Thursday, November 14, 2013

Nightmares, Religion, Cannibals and Queers: My Conversation With “Sacrament” Director Shawn Ewert

Shawn EwertNightmares, Religion, Cannibals and Queers. These are not normally things that one would expect to coincide in a working concept. Yet there is a small place in pop culture where these aspects of modern horror find a sweet spot to grow into a beautiful phantasm. That place is LGB&T Horror community. A collective of talented independent filmmakers who thrive in the nightmare realm of chilling story telling, where the messages are often dark satires of this twisted incongruent world we live in. For a lot of people horror is home, it is the place we can escape to, wrapped in the haunting atmospheric horrors of fiction. Often overlooked or displayed with hyperbolic grandeur, the gay characters storyline is either a clown for amusement or the object of discontent, it is nice that a place breathes life into strong characters who just happen to be gay. So where am I going with this somewhat zealous rant? I am simply expressing a true appreciation for a select portion of the genre that I love so dear, where I can comfortably step into nightmares, push my nerves and tolerance to the limit, simply for my own twisted pleasure. A place where the characters and stories offer enough material for me as a gay horror fan to gleefully enjoy and totally relate to. This brings me to the purpose of this article and a little indie film titled “Sacrament”.

Shawn Ewert is a indie director from Texas, who is about to step out onto the stage of blood and gore with his debut feature film “Sacrament”. The film will premiere at next year’s Fears For Queers on June 7th at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. He has two short films already completed, 2010’s “Jack’s Bad Day” and 2011’s “Property Lines”. With “Sacrament” however, Shawn Ewert is really bringing it big time with a twisted tale of perverse religiousity in stark, chilling absoluteness. The film isn’t necessarily a gay horror film, simply put it is a horror film that has strong characters that are gay. “Sacrament” is really a provocative horror story that Ewert fears may, at moments, offend some viewers, force the audience to push their comfort level. In talking with Shawn about the film and what fans can expect from his film, our conversation went on, I realized that really what to see this fucking movie.

“Sacrament” follows a group of friends on a weekend excursion to to South Padre Island. Unfortunately for them a big storm forces them to detour to the small slice of Southern Americana in the town of Middle Spring. The coastal vacation plans of booze, bud and bonding becomes one of horrors. The residents welcome the group into the community with open arms, but this sentiment of southern hospitality comes with a more twisted,fanatical intent that reveals a more sinister embrace of Biblical text by the townsfolk which will have the misplaced weekenders in a fight for survival. The story and all the aspects of what Shawn Ewert is going for in “Sacrament” is set to be one of the pictures that push issues and ideology into areas that are difficult to watch while simultaneously thrilling the viewer.  Check out all the things Ewert had to say in our conversation about “Sacrament”, horror fandom, and the LGB&T contribution to the genre we all love so much.

ASouthernLife: Sacrament is your first feature film,what inspired the story ?
Shawn Ewert: Short answer? A dream/nightmare. I really enjoy my nightmares, and try to write them down so that I don't forget them. This was a weird one. It was actually set in Sweden in the dream for some reason, but the lead characters were essentially the same. I took it out of Sweden and brought it home to Texas. I definitely know how to write Texas better than Sweden.

ASouthernLife: Are most of your nightmares comprised of religious themes? And why Sweden?
Shawn Ewert: Honestly, not many. My nightmares are rarely religious, but I definitely have a love/hate relationship with religious horror. The Exorcist is one of my favorite films. Films like that and Race With the Devil just strike something in me and hit on a nerve from a religious upbringing. Your guess is literally as good as mine when it comes to Sweden. Maybe I ate some meatballs that night for dinner.

ASouthernLife: Lol, Coming from the south it seems there is no escape from religion or fanatical beliefs. Sacrament almost feels like Motel Hell meets Red State. Was cannibalism part of the nightmare?
Shawn Ewert: Cannibalism was definitely a huge part of the nightmare. The idea of "the body and the blood" has always stuck out as being such a gruesome idea. We have had people refer to what they have seen as Red State on meth. lol. I'll take it. I am a huge fan of Kevin Smith's. We started working on this film in 2010, and when he started talking about Red State it really scared the hell out of me. What if we are making the same movie as Kevin Smith? What if people say we are ripping him off? What if HE thinks we are ripping him off. Gladly, when I heard what Red State was about, we were definitely going a different direction with it.  Then, of course, Ti West had to come along and release a film basically titled the same as ours.

ASouthernLife: Kevin Smith's Red State definitely moves in a different way, Sacrament seems more cult community extremism plus cannibals-which always put me on edge. Not really sure what Ti's film will truly be but his work is pretty tight. So how has production been so far with the film?
Shawn Ewert: It didn't originally start that way, but Sacrament ended up being a bit of an indictment on religious extremism. I have been very careful not to actually mention "God" or "Jesus" or anything truly christian in the film. It is definitely what people will get from it, but I am interested to see how many people actually give it a good watch without getting offended.

I have been a big fan of Ti West's films up to this point. It's really just an unfortunate thing for both films, I think. I don't want to constantly have to say "No, we're the other film, Sacrament. Not THE Sacrament.
Production on the film was pretty amazing. I ended up with a great cast and a tireless crew. Everyone really gave their all to make this thing happen. We also learned a helluva lot.

ASouthernLife: The mark of a true artist is measured by the number of people offended. I feel it is anyway. So production is complete on the film? What is your next step before release?
Shawn Ewert: We have a couple of quick little FX shots to pick up, but we are essentially wrapped. Right now, we are in the process of editing, and then we will get into full-on promotion mode. We are premiering in Dallas on June 7th next year. It seems like such a long way away, but we have a lot to get done before we get there.

ASouthernLife: Plenty of time to promote the hell out of the film with all kinds of teases. So is the premiere at a festival or is it a solo event?
Shawn Ewert: The premiere is going to be the headlining film of a festival called Fears for Queers. It is a festival that our friends, Andy and Dione Rose created with us five years ago. It is a festival that plays films by LGBT filmmakers, or that are LGBT-themed. It's a very important festival to me and my husband. We donate half of the festival ticket sales to a charity in north Texas that supports LGBT youth.

ASouthernLife: I have to say that until DOA Bloodbath this year mentioned Fears For Queers on their website that I had not heard of it-I feel shame! But I got it marked no so that I will not forget again! Congrats on getting the Headlining spot. So are the characters in Sacrament mostly LGB&T?
Shawn Ewert: They aren't. The lead couple is a gay couple, but it really isn't made a huge issue. There have been talks from some of the actors that a couple of other characters are secretly in the closet, but I definitely didn't think of them that way when I wrote them.

ASouthernLife: I love that you don't over extend the aspect of "gay" with the couple, makes it more natural and real. We are often portrayed as clownish.
Shawn Ewert: I agree. That is one of my problems with a lot of "gay" films. They want to push that idea SO hard that they forget the reason they were making the film in the first place. It just had to be so gay, everything else got pushed out.

ASouthernLife: What is the name of the charity that the festival supports?
Shawn Ewert: This year the festival is going to support GALA North Texas.

ASouthernLife: So let's talk about the town of Middle Spring, what can people expect from this place?
Shawn Ewert: It's down-home Texas. People have their computers and cell phones, but they definitely believe in traditional southern values of respect, etc.

ASouthernLife: So it is home town America? But with cannibals.
Shawn Ewert: Even the cattle they keep, human cattle of course, are taken care of. They may be food, but they shouldn't be mistreated. This is definitely home town Texas, with cannibals.

ASouthernLife: So the town actually has a herd of humans that they tend! That is awesome! So this group of friends just wander into on Hell of nightmare town. Does the film have a grindhouse feel or is it more like contemporary horror like Stag Night?
Shawn Ewert: I love the look of the grindhouse era films, but we didn't go quite that gritty. When we discussed the film in the beginning, I definitely mentioned to our cinematographer and lighting that I wanted to go with a little bit of that feel, but not so much that it looked forced. I think we came out with a look that falls right where it should for the film. Definitely some very vibrant colors going on in some scenes, and muddy where it needs to be...if that makes any sense.

Sacrament FXASouthernLife: So it has a more visceral feel? How much gore can movie goers expect from Sacrament?
has not have..
Shawn Ewert: I grew up in the era of the slasher, so I love my gore. I did have to dial things back a little bit in this one to keep things as realistic as possible. I didn't want over the top gore. I wanted realistic gore. I want it to be uncomfortable to watch, so I don't want it to be silly. Films like Dead Alive and Evil Dead 2 are some of my favorites, but I wanted to make sure we didn't go that direction, much to the annoyance of our FX guys sometimes.You have no idea how many times I heard the words "More blood?".

ASouthernLife: Lol! Every film could use more blood, but the real substance is in the story and characters. If that isn't real then nothing is in a movie. I like that are going for an "uncomfortable" viewing experience. So are there any townies that will really tear at the audience's nerves?
Shawn Ewert: There are a few. There are some characters that I really grew to hate as we worked our way through filming. I love the actors, but when they brought those characters out, I really had a hard time watching some of them. Some very unpleasant things are said in the film, and it's hard to listen to sometimes.

ASouthernLife: Wow it sounds like a very intense, chilling story. Something that will test the audience's constitution. I like films that make feel. Sacrament seems like a killer story-especially for these times we live in now. Did any current events play apart in the story development?
Shawn Ewert: I don't think I pulled anything directly from the news, with the exception of some mentions of gay marriage and the general disapproval of the religious folks in town for the unrepentant sinners.

ASouthernLife: The film sounds great and Middle Spring seems terrifying! So when did you realize that you wanted to make movies?
Shawn Ewert: I think I've always wanted to make films, but I never really felt like I had a way to do it. I remember seeing Kevin Smith's Clerks, and it really having an impact on me. I had always written stories, but it took me until I was in my late twenties to actually get off my ass and do it. I really credit Adam Green for giving me that push. I met him when he was first promoting Hatchet. He gave me some amazing advice, and I have been a huge fan ever since.

ASouthernLife: Adam Green rocks, Hatchet re-inspired me to get deeper into the Indie horror community. Mostly because Hollywood mainstream horror fans trashed it. That movie was awesome and classic! I kind of think just from talking to you about Sacrament, that your movie is going to be pretty tight as well! Are you nervous at all about releasing it to critics or the audience's reaction at the premiere?
Shawn Ewert: I think anyone has to feel nervous about it, you know? Are people going to like it? Are they going to hate it? I think the worst thing would be if people just didn't care. Apathy would have to be the worst review I could get. I think a lot of people are sensitive to people not liking their work. It's your baby, and someone is saying your baby is ugly. You naturally want to defend it. Ultimately, I know I have busted my ass to make this film happen, and I will be happy whether people love it or hate it.

ASouthernLife: That is a perfect outlook. As long as you know the work is there then the film will find it's audience. So is there anything else that you want to mention about the film that I haven't hit on?
Shawn Ewert: We didn't mention Marilyn and Ed. They were absolutely wonderful.

ASouthernLife: Marilyn Burns and Ed Guinn. So tell me about Marilyn's character.
Shawn Ewert: Marilyn's character is loosely based on my own grandmother. She's a tough lady. Mouthy, and tough. She doesn't take any crap, and definitely wears the pants in the relationship with Ed's character. Ed is also loosely based on my grandfather. Much more relaxed.

ASouthernLife: So how do their characters play into the story as far as Middle Spring and are they the ones that run the show?
Shawn Ewert: They are a bit like the fence for the town, in two senses of the word. They are sort of the barrier, the edge of town. But they are also the ones to get rid of all of the evidence when the town snags someone new for the barbecue. I wanted the women in the film to be very strong. I think for the most part, Marilyn's character really personifies that.

ASouthernLife: They sound creepy as hell! There characters are pretty iconic in the film dealing with the weekenders, sort of like a cannibal's mediator.
I am trying to imagine the roles and the feel of the film and now I really want to see it badly!
Shawn Ewert: And that makes me really happy! It has been such a great feeling talking to people about the film and hearing them get excited to see it.

ASouthernLife: I can't wait. So has horror always been your favorite genre? What were some of the films that inspired you?
Shawn Ewert: Horror is definitely my favorite, with a slight bent toward thrillers. The first horror film I remember seeing was A Nightmare on Elm Street. I think I was five. After that, the next one I remember seeing was Psycho. They are still two of my favorite films of all time. I think all of the films I see are an influence on me. Since starting to make films, I have noticed I watch them differently. I still look at the whole picture, but I am paying a lot more to the technical aspects of the film now. I also know that it drives me even more crazy now when people talk through films. Just shut up and let me enjoy the film!

ASouthernLife: I feel the same way about talking during a movie. I don't get it, if they just shut up and watch then they will find out was is happening! So annoying. Where there any gay elements or specific gay characters that stood out that you connected with growing up as a horror fan?
Shawn Ewert: Decidedly few. Though, I do remember seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street two at a birthday party when I was in 6th grade. That was pretty damn gay. So was Fright Night. Both of them had such blatant gay themes to them. I was always secretly disappointed that the filmmakers would show naked women all the time, but never men. I mean, we all love eye candy, right?

ASouthernLife: Full frontal is almost a prerequisite for me when watching almost anything! At least some ass. I firmly believe in equal opportunity exploitation! Is there some memorable nudity in Sacrament?
Shawn Ewert: There is actually a bit of nudity in the film. It's not one-sided though. Men and women both. Equal opportunity is right!

ASouthernLife: As it should be! I want to thank you for letting me take up so much of your time. I really enjoyed this interview and I can't wait to see Sacrament. So beyond the premiere what will be next for the film?
Shawn Ewert: Absolutely. It's been a lot of fun! After the premiere, we start to hit the festival circuit. We really want to get the film out to as many people as possible. We have fans in the UK already itching to see the film, and I would love to be in the theatre when they see it for the first time.

ASouthernLife: That sounds great. UK horror fans are awesome! I will definitely be following Sacrament's progress.

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