Bottom Shelf Reviews Interview: Johnny Daggers
A few months ago I started Bottom Shelf Reviews and decided to go the extra mile and actually reach out and contact filmmakers on social media. The very first person I did was Johhny Daggers after watching and reviewing his film Blood on the Reel. Mr. Daggers doesn't just focus his talents solely on film as he is also an accomplished writer with is his book Neverlasting. I finally got a chance to interview Mr. Daggers ask about his directing style and how an independent horror directors can make it in the underground film world.
Bottom Shelf Reviews: So lets start with an obvious question, when did you decide you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Johnny Daggers: I honestly did not choose to be a filmmaker, it chose me. That is really the truth of it. I had always aspired to be a professional musician. I had a record deal in the early 2000s, which left me feeling a lot of disdain for the record industry. It wasn’t until 2010 that film became an artistic outlet for me. I was sick of the countless Hollywood sequels and remakes that were, and still are coming out, so I decided to make a twenty minute short, which was ‘Samhain: Night Feast’. I didn’t intend of doing anything with the film, I simply wanted an excuse to get all of my friends together and make a fun film. Something that I would like to see. A week or two after the film was complete, I received word that the film would be screening at the Bastards Of Horror Short Film Fest, which was held at the Horror Realm Con in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I showed up for the screening with no preconceived notion of wining. I just thought that it would be a wonderful thing to see my film on the screen, and in a theater. To my surprise, ‘Samhain: Night Feast’ was voted the crowd favorite, and I was asked to do a Q&A immediately after. I remember thinking that “If we can do this, without even trying to make a great film, what could we do if we really put our minds to it”. It was at that defining moment that I decided start a production company.
BSR: A lot of people work day jobs to keep the lights on at home and food on the table, so how do you balance your passion which is filmmaking and your professional life?
JD: There was a time when I juggled a day job while pursing my films. Those were long days. After I got home from work, I would generally put in another eight to ten hours on my films, and despite all of the hard work, not much seemed to get accomplished. There were a few tough years where production became stagnant and I felt really discouraged. Looking back on it, and now being in the position where I am a full-time filmmaker, I honestly do not think that one can successfully juggle both. Sure, you can get films made while working a day job, but it is not until you are afforded the luxury of being able to work on films full-time that you will really sow the fruits of your labor. To better summarize that, when I was working a day job I accomplished one short film and one feature film in four years. Not a very impressive number. Once I became a full-time filmmaker, I released two features, and am working on my next feature film in the span of three years.
BSR: Making your first feature what would obstacles did you faced as far as production goes?
JD: My first feature, ‘Caustic Zombies’ began production in 2010, immediately after ‘Samhain: Night Feast’. Production was fairly simple. I cannot recall one monumental problem that occurred. It wasn’t until post-production that we encountered our troubles. The woes of post-production are somewhat discussed in my documentary,‘Blood On The Reel: The Guts Behind Indie Horror’, but even at that, I choose to keep a lot of that to myself. A lot of personal conflicts arose between the crew, and I am at the point in my career where I don’t like to throw anyone under the bus, so to speak. Over the years we have made our peace and life goes on, but giving your readers something, the major problem was with editing and the film not being edited properly. Due to this, the film was never ‘officially’ released, although in 2011, I did release an ‘official’ limited edition bootleg version of the film.
BSR: When did that dream come true for you personally that you were finally recognized for your talents as a filmmaker?
JD: To answer that question properly, I guess it would be all in how one constitutes being ‘recognized’. The fact that ‘Samhain: Night Feast’ not only screened by won the Bastards Of Horror Short Film Fest was surely a great recognition. ‘Caustic Zombies’ was the film that really launched me in to world-wide recognition. I was being interviewed for magazines in the U.K., Canada, and one of my favorites here from the States, Rabid Magazine. I was being asked to travel to radio-stations for interviews. It was a wild experience. And it was at that time when I thought to myself, “Things are really starting to happen”. It all seemed surreal. Especially when you have people walking up to you on the streets saying “Hey, aren’t you that filmmaker?”. I think that all of these really solidified to me, in my mind, that I was actually being noticed as a filmmaker. And this all happened long before I had my distribution deal. I don’t think that having or not having a distribution deal makes you any more or less accomplished. Now a days, with technology, we have the ability to self-release our films to a much larger audience than ever before, so having a distribution deal in the ‘indie-world’ is almost insignificant.
BSR:You have made a name for yourself with the underground film community. When and how did it feel to be accepted by your peers and be recognized as a filmmaker?
JD: It is always good to be accepted by your peers. A crucial piece of advice that I can give to future filmmakers is that this industry, just like any other industry, is filled with people, your peers who want to see you fail. Any genre of art in particular, are filled with these people. People who are jealous of, or who feel threatened by your accomplishments. Never, ever take that to heart. You just have to do what you do, and make the kind of films that make you happy. Accept the accolades of your peers humbly and modestly. And let any backlash that you face roll right off. Luckily, I have had more accolades than not, but no one is immune to bad reviews or criticism. I am very thankful for all of the fans and supporters who have been so kind, generous and welcoming of my work.
BSR: How do you go about your casting process with horror? I ask that because a lot of actors tend to not want that on their demo reels for some reason.
JD: My casting process has changed quite considerably over the years. Firstly, most ‘indie Filmmakers’ are working on a very limited budget, if any at all. This really limits the type of actor or actress who you can cast. Luckily, through the beauty of ‘movie magic’ you can make almost any actor look great if it is filmed right. When I made ‘Samhain: Night Feast’ and ‘Caustic Zombies’, I was a complete novice with no sense of direction or aesthetics to the films that I was making. I would cast any abled body who wanted to be in the film. Not that I have much more experience and a clear vision of every facet of my films, I am very particular about who I cast. As you may have noticed, I have slowly been working my way out of the horror genre and more towards Film-Noir, where aesthetics are very important. Now that I am making ‘period pieces’, I have to cast actors and actresses who fit the look of that era. That means no visible tattoos or piercings. No purple or blue hair. I use to make cameos in my films, I can no longer due that given my look. For me, I look for people who I can depend on. Reliability is vital. Show up on time. Know your lines. And if you are required to bring your own wardrobe, make sure that you have it. Actor or actresses who cannot abide by the above conditions put everyone on set behind, and is quite unfair to all the people who dedicated themselves to being punctual and prepared. Once you have chosen the appropriate actor or actress, you also have to know their capabilities and their limitations. You also have to know your own capabilities and limitations as a director. You have to ask yourself “what can I do as a director to make this person shine?”. These are all things that are easier said than done. Experience is the only way that one really learns what is best and most suitable as to what they are looking for in an actor or actress.
BSR:What advice would you give to someone seeking a distributor for their film? How do you know when to pass and when to go with your gut?
JD: As briefly mentioned above, there are many ways in which ‘indie filmmakers’ can release their films to the world these days. Amazon being one of the best, if not the best outlet available at this time. Everyone uses it for the majority of their shopping, including films. ‘Blood On The Reel: The Guts Behind Indie Horror’is released through a major distributor, SGL Entertainment, and although the film I available through most major movie outlets, the film seems to have the best sells through Amazon. This is something that any ‘indie filmmaker’ has the ability to do on their own. If you do seek distribution, I suggest finding one who is fair. Fair in their cut that they take to release your film. Fair in letting you keep you artistic creativity and freedom. And the one thing that I cannot stress enough is that if you do procure a distribution deal, still be prepared to market the hell out of yourself. These days most distribution companies still put the majority of promotion on the shoulders of the filmmaker. There is no getting a distribution deal and having everything handled for you. You are still doing just as much work, if not more, than before you were signed. Think it over carefully and choose what is best for you. Every filmmaker is going to have different things that they are looking for.
BSR: What is your next project if you can share?
JD: I have a few projects that I would like to share. The first being, ‘Noctambulist’. The film is a 1920s, black and white, silent Noir Thriller, which was inspired by my love for the early German Expressionist films of the early 1900s. ‘Noctambulist’ stars Nicholas Nazrio and Lauren Peele. With Tim Scott and Nadia White in the supporting actor roles. The film just recently had its world-premiere at the World Con 75 Film Fest in Helsinki, Finland. I would like to give a big thanks to Nat Sanez for selecting to show the film. I will be self-releasing ‘Noctambulist’ through my production company, DaggerVision Films.
The second film that I would like to mention is my upcoming crime-Noir thriller, “Three Knocks And A Ring” which is currently in pre-production, and stars Nicholas Nazario and Lee Doll. And I am also very happy to announce that George Stover, who has appeared in several John Waters films has been selected as one of the supporting roles. The film is scheduled to start production in late Spring, early Summer of 2018.
And lastly, for those who love to read, I have recently released my first book. An illustrated horror novel, entitled ‘Neverlasting’ which was illustrated by William C. Cope and released through Burning Bulb Publishing. TE Magazine hailed the book as ‘Modern day Edgar Allen Poe’, to which I am very thankful for. ‘Neverlasting’is available in both paperback and ebook at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. And an audiobook is available at Amazon and Audible.
BSR: Any advice you can give to a fresh filmmaker? Something you wish you knew before starting your first production?
JD: The best advise, other than some of the tips I have already mentioned is EXPERIENCE. I cannot stress that enough. The more you film, the more you will better know your camera, your abilities, your crew and what it is that you are looking for. Find out what genre best appeals to you. Find a direction that you want to go and gravitate to that. I wish that I would have done that much earlier in my career, but I have no regrets. Everything was a learning experience that brought me to where I am today. I feel blessed and very thankful to be where I am at. And to be surrounded by the wonder talented people that I am surrounded by.