A Conversation with Joe Begos
With just two movies under his belt, and not yet 30 years old, Joe Begos has taken the genre film world by storm since 2013 when his debut, the alien abduction/slasher hybrid, “Almost Human,” first wowed fans and critics on the festival circuit.
Begos’ love of practical effects and his appreciation for films from earlier decades that didn’t rely on big-name stars and costly computer-generated imagery to make a lasting impact truly sets him apart.
His new film, “The Mind’s Eye,” is a loving homage and a ballsy attempt to one-up another once-young auteur (David Cronenberg), and it works. It works better than most might ever have imagined.
BVB: Blood Violence and Babes was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Begos by phone about his directing style, his approach to visualizing incredibly elaborate set pieces on a shoestring budget and the early inspirations that helped shape him into the filmmaker he is today.
BVB: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and my website, Blood Violence and Babes.
JB: Yeah, sure.
BVB: I have to tell you, I am a huge fan of your work, man.
JB: Thank you so much.
BVB: “Almost Human,” to me, was a stunning, stunning debut. And “The Mind’s Eye,” I just watched it this weekend and it’s literally like the best fan-boy Christmas present you could ever receive. It’s just awesome.
JB: Oh wow, thank you.
BVB: You’re so welcome. I love everything about it, and I can’t wait to talk to you about it. I have to believe that you obviously have a love for old-school, 1980’s horror based on “Almost Human” and “The Mind’s Eye.” Am I right?
JB: Oh yeah, for sure.
BVB: Based on your picture, you look like a young guy. Are you in your 20s or 30s?
JB: I’m 28.
BVB: OK. So when you were growing up, was that type of films you would seek out? The really good, old-school ‘80s horror that employed practical effects?
JB: Yeah, Dad and Mom were big horror fans. And they were really – I’m a young child. They had me when they were young. So they were into ‘80s and early ‘90s [inaudible} so we had tons and tons of awesome VHS around and, I don’t know, it’s just when I started watching it, all of the creature effects and shit like “The Blob” and “The Fly,” that stuff really appeals to me because it was so fucking fantastical and it appealed to me more than the stuff that would normally appeal to a little kid. So that really drew me into it. That’s what I loved about it. When I started making stuff, just the idea of actually creating all this stuff. You know, when I was a teenager, we were trying to blow shit up or crashing cars or doing stuff like that because that was just cool to me. You know, we took for granted all that stuff in the ‘80s and ‘90s. You know, like shitty movies – something like “Ticks,” like a straight to video movie – you watch it now and it’s like astounding because of the amount of animatronic and practical work and like the amount of money behind it. That’s what draws me to it. When I make stuff, I want to make it with the exact tools, all the tools they made the best movies with. If this shit looks better in the fucking ‘80s or 1990s than it does now, why don’t we utilize that stuff to make the movie. Using state of the art makeup. Like makeup in the ‘80s looked amazing. It just drives me insane.
BVB: Is there any CGI in “The Mind’s Eye”?
JB: Just wire removal.
BVB: OK. That’s what I figured. Because even like the scene where, um, oh I can’t remember now, which character it is that gets ripped in half by the torso…
BVB: That looked entirely practical and it was amazing.
JB: Yeah, that was awesome. I kept telling my effects guy, I was like, I want it to look like “Aliens,” I want it to look like “Aliens,” and he was like, ‘We can’t do that.’ It looks pretty good at the next quick cut but…it’s not the Bishop shot, but it’s pretty close.
JB: We just put two hooks in those guys and we had two guys on either side and at the count of three, they ripped as hard as they could…
JB: So it looks pretty good.
BVB: Oh that’s awesome. “The Mind’s Eye” clearly plays a great deal of homage to David Cronenberg’s “Scanners,” but you really take the concepts that Cronenberg introduced and you make them your own. And this is coming from someone – I had the original “Scanners” theater poster on my wall when I was a kid and I always felt like the one thing that Cronenberg lacked the budget or the ability to do back in 1981 was to present a full-on scale telekinetic battle royale. And you delivered that in spades. Was that really important to you to kind of take his, what he had introduced, the whole idea of a telekinetic, a scanner, and then elevate it to just this bad-ass battle royale?
JB: Yeah, because the thing that appealed to me, along with what I was saying before, just the ridiculous special effects, I really like set pieces a lot. I fucking love. Like I love action movies. And I love like big, giant, complicated, crazy set pieces. So I – this is probably a bad way to do things, but I almost reverse engineer scripts to set pieces so. Like I like something like “Scanners” or “The Fury,” just the idea of telekinesis and this really, kind of blue-collar setting. I like that idea but I wanted to integrate it with my own, kind of, all right we’re going to do fucking set pieces that’s going to be kind of a balls to the wall thing and it’s going to be non-stop, so…kind of almost like when it starts, well now it starts almost 15 minutes into the movie. We can’t have it not stop. How do we keep on topping ourselves? The thing is, when you’re on page 55 and you rip somebody in half telekinetically, you’ve got 40 more pages and 12 more people to kill and nine more set pieces. How do you top that? It’s a lot of fun to keep trying to go up from there.
BVB: (Laughing) That’s awesome. And you keep doing it, which is great. I mean, at one point – the thing that I loved, Lauren Ashley Carter. I thought it was great that you made her the antithesis of the traditional Final Girl or the damsel in distress and then you give her the big money shot that anyone who had seen “Scanners” was waiting for, and that comes pretty early in the film, where she does the exploding head gag. And, I’m like, ‘Wow, he did that early,’ but then you just kept topping it. It was like you took what was great about the first film and found ways to keep going, ‘OK, you like that? Here’s this! How about this?’ It was awesome.
JB: Yeah. Yeah! Thank you, man, that was definitely the intention, so I’m glad that appealed to you.
BVB: It comes across really well. Now one thing I didn’t – I didn’t realize at first but I do now. I spoke to Lauren actually yesterday. You not only serve as director, but you’re also the camera operator. So you’re in the trenches with them when they’re literally going through all these big battles.
BVB: How important is that to you to be right there with them? Does it build a relationship with your cast that helps you make that much better of a movie?
JB: Yeah, it’s weird because that’s just how I always did things. I don’t really know another way. But when I
think about it, I don’t want to be in another room behind a monitor. I want to be there in the scene. Literally, it’s you and the actors sitting there. I’ve got the camera. Everything we need to make a movie is right here. Whoever is fucking next to me. I’m here telling you what to do. And we’re just going to figure this out. I feel like I’d rather be there in the scene, in the fucking set, looking around, and as I’m shooting it, I can direct the person. I can talk to the actor while I’ve got the camera on my shoulder. I feel like it’s just a much more personal process. Then you’ve got your other crew just around orbiting the set, doing what they need to do. And they clear the set when it’s time to come on. There’s just something more that appeals to me than behind a monitor, you’ve got nine fucking people talking in your ear about their goddamn opinion and you’ve got to walk all the way across the fucking set. It’s a fucking pain in the ass. I want to be there figuring it out with you. I want to be there in the moment.
BVB: (Laughing) Right.
JB: That’s just more appealing to me. And then when you’re actually – it’s a long fucking day, or you’ve got a lot of shit going on or the weather’s shitty and – it’s hard to get motivation from the crew but if the director’s sitting there and he’s got this fucking heavy-ass camera on him and he’s like, ‘All right, I’m going out there.’ He’s fucking busting his ass more than anybody. Nobody has a choice but to kind of follow suit and not bitch. That’s what I like about my crew. It’s a fucking really tight unit and everybody loses their fucking egos and everybody does what they need to do. That’s why we’re able to operate with such a small crew. I think we have 16 to 18 main crew members on any given day. It works well.
BVB: Oh that’s awesome. You’re like the general going into battle with the troops and that’s going to inspire the troops that much more. I love it. I think that’s – I wish more directors followed suit because I think what you get from your actors, it shows. You get a commitment that isn’t always apparent in a lot of genre films.
BVB: I know we’re running out of time so I wanted to ask you – I love the cast that you assembled for “Mind’s Eye.” How important was it for you to find the right actors, people like Larry Fessenden, John Speredakos and Noah Segan, to really, fully inhabit these very vital, very important roles that really help sell the movie that much more?
JB: Well, a lot of these people I had wanted to work with. What’s important to me – a lot of independent movies, horror movies will go out of their way – ‘Oh, let’s cast these four horror names’ – and I don’t want to say any names, but they’re terrible actors and they were in movies in the ‘80s. And it’s like, oh, let’s cast them, it’s cool to have them. But to me, I want to pick actors that I watch in movies I love. No bullshit, because it’s my movie, but I feel like I got some of the best from indie horror. Jeremy Gardner is such an incredibly fantastic actor. Larry Fessenden is a legitimately great actor. So, for me, it was more important to get people that I recognize as good actors who are tremendously talented then like, ‘Oh, this person is going to be worth $4,000 dollars more in Germany.’ Like Fessenden, I’ve always wanted to work with. I’m so glad I was able to give him a somewhat meatier role than he’s used to. Gardner – like I saw “The Battery,” I wanted to put him in something. Lauren Ashley Carter knocks every fucking thing she’s in out of the park. Matt Mercer is like literally – I’ve seen Matt Mercer in some of the worst movies in the world and somehow he manages to still be good in every single frame. So I definitely need him in my movie.
BVB: I love “The Battery.” I agree with you.
JB: Yeah, I want that motherfucker because that movie is great.
“The Mind’s Eye” is available to rent or buy now from RLJ Entertainment on most streaming Video-on-Demand platforms.