Tor Ramsey Email - Director of Children of the Living Dead
(Article by Neil Fawcett ©, added 8-Jan-2002)
Released in 2001, Children of the Living Dead is pretty much universaly accepted as a travesty of film making. A regular to the Homepage of the Dead forums, Travis Stoffs, posted his thoughts of this film on IMDB to warn other viewers of how poor he thought this it was.
Little did he expect a reply back from the director the film, Tor Ramsey. Tor's comments give a little bit of an insight into what happened to this film both during and after its filming. They are also quite funny/witty as well!
|Travis' thoughts on Children of the Living Dead, as posted on IMDB|
You cannot comprehend how bad this film is. There is not a single facet of this film that is good, or even
I had low expectations for this film, but this sunk even lower than I could have thought. It looked like the thing was shot on a camcorder. There was all of one lens used in the entire film, which gave it that nice camcorder feel. You can see the same background depth in every shot because of this. Usually you won't notice the background revealed to you in a film, but you will if there is no change at all over every single shot.
The lighting wasn't dramatic at all and it looked more like a home film than even my flick. It didn't even try to be scary... well it did, but it was so overtly done that it made you laugh more than quiver. They relied on the sunlight too much in the film and didn't attempt to compliment it with outside lighting at all. Then at night the cemetery and house settings are so obviously artificially lit, and you can even see the lights even though it's supposed to be out in the country.
The plot makes no sense at all. Karen Wolf made no attempt to explain why the hades the lead zombie abducted these kids and kept them alive. They are just sitting there when found as if just watching TV. She obviously never even attended a funeral in her life or would know that they bury people right after the funeral, not hours later. And then some grave robbers show up--somehow they knew the caskets would still be out of the ground--and one gets killed, the other is obviously miscast as an old man.
Similarly, the dialogue form the characters is mostly all small talk and you could cut half of it and never even notice. The characterization isn't there except for two characters who contrast from the rest of the others, but the acitng manages to botch up that distinguishing.
The sound is horrid. It's like they recorded on location and added the dialogue later. The lips often never move, but people are talking. If the lips are moving, they aren't moving at the same speed as the voice. The voices don't fit the facial expressions or have any real emotion to them. The zombies make groaning noises in the same way... some have their mouths open, some don't. And it's very obvious. The dialogue doesn't seem to come form any channel, and I wonder if it was recorded in monotone and from equal distance from the microphone for every character. I'm almost sure of it.
The direction was equally bad. There were close-ups where more distant shots could be used because the close-ups seemed forced and weak for the dialogue given. Then there are long shots that need to be drastically magnified to close-ups in order to give it more dramatic feeling. The way that we see the lead zombie as a zombie for the first time is like this. It's a full body shot and we can see all of this area surrounding him, and the guy doesn't seem scary at all, even though his make-up implies we are to think that way about him.
The photography complimented the direction in its ineptitude. The opening shots are tinted blue for some unknown reason--and it's very blatant and unfitting of the time of day of the shot. A yellow, orange or red tint would have looked better, especially for illuminating the zombies' faces in the sunlight. The blue tint better have been some homage to Dawn of the Dead's blue-faced zombies, but I doubt it. Even if it was, it is bad filmmaking. There should have been darker, less focal depth lenses used to make the lighting more dramatic in many, many, many scenes indoors. You would never know it is supposed to be a horror film in this regard in a whole lot of shots.
The editing and pacing of the scenes was bland. We get a little bit of drama with the music for one actual scene when the main character is scoping out his house, but the scene just up and ends abruptly, leaving the viewer to wonder "was that it?!" There's a shot where the lead zombie bites into the neck of a guy in one shot up-close, then it cuts to another shot for some unknown reason and the guy's neck is still immaculate. And when the lead character talks to his love interest while ordering coffee, she fills up his cup, then takes it away, refills, wipes the bottom of the saucer and refills his cup again... BEFORE HE EVEN TAKES A SIP!
The acting looks like they put an ad in the paper and accepted all non-SAG-eligible actors for parts without even giving them a screen test. Except for Tom Savini, of course, who even can't overcome bad script and direction to make his character seem cool, just a one-liner-spewing, macho idiot. It speaks volumes that they hired Bill Hinezman's daughter (?) for one of the more prominent zombie parts; it backs my theory up.
Like I've put in here several times, you usually don't notice when things are done correctly (ie: you don't go "that shot had great lighting!"), but you sure as heck notice when they go awry in a film, and they go awry in every scene and almost every shot. If they made a manual for showing how NOT to make a film, they would say "watch Children of the Living Dead."
|Tor Ramsey's reply|
You filthy scum-sucking bastard!
I read your interview on the IMDB of my masterpiee CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and am writing to let you know you can kiss my ass!!! I know your way home from work, bub, and myself and the Abbot Hayes zombie will be paying a not-so-pleasnt visit sometime soon.
I'm serious!! You and the other pole-smokers who totally missed the point of my highly sensitive moving piece are going to pay!!! If you knew the slightest thing about film, you'd see the correlations with Bergman's SEVENTH SEAL grim reaper and Abbot Hayes, not to mention the homage to DW Griffith's INTOLERANCE and Keaton's THREE AGES in the alternating storylines that jump ahead!
...of course I'm kidding you asshole, don't get so excited.
Actually, I am writing to you to offer my sincerest apology for the 90 minutes of your life wasted watching the movie CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD. I read your review on the internet and would like to thank you for understating its worthlessness.
You see, I did in fact direct CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD, and you know what? It really does suck!!!!
So you're a filmmaker? Quick, find another profession that causes less stress, like painting the tops of radio towers! But if you insist, perhaps you'd like to know some of the circumstances behind the amazing CHILDREDN OF THE LIVING DEAD.
Let me address a few specific areas you mentioned:
1) we had two lens, a 25:250 and a 18mm. Later whenb I gently requested two more primes, a 50 and a 35, I was blamed for jacking up the budget with unreasonable demands. (???????)
2) the choice of shots isn't as poor as the choice the editor who re-edited made in choosing the shots. There's more to work withm he just didn't. See below
3) The robotic delivery of the lines was due mainly to the fact that all the dialogue was looped needlessly and I was invited to the looping session.
4) The reason the Savini stuff works better than the rest is that once Savini's stuff was shot was whem the Karen lunacy binge kicked in full throttle.
5) Among the highlights of my brilliant cinematography team was the twomost expensive days of production when they loaded five rolls of film backwards, and shot it without realizing it, ruining precious footage.
Seriously, what can I tell you but the Executive Producer of HALLOWEEN and NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET teamed up with the co-author of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD to do what was described to me as the sequel to NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, on the same level as a RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Hell, who wouldn;t have jumped at the chance!
Unfortunately I was to find that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck it ain’t always a duck. I was to find out later that the only connection this thing had to George Romero’s great trilogy was John Russo and the words “Living Dead”
The Exec. Producer’s daughter Karen Lee Wolf wrote a script so horribly incompetent that nearly a dozen writers and directors had walked off the project due to her obsessiveness over no changes being made to her script. In addition to being an untalented, inexperienced, uninformed---excuse me while I get my other list of adjectives --- spoiled, immature, arrogant hack.
Karen had never seen DAY OF THE DEAD or DAWN OF THE DEAD or even modern horror films like SCREAM. In fact she thought zombie movies and Fangoria fans were stupid and wouldn’t stoop to that level. So she created a level all her own to stoop to.
The Producer of HOWLING and LAWNMOWER MAN had gotten me on this thing and he immediately began pleading with me to leave the project. Every one that gopr within a three mile radius of this unreadable abomination told Karen her script ---to use Harry Knowles words “sucked a big poodle turd” She refused to listen, threatening to fire anyone who questioned her script.
Karen conned and manipulated her aging father into greenlighting her pathetic script then Joe let Karen go out to Pittsburgh to “supervise”. In her case, this meant threatening to fire anyone who changed so much as a word in her script. No shit --- we were running interference on Karen sneaking around to do the gags with Savini.
When actors told me the lines made no sense and wanted to work through the scene, Karen wouldn’t allow changes to be made.
As for Russo, I was surprised to find him not quite the idiot internet sites make him out to be and certainly doesn’t derve to be fed to one of his own zombies as the prevailing winds usually concur. . He’s basically a decent guy who should be allowed nowhere near a movie set. Sadly I must confess his reputation as a hack is well deserved. He insisted I use his DP, a 63 year old farmer named Bill Hinzman who played the cemetery zombie in the original NIGHT. Bill’s previous work was unwatchable garbage like FLESHEATER and SANTA CLAWS and though the Wolf’s knew Hinzman’s work, they told me I had to use him anyway due to Russo. I also had to use Russo’s pal Bob Michelucci as my Art Director though he had never set foot on a movie set and his experience was limited to doing sets for a softcore porno mag called SCREAM QUEENS.
Russo also insisted on shooting without an on-set art department, no Assistant Directors, no Script Supervisors, no Wardrobe department and no makeup department. Also no Production Manager. Basically we had a 9 man crew made up of friends of Russo. Also Russo said we could not afford a Generator or anything stronger than a 4K.
I didn’t shoot stuff this amateurish in film school.
Here’s the clincher --- the budget for this thing was $500,000. Lunch money by Hollywood standards, but my first film was $200,000 and when you getout of LA its possible to get at least movie of the week type quality in production value for that amount of money. But not if the Producers scoop $120,000 off the top for their back pockets, and not if the Producer (Russo) pays his friends ridiculously high salaries.
I will always maintain that a lack of money is no excuse for poor production value. Deals can be made and favors called in, and if not then you can get creative with the lighting style and create your own scheme. In any event, half a million bucks is PLENTY of money to pull in a good-looking movie.
Though I had an Emmy award winning DP who worked for MTV ready to come on board at half his usual rate, they made me hire Hinzman who made almost four times what my guy was going to get.
Next up was they wouldn’t let me do it SAG, or even using out of toen actors from LA, so we cast using local actors from Pittsburgh --- except for Barrett Worland who was Karen’s pet project from LA. Jamie was a non-SAG actress I had worked with before in my first film. In any event, after five days of auditions, it became obvious I had little to work with.
Savini was great to work with, and I came up with all those gags he did outside, while he came up with the ones in the barn. I wanted to do much more but my job came in jeopardy when I was accused of allowing Tom Savini to take over the movie. Later, Joe Wolf found what a name Savini is and said he made a mistake not building the movie around him.
Savini saw the ordeal I was going through and used to come by my room to make sure I was surviving --- he was very supportive and told me these guys didn’t deserve the job I was giving them.
Regarding the final cut of the film, I turned in a Director’s cut which I felt worked on some level and that at least wouldn’t be an embarrassment to anyone whose name was involved. I emphasized the action scenes and whittled the LOOOONNNGGG dialogue driven scenes down to a bare minimum. I still think it was a lousy movie, but it had a little something going for it, as I cut around some of the bad performances. (The saying goes that performances are made in the editing room, well poorly edited performances are also.)
Joe Wolf told me he thought we had a winner in the film with the cut I turned in, and others who saw the cut said they thought it worked as a zombie movie.
What happened next was truly mind-boggling. Karen Wolf fired every one in Pittsburgh, shut the door on yours truly, and hired a new editor, supervised the edit, then brought in all the actors and replaced the dialogue in nearly every scene. In her re-edit, she put back in all the long droning scenes of dialogue, then added back in the dialogue of hers that I changed. I was not present at the looping sessions---that’s one reason for the robotic delivery of the actors.
Then to cover the endless plotholes and the lack of structure she added the looped dialogue in ways which as you noted are laughably absurd. For example --- the first date you see in the film where Matthew takes Laurie to the construction site was originally shot as the final scene in the movie when Matthew takes Laurie to overlook his shattered dreams. When it was brought up that there wasn;t enough character development in the relationship between Laurie and Matthew they added in the ridiculous dialogue you heard and tried to make it look like a first date.
The worst thing she did was in her butchering and slaughtering the sequence with Tom Savini. Firstly, the incessant mumbling made me wonder if this was a zombie movie or Savini doing Popeye. Secondly, the scenes were completely robbed of any suspense or tension due to the unorthodox editing and lack of a musical score. Originally Savini’s daughter was cast, and she turned in a terrific performance as a girl being pursued by zombies – who Savini saved by blowing up the car. She was also in the scene right after that with Savini saving her from the two oncoming zombies. Why she was cut out is probably due to the fact that Karen didn’t like her.
As for the choices in editing, I wasn’t present so I have no idea what was going through this guy’s head --- Lewis Shoenbraun did the re-edit. I was never once contacted by he or Karen. To cover the many numerous plotholes that were in Karen’s script, the two of these guys got together and put together scenes that were outtakes drawn from the context of other scenes with looped dialogue dropped over. What was going through these people’s heads is beyond me.
But ain’t show business grand!
My feeling is that there is a movie in there somewhere in the dailies that isn’t the travesty you unfortunately witnessed. Sorry you had to sit through it, and as much as I hate to say it, it is my fault for allowing this to go on. I am apologizing because as Director of the film, it is ultimately my responsibility to deliver the goods. When circumstances present themselves that make it impossible to do so, my obligation to the craft is to leave the project.
This being my second film, I hung in there because no matter what happened, if I had walked it would look like I was a quitter.
Anyway, my first film is actually quite good and has gotten really good reviews on it. Perhaps you’ll have the chance to check it out sometime and I would welcome any feedback on it.
I agree with your assessment of CHILDREN --- based on the cut you saw, myself and every one involved look like idiots. I’d like to think I’m not one, and I’m walking away from CHILDREN with a brand new perspective on the perils of taking on a project when all the tools a filmmaker should have are taken away.
Like the man said, experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted. And that is the end of the story!
Director CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD
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