Guitar legend Slash looks like a horror movie kind of dude even if you didn’t know his background. His trademark on-stage stovepipe hat, aviators, long hair, and tattoos automatically give off the vibe of someone who would totally be into the latest bloodbath or creepshow in his youth. Even his affably laid back and no bullshit demeanour suggests someone who actually goes beyond merely being a fan of the genre and admirer of great works of spooky cinema, but he also puts a lot of thought into what he watches.
It was that love of the genre that led to Slash making the sideways jump from touring musician into filmmaking, producing the first title for his Slasher Films imprint, Nothing Left to Fear (out on DVD and Blu-Ray today). Based around the true life myth and legend that the small town of Stull, Kansas being one of the literal gateways to hell on Earth, Slash hired famed storyboard artist and video director Anthony Leonardi to tell the story of the town’s new pastor (James Tupper from TV’s Revenge) and his family gradually becoming tormented and tortured by demonic visions and a deadly sacrifice at the hands of the sometimes overly creepy townsfolk (including veteran character actor Clancy Brown, who is THE go-to guy for exactly this kind of film).
But while many might think this heavy metal veteran might go back to the 80s era that made him famous with balls to the wall blood, he instead has settled on a film that’s vastly more atmospheric; something that eases the viewer into a creepier and darker world rather than thrusting them into it immediately. It’s more of a throwback to the films he himself wishes he saw more of these days.
Slash sat down with us when he was in Toronto last August promoting the film at FanExpo to talk about the differences between film and music business, why his life has always been following a learning curve, balancing life on the road as a musician with being a producer, how filmmaking plays into his more impulsive desires as an artist, scoring a film he helped produce, and the real life legend of Stull.
Dork Shelf: I think when a lot of people see this film, it’s not really going to be exactly what they expect when they hear that Slash has produced a horror movie.
Slash: (laughs)It’s sort of unfortunate, but it’s my own fault for naming my company Slasher, and that implies that kind of thinking from this hard rock legend guy. You think it would kind of be this mindless gore kind of thing. And actually the only reason the film even got an R-rating stuck on it was because it says “fuck” more than twice.
DS: Which is one of the most ridiculous rules when it comes to rating films in the States.
But one of the things that made me want to get into this was to make the kinds of movies that I wanted to see, and I think they’ve been fewer and farther between over the last 20 or 30 years. You won’t really get these really story and character driven psychological horrors where it’s more of what you don’t see than what you do see. That sort of tension and suspense that you don’t see in dark corners. That’s what I set out to do.
I was given the opportunity to produce. It wasn’t something that I aspired to. It sort of jumped into my lap, so to speak. And I went for it because I’ve been a lifetime horror addict, and I love production and behind the scenes stuff and make-up and all of that kind of shit, so it was intriguing to me, and I think I have the aptitude for it. But it was great to get a chance to start out in this doing something that I would want to see rather than just merely doing it to jump on a bandwagon and see how many buckets of blood we could use in a five minute period. (laughs)
DS: It seems to be what audiences are really starting to get back into these days, anyway. You look at sort of the cult following that someone like Rob Zombie has coming off his last few films or you look at something like The Conjuring, which also got an R-rating but just for being too scary.
S: I thought The Conjuring was really good! I was surprised because I can’t say I was a big fan of Insidious, which was the same director, but when I saw The Conjuring I immediately though “Now, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
DS: What made you think this was the right time to get into producing?
S: Nothing of the sort every crossed my mind in terms of timing. I am very impulsive. Even in music I don’t do what is sort of what’s expected from whatever the current climate is. I just do whatever I like. A lot of the time that can be really against the grain. But there was no forethought with the timing or asking if it would work at a certain time of any of that.
DS: One of the things you mentioned when you started off was that when you make a move there are a lot of things that are out of your control. When you’re a musical artist who already knows quite a bit about the business side of things, there are also lot of things that are out of your control. Here it seems like you might have a bit more control over your product as a film producer in some respects. What would you see as the main difference between having a great deal of patience as a musical artist and having a great deal of patience as a film producer?
S: Well, the thing about being patient as the producer of a film, is that thankfully I have a career as a musician that I can still do. (laughs) That was one of the things I learned early on. I mean, I’m the guy who will shamelessly email people to death to get things going. It’s just a very slow process, and there are really no two ways around it until you can get the money to make the movie. Once you have that, everything is so to-the-fucking-second and you can’t go over. There are so many areas that are not flexible, which is funny because once you have the money for a movie, everything goes so blindingly fast. You first have this script in development, you’re doing the casting, putting a crew together, waiting on this, that, and the other fucking thing, and shit like that, that’s the slow part of the process you can’t do much about.
DS: And it seems as opposed to being a musical artist, you kind of have to take your own ego out of it and realize there are so many more moving parts than what you have to worry about day to day. As an artist you mainly have to worry about your performance over everything else, but here you have to make sure that a whole bunch of people are pulling together and worry about them more individually.
S: Yeah. This was… I don’t want to say low, low budget, but I’ll say it was a reasonably low budget movie, and there weren’t too many people involved really. (laughs) It was actually a great film to start with because there really was just this core, stable unit. There was the cast, the crew, and only when you get to the point where everyone’s on set that you realize it’s this really big production. Then I just left it more or less to the director. I wasn’t even there for most of the shoot because I was on the road at the time. I made a window for the shooting schedule, though, and something that I was prepared for was that I knew nothing would go according to plan. So when the scheduled got backed up and I had to go back into my touring schedule, I could rely on the director, who was out of all the directors I sat down and met with, was the only guy that really had a vision for this movie and knew it from every millisecond to the other. He knew exactly what was going to happen, and so when I wasn’t there I totally trusted him. And my partner was there, of course, so that kept me in the loop while I was away.
DS: How did you hook up with Anthony Leonardi?
S: We had had this script from Jonathan Mills and we had a series of meetings with different directors, and I didn’t have any experience with this, so it was all really new for me to just sit down with a guy who had been given the script and hear what their take on it was. It was just like with anything else, you’re either turned on or you’re not turned on and you just gotta go with your gut. We talked to a bunch of guys, some of which I was familiar with and some of whom I had never heard of before.
Then Anthony, who was of the latter and I had never heard of him before, came in and he had this rolled up, really well loved script. It was all banged up and torn and had coffee stains and sketches all through it, and he had really absorbed this script and came up with a real vision of it. I mean, he’s known for being a really sought after storyboard artist, and he works as a video director and he’s been in the film business for a long time, but he had never done a feature. And he had these great images that he had already painted that felt like a movie. He just felt like the guy, you know? He also came in with this great short that he had done on his own that was scored by Nicholas O’Toole, who ended up being my scoring partner on this.
Anyway, he was the guy, and we sat around and had a lot of script development meetings to get it down. It was originally a longer story when we started, and then we had to cut it back a bit to get it within a budget. My partner actually rewrote a lot of it. Then we went ahead with the casting. It was all practical. There was nothing absurdly difficult or unusual about the whole process, and we went from there.
It was a fun experience and the majority of the people who were involved were nothing but great. There were a couple of ancillary people that came in, as happens, that I didn’t necessarily “enjoy” that much, but even they were helpful in their own way. And it was just like that. It was definitely a great first experience, and I had learned my lesson a long time ago in the music business that you can have that great first experience, but you can never expect every experience to be like that. So I’m prepared for that going into the next one.
DS: Which will be great because those are the experiences that you really learn from.
S: Yeah, that’s so true, and it really is a learning curve all the way through for me in anything I do. Always has been.
DS: Did you guys actually visit Stull, Kansas before you made the film?
S: (laughs) That’s a really good question. I learned about it through Jonathan, the writer, because I had never heard of it before. I mean, I don’t know if you went online and looked into it…
DS: I only really knew that it was seen as one of the gateways to hell and that The Cure refused to play in a nearby town because of it.
S: (laughs) Yeah! That’s true! And The Pope won’t fly over it. I am dying to go there because I haven’t been. We initially did reach out to them to see if we could film there, but they did not want any sensationalism than they already had impeding their small community and their small quiet lives. They have enough problems there with the cemetery they have, and anyone who knows the story thinks they can just go down there and drink beer and have sex, so they had to fence off that cemetery. (laughs)
DS: It’s like that one place that every town seems to have. You know, like those abandoned, supposedly haunted mansions that people dare their buddies to spend the night in.
S: Yeah, and those things are all over the place, especially in the Midwest and in the south.
DS: But this seems like one of those places that everybody legitimately believes is a real thing and not some high school kid trying to prank his friends.
S: I can’t find the origins of it, really. I have scrolled through online endlessly trying to find it and I have never been able to. There’s no way to tell where this whole “seventh gateway to hell” thing came from or where the other six gateways are. But apparently there are up to thirteen other gateways! (laughs and sighs) But whatever, it’s all part of the human experience.
So we ended up shooting in Louisiana, and we found this location that looks surprisingly like rural Kansas, and we shot it all in twenty days. It was a lot of work for Anthony, who was fucking pouring his heart into this and stressing it out every day to get this done, but it’s been good.
DS: What’s it also like doing the score for a movie you’ve worked some closely on every other aspect of?
S: You know, as attracted as I was to producing a movie, part of the allure was that I would be more or less responsible with the music. A big part of seeing a movie for me, in any genre, is the combination of the story and what’s going on on-screen married with a good soundtrack. When that works perfectly, it’s the ultimate moviegoing experience. Movies can be so dramatic and so moving with the right music.
I was excited about that, and I knew that for this movie it was never going to be a guitar or band driven score, and that it was going to be a lot more orchestral. So Anthony introduced me to his friend Nicolas, who I was talking about before, and we got together. I had already written some of the music based on the script and some of Anthony’s storyboards, and I presented that and Anthony then picked what he thought would work and what would fit. Then I got together with Nicholas, and I have to absolutely give credit where credit is due, but he’s responsible for how the theme song sounded through the whole thing. He’s a brilliant fucking guy and a great sound designer, composer, and he did orchestral interpretations of everything I wrote and added some stuff of his own and put it all in there. So all things considered, he’s a genius.
We sat together, even when I was on the road, and he would be recording all of these tracks on reels so we could sync it up and do it all together. So it would be, like, I would do a show, get on the bus, go to the motel, work on the score all night, get back on the bus, do another show, work on the fucking thing, and I think it fits my personality type. I actually love being bogged down with all this shit to do.
DS: Would you say you’re someone who loves learning to do new things?
S: I love learning new stuff about stuff that I like. (laughs)