Some of the best films the horror genre offers are anthology films. From “Creepshow” to “Tales From the Darkside” to more recently, “Trick r’ Treat,” horror anthologies are adored among horror fanatics. After a down period in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, the horror anthology film has recently come back to life in the form of films like the “V/H/S” series and “Tales of Halloween.” While a great thing for fans, the horror anthology is also a place for producers to provide talented new filmmakers an outlet to showcase their abilities.
Fresh off the successful experiment that was 2015’s “Zombieworld,” producers Jesse Baget and Steve Barton shifted their attention to monster films and brought a brand new group of young filmmakers along with them. While there are some hits and misses throughout its 109-minute runtime, “Monsterland” is an excellent addition to the rapidly growing sub genre. These guys know what they are doing and you should pick up the film.
Steve Johnson of Icon vs. Icon recently sat down with producers Jesse Baget and Steve Barton to discuss their influences, the challenges and rewards of their careers in the filmmaking industry, and the process of bringing their most recent anthology, “Monsterland,” to life.
Jesse, I’ll kick things off with you. What attracted you the the film industry early on?
Jesse: I probably just wanted to be super famous. I think that’s all it’s been about. [laughs]. That hasn’t worked out very well. [laughs]. I’ve always loved storytelling. I think that’s the bottom line. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, whether it’s writing or directing or producing or distributing. I’m pretty entrenched in every aspect of the movie world at this point. It’s fun. If I get bored with one aspect of it, I can start working on another aspect.
Steve Barton: Jesse has worn many hats. This cat has done everything in the industry. He’s amazing dude.
Steve, you came from the world of horror. How did the experience inform what you would end up doing with film?
Steve Barton: This the deal. I am a firm believer in you do what you know. I’ve always been the person who loves horror movies. When everyone else was growing up they had pictures of chicks and cars on their walls. I had fucking Leatherface and Frankenstein posters hanging up. [laughs] That’s who I was and who I am. When I started with Fangoria about 15 years ago and now that I’ve been with Dread Central for 10 years … this is all I know. This isn’t a job or act for me. It’s in my blood. By the grace of God, I’ve gotten a chance to really explore all aspects of the horror genre from making the movies, to seeing how they’re made, to overall being a fan and always loving them. The horror genre ends up being very personal to the fan and I recognize that in everything we do collectively with Ruthless Pictures and Dread Central. We try to keep the frame of mind that we are making these movies because we want people to have a good time. We want people to not only get introduced to new filmmakers, but to order a fucking pizza, get some beer, and sit down and watch these things and have that personal communal experience with you friends. Whether you like the movie or you’re just sitting there tearing it apart, at least you’re having that experience. We’d prefer that you like the movie though. [laughs]
Who would you guys cite as the biggest influences on your careers? Was there anyone in a mentoring role or someone behind the scenes giving you a push?
Steve Barton: I’ve had two influences in my life when it comes to the horror genre. I’m honored to say that both of them have become very close friends. George Romero’s work raised me. I cut my teeth on his movies. His movies taught me the difference between right and wrong because I’m from a dysfunctional family circus. Someone had to teach me something and I learned a lot from George’s movies Once I got into the business I was lucky enough to kind of be mentored by Sid Haig. He took me under his wing. He explained to me how this shit worked, what I needed to look out for, and what I needed to focus on. Without those two people in my life to foster me and teach me, I don’t know where I would have ended up. They were the voices of reason for me. I love them both dearly and I hope I don’t annoy them too much when I am around. We do give tips to each other and stroke each other’s hair. [laughs] In all seriousness, of course there’s no stroking going on, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it … [laughs] They are really gentle people and we do have a little bit of a bromance. We really dig each other. How’s that for a long winded answer. [laughs]
Jesse: I’m having trouble thinking about anyone in particular. I moved out to Hollywood knowing that I wanted to make movies. I didn’t know anybody. For about 12 years I got fucked in the ass by almost everyone I met. Maybe they were my greatest teachers. I certainly learned a lot about this business from them.
You paint such a great picture!
Jesse: Yeah. There were many people who helped me. I certainly like to remain close to those people you can actually trust and can have fun making movies with. At the end of the day, I think Steve and I just want to enjoy the process.
Steve Barton: We keep each other from fucking up. Jesse and I are like the dynamic duo in a weird way. Wow! How smarmy does that sound! He learned everything from being put through the ringer by people from L.A. I’m lucky enough to have a few folks around me who, because we were friendly with each other, showed me the ropes. What each of us learned coming up we applied to working with the younger filmmakers when it comes to putting together these kind of movies. Almost every time we will have a meeting with a filmmaker, whether it be on Skype or on the phone, it always sounds like they’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. They’re like, “What’s the bad part about this?” We don’t drop the shoe. We want to work with these people and help get them into the business. There is some talent out there. We get sent a lot of movies. When we see something that we think is really cool or really fucking weird like “Happy Memories,” we want to help that and move that along. We want to help nurture it and work with these cats by teaching them how to make the movies and what to put together. What Jesse and I are effectively doing is creating a friendly environment where a young filmmaker doesn’t necessarily have to get fucked in the ass. We know how badly things can suck and how much of this business has been some of the most cutthroat shit we’ve ever seen. We try to really shield people from that because it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Zombieworld” preceded your most recent release, “Monsterland.” What did you learn from that experience that you brought over to the new film?
Steve Barton: We learned a fucking lot! [laughs] “Zombieworld” was very much an experiment. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had a concept, but we had no idea if it would work or not. I think that if you watch the two films back to back, you can see that with “Monsterland” we’re a little bit smarter. We came up with a little bit more of a cohesive theme, than the anarchy that was “Zombieworld.” We took all of the valuable lessons we learned, whether it be to go to work with specific filmmakers, how to deal with filmmakers from other countries, contacting them in their own time zones, which is always fun. [laughs] We took what we learned and we took every cent that we made, which wasn’t a hell of a lot, and we put it right back into “Monsterland.” I think what we mainly learned is we can do this and we can give people this avenue that hadn’t existed before. It’s good for everybody and I’m really happy to say that two of the filmmakers who worked on “Zombieworld” have gone on to make feature films. That is the greatest bit of success you could ever have. That’s what these movies are for man. Short films are supposed to be a filmmaker’s calling card. Their, “Hey! Look what I can do!” Unfortunately, a lot of those fall by the wayside, or it’s on YouTube, or it has a festival run and it’s forgotten about. These filmmakers end up with nothing. We’re trying to stop that by giving these projects new life on VOD, or DVD, or whatever.
Jesse: We have a lot of stuff up our sleeve for the future. Some of this is very unique and is stuff you’ve never seen before.
Steve Barton: We like to keep them fun and keep them scary.
What led you guys to choose the films for “Monsterland?”
Steve Barton: How high we were! [laughs] It’s real simple man. If it’s something that hits our happy button we try to go after it. If someone has some sort of flair that sets them apart from every other person out there, these are the people we try to track down. We’re actually working on something where we’re not going to have to work so hard to track them down. They’ll be able to find us, but that’s coming at a totally different time. It’s been a circus and I don’t think we’d have it anything other way. It’s fun for us. It’s gratifying for us. It’s great for these filmmakers. It’s a win-win.
Jesse: I think the “Happy Memories” puppet short out there is probably the most prime example of something that we all thought was brilliant. Where do you try to place something like that? Being able to incorporate stuff like that and having fun with it, I truly enjoy that.
Steve Barton: I want to put “Happy Memories” on everything! [laughs]
I’m still trying to figure out what the hell that was about. If you guys could explain it to me, I’d appreciate it. [laughs]
Jesse: Nobody knows! [laughs]
Steve Barton: It’s that Faith No More song dude. “Epic. It’s it, what is it?” That’s it! We do know that it made us laugh our asses off. [laughs]
I sat there saying to myself, “What the hell am I seeing?”
Steve Barton: You know what … where else are you going to have that experience? That’s exciting. We were able to put something so weird out there, that nobody else would give a chance to, and let it have a life. That’s exciting!
Speaking of horror anthology films. What are your favorites?
Steve Barton: I like the Amicus ones. The Hammer ones. They were fun. My all time favorite is “Creepshow.” There’s never a wrong time to watch “Creepshow.” It’s like chicken soup for my soul. “Creepshow” was spooky, and it was funny, and it was fun. That’s what we’re trying to emulate. We’re not trying to force it. We can’t force it. “Zombieworld” for instance, that ended up being a very funny movie. People loved that it was so fucking out there. It squeezed that way organically. We didn’t set out to make a funny horror movie. We set out to make an anthology with zombies. How it ended up, that happened on its own. We don’t necessarily try to dictate direction to the directors. We just see where different pairings and different groupings of movies can take us. “Monsterland” is both funny and weird. Some of the stuff is scary. We tried to make everybody happy. Of course there are people who don’t like it and don’t get it. That’s cool too. A lot of times on both projects, one of the main critiques was that they are totally uneven. Well … yeah! It is!
Jesse: Life is totally uneven man.
Steve Barton: Yeah! You’re going to have ups and downs, but at least it’s interesting for you to watch. You like it, or you don’t like it, or you get mad enough to say that it sucks. At least you’re enlisting a reaction. I love all of the reviews. I love the positive reviews. I love the negative reviews that say Dread Central sucks dick. I love all of it. It shows that people are taking the time to see these things.
My go to horror anthology is “Creepshow.” Yours Jesse?
Jesse: Trilogy of Terror. I always liked that one.
Steve Barton: The zuni fetish doll man! The answer should have been “Monsterland,” but I’ll let that slide. [laughs]
Now that you guys have “Monsterland” in your back pocket, what’s next up for you guys?
Steve Barton: We don’t want to tip our hands just yet …
Jesse: We have quite a few upcoming projects that we are close to finishing that we are going to announce real soon.
Steve Barton: You know what we’re going to do. We’re going to gather all of the critics that didn’t like “Monsterland,” put them in one room, and we’re just going to fucking kick them all in the balls.
I’d pay to see that! [laughs]
Steve Barton: And there’s my Jay and Silent Bob homage for ya! [laughs]
Jesse: I just love the really long, bad reviews. [laughs]
Steve Barton: I can say this, I guess. The one we really want to make is just because of its really cool title. It’s one with werewolves. I don’t want to say the title because it is cool and if I say it, 7,000 people are going to say, “OK! I’m making that now!” [laughs] If you guys have werewolf shorts, please send them in. Let us take a look at them.
I am 100% behind you on that! That is one of the genres where they can’t seem to get it right!
Jesse: That’s because there is a lot there to do. Multiple creature artists say it’s the hardest thing to get right.
Steve Barton: We’ll get there one day though. I really want to put it out. I really want to use that title.
Looking back on your careers, what are your biggest milestones?
Steve Barton: Career wise, I’ll say that the thing I am most proud of is the fact that two of the filmmakers from “Zombieworld” went on to make feature films. If Dread Central could be used for anything, we’d want it to be for that. To get these people out there. Get really good movies made, instead of just the homogenized Hollywood bullshit that’s spoon fed every day.
Jesse: The satisfaction of getting a young filmmaker both money and exposure. Having them feel good about the experience is definitely super rewarding.
That being said, what is the best advice for someone who wants to get into the entertainment industry?
Steve Barton: Run for the hills! [laughs]
Jesse: Make sure you understand why you are doing what you are doing. If you’re doing it solely for the sake of art, you’re just making something, it’s hard to work on that within a business structure most of the time. If you’re doing it and you want to actually make a living, it becomes a completely different story. Having worn so many different hats, I see things from a more pulled back perspective. My advice would be to explore all the different aspects of filmmaking.
Steve Barton: That was a great answer. The only thing I have to add to that is that you need a really thick skin. You’ve got to be prepared for everyone and their grandmother to tell you no, you’re not going to do this, this sucks or you’re dreaming. You’ll hear a lot of really bad, horseshit kind of things. Whether or not these people that tell you that are right, that’s completely up to you and how bad you want it. You’ve always got to keep that in mind. If someone tells you no, evaluate why they told you no. Think about why they said it. Think about what you could have done to make it better. Being told no is not a bad experience. You should learn from it. That’s what I did dude. I sat up one day and said, “OK! I’m going to be involved in the horror genre and I’m going to do whatever I have to do to get there!” Everyone and their grandmother told me no. There is a lot of rejection. There is a lot of heartache. A lot of nights eating Little Debbie snack cakes and Ramen noodles because that’s all you can afford. If you really have it in you, you’re going to do it. Don’t get discouraged. Always learn. Learn fucking everything.
Do you have any last words for your fans out there?
Steve Barton: First of all if they’re a fan of me there is something really wrong with this world! [laughs]. If you are, hang tight because this ride is going to get a lot crazier. [laughs]. I would also like to thank Jesse. [laughs]
Jesse: Aww. Thank you … [laughs]
Thanks for taking time out of your day to speak to me guys! Best of luck out there!
Jesse and Steve Barton: Thanks man!
‘Monsterland’ is now available on DVD and Digital on June 7th via RLJ/Image Entertainment. Check out Icon Vs. Icon’s review of the film – Click Here! Follow the continuing adventures o Steve Barton on Twitter! Last but not least, like ‘Monsterland’ on Facebook!