Thanks for taking the time Ricky to answer some questions during this very busy and awesome time in your life and career! “Excision,” “Suburban Gothic,” and now “Trash Fire,” congratulations on the growing success!
Jay Kay: First, talk about your latest film, “Trash Fire.” How did this film come together?
Ricky Bates: I’d been going through a bout of depression that I couldn’t shake. I stopped leaving my apartment, I put on a bunch of weight. It was bad. One night I was up late alone in my living room, and I got a video message from a very sweet little kid. I didn’t know her, but she bared her soul to me. Some very bad things had happened to her. She told me my last movie was the only thing that had made her happy in a very long time. Not just because it mined humor from the depths of despair, but because the characters were flawed in the same ways she was. She said it made her feel less alone.
The next morning I woke up and started writing. I didn’t stop until I had a screenplay. I put everything I had into the characters, the relationships. I was trying to capture what it feel like to be lost and depressed and to lose sight of yourself. And I needed to expose the selfishness that results from being preoccupied with your own problems. The way it consumes you.
I consider TRASH FIRE a personal exorcism. I’d been carrying a lot of weight (still need to shed some of that physical weight!), and the movie allowed me to relieve and repurpose that baggage. I made TRASH FIRE for my girlfriend. For my family. For my friends. And for the girl who sent me that video and anyone else out there like her. While a lot of great movies can be pleasant diversions, I set out to create a wake-up call. A much needed slap in the face. And I hope it resonates with others.
JK: Ricky, your films are stories of self-discovery in unusually twisted, emotional and impactful way. It seems to be much more dramatic and less humorous then your first two films. Talk about the aspect of self-discovery in TRASH FIRE and the storytelling behind it.
RB: I mentioned earlier it was like a personal exorcism. I even went so far as to record all the screams that play over the opening title card myself. I experienced a lot of real, personal growth making this movie. I know my movies can be polarizing at times, but I put my whole heart into this thing hoping it can be a sounding board for the people who need it. The people who could use the kind of wakeup call I desperately needed.
JK: With each of your films the cast and crew grows and a family is formed. Talk about the cast for TRASH FIRE. Also, talk about casts like Matthew Gray Gubler, Sally Kirkland & AnnaLynne McCord who have come along for the wild ride within your stores.
RB: I cast Adrian because the first independent film I ever saw when I was a kid back home in Virginia was “The Adventures of Sebastian Cole” and I loved him in it. People seemed to forget all the great work he did in independent films in the 90′s. He’s an underrated actor and I thought it’d be fun to re-introduce him back into that independent world as something entirely different from his more recent roles.
I met with tons of actresses and Angela immediately stuck out. She’s funny and quirky and completely un-impressed. Angela’s very sweet but there’s also a certain edge to her. She’s exactly what I was looking for to provide the right balance in the relationship.
I cast AnnaLynne as Pearl because there’s no role I don’t trust her with. If you ask me, she’s one of the most underrated actors working today. Having both grown up in and around the South, we have similar sensibilities. She’s a total weirdo in all the best ways.
Fionnula! Where do I even begin! She’s been a favorite actor of mine for years (I love “Waking Ned Devine”). She’s got a wicked sense of humor that I knew would serve the character well. Additionally, she has the kindest heart imaginable, and the nicest people always make the most fascinating on-screen villains.
As far as Matthew Gray Gubler is concerned, he’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s also sort of like an older brother to me. It’s very comforting to have him around - even when he’s poking fun at me for being nuts (like he’s one to talk). I hope I never have to make a movie without him. Oh, and he also happens to be a comedic geninus.
Sally Kirkland is a true original. There is no one else like her on the planet and there never will be. She’s taken knocks over the course of her life and career and gets back up, swinging. She’s undeterred. I admire her so much. And you’ll never find an actor who cares more deeply about the work. She’s all in.
JK: Each of your three features, and the short film “Excision” were written and directed by you. Is this the way you intend to continue your filmmaking career going forward or would you take on different projects in and out of horror that did not have your creative process in one of the stages?
RB: I wrote “Excision” and “Trash Fire” by myself. My best pal from Virginia, Mark Bruner, and I wrote “Suburban Gothic” together. I’m not sure I would want to make a movie I didn’t have a hand in writing. That’s an important part of my process.
When I watch a movie I’m just as interested in the people behind the camera as I am in front of it. I want to feel like I”m watching something that came from a human being with a voice and a style of their own. That’s a requirement for even modest success in most other art forms but it’s become increasingly looked at as a hindrance in film (primarily for financial reasons). I’d compare it to keeping your mouth shut at a dinner party. You won’t offend anyone or make any enemies but your presence was irrelevant. And a lot of that boils down to fear. No one wants to be disliked. But, at the end of the day, I don’t want to show up to a party full of seat fillers. So, I admire filmmakers with distinct voices. Filmmakers with the courage to be themselves. And, producers brave enough to let them.
JK: You’ve been very acclaimed by a variety of fans, critics, film festivals and peers in and out of the horror genre for your diverse body of work in different horror sub-genres. What makes horror such a versatile platform for beginning filmmakers to make an impact?
RB: I don’t think about it much. If you asked me my favorite type of movie to watch I’d say, horror. But when I’m making a movie I don’t think about other movies or filmmakers. Subconsciously, I’m influenced by tons of stuff but I try to detach myself from other artist’s work as much as possible when I’m creating. When I’m pitching a script I’ll draw comparisons to make the material more relatable. Sometimes that can be a helpful tool for people. But the truth is I’ve never purposefully drawn from anything. I see life as being a horrific comedy and my worldview’s reflected in my work. That’s all there is to it, really.
JK: How are the film festival screenings going for TRASH FIRE and will we see the kind of rabid, cult, and extremely fun crowds out for these screenings like we did for your first two films? What has been some of the best crowds and festivals you have been a part of? What do the fans mean to you?
RB: I can’t predict how people will respond. Personally, I think it’s my strongest movie. I’m very proud of it. TRASH FIRE’s a VERY dark comedy. That being said, I think it stands a chance at really reasonating with people. I’d love for it to become a popular date movie. That’d be nice. I’ve only screened at Sundance so far - which was incredible! We’ll be at the Boston Underground Film Festival with the movie at the end of March. Can’t wait! The filmgoers mean everything. Everything. They’ve become a real lifeline for me. I’m indebted to them.
JK: TRASH FIRE is a transitional film in your life. Not only is this a film that may, to this date, be your most acclaimed but it takes your writing style in another very dark direction. There is a light at the end of the tunnel because not only professionally have you moved to another level but you also got engaged at the screening! Talk about taking it to another level professional and personal.
RB: All three of my movies are coming-of-age stories. This was to be the third and final… a film about transitioning into manhood. I’d dealt with a lot of heartache and rejection in my twenties and responded in various self-destructive ways. When I’d completed TRASH FIRE there was a huge weight off my shoulders - I was healed. I was ready to grow up, take that next step and kiss the past goodbye. And a big part of that was proposing to my girlfriend, who stood by me through it all. I had both our families in the audience and popped the question immediately following the premiere.
JK: What is next for TRASH FIRE with distribution? What about you, as you rise up the ranks in the film industry and where can we find out more?
RB: We’ve gotten a bunch of offers, which is really exciting. Stay tuned! Just finished the new script! To draw a comparison, it’s my spin on movies like “Love Actually” and “Valentine’s Day.”
Thank you Ricky so much for the time and we look forward to seeing what else you have in store for us in the future!