Most horror fans introduction to French-born filmmaker Emmanuel Itier was with his low budget 2002 feature Scarecrow, a tale of revenge in which a bullied young man seeks bloody vengeance against those responsible for his death by returning from the grave in the form of a demonic scarecrow. Most horror Prior to launching his career as a director, Itier had started out in the industry working for genre veteran Brian Yuzna in the mid-1990s on the cult ficks The Dentist and Progeny.
His own directorial debut came in 2001 with the erotic thriller Tell Me No Lies which featured former model and softcore star Amber Smith as a young woman searching for the man who murdered her sister. But it would be Scarecrow, which featured rising scream queen Tiffany Shepis in a supporting role, that would become Itier’s best known work. Through his production company, Wonderland Entertainment, he has also directed the acclaimed documentary The Invocation.
Emmanuel Itier looks back over his career and explores the themes and ideologies that have defined him as a filmmaker.
What are your earliest memories of cinema from your childhood and what kind of films made the greatest impression on you as you were growing up?
When I was fifteen I went to see Birdy at the famous Cannes Film Festival and this was it, it had such an incredible inspiring effect on me that two weeks after I was shooting on video my first short; The Cage, some tortured neo-surealistic horror movie. This was also a decisive moment when I was able to show my parents that I would not become like my dad, a doctor, or like my mother, a teacher. Needless to say, they were quite concerned with the mad, mad, mad spirit escaped from the creative lamp but, after a while, they embraced my decision and backed me up all the way until I moved to the US in the late eighties. Another three crucial movies inspiring me were Betty Blue, with Beatrice Dalle (who did a few horror movies and even a kick-mental-ass movie with Abel Ferrara), The Big Blue, by my mentor in spirit and genius Luc Besson and, later on, The Crow by Alex Proyas.
Those truly defined the director I became. Oh, and let’s not forget my true horrific inspiration; Dario Argento, who will always for me remain LE Master of Horror. I will always remember how we used to watch his movies late into the midnight hours with friends, before hitting the club and dancing and drinking wildly until dawn and rocking over the Ramones, Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Siouxie and the Banshees, New Order and so on! Ha, the good old insane days of my youth; it’s kind of a ‘hellish’ miracle I didn’t get killed as we would come back at 5:00am, drunk, on a scooter with no helmet and yelling, ‘Oi! Oi! Destroy! No Future!!’ Boys will be boys…ghouls will be ghouls, indeed!!
Having directed an erotic thriller, a low budget horror and a documentary, where do you feel your strengths lie as a filmmaker and are you comfortable shifting between genres?
My strength lies indeed at switching of genres. This is how you reveal to yourself you’re a director. A director should be able to direct anything from erotism to horror, to comedy to political documentaries. If you’re in love with movies like I am, you direct everything that seems to have some sort of interesting story. And also you direct what you can direct based on the money people give you. This is what happened with Tell Me No Lies, the erotic thriller with Amber Smith. I had produced another erotic thriller called Wildflower; the financier were happy with me and they wanted me to produce another one, but the pay was so low that I convinced them to let me direct. And this was a blast as they gave me pretty much total freedom and final cut. I even ended up shooting that film in my home base city of Santa Barbara and in my house at the time, some haunted old saloon from the 1870s! True story; this place freaked out everyone who slept in it.
Apparently some poor woman was shot and buried in the backyard (where there is still her tomb to this day!) and the legend says she would haunt and hunt anyone who didn’t let her sleep in peace. I guess I was lucky she was in love with me, maybe she was weak for the French love that I am! Ha!! Anyway, another strength that is particular to any director is to realise you have to always think about the overall goal of what you’re doing. So don’t be too crazy and obsessive about such or such detail, as it might hold you back and force you into an over schedule and budget situation. Especially when you direct a movie like Tell Me No Lies, for which we ended up not even spend $100,000 and for a movie shot in 35mm. Keep your cool within and keep going! keep shooting!
How did you land your first directing assignment and what led to the formation of your company, Wonderland Entertainment?
Once you’ve done it once, you’re hooked on the bloody fun that it is to direct. And sure it’s tiring and sure you have to compromise and sure you rarely get the budget you need or end up directing the movie you have in your mind, but it’s all good and all grand and it beats working at McDonald’s or some crooked bank stealing other people’s money! Ha! Wonderland Ent. came naturally to me, it was kind of an ironic title as I always see myself like Alice; lost in a mad, mad, mad world where I have so little control, even so at the end I’m the one making the choices, right or wrong!
It has been almost a decade since you made Scarecrow; looking back ten years later how do you feel about the movie and the sequels that followed?
Well, I recently saw Scarecrow on TV in England, as the Syfy channel has many TV rights for this title and put it on and on, over and over, for the last ten years. Guess they get good ratings. I think it’s still holding for a little unpretentious horror film that we also shot for less thant $100,000 and still shot in 35mm! We did this one in less than ten days with two crews. Thanks to my genius second unit director, Anthonny C. Ferrante, we were able to maximise our resources and get as many horror scenes as we could. There isn’t one single CGI in this film and this is pretty cool, especially when you see how visual effects are abused by some directors in low budget and give a very cheap look to their production.
As far as the sequels, I’m still pretty happy with Scarecrow Slayer, directed by my good friend David Latt, who didn’t get a dime more than me and ended up doing a fine job. Scarecrow Gone Wild is maybe a bit weak but it has good moments. In any case, these movies are just made for the fun, fun, fun of it and with no budget, so one shouldn’t put their expectations too high when watching. It’s not like you gonna see a $300,000,000 Avatar! By the way, James Cameron’s first feature was Piranha 2 so there might be some hope for me to end up directing a mega blockbuster one day with a real budget!!! Please!!! Show me the money!!!
What do you recall of working on Brian Yuzna’s 1996 feature The Dentist and what was your role on the production?
At the time, Brian and I were partners on an incredible horror franchise that ended up being totally killed short by the studio who had signed us up. It was called The Seven Deadly Sins of Horror and we had put seven masters of horror to do a kick ass film based on one the seven sins. We had Stuart Gordon onboard, as well as Dario Argento, Tobe Hoper, Marie Lambert, Brian Yuzna (of course!), Richard Stanley and George Romero. Sadly, we spent over a year developing treatments for these films and somehow none of them went to script form and onto being filmed. The deal was buried on the eve of the millennium. But, I’m planning a revival of sort of that concept. I can’t talk much about it as there is no financial backing onboard yet, just talks. Anyway, I enjoyed my friendship and relationship with Brian on The Dentist; but also on Progeny, I served as a consultant and helped with several aspects of making the film. It was a grand learning experience and it probably taught me all I needed to learn to direct an ultra low budget like Scarecrow.
You have worked numerous times with Amber Smith, what is it about her work that you find so appealing?
Amber was the ‘muse’ of the financier of many movies I either produced or directed. On Tell Me No Lies, she was difficult at times but it’s true we had no budget and that the schedule was super tight, so maybe her mood swings were justified. Still, she could have been smiling a little more on and off the set. In any case, I’m thankful she supported my directorial debut and accepted to work with me. Then my DP of Tell Me No Lies, Byron Werner, who had a short dating period with her, went on to direct the second movie we produced with her, Starstruck. Overall, I will keep good memories of these films and forget about the little nervous breakdowns we had at times. I wish Amber the best and I think last time I saw her was at the Comic Con of San Diego, two or three years ago. I’m not sure what she is doing these days. I have to admit that being an actress in Hollywood sucks; unless you’re an overnight success the industry very quickly puts you in the dead-end zone and your career can die very quickly after this. Really, surviving in this business takes lots of balls and hard work as well as a huge dose of luck!
The tagline for your last feature, The Invocation, stated it was, ‘A documentary about God and World Peace.’ What was your intention with this film and would you say that it marked a radical departure from your previous work?
I think there was lots of ‘spirituality’ in my previous work. The word spirituality comes from spirit, which means in Latin ‘breath.’ And truly all of my films are about trying to catch on your breath and make it through the day. With The Invocation, I really wanted to explore that notion of ‘oneness’ that everyone is talking about. Whether you call it God (and, by the way, the origin of this word is actually an Indo-European verb that means ‘to invoke,’ therefore the notion of calling each other) or ‘energies’ or ‘nothing,’ it’s truly all about ALL. As every scripture says, ‘God is all and all is God,’ therefore God is never truly defined in religion, nor is it more defined yet by science. We just know, thanks to quantum physics, that we are all part of one; one big assembly of molecules, almost invisibly (to the human eye) glued to each other. In that sense, oneness is, existence is, God is, but we just don’t know, yet, how ‘it’ works.
I truly believe that the seven billion people on this planet are all fantastic ‘divine’ creatures with a genius brain and that if we would only accept to share, to work together, then we would eradicate overnight any notion of misery, poverty, war, disease. Right now, the 1% of macho idiots in charge of the planet still think that the ‘business plan’ for the planet should be war, as this is what makes them the most money, but truly it’s a stupid business plan because it’s a plan that kills life, therefore customers. A good business plan is life, because it breeds human beings, therefore customers. I think that in time and with a deep awaking and new education, we will transform mentalities and the way people see each other. Dare to love and not hate, dare to live and not kill. This is the challenge of the XXIst century. Like André Malraux wrote, ‘The XXIst century shall be spiritual or it will not be!’
Have you ever considered making a new sequel to Scarecrow and do you have any intention of returning to the horror or fantasy genre in the foreseeable future?
Yes and yes! We are right now trying to ‘resurrect’ the Scarecrow franchise. It is just a very hard time to find private funding to do these films, therefore I’m trying to find a distribution company to back us up. And, in any case, we do have at Wonderland Ent. a few scripts in pre-production for me to direct horror movies. Let’s just say that these film will be as punchy and gory as ever, but with a bigger dose of ‘spirituality’ and ‘consciousness!’ I used to be only a punk before The Invocation but now I’m a holy punk, I kick ass with peace and love! I’m peace in action! So beware! Love is coming and you gonna love it! Ha!