Felix Diaz, Gavin Schmitt’s “Hell’s Threshold” Review
After writing a review of 'Hell's Threshold' (affiliate link) for Killer Reviews, I was contacted by director Felix Diaz when he found the review on the Internet Movie Database website. He kindly wrote a very lengthy response to the review.
Below you will find his response, sprinkled with my comments to help guide the reader. This was delivered to me as one big letter, not as the interview I have spliced it into. This was done for ease of reading, not to be deceptive in any way. Diaz is aware of this and has agreed to have his views shared in this format.
GS: So, you’ve read the review?
FD: Wow! What a scathing review of my film! Oh my God! It should have brought me to tears, but instead I truly enjoyed it. I can’t stop laughing. Not at your review, but at the memories of the shoot that it brought back. THANK YOU!! I love the way you phrase things! I just wanted to answer a few of your questions and hit on a couple of points to ease your highly emotional restlessness about the film. I actually felt your pain!
GS: I suggest in the review this film might best be thought of as an experiment…
FD: You are correct in your hopes that this was an experiment. We just wanted to see if we could shoot a feature in under 24 hours. We never dreamed it would actually draw a crowd or get distribution so quickly. And foreign at that (Russia)! The US street date is 12/04/07, Brain Damage Films.
GS: You took issue with my comment that there was a group of bickering models?
FD: It wasn’t a whole group of models, just the two that were bickering.
GS: I stand corrected. And the really unknowledgeable real estate agent?
FD: The real estate girl wasn’t an actress. I wanted a Phillipine girl and in a bar one night, she asked to be in the movie. The real estate agent was specifically told NOT to know too much about real estate. Instead, to sell a piece of shit apartment to unsuspecting targets (Billie and her friends).
GS: I believe I also accused you of not writing an actual script.
FD: The entire script was improvised on-set (we only had a light skeleton outline. Romero loved that part of it). The acting wasn’t poor, it was impromptu with no prompting. I told them to just say whatever they wanted to, and only use the “scene” to fuel their emotional reactions. I removed the safety net of the “words” for the actors (every actor’s nightmare!). We intentionally DIDN’T write a script. We were going for something never done before, and with only one take per setup. Again no safety nets. Take away ALL the comfort zones and push creativity for real.
GS: So we can’t place the blame on the actors for anything lacking.
FD: Please don’t bash the actors for their director being insane. They were really given no advance prep time at all. They just showed up and were handed the script. And I really pushed their buttons to get some true emotions out of them. God bless their little hearts, they were given a world of story, but only a shoe box to perform it in. Under those conditions, I’d put them up against any actor out there.
GS: Can you explain for me how Sam Bishop was accused of the murders if he wasn’t even present? (possible spoilers)
FD: Sam Bishop was actually being accused of a “previous” set of murders 10 years prior, where his wife was killed. The end of the film should have explained that. Where Billie is being killed and we zoom back out to Sam Bishop, wrapping up the interview. I was wondering if anyone would get that part. That was my Orson tribute, but it has a lot shading.
GS: Would it be fair to classify this film as a microbudget film?
FD: Yes, it would. Hell’s Threshold was definitely a low budget film.
GS: There was some confusion about the origins of Dethman…
FD: We didn’t explain where Dethman came from because we didn’t want to reveal that storyline until Hell’s Threshold II. Oh yeah, there’s gonna be one! But this one we’re gonna shoot differently. We have to now. You see, the concept was to have the first confusing, the second OVER-explanatory, and then the third, linking it all together dead on, with the first two coming out simultaneously, and the third a year later. But getting distribution so quickly kinda messed that up for us. So now Moss (Mark Moss, Producer) and I have to retool a little.
GS: What about the scenes with the long, silent stares? Was it just a way to waste time?
FD: The Victorian flashbacks with the LONG stares and NO dialogue were also intentional. I wanted to push the audience to somewhere new. Not just give the usual blood here, sex there, crap. I wanted them to… well… do exactly what you did. Wonder what the fuck was going on. And again, I wanted to make the actors work. Again, no lines to hide behind. Only body language and reaction. Most actors don’t use those tools much anymore. And that pisses me off sometimes. So I made sure they had to get back to the basics. Those poor actors. I pushed the hell out of them, Gavin. And they came back for more. And they were exhausted when the shoot ended. It was an intense and explosive shoot. But they all learned that day. And to this day they all still thank me for pushing them. And almost every one of them is now shooting their own film. And that’s very cool. One got in the Phila Film Festival this year. That’s what it’s all about for me.
GS: The lines of dialog were very spaced out between a bunch funny faces and pauses. Again, was this necessary?
FD: Absolutely! To push the audience (any audience) sometimes you have to take real risks. King or fool risks. My apologies for frustrating you. But I didn’t want to do the status quo. And love it or hate it, you won’t forget it. The credits played twice because I feel that independent actors don’t get enough credit. So I over did that. But they loved it at the screening, and that made it okay by me. And that’s the other thing too, this film was specifically designed for a screening setting, not for TV.
GS: You know the one thing I loved was the bathroom scene because I was wondering what you were thinking.
FD: I loved the bathroom scene! It’s most likely my favorite because NO ONE has ever done that. Other than fetish or porn. And to answer what I was thinking… I wasn’t thinking anything. In fact, that wasn’t even a part of the film. Someone else shot it. It was just improv happening that I built-up in Post. Nuance acting.
GS: I also liked you did your own music.
FD: Thanks. I wanted to do more, but I only had a day to score it.
GS: Tell everyone what your credentials are for being a film-maker.
FD: I don’t have any. I never went to film school or anything. I just picked up a 35mm camera one day and started shooting. Next thing I knew, I started shooting other people’s films, and then got so sick of shooting the same old shit, that I quit doing it (for other people). I’m really just a drummer who likes to experiment.
GS: You told me you didn’t mind I considered the film to be a “waste of time”…
FD: Sometimes art doesn’t please everyone. And to me, that means you actually DID make art. Not everyone likes it, but they all remember it. And that beats any paycheck. Truth in art is more important to me than rave reviews. I can live with someone not liking my mess, but I can’t live with me not honestly making one. I don’t know if people don’t appreciate it sometimes. I think it’s more that they don’t understand it. Like Elvis, The Beatles, and Van Gogh. And YES, I AM comparing the great Hell’s Threshold to those guys! Could it be the Elvis of bad low budget film-making? Its hips do wiggle…
GS: I heard that something bigger has come out of “Hell’s Threshold”.
FD: Oh, some fodder for you. Our film festival “Terror Film Festival” is a direct product of our making of Hell's Threshold (affiliate link). It all came from that one little movie. How’s that for synergy?
GS: That’s amazing… and anyone within driving distance of Pennsylvania should do their part to check it out. Thank you, Felix, for sharing some insights into the film-making process with us!
FD: Thank you!