Interview: David Hall
I recently watched Transformers II for the first and last time. It was actually enjoyable, even though it was not a movie so much as an assemblage of 1/3 CGI, 1/3 military recruitment ad, and 1/3 Megan Fox' cleavage. The latter two I could take or leave (mostly leave), but the CGI was great: lots of rotation and metal shredded into shards and recombined. It had a savage, $200m beauty.
David Hall's Disgorge, Mexico, a feature-length video for Fuck the Facts' album of the same name, is over 80,000 times cheaper. And it shreds harder. Saccadic cuts hit like Pacquiao combos, and Hall hammers home mirror effects with don't-give-a-fuck insistence. We all know that mirror effects are cheesy. So Hall gives us the finger and holds down the mirror button until it starts smoking. If we're on something strong enough, everything starts to make horrific sense. And if we're completely sober, like I was when I watched the film, everything is even more horrific. Even the girl-on-girl action. Hall managed to fuck with the unfuckwithable. I shake my fist at and tip my hat to him.
I also interviewed him for Decibel's February '10 issue (Testament/Megadeth/Slayer cover, order here). That story was a measly 375 words. Here is the interview with much less editing. If you like what you see, check out Disgorge, Mexico as a pay-what-you-want download here.
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Was there any concept you wanted to put across with Disgorge?
The major underlying concept is that love is not always pretty, and it can be a destructive force and make people do strange and unconscionable things. Love can hurt people and destroy people's lives sometimes. It's not always a force that's so positive. I wanted to create this world where love is sick, and people are victims of that sickness, and they're just doing what they can to get by.
I heard that you'll be screening Disgorge at Maryland Deathfest.
It should be interesting. I always find a pretty mixed response from metalheads about my stuff. A lot of people don't like it.
You'd think that people who listen to metal are more open to more extreme modes of expression.
You would think so. But at the same time some people just fight for that genre, and then have to stay within it. If a video is not four dudes against some post-apocalyptic background, they don't get it. That's the average metal video, and I strive not to do that. I guess it depends on how educated people are. Some people who might know more about films might get it a little bit more. The people who do get it seem to really like it. The people who don't hate it. I can tell you from the Axis of Eden tour (reviewed here), there were a few nights when there were some unhappy people in the audience.
I watched that tour with the visuals, and to me it made complete sense.
I think that's the general consensus. And at the end of the day, Steve [Austin, Today Is the Day frontman] liked it, and that's all I really cared about. Now that I know Steve, it scares me that there were people in the audience heckling him about the movie, which happened a few times. That was so surreal. But the further north we got, the less that happened. I don't know if there's some equation to that or not. I think it was in some place in North Carolina — this one guy hated it, and security had to escort him out of the bar. At least it got a response. I'd rather have a negative response than complete apathy.
You know you're doing something right if people either love or hate it.
I think so. That's the way I like to gauge it. I know the stuff I do is not for everybody. I think that's what maybe people don't get. They maybe think that what I'm doing is some ultimate serious vision, and I have no comprehension that there's holes in the armor, or that people might not get it. I just make it and put it out there. At this point, it's me and the bands that pay for it, so we have a right to do what we want.
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Fuck the Facts - "The Sound of Your Smashed Head"
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How did your first video for Fuck the Facts come about?
Topon [Das, guitarist] and I have been friends since about 2000. I lived in Ottawa at the time. I put an ad in a local zine that I wanted to start a band, and Topon, who was still in Fuck the Facts [but] was always looking to expand his musical stuff, responded. We got along really well and started a band, a side project. I ended up moving. Topon knew that I was into film and stuff. When they released Stigmata High-Five, they said they'd like to have a video for "The Sound of Your Smashed Head". I came up with an idea, they approved it, and I filmed it.
In that video, you can see elements of your later work for Today Is the Day and Fuck the Facts.
It's funny that you bring that up, because I went back and looked at that video. I still stand by it. That was my first music video. It's posted on YouTube, and I saw a bunch of comments that it's a shitty video and this and that. But I like that video because, yeah, you're right, that was the start of my fast cuts and stuff. To me, especially for grindcore, that comes out of blastbeats. Having strobe lights and quick cuts is the visual equivalent of having a blastbeat. It not only matches the speed of the blastbeats, but it also disorients the viewer and makes it trippy.
[But] I'm trying to get away from [the style] a little bit. I decided that Disgorge would be the apex of that style. I made a conscious decision to take it as far as I can. The stuff I've been working on lately has a much different style, so it would be interesting to see what people say.
You've turned into Jim Jarmusch.
(Laughs) I don't know. Part of it's because everyone's like, "You're always using fast cuts and mirrored images". I do use [those things], and I think it's awesome, and I like it. But I don't want people to think I'm being lazy, either. Sometimes it's nice to challenge yourself and try new stuff and not become a one-trick pony.
Is there a philosophy that goes into the mirroring?
I do all my own editing, and the first philosophical thing for me is, it's gotta look good. That's #1. I just like the way a mirrored image looks. You can take a normal picture and mirror it, and get something really cool. It looks kind of evil and kind of weird. I don't really have a crazy philosophy.
When I see the mirroring, I think that you're fracturing your characters or attacking the central axis of the screen for whatever reason.
Oh, for sure, definitely. The characters in this movie are definitely not normal, and having a mirrored image definitely can express that sense of a fractured character or split personality.
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Today Is the Day - "IED"
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Speaking of characters, you have the same actress as in the Today Is the Day video.
Yes, her name is Jess Quartel.
Tell me about her.
I met her on the first feature film I made. It was this independent thing I funded myself. It was called The Romance Is Dead. I held a casting call and sent out a script. She came out and read for me, and ever since then, I've put her in almost anything I can, because she's a really good and talented actress. For some strange reason, she gets what I do. I have a huge percentage of people that will meet me and say, "Cool, you're making a movie. Awesome, I'm an actor, I want to be in a movie". They read the script, and then I get the phone call: "I have to have surgery that day". Or "My dog died". Or "You're fucking crazy".
In the beginning, Jess got it and stuck around. Then it turned out that she's definitely a major talent. In person, she's very quiet and shy. I wouldn't go so far as to say insecure, but I think maybe she underestimates her sex appeal a little bit. I like her as an actress because she's interesting to look at. You can film her in so many different ways. It's not just like a blonde bimbo or something. She has a really interesting face. And I don't even ever have to direct her. I just give her the script, and she gets it, and away we go.
Actors might not be eager to work with you because you put them through abusive situations.
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah, I know. Poor Jess.
Well, you're not exactly abusing them, but it's not the typical situation.
Yeah, exactly. She's been covered in fake urine, fake blood, fake poo. She's had to eat terrible things. She's had to act like an idiot. And she's a total trooper. She's never said no. We shot Disgorge in the dead of winter up here in London. There were some days it was like minus 20, minus 30. She's definitely a trooper.
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Disgorge, Mexico trailer
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It's funny you mentioned sex appeal. Jess is a pretty girl, but when I watched Disgorge, never once did I find her sexy, just because of the movie.
Was sex appeal something that you're trying to put across?
I don't know about "sex appeal". I guess so, yeah. There's all sorts of different kinds of sex appeal. I definitely like to try to allude to sexual thoughts and feelings in my films, and Disgorge especially since it's about a couple. It is something I consciously bring to the table, I guess.
Is filmmaking what you do for a living?
Yeah. For the past five years, I've been a professional editor, and I taught at a film school here in London, ON. My wife has been in medical school that whole time. She just finished, so now she's a full-fledged psychiatrist, bringing in the big bucks. So I kind of retired from the daily grind. For about a year now, I've been doing this. I don't have a day job. I get up, and I edit or write or shoot. It's beautiful. I love it. It's like the ultimate artistic freedom.
If you could work with any band, who would it be?
I would just die to work with the Melvins. They're one of my favorite bands, and I love what they're about. In terms of making a movie for an album, I'd like to make a movie for the first Fantomas album. I'd love to work with Agoraphobic Nosebleed, and I think that's actually going to be happening, so I'm really stoked about that. Axis of Eden was released a year ago this Halloween, and [since] that time, I've worked and met with almost every band that I've set out to meet and work with, like Jucifer and all the bands at Maryland Deathfest. My list of people I'd love to meet and work with is getting smaller, which is really cool. I would love to work with Portishead, too.
You're more fascinated by women than men.
I guess so (laughs). Part of that stems from the fact that for some reason, in London, Ontario, I cannot find a good male actor to save my life. And I always know Jess is there. As a writer, there's nothing better than having an actor already in mind and a location. Then I know I'm writing something that's going to be made, and it's so much better to visualize. The other point, too, is that I don't really care about dudes too much. (Laughs) I kind of like to imagine these worlds where women are in control and doing all sorts of strange and weird and wonderful things. I know, it's weird. I was looking at the stuff that we've done — Sigh, Jucifer, Fuck the Facts — yeah, it's funny.
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Jucifer - "Fleur de Lis"
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Do you think your work is Canadian in any way?
I don't think it's Canadian. I guess the landscape is there. [But] I'm a little bit reluctant to identify myself with Canadian film. Most Canadian films are really bad, and they have a really bad look to them. Obviously there's exceptions. Living in Canada, there's this whole thing of funding Canadian films. They have to have a Canadian story and a Canadian interest. That's just something as an artist [that does not interest me]. When I sit down to create, I don't have a Canadian hat on. I don't think art has a nationality per se, especially not a Canadian one.
How are your projects funded?
So far we've funded everything ourselves. The bands will kick in what they have, but these are underground metal bands. They don't have a lot of money. My partner Dave Cardoso and I, whenever possible when filming, fill as many roles as possible. Our crews are very small. Dave does all the shooting. I do all the editing. So we're a self-sufficient team. Unless we have to start getting costumes and special effects, we work with micro-budgets. Which is good, because it's a challenge. It forces us to be creative, and we don't have to answer to anybody.
What was the budget for Disgorge?
I'd say the total budget would be probably about 2500 Canadian dollars. We try to feed the cast and crew, and that kind of thing. I paid to get the robes made. That was this woman designer Nekro, who lives in London, too. She designs for Angela Gossow, and she did some stuff for a Sigh video I made. She didn't even charge. We just had to pay for the materials. It's obviously very low-budget. Most people will say you can't make a movie for that much, but we did it.
This reminds me of things like the first Evil Dead movie.
Yeah, movies don't need to be made following the Hollywood model. In fact, I think people should shy away from that as much as possible because it destroys creativity. The perfect example is one of the videos from Axis of Eden that premiered on MTV. That whole video was just me and an actress, Jess, in a field, and I edited it. Two people made that, and it got on MTV. Big crews and Hollywood mentality don't [necessarily] equal commercial and critical success. You can still achieve it on your own.
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