When you mention Fred Vogel’s name in certain circles, you’ll often hear a repeated phrase; “Man, that guy makes some brutal films.” This is not a slur against him. He truly does make brutal films. Films like “Mordum,” “The Redsin Tower” and “Maskhead” to name a few, brutal, violent horror films directed by a man who knows his craft and his audience well. Vogel’s newest film is still brutal but in a much different way.
In his first film since 2009’s “Sella Turcica,” Vogel returns with something that is in some ways, vastly different than what the fans of his previous work are accustomed. “The Final Interview” isn’t drenched in onscreen blood and viscera. This doesn’t make it any less brutal however; Vogel’s other films almost flat out dare you to keep watching uncomfortable scenes.
This time around, it’s almost like he dares you tolook away. And you can’t. You don’t look away. It’s that compelling.
“The Final Interview” set up is simple; Washed up, alcoholic reporter Oliver Ross (Grainger Hines) is set to interview murderer Darius Tidman (Damien Maruscak) live on television on the night of his execution. It’s not an ideal situation since the murderer wasn’t his first choice to interview and it’s also a job scored by his ex-wife Rhonda (Diane Franklin.) He’s a very troubled man at war with alcohol, pills and ultimately himself. It’s obvious from the outset, it’s a war he’s been losing; even before the subject of the interview is brought into the film, you already know who Ross is and he’s not someone you can like. He’s miserable and arrogant. By the time Tidman is brought in chains to be seated in front of Ross, you’re ready to see sparks.
The rest of the film becomes a taut, tense dance between Ross and Tidman. The films pivots skillfully as both the “Live” broadcast (complete with a great old Pepperidge Farm cookie commercial) and as the “secret version’ complete with commentary from Rhonda as she desperately tries to keep the interview from veering too far off course. Throughout these scenes, you hear Rhonda giving direction (and occasionally, a verbal shellacking) to Ross via his earpiece. I expected this to get annoying after a while, but Franklin’s off screen voice presence adds a texture to the interview that kept it from becoming trite. There are cuts to Rhonda (who is relegated to directing the live feed from a van) expressively reacting to what she is seeing and hearing and at times becomes the voice of the audience. She becomes the glue that holds Ross together for most of the interview (and frankly, the glue that keeps these scenes from feeling too long.)
That is, until Ross makes that impossible.
As Ross interviews Tidman, there is an entire relationship that forms before our eyes. The ‘getting to know you phase,’ the ‘fun’ phase, etcetera. It develops so subtly, you nearly forget you’re watching a film. Vogel and screenwriter Scott Swan hold a lot of the credit for this; it’s not easy to pretend to build a rapport between two fundamentally unlikable characters, but they had two things on their side.
Namely, Hines and Maruscak.
If there were more furniture in this film, they would both have left teeth marks on nearly everything. Hines delivers a solid, swarthy performance as Ross. Maruscak is eerily convincing as a serial killer without resorting to over acting, or falling back on the millionth Anthony Hopkins impression. This film could be, for the most part, performed as a stage play if it weren’t for the absolutely necessary “Greek Chorus” of Franklin’s Rhonda.
What strikes me most about this film is how subtle it is; Vogel said after the showing at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont PA that he wanted to make a different film. He certainly did. From the music, to the slow, tense build to the actual interview, this film holds your attention tightly. It’s not flashy, it’s not blood and guts, but it is compelling and it remains emotionally brutal.
Fred Vogel has made a tightly wound thriller with a fantastic payoff. He made a smart, gripping yet subtle film that should do well in the independent film circuit with both audiences and critics.
In the post film Q and A, a fan asked him point blank if this film was the end of his violent movie making. His response left no doubt.
“No,” he said simply and directly at which point the audience erupted in applause.
I believe him. But, I also believe that he should also make more films like “The Final Interview.” This is a solid movie made by a solid filmmaker reaching his stride. This movie shows a promise of things to come for Vogel that maybe even he didn’t expect. And I think he’s more than ready for it.
Part of what’s great about being an author isn’t getting rejection letters. In fact, it sort of ranks up there with stepping on a nail, burning yourself on the stove or getting punched in the throat.
But, make no mistake; it’s important and you need it.
You can’t grow without being told something you did isn’t “quite right” for their publication (Or “it’s not a good fit” or “It’s just not for us” or…so on and so on.) It’s easy to get down about rejections. I have always gotten them and I still do. It’s cool. That’s what happens. The only time I get down about it even a little bit is when I get the “FORM” rejection. The best rejections are the ones that tell you why they’re saying no to you. “This is not right for our publication. Here’s why…” That’s a huge stepping stone. That’s a good thing. It absolutely helps and the fact that they are taking the time from going through a pile of stories to tell you why your story didn’t work shows that there is the spark of something there in your work. Polish that sucker up and send it out again.
There are some fellow writers I see on social media who complain about rejections, because we all do sometimes. You need to blow off steam. I’m not saying don’t get mad or upset, but don’t dwell on it. You’re a writer. Get to work. Take a few hours to bitch, then hit it. But damn, some of the stuff I see as complaints is insane. I read one that said (I shit you not) “Well, no one’s telling Stephen King no.”
I hate to break it to you, but YOU ARE NOT STEPHEN KING. You aren’t the new Stephen King. You’re not even the old Stephen King. You’re you. And right now, no one is thinking that you’re going to be the next Stephen King because there isn’t going to be a next Stephen King. We already have one, thanks.
And in case you missed it, Stephen King got told no a lot when he was starting out. Maybe not so much these days, but he still has an editor whose job it is to send him his work back with red ink all over it with notes like “Steve, wtf are you trying to say here?”* (I’d like to think that every once in a while, Stephen King still gets a rejection letter. If he doesn’t, part of me likes to think that he kind of wishes he still did.)
I’m writing this not because I’m so sage with my own writing, or that I know anything other or more than anyone else. I don’t. This is as close to “cheerleading” as I get these days. I don’t always write the uplifting things my inky pals write. I don’t do the #amwriting thing (I do use “#alwayswriting” because I usually am always working on something) But, I’ve seen a lot of discouraged posts from really good writers out there. One really good writer in particular seems to have given up the pen out of disappointment.
I think we all throw down the pen now and then, but when that happens, we need pick it the hell back up.
Just keep writing and more importantly, keep sending your work out. If it doesn’t work for one publication, give it another look, clean it up and send it somewhere else. Relax. Breathe. Or even better,
* I don’t think he gets notes like that, but that would be kinda funny.
Being high all the time while recovering from a rotten leg issue taught me a lot of things. For one thing, it taught me that daytime cable is so much more amusing when you’re laughing your ass off. (Destination America by the way, is the best channel ever for this. I became addicted to it in the hospital, although it’s better on morphine…in spite of this, I’m glad I don’t take that anymore because I was becoming more optimistic, and who wants that?)
The other thing I discovered was that I cannot write impaired at all. I couldn’t even write a shopping list of shit I needed and I had all day to write it. I’d write “Mac and Cheese” and then watch a bad, hilarious house haunting reenactment.
I tried so hard too, but it would all come out as incoherent babble. (You can find them on the FB Author page. They are very easy to spot.)
As the weeks dragged by, I relied on the oxycodone less and less and my leg got better and better. It took forever. I missed most of my youngest daughter’s softball season and loads of other things while I recovered.
Things were looking up!
Then, my father died.
Now, for a lot of you, this would be a devastating life event; something that would bring upon you profound sadness and grief. A sadness that would cause you to reflect your time with your father. Relive the moments of tossing the football around, or going fishing or pretty much everything you remember about your dear old dad.
I envy that, in all sincerity.
I won’t launch into a tirade that seems to always hit that side of the family hard and causes them to do things like open their pie holes…safe to say though, that the old man wasn’t really a very good human being to his kids, or his wife. I’m sure that there are people who thought he was awesome and to those I say “Good for you.” I wish I’d known that guy.
Anyway, the shitstorm that followed (some of which I’m still contending with to this very day) was an emotional roller-coaster that went from me being sullen and angry, to sullen and furious.
But, in the middle of all this, I went to my favorite place on earth with my wife and daughters.
The New Jersey Shore.
Something very spectacular happened that I couldn’t have predicted even on my very best day.
I have PTSD which means, I get flashbacks here and there. (Which is sort of like being kicked in the balls…one never expects those either.) While I was down the shore, I began to have flashbacks.
Now, I need to explain a thing or two right here.
The flashbacks I’m used to having are usually horrible incidents of my childhood. These happen a lot less these days, but twenty years ago, it would happen during the least popular times. (My favorite one occurred during a date. There was no second date.)
The most recent one happened while watching “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” which is in fact, a really good movie.
Except, of course if you have flashbacks about your own abusive childhood. On the up side, it became easier to explain to people who have seen the movie how they occur-at least for me. The downside, of course, is I had them all throughout the fucking movie.
The flashbacks I had in New Jersey weren’t even a little bit bad.
They were awesome as hell.
I remembered being at the shore as a kid, swimming in the ocean, getting salt water slammed up my nose when I wasn’t paying attention and a wave would hit me in the face. Believe it or not, that was a happy thing to remember. I remembered the best parts of my my childhood that I hadn’t remembered since forever.
In a summer that was filled with awful, this seemed to be the thing I needed.
Which brings me here. In a better place all around. Motivated, working hard, writing, being alive instead of doped up and trying to watch enough TV to justify being awake.
I know it sounded like one shitty ass summer, but I discovered a lot of good things through the badness.
Sometimes, that’s enough.
Sometimes, that’s all you get, but sometimes, that’s all you need.
Now that we’re into October, I’d like to tell you how I spent my summer vacation!
Or rather, what I wanted to do during my summer vacation…what I did was nowhere near what I had intended.
The big plan was to kick out the sequel to DEMONS DOLLS AND MILKSHAKES by August, start work on the next book and finish up the collection of short work (now available) called EVERYTHING HERE IS A NIGHTMARE. In addition to that, the huge audio project I had been working on for Bret Bouriseau’s THE PRINCE OF KNCOKNAFAY needed some patch work and voice changes. In fact, the day I was talking to Bret was the last day of the summer I truly had.
The little cut on my foot that had seemingly stuck around since the World Horror Convention back in May had finally it seemed to heal. My friend Dave had flown back to the UK after a cool two-week visit, and I was ready to start work that had been delayed. I talked to Bret on the phone, took some editing notes and two hours later, I was in my room, hallucinating like a madman with a very high fever.
I couldn’t get up. My leg was in agony and I was delirious. Finally, I went to the emergency room. During the languishing period, I was given a room and hooked up to everything you can think of-literally.
It would be two days before they told me what I had and how close I’d actually come to goddamn dying.
“Well, you have cellulitis,” the rather calm doctor from another country with a familiar voice said. “That cut on your foot caused an infection under your skin. This is why your leg is swollen and inflamed.” (“Inflamed” is a nice word. The words I used more than once were “fucking excruciating” and I have a pretty decent vocabulary.)
“You’re lucky you came in when you did. We caught this nearly in time…”
Um…Nearly in time?
“To start the antibiotics.”
“Oh, the ones that made me feel worse?” Seriously. The antibiotics made me even more miserable that when I had been admitted.
“Well, you very nearly died, Mr. Pyles.”
This guy started to sound a whole lot like Tom Hardy in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
“You were about to succumb to the infection. Your heart rate was very elevated. Part of why you’re in such severe pain…and will be for some time.”
What the actual fuck!?!
Pain for some time??
But then, I thought about it. They would give me pain meds. They’d have to at this point. By day two, I was on morphine every two hours for pain (which barely touched it, but was kind of enjoyable…more on that in a few)
I was in the hospital for five days and was told that the key to my recovery was staying off of my leg. Period.
Almost instantly, I saw this as THE opportunity to write like a maniac. It was “Misery” without Annie Wilkes! It was oxycodone, a laptop and endless days of writing!! Huzzah!
After the first week, I realized the problem with this genius plan.
I don’t do well being high.
I can’t work at all on pain meds. Like, at all! Nothing.
I sat with my laptop open to a blank word screen for five days before I figured this out and I goddamn tried! Everything just goes away. It’s not writer’s block-I don’t believe in that at all. But, for all the people I know who get fired up and high/drunk or whatever, that doesn’t work for me.
Personally, I was looking forward to it a little bit as it would be a nice distraction from the constant pain I was in all the time. I wanted to see what kind of crazy shit I’d come up with in this state. I don’t get high, so this was an opportunity to try something new in a controlled environment.