Thursday, December 4, 2014

Amy Holden Jones on "Slumber Party Massacre"

How did Slumber Party Massacre come about?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well that was kind of interesting. I had come out of documentary films and couldn't make a living in them. In those days, it was not the big scene it is now. I had won the AFI student film festival with a documentary. Martin Scorsese was one of the judges of that festival, and he used me as his assistant on Taxi Driver and then introduced me to Corman.

I had no money and I had to make a living, so I became a film editor. I worked for a while as a film editor and was beginning to get successful at it. I realized that if I keep this up, I'm going to be typed as a film editor. I did several smaller movies, one for MGM and a small Hal Ashby movie, and I was going to do E.T. for Spielberg. I thought, 'I'll be a film editor unless I make a movie,' so I went back to Roger Corman, who I had edited a film for when I was 22 years old.

So I went back and said, “What would I have to do to be a director?” And Roger looked at the documentary, and it didn't show him enough about what he wanted, because it was an art documentary in a way. He said, “You have to show me that you can do what I do.”

I had never written anything, so I was looking for an existing script. I went into his library of scripts, scripts that he hadn't made, and I took several of them. I read one called Don't Open the Door, by Rita Mae Brown. And it had a prologue that was about eight pages long. It had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action scene.

I rewrote the scenes somewhat to make it better, and then I got short ends from shooting projects -- my husband was a cinematographer. My neighbor was a soundman. We borrowed some lights, used our own house. I did the special effects, and I got UCLA theater students to act in it.

We spent three days and shot those first eight pages. Then I put them together at night on Joe Dante's system -- he was doing The Howling. I would work at night, after hours, on his Movieola and he gave me some temp music cues.

Then I dropped off this nine-minute reel for Roger that had a dialogue scene, a suspense scene and an action/horror scene, to show him that I could do those three different kinds of things which make up an exploitation movie.

He called me up and had me come in and asked me how much it had cost me to do it. And I said it cost about $2,000, which is what it had cost. He said, “You have a future in the business,” and asked me how much I would need to direct the rest of the script. The truth was, I had never read the rest of the script, all I had read was the first eight pages. So I just, out of the air, said “$200,000.” And he said, “Let's do it, you're directing this movie.”

I then finished reading the script and it was a complete mess.

I just took a leap. I called Spielberg and told him the situation and he was kind enough to release me fro editing E.T. I rewrote Slumber Party Massacre in about four weeks as I cast it. And, indeed, we made if for $200,000.

What steps did you take to re-write it?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: I rewrote it to be makeable. Once I knew how little money we had, and what the situation was before re-writing it, that focuses your mind -- a lot. You don't go writing scenes at a football game with thousands of extras.

You start to think very logically -- when you know you're going to be going out there and doing those scenes -- about what you can do and what amount of time you can do it in. And my background as a film editor and a documentary filmmaker certainly helped.

Did you end up using any of the prologue that you shot on your own?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: No, we never did, because none of the actors were SAG, and in the end we had to have SAG actors, so we had to toss it, which was too bad. But we didn't really need it, as it turned out.

Any advice to writers who are working in the low-budget universe?

AMY HOLDEN JONES: Well, it's a different market in this day and age. It's a good era, in a way, for writers starting out on a low-budget project, because you can actually make a movie for almost nothing.

I wish that I'd had the technology that young writers have now, because you can take all kinds of risks without risking all that money, if you are bold enough to write and start shooting.

I think the main thing that is still true today that was true then is that as you write you have to both tap into your heart but you also have to be aware of the very practical side of what it all costs and also what sells. It's an interesting mix.

The world is full of festival movies that never get out or go anywhere. If people are trying to break into Hollywood movies and bigger movies, not make something personal that they're going to put up on the Internet, they have to look at the commerciality of their subject matter and they have to fit what they're trying to say into a framework that is in some form entertaining for people. It has to be meaningful or moving or exciting or funny or dramatic. It can't just be what you'd tell your shrink, you know what I mean?

If they're trying to break into Hollywood, they have to be aware of something commercial in the project. Take a look at some of the things that have sold out of festivals. For example, Hustle & Flow. It's about a pimp. It's about sex. And money. That’s an easy sell.

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