Friday, February 27, 2009

Year of the Donkey (Rhoades)

Meet the Filmmaker Series Features Horror Theme

A dead ringer for funnyman Bill Murray, director-writer Kevin Rhoades settles back in his cluttered Brooklyn apartment to talk about his new horror film, “Year of the Donkey.” He is surrounded by humming Mac computers and editing equipment, Hollywood death masks (Tor Johnson and Alfred Hitchcock, among others) and a Spider-Man pinball machine.
A working media professional, he’s currently editor on the Emeril Green cable-TV cooking show, although he’s had lots of experience with music concert promos, educational videos, infomercials, network news programs, feature films, and documentaries.

A grad of Savannah College of Art and Design and the New York Film Academy, he grew up watching low-budget horror films. As a matter of fact, he made his own first film at age five, a short stop-motion horror parody called “Kevin vs. Godzilla.” He’ll even show it to you if you ask him nicely.

“Year of the Donkey” makes its Florida premiere this Wednesday night (March 4th) at the Tropic Cinema on Eaton Street. It is part of the Tropic’s Meet the Filmmaker series. Rhoades and members of his film crew will be on hand to answer questions from the audience. Including: Why did he choose to make a retro horror film, not exactly a candidate for the Sundance Festival.

“I’ve always been fond of scary movies,” Rhoades admits with a shrug. “Monster movies, slasher films, old dark house mysteries, you name it. One of my earliest movie-going memories was seeing a ‘Jaws’ / ‘Omen’ double feature with my dad. We used to watch Hammer vampire flicks, Hershel Gordon Lewis blood fests, old Universal monster movies, early John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper fright films – certainly enough to warp a young mind.”

He says all this with a straight face that makes you pause before you realize he’s making a sly joke.

“Year of the Donkey” was an homage to the films of his childhood, he says. “But I wanted to give the genre my own twist. Sex does not have to equate with death. Death can easily come to good girls as well as bad.”

His new film was shot in four weekends, mostly in upstate New York. But it used a Key West crew.

Having worked on official Key West Fantasy Fest videos with local filmmaker Jeremy Hyatt, he chose him as cinematographer on this turn-a-genre-upside-down production. Key West producers Shirrel Rhoades and Albert L. Kelley acted as consultants (as well as being fathers of the pair). And Key West singer Dawn Wilder contributed a song for the film.

“Year of the Donkey” was shot in High Definition. “That was important,” Rhoades says. “Hi-Def gives you a chance at a longer shelf life and also is just a better picture. We shot all on a hard drive (p2 card), and then transferred it straight into editing. The only time any footage will see tape is on the final master.”

“The original script was so graphic that I had a hard time casting it,” he says. “Many actors said thanks but no thanks after reading the script.”

Graphic? You mean blood and gore? we ask.

“No, sex,” he replies. Again, it’s hard to tell whether he’s joking.

One of the stars of the film, he claims, is a sex toy named Mr. Pink.

“Then I tamed it down a bit, as I started to like the story,” he admits. “It became less about shock and more about the story.”

Rhoades cast his indie film with young New York actors, up-and-comers like Jen Emma Hertel, Sheba Wolf, and David Cooper.

“The cast of this film really found its way and took it to another place,” he comments. “I’ve never had a cast click as well as this one did.”

Some other actors were originally cast. “For one reason or another they couldn’t be in the film, and now I can’t image any other actors in these rolls,” he says.

“Trying to come up with a catchy tagline was lots of fun. We came up with phrases like, ‘Putting the Ho Back into Horror’ and ‘A Little Bit of Fetish and One Killer Ass.’ Maybe we’ll have a contest with a neat prize for whoever comes up with the best tagline,” he muses.
Neat prize? “You know, maybe a jar of eyeballs. Or a donkey mask.”

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