One of the more unusual fellows that you will encounter in the Kentucky indie film community, Eric Butts is a very talented guy who brings a depth of technical and historical knowledge to any project that he delves into. In addition to being a filmmaker, he is also a very capable talent in music, perfectly capable of being a one-man rock band in a studio environment.
I had the pleasure of working with Eric when I directed Shadows Light, and I can say that you will find few people as passionate about film and storytelling as Eric.
More recently, Eric has dived into the world of CGI, including 3D modeling and animation. In this IMM spotlight, we visited with Eric to find out how things are going, what's on the horizon, and to give readers a little idea about the man himself.
-Stephen Zimmer, for Indie Movie Masters Blog Interview, March 10, 2010
SZ: You are a man capable of wearing many hats, in terms of writing, producing, directing, doing CGI, editing, etc. How would you describe yourself these days, in relation to your career?
EB: I've started referring to myself as an artist, but I always cringe a little, because it sounds so pretentious. I've also enjoy being called a Renaissance man. Ultimately, I'd like to be known as a director, maybe an editor and musician as well. I love doing all the other stuff I do, because it's fun to want to learn something and then actually do it, but I really only do it because not a lot of other people can in my current budget levels. I've found it to be a lot cheaper to buy a book and spend some time and just do it myself. That just spilled over to my friends, most of whom are film people as well. A lot of them are very talented too and sometimes they have projects I HAVE to be a part of. I just love making stuff!
SZ: What first got you into pursuing an independent film career?
EB: I was just sort of born wanting to do it. I started playing music at 2 and started writing by 3. I just never wanted to do anything else. Part of it is because I grew up loving movies. My folks let me watch whatever I wanted at a young age. I spent so much time in video stores, that at one point I actually listed a video clerk as an emergency contact for my school. My mom loved horror and my Dad's into Sci-Fi. My first movie ever was "Alien" when I was 6 months old. Everyone in the theater thought "Oh great, here's comes the screaming baby" but I apparently stayed transfixed on the screen the whole time. Plus, my folks have always been very supportive of my creative thinking! Reality can suck! Sometimes I'd rather create and live in my own worlds and film making allows that on a constant basis.
SZ: What are some of the things that you like especially about the world of indie film?
EB:No release date deadlines, which is great when you can't spend money, cause time is usually the indie film maker's friend! That can also be a problem. I come from the school of thought that art is never released, it escapes! There's always going to be more you can do to make things better and the more time you have with a project the more things you start wanting to fix. Eventually, you have to just let it go and let it be what it's going to be, then maybe, someday, you can pull a Lucas and go back and fix things, something I've never had a problem with people doing by the way. Other than that, I've never seen much difference between indie and Hollywood for me. I'm going to make what I want to make, period. I would like to make a living at it eventually, but I HAVE to make what makes me happy first! Luckily, most of my ideas are for summer blockbuster types of films, which makes it hard for me to write scripts I can afford to do. Now, with my CG, I'm capable of a lot more!
SZ: Conversely, what are the biggest negatives about working in indie film, besides the obvious money restraints?
EB: Really all the drawbacks stem from lack of funds. Scheduling is next to impossible. If you need more than a couple actors to get together at the same time, you can quickly find your hair turning gray... ask Jerry Williams. Extras are impossible to find in any large number. The talent pool is thin compared to the choices you have when you can pay people. Sometimes getting people to take what you're doing seriously can be difficult, because a lot of times they think it's just going to be something fun to do and don't realize how much work it actually is!
SZ:You’ve been delving into the world of 3D modeling and animation lately. How is that going?
EB: It has been insanely fun! CG was something I used to think was way out of my abilities, but I've always had ideas that require CG! I made a short 30 minute film when I was 15, so it would have been around 1995, that movie had a bunch of CG morphing in it, some of the shots were even pretty good. Last year I upgraded all my software and had some minor 3D capabilities, which gave me some really cool Ideas for some CG movies. I quickly find I couldn't do too much with what I had. I started looking into videos of CG programs and quickly found Lightwave and out of the three major CG programs, it was the one in my price range, but also seemed easy to use. I decided to get it. I also knew I was limited in my 3D motion tracking and after some research found a great program called SynthEyes. It's one of the industry standards and surprisingly cheap, for what it is. I then found out, my favorite show, "Battlestar Galactica" (Modern) used Lightwave and Syntheyes for 95% of their CG and their CG is incredible! So I was totally sold. Lightwave is amazing. Right out of the box with very little knowledge at all I was able to start making some cool stuff and within a month I had some shots that could have been in Galactica! So I'm very pleased. Don't get me wrong, I love practical effects too, I grew up a Savini fan, but I'm also a George Lucas fan. So I've always loved both and some projects of mine require more CG and some require more Practical and I don't understand why so many people hate CG so much, I've always believed one of the reasons people like movies is to see things they never could in real life.
SZ: Rumor has it that you have a "modest" DVD and BluRay collection, and that you are a "bit" of a film historian. So, name a few of your favorite directors, and why are they your favorites?
EB: He, he, ha. Yeah, "Modest." I have around 2,000 DVD's and about 600 Blu-rays. Plus, I still have a bunch of laserdiscs and some VHS. My dad has a collection bigger than mine! I LOVE movies. You learn more about filmmaking from watching movies than anywhere else, except on-set experience. You even learn more from bad movies than you do good ones. As for my favorite directors, Lloyd Kaufman I believe to be an underrated genius. Most people just lumps his films in with the rest of the Troma catalouge, but his films are so much more than that! It's kind of like Jerry William's films. On the surface that can be enjoyed as gross out weird comedies, but if you look deeper, you start to realize how well thought out, clever and smart his films are. I'm also a huge fan of George Romero, I love the way he gets very real performances in bizzare situations. He know's how to make the characters matter. I love the visual style of Dario Argento and Peter Jackson. I love the "Lord of the Rings" films, but his earlier work is just as incredible, especially "Heavenly Creatures". Some one who's new to directing, but has been around as a writer for a while is Ron Moore. This guy changed my life and the way I approach writing. I will see ANYTHING he's involved with and know it will be good!
SZ: Zeppo was one of the bigger projects that you have been involved with. How was it working with Debbie Rochon and Loyd Kaufman?
EB: Well "Zeppo: Sinners from Beyond the Moon!" was an incredible experience. It took us 3 years and a lot of learning, but the whole thing was just one fun experiment. I love the movie and it is pretty much everything Jerry Williams and I wanted it to be, but we knew starting out that part of the fun of the project was going to be in how we tried doing a little bit of eveything, it was my first time compositing shots. A couple of them turned out pretty good, but I learned A LOT about green screen from that shoot. The whole thing was like that, just always trying things and sometimes being succesful and even when we weren't it still worked for the type of film it was meant to be. It was sort of like the idea of film school, it was a safe place to fail.
One place we did NOT fail was in casting Lloyd and Debbie! Jerry and I both had grown up being Troma fans, so Lloyd Kaufman is just a god to us, and as I've gotten older and continued to love his films, I've learned how much of a truely underrated genius Lloyd is! And Debbie... Debbie I'd been a fan of for a long time and even though she's appeared in a few films that weren't quite as good as others, she's always been consistently exellent. Lloyd and Debbie both are the kind of people who, before you meet them, you think they're going to be cool, but once you meet them, they're WAY cooler than you could have ever imagined! We still all keep in touch and will be working together soon. Debbie stepped my game up as an actor on Zeppo. Getting to work with her so closely as an actor taught me alot, and ever since then when I act in films I try to bring that level of focus.
SZ: How have things gone with Zeppo since completion? Where can people buy/rent/view it right now?
EB: Well after screening Zeppo in a few festivals we had tried to get distribution and we kept hearing the same thing... " we love Zeppo, but can't do any foreign sales with black and white movies." So for a moment we made some dvds and started selling it ourself, but that kind of became a pain for us to deal with, so we finally found this thing called Create Space on Amazon. It's a pretty cool deal. We have control over what the product is and all we have to do is collect a bit of money for the discs. This is a great sevice for indie filmmakers, especially one's like me and Jerry who just want to make movies and not deal with all the rest of it! So, with in a month or two, Zeppo will be availbe on VOD and DVD through Amazon.
SZ: You have worked quite a bit with rising cult film legend Jerry Williams. Do you consider him to be sane? Secondly, can you give some really good dirt on him? (humor intended in this question!!!!)
EB: Jerry Williams is INCREDIBLE!! He has a completly unique vison in his films. On the surface they're these weird random comedies, but if you pay close attention you see there's a definate message and interesting storyline going on. He deserves major cult status, because his films are always hilarious and within seconds, you KNOW it's a Jerry William's movie. He's also a great guy, he's part of my family. Much like Lloyd Kaufman, you can't judge Jerry based on his films alone. He's a down to earth guy who's nice and willing to help everyone as long as they're not being too crazy.
Is he sane? Yes, but I belive that's because his films are outlets for his insanity. I'm actually slightly worried about what will happen to him while he's on hiatus to raise his new baby, but luckily he's spent a great deal of time getting footage lately, so he'll have plenty to edit. I have some dirt on Jerry for sure...so here's a little bit. Jerry drives his car very slow!
SZ: One of your newest projects is Girl/Girl Scene. What is it? Who’s involved?
EB: Girl/Girl Scene is amazing! It's not something I would have expected to be involved with, but it was such a great opportunity, I'd be a fool to say no. It's executive produced by Nic Brown and Written by Tucky Williams. Nic called me up and told me he and Tucky were wanting to make a dramatic lesbian web series. At first I wasn't so sure, but I really enjoy hanging out with Tucky and Nic and I was excited by the idea of getting to focus on Directing. Then I got the pilot script from Tucky and I was sold. I knew she was a talented actress and I've come to realize she is an equally talented writer. The script was really good. In my first reading I found that I cared about the characters and was left wanting to know what happens next, so that was a good sign. Then Tucky started casting all these incredible actors which made my job a whole lot easier. All I ever really had to focus on was how I wanted to tell the story visually, and having that much time to devote to one line of thought led to some really great choices.
I've been editing it and have most of a rough cut done and it's great! It really draws you in and engages you, plus it's got some great humor in it. Shooting on HD has really been amazing. I've watched some of the scenes on Blu ray and it's a REAL show. You could put this next to any drama out there and it looks just as good. I've since read the script for episode 2, and oh man... The pilot does a great job of letting you know who these people are and what they're about, but episode 2 is going to hook people! We're about 4 to 6 weeks away from revaling the pilot for free, online at girlgirlscene.com
SZ: The trailer has been having some tremendous success recently. Describe how that all unfolded and what kind of response you are seeing.
EB: It's been great! At first we posted it on the Girl/Girl Scene FaceBook group page. It was there for 24 hours first and we had great feedback pouring in. Then we posted it on YouTube and DailyMotion. YouTube was getting about 500 views a day in the beginning and DailyMotion wasn't doing much, untill AfterEllen.com posted our trailer on their site. Within six hours the trailer gained over 2,000 views. The real good part is, now, about a week after posting it, we're still seeing really good traffic. Some days are fifty views, some days are two hundred, this leads me to belivie Girl Girl Scene is building some word of mouth. After about 2 weeks we're at around eight thousand views total. I knew this was turning out to be a great project on all parts, but I am a bit surprized how quickly it's getting out there when we've barely even promoted it!
SZ: What other projects are on the near horizon for Eric Butts? Can you give us a scoop perhaps?
One of the downsides to people finding out I'm as good as I say I am, is that I now get offered all kinds of stuff all the time. Sometimes I have to miss out on things I really want to do because I'm too busy. I mean, people should still ask me, because if I can help I will. Right now I've been directing and doing all of post production on "Girl/Girl Scene", I've been editing a behind the scene documentary for Jacob Ennis' "Red River", I'm helping out with a fun project Billy Boyd is doing as an actor and VFX, I'm acting, composing the score and doing MAJOR VFX on Roni Jonah's "Malfunction" with Billy Boyd and Sven Granlund, plus I may be editing it as well.
I've got one more role to film for Jerry Williams before his baby break. I'm trying to write a couple new scripts for myself and finish a new Record I've been putting off for a long time now. I'm also starting advance pre-production on a feature film I want to make this summer, it's a very dark fun monster movie in the tone of "Feast" or "Return of the Living Dead." But I need to work on a beach for a week and that may prove just out of reach of our resources for this year, in which case I'll move to a back up script I have for a much darker Argento inspired Giallo film. I have a bunch of stuff coming out soon too. I acted in Roni Jonah's "Trepan:
Redux". I was a HUGE fan and supporter of the original and when I was given the chance to be in a new version of it, I came prepared and gave the best performance I've given yet. I was also in "The Last Temptation of Fluffy" and did a VFX shot for it, as well as creating the poster. There should be countless Jerry Williams films coming out soon that I'm in. "Zombie Hombre" was just released for free online and I played my twin brother. The cool thing was that the footage was shot a few years apart and I look very different in both roles. Also, I'm in "Cornball Classics" that is available on Amazon Video on Demand. Plus, how could I forget the upcoming "Trouser Snake!"
SZ: Anything else that you feel inquiring minds want to know about Eric Butts?
I'm obsessed with the modern "Battlestar Galactica" and "Caprica" and you should be too! I LOVE action figures and have a HUGE collection of modern "Star Wars" figures, including hundreds of Clone Troopers. I can't get enough U.K. Wildcats basketball!
SZ: If people would like to follow or connect with you or your projects(including beautiful single women), what are your links for sites and social networking?
Myspace.com/EricButts (I don't uses this site much anymore)
And I'm on FaceBook all the time, but there are a few Eric Butts' on there so make sure you get the right one!
9 months ago