I recently had the pleasure of interviewing co-writers and directors of the upcoming Sci-Fi / Horror film, Freaks, Adam Stein and Zach Lipovsky. The film hits theaters Friday, September 13th and be sure to look for our coverage of it on 25YL!
Andrew: The first thing I thought when I saw the trailer for the film was there has to be a really interesting origin story for this project. Whether it’s some kind of deep-rooted psychological fear or some heavy analogy, and I know you probably don’t want to give too much away, but where did the inspiration for the story come from?
Adam: Well, yeah, I mean the first inspiration for it was my experience as a new dad. I had a five-year-old when we started writing and Zach and I were kind of struggling filmmakers trying to make our way in in the business. I was just very curious about my son’s development and the way he’s sort of learning about the world and trying to make sense of the world and trying to figure out what’s real and what’s imaginary and what’s safe and what’s dangerous about the world.
Zach and I were kind of just talking about that often and being big sci-fi and horror fans, we were starting to realize, “Wait, if you told a story of a sci-fi world through a child’s eyes, you wouldn’t know what was real and what wasn’t, just like a kid doesn’t know what’s real and what isn’t.” We were very fascinated by that idea of putting the audience into a kid’s perspective in a sci-fi world and making you feel like you are the child trying to make sense of this strange reality. That was one of the origin stories of it.
The other was this feeling of being struggling filmmakers really wanting to make a movie and getting together and thinking, “All right, how do we make a movie for a $1.50? How do we make a movie that no matter how few resources we have, we can still get it made?” Because we had both been involved in bigger projects that basically didn’t get made because they were too expensive or too complicated.
Zach: Or we were too small of a director to get it going. So they would just fire us and hire someone bigger.
Adam: So we really kept talking about, “All right, what is this?” We had first called it “Milo Movie” because that’s the name of my son. Milo. We were thinking, “All right, if we have zero dollars, we could always be in the movie. I can play the dad, you could play the uncle and my son could be the kid, and we could film it all in my house.” That was the original plan for this story and it sort of evolved from there.
Zach: Eventually, a two-time Oscar-nominated actor played the role I was supposed to play. Thank God. Yeah, it was pretty exciting to see how far that small idea that we wanted to make sure that we always had control of has come and is now kind of showing the world the type of stuff that we’d love to make.
Andrew: Did someone come along the way and champion the idea? Where you’re at now, the film is getting a lot of praise. You have an amazing cast.
Adam: Little step by little step. I mean, it’s so funny when things like this happen, it seems like this was just born overnight and now … but it was five years of one brick on top of the next brick, and it’s such a struggle. The filmmakers out there I’m sure will relate to that, but it’s always a struggle and it’s just brick by brick over five years.
Zach: One of the early breakthroughs was we were sending the script out to actors just in case most of them never read it, and most of them never got back to us. The first one that did was Bruce Dern and he immediately just connected to the material and connected to playing this kind of creepy, mysterious character. It was even really cool because Bruce Dern hadn’t been in a science fiction movie since 1975 or something.
Zach: ’72. He really kind of dug the sort gritty realness of the characters and that’s what he really wanted to do. Once we had Bruce, it started sort of the ball rolling a little bit faster than it had been rolling before. It was easier to get the attention of other actors. Still, most of them read it and said, “Well, there’s no way you could make this for no money.”
Adam: Yeah, most people didn’t read it. When you send it to big actors, it’s really like sending the script into a black hole. You just never hear from them. We were kind of encouraged by a couple of actors who got back to us and said, “Well, good script. I’m not going to do it, but good script.” We were like, “Okay, it’s okay. At least they read it and liked it. Even though they say yes, maybe we should send it to someone else.” So we just kept plugging away at it.
Zach: Just to give you an anecdote, all the visual effects in the movie, there are probably 250 shots, were done for less than $2,000. Everyone just did everything they could on spare time, on free machines, on favors and stolen items (laughs). Basically, everything we could to bring together everything we had been working towards to show the world that we could do.
Adam: We’ve been struggling filmmakers for 15 years, so we’ve met a lot of people along the way and we’ve done every job there is making a movie. Zach and I both started in post, but we’ve gripped, we’ve done boom, we’ve done everything you can imagine and along the way learned a lot of shortcuts and also met a lot of people and done a lot of favors for people and we cashed in all those favors to try to make this movie.
Andrew: I’m really reminded of the story behind David Lynch’s Eraserhead here, the idea of a struggling filmmaker who had made friends along the way, and I believe it took him seven years to make the film and it was arguably about him being a father. The parallels are kind of uncanny.
Zach: Yeah? That’s really interesting. Yeah, we hadn’t heard that before.
Adam: No one’s brought that up before, but that’s very cool.
Andrew: So, all right, so here we are. Now your film comes out September 13th. This is something that you guys have been talking about and dreaming about and it’s finally at the point where the world is going to see it, genre fans are going to see it — sci-fi and horror fans. Bruce Dern is still considered a genre icon even though he hasn’t been in a sci-fi film since the early ’70s. What’s going on in your guys’ mind right now? Your idea is about to be seen by the masses.
Adam: It’s very overwhelming. Well, we hope it’s about to be seen by the masses, but there we need your help. It comes out Friday the 13th, which is very cool. It’s crazy. When you’re making a movie like this, really you just hope by some miracle it gets finished. You don’t really imagine people buying a ticket to go see it. So we feel very grateful, and we just hope people will go check it out.
Zach: One of the really rewarding experiences is the film came out at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and from there we’ve been lucky to be invited to about 40 film festivals all around the world. A lot of them genre festivals and getting to see it with audiences in all sorts of different countries, different languages, different cultures and seeing them all connect with the material and all of them feeling like it was relevant to their experience. We’ve won a lot of audience choice awards, which are always so rewarding because rather than just some jury members coming together, it’s the whole public thing that they loved it and getting to see audiences cheering and screaming at the deaths and crying.
Adam: Mostly screaming for blood.
Zach: Crying along with the characters and laughing along with the jokes.
Adam: I mean the first crazy part was when we screened it at festivals and people actually really liked it. That was the first overwhelming moment for us as filmmakers. It’s like, “Oh my God, people seem to really get this. They like what we were trying to do.” That was really cool.
Zach: Especially the details. As a director and writer and you build this whole world, you put in details that are so small that you don’t think anyone will even notice. And you fight so hard to convince your crew and your budget and everything to put in these, the important, this is important, this is part of the world.
I know no one will ever notice it, but if it’s not there, it won’t be right. And then to see in reviews and to, and to hear from audiences afterward when they notice those details. Like when that first started happening, it brought us to tears cause it was so much work and sweat went into trying to craft the perfect thing and then to have it affect people is very effecting to yourself.
Adam: I don’t know if that answers your question, but that’s some of how we’re feeling.
Andrew: Those are great answers. What is the distribution plan for the film? Is it going to be theatrical and then a streaming platform or…
Adam: It’s pure theatrical. Well, it’s traditional theatrical, we should say. We premiered it at Toronto and we didn’t know if anyone would buy this film. Basically we, you know, we’d got some investors and stuff to make the movie, and we had to make their money back at Toronto. And we were very lucky that a distributor fell in love with it and, and picked it up to put it into theaters, which is every filmmaker’s dream. And it’s coming out in a hundred theaters on that September, Friday the 13th and then eventually it’ll move to either TV or streaming, but we’re not sure exactly when.
Zach: Yeah, I mean the cool thing is it’s not just a kind of four wall day and date kind of thing. It’s a real theatrical thing. So that’s so rare for indie movies these days to be seen and then be bought and then be put into theaters is just sort of a dying art form. So we’re super thankful and having seen it with audiences, we know it performs really well, and that’s how our distributors saw it. They saw it with an audience and said, this is, this is a film audiences need to see in theaters.
Adam: We know people like it when they see it, but getting people to know about it and get out of their house to buy a ticket, that’s definitely a new challenge for us.
Andrew: You’re absolutely right. A majority of films don’t make it to a hundred theaters on opening days, nowadays. That’s a rarity, so very cool and congratulations on that.
Zach: Thanks. Well, thanks for your help letting people know about it.
Adam: People can check out, there’s a website at Freaks.movie. It’s there, no dot com just freak stop movie that will have showtimes. You can put in your zip code and it’ll show you where it’s playing near you.