Directed by: Elias Matar
Here at Horror Cult Films we are extremely proud to present an exclusive interview with Film Director Elias Matar, whose film ASHES has won the Best Horror Feature at Shriekfest and also Best Screenplay at the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival! For those who have not seen the film yet, we have attached the trailer of the film for all to see and also our review which our Sub-Editor Ross Hughes was not only lucky to see, but also spend time with this unique talented man who is surely destined for big things! We hope our readers enjoy this insighful look into a man who is no doubt destined for great things!
THE INTERVIEW WITH ELIAS MATAR
1: First of all can we all at HorrorCultFilms say how honoured we are that you have agreed to this interview. Can we start by telling our loyal readers a bit about yourself, a little history, what inspired you to go into film making and where you feel you fit in with today’s horror market?
I’m not sure if I would describe my self as strictly a “horror director”. I like to free myself from thinking in terms of genre when I write and direct. Though it’s true that I tend to explore the darker side of cinema. What is important for me is making the stories feel as real as possible, even if the world is fantastic.
I was born in California, but spent 15 years of my youth in Syria. I shot my first film in 1973, on Russian 8mm camera, during the Syria/Israel war. I was nine.
About ten years ago, I went back to night school and studied performance, cinematography and directing. I shot a few shorts, you know, student films. But the film that really started opening doors for me was my short Chingaso The Clown.
2: Ashes is the quite outstanding film that caught our attention and brought your immense talent to our eyes, can you please tell our readers about the film, its plot and why they should rush out to see it?
Ashes is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. It is a dramatic examination of the first person to get infected by a “Zombie” virus.
The story is about an obsessive doctor working on a cure for AIDS who unwittingly invents an aggressive new bacteria that deteriorates the body and enrages the mind. He must stop the infection before it destroys him and everyone he loves.
3: The film has been getting a great response from audiences who have attended many festivals and it has won the Best Horror Feature at Shriekfest and also took the prize for Best Horror Screenplay at The International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival, you must be so proud?
Yes, am very proud.
I’m proud of the film and of my creative team– my co-writer Edward E. Romero, DP Alex Lahman, Make-up Elissa Pragger, Editor Soojin Chung, and of course my lead actor Brian Krause, all of who won or were nominated for various awards for Ashes. Everyone worked really hard on the project.
4: If someone asked me “how would I describe Ashes?” The biggest compliment I could give the film is that it reminded me of an early Cronenbeg picture, did you realise that when you watched it back?
I’ll take that as a compliment. I love Cronenberg’s work. And yeah, someone once described the film as “The Fly meets 28 days Later.” I can only shrug. I certainly didn’t set out to make a Cronenberg film. But I understand some of the comparisons.
5: Ashes is such a confident film that oozes style and vision, Was there a specific day on set when you sat behind the camera and realized you had something special here?
There were two days that I remember the most. The first day on set, which was a fully functioning hospital, we were shooting in the Intensive Care Unit. Before we started rolling, the ICU staff informed us that someone has passed away few hours earlier in the same room. I could feel a lump in my throat, and I was not the only one. Most of the crew were choked up.
I wanted the film to look as realistic as possible. So we tried to shoot most scenes as long takes with little to no cuts. It’s an attempt to bring the audience with us. On the last day at the hospital, we shot this scene that opens at the parking lot, and ends inside the ER with a lot of extras and a lot of moving parts. On the ninth take, I got what I wanted, just before lunch. When I watched the playback, I knew we had something special.
6: One of the things that blew me away was the acting especially Brian Krause who virtually carries the film with such a great performance, making you sympathize with his character, something many horror films find hard to do, how did you manage to get such a performance from this man?
Brian… Brian… what can I say? He is a great talent to work with. I think the key was to approach this film from a dramatic point of view. That kept it grounded.
It’s also really important to know the talent you are working with. Brian is a great guy. I think that comes across on the screen. I hung out with Brian for couple of weeks before shooting. Sometimes we’d just go out for coffee and talk about everything, just life. We got to know each other well and we are still friends.
7: The rest of the cast are totally fitting for their role, another one we have to give a mention too is Kardeem Harridson, did you strike lucky with these actors or did a lot of research go into the casting before hand?
Kadeem is a great actor. He is also a family friend. Our daughters go to school together. So when I wrote Ashes I was already thinking of Kadeem in the role of Matthew. But to be honest, I wasn’t sure if he would take the part, seeing how he does a lot of comedy. I gave him the Ashes script and a DVD copy of Chingaso The Clown. A couple days later, I got a call from Kadeem. He loved the script and the character. It was so amazing to work with him and I hope to get to work with him again in the future.
8: Virus Outbreaks and Zombie films usually start with the chaos already in full flow, Ashes is original because you see it from the roots of its begining, did you have that in mindset when you sat down to write the film?
I did, actually. I was talking to another filmmaker friend of mine, Ezequiel, and he said something about the first person that became infected by the Zombie virus and something clicked in my head.
My sister is an actual ER doctor. Whenever we visit, late night, after everyone goes to sleep, I ask here to tell me about stories from the ER. Most are horrific, but there is a lot of humanity also. She has saved so many lives, and the one she couldn’t she always remember. Somehow, these ER stories and the Zombie origin idea met in my head and I started writing ASHES.
09: The Subject AIDS figures in the background of this film, was it hard to balance what is fiction and fact with such a strong subject?
I visited my sister at an ER when she was doing her residency in early 90s. She was holding a clipboard of a new born baby, and on it, was a red mark that read HIV+. It was shocking to me. But she dealt with it and she said that there were so many cases like this all over the county. That just sort of stuck with me.
10: To move away from Ashes for a minute, If you had the chance to spend an evening in a pub talking movies with any director, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Stanley Kubrick, I love his use of time and space to build his characters, and worlds he creates.
11: Have you ever been truly scared watching a movie, and if so which movie was it and why?
Yes, Event Horizon 1997 and The Audition 2000. I don’t know why, they just got under my skin.
12: Please tell us one interesting fact about yourself?
I graduated from Purdue University as Electrical Engineer then worked in the Fashion Industry for years. My last company, before going to film school, was representing an English brand of watches and Clothing, STORM.
13: Back to Ashes, the film relies on suspense which I found refreshing in an age where gore-porn is the must at the box-office, is this how you set out for the future, an old fashioned style quality where good story-telling takes center stage over needless scenes of blood?
I just want to make movies that I would like to watch. I hate the empty feeling I have after watching rushed stories or shallow characters with no emotional core. Don’t get me wrong. I love horror films. I just think the best horror comes from caring about the protagonist enough to be scared for them.
14: Your next film Lords Of Chaos sounds like a crazy mix of H.P. Lovecraft meets Cloverfield, can you tell us more about it?
Lords of Chaos is a tale of urban horror, set in Del Rey, a desolate section of Detroit. When locals start disappearing on their turf, The Latin Lords, a vicious street gang, comes face to face with an ancient demonic creature. But with the police hell-bent on taking the gang down, it’s a fight to the finish to decide who or what will rule the streets.
My vision as a director is to enter this dangerous world with a flashlight and a shotgun. By combining demonic horror and fast paced action with a new Lovecraftian mythology, I will take you into the sewers of hell, where badass cholos collide with ancient evil deep in the bowels of Detroit. For among the dregs, the dispossessed, and the forgotten, real heroes will arise.
How’s that sound?
15: Sounds pretty great! Finally, what is your favourite movie of all time, and why?
So many to choose from, I don’t know. But off the top of my head, I think Ridley Scott’s Alien. I love that movie, just the space it created, the tone, the monster, everything.
16: Thank you for this chance of an Interview, we at HorrorCultFlilms wish you the best for the future of Ashes and of course Lord Of Chaos, and we hope to speak to you in the near future!
Ross Hughes and Horror Cult Films would very much like to thank Elias Matar for taking the time to do this interview and we wish him all the best for his next film!