Actor, writer, director, producer—Terrence Williams has done a bit of everything over the years. A self-described guerilla filmmaker, Williams and his wife, Nicole, run an independent production company called Cinema Threat Productions in Los Angeles. I caught up with Terrence in 2007 to talk about his film The Hood Has Eyez.
Before we talk about The Hood Has Eyez, your [then] latest film, I’d like to ask about how you got your start. I believe you began as an actor, didn’t you?
I began acting in small parts just because I was interested in the movie business and wanted to learn how it works. I wasn’t serious about doing that; however, I was serious about writing screenplays.
How did you make the switch to directing? Is it something you always wanted to do?
After attending Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School and learning about digital technology, I decided that not only would I like to write my own script, but I might as well direct it. From there I attended Los Angeles City College Film School for two years and developed my first script, Transit.
While in school, I partnered with someone who wanted to produce the project, we raised the money, and shot the movie. It was picked up by Maverick Entertainment and released in retail chains across the country, as well as in the U.K. and South Africa. After the success of that film and all the drama I went through making that movie, I knew [directing] was what I wanted to do. If you can look at your job and be okay with dealing with the negative points and not just the positive, then you know you’re in good company.
Was the formation of Cinema Threat Productions the next natural step to making the movies you wanted to make, the way you wanted to make them?
The whole point of starting Cinema Threat was to be able to embrace digital technology and make the type of movies that you could never make through the typical Hollywood channels, like The Hood Has Eyez—to take real risks with storytelling. The original person I had went into business with didn’t have the same vision as me, so we parted ways.
Where did you get the idea for The Hood Has Eyez?
I have always wanted to do a rape/revenge film that takes things to the next level. I also wanted to do one that people hadn’t really seen before. Here in L.A., we have a huge gang problem. Growing up, I never worried about running into some “Texas Chain Saw type hillbillies.” I worried about getting shot or jacked by the gang bangers in my neighborhood. I knew people like Psycho and Joker [characters in The Hood Has Eyez] and, believe it or not, I based most of their actions on things gangsters I knew actually did. That’s the true horror behind The Hood Has Eyez.
The Hood Has Eyez is a pretty intense flick. The whole cast had roles that I’m sure pushed them somewhat beyond their usual comfort level.
Most of the actors who signed on to do this project pretty much knew what they were getting into. I had some of them watch similar films, like I Spit On Your Grave, and another film I did called Revenge of La Llorona. The majority of them didn’t realize there is an entire market for these types of films. They thought I was just crazy. On location I think the “Dirty Sanchez” scene, as well as the tampon scene and the rape scene with the bottle, made a few people uncomfortable. Oddly, it made the actors who weren’t in the scene [feel] weird.
Did you write the role of Kimmy with Cydne Schulte in mind?
I did write the role of Kimmy for Cydne. I actually wrote most of the roles for the people who played them. I knew going in to The Hood Has Eyez that I would have to have great actors to make it work…and I would have to have actors who trusted me and who I trusted to be able to do the things I wanted to do. Not just any actress is going to do a Dirty Sanchez on camera. Several actresses have stopped speaking to me since I sent them the script. They took it too seriously.
Even though they had already read the script, was there ever any uncomfortable moments during shooting? If so, as a director, how do you handle these situations?
For the most part, they trusted me, and I never made anyone do anything they did not want to do. Had an actor told me “I really don’t feel comfortable doing such and such,” I would have changed the script accordingly or at least tried to come to an agreement. I am the type of director who likes for his actors to believe in what they are doing as much as I do. I do not want to force anything.
At the same time, I will not allow an actor to change the script just because they want to. They have to have a valid reason. For instance, when Psycho pulls out the bottle from underneath Rachel’s skirt after raping her, the bottle originally had honey glaze on the rim and he was supposed to lick it off, but the actress who played Rachel did not feel comfortable with this because of how her husband might react. She was okay with the rest of the scene where he fucks her with it, but not that. So I cut it out.
Wow, that’s funny. How do you handle the casting process? I notice that you often work with the same actors repeatedly. Do you try to find people that work well and then hang on to them?
As a director I love working with the same actors if the role fits them. Finding good actors is very hard. Even though I live in L.A. where there is no shortage of “actors,” finding talented actors is something else. Then there’s the issue of finding committed people. When we are working on independent films, commitment is just as important as talent. Some actors I have worked with once and we both part ways; with others, there is a chemistry and I try to build a relationship with them professionally.
What is the standard length of production of your movies?
Typically we take four to six days to shoot a project and one month to cut the picture and complete post. What takes us the longest is pre-production. On The Hood Has Eyez, we had begun casting and working out the kinks back in January of this year, and we didn’t shoot until June.
What moment in this movie are you most proud of? What part do you still love every time you see it?
It would have to be Psycho’s torture scene. A lot of people get bent up about the abortion scene, but my favorite is when Kimmy returns the favor to Psycho. I love the scene and could watch it over and over because it’s very rare you see the woman get to torture the man and do it so well. I love the scene too because, oddly, a lot of guys love the movie up until this point and then they cry foul—sexist, maybe? I don’t know, but I’m a guy and seeing Kimmy ram Psycho’s dick down his [own] throat is priceless. Revenge is sweet.
You wear several hats (writer, producer, director, actor), Terrence. Is this part of the reason you’re able to make your films so fast?
The rigorous planning allows us to shoot so quickly. We work everything out on paper first before we shoot. I am able to wear so many hats because I studied all of those disciplines while in school. I have hired people before to do different tasks, but I have found that sometimes it’s just easier to do things yourself—and cheaper. [Producer] Nicole [Williams] handles a lot of on-location tasks as well. I have found that if you can partner with someone who sees eye to eye with you, you really don’t need a lot of people—especially with digital. Once again, digital technology allows you to do things differently and not mimic the Hollywood system.
Was there ever any problems shooting these “controversial” scenes in the outdoor locations you chose? You must’ve scouted for private locations pretty thoroughly?
I picked locations that I knew we would not be disturbed in. I believe, during shooting, only one pair of onlookers came by, and they left quickly once they saw all the fake blood. During the shoot, we kept joking that someone could have actually gotten raped and assaulted up there and no one would have come to help. It was that desolate.
The Hood Has Eyez does fall into a specific horror subgenre—the “rape/revenge flick.” And several of your other movies have been horror-related. Have you found it’s easier to market genre films?
I have directed both dramas and horror films, and I think regardless of the genre, it’s a lot of work. You just have to like the script enough to put in the work. I believe since horror is my favorite genre, it makes it easier for me to write material for that genre.
I have been a huge fan of horror since I was a kid. And I don’t mean Poltergeist or The Exorcist. I’m talking about Cannibal Holocaust, Frankenhooker, Street Trash—the underground stuff. At least, it was underground back then. Most people are barely discovering those films. I like some Hollywood horror films like The Exorcist, but I prefer the indie stuff that takes risks and challenges you. I like films like Visitor Q. Most people would be repulsed by that sort of thing.
Which filmmakers do you consider to be influences?
The directors who have influenced me the most are Takashi Miike, Ruggero Deodato, John Carpenter, Charles Band, Umberto Lenzi. Those are the guys who I would consider influences. Roger Corman has had a big influence on my films as well. Although I hate saying that they, the filmmakers, influenced me. I think a better way of putting it is that their films influenced me.
So, what’s next for you? Have you started planning your next movie?
I am currently working on two scripts. One of them is a horror film which I don’t have a title for yet. The other is a Dogme 95 type drama called King of The Streetz. Once the scripts are completed, I will decide what direction I will take. I am just going to focus on promoting The Hood for the time being and bask in its glory.
I think it’s great that you’re taking chances with form and style, man. It really demonstrates your dedication to the world of independent film. Speaking of which, can you talk a little about your connection with the independent distribution company Film Baby?
From the moment I set out to write The Hood Has Eyez, me and my producing partner, Nicole Williams, figured we would have to self distribute due to the subject matter. We submitted Hood to several distribution companies, most of whom we’ve worked with before but, just as we suspected, they thought the film was too graphic. They said they would take it if we cleaned it up a bit, but I wasn’t interested in doing that. It would defeat the purpose. I had self distributed my Llorona Gone Wild trilogy through CustomFlix.com, so I figured we would do the same with Hood, but they rejected the [film] due to its graphic nature. I was really pissed about that since they claim they don’t censor films, and they don’t do anything to promote the movies you sign up on their site…so I didn’t understand what risks they were taking. I had heard about Film Baby from a while back, and after talking to Jaimie [Chavotkin] over at the company, I decided they would be the best fit for us. Plus, they didn’t reject the movie due to its violent nature.
Can people buy all of your films through Film Baby? If not, where can they be purchased?
The Hood Has Eyez will be available exclusively through FilmBaby.com and Amazon.com. I am currently negotiating a deal to get the film on NetFlix.com. Transit is available on NetFlix.com or Blockbuster.com. Hostile Hauntings and Decrepit Crypt of Nightmares, which contain not only my film The River: Legend of La Llorona but many other great horror films, are available at Bestbuy, Hastings, and Amazon. Revenge of La Llorona will be available on the Tomb of Terrors 50-movie DVD set. And finally, Curse of La Llorona will be available at Netflix.com. For those who want to get all three of my Llorona films, they can head on over to Amazon and get Llorona Gone Wild. It’s a three-disc set with all three Llorona movies and a ton of bonus stuff.
It’s funny. A major studio film’s theatrical release is basically a commercial for its eventual DVD release. So it seems like you and other independent filmmakers actually are ahead of the curve. What do you think of the state of the industry and where do you see it going in the future?
Releasing a movie theatrically is very expensive, especially for true indies. And if a film like The Hood Has Eyez gets a theatrical release, it’s a very limited release…only playing on a few screens. You tell people it’s out in theaters and they expect to see it at AMC or General Cinema, not at Laemmle’s Sunset 5—they don’t know what the fuck that is. Most indies lose money trying to play the theater game, and I have found the majority of people will rent your movie from Netflix or Blockbuster quicker than they will see your “small” film at the small theater for $11. They’re gonna go see Rob Asshole’s Halloween or some shit. So yeah, we are ahead of the game by releasing our films on DVD. At the end of the day, our movies end up on the same shiny round discs as the latest Hollywood blockbuster—except we can get away with doing graphic abortion scenes. Try getting that scene past the MPAA, which is a requirement if you are going to release theatrically.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk, Terrence. Is there anything you want to mention that we haven’t discussed?
I think more people should support independent horror, because there is a lot of good stuff out there that could never be made in the studio system.