Almas Oscuras: Tell us a little about yourself. Who is Todd E. Freeman? Only a film director and screenwriter, or something else? How did your love for the cinema born? What is your curriculum up to date?
Todd E. Freeman So funny… such a big question in just a few short sentences. I’ll see if I can answer without sounding too self important or like a megalomaniac. Probably not. (Laughs)
I was raised on movies. Our dad would sit us down every Friday night and show us 16MM prints of classic horror movies. He’d stand up in front of the fold out movie screen and tell us of the making of the movie. We had an immediate sense that movies were not real and that a lot of hard work goes into making them. I watched Night of the Living Dead when I was 6 and that explains a whole lot as I’m sure you can imagine.
I went to Columbia College Hollywood for two years and my instructor David Schmoeller (“Puppet Master”) told me that I’d learned all that I could there and that I should go out and make my own movie. That changed my life. I dropped out of film school and made my first feature film Reynard the Fox on 16MM film.
I Co-Produce and Co-Photograph all of my movies with my brother Jason. He is a writer and director as well. Most recently I Co-Produced and Co-Photographed his film “The Weather Outside” which will be in festivals later this year as well as the one film that we Co-Directed “Wake Before I Die” based on our father’s book entitled “My Soul To Take”. So I guess you could say filmmaking is in our family’s blood. Three feature films all coming out this year from our company Wooden Frame Productions.
A O: What are your tastes in the cinema? You highlight some kind above all? What about the classics in the fantasy film (Romero, Carpenter, Craven, Raimi)? Your favorite movie?
T F: I just like movies. I’ve been a fan of the medium forever. I’d say that film noir and thrillers are my favorite films. Obviously my love for John Carpenter can be seen and heard in Cell Count from everything to character names to the music score from our amazing composer Keith Schreiner. My favorite genre films are from the masters of horror… but I’m really excited by so many of the features coming out from the new and original talents such as Ti West, Alex Chandon, and Lucky McKee. We’ll be talking about them in 50 years the way they do Romero, Carpenter, and Craven.
T F: I am absolutely proud of every movie that I’ve ever made. Not all of them are very good but all got me to this point in my career. I would never slight any experience that brought me to where I am… because I love where I am.
For the most part I write all of my own scripts, with the exception of co-writing with my brother. We very much have the same knowledge base as well as film language so it makes the process very pleasurable and second nature. We are actually thinking of co-writing our first original screenplay together and am glad to say it is a genre film as well. So be on the lookout for a genre film from the Brothers Freeman! (Laughs)
As for making low budget films… well it’s a necessity. We’ve made next to no budget films all the way to where we are now… which is making slightly less budget films. The key is to make great films no matter what the budget. This is a film business so keeping cost low and profits high is what it’s all about. Make good movies… for less money. Hollywood could learn a thing or two from that statement.
A O: Already talking about Cell Count: How would you define your movie to someone who had not heard of it? From my humble opinion I think it is a fabulous mix of small genres (science fiction, horror, thriller), did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to tell yourself when writing the script or were out of ideas on the fly? Do you highlight some influence over others?
T F: It’s a silly entertaining piece of popcorn. It’s an attempt at a throwback to the great movies that I was raised on. Melodramatic body horror with a twisted sense of humor thrown in for good measure. I don’t necessarily see it as any genre… just an entertaining piece of pulp cinema. The trailer really sums the movie up. If you like the trailer… you’ll like the movie.
While writing the script I really focused on making the audience feel comfortable with the characters and emotions and then deconstructing the safety around them. At the end of the day it’s about getting to know and like people and then putting them in danger. If the well defined characters are scared… the audience is scared for them. It was very much focused on making the stakes escalate and at the same time raising the audience’s hopes for the characters survival.
A O: The romantic relationship between the main couple, Russell and Sadie, it seems very strong, sensible and realistic. How did you work with the two lead actors, Robert Haley McKeehen and Talbot, to get that relationship so realistic? The other actors also interpret their roles with intensity, especially Christopher Toyne, how did you approach the artistic direction being Cell Count a complex choral work? Would not it be something claustrophobic shooting the whole plot in a facility like a prison? Any funny story about the filming?
T F: Yeah the whole movie is completely based on their relationship working as well as it did. I wish I could take some sort of ownership over Robert and Haley’s performance but the fact of the matter is that they are just that good at what they do. I’m a very strong believer in just setting the best table possible in which professionals get to perform. Cast the best and the best play well together… push each other to be better. I just try not to get in the way and help answer questions along the way.
The location is part of the table that was set for all of us to feast upon. All of the crew and actors were instantly where they needed to be every day when we got to work. It worked on all levels for every person involved. I take that back: The prison facility is the table and then we set it with everything else. Without it… there wouldn’t be anything to hold up the feast that was prepared.
As for funny stories… yes. Too many for this interview. Ask me when we’re out having a beer sometime. A wonderful experience filled with the strangeness of living in a prison for 23 days.
A O: At technical and graphical level I would highlight the great photography of Cell Count, Do you have involved in it? How did you get so sinister atmosphere with lighting so clear? Special effects also surprised by its effectiveness and creativity, did you have to do with design or implementation? What inspired you to create “the faceless creature”? It seems somewhat Lovecraftian, right?
T F: Thank you. We are very proud of our photography in the film. It is a wonderful camera, Red One MX, and we are very blessed to have had it to work with. My brother and I shoot everything that we make. Maybe someday this will change… but until then we are happy to do it. We are very visual storytellers with specific ideas about camera movement, lighting, and blocking.
We just threw a bunch of likeable characters into a crazy situation and turned on the mixer. People in danger of having something inside of them are scary. Throw in a crazy doctor who doesn’t care about their well being and the fun begins.
We tried to do as much practical effects as possible and then digitally enhanced what was needed. Ravenous Studios was incredible to work with and we hope to again and again.
All of the ideas were in the script. Some based on very old ideas of images that I’ve dreamt of seeing for over a decade. helped bring them out of my head and onto the screen.
A O: For its diversity of parameters, Cell Count seems difficult to classify, what the public can expect from it? What type of viewer you would recommend it? I was fascinated with the character’s definition and plot twists, would you say your film is “intelligent horror”? On the other hand, there is an interesting scientific effort in Cell Count, are you interested in science or searched using those elements to accentuate the clear spirit debtor to Cronenberg?
T F: This is always a funny thing to answer. Obviously there are traits from the film that are very ”Cronenbergian”… but I didn’t really look to his films much for inspiration.
I am no scientist but am very interested in the idea of something biological being the cure to deadly diseases. The concept of something eating the bad and regenerating good fascinates me.
I don’t consider the film intelligent by any means. It’s just a silly fun movie that plays with the emotions of the audience. I think it’s a great date night movie for anyone guy who loves horror films because I genuinely believe it’s just as much a love story for the ladies. I call it a romantic monster movie… that sums it up to me.
A O: How did you see the independent film scene? Are you afraid that piracy may affect the distribution of your film? Have you considered some form of distribution that can help you against it? What about the effects of low-skilled and quick reviews on the internet? Do not you think that today there is too many idiots reviewing movies without have little idea what they are talking? What about the marketing of Cell Count?
T F: Piracy is scary… but even more so for independent productions. Ti West wrote such an amazing piece on this. He talked about how it wasn’t taking money out of his pocket, because he will never see any more money out of the film, but by not paying for the film you are not making your voice heard. Paying to see a movie is voting for a type of film to continue being made. If people don’t pay… we don’t get to make these low budget movies because distribution companies don’t think there are enough votes to make it worth while. Please seek out his much more intelligently written piece about this… obviously I’m paraphrasing horribly. (Laughs)
As for reviewers and internet criticism I’m all for it. To be honest nothing is sacred in this process for me. At the end of the day the movie is done and its job is to go out and be judged. It’s no longer mine… it’s the worlds. People making up their mind whether they like it or not is an important part of the process. It’s sometimes difficult but ultimately a necessary part of our goal to get it seen by as many people all over the world as possible. Some people won’t like it. Ready or not… here it comes.
A O: You have been jury in the Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival, Porto Alegre, Cell Count was projected at the festival in his closing, how were the public reactions? What are the upcoming festivals where we can see you? From here to emphasize that we would love to Sitges consider your work for the official selection.
T F: You know I’ve got to say how much I am in love with the Fantaspoa Fantastic Film Festival as well as the genre fans of Porto Alegre in general. The festival programmers there are so incredibly skilled at what they do and I am so glad to have been a part of it. We had an overfilled screening in the biggest venue and had to open up a second theater to the overflow. It was great to see it with an audience for the first time. Truly a thrilling experience. The only film festival that we’ve been accepted to, that we can talk about, is the Macabro Film Festival in Mexico City. Others will announce soon in our website (check the links at the end of the interview).
To say that we are hoping to be a part of Sitges this year would be a huge understatement. It is one, if not the one, fantastic film festival that we are looking forward to. We’ll know about possible screenings in the upcoming months. Stay tuned!
A O: Tell us about the future, the end of Cell Count seems slightly open, do you will continue the story? In what are you now? Do you see yourself reaching retirement behind a camera?
T F: My brother and I are in various stages of writing and developing our next projects. Which one we make next… is anyone’s guess. Cell Count is open ended and we hope to make a sequel to this film in the upcoming year. I am currently writing two new feature scripts, an action thriller and a violent melodrama, as well as developing another of our father’s books to be translated onto the big screen.
This is what we do and we look forward to a very long career making movies until we are old men.
A O: Finally, do you want to add something? Can we legally enjoy Cell Count in our country soon?
T F: Cell Count will be distributed digitally worldwide in the Fall of 2012. I’m so very excited for everyone to see it. It’s a fun movie and I am thankful to your readers bearing with my extremely boring answers to your very well thought out questions. I know it could not have been easy for them. (Laughs)
Thanks for your continued interest in the film. It’s coming soon to a screen near you!