A Conversation With Tom Nagel
Here at BVB: Blood Violence and Babes, we love to talk to up-and-coming directors because, let's face it, our beloved horror genre needs new, fresh blood to keep envisioning terrifying nightmares for our enjoyment.
Tom Nagel may not be a familiar name just yet, but this long-time actor turned feature director hopes his debut movie, ClownTown, will put him squarely on the road to genre recognition.
ClownTown is a throwback. It's got the kind of box art that used to populate shelves at the local VHS rental shop. It's not a terribly original premise, but despite its low budget and DIY-aesthetic, it actually draws you in and proves to be an enjoyable viewing experience from its midpoint on.
BVB had the chance to speak with Nagel by phone about making ClownTown, and he was an absolutely great guy to talk to. We think that he's just going to keep getting better.
BVB: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me for my website, Blood Violence and Babes.
TN: No worries. My pleasure.
BVB: I really appreciate it. And I did get a chance to check out ClownTown, and I was impressed, man. I really enjoyed it. It had a very old-school feel to it, which I liked a lot.
TN: Thank you. I was hoping to have that a little bit.
BVB: No, it absolutely – it was funny, from the very first frame of the film, I think, when you have the mailbox that has “Strode” on it, kind of leading up to the old house…
BVB: I mean, I kind of got a good sense of what your influences were and I liked that. It was a nice tip of the hat to “Halloween” and that whole homage to the horror films of the ‘80s kind of played throughout. So I hope that was your intention because that’s how it played to me.
TN: Yep! Nope, I’m glad that you enjoyed it and got it. I’m a kid of the ‘80s and ‘90s, so that’s what inspired me. I wanted to throw those little things in there.
BVB: I thought it was really well done. I thought that was smart to – you instantly connect with your core audience by doing that. The downside is, if your movie’s not very good then the problem is that fans of those films that they’re getting the call-outs to, they can – they can be rough. But when your film is good, like I think ClownTown is, then it makes them more appreciative.
TN: That’s very true. It’s funny, when we were conceptualizing that, there was a little concern, ‘We could get ripped to shreds on this,’ but you know, I ultimately decided, you know what, we’re not trying to top anything. It’s more of a respect and homage to those because those are classics. You can’t beat them, so…
TN: …hopefully people enjoy it.
BVB: I think that’s definitely the right approach. So I’ve got to ask: ClownTown joins a growing roster of clown-centric features that are currently available or coming soon. I mean, you’ve got everything from Jon Watts’ “Clown,” which had been on the shelf for a couple of years and got a big release on home video last month now that he’s directing the new “Spider-Man” movie. You’ve got Rob Zombie’s upcoming “31.” And then there have just been a number of bizarre news stories from different states like California, several years ago in Bakersfield, to just recently, Winston Salem, N.C., had this spate of clown sightings that made national news.
BVB: So what is it about clowns?
TN: You know, it’s funny because the film was inspired actually by the Bakersfield story.
BVB: Ok, that’s the ‘true story’ aspect at the beginning.
TN: Right, and the funny thing about clowns was – we were conceptualizing several different ideas. I knew I wanted to make a horror film, but we just didn’t know what. And then Jeff Miller, the writer, brought those news clippings to us and instantly, we just said, ‘Heck yes, clowns.’ You know, that’s it. And at the time, you know, a year and a half ago, two years ago, there weren’t a lot of clown movies and I saw Rob Zombie’s, but I knew ours would be totally different. But we thought it would be cool, and as a director, I thought, ‘Oh man, how fun to do a clown movie?’ You can have so much fun with clowns and just do so many things. So right away, it was just our instinct to do clowns. It just clicked and we knew what we were doing.
BVB: That’s awesome. Now, do clowns creep you out personally?
TN: I will say I’m not scared of clowns. I don’t have clown-phobia, but they definitely creep me out. I think there’s just something – people know the images of some grown, sweaty man with clown makeup on, the bad breath, with the weird giggle laugh. It’s just creepy (laughs). There’s something unnerving and creepy about it.
BVB: It is. And it’s weird, you know, clowns, in horror films especially, tend to go – there’s two kinds of distinct areas. One is kind of the “Killer Klowns from Outer Space,” where they’re really ridiculously over-the-top, or you’ve got kind of the Captain Spaulding, the creepy older guy with the pot belly who would be just at home stirring a barbecue pit out in the backyard of the trailer park, and yet here he is dressed in a full clown outfit, so he’s just naturally creepy and off-putting to begin with. But I felt like the design of the clowns in ClownTown kind of went, you went for a variety of effects, which I liked. None of them were exactly the same. They all had different things that made them particularly unsettling, including the main clown. Was that Ricky grown up?
BVB: That’s what I thought. And his look, especially with the perpetual grin he had, it was fantastically unnerving.
BVB: Did you help design those looks?
TN: Um, yes. So actually, the guy that plays that clown, his name is David Greathouse, and he actually was our special effects makeup artist as well.
BVB: Oh cool!
TN: He and I actually designed all the clowns. He was super excited. He works with Bob Kirkman, a makeup legend. We were very fortunate to get David on board. As soon as I said to him, ‘Hey man, do you want to do this clown movie and actually be one of the clowns?’ He was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m in.’
TN: So he was super excited to play a clown and he had a lot of fun creating the different looks. I didn’t want to just half-ass and say, ‘Oh cool, let’s just make more giggly, goofy clowns.’ I wanted each clown to emulate a little bit of the actor’s body or movement. Like House, he’s very tall and snakelike, which plays into his character, versus the big clown, Chris – Chris Hahn, who is an ex-pro wrestler. He’s huge. He’s big and brooding. So I wanted to play off some of their natural abilities and let them have fun with it instead of it just being generic.
BVB: This was your debut feature, right? You had done some shorts in the past?
BVB: I noticed you did a variety of things on this movie. Not only were you the director and editor, but you also acted in the film and helped out with the visual effects. What was the experience juggling so many responsibilities for your debut feature? How was it?
TN: It was insane, but an amazing experience, and an amazing learning experience. I’ve been in the film industry since I was a kid as an actor and I’ve obviously dabbled in editing and different things, but taking on a feature – wow – it is a lot of work, but if you really put your heart and soul into it, it’s very rewarding. I learned more doing this film than I have in years of studying or watching. I think sometimes you just have to jump in the pool and learn how to swim. I had a great cast and crew. Everyone was very helpful. Lots of family and friends and friends of friends. I hit many roadblocks where I was just like, ‘Oh man, I don’t know how to do this,’ but then someone would help. It all worked out and we pulled it off and I’m excited to do it again. Maybe not as many jobs in the next one, but…
BVB: (Laughing) Right, maybe cut yourself a little slack.
TN: Yeah, exactly, otherwise I won’t last too long.
ClownTown is now available to rent or buy on most streaming VOD sites.