Cheap Kills

A digital camera, a demented dream, lots of fake blood, and almost no money: That's Fear Film

Jon Fish dwells in a capacious west Hollywood apartment, a sea of beige leather furniture filling the high-ceilinged living room. Fish's creative energies are spent in the production room, where tables lining two walls are piled with computer, scanners, and other digitalia. The 31-year-old Fish and his wife, Susan, own Avalon Productions, which partners with Fear Film. Created in 1997, Avalon has produced everything from music videos and advertisements to infomercials and television pilots. Fish's first love, however, is acting. Avalon, in essence, has been a vehicle to foster that passion.

Originally from Maryland, Fish has acted on-stage since high school and also went to business school. In 1994, he attended the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London, where he studied classical theater acting. By 1995, he was living in South Florida, lured here, he says, by a friend's claim that modeling work abounded. "But you know how it is," he explains. "You have to pick up a part-time job, then it becomes full time, and you spend less and less time doing what you wanted to do in the first place. I decided I wanted to get back into acting, and a friend suggested I look into commercial and television acting."

Makeup artist Gina-Marie Rooney slathers actor Bob Glazier into the crazed Painkiller as her son plays video games in an adjoining bedroom. After tucking the tyke in, Glazier joins director Robert Massetti in  choreographing a cinematic murder.
Colby Katz
Makeup artist Gina-Marie Rooney slathers actor Bob Glazier into the crazed Painkiller as her son plays video games in an adjoining bedroom. After tucking the tyke in, Glazier joins director Robert Massetti in choreographing a cinematic murder.

Around that same time in 1997, Fish became acquainted with Massetti while both managed the same nightclub. They quickly learned of each other's interest in film. Fish owned a High 8 video camera, and despite Massetti's self-professed snobbery toward anything but film -- "You're taught in film school that this is the only medium," he says -- the duo began hatching a plan to produce a movie short called When Shadows Lie Darkest. "It was just for fun," Fish declares. "It wasn't supposed to turn into anything."

Massetti recalls: "The movie came about because I had these infamous Halloween parties for quite a few years, and I wanted to make a movie to show the guests." The filming of Shadows, which began September 5, 1999, could best be described as episodic; the 26-minute film wasn't completed until March 2001.

In explaining the fitful making of Shadows, Massetti almost doesn't know where to start. "We had so many problems trying to get this movie done," Massetti laments. "I wasn't really organized and didn't know everyone well." Shooting, in the first place, was limited to weekends because that's the only time he could gather enough crew. He was quite pleased with initial scenes shot at a Fort Lauderdale park. However, the lead actress in that footage then took a trip to Texas where, while riding on a mechanical bull, she was thrown off and smashed her face upon landing. Massetti told her he'd shoot around her until she recovered, but she eventually told him she was no longer interested. "It was getting closer and closer to Halloween, and I didn't want to finish it quickly and make it substandard," he says. With that mindset, he regrouped and rewrote the screenplay to use the completed footage as a flashback.

"Getting people together was a big challenge," he adds. "All of them were interested in films, but their daily lives were more important. But most of our problems were with locations. We shot at a public pool one time, and it turned out to be too noisy. So we went to another pool, but the sun was starting to go down, and we started losing our light. It took two, three months alone to get those scenes." Oh, yes, and then there was Hurricane Irene in October 1999. The one problem they didn't have was funding: The film cost only about $200 to make.

Though Massetti wasn't satisfied with the final edit of Shadows, the Fort Lauderdale Film Society was supportive of the project and agreed to show the film at Cinema Paradiso in April 2001. The movie had rekindled the filmmaker fire in Massetti, and it was around this time that he conceived of Fear Film as a production company.

"I wasn't really happy with what Hollywood was producing," he explains. "I hadn't seen a really good horror film in a while. I said, 'We should get in there and make these movies the way they should be made. It's a viable market. There's a lot of horror fans out there. We could make a niche at this.'"

Fish agreed fully, realizing by then that there was a talented collection of people in Florida craving a shot at making a film -- even if they weren't paid.

"It's very hard in the acting industry and film industry to get your name on credits," Fish explains. "Imagine a new director out of film school. How does he get his name on anything? He either has to shoot it himself or sell somebody on the fact that he can do it, which is difficult if he doesn't have any credits. Same with actors or makeup artists or grips. So when we let the industry know that we were going to be shooting some independent projects, they were like, 'Bring me on.' We all kind of went that way: I don't care if we don't make any money on it; let's do it so we can have some credit to our name. This was a way for us to break into the industry."

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