Schlock in Training

Written by Simon Abrams on . Posted in Arts & Film, Posts.

If you want to make films, you don’t always have to go the
studio, or even traditional indie movie route. Upon graduating from New York
University’s Tisch School of the Arts in May of 2009, Zac Amico has already
made strides in his DIY filmmaking career. A lover of Troma-Entertainment’s
unique brand of schlocky movies, Amico has already caught the eye of Troma
founder and spokesperson Lloyd Kaufman, and he now has a deal with them to
distribute his two “Schizoid Sluts from Planet Fucktard” short films online for $2 per film. He also shot, directed,
edited, wrote and scored Mickey Maniac,
an hour-long feature following a cartoon-obsessed serial killer, on a budget of
$1,200 (Amico took a cue from John Carpenter and scored Mickey Maniac and his other shorts mostly with synthesizers and a
Theremin). Although Amico and I met one another at NYU, I have yet to see any
of his films, so I was curious how he had accomplished so much as a fledgling
Troma filmmaker and someone that happily procured eye-candy for Kaufman.

New York Press: Where’d your interest in Troma films start?

Zac Amico: I had
a VHS of Toxic Avenger when I was 12
because I remembered the Toxic Avenger from the Saturday morning cartoon show Toxic Crusaders. That was right when I
started to get into horror movies. I was sort of mixing and matching, figuring
out what I was into. And when I saw Toxie, that was it: I knew what I wanted to
do. That was the day I decided I wanted to make horror movies. I watched it
twice in a row in the same night.

Then why Tisch? It
seems like a strange choice.

Personally, I wanted to go the best school I could. I wanted
to be in New York, and I thought it was important that even though I wanted to
do low-budget, trashy shit, I felt it was important to make a lot of contacts
with industry people. The more talented people I was around could only make me
more talented, just being around them, because I’m very competitive. That’s the
difference with me. I didn’t just want to make more of what I liked: I wanted
to improve it.

Tell me what shooting
and casting “Schizoid Sluts” was like.

The first one I made for me. It was school-related, in a
way: A friend of mine was having a Troma fundraiser, and she told me I should
make a movie for it. She gave me six months to get my act together. So I
brainstormed for a while and the term “Schizoid Sluts” just came to me. That
was not so much about acting and casting because I wrote parts for people I
knew and who I knew would be naked for my movies. And then I got a cameo from
my favorite band, an amazing death-rock band from Virgina called Bella Morte.
They’re real close friends of mine, and they cameoed in it. A lot of interest
in the film came from them being in it.

Tell me more about
the make-up work that you do. I know that working on a budget, it’s a source of
pride for you since you’ve got to do good work and you’ve got to do it on the

That can really make or break movies like mine. My
girlfriend [Michelle Crouchelli] went to Tom Savini’s make-up school in
Pittsburgh, so I luckily have gotten a lot of experience just from working with
her. I write my make-up scenes around what I can afford, more or less. She’s
incredibly talented, and she knows how to work for me; we have a very good
working relationship. She knows what I can afford and what I can do time-wise.
That’s another pitfall of shooting on a budget, as you only have a very limited
amount of time to get stuff done. We pretty much do the make-up on the fly.

What’s the hardest
location you’ve had to shoot in?

The end of the second “Schizoid Sluts” is set in a bathroom
with four people, and we were stuck in there for a very long time. It was like
a Vietnam movie. I shot about 20 minutes of Mickey
all in one day because I only had all of those actors together for a
single day. I turned one room into four office locations. That was a hellish,
hellish day.

You told me that you
used to pretend to be the producer of your films to make it look like your
films were bigger productions than they were. How did that work?

I used to always make it out like I was part of a production
company so it made me sound a little more legit. But then when people talked to
me, they always realized that it was just me. It just sounded more
professional: I would write emails that mentioned “the team” or “the production
company.” Since I did the job of several people, I don’t think that’s too much
of a lie.

How did you track
down Lloyd Kaufman?

I tracked down his assistant’s email and then found his
schedule and found that he was going to be speaking at an NYU class I was not
enrolled in. Then I found the professor’s email for that class and asked if I
could come and I asked Lloyd’s assistant if I could borrow him for five minutes
and shoot him. He said that he wasn’t sure Lloyd would be there, but I could
ask him. He assumed I was going to ask him if he could come to a set, but I
just brought the camera with me. We shot a scene guerilla-style, I guess
illegally—because it was in the NYU building and that’s not allowed.

I brought an actress with me, and we shot a death scene for
Lloyd, which was actually a Troma tribute because it has the Bromo seltzer
puke, a Troma staple. Lloyd is a very friendly guy. He loves to support
independent film. I got him to cameo in my movie and from there I got a lot of
stuff look a lot more legit knowing that he was in it. I think he liked my
tenacity and that I was willing to just show up with a camera and have no shame
about it. From there I got to work with Robin Watkins, who was in Poultrygeist, their last movie. He’s in Mickey Maniac as well.

I’m sure having a
girl as bait helped too, right?

It certainly didn’t hurt. Lloyd appreciates beautiful women,
as do most filmmakers. When you bring one with you, especially more than one,
it’s a lot easier to get stuff done.