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Matthew Jason Walsh
Tonight's Feature Presentation

LOW BUDGET EVIL: SCREAM OF THE WRITER

an interview with matthew jason walsh

(from the archives of Ziggy's Video Realm)

The Green Room

Matthew Jason Walsh has just about done it all on the low budget movie scene, but he’s mainly known for his writing, with over 30 movies to his official credit, and who knows how many more that his name isn’t on.  One of his films, Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy, is especially infamous as having spent time on the “top” of the IMDB’s list of the worst movies ever made.  In this interview with Ziggy, he makes no excuses (we’ve all got to pay the rent somehow), but he does give quite a few insights into the bargain basement of the movie world, and makes his confession about Ancient Evil.

Matthew Jason Walsh was a legend at Ziggy’s Video Realm, if you equate the term “legend” with “favorite target.”  For years, we mercilessly (though justifiably) trashed as many of his movies as we could find, and played no small part in giving 'Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy' its well deserved rep on the web.  Then one day he dropped me an email and basically agreed with the virtual bonfire; an email which in turn led to this interview.  Whatever you think of his work – and, to be fair, what others have done to it – Matthew Jason Walsh is a great guy who knows what’s what and who knows when to laugh at himself.  I’ll still groan at his movies, but I’ll always have a lot of respect for the man himself.


The Interview


Ziggy: How did you get started working in movies?

Matthew Jason Walsh: When I was sixteen, I did a lot of improv acting in a troupe that toured the state of Maryland and I suffered the delusion that I'd somehow move on to acting in movies. I was also interested in being a novelist or a musician, so you can see my high school guidance counsellor was pretty goddamn lousy at his job. Anyway, I went to a few auditions, including one for the Neil Patrick Harris role in Clara's Heart. Following that same flawless sixteen-year-old wisdom that had led me to want to become an actor in the first place, I decided I'd write my own movie and act in it. Needless to say, this didn't go down as well as I'd planned. I pestered damn near every production company in the state of Maryland to take a look at my script, and most of them were understandably reluctant to do that. Finally, one company -- Steve Yeager Films -- kinda leafed through it and decided to give me a job as slate and continuity on pickup shooting on On the Block, starring Howard Rollins. My first job on a movie set.

Finally, I got so desperate to be taken seriously, I took out an ad in 'Fangoria' magazine, with the intention of putting together my own flick (this was 1988, before everybody and their brother was shooting a movie in their backyard). One of the people who answered the ad was a cat named J.R. Bookwalter, and that's pretty much how it all got started. Blame him!

Ziggy: You’ve pretty much done it all behind the scenes, but which do you consider yourself first - a writer, a director, a composer, a marketing guy, an effects wizard? Why?

Matthew Jason Walsh: Well, I don't consider myself any of those things! On a movie as small as some of the ones I've worked on, if you can even pretend to do something, they usually let you do it, just because there's nobody else around. I made a decent living as a writer for a while, so I probably consider myself a writer first, just by default.

Ziggy: What is the screenwriting process usually like for you? Do you primarily market your own ideas, or do people come to you, tell you what they want, and then you have at it?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I've written movies professionally for fourteen years, and I've only ever been able to write something from the ground up once, which was Bloodletting, and that's kind of arguable. I've tried to get some of the companies I've worked for over the years to read some of my original material and they've never had any interest, but that's how it goes, most of the time. Companies usually come to you to develop their ideas, not yours.

Usually, when I'm working for someone, they give me a rough idea of what they want, and I'm also given a set of parameters, like budget restraints, locations, rating, etc. I shuttle a treatment back and forth with them until they're happy with the storyline, then, I write the script and it also gets shuttled back and forth til they're happy with it. Sometimes, I get more freedom than that, usually, less. Usually, the dialogue gets hacked up first, then, the more elaborate set pieces. Most of the Regent material is utterly emasculated (no pun intended) by the time it goes into production. For some reason, even though they're R-rated movies, the characters weren't allowed to say anything worse than "damn" or "hell". My favorite example is The Frightening -- I had to take out any references to characters smoking cigarettes. These things are tailored to appease certain people: the M.P.A.A., Blockbuster, the German buyers, etc. It's product.

Ziggy: Do they usually want it good, or do they want it in a week?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I get hired to write movies for three reasons: I'm really cheap, I'm really fast and I do what I'm told. It's definitely not for my Mamet-esque dialogue! The only example of wanting it good instead of wanting it next week I can think of is the company I'm working for now, Cinevu Films, the guys who did the SnakeEater movies. They hired me to develop a higher-end project for them and when I told them I could deliver a first draft in two weeks, they damn near keeled over. Then, they suggested I take a little more time. Usually, though, I don't really get the time to do anything except make page count.

Ziggy: How much of what ends up on the screen tends to be what you wrote as opposed to someone else’s “finessing”? Have you done much uncredited “finessing” yourself?

Matthew Jason Walsh: On most of the stuff I've ever worked on, it all gets done by committee. There's usually two or three guys going over the treatments, handing me notes, and I've been in three-and-four-way conference calls with people over script revisions all the way up to preproduction. I think it's a common misconception that somebody writes their own script, hands it to a movie company and they go out and shoot it exactly the way it was written. Usually, a movie comes out and it doesn't feel like anything I wrote at all -- it's more like "October Rent", "January Gas Bill", etc.

Believe it or not, I've been brought in on a few occassions to fix up somebody else's mess, and if you think I'm a lousy writer, let me assure you, there are worse. A lot worse. Usually though, I get a credit for it. Considering some of the stuff I've worked on, that's not always for the best.

Ziggy: What tends to go into scoring a low budget picture?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I usually sit through a window burn of the locked cut with a yellow legal notepad -- my all-time favorite accessory -- and I'll hum along where the music goes, if somebody hasn't temp-scored it already. Which, of course, kind of sounds retarded, but it works for me. So I'll write down the SMPTE numbers and make notes of what I think should go there if there isn't an idea already given to me. When I first started scoring movies, I did everything on a cheap Casio and we didn't have the luxury of SMPTE, it was all done on the fly, so I'd write a lot of generic cues and those would be laid in like tailor-made stock music. These days, I'm much more spoiled; I have a decent rack of gear and I do everything on a computer and I can tweak a cue all day long til I'm happy with it.

Ziggy: When songs with lyrics are involved, how do you usually find the vocal talent, and how often do you run into that term being a misnomer?

Matthew Jason Walsh: In my younger days, I was in a lot of shitty garage-type bands, so everybody was equally bad and I never thought about it. Since I once again have decided to do something foolhardy and cut an album, I'm a lot more exacting about what I do and who I work with. I found my current vocalist, Robyn Griggs, by accident. She was putting on her own horror convention and invited me as a guest. I then discovered she'd been a regular on "Another World" and "One Life To Live" and that she'd had a background as a singer and a Broadway actress, so, naturally, I bugged the shit out of her to sing on my album. But it's usually tough to find somebody to sing, especially since everybody seems to want to do their own material.

Ziggy: The genre films you work with tend to get very little mainstream respect and are often labeled as “bad” sight unseen. Does this ever get to you, or do you take it all in stride and just trust the fans to sort it out?

Matthew Jason Walsh: For me, the problem is, most of the stuff I've worked on, I wouldn't rent on a bet. I read bad reviews of this stuff all the time, and I invariably agree with about ninety percent of what gets said about it. I'm usually more amazed when somebody comes up to me and actually starts extolling the virtues of one of my movies. You either have to be objective about what you do or you never move on to anything else.

The problem is, movies are rarely made by honest filmmakers anymore; they're made by investors who hire writers, directors, and an attractive cast to fill an attractive-looking DVD case. That's even more true on the level of the movies that I work on than it is in Hollywood, since most of the time, these guys are trying to chase the studios' tails and offer similar, if not reaaaaally cheaper fare to whatever has been the box-office champ at the moment. I think, as "real movies" become more charmless, devoid of soul, and driven purely by profit, their B-movie counterparts have suffered the same fate, and probably to an even worse detriment.

Below that, anybody who wants to make a movie can now make one. DV technology offers anybody a way to shoot a movie, cut a movie, burn it to DVD, manufacture a slip cover. You don't have to shoot on film anymore, you don't have to come up with an investment memorandum, you don't have to know how to light a movie, mic actors, conform a negative, run time code, do ADR or foley or any of that. That sounded like a wonderful promise when all of this was introduced, but that means the eighty guys who would have been weeded out purely by the process of making a legit movie, and who therefore didn't get to learn anything by working on movie sets, watching pro directors make movies, or learn their craft just by working their way up the ranks, are now shooting stuff and putting it out and telling you it's a movie. So I think, yeah, in a long-winded, roundabout way, I'm saying the industry probably earns its bad rap.

Ziggy: How did Bloodletting come about?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I was doing the visual effects and the score for J.R. Bookwalter's movie, Polymorph, in the summer of 1996, and the experience went down so well that, while I was in Ohio, I offhandedly suggested that we try and make another DV movie. I had a script I really wanted to make and it was something we could do cheap; no exploding cars or anything. The previous summer, I'd shot a 32-minute short called I've Killed Before, mostly just to do something. Anyway, Bookwalter's then-girlfriend, Ariauna Albright, who had acted in the short, had volunteered the use of her credit cards to help finance the film ... but she was interested in acting in a feature-length version of I've Killed Before. So my script was pitched and I was suddenly expanding the idea of the short into a feature-length project.

Ziggy: Is the story true that you got paid for that movie by being allowed to max out Ariauna Albright’s Visa card? If so, what did you buy?

Matthew Jason Walsh: No, the movie was financed on Ariauna Albright's credit cards -- I never saw a dime. I had a twenty-five percent stake in the movie's profits which I sold off to Bookwalter a few years ago, but the whole time I was in Ohio during the production, I didn't get paid anything. I was kind of put up during shooting and I don't think anybody would have let me starve to death or anything, but if I'd been allowed to max out someone's credit cards as payment for Bloodletting, the movie would have never gotten finished. They would have discovered my bloated corpse floating in the Gulf of Mexico after a Leaving Las Vegas-style drinking binge.

Ziggy: What was the directorial experience like for you?

Matthew Jason Walsh: Well, it was very frustrating, because I was also unceremoniously given the job of producer, on-set makeup FX, props, I wound up operating the boom as the two or three people who volunteered to help out on the set wandered off and everybody who worked on Bloodletting came to the project burnt out because they'd just finished Polymorph a couple of months earlier. So I feel I was dealing with too many other things and under too much pressure to get things finished quickly to get to just sit there and direct, like I wanted to. If I ever do another movie, I wouldn't do it without a solid crew. And a producer.

Ziggy: What was the biggest challenge you faced when making Bloodletting?

Matthew Jason Walsh: Among other things, we were shooting on the middle of one of the worst winters Ohio had ever experienced, and it was freezing during the entire shoot. The original ending of the movie was meant to take place in the woods, and everybody else was adamant that they weren't going to "die of pneumonia" for this movie, so we moved the ending to a warehouse, which caused us a lot of problems. The guy who owned the warehouse decided early on he was either gonna play around with us or that we were being too disruptive to the business he was running out of the warehouse, so every time we needed to get in there, it was a problem. It wound up extending the shoot by two months. And on one of those occassions we did get into warehouse, there was the infamous incident where James Edwards accidentally slugged Ariauna Albright in the face during a fight scene. That place was cursed.

Ziggy: What is your favorite behind-the-scenes memory from that film?

Matthew Jason Walsh: The scene at Ward and June's house, which was actually the apartment I was staying at, at the time. Somehow, I had forgotten that our next door neighbors were religious nuts and here I had James L. Edwards and Ariauna Albright decked out as a priest and a nun and James is toting a shotgun. While they were waiting for their cue, they had to stand out on the front porch with all these movie lights on them. The neighbors never spoke to us again.

Ziggy: As a member of the audience, what’s your favorite scene in the movie?

Matthew Jason Walsh: For all its flaws, I like the scene in the graveyard. The setting was perfect, the weather was just right and, for me, that's the iconic scene between James and Ariauna, really what the movie boils down to. Everybody else likes the goddamn exploding baby. Go figure.

Ziggy: Tell us how you got paired up with David DeCoteau.

Matthew Jason Walsh: I met DeCoteau in 1990, the first time I moved to L.A. At the time, he was financing stuff for Bookwalter, like Robot Ninja and Skinned Alive, and Bookwalter was contemplating trying to get some of the stuff he and I developed, like The Sandman backed by Dave D. So Dave knew I could write a script, I guess, and had me develop some stuff for him.

Ziggy: The Holy Inquisition will now hear your confession with regard to Ancient Evil: Scream of the Mummy. Spare us no details; we’ve seen the movie, surely the story behind it can’t be any worse.

Matthew Jason Walsh: Well, my part of the story's probably pretty boring. Dave was trying to launch his Rapid Heart Pictures company and was deadset and determined to make this movie and possibly ride the then-success of The Mummy. He came to me with everything pretty much laid out on 4 x 5 index cards and read those to me over the phone. I put it all together in script form, which he micro-tuned further, to his liking, and he went off and shot it. I'm pretty sure he shot that flick in either four or five days. He finished on film, but since he wasn't paying for opticals, it's all straight cuts. I wasn't even allowed to write "FADE OUT" at the end of the script, I had to write "CUT TO BLACK".

I remember getting a VHS cut of the flick and watching it with a bunch of friends and, by the end of the movie, my jaw was just on the floor. I really had thought I was shock-proof, up to that point. I had kept asking people who had worked on it about the flick what it was looking like, how the mummy looked, did everything turn out okay, etc., and they'd all respond, kinda ominously, "Dude, you're just gonna have to see this one for yourself."

I guess they were right on that one. As a writer, you always kind of hope there's one or two saving graces to a movie you've just worked on, but you look and nothing's there. The script, obviously, was horrible, and it just devolved from that. The worst part is, every character in that movie has something to explain. Where they're going. Why they're going there. I had worked out a couple of elaborate fight scenes and scary stuff, the mummy walking around in the dark, stuff like that, and it just wasn't gonna happen on that budget and with that kind of shooting schedule. So, what remains is eighty minutes of Beer-Gut The Mummy waddling around these brightly lit hallways and these kids pretty much narrating the rest of the movie for us. And no blood. And no visual effects. And the plot ... kids being left alone at an "archaeology summer camp". I can't think of anything else to say that hasn't already been said, except, I'm sorry. I'm really, really, truly sorry.

After me and my friends watched the movie, my friend goes, "Man, you know what? The mummy didn't even scream."

Me (contemplating suicide): "Shut up."

Ziggy: In your estimation, is that the worst movie you’ve ever had your name attached to, or is there something worse lurking in the shadows somewhere?

Matthew Jason Walsh: Oh, I'm sure there's worse. I notice on your forum, you announced when Ancient Evil made #1 on the "Worst Movie Of All Time" list on the IMDb. Guess what it knocked out of the number one position? The Killer Eye. Guess who wrote a pass on that script?

Ziggy: What do you think is the best work you’ve ever done, and why?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I think everything I do is horrible. I don't hold up anything as my "best", but my favorite movie remains Alien Arsenal, which Dave D. directed for Full Moon for one of their kids' labels. My dream in life was to write the Spider-Man flick, and since, in the real world, that was never gonna happen, I was glad I got to write something in that vein, anyway.

Ziggy: What is your favorite scene or line of dialogue that you’ve ever written?

Matthew Jason Walsh: "Wow, you look like you fell down a flight of abusive boyfriends" - Debbie Rochon, Witchouse 3.

Ziggy: Is there any one scene or line of dialogue that you wish would crawl back into your word processing program and erase itself, and if so, what is it, and why?

Matthew Jason Walsh: About ninety-eight percent of what I've ever written, actually!

Ziggy: What has been the best time you’ve had working behind the scenes in low budget filmmaking?

Matthew Jason Walsh: My favorite all-time experience on a low-budget movie was when I supervised the visual effects on Curse of the Puppetmaster. We had to travel out to this Old West set where they were shooting Phantom Town, since we were kinda piggy-backing shooting our background plates for the CGI stuff on Jeff Burr's crew and DP. Since I'm a Western nut, it was an amazing experience for me. This whole mock Old West town was laid out on somebody's ranch and I had to go in every building just to check it out: the saloon, the jail, etc. That was one of the few times in my career where I suddenly felt like I was actually working on a movie.

Ziggy: What would you like to do in filmmaking that you haven’t done yet?

Matthew Jason Walsh: I have this script I've been shopping around for my own personal retro-redux of High Plains Drifter, with a woman in the Clint Eastwood role. I'd love to direct that, and do it the way it's written, if for no other reason than for everybody else to go "Oh! So that's the kind of movie you want to make!"

Ziggy: What’s really next for you?

Matthew Jason Walsh: Well, I have the album, which I've been rolling all my illicit movie money into, and that might balloon into a live show and maybe, someday, a movie ... but its my own little thing I retreat into after spending the rest of my day taking orders from other people. Beyond that, there's Ring of Darkness, which I co-wrote for Dave D. and starring Adrienne Barbeau, coming out this fall, and I'm now working with Cinevu, which is in your neck of the woods, and I've already developed one project for them, which will hopefully turn into something big. After working for Canadians, and the experience I had working with Cinevu Films, I'm damn near ready to emigrate! It was really the antithesis of most of the stuff I've ever had to deal with. Anyway, I'm hoping it gets me out of "Z" movies and maybe up to "Q" movies or something.

Ziggy: What is the worst movie you have ever seen, and what made it so?

Matthew Jason Walsh: House of 1000 Corpses. I'm a big fan of Rob Zombie's music and I knew he did a lot of things, directing, artwork, animation, so I went into that expecting incredible things, or at least, entertaining things. I was just appalled. There were literally entire scenes lifted from Texas Chainsaw Massacre II in that thing. And didn't somebody tap the director on the shoulder and go, "Uh, Mr. Zombie, sir? I think Bill Moseley already played this role in 1986!"

Ziggy: Last thing I always ask... What are your favorite films?

Matthew Jason Walsh: My favorite film of all time remains The Outlaw Josie Wales. For me, it was the moment where Westerns grew up, became gritty and real while retaining all the things people who love this genre of movie admire about them.

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- Interview conducted by Ziggy, May, 2004


You can email Ziggy at ziggy@cinemaontherocks.com. You can also find us on Facebook.


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