Featured Guest is the area of my website where I interview various cool people I have crossed paths with over the years from artists to musician, actors, authors and more. Tonight I had a great talk with my old friend Gail Ice, who is an aspiring film maker . Gail and I spoke a great deal about films, history, his ideas and a little about music and life. It’s always great to catch up with a friend and talk about old times and interesting subjects, Gail and I go way back. From his days decades ago as a full on DIY punk rocker where his sincerity, genuine enthusiasm and scene credibility run deeper than many, Gail never has to even mention it to be respected or appreciated. Mr.Ice hung up his flying V for a camera with a vision to become an indie film maker but don’t be surprised if he returns to music one day too. From his recent meeting of George Romero to our mutual Ultraman appreciation, Gail and I rapped about many topics in this great interview. – G
1.Hey Gail good to talk to you today man how have you been?
GAIL: I am doing well. I have had a few health setbacks recently but otherwise I am holding steady.
Sorry to hear man. I know you have an uphill journey and hope you are doing okay bro. Glad to hear you are holding steady. In all the years I have known you, I know you have a big love of film. Horror, scifi, fantasy, action etc. What films affected you most in your years and why did they have such a big effect on you?
GAIL: I think the first movie that had an impact on me was Star Wars. In 1977 I was four years old and, just like just about everyone else in our generation, my parents took me to see Star Wars. The only thing I remember about that night was that, at the end, everyone gave the film a standing ovation. That is the only time that has ever happened to me. I think that is the moment when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, even before I knew that could be a possibility. My introduction to horror was just as memorable and came at 10. My parents gave me this 10 inch black and white TV and for the first several months I would stay up late and watch it. One night the Exorcist came on, heavily edited, but there it was. I really think I was scarred by that movie. It was the first time that I was aware of true evil, you know, real Biblical stuff. But it also opened up what became my love for horror as a genre. A short time later I discovered Stephen King and I never looked back. The damage with the Exorcist is still there though. I can’t even think about the film without my pulse racing. I think the second horror film I saw was Night of the Living Dead. I was still pretty young, but that might be the film that convinced me that making movies was possible later in life. The idea that a few friends got together outside of Hollywood and made a movie with no studio assistance really spoke to me and convinced me to seek out others who felt the same way.
3. Definitely. It rocks how someone's work outside of the box can inspire another they too can follow their dream. You never know if one of your future films might make someone feel they could be a film maker too. Yes for sure, everyone in our similar age bracket was so inspired by Star Wars and freaked out by those two horror movies. I was never a big Exorcist fan but I remember the first few times I saw Night of The Living Dead and it's incredible how the simple black and white with the premise can still get to you today. Yes for sure some of the greatest pieces of art that really made an impact are made with no assistance then they go out and set the trends all over the map.
How do you feel your appreciation for film grew as you began to take in and study so many kinds over the years? What other genres have affected you deeply and why?
GAIL: I think that the process is what started to appeal to me. I would start breaking down scenes, study camera movements and lighting. I would figure out different ways to film a scene and sometimes, I would figure out a better way of doing it. I would buy magazines and books that would help me understand the process better. I bought DVD’s and would listen to the commentary tracks and listen to the directors explaining the whys and hows of their process. As I read fiction, the story would play out in my head like a movie. Eventually I went to school and studied filmmaking from Shahram Mazhari at York Technical College. All of these processes worked for me. I love musicals. The grandeur and almost magical quality of those films, like Xanadu or Rocky Horror. Music is my second love and if I have one movie I would ever get to make, it would be my take on the Phantom. Historical dramas are also very good, when done right. A movie like Braveheart, which is a great movie, but lacking terribly in facts. As filmmakers, there should be a responsibility to the storytelling. I understand taking some creative license with the story, but the truth should essentially be in there. In Braveheart’s case, the characters were essentially correct in name only. Ages and actions were blurred and sometimes fabricated completely.
4. Right on. Sometimes when your vision is flowing like that it shows true interest and passion for the art. Yes I understand as I read many books I could find from a local library about making films when I was approached concerning the indie film world years ago, absorbing all I could to learn. I can relate man! Yeah Braveheart was an excellent film and I remember when it was being made it was heavily derided by the press but upon release praised so highly by the same critics. As for facts and details, I do not know but I am sure you are right that's often the case with historic films and creative license and storytelling but can be debatable. I loved that movie though.
You also always had a big love for the work of Stephen King, Edgar Alan Poe and Lovecraft. What books have influenced your life and why?
GAIL: Salem’s Lot and It by Stephen King were huge in feeding my love of horror. The idea that sometimes the bad guys win is what I learned from King and that it was okay, because it is that way in life. The good guy doesn’t always do the right thing and he doesn’t always ride off into the sunset with the girl. There are consequences for facing your fears and for looking into the darkness. One of my favorite characters from his books is Roland Deshain, the Gunslinger. Here is a prime example of the “anti-hero”. Roland is obsessed with finding the Dark Tower and nothing will stop him in his quest. He does very heroic things but he also does very terrible things in order to satisfy his obsession. The Books of Blood and Cabal especially by Clive Barker. He wants you to feel sympathetic to his “monsters” and usually portrays man as the monster. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a book I identify with very much. The idea of the cursed man and the scientist, who is the true monster of the story, fascinated me. I have always identified with Victor’s creation.
5.In all of your collection of dvds and VHS tapes, what films are your mainstays you can watch repeatedly and always enjoy. In contrast what films did you watch once and only once but made a big impression on you?
GAIL: Texas Chainsaw Massacre is always a go to film. I never get tired of watching it. Almost Famous is another film that I love. Rushmore and the Royal Tennenbaums by Wes Anderson. Very quirky yet extremely heartfelt and he does that better than anyone. Rock n Roll High School, a silly film but I love it. Sometimes you need things that don’t take themselves too seriously. There are so many films that I could list here that I can watch over and over. A few of the films that have had an impact on me that I can only watch once? Schindler’s List. A very powerful film that I think everyone should watch but it isn’t one that I could watch multiple times.
6. Yes for real. I remember when we saw ‘Blair Witch Project’ the day it came out with friends. Man those were fun days. Looking back, I think that film is extremely underrated and set the foundation for so many imitators. How do you feel the film had an impact in hindsight on the future films in that genre (Paranormal Activity, etc.)?
GAIL: Those were great times!
Ah yeah man for real. Back then it seems like many of our friends would gather for any film like that and we had so much fun. I miss those great times man.
GAIL: Blair Witch worked so well because of its marketing. They “leaked” stories on the internet, which was a relatively new thing back then, about these filmmakers disappearing in the woods searching for the Blair Witch. The writing is amazing. Anyone who has ever been lost in the woods knows the fear those three are feeling. The hopelessness. And the woods are creepy when you have a story about a killer witch lurking the forest.
Yeah we both said upon watching it, you had to know that feeling to really get the initial vibe of the film. People who understood that were like 'there' when watching it, they really nailed it in that movie.
GAIL: I think that the actors didn’t know certain parts of the film, like in the tent at night. So some of that isn’t acting. The decision to use a “less is more” approach to the actual filming worked beautifully. The ending, so many people I talked to didn’t get it. I always tell them to go back and watch the film, really watch it and then talk to me about the ending. You had to really pay attention to the story in order to get the ending, which is terrifying. It had a tremendous effect on future films of the “found footage” genre.
Yes I completely agree.
GAIL: The idea of a less is more genre doesn’t necessarily work though. It is like M. Night Shymalan and the twist. His first couple of films worked well because they had a twist. When he stopped using a twist, people lost interest. The first Paranormal Activity was done well. The rest kind of lose their attractiveness for a film genre. It is being done too much. Everyone is still chasing that magic that Blair Witch was able to capture.
7.M.Night Shymalan is brilliant. I have enjoyed his work. Yes okay for sure. The 'twist" expected yet hopefully unexpected is a tricky game and also hard to please or surprise an audience. I was disappointed in the twist in The Village, but loved Signs and others. But yeah, Blair Witch really set the entire found footage genre in place. After that everyone has chased the thrill of the example.
I have missed a lot of the supernatural themed tv shows in recent years, I need to catch up on them. Are there any you like or would recommend to check out?
GAIL: Penny Dreadful is absolutely one of the best shows to ever be on television. The way they take the classic Universal Monsters and giving them new life is something that needed to happen. They really blur the lines as to who the monsters are, much like most of my favorite films. Many times those who are different are classified as the monsters, but man is the true monster. Nightbreed is a classic example and Clive Barker is a genius at making you question who the monsters are in his books and films. True Blood started out very strong but lost me toward the end. Sadly, I don’t know much about the television shows. I have heard great things about Hemlock Grove and Bates Motel.
8.I have not seen any of those shows yet but will check them out. Excellent insight and example of your point with Nightbreed. Yeah I dug True Blood but I am a season or two behind the end of the series I will have to check out sometime soon on DVD.
Favorite most obscure films and titles? You a big Hammer movie fan? I remember we both watched classics like that years ago and were big into Barker’s “Nightbreed” and films like “Blade Runner”.
GAIL: Any of the Hammer Dracula films are classic and are loved by hardcore horror lovers but might not be known by casual horror fans. Lately the vampire genre has put out a few real gems that are overlooked. Styria is a great film and a take on Carmilla by Sheridan LeFanu. Both a movie and a story that any horror fan should enjoy. Byzantium is another film that was excellent. It is also an unusual take on the vampire mythos which is nice. Kiss of the Damned was also very good. Only Lovers Left Alive, which might be overlooked even though it stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton.
9.The films like “Blade Runner” and “Apocalypse Now” stayed with me all these years, any thoughts on those classics in hindsight?
GAIL: Blade Runner is an amazing film. It is also a film that has several versions and each version makes the film very different. The theatrical release has the overdub of Dekker telling the story which a lot of people love but Ridley Scott didn’t intend for there to be an overdub. So the Director’s Cut offers the film without the overdub and is my favorite version of the film. The scope and style of the film is a huge step up from the Star Wars films. The city feels like a living breathing character in the film and not just a backdrop for the film. It is dirty and gritty and poorly lit, just like a real city would feel. I’m not taking anything away from Star Wars, but every set is nice and clean, the sets very well lit. It doesn’t look like anyone is living in them, not like in Blade Runner. The Roy Batty character is also a character much like Frankenstein’s creation. You could argue that Roy wants to live and he is willing to do anything to make that happen. What wouldn’t someone do for that? Apocalypse Now, what can be said about it that hasn’t already been said? It is an amazing film, it pushed the actors to their limits and it comes out on film. It blurs the lines between good and bad, much in the way that the Vietnam War did.
10.What about genres like the classic Italian westerns?
GAIL: When you talk about Westerns the one name that comes to mind is Clint Eastwood. He was Spaghetti Westerns. The Man With No Name was a character he played three times and all three films are iconic. The Fistful Trilogy which established Eastwood as a movie star. Before Fistful of Dollars, he played mainly small uncredited roles. One of my favorite bit of horror trivia is that Eastwood was in Revenge of the Creature. All three were directed by Sergio Leone.
11.Japanese cult shows like Ultraman? Thoughts on the mighty Godzilla?
GAIL: Oh man, Ultraman! I loved Ultraman as a kid! I used to run around and do the Ultraman arm thing when he shot those rays out and took out the monsters. Going back and watching those bring back a few really good memories from my youth. The Effects that make Star Trek like Star Wars. Everything about it is so cheesy, like Plan 9 From Outer Space but I still love it. I have always been a fan of kaiju movies and yes, Godzilla was king of that for me.
12.How did you feel about the Dawn Of The Dead remake years ago?. I had not expected to like it and I thought it was awesome.
GAIL: Me too. I almost refused to see it because I was such a fan of the original. But once Johnny Cash starts, the movie had me and I loved it. The idea of using fast zombies gave it an edge. I think if they had used the classic Romero zombies it would not have been as good.
13.Yes totally. I went with a group of friends and did not expect it to be so great. It totally won me over. Yes using the fast zombies as a great idea. It gave it a new edge which no one to my knowledge had done before in the genre. Later you had the 28 Days movies and later WWZ variations, etc. but I think that the remake was the first to make zombies fast and malevolent instead of ultra slow and working that edge of the viewer's senses and the threat of the dangerous situation. Resident Evil took a new angle on zombies and mutated creatures, while Walking Dead took them right back to the traditional slow origins.
What about comic books that have inspired you or your favorites from comic history? What comic films have been your favorites?
GAIL: My first comic books were Spiderman and Kiss, you know, the one where they contributed their blood in the ink for the coloring. Obviously Spiderman appealed to me because Peter Parker is a squeaky clean character who always did the right thing. The Gwen Stacy arc was by far my favorite. The idea of putting the hero in a very uncomfortable position and showing that the good guy doesn’t always win, or, if he does win, what cost does he have to pay? The death of Gwen Stacy was a turning point for comic books. Killing off a popular major character was unthinkable until that moment. They changed the way people looked at comic books and ushered in a possibility of stories in comics with real substance. Wolverine was always a favorite as I got older and needed a character with something more. A guy who didn’t always do the right thing, the antihero. A man tormented by his past and in love with a woman he can never have. A lot of people can identify with that fury and that pain, which is what makes Logan such a loved character. The Crow is another great antihero story. Everyone loves the film, as they should, but the comic is so much more. James O’Barr poured every bit of pain and suffering into that story and it really resonates in Eric Draven and his motivation for vengeance. I love the film as well. I thought the Dark Knight trilogy were an excellent series of films that also features another of my favorite antiheros, Batman. I like most of the Marvel films and I like the idea of a universe where they all coexist.
14.Completely agreed on all points and well said bro. I think that is definitely why so many people relate to Wolverine as a character in addition to thinking he's a cool hero there is some depth to his character many can relate to. Yeah I think the Dark Knight trilogy is excellent, especially the first and the third, the second did not do as much for me. Liam Neeson was top line and I am so glad they gave him a mysterious cameo in the last one. After those, I dont really want to see the character without Christian Bale playing him, Michael Caine, etc. I have not seen the new one. Yeah for sure "The Crow" is a heavy story, from many directions.
Being a big zombie film, what are your top zombie favorites?
GAIL: I rank the zombie films in this order: Dawn of the Dead (original), Night of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, Zombieland, Warm Bodies, Return of the Living Dead. The rest are all decent but these are the ones I can watch over and over.
15.You a “Walking Dead” show fan?
GAIL: I know that you might be shocked, but I am not a big fan of the Walking Dead. I liked the first season and the second was pretty good, but there is only so much you can do with a zombie TV show, at least, that is my opinion.
16.What about the classic Kung Fu films from back in the day? I know you’re a Bruce Lee fan. I know you love the “Crow”, what a great film. What do you feel Brandon would have been like or gone on to do if he had lived, rest in peace.
GAIL: Bruce was the man! I used to watch Enter the Dragon religiously. I would put it on when no one was home and I would try and do the moves like Bruce. Bruce Lee made martial arts movies mainstream and it was cool to like them. Had he lived, there would probably be martial arts school on every corner as opposed to McDonalds. Brandon was a star. The Crow is, what words can describe it? You can’t take your eyes off him when he is on screen. He would have done what I don’t think his father ever would have been able to accomplish and that is being a multi genre star. I truly believe that you would be talking about him in the same breath as Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio. He had no ceiling.
14.Thoughts on John Carpenter? Man’s hard to deny those eighties Carpenter films. Which are your favorites?
GAIL: Halloween, hands down. John Carpenter ushered in the babysitter killer movies and made a star out of Jamie Lee Curtis. Every horror film after Halloween owes a debt to Carpenter.
15.I know you went to a Mad Monster convention recently and got to meet famed iconic director George Romero, what was it like and what did you guys talk about? I know it meant a lot to you bro. Who else did you meet that day that meant very much to you?
GAIL: Man, meeting Romero was amazing. He is my biggest influence as a filmmaker. The only bad thing about it is that you only get a few seconds to shake his hand and get a photo. How do you cram a lifetime of questions into 30 seconds? So I didn’t ask him anything. I shook his hand and told him how much his films influenced me and posed for my picture. It was brief but I will never forget it. I met so many people. I met PJ Soles and she was the nicest person. We talked about the Ramones and Halloween and I took a picture with her. Of course I got a Riff Randel Photo signed. I met Harry Manfredini, the composer of the Friday the 13th theme. If you ever get a chance, meet him. He was a great guy and I loved talking to him. I met Dee Wallace. You couldn’t meet a nicer person. At one moment, Malcolm McDowell walked by and hugged Dee and they talked and a few of us got to listen to them. It was an amazing little exchange that you don’t expect.
(Gail with George Romero)
17.I know you’re a big underground music fan too, how did your experience around DIY music approach influence your ideas as a film maker of indie film?
GAIL: That is a great question. The DIY approach to music has translated well into film. DIY musicians do everything themselves. They write, record and promote their music. I had friends who turned their bedrooms into makeshift recording studios with mattresses and four tracks. DIY filmmaking works the same way. You no longer need to go through Hollywood in order to make films. You no longer need to know how to splice film for editing because everything is digital. The natural world is your set. Even the cameras have become affordable and natural or even gritty lighting is much more popular now. All you need is a camera and a computer and you are ready to go. I write, film and edit everything. It works for me. I have two other friends who are part of this production company I started called Secret Society Productions. Ted Marko and Thomas Springer who are both very talented guys. I think that is also part of the DIY spirit of things. Find people who share your vision and commitment and work together to make your dream work. There are so many examples where people try and tear everyone around them down in order to forward their own agenda. That attitude kills creativity and everyone loses that way. I stay away from most film groups because I can’t stand those type of things. Everyone trying to outcool everyone else. If you don’t fit it, you are always on the outside looking in. Why subject yourself to it? I have been lucky enough to work with several DIY filmmakers and these people want to help you learn and move forward in your craft. Everyone wins that way.
18.What are you current and upcoming projects from your film work?
GAIL: I have a short film that I want to film soon that I have been working on for about a year now. I am always writing. I have so many ideas! I have a surgery I am facing so it has put a damper on moving any projects forward at the moment, but I continue to write and continue to learn.
Definitely wish you well with your surgery and health issues bro. Wishing you a good and fast recovery. Your films will happen at the right time down the road for all the heart you put into your vision and ideas. It's important for you to be in the best shape and health to be truly creative. If it's something you can't do now, it's good you keep your mind flowing with creative ideas while you deal with your health problems. Let me know how you're doing and will be thinking of you man.
19.How do you feel your film concepts differ or are similar to your influences?
GAIL: Everything that influences me finds its way into my writing. I love to listen to music as I write and the music I listen to is chosen directly for the scene I am working on. If I am writing a sad scene, I will listen to The Cure or Joy Division. If I am writing horror I use metal. When I start a project I usually listen to Van Morrison or Otis Redding to get in the mood. Portishead and Led Zeppelin are also staples for the writing process. I think styles of different directors also influence your filming. Wes Anderson is one of my favorites. Hitchcock, Shekhar Kapur, Romero, Cary Fukunaga, Ridley Scott. John Carpenter, all of those directors influence me. Iwould like to think that I will take the best bits of all of them and merge them into Gail Ice.
That's also a very Bruce Lee inspired concept. To approach of what you're doing, even though non martial arts, that way is actually a very Bruce inspired method. If anybody just imitates one person they idolize it usually makes for always a lesser imitation, I always tell people you have to blend your influences and be yourself. The people who do that without really trying are the ones who stand out.
20. Gail, it's always cool talking with you man. Any news or words for those interested in your work?
GAIL: I guess the only thing I want to say is never give up on your dream, whether or not anyone else supports that dream. Be true to yourself and don’t let anyone tear you down. Be careful who you trust. My production company has a page on Facebook and I have a personal page. You can contact me at either page. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Gideon.
Right on Gail and anytime. Never give up on the dream. - G