Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Conversation With ROT:Reunion of Terror Director Michael A. Hoffman

Bruce G. Hallenbeck

ROT: Reunion Of Terror

This is not your father's high school reunion: five school chums get together at a cabin in the woods to celebrate their tenth year out of school. What they don't realize, however, is that a killer is lurking around somewhere in the darkened forest, waiting to pick them off one by one. The question is: is there an unknown serial murderer that's responsible, or is it one of them?

Michael A. Hoffman, Director - ROT: Reunion Of Terror
Director Michael A. Hoffman

ROT: Reunion of Terror Trailer

That's the premise of ROT: REUNION OF TERROR, a new feature film directed and co-written by Michael A Hoffman (aka Michael Hoffman Jr.), an enterprising young filmmaker from Florida who has spread his considerable talent through many facets of the movie business, from production assistant on such low-budget efforts as Tim Ritter's SCREAMING FOR SANITY: TRUTH OR DARE 3 (1998), DIRTY COP NO DONUT (1999) and DIRTY COP: I AM A PIG (2001). His first feature as a director was the horror anthology film SCARY TALES (2001), which received worldwide distribution and was followed up with a sequel, SCARY TALES: THE RETURN OF MR. LONGFELLOW (2003), which he co-directed with Jason Daly.

Since then, Hoffman has honed his skills working on commercials, music videos, industrial productions and other independent features as editor, director and writer. His latest directorial effort is ROT: REUNION OF TERROR, which was filmed on location in California. At age 29, Hoffman recently told me in a phone interview from his home in Florida that he "feels a lot older." Then again, he's been involved in film since the tender age of fourteen, when he hooked up with Ritter after seeing an ad for a production assistant in a local newspaper.

Smokin' - Internet Ad from Michael A. Hoffman on Vimeo.

His experience with Ritter on SCREAMING FOR SANITY was invaluable: "I learned what to do and what not to do on a film," Hoffman recalled. "It was tough, but I kept working in films throughout high school. I was the worst senior ever; I skipped 45 days of my senior year. But it was worth it."

In more recent times, Hoffman has worked as a writer on Corbin Bernsen's production THE CLOWN and he was production manager of the St. Louis Cardinals' 2008 ad campaign. But it's as director/writer/producer on his own low-budget horror features that gives Hoffman the most satisfaction, despite the trials and tribulations of making ROT.

Clip from ROT: Reunion of Terror

"Of all the productions I've worked on, ROT was the toughest," Hoffman stated. "It was part of a two-picture deal with Disruptive Media, the other being SPRING BREAK MASSACRE. We filmed ROT on location at Big Bear and San Bernardino National Forest in California. Jim Fulton, who is in the film as a redneck store owner, owned the ranch where we filmed much of the movie. It's a great location. Jim Fulton rocks! But we just had one problem after another getting the movie in the can."

ROT: Reunion Of Terror
ROT: Reunion of Terror

ROT: Reunion Of Terror
ROT: Reunion of Terror

Those problems included blizzards, car accidents and floods. "I've never seen so many things work against a production," Hoffman continued. "It was cold - we shot in February and March - and there were some shots we couldn't complete, like when the girl has her head bashed against the tree. There was a flash flood and we couldn't finish the shot. Fortunately, I'm a union editor by trade, so I found a way to work around it. But it was snowing - in California! - during all of the night shoots. We had to backlight everything so you couldn't see the snow. Plus the fact that Big Bear and the cabin we were filming in were 240 miles apart, and we had to make them look like they were in the same spot. And we filmed some scenes months apart. So again, as an editor, I had to ask myself, how do I make these scenes work? I basically had to re-edit the entire movie over the course of eight months."

The fact that Hoffman is also an editor makes him feel a certain kinship to one of his favorite classic horror directors, Terence Fisher, who did many of the most famous Hammer Films, including HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). "I have a huge collection of Hammer and Amicus films," Hoffman said. "The fact that Fisher was an editor first shows in the economy of his shooting. He knew exactly how much to shoot, and I try to do that too."

Michael A. Hoffman
“The fact that Hoffman is also an editor makes him feel a certain kinship to one of his favorite classic horror directors, Terence Fisher…”

Along the rocky road to the film's completion, there were some bright spots. "We had a 140-foot crane donated to us, provided we could repair it," Hoffman said. But even that ended up awkwardly: "We managed to do that, but at one point it broke down and the cameraman was stuck in it for nine and a half hours! And he has a fear of heights. We're good friends now, but I think he still wants to kill me!"

Murphy's Law may have applied to the film, but the end result is a tight, suspenseful and surprisingly atmospheric mood piece that both recalls and satirizes eighties slasher films. "We tried to play around with horror stereotypes," said Hoffman. "For example, the opening scene in your average slasher movie was usually a young couple camping in the woods. You'd see a silhouette of them making love in the tent against the lamp light, and then they'd be horribly killed. Well, instead of the usual clichés, in our movie the campers in the opening scene are two girls who happen to be lesbians. They have the scene in the tent with the lamp light. And, by the way, their nipples are hard because it's so cold!"

ROT: Reunion Of Terror
“instead of the usual cliches, in our movie the campers in the opening scene are two girls who happen to be lesbians”

Hoffman also does something a lot of young filmmakers don't do: he takes the time to build up a mood before most of the killings start. "I tried to make it like an eighties movie in that respect," he noted. "Then we took all the clichés and moved them one step forward, and we wanted to throw the audience off, especially in the last ten minutes."

ROT: Reunion of Terror

His magnum opus now completed and in release through Shock-O-Rama Cinema, Hoffman was recently assistant editor on FORGET ME NOT, an indie feature starring Carly Schroeder, and is currently working on BEWARE, a made-for-TV movie that is being shot in both Spanish and English versions for Spanish television.

Hoffman likes having a regular income from his high-profile gigs, but his heart belongs to horror. "I'd rather make fifty low-budget movies than one huge-budgeted blockbuster," Hoffman said with a laugh. "I'd like some bigger budgets than I've had in the past, but I'm still a huge fan of those eighties slashers, and those are the kinds of movies I love doing."

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