Interview – Richard Gasparian (Housesitter)

An interview with Richard Gasparian (Housesitter)

We recently awarded the full five stars to Richard Gasparian and Robin Nuyen’s horror-comedy Housesitter: The Night they Saved Siegfried’s Brain. Read on for our interview with writer and star Richard Gasparian.

Hi Richard, thanks for talking to us today. Could you tell us about the background of Housesitter?

We shot all of it in 1987, and then it didn’t get finished until the end of 2018. Then for 2019 we pursued film festivals, and now distribution. So yes, that’s a large gap – thirty years, roughly. What happened was, back in the day it was meant to be a much smaller movie. We were going to shoot in Los Angeles, in a ranch-style home. It was basically put thirteen kids in a house and chop ’em up. That was it. The video market was real big then, and the plan was to make a horror movie and release it to video, have it in Blockbuster, and it would sit right on the shelf. When we decided to go back to Kalamazoo, Michigan to shoot, rather than LA, things started changing. The production quality just went up. We got the Castle on the Hill – the Henderson Castle, which is the coolest house in Kalamazoo – and we had a big cast, a college party with lots of extras. We rolled with it, but it ate up our budget, so when we finished principal photography we were out of money. Robin [Nuyen, director] and I knew we had something cool, so we cobbled a very rough 20-minute teaser together, with some great music, Alice Cooper music, and then we set about looking for finishing money and distribution.

It was a difficult journey for us, as first-time filmmakers with this very quirky movie that had black-and-white in it and everything. We found people that really dug that teaser, who would say “We don’t have any money for you, but when you’re done please bring it back” and then we’d find other companies who said “Sure, we can help you finish it, but you have to give us the movie”. We ended up, at the end of the road, being offered a deal that we liked; they were going to take us to AFM [American Film Market], we were going to start with foreign sales, generate some cashflow, finish the movie, and then we’re on the road. But at the eleventh hour they switched the contract on us. We said, “We can’t sign this, you want to take our movie away!” and they said “Well, then we don’t have a deal”, and we said “OK, we don’t”. So the door closed on us, and we were just burnt out. It had been a long, arduous trip, our families had had it about up to here with us, and we felt that it would just be relegated to that pile of movies – and there’s a lot of them – that got shot and never finished. We got back to our lives, but over the years Robin and I would talk, and say “Gee, we’d like to go back and finish that movie”.

Fast-forward 25 years, and I’m no longer a first-time filmmaker, I’m a director of animation. One day Robin was working in the Disney lot, with the photo lab that we used to process our negative was across the street. One day at lunch his friend encouraged him to go over to the lab and just see if our negative was there. So they went, asked the woman behind the counter about this movie from 1987, and got a strange look but she checked and sure enough it was there. He called me and said “Hey guess what, I have the negative”. I immediately went and made a 4K transfer.

Now we had a digital version, and we were off and running. Now I could do a new edit, at my kitchen table, on my laptop. Which is what I did, I took about ten minutes out of it, rearranged a few things, and we had a pretty cool cut. But the sound was really bad. Robin had, again, befriended a guy on the lot. They struck up conversation, Robin told him about our movie, and he asked to take a look at it. It turned out that the guy was an editor up at Skywalker Sound. He liked the movie, he liked the story of finishing something thirty years later, and he liked us. So he gave us the friends and family rate and Skywalker Sound redid all of our sound. We did many sessions there and it was unbelievably great. They were working on one of the Star Wars films in the next studio, we could hear the lightsabers which was the coolest thing. Then we had this really cool cut with awesome sound, and we just had the picture to deal with. Through some friends, we hooked up with the head of post-production for Paramount Pictures. They took our picture, cleaned it all up and did all our colour timing. There was a little bit of difficulty going back and forth from black-and-white to colour all the time, so they made sure that those were all smooth transitions, and any dust or dirt was removed. So now we have a finished movie, and here we are. We’ve taken it to some festivals, and had some success there.

So does anything remain now from the original soundtrack, or is it wholly modern?

It’s the original soundtrack, but it’s been cleaned up and modified. Our sound editor, Scott Guitteau, his credit reads “Sound Surgeon”, because he went in and surgically, using ProTools, just picked things out, took little sounds out, added sounds, and tried to clean up little bits of dialogue. It’s difficult when you’re working with material that’s physically that old, but he did an amazing job.

A lot of the humour in the film derives from the use of sound – mice miaowing and cats barking – was that something that was always an element?

Yes, those are to signify the doctor’s early experiments – putting a dog’s brain into a cat, things like that. That was all part of the original script, as was the interior of the doctor’s lab, with the Electrolux vacuum cleaner and the Eveready batteries and the bicycle. We had an awesome art director who just hit the nail on the head.

Did you find that much changed about the movie, finishing it now versus shooting it back then?

Yes, we were way more critical of it. You’re never satisfied with your work – you know, when someone says “What’s your best work?” you hope it’s whatever you’re going to do next. Some of the deliveries of lines I would have asked to be different, or picked up some cues. But we were limited, so we just used those limitations and tried not to look at them as a liability. We tried not to judge it too harshly.

What about how the film fits into the current landscape?

I was thinking about this, because this came up in another interview, this exact question. Originally, the black-and-white section in the mad professor’s laboratory was intended as an homage to 50s-60s science fiction. Now, that still exists, but also the colour portion is in a sense an homage to 80s horror. That’s an unintended benefit. Believe me, I wouldn’t do it again for that benefit, because it was a rigorous 25 years. But it plays differently now. Part of the reason we wanted to go to film festivals is we’d never been able to observe an audience watching it. Only friends and family had seen it, and they’re going to love anything you do. We needed audiences who didn’t know us, so we’d sit in the back of the house and get excited when things hit and cringe when they missed. Overall, though, I’m happy with the response.

In a way, it’s more in tune with some more recent self-referential genre homage pieces – Grindhouse, say, or Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.

Yes, definitely. It is that, but it’s the real thing – we didn’t have to work to get that retro feel. It’s inherent in the clothing, the hairstyles…I’m in the movie sporting a nice mullet. I’m proud of it.

With the film homaging 50s culture, what’s your connection to that culture?

This is what Robin and I watched when we were kids. And I still watch them; I still love The Brain that Wouldn’t Die, It Came from Outer Space, Roger Corman. All those films that you could call shlocky – I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, but by today’s standards, they’re shlocky.

And Elvis, and Eisenhower…

Eisenhower just to help put it in the time-frame, and Elvis because we both love Elvis. So we thought we’ll make Andy, the medical student in the film, an Elvis freak. And while we were shooting there was an Elvis sighting at the Burger King in Kalamazoo. National Enquirer ran the story, we got the page, and put it on the gallery on our website. It was unrelated to us, we just thought it was strange.

What was it like for you, sort-of playing Elvis?

Oh, it was so much fun, wearing those tacky sideburns and the Elvis jumpsuit for almost the whole movie. He’s the King. He still is.

I don’t suppose you still have the suit.

I do, as a matter of fact. We’re on streaming now, but on the Blu-Ray, among the bonus material are some interviews with the filmmakers and I wore the jumpsuit – just to show that I still have it, and it still fits.

I loved the electronic score for the film. What can you tell us about that?

The score was written by an excellent composer who’s still very active in independent films, and some studio stuff, too – Steve Yeaman. We had a wonderful man who had a sound studio nearby in Burbank, who basically just gave me the key. We went in and recorded the whole thing – which had some challenges to it, because the process of syncing up music to film back then was a little more rigorous than it is now. It was all recorded live in studio with early sequencing, early electronics, a live drummer and a live guitar player, recorded on a 16-track half-inch and then mixed down. I look back at it now and say “Man, that really works”. I know Steve is real proud of it, and he’s done a tonne of movies since then, but this was one of his first.

It seemed that everybody along the way, back then and when we finished it today, got really passionate about the project and put everything into it. In Kalamazoo basically the whole town opened their doors to us, and we did our best to include as many of them as we could, either on the crew or maybe on the screen – definitely on the screen. It became a love fest, and it’s worked that way through every stage, music included. A lot of the original songs, with lyrics, have that 80s feel too. We’ve talked about putting a soundtrack together. It would be fun, because Andy has a theme, Doc has a theme, Roger has a theme.

Those 80s electronic scores – John Carpenter and Giorgio Moroder – is something else that there’s been a real resurgence of in recent years.

Not only that, but the subject matter and the look – people are going back to the 80s. I remember Robin saying to me “We’ve got to get this finished, because pretty soon the retro thing will be the 90s and we’ll be out of the loop”. But for now it’s still cool to look back to the 80s, and we just kind of got in on that one.

You’ve touched on this, but if you could travel back, what would you do differently?

Wow. Well, I’d make sure that we had post-production money. It’s difficult to look back because we were, in a sense, very naïve then. I almost feel that if we were to approach it now, we might not do it, because it’s a daunting task, making a movie, and that naïveté was what got us through it. That and adrenaline, and the fact a lot of people were telling us we couldn’t or shouldn’t do it, so of course we were going to do it. Oh, and I would have worked with Robin to storyboard the picture out. We didn’t do any of that. “Shot list? What’s that?” Now I have the advantage of 25 years of directing animation, so I’d approach that differently.

What can you tell me about your projects for the next 33 years?

There’s a few animated projects on the horizon, being developed or being pitching right now, and those are my personal projects. I’m also doing a lot of writing, and I just wrapped on Disenchantment, the Netflix series, for Matt Groening. I like working with Matt – he’s fantastic. To be that successful and that wealthy, and still such a nice person, and still so passionate about his work. He’s still involved with The Simpsons, definitely still involved with Disenchantment. I mean he’s running that show. But I think, since I’ve just wrapped that season, I’m going to focus a little bit of energy on the launch of this project, Siegfried’s Brain. We’ve retained the theatrical rights, Robin and I and Mark, so we’re trying to see how that fits in with the environment right now, this pandemic. It’s looking like drive-in movie theatres are really going to be popular. I don’t know if they were ever popular where you are…

No.

But it’s a typical, iconic American thing, the drive-in movie theatre, and this Summer they just took off. So we’re going to work on getting some theatrical bookings – for a Friday night, midnight show it’s just the kind of movie for that. It’s Rocky Horror-ish in that it’s fairly campy, and something you probably could watch more than once and get something else out of, because there’s a lot packed into it. That’s what our immediate focus is going to be, getting this in front of as many eyes as we can.

Great, thanks for talking to us Richard.

You bet. Just one last thing – people can find more information about the movie across various social media platforms, everything is @SiegfriedsBrain, on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and our webpage siegfriedsbrain.com we welcome everyone to come and check us out. Thankyou for having me and for supporting the film, I appreciate it.

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