In an age where possession films are on the downswing and zombie films have gone by the wayside, director Ron Carlson has seen the changing tides and has reacted accordingly. Rather than flogging a dead horse, Carlson, his thumb on the spurting pulse of the horror community, has created a film perfect for the recent reemergence of the creature feature subgenre. Titled Dead Ants, the film will premiere to the masses at Screamfest at the TCL Chinese 6 Theatres in Hollywood on October 10th. Carlson took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with PopHorror about his very first project as a director, the upcoming Dead Ant and his experiences working with some of the most recognizable faces in the industry.
PopHorror: First of all, what got you into film making?
Ron Carlson: The answer is really simple… I truly love telling stories.
PopHorror: Great answer! Did you go to school for film or are you completely self taught?
Ron Carlson: I graduated in painting and drawing, which implements the same elements… composition, space and color palette. But then you have to add in working with actors. This is the real variable in the project, but if you cast correctly, you can really make magic happen. Material plus the right talent equals a great product. I’ve not always hit the mark on this, but I did with Dead Ant.
PopHorror: I see that one of your first feature length projects was directing Mila Kunis in Tom Cool. How did that come about?
Ron Carlson: Ah, you really hit on a sore spot… a real love/hate situation. Yes, Tom Cool was my first film… and it never came out. I got involved with a nameless producer who fucked me over, fucked the cast over, seriously fucked everyone, but not literally. Sadly, it was really hard for me, because your first film is like your first born. Good or bad, you never really care like you do on your first one. As for directing Mila and the other great actors in the film, it was an amazing experience. She played a prostitute and really killed it. She was so natural and truthful and, when you have that, you get something really special. I think it’s fair to say if she gets the right role someday, there is an Academy Award in her future.
PopHorror: Oh, man! What a crappy experience. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m thrilled that you were able to persevere and continue making movies. I really want to know a bit more about 2009’s Life Blood. Can you tell our readers a bit about the film and where the idea for it came from?
Ron Carlson: After the heart break of Tom Cool, some friends asked my what I was going to do next, and I jokingly said, “I’m going to make a lesbian vampire film.” I think it was still PC to say that in 2007 (laughs). Anyhow, after a little thought, I went back and watched a few, and thought to myself, “Why not?” And I wrote it. Now let’s be clear… I have problems with this film. I overwrote the script based on the amount of money we had to shoot it and there are story holes because of that, special effects that are missing and overall just not what it could have been. But that being said, there’s still really fun things I like about the film.
PopHorror: I think the addition of lesbian vampires in any film will help people overlook a lot minor details like plot holes and missing FX. But I digress. You mentioned Dead Ant a few minutes ago. Congratulations on the film and it’s premiere at Screamfest on October 10th! The film certainly defies any genre label. Can you tell our readers a bit about it? Where did you get the idea for the story itself?
Ron Carlson: First, thank you. Dead Ant is really something I feel great about. I finally had the money, the time, and the right cast to do exactly what I wanted. It’s really a film about a band first, following the rules of a horror/creature feature, but never losing sight of the goal of the band. I’m really glad to hear you say it defies the “genre label,” because ideally that’s what a filmmaker tries to do. How can I tell a story in this space yet still stay truthful to the space, but do something different?
The idea came from my love of B-movies. I love the key art of so many of the monster films of the the ’60s and ’70s. I wanted to incorporate all the fun elements of these types of films and then tell the story of an underdog who we root for in the film. In a horror film, you want your lead to escape, get away. You root for them. In a comedy like Napoleon Dynamite, Revenge of the Nerds, Ferris Bueller, you’re rooting. Loser becomes winner, nerds beat jocks, Ferris doesn’t get caught. In my film, Sonic Grave is a hair metal band that, in today’s world, isn’t cool. My guys aren’t cool. But they’re likable and, if you get on board with them, you want them to find success. In the end, perhaps defeating giant ants and making it to their show is just that. I hope people get that. I didn’t set out to make a film that is going to win an Academy Award. I wanted to make a film that is just a good time.
PopHorror: You worked with some pretty recognizable names in Dead Ant, including Sean Astin, Jake Busey, and Tom Arnold. What was it like working with them?
Ron Carlson: My entire cast was great. All people that had worked a lot but never really worked together. Kinda like the characters that they play, they came together and really made music. I firmly believe whether you have $25 million or more to make a comedy or much less like me… it’s really hard to get real laughs, especially in this day and age where it feels like every story’s been told, every joke has been said. My guys took the material, stayed truthful and made it funny. I couldn’t ask for more…. well, actually I could! I could ask them all to do the sequel!
PopHorror: A sequel would be fantastic! When and were can our readers expect to see Dead Ant?
Ron Carlson: As for now, it’s the opening night film at Screamfest, then it goes to Telluride Horror Show and then to Another Hole in The Head. We are in the process of selling the film currently, so I imagine it will come out in the spring of 2018.
PopHorror: So far, the genre of your projects have spread from one end of the spectrum to the other. Do you prefer any certain genre?
Ron Carlson: I know, I really feel like I’ve directed whatever has come my way and ultimately just paid my bills. That being said, the real goal is to continue in this space and only do projects from now on that I have the time and money to do right. First and foremost, the story needs to be there. I want to tell a good story and have the money necessary to tell it right. When you don’t have all that working for you, the product suffers, and as a filmmaker, you feel incomplete.
PopHorror: I can totally understand that feeling, like pieces are missing in the finished product. I did want to ask – you’ve done a bit of acting. Do you prefer standing behind or in front of the camera?
Ron Carlson: I have done a bit, and truthfully, I do enjoy it, more so in recent years. I acted in Unnatural a film I produced and I really had a good time doing it. It was a fun character and the DP and Director are a couple of my best friends, along with James Remar, so really all I tried to do was make them laugh with the character. Now I don’t have a desire go audition for anything. Just the thought of that sounds awful. But if it’s something I feel I can handle and I get to work with my friends, then that’s a win. Now to answer the question, I prefer being behind the camera and telling a story I want to tell.
PopHorror: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Ron Carlson: If I could shadow/work with someone, it would be John Hughes. He was a machine. He did a top 10 films ten years in a row. I know that’s probably not in line with the genre crowd, but his films all work, feel so truthful and, because of that, he gets the laughs, but he never just goes for the laugh. He stays really true to the character and if you do that, you buy in. He has a lot of classics in his bag. Now I have heard over the years that making a joke pay off and making a scare are very similar. How do you build it and how do you pay it off? It’s really a fine line. And then, how do you say, “I want to do both in one film and not make a big pile of shit out of the two?” I think if John Hughes would have done a horror film… I have a pretty good idea that it would be something worth seeing. We’ll never know.
PopHorror: I am in total agreement with you. I grew up watching his films and they’re a staple in my movie collection and are some of my absolute favorites. Speaking of favorite movies, do you have a favorite horror movie? We are called PopHorror, so I have to ask…
Ron Carlson: Ah, my favorite horror film would have to be Halloween, the first one. Carpenter just killed it with simplicity and that score has to be one of my all time favorites.
PopHorror: I totally agree! It’s October, so I also have to ask: What’s your favorite Halloween candy?
Ron Carlson: I’m a sucker for candy corns.
PopHorror: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t covered yet?
Ron Carlson: The only thing we haven’t covered is CGI. I have a bone to pick with everyone who criticizes CG on a independent film. You just can’t compare a Prius to a Ferreri. Those are two totally different pocketbooks. I probably made Dead Ant for more than $100 million less than any of the Harry Potters, Star Wars, Studio Disaster Films. That being said, I’m really proud of the CG in our film and what we were able to accomplish within our budget. Give me an extra $20 million and I’ll show you an ant that would blow your fucking mind! So guys, try to take it easy on the independant world and ask yourselves, “Does the film work?” Now ultimately, my film is a comedy and truthfully, better CG or worse CG really isn’t going to make the laughs better. The comedy either works or it doesn’t. And, really no matter what, we’re not curing cancer… which we really need to do! We’re just making movies, so have fun. Make what you want.
PopHorror wants to send a big ol’ thank you to Ron Carlson for taking time to chat with us. We are all really excited about Dead Ant and we can’t wait to finally see this film. Take a minute to check out the trailer and let us know if this hair band creature feature will be added to your watch list in 2018.