With a name like Graham Skipper, you’d expect a fun interview. Most folks know Graham from his roles on camera in Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye and Beyond the Gates, and on stage in the hit Los Angeles production of Re-Animator: The Musical. But – get this – he directs too! His new feature, the sci-fi romance Sequence Break, world premieres April 6th at the ridiculously loaded Chattanooga Film Festival. Graham took the time to chew the fat with me about his influences, why musical theatre rocks, and what horror film wrecked his 13-year-old self.
What are your thoughts on the current state of horror and where do you see yourself fitting in, as both a filmmaker and as an actor?
Graham Skipper: Honestly, the atmosphere today feels like what the horror community saw back in the 70s, with a bunch of independent artists breaking through into the mainstream and challenging conventions. It doesn’t cost as much to make a movie nowadays, so filmmakers are able to take bigger risks and tell crazier stories. And then, with the internet and the incredible accessibility of great horror websites and podcasts, I think it’s that much easier for really great films to get the attention they deserve and get seen by people, whereas once upon a time they may have been lost to a corner of the VHS rental shelf. All in all, it’s a great time to be a horror fan, and I really believe it’s only going to get better. Where do I see myself fitting in? I don’t know! The horror community is a really tight-knit and supportive one, so fortunately I think we’ll all continue to support each others’ work, whether we’re directors, actors, producers, or whatever you may be.
Do you ever worry about there being too much content out there, specifically in the horror genre?
Well that’s where I think services like Shudder, Scream Factory, Grindhouse Releasing, Severin…they’re all so important because they’re sort of functioning as the VHS store clerk that knows what he’s talking about and can point you in the right direction. It can be hard to sift through the mountains of content available at the click of a button, but between the curators I listed above, as well as distributors whose material you know you love — like for me I know if IFC Midnight puts something out I’m probably going to like it — then you can still find the good stuff. But the cool thing is that sometimes that random “what the hell is this movie” moment when you find something you’ve never heard of on Netflix, can be really cool! To me, the more the merrier. More art in the world is always better than less.
Who are the guys and gals, indie or mainstream that are really knocking it out of the park?
What is so great about this question is just how many people I could name that would fit this description. Off the top of my head: Gareth Evans, who directed The Raid and The Raid 2, is an absolute genius. Some of the best action cinema ever made. Mickey Keating is amazing, constantly churning out films that are totally unique, confident, sadistic and beautiful. Roxanne Benjamin is really taking this industry by the balls and making some fantastic movies – you should check out XX immediately if you haven’t already, and Southbound was one of my favorites from last year. Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation totally blew me away… Obviously guys like Joe Begos, Jackson Stewart, David Bruckner, Ti West, the Coatwolf guys, Travis Stevens… There’s really too many to mention and I know I’ll immediately regret not saying someone.
I’ve been asking this question a lot lately, but I’m interested in the different answers. What do you think about David Gordon Green and Danny McBride tackling the Halloween sequel?
I’m thrilled about it! For anyone that says “comedians can’t do horror” just point them to Get Out.
So: Sequence Break is premiering April 6th at the Chattanooga Film Festival. I see it described as a sci-fi romance, and for some reason I’m getting a sort of Re-Animator vibe to it. Is that valid?
You know, I’d say it’s more Altered States than Re-Animator, but Stuart Gordon’s influence definitely looms large over the film. Basically, it’s about this guy Oz, played by Chase Williamson, who is a video arcade repair technician that finds himself caught in a turbulent moment in his life. His shop’s closing down, he meets this beautiful and mysterious woman (played by Southbound‘s Fabianne Therese), and a strange arcade game shows up out of nowhere that seems to have a mind of its own. The movie is all about how Oz handles this blooming love, while his reality starts to crumble in the form of hallucinations, Cronenbergian mutations, and the arcade game’s sinister influence – what’s real, what’s not, and how far down the rabbit hole is it possible to go? Videodrome meets Altered States is maybe the best elevator pitch I could give.
With the game, and the hallucinations, now I am picking up a sort of Brainscan vibe, an underrated horror flick I loved as a kid. So maybe you can just pile on some Brainscan love?
Total Brainscan love! I have Joe Begos to thank for introducing me to Brainscan. The Trickster is one of those horror icons I wish had gotten more airtime. I mean, Wishmaster has 3 sequels, where’s my Brainscan: Trickster’s Revenge??
Speaking of Re-Animator – you were pretty successful in your run as Dr. Herbert West in the L.A. musical version of that film. Any desire to jump into another musical? Are you one of those guys who would sell their soul to play Javert?
I love musicals! Been a musical theatre nerd since I was a kid. Javert is a fantastic role that I’d kill to play. My dream role is probably to play Sweeney Todd, or Burrs from The Wild Party. I miss doing Re-Animator terribly, but I’m excited that we’ve recorded a cast album and that will hopefully be out sometime soon.
Now that the musical door is open, I grew up in the theatre, so I have to know what are your thoughts on what a lot of folks would call ‘community theatre’? Back in the 70’s, ‘community theatre’ and ‘regional theatre’ were respected and important and filled a vital role in the continuing arts education in the country. And, while it’s role is still vital, I get the overwhelming sense that that respect has all but disappeared. Why do you think that is?
This is a really interesting question. First, I think community theatre is vital, important, crucial, and deserving of every ounce of respect we can give. I grew up performing in community theatre and continued to do so throughout college and after. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about performing, but there’s something truly special about seeing your work admired the way it is by local folks that don’t get the opportunity to see live theatre except for out where they live. If there is any respect for it that’s disappeared – which would be really sad – I would have to guess it’s because of our nation’s obsession with glitz and glamour, and fame. Community theatre is certainly not glamorous, nor do they have movie stars in the shows or whatever, but they serve an important role in their communities and can really change lives. I wish our government would support small local theatre like that in a more significant way.
When did your love of the horror genre begin?
Well, speaking of Sweeney Todd, that is one of my earliest horror influences – easily digestible (no pun intended) for a kid but carrying some seriously intense themes and horror elements. My cousin was in a college production of it when I was really young, and, after that, the soundtrack was on constant rotation. The movie that really nailed me, though, was The Exorcist. I had always been interested in horror, but been too afraid to watch the movies for the most part. So, my parents bring home The Exorcist on VHS when I was like 13, and it wrecked me. I couldn’t sleep all night, I was just completely terrified. The next morning was a Sunday, and I immediately got up in the morning and put it on again. I remember thinking, “I know logically the devil isn’t going to possess me, but this filmmaker made me think it could. How did he do that?” So I watched it I think four times that day. Invited my friends over the next weekend to show them. I loved dissecting it and then reading up in books about the special effects and who Friedkin was and all that. And I was hooked.
As an actor, most folks probably know you from Joe Begos’ films, Almost Human and The Mind’s Eye, and Jackson Stewart’s Beyond the Gates, which was released last year. How do you like to be directed, and how do you look to work with your actors, as a director?
Good question! Personally, I like to get a “road map” from the director – are there any influences from other movies, any major personal elements they feel the character deals with, secrets they may keep, where do they want me to start and where do I end up? – then from there I map out how I get from A to Z. I like a lot of freedom, and I work best when talking in specific objectives for my character. I like to give the same to my actors, but, ultimately the greatest gift a director can give an actor is access, rehearsal time, freedom to explore ideas organically, and a guiding hand but open mind. So I try to be that.
What’s the best non-‘genre’ film you’ve seen in the past month? And why?
I saw a great documentary on Netflix called Lo and Behold by Werner Herzog. It’s all about the creation of the internet and in typical Herzog fashion is full of intensity, dark humor, and really gets into some history I had no idea about. Plus I could listen to Herzog speak on a continuous loop for hours.
Your last name is Skipper. Have you seen “My Dog Skip”? If so, did you cry? If not, what in the hell is wrong with you that dog was fucking adorable!
Of course I have and of course I did! What kind of heartless monster wouldn’t cry??
What is your favorite meme? Please send and discuss.
Anything with this image.
Patrick Stewart is an international treasure. Captain Picard is a goddamned hero to us all, and I just can’t get enough of him being baffled by peoples’ stupidity.
What’s next on your agenda? As an actor and/or a director. Any projects you can talk about?
I hate to give this answer, but I have lots of stuff coming up that I don’t know that I can really talk about! Lots of fun projects on the horizon as an actor, some films I shot last year that should be coming out or hitting the fest circuit soon, and, then as a director, I have several ideas for follow-up films that I don’t want to give specifics about yet. But I’m hoping that folks dig Sequence Break enough that they’ll want me to tell some other crazy stories. Specifically, though, look out for Beyond The Gates hitting blu-ray in May, and then sometime this year the Re-Animator the Musical soundtrack will be hitting shelves!
What would be your ultimate ‘dream project,’ whether a remake, a sequel, or something previously untouched?
One of my favorite books of all time is Clive Barker’s Weaveworld – it’s one of the books I read as a teen that got me into horror fiction, and I would kill to get to develop that into a feature film. As for a remake, I’ve always thought that – while I love the original – Event Horizon could stand an update. It’s a great movie, but there’s some stuff in it that I don’t think quite holds up, or really sticks its landing, so I’d like to play in Dr. Weir’s world a little bit.
You’re premiering at Chattanooga Film Festival. It’s an awesome genre-heavy festival in Tennessee, and it’s definitely becoming a major player on the circuit, but it is still sort of an unexpected (but great) choice for a world premiere. What do you look for in a festival when you’re deciding where to premiere?
You know, in all aspects of my life I gravitate towards good, genuine people, and respond the best to people that share my enthusiasm for all things, horror included. Chris Dortch and everyone at Chattanooga have been doing such great work over the last few years, and have been such enthusiastic supporters of our film, that I couldn’t think of a better place to birth my movie into the world, or a better group of filmmakers and fans to birth it in front of. That’s a weird metaphor, I guess, cause now I’m imagining Josh Ethier standing in front of me drinking a beer as I give birth Xtro-style to an arcade machine. But you get what I mean.
I do understand. My feature was a secret screening at CFF last year and their enthusiasm for it was so appreciated and so infectious, I ended up becoming more confident in the film because of it. Out of everything you know about Chattanooga – whether the line-up ot the city – what are you most looking forward to (apart from your premiere)?
Man, just hanging out! What I love best about Fantastic Fest, for instance, are the people you meet and the food you eat. As I understand it, CFF is all about both of those things, so when you slam them together with a love for film, a bunch of filmmakers doing wild and unique work, and then screenings of amazing movies, it’s a recipe for a hell of a weekend.
Finally: What is the most underrated horror film, to you? What is the one film that people probably don’t know but need to discover ASAP?
The first title that popped into my head was Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond. Everyone knows Re-Animator (as they should!) but that’s his follow-up to it with much of the same cast and crew and it is absolutely bonkers. Super slimy, amazing special effects, and some incredible kills. In fact, I’d just say Stuart Gordon’s filmography overall. Some lesser-known gems: Dolls, Castle Freak, Fortress, Robot Jox…Check’em out.
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