Film Courage: So with all the trials and tribulations with DRIFTER and your goal to make a film before age 30, the film eventually ended up on Netflix?
Chris von Hoffmann, horror writer/director: It was a pretty quick turnaround which was quite shocking. The whole first quarter of 2017 of last year was pretty hectic because I was in the thickness of prepping MONSTER PARTY, meeting with all these actors for that and then DRIFTER was screening at UCLA and it finally had its theatrical run at this little arthouse theater in Hollywood. And then it went to iTunes and Amazon and all that afterwards and then once we were filming MONSTER PARTY, it went to Netflix in May of last year. So no one had any more excuses to not watch the movie.
Then everyone started to watch it. It helped so much that it went to Netflix and then when it goes to Netflix, you start to learn about the darkness of the Internet, trolls and everyone has an opinion and everyone loves to comment. At a certain point they all start saying the same thing and there is no point responding to anyone of them. I just don’t respond to anyone if they’re obnoxious with comments, it’s like you just didn’t get the movie. But it definitely helped a lot and then there were people who totally loved it and totally got what the movie was. I got some very nice messages from people and some not-so-nice messages from people.
But if you’re going to make movies you’ve got to be thick-skinned, you’ve just got to embrace it but it was a very interesting time. I just wasn’t expecting the movie to get as much exposure as it did. I thought it was going to get a small distribution and just move on. But then when The Hollywood Reporter is writing about it and IndieWire is writing about it and then it’s getting released all over the world I’m like “Well…there you are!” And every decision you made is all up there to watch. But I don’t regret anything. At the time that was exactly the movie I wanted to make. I just wanted to push the soundtrack, push all that stuff, must maximize the aesthetic where you’ve got to pull back for later movies.
“As long as they react, I don’t care if they love it or hate it, I just want them to react to it and have an opinion about it whether it’s good or not.”
With MONSTER PARTY it’s a similar kind of genre (hybrid storytelling), it’s still a very different movie at the same time. All the mistakes that I learned on that movie (that people had no problem telling me about), I feel like I learned a lot from. I always read a handful of bad reviews, you just want to know what bothers people, what doesn’t work for people and just fix that stuff. Because with MONSTER PARTY we spent a year on the script. I wanted to make sure that it was an improvement, if anything else, I just wanted to make sure it was an improvement and I feel like it is.
Film Courage: It’s interesting because I was watching an interview with Margaret Atwood, it was a BBC documentary or something. And she was talking about her first book (it blew out the numbers that they had first projected) and someone gave her the advice of (and he just looked at her) “Now they can shoot at you.” Especially plus too [her critics asked], “Where does this darkness come from? You must have gone through these things?” [Her response] “No, this is just what I write about. You don’t have to have experienced them to go to that level of darkness.” So she talked about this as well [harsh criticism]. Did you think that DRIFTER was going to get to that level when you were making it or you needed to fulfill a goal for yourself?
Chris: I needed to fulfill a goal and I had no idea it was going to get the kind of exposure it got. It was great in the long run. I mean it did everything I needed it to do. I had no regrets about any of it. If there is just one regret, I wish we spent more time on the screenplay, that I wasn’t so unbelievably…I’m a very antsy kind of person. But now I’ve grown so much as a filmmaker after that and I changed a lot of how I want to approach things. And I’ve grown to actually love writing now and I want to spend a lot of time on the screenplay.
With DRIFTER I think I was just at the point…I was concerned with visual construction and composition and aesthetic and style because that movie is all about style. It’s all about the mood and atmosphere and the music. There is really nothing much more to it. That’s very much what it’s about. It’s like a music video or something. And at that time, that was the kind of movie I wanted to make. And now I am much more interested in proper character development, proper narrative. Because DRIFTER was a very particular kind of movie. Even my shorts are nothing like that movie at all. It was like let me just get this ultimate, nostalgic movie out of my system and just purge myself, chock full of all this stuff I’ve always wanted to do. The things that I’ve loved growing up, all these obscurities and push everything to the max from beginning to end and just see where it lands.
It was a very polarizing movie when it came out. I thought it was a very interesting reaction that movie got because I was like “Really? It was just such a tiny little movie?” It generated a very polarizing emotion from people. A lot of people took it very personally they way they were reacting to it. As long as they react, I don’t care if they love it or hate it, I just want them to react to it and have an opinion about it whether it’s good or not. Because if you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad reviews. At a certain point it all just becomes moot. They are all helpful but you should let reviews…the good reviews don’t matter and the bad reviews don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But I think it is good to just read them a little bit. Not be so distant from them because I think they are taking the time to write about your movie and they might be crapping all over it but they are taking the time to write about it.
At the time Hollywood Reporter gave a review I was like “Wow! This is a tough, tough business.” Because they gave a review that was not the best and they’re not wrong, that’s how they feel. Even when they are criticizing it, they are still complimenting it inside of those criticism because I think a lot of people thought it was a much bigger movie. I don’t think it being a small movie should ever dictate how harsh you are going to be on something, it’s still just the movie itself. But it’s just I do think some people thought it was a really dark movie and it just wasn’t at all, it was peanuts. I thought it was kind of funny that they were thinking it was almost like a backhanded compliment. I think embrace the bad reviews, embrace all that stuff because it’s just all part of making movies.
Film Courage: How did you get a distribution deal?
Chris: My cinematographer had come across a sales agent at SXSW in early 2015. He’d asked him if he had any movies he was working on, horror films and this was one that we were in soft prep for and then I met with him right before we were about to shoot and he switched over to a different company (a sales agency company) and he kept in touch on the movie. I was sending him all these stills and he came to set a couple of times and then we cut a trailer for the American Film Market in 2015, which was very much as commercial of a trailer as we can make it, just very much like “Straightforward, action, thriller, cannibal movie.” And actually our movie is not that at all. It has all that stuff in it but it’s a weird movie.
So we make a trailer to show at AFM and I get buyers interested and there were a couple of distributors that he was constantly talking to for awhile while we were editing the film.
I hated showing work-in-progress versions of the movie because I was like “No one is going to truly be able to experience this movie until it’s mixed.” It’s just a very specific hybrid, tonal, poem, kind of like wacked out experience and the soundtrack is so paramount for this movie. I just need to finish the movie before you see what this thing. And I think that about almost everything, I never think the movie is good until it’s finished (I just don’t) and when I say finished I mean mixed, I think mixing is like the temple for the movie and I think people underestimate that a lot, just adjusting volumes but I think it’s really much more than that. All little nuances really dictate the experience.
He was really loyal to the film and a couple months after we finished the movie in April 2016. We had a little friends and family screening and couple months later. We were able to lock in the US distributor. Then learning all about the deliverables, I remember getting the document and it gives you a migraine, your brain starts bleeding reading all these things. You’re just like “This is a nightmare. But then you show it to your sound mixer and editor and your assistant editor and they understand it much more clear. It’s just so overly-technical the way it’s described and it’s so many things I’ve got to send.
They ended up releasing the movie in February 2017. Australia released the film first, around Halloween of 2016 (so it was on DVD out there) and then the following Spring it started to snowball and go to the US, Canada and Germany and all these different places. Seeing all the fake posters that Germany made, some were awesome actually but some were like…I see them and it’s good artwork but…it’s so unbelievably…I see what you’re doing but it’s so not what this movie is at all. I remember one poster said “The Book of Eli meets whatever…” It’s like “Oh, don’t.” This movie is…it’s a weird acid trip, David Lynchian kind of thing. It has cool action stuff but it’s not like this movie that you’re describing to people. I though that was kind of funny. Some people when they see the movie are like “What the…?” I think that’s kind of fun though when people are marketed something and like when DRIVE came out everyone was like “FAST AND THE FURIOUS!” And some people were saying “What is this movie?” But I think that’s a nice surprise though sometimes.
Question For The Viewers: Do you have a movie on Netflix? Is that a goal of yours?
CONNECT WITH CHRIS VON HOFFMANN
About Chris von Hoffmann:
After a short stint at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and acting in several off-off-Broadway plays, Chris von Hoffmann moved to LA and turned to writing/producing/directing.
Chris von Hoffmann has made several short films including Fuel Junkie, White Trash and Vodka 7. White Trash had its World Premiere at the Chinese Theatre for the 17th Annual Dances With Films film festival and won Best Guerilla short for the 10th Annual Action on Film film festival. Vodka 7 won Best Cinematography at the WILDsound film festival in Toronto and screened at Tribeca Cinemas for the 9th Annual Big Apple film festival while Fuel Junkie had its premiere at Sony Picture Studios. In 2015 he directed his debut feature film Drifter which secured worldwide distribution and was released in 2017.