January 3, 2013

Q&A with 'Cell Count' Director Todd E. Freeman

Last year I had the pleasure of watching the independent horror flick, Cell Count, and was thoroughly impressed with it. You can read my review of the film here. At the time the movie was playing festivals the world over, but has just hit the VOD and Digital circuit. This gave me the opportunity to shoot director/co-writer, Todd E. Freeman, a few questions about not only Cell Count, but also The Weather Outside, Wake Before I Die and Cell Count 2, among other things. Oh, and I also have an exclusive storyboard still from Cell Count 2 to share with you, that Todd kindly sent my way. Hope you enjoy the interview, and check out Cell Count when you can!

      Lair of Filth (LoF) - Cell Count is quite a wonderful movie, of which I don’t believe I have seen a bad word said in anger about it so far. How has the response been to the movie so far?

      Todd E. Freeman (TF) - That’s very nice of you to say.  I don’t want to necessarily point you in the direction but there is a bit of anger toward the film with some viewers.  Mostly based on the fact that it is not a traditional horror movie.  Some people seem to be confused about the fact that the dramatic elements and very real emotions in the movie are coupled with basically what amounts to a silly monster movie.  Also the ending makes people mad.  It was always planned to as the first part of a trilogy of movies.  This one raises a lot of questions that are in no way answered... until the second film.  I completely understand the frustration of an open ended story.  People feel duped that there isn’t a defined resolution and that is 100% valid.  That being said the overall response has been very positive.  The film has played at festivals all over the world, won awards, secured digital distribution, and been on a handful of end of the year Best of Horror Films list.  We are so happy about the success of the film so far but there are so many more avenues that the film can succeed so we’re excited about widening the net in 2013.

      LoF -  It has just debuted across multiple VOD and Digital platforms. Are there plans for a Blu-ray or DVD release in the near future?

      TF -  We are working on the DVD and Blu-ray deal now as well as cable television deals around the world.  We want as many people as possible to have the opportunity to see the film on the format they prefer.  It’s been a long process but seemingly effective.  We are super excited about the dvd and Blu because of the opportunity to share commentary and behind the scenes video.  We had a lot of challenges as well as fun making this flick and are looking forward to sharing this aspect to genre fans.

      LoF - Can you tell us a little about the origins of Cell Count? Was there anything in particular that inspired the film?

      TF - Yeah about 10 years ago my mom fell down in a grocery store and went to the hospital.  We were told that a tumor had exploded and spread cancer throughout her body.  They opened her up and tried to suction as much of the fluid etc. out that they could but told her she would need to receive chemo treatments immediately.  So through the process of her chemo, helping shave her head, and watching her be sick I began to imagine what I would be willing to do to save her life.  That’s the genesis of the idea.  What would you be willing to do to save the one that you love the most.  From there I just let my imagination go and it turned into the romantic and horrific screenplay that ended up being shot.  Best news is my mom has been cancer free for years and is weirded out that she inspired such a whacked out flick.  Hoping to record a “mommentary” for the dvd release... should be informative.

      LoF - How long did the production take; from initial idea, through pre-production and casting etc. through to the finished movie?

     TF - Like I said I had the genesis of the idea about 10 years ago and then in mid 2010 we decided to pursue financing it.  We shot in the winter of that year and it premiered as the Closing Night Film on May 20th, 2012 at the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil.  So 12 years I guess. 

      LoF -  I got a definite early Cronenberg vibe from Cell Count, even though it does have its own identity, was this something you planned?

      TF - You know I really love Cronenberg’s film as a viewer but honestly he never really came to mind during the writing or filming of the movie.  I always thought of this more akin to movies like the original Alien and The Thing.  I’m so glad that people liken it to Cronenberg because that is such a huge compliment... so forget what I just said... yes  I totally meant to do that.

      LoF - Cell Count is quite visceral in places, but it is also a very thought-provoking film; it asks that the viewer questions what is going on, what the real motives are behind the events. How have viewers responding to this more intelligent approach to horror?

     TF - Thanks for thinking that it’s intelligent.  I don’t really know how to respond to this because quite honestly I don’t think about it in those terms.  It started as such a personal story and ended up some crazy ROM-MON hybrid.  I always wanted people to be on edge... not know exactly what is going on and only hearing what the characters hear etc.  There’s a bit of exposition in the film but for the most part the audience is on the same journey, however uncomfortable and confusing, as the characters within the film.  I guess I just like to think it somewhat humanized the horrors.

     LoF - Where was Cell Count filmed?

     TF - We shot it all in a completely functional prison facility just outside of Portland Oregon.  It was financed to be built with taxpayers money... and not financed to be run.  Always seemed funny that voters yea’d the building and nay’d the operating.  It sits there without ever housing a single inmate.  Good for my business though.  The movie would not have been the same without it.

      LoF - Aside from Cell Count you have also worked with your brother, Jason, on the films The Weather Outside (which was excellent) and Wake Before I Die. How was it working so closely with Jason, and what is the release status on both of these titles?

     TF - Jason Co-Produced and Co-Shot Cell Count along side me and vice versa for “The Weather Outside.”  I wrote and directed Cell Count and he did “The Weather Outside.”  “Wake Before I Die” was the first film that we ever Co-Wrote and Co-Directed.  My brother and I are very visual filmmakers each with our own unique style of writing and directing.  With that though we can very easily communicate our ideas to one another about look and editing etc.  I always joke that he’s more of the Ridley and I’m more of the Tony.  He’s a classic storyteller with all the bells and whistles.  I’m a bit more visceral and like things to explode.  He’s a bit more complex and thoughtful... I’m like things a bit simple.  “The Weather Outside” is going out to film festivals as well as distributors and “Wake Before I Die” is completed with a new poster coming out this week from Tom Hodge at The Dude Designs.  Both films will be available later this year for rental and purchase.

      LoF - You obviously don’t like to hang around when it comes to making films, with Cell Count 2 already moving forward. What can you tell us about this sequel? Will it feature any returning characters, or is it a completely new tale?

     TF - Well we are just in the beginnings of developing Cell Count 2 so I wouldn’t say that anything is concrete.  What I do know is that most of the questions left unanswered are addressed... but raise new interesting threads to be explored in the third film.  The characters are all back, some longer than others, in the second film and it begins the second we them in the first film.  The first 10 minutes is the biggest and most insane action scene I’ve ever conjured up.  Everyone within the group is changing... some for the better... and some for the worse.  They run into new characters within the quarantined land with varying degrees of complications and finally I can tell you that we’ll see the cure all grown up... a whole lot of them.  Oh and we’ve just gotten confirmation that a couple of great genre actors are officially attached to come out and play with us. 

(Exclusive Cell Count 2 Storyboard)

     LoF - When are you planning on Cell Count 2 being released?

     TF - Dates are not set in stone and will change a million times.  I’ll get back to you on this as production moves closer to fruition.

      LoF - Back to Cell Count now. The film has played festivals all over the world, including my home country of England. This must have been an exciting experience for you? How have fan reactions across the globe been?

     TE - I’ve had some of the greatest memories of my life in the last year at festivals all over the world.  Fantaspoa in Brazil really set the table for an amazing festival experience for the second half of 2012.  Each festival is very special to me and we’re just so honored to have been a part of all of them.  Overall I think the reactions at the fests are similar to the ones everywhere.  Some really like it... some really don’t.  I think if those who believe in sequels and look forward to the journey love it.  Those who wanted to have it all wrapped up in a cute little bow don’t.  I love and am proud of the fact that it’s neither universally praised nor panned.  It excites me to have room to grow as well as have people revisit the first film after seeing it’s sequel.  I guarantee you that the experience is not complete nor will the first movie ever be looked at the same after seeing the second.  It’s a complex and epic tale in which people have only experienced the first act.  The second will fulfill those who had reservations of the first and probably make some that loved it not like it as much.  Reactions change when new information is introduced... such is the journey of a trilogy.

     LoF - A question I like to ask is, if I had not seen Cell Count how would you sell it to me?

     TF - ROM-MON.  It’s a very heartfelt romantic monster movie.  I’m most proud that I’m told constantly by people who don’t like horror movies that they were surprised to find out that it didn’t resemble one.  I want to make movies that entertain and intrigue as many people as possible.  But I guess if I had to sell it to you personally I’d say “what if the cure to your life threatening illness was something living inside of you?”  Oh yeah and “it’s really gross with a lot of open wounds and stuff.”  Pretty interesting right?  Right?

     LoF -  Aside from Cell Count 2, what are your plans for the future?

     TF - My brother and I are currently working on a genre script to direct together called “Devil Rides Shotgun” as well as gearing up to adapt another of our dad’s books to the big screen entitled “The Rest of Us.”  Separately my brother is working on his next screenplay and I’m writing a few pages a day on my epic take on the modern day Americana western.  All features are in various stages of development and we’ll see which one goes into production next and with who.  

      Cell Count is now available on the following VOD and Digital outlets; iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Vudu, Cinemanow, Playstation, Xbox and Youtube.

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