I’m a fan of underground films and there is no limit to the extremity of horror. I’ve recently had the pleasure of interviewing a talented, well-known and hugely influential underground film master in the indie community, Stephen Biro – founder and president of Unearthed Films. He’s been known in the underground horror circles for a good number of years. Apart from producing, Stephen is a multi-talented creator who delves in writing as well – with the main aim to shock the masses and break the boundaries of extreme horror and gore films. So this was a real treat indeed when he took time out of his busy schedule to do an exclusive interview with PopHorror!
Pophorror: What inspired you to become a director/producer, and where do you get your inspiration from?
Stephen Biro: It wasn’t really inspiration. It was more like, I do international sales to other companies, I have distribution for North America, so I had what most filmmakers don’t have in terms of business connections and distribution. That is half the battle. If anything, I got my inspiration from people doing it wrong, people ripping others off and I’m like, “Let’s do this right.” Why I stepped into the production side of it.
Pophorror: You’ve had two acting roles in Brainjacked (2009) and Gator Green (2013). How did it feel to be part of the cast instead of the crew?
Stephen Biro: Like a moron. I’m not an actor. Iwould rather be behind the camera, making sure everything is right, instead of being in front of it. Did it for laughs and giggles.
Pophorror: Do you prefer creating the concepts while writing or being behind camera and part of a team? Which is more rewarding for you personally?
Stephen Biro: Writing and being part of a team. I know I work better with others because everyone brings something different to the table. If you don’t listen to them and your ego is overblown… you usually get a mess. But if you listen to everyone, even if you don’t agree with it, you get a better product.
Pophorror: What has been your favorite project so far?
Stephen Biro: The Song of Solomon, since it was my baby. Bouquet of Guts and Gore, since it was my first, but I still a babe in the woods. And then Bloodshock, cause I handed it off to Marcus Koch and let it grow with everyone around me.
Pophorror: You’ve written, directed and produced various volumes of the American Guinea Pig films. You’ve also written Bubba the Redneck Werewolf (2014). Where did your inspiration come from while creating those projects?
Stephen Biro: Old school Gorehound here. My inspiration was seeing the indie people, making gore films and not making my idea of a gore film. I’m not saying there aren’t gore films out there… there are, but I was desperate to see what none of them were making. So I said, “Fuck it! I’m going to make what I want to see.” As for Bubba The Redneck Werewolf… I was excited for it. Would have been my dark and gory bite into the mainstream market. Alas, you find that some people are backstabbing liars and it’s best to get away from them. Couldn’t run away faster from the so called writer of the indie comic book. But the company that went in charge of it made it, so that’s awesome. I just feel bad cause I left them with a nut case.
Pophorror: Apart from screenplay writing, you’ve written a few Hellish books as well. Hellucination, The Ultimate Dead Baby Cookbook – my personal favorite, as well as Dialogue with the Devil and Satan Reborn just to name a few. What other projects are you working on and what does the future hold for Unearthed Films?
Stephen Biro: Why thank you. I clean a lot of screenplays up for other people. Ghost writing… love it, never get credit for it but I get paid decently for it. I have 2 films, one with a budget and another just set up to move ahead. Add in A Serbian Film Extended Cut and A Serbian Documentary… The Unearthed Classics Label is just starting and plans for the next American Guinea Pig film is set to move. I’m pretty busy because we’re not counting normal Unearthed releases.
Pophorror: You’ve worked on special effects for American Guinea Pig: Bouquet of Guts and Gore (2014), and Unearthed Films is known for creating hardcore horror. Where did you get your creative spark from while reinventing these series?
Stephen Biro: Let’s make this clear… people tell me I am an artist. I don’t believe them. I’m a businessman. If anything, I consider myself a writer because I love it. Now, writing can be considered art, but I don’t call myself an artist. Now, I didn’t write to make money… screenplays, yes, ghostwriting, yes, my novels… maybe? More like to get the word out on what I went through to either give people hope or make them realize life is not as simple as it looks. I try to do that in all of my stories. I worked on the FX for Bloodshock as well, but didn’t get the credit because my name had enough and padding your resume is a cheap way to let people know you don’t know what you are doing. On Solomon… I did some stuff, left the heavy hitters do what they needed to do. I was doing a ton of stuff on it but we’re indie. I think I even had my main FX guy yell at me, “You know how to do this? I’m busy! Don’t waste my time, Biro!” (laughs) After that, I didn’t waste his time… mostly.
Pophorror: Have you experienced any real-life nightmares when it comes to directing/producing or writing?
Stephen Biro: Yep, almost kicking the ass of the actors on set is a terrible way to make a movie. Actors trying to pretend they’re the bosses, trying to ruin the films because you didn’t stroke their egos enough or they’re just plain nuts or it could be desperate attempts at, “Look at me! I’m important enough to go nuts and be placated to!” A nightmare on set leaves you open to fights, screaming matches and chaos on set. Making a film is like war. Down and dirty, fast and furious, you don’t have time to make sure Gingernuts is being worshiped enough or jealous enough to try to ruin the movie. They do. I’m just lucky enough that the egos knew we had something special and finished it to completion.
Writing is just me, myself and I. No nightmares there. Production, usually before we shoot so again, that’s the easy stuff, but on set, a specific date, start and finish… if you have anyone who is unstable, full of themselves, has a god complex and can’t handle working with a ton of people at the same time, you’re going to have a bad time. Making a movie is war, and everyone has to be on board, especially in the indie racket. All or nothing.
Pophorror: Have you ever had writer’s block when starting a new book or film project?
Stephen Biro: Actually, no. Me typing this out may make it happen, but no. I do have a vivid imagination. I can hear the dialogue from the characters. I usually plot it out beforehand, but sometimes I let it loose. Novels, Hellucination and Dialogue, I knew where they started and ended up. It also helps to be talking to the Devil for Dialogue. For Hellucination, I had so many notes that I luckily wrote out while going through those experiences… Satan Reborn was just pure fun, and I just went with it. As for screenplays, usually write a treatment, so I know where the pulses are in the story and go from there. Or I get a treatment and and let it flow until the notes come back to me from the higher ups. It’s a back and forth game I am used to for other people. For myself, it’s just me, myself and the keyboard.
Pophorror: Have you ever gotten a chance to be on the other side of the table at an audition, or do you personally select your cast?
Stephen Biro: I personally select my cast. I have never tried to be an actor. I know I could do it… I don’t want to. Maybe later in life. We need more old actors. Youth is a dime a dozen now. (laughs) Plus, with everyone thinking they can act but so many without a single degree in acting or a class they took… “I’m a natural.” No, your not. Go to school, you lazy person who doesn’t care about the craft.
Pophorror: Have you ever experienced anything embarrassing or unexpected in your career, such as difficult cast members or divas, for example?
Stephen Biro: Just a diva film director who ruined his career in Russia and no one will work with him. I’ve dealt with a diva or two. Really no time for divas on indie. I will be testing actors more as I move along. No time for kids and emotionally stunted people.
Pophorror: What are the negatives and positives of crowdfunding? You seem to have a good track record and a lot of support.
Stephen Biro: I do the finished project… Many after me jumped on the bandwagon, since so many have gotten screwed by paying for a movie from someone who doesn’t have enough business sense to make it happen. People have been ripped off by many names in the industry. I won’t name names… because anyone reading this is thinking those names in their heads. The movie industry is run by idiots, assholes and narcissists. Everyone is so full of themselves, it’s disgusting. Me, I’m a fan, and I know what my friends want, because I would want it, too. I would LOVE to offer an Indiegogo with some of the amazing people I am working with now to get the budget to make the movie. Almost impossible now, since so many scumbags have screwed over the fans that it’s impossible to make a real film now using crowdfunding because idiots have taken advantage of people, and those shitty names I’m talking about… everyone is afraid to call them out.
Penn and Teller… they did it right. Movie is made. But had the fanbase and celebrity gusto and push to make it happen. Argento… not Teller, but he got 120, maybe 130? I don’t know, but that was 3 years ago, and run by a company that’s like, “Gee I don’t know. I was expecting companies to give us millions of dollars, but it’s not happening. Guess we will use your money to try to make it happen, suckers!”
I do well with it because we have finished films. I make sure everyone gets what they want and more and I am always personally involved with everyone who supports. I don’t have fans. I have friends.
Pophorror: Do you have any advice for those aspiring filmmakers and authors?
Stephen Biro: Market is flooded, everyone wants to be a director or an author. Don’t do it. (laughs) Okay, before you say, “Stop crushing my dreams, Biro!” Look at it this way. You make a film or or write a novel… cool, now what? Do you have the marketing and promotional budget to get people to know it exists? Do you know the ins and outs of distribution of either films or books? Do you realize over 10,000 films are made a year, every year, not including shorts, mind you. Do you know that 95% off all movies don’t make their budgets back? Realize, books are worse. Do you understand that the industry is against you? Is your one of a kind idea really amazing? Is it? Is i,t really?
Then go for it. Too many people worshipping the TV think if they just make a movie or write a novel, they’ll get instant success like Stephen King with Carrie in the ’70s or the Blair Witch/Paranormal Activity guys. Lucky mofos. The lottery is in your state or country, every week and someone wins it, then the next week. For entertainment, it’s 1000 times worse than a lottery. One or two wins out of billions and people are dying for that fame and fortune.
Let’s be honest… take me, for example. Stephen fucking Biro. I’m nobody. I’m nothing. I’ve been distributing indie horror films for over 15 years. I moved to production, starting directing, producing for the last 4 years, but have been writing scripts for people for a decade now. It’s not the short game you’re going to win. You have to plan for the long game. We’re talking a decade or more, easy. You have to stay in the game long enough to get any kind of name. You have to deal with the ups and downs and not quit.
Look at it this way… I’ve been in the horror genre for over 17 years now and for the most part, some of you are finally learning my name. If you’re going to go for it, play that game of chess, play it for the long haul. And when your eating Ramen noodles at 45 years of age, you’re either in it for the love or you dropped out because your not rich.
Pophorror: Song of Solomon is said to be your biggest production yet, with James Van Bebber and Jessica Cameron to be part of the cast. Do you think your vision will break new ground in the hardcore horror genre?
Stephen Biro: It will for the exorcism genre. I’m lucky, no one has made a crazy intense gore-filled exorcism movie ever. I got lucky on this. It’s not a rip off of The Exorcist. Everyone just watches that film and steals from it. I know the film. It’s amazing, but it doesn’t show the true secrets behind exorcism. We show that. We went there and we’re 100% practical FX, not like this crap these days with the robot demon voices and CGI crap that doesn’t make sense and pulls the viewer out of it. Yes, it is indie, but what we didn’t try to do but what we got is The Exorcist meets The Evil Dead – the first Evil Dead, mind you – totally by accident. Found this out in the editing bay. Shooting in 4k was different but we had great sensors in our cameras for night and candlelight shots. My DP is Chris Hilleke and he did an amazing job. Throw in Marcus Koch from Oddtopsy FX and ToeTag SFX with Jeramie Cruise… We have something special. I got lucky.
But it wasn’t all about me at all. I had a great and amazing cast and crew who really believed in the project. I let them do their work, never hassling them except for timetables. Everyone brought their best to the table and everyone went for broke because there has been nothing like this before.
A lot of us joke that the exorcism genre will be stealing from us from now on. Let’s see if that happens.
Pophorror: Your current work involves A Serbian Documentary, based on the unforgettable, mindblowing A Serbian Film (2010), which you’re directing and producing. Do you have anything more to tell us about the project while we eagerly await the release date?
Stephen Biro: We have seventy hours worth of HD footage that has never been seen before, shot by professional camera people. Props, storyboards, costumes… we have everything, not including the extended cut of the film we are putting together. Fans of the film are going to shit themselves. I’ve seen footage that made me gag, drop my drink and say, “Amazeballs!” More news coming for it soon.
If you enjoyed this interview as much as we did and would like to keep up-to-date with Stephen’s projects, check out Unearthed Films and get your underground gore fix!