Bart Mastronardi: Getting Guilty with the New Master of Cerebral Horror. By Brian Kirst
After creating cinematic poetry with behind the scenes contributions to Alan Rowe Kelly’s backyard epic The Blood Shed and the haunting A Far Cry From Home, cinematographer Bart Mastronardi has recently produced a horrifically dazzling vision of his very own. Praised by none other than Clive Barker, Mastronardi’s verbiage laced Vindication has been singled out for its layered undercurrents and dream like attention to detail. While extremely busy following up on the renown that early publicity has given Vindication, an unusual coming of age tale about a youth who discovers his destiny may be quite murderous, the generous Mastronardi recently took a few moments to answer some exclusive Horror Society questions.
Brian: Who were your first artistic inspirations – Jean Genet’s murderous world of The Maids – multiple viewings of Hong Kong Phooey cartoons – a grandly deluded poetry spouting maiden aunt?
Bart: I was always drawn to visual images whatever it may be. First, the movies though have always been the first artistic impression, but when I wasn’t at a theater I was at home watching Hanna Barbara cartoons. Challenge of the Superfriends being the main one. They are all the great super heroes and super villains in one cartoon. The way the show opened with the voice over and the villains floating to the screen and then BAM! The Justice League would fly out with their costumes and powers. I was so inspired by that show because of the colors and the look of it. Like most kids I wanted to be Superman or Green Lantern. – Horror Movie posters also memorized me, too. The original Friday the 13th was the first movie poster as a kid I couldn’t even look at it scared me so much. I still love that poster and have it hanging up on my wall. That’s a creepy poster: the outline of Ms. Voorhees holding the bloody knife with the camp counselors inside the killer’s silhouette. As scared as I was as much as I was drawn to it. Halloween is another one. The visuals of the poster always drew me to the movie. – Photography and paintings too of course.
Brian: Your interests are multiple (writing, directing, acting, and cinematography) – Is there one that you prefer or is it a combination of them all that truly makes you happy?
Bart: I’ve learned that in the independent filmmaking world you no choice as there is no money to hire big expensive crews (laughs). We have to multi-task. No time for egotism. “I am the director you hold the light.” Bullshit! We all have to work. You learn and appreciate that each role you do has the same importance as the caterer. With Vindication there was no exception because all the roles had to be fulfilled. Besides, I love crafting the work. Each of them makes me truly happy. Writing allows me the freedom to be with my characters alone and have them tell me what they want and where to go for them. Writing is the heart and soul of the story so you have to take the time let the characters breathe in the writing. With Cinematography I have to create the visual look of the movie with my choice of lenses and lighting and angles. Acting is not my forte, but it certainly let’s me play out of myself. Directing is where I get to be the storyteller. This is the most fun. I get to work with everyone on the movie and craft the movie each step of the way. I love the immersion of the work.
Brian: Awesome. Your writing seems vastly influenced by classic literature. Considering that, do you have favorite authors that those that know you may be surprised about?
Bart: Surprisingly, I am not a voracious reader. But growing up I loved the fantastical and horror genre. I always read comic books, particularly the DC universe. My mother hated them. She wanted me to read “real” books. Thank God I didn’t. I’d be pushing a pencil in some cubical farm right now. Comics and books with pictures were my first introduction to telling stories visuals with fantastical stories. The DC Comic Crisis maxi-series is still my favorite piece of literature. Also most obvious there is Clive Barker and Stephen King, my two favorite authors of the genre, but I have to say that also Greek mythology and the tragic theater itself is the origin of it all. When I wrote Vindication I certainly studied the tragedies and incorporated much of it to the writing of the movie. Oedipus, Medea, and Prometheus Bound being the big three. – Shakespeare, man I love his work. His writing is pure poetry, but the stories he tells, certainly King Lear and Macbeth being my two favorites. So much of his work influences Vindication. As did Dante’s The Inferno. There were also some of the modern plays of Albee, Williams, Miller, and McNally. But it was Tony Kushner’s Angel’s in America that was the major text in literature, which I read over and over for Vindication. That is an epic play with huge themes, but Kushner’s writing tells Angel’s story through the word, which helped me to understand the importance of telling Vindication with the importance of dialogue.
Brian: Your cinematography on The Blood Shed has a gritty backwoods air echoing the messy indulgences of its primary characters while your work on A Far Cry From Home is crisp and beautiful accentuating the strength of nature amid the horrors being acted out. How do you go about deciding how to film another’s project?
Bart: Thank you. First off you have to love what you do and with cinematography this is the look of the movie, so I love being a cinematographer. I get to write and paint with light and lenses. I get to make the villains looks totally bad-ass (laughs). I love the challenge of photographing a movie but before I even walked onto a professional set I studied my ass off and wanted to make sure I was confident enough to start this career. As I pick my project, I want to talk with the director and get the feel of the visuals through them. This is so important because my interpretation could be different, so I want to be sure that we are communicating right off the start. Once I know what the director is looking for I do my research by going through paintings, sculptures, and other movies the director want me to look at. Once on set things may change. The inspiration starts to come from how I see things as they happen: how an actor is moving through the space of the set or how the light is falling on something. I am always looking. This is totally the case with Far Cry from Home. This is why Alan Rowe Kelly and I work so well together because we are in tune with each other’s vision of the movie. We collaborate and leave the ego at the door. Alan is right there with us as we film. On Far Cry there were no major lights other than bounce boards and a few small Home Depot batteries operated florescent lights for ten-bucks. On Stolis Hadjicharlambous’ Crossed, an action thriller, I was able to convince him to film a scene differently due to the sunset over the mountain. We had no lights or bounce board for this scene. The sun did it all and I was able to just play with color temperature and deepen the blacks in the camera. When you see the scene it is amazing and looks like we spent all this money on the scene when in fact I just had to look at the sun and go from there.
Brian: Talk about being organic! – Do you find that acting in projects such as Gallery of Fear and your own Vindication allows you a freedom that directing and writing don’t?
Bart: First off I am horrible when memorizing lines, but it is total freedom for me once I get started. I never set out to be an actor in Vindication until an actor quit, but certainly I know it worked out for the best. I certainly enjoy the process of acting. I have so much respect for the actor as it is such emotional process. I have a heavy theater background so the craft of acting is a major focus. Acting does however give me the pleasure to have certain freedoms because acting is play with costumes and makeup and lighting. It is a dream come true to play certain characters. Playing Kon’Shens was a thrill because he has such a disturbing look to him. Henry Borriello did a great job of helping me to create the look and then once the clothes go on the character comes to life. When I see Kon’Shens on screen I don’t see me anymore I only see Kon’Shens. But speak with Stolis or Dominick and they will tell you I can’t memorize lines for anything (laughs). I am better behind the camera, so that is where I will stay.
Brian: Vindication started off as a typical slasher film. Was there a ‘true moment’ when you realized it could be something atypical and special?
Bart: There wasn’t a “true moment” but yes, it is true Vindication started out as a typical slasher movie. I grew up with all the slasher films of the 1980’s, Friday the 13th being my favorite of them all, but once I worked on Alan Rowe Kelly’s The Blood Shed I was introduced to much more talent and wanted to incorporate them all into Vindication. I knew that I wanted the actors and crew to feel proud and walk away with something with more emotion and substance than the usual slasher movie. I wanted Vindication to make a mark in the genre with substance, layers, and depth and focus on the story and acting not the gore factor, which it has. It is a horror movie in every way, but I wanted to surpass the usual trapping s of the genre. So as we filmed the story just kept evolving and getting better and brought on more talent and I listened to what the movie wanted. I do want to make a slasher movie when the time is right.
Brian: I can’t wait for that! – You wrote, directed and acted in Vindication. (I need a nap just writing that!) What was the most arduous part of the project and what has been the most fulfilling?
Bart: I need a nap from just doing most the work! (laughs) First of Vindication is a labor of love. If I didn’t love it I wouldn’t do it. But the reality of making any movie has been the scheduling and money matters. Vindication took three years to make, so the cast and crew stuck with me particularly actor Keith Fraser, God bless him; he plays the lead Nicolas Bertram. Had Keith left the movie would have shut down. I would look at the calendar and figure out when my next check was coming and then schedule the scenes around that day payday and then confirm with the actors for that day for that scene. There was no time to waste or be unprepared. I would rehearse with actors too if I had time. The most fulfilling part was the cast and crew screening at Cinemart Cinemas in Forest Hills on Dec 13, 2008. I was able to sit back and enjoy the movie with the cast and crew, friends and family, and my partner David. It was a movie with a theater, popcorn and audience. They were all so proud, happy and enjoying themselves that evening. I remember after the movie we were all out eating and drinking all to celebrate our movie, and rightly so, it was long ride. Well worth the journey. Then when Clive Barker put his stamp of approval on Vindication, our small movie, he not only acknowledged us, but he also certainly solidified all the hard work we all had done together. He opened that door for us all. The celebration paid off even greater than we expected. That was true vindication for us all.
Brian: Definitely. After a showing at Chicago’s Fangoria Convention in March, Vindication is being prepped for further festivals and ultimate distribution. What are the final steps that you feel you need to take with the film in order for you to release it to the rest of the world with a satisfied mind? (- Or at least as close as possible to a satisfied mind!)
Bart: My mind always running that I don’t think it will ever be completely satisfied (laughs). It is an all a process and you have to be patient with it all. There is always something to do for Vindication. It is my child and I have to make sure it gets the best of everything. Since Chicago’s convention I went back and trimmed out 22 minutes to make it a 99-minute cut for better distribution and release. It runs better and smoother now I am satisfied. I am also prepping the DVD with a commentary and other feature so other independent filmmakers can learn from my experience. It has taken this long so a few more months will only help. There will be other showing as I am booking Vindication into more movie theaters, and then there is Fangoria magazine, they have been so helpful with getting positive publicity. We just put up the web site, which we are still working on; it never ends, www.vindicationmovie.com, and are simply getting it out there. If horror fans want to see trust me it is coming soon. If I don’t find the right home for it then I will distribute myself. No one said this was going to be easy, but in order for me to have a somewhat satisfied mind I have to know I am doing my best to get Vindication out to an audience.
Brian: You have a strong base of talented collaborators – a kind of artistic East Coast Mafia of sorts – what has been their strongest contribution to your work?
Bart: If we were the mafia, trust me, we would have more money coming out of the walls of the East coast (laughs). Thank you. Vindication is collaborative. It could not have been made with out Keith Fraser’s lead performance, Stolis Hadjicharlambous’ editing, William Archiello’s poetic score, Javier Rodriguez’s sound, Henry Borriello’s makeup, Alan Rowe Kelly’s talents and Dominick Sivilli’s multi-tasking on set plus of course all the actors and all crew members who worked with us. Their strongest contribution to my work is their ideas and I have to listen to that. I may or may not agree with it all but in any way their ideas helped to shape and mold Vindication. They bring to the table how they see something and if it works better than my original idea than I go with their idea because it works best for the film. As director and producer my job for Vindication was to ensure that the best artists were there to collaborate with me with their talents not to make me look good, but to raise the bar of the movie’s standards so the movie, looks, sounds, and feels great. Yes, Vindication is mine as I spent money and created it, but with the help of Vindication’s cast and crew we can all take credit for the success for it. If this East Coast Mafia is smart we will all stick together and help each other out to support one another in the next project so we can then make offers that others can’t refuse. We are raising the bar of independent filmmaking. Larry Fessenden being the most prolific I would say. He’s doing great work here on the east coast.
Brian: And you’re catching up to him! – Lastly, any words of advice (IE: Never doubt your local blind oracle) or future plans that you’d like to tell us about? And thanks – this has been better than karate chopping an inner demon any day of the week!
Bart: The plan right now is to keep working on getting Vindication out there and let the film speak for itself, which judging by the positive response all is well. I want to keep building Vindication’s momentum up. Anyone who thinks the film festival is the be all and end all of the movie is an idiot. When the baby is born it grows and you still need to nurture it. Eventually, the kid goes to child but it’s still yours. OK. Take off all your clothes, know you are naked and then dive right into the water. You do have to be honest in your work. Anyone can make a movie, but how and why you tell the story the way you do will separate your film from others. Read this poem by Pantajali called Inspiration and Goethe’s Lose this Day Loitering. Read Jim Jarmusch’s Golden Rules in Moviemaker Magazine Published January 22, 2004. My advice is don’t think too hard, so just do it.
Bart’s top 13 Horror Movies (so many to name but a few)
1.Friday the 13th (1980)
4. Nightmare on Elm Street
5.Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1975)
6.The Last Winter
7.Romero’s Night of the Living Dead
13.Alice Sweet Alice (thanks Dave!)