INT: Jay Woelfel

Buy Ghost Lake Here

The Arrow interviews Jay Woelfel

Writer, director, composer and editor Jay Woelfel (Demonicus, Trancers 6) has a new demon child out of the rabbit hole and its name is GHOST LAKE. The film is out on DVD , was released on May 17, 2005 and you can check out its screening listings here. Judging by the slick trailer (see it here), the film looks fairly badass! I recently had a match of "Ping Pong" with Jay and here's how he won the game!

What’s your favorite horror movie?

JAWS was at the time the scariest movie I’d seen, though COUNT YORGA THE VAMPIRE was the first film that kept me away an entire night–first real vampire film I’d seen at the time. JAWS my favorite movie probably period. But there are so many now it’s hard to say which one. Some great movies I see once and almost don’t need to see again because I remember every frame of them. Others you see over and over and they just get better. TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (and don’t insult me by asking which one) is like that, it gets more disturbing and funnier every time you see it. LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH is like that and has some elements like those in Ghost Lake.

THE OMEN, THE THING (okay, I do like this remake better than the original) both those had really shocking violence and more important memorable gruesome imagery I’d never really seen done on that level at the time. It’d be unfair not to say THE INNOCENTS since we’re talking about me making my first ghost movie. That movie, Mario Bava’s favorite genre film by the way, works on so many levels, beautiful and scary all at once and even has something to say. But I didn’t even mention any Hammer or Universal films or any recent films. There are too many of them, just like the rats in WILLARD.

You wrote and directed Ghost Lake; what was the creative spark that had you put fingers to keyboard to create this water soaked Zombie jamboree?

This idea was a spark that got hotter over a number of years until I couldn’t stand it anymore and it caught fire. I always wanted to make a ghost story at Rushford Lake ever since I heard about some people drowning in the lake. I had this image of people coming up from under the water along the road that lead down to where the towns used to be.

There really are remains of two towns under the lake, that’s real. Maybe in 1987 I started thinking in ways that were closer to what I ended up doing, in 1988-1990 I wrote out a basic treatment that then languished again. I had seen the movie SHOCK WAVES again when it was finally released on DVD and that coupled with my discovery of the ghost stories of Algernon Blackwood a few years earlier were the final amounts of starter fluid the spark needed.

By reading about the film; I spotted some potential influences in terms of your varied narrative. Did any already existing horror films inspire your own?

Because this is an independently made movie the narrative could be more varied. It could take you more places and do different things than would be possible otherwise. It’s tricky on purpose and some questions it asks aren’t answered. Not to say that there aren’t answers, they just aren’t important to the real flow of the story. One reviewer, and not a bad one overall, commented that a problem with the movie was that I didn’t “keep it stupid.” If you’re making a comedy about people who fart and puke a lot I think this might be good advice. But horror films don’t have to be stupid, or that was my brash assumption.

One inspiration for the idea is the movie DELIVERANCE which I saw first on TV as a young kid. The idea of them flooding the valley, having to move the graves and that terrifying image of the cold white hand rising up out of the water and then the image of just the water lapping and lapping as the movie ends. The sense that creates of waiting for the day it will rise again. I used to love to swim underwater as a kid too and imagine living down there or finding things underwater etc. There are a bunch of others I suppose as it was an idea I’d had for so many years. I’d always watch movies that had an element like it. I actually didn’t make this movie after seeing IN DREAMS because I felt no one would want what might be thought a version of that story when that movie had tanked so to speak.

Someone might think that Mario Bava’s film KILL BABY KILL was an influence but I saw that years after plotting out this movie. ZOMBIE LAKE, which is little more than enjoyable sleaze ( nothing wrong with that but let’s not confuse a good hamburger for filet mignon) did interest me in terms of having a zombie with a back story I guess even in a way a love story. It’s better, I feel to take ideas from things that didn’t work–like ZOMBIE LAKE and rework them than to rip off something that was great in the first place.

But the thing is to have so many influences/ experiences that no one takes over the whole movie and hopefully not just movie influences but things from books and real life too. This had all that for me personally. You eat up all these things absorb them into your system hopefully create something new out of all the elements.

How was the casting process for the picture, smooth surfing or an “arrow in the head’?

Arrow in the head. I was counting on an actress I’d worked with before but frankly the nudity issue became a big arrow in the head and I just stopped calling her. She just panicked and thought she’d be naked in every scene, etc. Then maybe an arrow in the eye was when the first little girl we cast, an 11 year old, passed on the part because after due consideration “It was not the type of role she cared to portray.” Though I admire her advanced use of language I, less than a week before shooting, didn’t appreciate her change of mind. Ultimately when the pain subsided we ended up with people in both roles who were better anyway. But that’s easy to enjoy now!

When, where and for how many days was the film shot?

Rushford Lake is a real lake about 60 minutes south of Buffalo, New York. We shot in the fall of 2003, though if you do the math of dates in the movie you’ll see that the film is set in 2006. We shot for 26 days almost straight. Average length of a shoot day was probably 15 hrs we shot 1 hour of footage a day. This was not a shoot for couch potatoes that’s for sure.

What would you say was the biggest obstacle that arose during the actual shoot? Lousy craft table?

The craft table afforded me one pleasure in particular. Someone got a bunch of day old doughnuts early on and one of those suckers ( filled with something we could not determine) was still wrapped up uneaten over a week later. I said when I had the time I would burn the sucker in the fire–which was one of the few sources of heat in the cottage where we all lived. One morning I finally had the time, the sucker burned real good, very satisfying experience.

We had rain, cold, some equipment problems, two skunks who kept getting into either the food or the make up workshop and making a mess. One night everybody started playing guitars and singing around the fire – there was just no stopping them to get back to work. All the usual pleasures and then some on this shoot. The big problem was that there just weren’t enough people to make headway. The crew was too small to catch up. So we went over schedule but we did manage to stay on budget despite this. There were too few of us but those who did stick it out to the end really made it all worthwhile.

Does the film sport the required spices (gore and nudity)? What’s the goodies quotient?

Funny now that they have to qualify the rating for your movie. The R rating is officially for horror images and some sexuality. There is in fact nudity but I guess the sexuality was more the reason? Huh? There is very little blood in this film. It’s about water and drowning and ghosts. So I guess got rather high brow in my thinking of it until I screened it for people and they started reacting to the emaciated corpses and frothing dead people etc.

Azure who played the little girl ran out of the screening saying she was going to throw up the first time she saw her corpse in the finished as a film. So I guess it’s too strong for the 8 year olds! Anyway I think the ghosts or zombies if you prefer to call them that are well done. We used gelatine based material so they would have that translucent soggy flesh look. They are quite creepy looking but if you’re looking for a movie where they eat brains etc this isn’t that movie.

How did you tackle your effects? Practical? CG? A little bit of both?

The intention was to do them all on set. Some things either didn’t work right or didn’t get done in time to shoot, so in post we did compositing. CG was used only to connect two or more real elements into a finished effect shot. Some ghost effect stuff of people vanishing was done totally as CG. CG in general I think is best used in combination with real on set effects and is perhaps best used to remove things, like wires etc, rather than create whole objects etc. CG is a dangerous animal to try to harness on any level especially with a tight deadline. The stuff always looks better on the workstation screen than when you see it big and sometimes you see it big at the premier screening and it’s too late!

You also wrote and directed Trancers Part 6? Looking back what would you do different on that show?

I did a small bit of writing on it but took no credit, I did write the line “Shouldn’t you be dead? Or at least in school?” For example. As to doing different? Tim Thomerson had talked to me and others a few years before about making the movie without Charlie Band being involved. It just seemed at that time that maybe that was the only way it would happen. Nothing ever happened with his efforts and then Charlie got what for his company at the time was a larger budget than usual and offered my company, Young Wolf Productions, the chance to do it. I could say that at the point where I realized Thomerson wasn’t going to be in it I thought about quitting.

This was around the same time I realized that Maggie Grace ( now on LOST) was also not going to be in it. I know both of them and they both wanted to be in it and both passed because it wasn’t going to be done as a SAG film. Maybe at that point I should have just walked. But by that time we were only a week or so away from shooting. I did have another film that was supposedly a “go” at another company. But you know what, if I had quit it wouldn’t have mattered, the other “go” deal never happened, that company has in fact never made a film since. I would have ended up making no film at all. And in a Hollywood way the fact my company made Trancers 6 matters more than how the film ended up turning out.

The other thing I would do different is I guess I’d lock myself in a room with the master film transfers, armed if possible, and make sure that other hands didn’t fix and release the movie without me. The version released isn’t a finished movie. It’s a chopped down version with no color correction with temp special effects half a music score and a temp mix. But hey did I mention I wrote that line about “shouldn’t you be dead...”

What’s next on your plate film wise? Anything in the works?

I thought I would have been done with this film called DARK BETWEEN THE STARS by now, but the killer rain here in LA and other things have stopped that for the moment, though even while answering your questions I got a call that it will be back on soon. It’s a creature film dealing with native American beliefs, Ken Foree, Corin Nemic and Aimee Brooks are in the cast

The other project which might be next, or will be after that, is currently called HIS NAME WAS DEATH. It’s a very bloody mummy movie. But not your typical kind of mummy. All the blood I didn’t spill on screen in Ghost Lake I saved up for this one. I hope to make both films, maybe even both this year. But you never know something totally different just came my way recently. This film making stuff is at it’s best and worst rarely dull.

What was the first beverage you downed at the wrap party?

I’ll let you know when we have one! We had to shoot right through what was supposed to be the wrap party, we had a table all set to party at and had to just walk past it and keep shooting. You have to be a Zen master to resist that kind of temptation.My wrap party was a lonely 365 mile drive through the night. Technically what I drank as I drove for seven hours back home after being awake shooting for 25 hours was a jar of peanuts.

I started driving with snacks to keep me awake. I had a jar of peanuts and I realize as I try to reach in to eat them that after the first couple of inches I can’t get my hand into the jar to get any out. So I had to just “drink” the jar, raise it shake them into my mouth and keep driving as a thick blinding fog rolled in and the miles just kept coming at me like they’d never stop. That’s something they should have had in the movie “Sorcerer,” one driving hardship they left out!

Jay Directing his young star!

I'd like to thank Jay for "zombie-ing" on down the site to talk ghost shop. I'm looking forward to seeing the film dude, will have to make the freaking time to watch it. Break a neck with the film Jay!


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