Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Interview: Dear God No! director James Bickert Part 1

This is actually the second interview I’ve conducted with James Bickert, the director of the new bikers vs. Bigfoot Drive-in classic Dear God No. If you missed it, you can read my review HERE. The first time I talked to him was at the after party following the world premiere at the Plaza Theater. It was a great interview. I now believe that copious amounts of alcohol should be involved in every interview I do. The only problem was that apparently we were too close to a speaker or something, because when I tried to play it back it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher interviewing herself. So we met again back at The Star Bar in Little 5 Points, during the day this time, to try it again. As the evening progressed and more alcohol was imbibed, we were joined by Richard Davis, who was responsible for the film’s outstanding score, along with Brian Malone and Dusty Booze, who both performed on the soundtrack. We talked about VHS collecting, obscure drive-in movies, Gene Simmons playing a transvestite, James’ animosity over being screwed over by a generally loved genre icon, George Carlin, why we hate guys named Todd, Kitten Natividad’s legendary endowments, Filipino movies (he has a Vic Diaz tattoo!) and anything else remotely related to exploitation flicks you can imagine. These guys love this stuff just as much as I do. I’m not transcribing the whole afternoon, however, as I wasn’t recording it on the grounds that I didn’t want any incriminating evidence. Without further ado, however, here’s part one of my interview with James Bickert.

SOC: For those not familiar with the flick, tell us about Dear God No.

JB: Well, it’s not an homage, it’s a lost drive-in movie.

SOC: Where did the inspiration for the story come from?

JB: Well, it came from having a daughter for the first time. There’s this underlying theme of selfishness and whether I should make my wife happy or be a complete selfish bastard, and a lot of it is all the fears that come with this newfound responsibility of fatherhood. But, there are other inspirations, which are everything I love as an exploitation fan, the biker genre especially. I like the obscure stuff. I mean Wild Angels was definitely an influence, but more the stuff that happened at the tail end of the biker heyday where they would just merge stuff together like Werewolves on Wheels. I love when a genre is about to die and they just mix in a bunch of stuff. Then there are also influences from the drive in, like I Drink Your Blood, there’s a lot of that in there. Then there’s a Canadian film which I’m just in love with which goes by, well, one of the names is Last House on the Left 2, but it’s also called Death Weekend and House by the Lake. It stars Don Stroud, who I just think is the ultimate badass. The aspect of a bunch of degenerates getting into a situation that easily gets out of control and beyond what they’re expecting was influenced by that. Then there’s some high falootin’ elements with the lead actress which would be more like Kate Chopin's The Awakening. She’s named after that. There’s also influence from Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, and that whole turn of the century literature with women trying to find their place and it keeps getting worse and worse for them, that kind of thing. Yeah, there’s a shit load of elements that go into the themes, but the main thing is just a beer drinking movie that’s fun. I love drive –in movies and I love discovering a new film that me and my buddies can sit there and drink beer and laugh to. But it’s got to have those elements every 5 or 10 minutes where your jaw’s agape, or you’re hooting and screaming. That was basically the blueprint, it had to have more to it, but keep being what it is, which is nothing but a good f**king time and be respectful to the genre. I love the genre. I’m not in it to make money; I’m in it to be a part of the genre. That’s ultimately my goal is not to get rich, but to get to keep making stuff that I’d want to see.

SOC: The film was shot on 16mm and you used 70’s era technology. Why did you decide to go that route and what challenges came with it?

JB: Well, I don’t think there were that many challenges. We didn’t have a video monitor so that eliminated anybody saying “Oh, that didn’t look too good” or “You need to change that shot,” so that solves that problem right away and saves a hell of a lot of time. Because we didn’t know what we were going to end up with, we could shoot as fast and furious as we wanted. There was really no technical stuff except for loading the camera.

SOC: How important was the authenticity of making the flick seem like it actually came from the 70’s?

JB: That was everything. The one thing I stewed over for the longest time is the scene at the drive in. It shows at the bottom the FM channel you could dial in to get the radio frequency. They didn’t have that until the 80’s, it was all AM until, like, 1983. I sat there and beat myself up and I could have fixed it in after effects, but it would have taken me a f**king week with all of the motion tracking. So, hopefully that will slide. That’s the only thing I can think of where somebody might say “That movie IS NOT from the 70’s.”

SOC: What were some of the extreme lengths you went to with your attention to detail to ensure the period accuracy?

JB: One of the most extreme was in the scene where Jet pops open a beer. We actually got a 70’s PBR can that a beer can collector had opened from the bottom, washed it out as best we could, filled it with beer, and duct taped the bottom so he could pull the pull tab even though you can’t even tell it’s a pull tab on screen. As Jet said it was very “tinny” tasting, and it was the only beer the poor bastard was allowed to have.

SOC: Of course in the first interview, for that question you mentioned…

JB: BUSH! Totally. I couldn’t believe (name withheld just to be safe) had that unshaved bush. She actually asked my wife if she should shave it and my wife said “hell no!” No body had Hitler moustaches in the 70’s. I kinda miss big bush. It was like a headrest. It was some place you could just nod off for a while and fight your way back through the forest and keep going. (Note: At this point a long, hilarious conversation about why the EPA should have an advocacy group to protect the crab louse’s natural habitat ensued.)

SOC: Speaking of that, one thing Dear God No has that is sadly lacking in most movies these days is gratuitous nudity. Why do you think today’s filmmakers shy away from it?

JB: It’s a bigger taboo than you think. I don’t know why puritan values have struck such a chord, but apparently they have. Yeah, that’s really sadly missing. There are a lot of Something Weird elements, and a lot of Russ Meyer, and a lot of Orgy of the Dead in it. When I’m drinking and watching shit outdoors, my go-to’s are Mondo Topless and Orgy of the Dead, and I can sit there and watch Something Weird trailers from dusk ‘til dawn. There are parts of Dear God No where yeah, I know the nudity goes on too long. I even had somebody tell me about a rough cut “You know, the nudity is going on a little too long” and I purposefully added more nudity because that’s what I want to see. You throw shaking hips and tits onscreen with damn tassels, and I’m mesmerized. Jess Franco knew it. Hell, that’s three fourths of his running time.

SOC: The film was all shot locally in Atlanta area. What are some of the locations that local readers might recognize?

JB: We shot around Dick’s Creek, which is great trout fishing.

SOC: The strip club scene was the Tucker Saloon, right?

JB: Yes. There was a whole big thing going in there that got overblown where we were told that we had to meet with a biker in order to film there. I got the impression that it was one of the Outlaws or something like that, some guy named Mad Dog. It was this whole big deal. So we go to meet with Mad Dog to get permission to shoot there and this guy is the biggest sweetheart you ever met. We’re buying him PBR’s and I dunno, I guess he just wanted to hang out. We ended up putting him in the movie and shooting him, so that was pretty cool. There are stickers in there that say “Outlaws Territory” and John Collins, who is in the movie, was in a chapter of the Hells Angels like, 10 years ago and he got all paranoid. I told him “Dude, you shouldn’t be worried about the Outlaws, my first night in that place I saw a UPS man in a UPS uniform beat the shit out of a guy. Be afraid of UPS.”

SOC: You’ve said that you wanted the film to have a “Georgia flavor.” What do you think making it here adds to the flick?

JB: A lot. It’s like all of these regional drive-in movies made where they would load the prints in the trunk of their car, go to the theater, screen them, grab them off the projector, throw them back in the trunk and get the hell out of dodge before the crowd rioted on them. Most biker flicks always have this LA flavor to them with custom choppers, scenes at the beach, the music; everything is so California. The ones that don’t are some of my favorites, like Werewolves on Wheels and Northville Cemetery Massacre, which was shot in Michigan. Man, it has the authentic flavor of Michigan. A lot of people have compared this (Dear God No) to it, and I think that’s right on because those were rat bikes and rat guys doing the extreme thing. It didn’t have any good looking Peter Fonda or anything like that. Georgia didn’t have a biker movie. Texas does, Michigan does, Florida does, but we don’t. I think it’s about time we got one.

Come back tomorrow to read the second half of the interview, and be sure to check out the Official Dear God No! Website.


Master_Gio said...

Awesome freaking interview, dude!! Great work. Looking forward to part 2!

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