Filmmaker P.J. Starks is one of the driving forces behind the hit horror anthology, Volumes of Blood. Starks lends his talents to directing one of the segments, writing, producing, editing and even actor in a segment as well. Recently, I had the opportunity to call up P.J. Starks and chat with him about the film and what it takes to make an anthology film that’s set entirely in a library. Read on for the interview down below.
Read our review of Volumes of Blood here!
Interviewed by Michael Juvinall – Horror Society
I wanted to thank you for taking the time out to talk with me and the readers of Horror Society. I know that Blacktooth and the site has been covering Volumes of Blood pretty heavily. When I had a chance to watch the film, I really enjoyed it; I thought it was a pretty good film.
Horror Society: Volumes of Blood is an anthology horror film that’s basically tied together with the theme of urban legends. What was it about the notion of urban legends that made you want to make the film about that?
P.J. Starks: Ultimately, it wasn’t so much the urban legend itself, it was more of the idea – When I came up with the concept for the film – I’m a big fan of urban legends myself and I didn’t really want to rehash anything that’s already been done or I thought it might have been interesting to put our own take on maybe certain urban legends that already happened, but then I found that once I started talking to Todd Martin, the whole idea behind a student trying to figure out what it was to create an urban legend, how they get it off the ground, how they perpetuate, just that idea in itself lent us the opportunity to come up with some original story ideas and then the fact that we’re in the library – That whole thing was done in association with the Davis County Public Library with a program called Unscripted that I started with them. That opened up the door for us to be able to shoot the entire film in the library. Then we came up with original content based off of using the setting we had. The other thing I wanted to do was hit multiple genres. I wanted there to be a ghost story, I wanted there to be a monster movie and then a guy I work with came up with the title, “Encyclopedia Satanica” and I didn’t have a story to go along with that. I gave the title Todd and told him this title’s too good not to use but I don’t have a story so come up with a story involving around “Encyclopedia Satanica”.
Then of course we came up with the idea of using urban legends to kind of tie everything together. The movie in itself, there’s so many references and homages to other films. The opening class scene in itself is homage to the horror anthology After Midnight. When I wrote that scene, I took it a little further and it’s kind of homage to Urban Legend and Scream. That’s kind of what the film is, it’s a bunch of horror fanatics and indie filmmakers who all got together and said we want to make a film that we want to see and want to make a film that caters to horror fans and that’s kind of the whole idea behind the movie and the theme of urban legends theme ties it all together along with the location.
Horror Society: I was going to bring up that it’s pretty obvious that you guys are all big horror fans. Have you been a horror fan your whole life?
P.J. Starks: I myself, I’ve been a horror fan since I was a little kid. I grew up in the eighties, which was a big horror boom especially with the slasher films. My Mom, she would watch the horror films with me, but then when it came to the sex and nudity, she would tell me to turn my head. I was able to watch like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I grew up on a lot of these films and of course my Grandmother was a huge horror fan so I grew up watching horror films with her. Every weekend I would spend the night at her house and we were going out and renting CHUD and pretty much any horror film we could get our hands on. I’ve been a horror fan for forever.
Horror Society: That’s awesome because in my opinion, people like you are the best type of genre filmmakers. You make films for people the way you would want to see them. Those are the best type of filmmakers like an Adam Green type or people similar to that. It really shows on camera that you love what you’re doing.
P.J. Starks: On our film, we had some people that we had to answer to. We were dealing with the board of directors at the library. We kind of had our own MPAA because they themselves have an institution to protect and a brand to protect. There were several times where they read the script and came to us and asked us to take out certain content or dialogue, it was mainly dialogue. They left a lot of the gore and violence; actually, they left all of the gore and violence alone. A lot of the sexual dialogue had to go because they felt uncomfortable about that. It goes back to the American mentality of filmmaking where violence and gore is okay but sex and nudity is bad.
Horror Society: Yes, it’s the complete opposite of the rest of the world. Everywhere else in the world sex and nudity is ok and violence is bad but here in the U.S. we love our violence and sex is still taboo.
P.J. Starks: Right. In Europe they’re not too keen on violence but they show nudity on daytime television and it’s not a big deal. Because they left all the violence and the gore alone, whenever I had extra money in the budget I ended up creating more death scenes and adding a lot more blood. I think it’s funny because if you read some reviews and all of the reviews have been extremely nice and glowing but a few of them said it’s not gory enough. I’m like “there’s 19 deaths in this movie, how is it not gory enough!?!” I guess you can’t please some people.
Horror Society: Sure. You’re never going to be able to please everybody; you just can’t, no matter what you do.
You wear a lot of hats in the film VOB, you’re a writer, producer, director, editor and you even act in the film. These days many filmmakers are forced to put on a lot of hats just in an effort to save money. What is the reason why you do so much in the film?
P.J. Starks: There’s a certain level of control freak in every filmmaker. With the first couple of projects I did I did have to do that mainly because I didn’t have enough resources or I didn’t have enough people I could trust. The more projects I did, I started falling away from that because I want to be a director, I didn’t want to have to do all that extra stuff. For my last few films, I mainly did just director and maybe editor and I would have somebody else shoot it but then when it came to actually doing this movie I was mainly a producer and then I wrote a majority of the script but as far as the acting, I don’t really consider myself an actor. I’ve been doing this for about seven years and I kind of wanted to take the opportunity to be satirical with it. I said whenever I act in the movie; I’m going to be that total dickhead filmmaker, egotistical, tyrannical type of filmmaker. That’s the whole reason I ended up taking that role. I wanted to poke some fun at myself.
This time around it wasn’t necessarily about saving money; honestly it was more about having fun. Because of my ties and connections with the library, that’s how we were able to get the location, so there had to be a liaison with the library and that had to be me. There were a ton of people working on the film and I kind of like being producer because I like collaborating and working with other people so that gave me a chance by being producer to go and work on every set. I didn’t tell every director how to direct their film or tell them how to make their film. Every segment that you see in the movie are how the filmmaker’s envisioned it, that’s how they wanted to do it with the exception of maybe a few things they wanted to do that might have harmed the library.
Horror Society: You’ve been touching on something I wanted to bring up and talk about a little bit. It’s something that I haven’t seen too much of in some reviews about the film and it’s the fact that it almost entirely takes place in a library setting. You don’t normally think a library is a scary place at all but in your film VOB a darkened library turns out to be a pretty unusually scary place. I feel the library setting is something that makes your film stand out because to the best of my knowledge and I know a lot of films, I haven’t seen too many libraries used as a primary setting before in a horror movie. I congratulate you on that because it’s pretty rare that somebody comes up with something that nobody has done these days.
P.J. Starks: Thank you. I never really would’ve thought to use the library either. The whole way that happened originally was we started this program called the unscripted film school. Essentially it’s just a way to engage the community to have them come into the library and we would have independent filmmakers come in and have them shoot movies simultaneously on multiple floors and then we would break them all into groups and the people from the community would have a chance to see what it was like to have a film get made.
We did a screenplay contest and that’s how I met Todd Martin. He wrote a short horror film that took place in a library that’s called “Lucky” and when we premiered those short films that we made and everything, “Lucky” did really well and Jakob Bilinski directed that one. We called it a nothing project because it wasn’t supposed to go on and do anything, it was just going to be something strictly for the community. “Lucky” did so well, when we put it out there, it ended up getting a lot of interest. It got reviewed and it was picked up by some film festivals and screened around the country. It became so popular that Jim Blanton, from the library came to me and said he wanted to do this program again but we need to something bigger and better so come up with something and pitch it to me and we’ll go from there. So that’s where I came up with the idea for VOB because I’ve wanted to do an anthology piece for a long time. Then this opportunity fell in my lap so instead of doing a short film I wanted to do a feature. That’s when I pitched the idea of a series of short films that would essentially all come together as one and would be a feature anthology and he loved the idea. That’s kind of where the setting for the library came into the whole story. If there are scenes in other films that take place in a library but you have never seen a film that solely takes place in a library. You wouldn’t think the library is a scary place but if you’re in there at night alone with all the lights off, it is, it’s extremely creepy. Walking in amongst the stacks of books, it’s really kind of a weird experience. At the same time we had to be creative and figure out how you make a horror film where the lights are on and you’re in a library. I think we pulled it off in the end.
Horror Society: I thought you guys did a great job at utilizing that location and were very fortunate to have that location for you to use.
I wanted to compliment you on the level of acting in the film. I watch a lot of indie movie and I see a lot of really bad acting. When you’re in my position, we have an entertainment horror site. You can’t really say the acting sucks in a film. You have to find something good to say about anything. We’re of the mindset of we don’t trash people, I can always find something good to say about any film. Honestly, the level of acting in VOB was just incredibly good. I was so shocked at how good the acting was in that movie.
P.J. Starks: Thank you. It’s funny you say that because I’ve made some movies with some really bad acting, I’ve participated in that bad acting myself. If there’s one thing I’ve learned by making projects is if the acting is bad enough, it takes people out of the story and they will have a hard time paying attention to the movie because all they’re thinking about is how terrible that actor is.
Horror Society: Exactly.
P.J. Starks: A lot of the time that does come from a lack of money or you don’t have the right people in the right roles. Going into VOB, one of the things I said up front is that I’m hand picking the cast for the film. Ninety-five percent of the movie was handpicked by me or there were some suggestions along the way but most of the actors, I knew exactly who I wanted in the role by the time the directors were coming into the film.
Horror Society: I wanted to thank you; it was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thanks for taking the time out to talk with me. Congratulations on a well-made film, Volumes of Blood. I wish you the best of luck with the film and hopefully we’ll be seeing a sequel.
P.J. Starks: Yeah, we’re already talking about a sequel. Thank you.
Check out the trailer for Volumes of Blood here,