I love horror and it is my favorite genre, not just as a director but as a film-goer. If there is a horror film out there I have probably seen it, no matter how obscure or ‘small’ the film may be. The more underground the better. I will however continue to direct films in other genre’s such as drama, they just have to have a good story, preferably be edgy and say something unique.
Do you have any projects that you are working on right now or any that you would like to start on in the future?
I am currently in post on another horror film, this one a horror/comedy named Horno (check out the Horno trailer by clicking here!) about a struggling porn director who is given the chance to direct a low-budget zombie movie with a cast of misfit porn stars, but his dreams of fame and fortune soon become a nightmare when REAL drug crazed zombies crash his film shoot. It’ll be a fun nutcracker type film more along the lines of my Revenge of La Llorona movie. It’ll have more comedic type violence and gore than the serious kind found in The Hood Has Eyez. I am also working on a documentary called Nicaragua Was My Home, about my experience reuniting with my native country of Nicaragua as well as family members I left behind when I immigrated to the States at 8-years-old due to the civil war conflict. I am also in pre-production on The Hood Has Eyez 2: Urban Nightmare – This time the gangsters get their revenge. Plus another graffiti drama called, King of the Streetz, about a day in the life of a graffiti artist and the vandal cop that’s trying to nab him… so I am very, very busy these days.
Did you find there were any obstacles as an African-American filmmaker that you would not have had to overcome if you were a different ethnicity, if you were white?
Actually I’m mixed. I personally don’t have a problem being called African-American but I am also Latino and many other things so I try to avoid categorizing myself, but I will agree I’m ethnic and really I haven’t felt any discrimination or anything along those lines that made me feel like things would be easier if I were Caucasian. Not up until this point at least. In my opinion this business is hard for everyone involved and its survival of the fittest in a way. I think women in the business have it harder if anything. Once they are no longer young, pretty and the flavor of the month Hollywood looks for the next spring chicken, but a man can be as old as granddad and still be cast in roles where his on screen girlfriend is like eighteen. Look at Clint Eastwood or Anthony Hopkins for example. I know discrimination does exist in the film world and being ethnic sometimes can lock you into certain roles or genres, but for me I am independent and I’m doing my own thing regardless of what the status-quo says or feels. I’m sure if I were in the studio system my answer to this question might be different.
Nicole Williams – any relation to you?
She is my wife and producing partner. She has produced, among other tasks, five of my films. A lot of people may not know this but she is very involved with all of my productions both in the story writing process as well as during shooting. She did the bulk of the special effects in ‘The Hood’ and she came out with a few of the torture sequence ideas. She also did the wardrobe and made sure everyone was fed on set. Her job may be thankless but without people like her my job would be very difficult if not impossible.
Do you think you will ever get back into acting or do you like the side of the camera you are on now?
I am always open to do small cameo stuff or play a bit part in my films but I like to write and tell stories. That’s were I feel most comfortable. I like being behind the camera and letting full time dedicated actors bring the material to life. If a role is fun and it’s something I feel I can do then I’ll do it, but being behind the camera is definitely my thing.
I am a huge fan of horror and “all things horror”. I always will have to ask everyone that I interview what some of their influences were that molded them as a horror filmmaker.
A few films and/or directors did something to my brain when I was a youngster and I have never been the same since. Cannibal Holocaust, Halloween (the original and only), Bad Taste, Last House on the Left (the O.G.), the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Last House on Dead End Street were a few of the films that rocked my nerves and inspired me to want to make movies. Directors like Tobe Hooper, Abel Ferrara, Lloyd Kaufman, Takashi Miike, Herman Yau, Lucio Fulci, Herschel Gordon Lewis and many others helped shape me as a horror director.
What films, directors, or actors really made an impact on you as a director?
All the ones I mentioned already plus The Hidden, Sisters by Brian De Palma and De Palma in general, the master George Romero. I love The Crazies, Martin and Dawn of The Dead. The Incubus (1981), Sleepaway Camp, Pieces, and Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. As far as actors go, Tiffany Sheppis and Syn Devil, Monique Dupree, Misty Mundae, Ken Foree, Tony Todd, Robert England, Ron Jeremy… all for keeping it real and doing low budget, big budget, any budget horror films to keep us entertained. I would love to work with anyone of these people. They seem truly dedicated to the craft of acting and not the glamour and glitz.
What are your top 5 Horror films?
When Terrence Williams is not making films, what does he do?
I like reading historical books and books that deal with current affairs, politics – that sort of thing, and of course horror novels. Watching movies and then discussing them or world events over a nice cup of coffee. I enjoy traveling and seeing new places, faces, and things. I love sex and all things involved with it. Burlesque shows, strip clubs, porn conventions, filming sex, watching sex, and going to music shows. Jeez, that sounded like a personal ad.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions! I really do appreciate it and my readers will also! Thank you for making a damn good film that made me squeamish at times and that is not real easy to do!