Thanks to the Patron Saint of Independent Films, Joe Parascand, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Manny Serrano a NYC based horror film director. Manny along with his wife Lindsay created Mass Grave Pictures in 2011. Check it out here: www.massgravepictures.com Manny is also the cohost of the Mario Likes Movies Podcast which you can check out here: www.mariolikesmovies.com Manny sent me a few of his movies to review which I’ll do at the end of this interview, but first, let me introduce Manny Serrano.
Marie Gilbert: “Will hello and nice meeting you, Manny. I’m getting to meet a lot of talented people through Joe and I’m beginning to recognize a lot of names.”
Marie Gilbert: “Maybe he should. I’ve watched the films you sent me and they were very good, but before we talk about them, tell me about a little bit about you and how you got involved with cinematography and directing?”
Manny Serrano: “Yep, I do a little bit of everything. I guess I was always working towards doing films in one way or another. When I was young, I was really into art and music. Playing in a Goth-rock band, I pretty much spent a lot of time in high school because our high school had a Broadcasting Studio and Television Production Studio that wasn’t part of any program. They never did anything with it, but one of the teachers ended up teaching English class in that area and worked the studio into his curriculum. The school didn’t have that much of a problem with him doing this because of the large amount of money spent. I spent most of the four years in high school just sitting in that room and learning how to use all the cameras, the editing equipment and the soundboard; everything. I learned how to run the whole production studio in high school, just by chance.”
Marie Gilbert: “That is awesome.”
Manny Serrano: “Yeah and our band ended up writing more scripts because my friends and I had all these cool ideas for music videos for our songs. I even started writing up short stories and turning them into scripts. A few years later, I started making movies. It was just a progression; one thing after another. I wrote and directed about 10 short films between 2006 and 2011, mostly for short film and YouTube competitions.
Marie Gilbert: “Do you still have the band?”
Manny Serrano: “No, I stopped playing music around eight years ago, but one of my bandmates who I’ve been writing and playing music with on and off since we were fifteen, Ramon Inoa, knows all about music, so he’s my composer. He worked in a few bands here and there over the years. He has himself a nice non-music career now, so at least we still get to work together in that capacity for the films.”
Marie Gilbert: “I watched the films you’ve sent me, and they are very good, but the one called M for Mastectomy, was very hard for me to watch as a woman. Where did you get the idea for that film?”
Manny Serrano: “There are two sides to that story actually. There was the ABC’s of Death competition and film makers had to make their own short film entries using the letter M. The winning entry would be part of the final film. We were a little production company and hadn’t done anything really notable yet. I wanted to do something that really made an impact, so we started to come up with different words that began with the letter M. I wanted to do something that would be extremely shocking, something most people wouldn’t have the guts to touch.
My brain kept going back to the element of suicide, and that’s a very touchy subject. My wife and I kept going back and forth on it and one day when she came home from work, I said, “I have the word, Mastectomy.” She said, “Okay?” It was tough for her, and took some time for her to understand what I was trying to do. Once she was comfortable with this idea, we came up with a story of a woman and the aftermath of her surgery. My wife had a few family members and people close to her that went through breast cancer and she wanted to do it in a way that was shocking but not offensive. She said, “If we’re going to do this, we have to bring several elements of meaning to it and we can’t exploit”. I said, “Okay that’s fine.” I understood and added the needed dimensions instead of doing gore for the sake of gore and shock for the sake of shock.
We started going back and forth with this. What room would this woman be in? What would she look like? How would she be shot, undressed or dressed? Kathryn Lill is an actress that I worked on in another project that was unfortunately never completed. She is an incredible actress and I knew that she had the capacity for this. When I approached her, she was excited to do this. I told her I wanted to give her freedom to do this film and the character without using words, just her. We wanted simple so I came up with using a dark room, one light, one actress and the mirror. It was all about her and her internal struggle with her soul as well. She really did an amazing job with it.
It was a twelve hour day and the cameras were rolling for about six hours on her. She took the role to a whole different level as well with her preparations. She went to the hospital and visited the cancer ward speaking with women who had gone through this. She spoke to doctors and nurses. She researched the entire process that a woman in this situation would go through from the very beginning: how they found out, to what type of procedure they had, to how the doctors and nurses handled it. She really brought the whole thing to life. If it had been anyone else but Kathryn, it wouldn’t be as powerful as it was. She also brought the story to life using some of her own personal experiences from when she was young.
It was a big collaboration between all of us: my wife wanting to use the message, me trying to push the envelope, and Kate wanting to bring it to life. When we brought this to Cat Martin, our makeup artist, I told her we wanted the scars to look as realistic as possible. I was picturing this woman going all out and tearing skin from her chest and having nothing but the muscle cavity left, but through development, we realized that maybe that went too far and it would ruin the message of what these women really go through. This is true horror, a real life horror that women go through from the GYN exam to them telling you that you could have cancer and you could die. This is something that is constantly instilled in women from the moment they become adults and have to worry about their whole life. We wanted to bring that kind of pain and emotion to the screen and, I think we’ve done it. We got a lot of positive responses especially from cancer survivors that thank us for our bravery into bringing this to life; showing people what they’re dealing with.”
Trailer for M for Mastectomy:
M is for Mastectomy (ABCs of Death cut) from Mass Grave Pictures on Vimeo.
Marie Gilbert: “When you think back to the time before they were doing reconstructive surgery, there were few options. The actress that you have, by the way, was perfect for this film. You felt her horror. Like I said earlier, this film is very hard to watch, but I have to give you credit for making it. Did you show this film to any cancer societies? Did you get any feedback from doctors?”
Manny Serrano: “We personally haven’t but, we do have people who have connected with it very strongly and we have a friend who launched her own cancer survivor foundation to help patients.”
Marie Gilbert: “That is amazing.”
Manny Serrano: “It’s a very fine line to tread because a lot of the foundations, although they might find it empowering, it’s not something that’s publically acceptable. They’d rather focus on the survivor aspect of it than showing something like this and I’m perfectly fine with that. This is a true art piece and everybody takes something away from it. This woman could be anyone. There is no personality put on the actress. This is what most women feel when they get to that point. They are now defined by this. Once a woman goes through something like that, you can’t think of anything else. I think the Cancer Society would frown on using this publically. It’s an extreme film.”
Marie Gilbert: “It was done well. It was hard to watch, but I knew where you were going and I’ll do a review of the film at the end of the interview.”
Manny Serrano: “I have the short version on line and I’ll send it to you.
Marie Gilbert: “Good, I can share this along with the review of the film. You and your wife are co-creators of Mass Grave Pictures Company. What does your wife, Lindsey do and how do you two work together?”
Manny Serrano: “We do everything together and behind the scenes we kind of split up our duties. My wife Lindsay (a writer/director in her own right as well) is my constant A.D., Producer and head of SFX. She does a lot of the administrative work and handles the budget and the schedules in pre-production. She is my right hand on set. There were a couple of times when the two of us worked separately because she started doing makeup. That’s how she brought herself into movie making. So sometimes on set, she’ll have to work with the FX team. She could be in one room and I’m in another, and sometimes, things fall apart if the two of us aren’t together. So, she really is my right hand. I couldn’t do it without her there.
Marie Gilbert: “That is so great when a husband and wife can work together and not kill each other.”
Manny Serrano: “It’s caused more fights between us with our creative aspects; her going in one direction and me in another, but it also brings out the best in each other. Like with this film. If it was all me, it would have gone more extreme, but she really reeled me in.”
Marie Gilbert: “You and Lindsay counterbalance each other.”
Manny Serrano: “Yes, yes and she felt that if she would have directed it, the film would have been much tamer, because she has personal feelings about cancer. She didn’t know if she would have been able to push as hard as we did. It may not have had the impact that it did. Yes we do have good balance between each other.”
Marie Gilbert: “Because I know Joe Parascand, and like I said, he’s the patron saint of Independent Film, I know a lot of people and, you know Lee Hoffman from Steampunk Works.”
Manny Serrano: “Right!”
Marie Gilbert: “She’s my friend, too. She lives close to me. Because of Joe, I see films like Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead and interview people and now I see that you’re part of that. I think you directed a few episodes.”
Manny Serrano: “In 2009 we met Patrick Devaney and his crew who were working on Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead. We joined their crew a few months later, when they were in the middle of production for Episode 7. I directed a few segments, so technically I was a co-director. Pat Devaney directs all of it, but there were a couple of segments here and there that I shot separately on a team with Mike Scardillo, but my main capacity on the show right now is cameraman with Louie Cortes and Mark Boutros. Pat’s character left the show a few episodes ago and he’s going to be making a return soon. Pat wants to focus on his character and bringing it to life and not have to worry about the directing aspect as much, so on the next two episodes when his character returns, I’ll be directing the scenes that he is in.”
Marie Gilbert: “I remember Pat Devaney talking to me about his character returning when I interviewed him.”
Manny Serrano: “We’re going to be doing episode eleven, now and I think his character comes back at the end of this episode and then we go into episode twelve. So, when you see that he’s on camera, I’ll be directing those scenes; not entire episodes.”
Marie Gilbert: “I understand. You’re filling in for him. There was another film that I saw your name featured, Aemorraghe, right?”
Manny Serrano: “Yes, that’s Pat Devaney’s film.”
Marie Gilbert: “I loved it. It was amazing. What was your part? Was it director of photography?”
Manny Serrano: “Yes, director of photography and cameraman.”
Marie Gilbert: “It was a great film and I was saying, “Oh my God that is exactly how you would feel going to work every day. We’re like zombies going to work and not enjoying the job.”
Manny Serrano: “That’s what he wanted to bring to the short. That feeling of monotony and I’m glad that I was part of it.”
Marie Gilbert: “Except for M for Mastectomy, it seems that in some of your shorts, like Grub Vom Krampus and the Personal Injury Lawyer skit there is that touch of humor, a tongue in cheek touch to your horror films. Do you purposely do this?”
Manny Serrano: “On those two shorts, definitely but I don’t generally. The lawyer one was for a competition for a YouTube public action group that was trying to cure the legal system of frivolous lawsuits. We won that competition.”
Marie Gilbert: “You did? It sure was funny. I loved it. I watched all your films and I also liked A Waltz for A Night. It had a twist ending that I wasn’t expecting and the same with Guinea Pig. I didn’t expect that ending, either. But, what I want to talk about now is the three trailers you had made for Blood Slaughter Massacre that has now become a film. Tell me more about this.”
Manny Serrano: “A few years ago when we first got our cameras around 2006, we started a short film with Louis Cortes that never got done, but I’m the type that hates letting things go to waste so I took some of the footage that was dark, choppy, and had bad audio and I fixed it. We were just starting out and I created a trailer for a movie that didn’t even exist. We wanted to show people what we were doing, that we were doing stuff. A few years later, we said, “Let’s make a part two.” Then later, we made a part three. We ended up writing scripts for seven trailers; we only shot four.
We combined parts one, two and three of what I sent to you and entered it into a short film competition at the “Saturday Nightmares Convention.” The competition was being run by Michael Hein who had created the New York Horror Film Festival. We didn’t win, but we did get a great audience reaction to it. Afterwards, Michael Hein came up to us and said that he enjoyed it a lot and added, “It was really great, but I urge you to do a narrative and bring this thing to life because you guys really have a lot of talent.” This was a huge compliment coming from Michael. He’s the authority on horror films! This was in August of 2011 and by December, Louie and I hammered out a feature length script based on the stories of trailers one, two and three. We tried to get in as many of those shots into the film and went into production in February or March. We had all our friends who had helped us with the trailers come back as the teenagers of the movie. It was great and a lot of the people from the trailers are in the film. WE shot throughout 2012 and it’s coming out for release by Wild Eye in April 21, this year.”
Blood Slaughter Massacre Theatrical Trailer from Mass Grave Pictures on Vimeo.
Marie Gilbert: “This is so exciting. I am so excited to share this trailer with my readers. You have another film that you’re working on called The Shadow of the Imp and it sounded so interesting. Is it out yet?”
Manny Serrano: “That is our next feature, but it’s not out yet and we just started shooting this film about a month ago. Hopefully, we will be announcing that release next year. It will be a departure from what we’ve normally done, more on the side of psychological horror; less blood, more creepiness, along the lines of a Jacobs Ladder or Altered States. We have Thomas Ryan and Kathryn Lill in the film, along with horror genre veterans Erin Brown aka Misty Mundae and Deana Demko.”
Marie Gilbert: “Great, let me know and I’ll promote it. What are your goals for your production company? What can we expect in the future?”
Manny Serrano: “We want to make more horror movies. It’s our platform and, we love making movies with our friends.”
Marie Gilbert: “I did very much enjoy one of your shorts, Grub Vom Krampus, which won the 48-hour Film Race at the Macabre Faire Film Festival in January of 2014 and I wondered if you would ever make a comedy horror film because that short was too funny with the creature seeking revenge on the people who didn’t show up to his party.”
Manny Serrano: “We did do a film called The Attack of the Brain People, which I didn’t direct but my wife did with Louie Cortes and it’s kinda like if “Night of The Living Dead” were directed by Ed Wood. We released it as a web series originally and we wanted it to look like a 1950’s serial sci-fi creature feature. We did eight episodes and we put them out on DVD. We got a great response for this and Joe Parascand was in it for a brief moment and a lot of our friends did cameos in this series like Ryan Weber, Missy Heather and Deana Demko. This film was shot over three Saturdays in a row.
Comedy is not something that I feel I have an ability to write well, so we write our scripts and then coach the actors through and we leave it to them to bring in the comedy. In the Brain People, when you read the script, it’s very straight forward 1950’s sci-fi, but the difference with filmmaking then and now is that after World War Two, the Korean War, and the Vietnam war people didn’t want serious, they wanted something to take their mind off the grim reality of the world. They wanted movies that addressed the threat of nuclear weapons, aliens, the cold war and the total destruction of the world, without actually addressing it, you know? Some of the most classic films that were ever written come from that era.”
Manny Serrano: “Yes, we shot it in black and white. We had brains on strings flying through the sky. The film is about a couple (Bradley Creanzo & Bridgette Miller) who are out on a picnic and they hear a crash in the woods. The girl is attacked by some creature and the guy, running for help, gets kidnapped by these men dressed in black suits (Patrick Devaney, Mike Roche, Stephen Steinberg and Chris Corsi). The creatures are here for world domination and they have to be stopped by sundown. Typical 1950 sci-fi with a teenager who has to save the world but no one believes him about these creatures.”
Marie Gilbert: “I can’t wait to see this. Manny, I would love to thank you for this interview. It was a pleasure chatting with you.
Now for my review of three of Mass Grave Pictures’ films starting with:
M is for Mastectomy. Warning, not for the faint of heart or children
This short was created by Manny and Lindsay Serrano, directed by Manny Serrano, cinematography done by Manny Serrano and Louie Cortes, Special Effects done by Lindsay Serrano and Cat Martin, Music by Ramon Inoa, Grip Ralph Merced. The film is hard to watch, but Kathryn Lill does such an amazing job of displaying the range of emotional shock and horror at the results of the surgical procedure done to her. Although this is a horror film, its message is clear and certain to convince women to begin self-examinations for any unusual bumps and to schedule a yearly mammogram. Maybe we should have Congress watch this so that more money will be earmarked into fighting this disease. My review is **** stars. Kudos to all involved
Grub Vom Krampus Funny and for all ages
This short was created for the 48 Hour Film Race and featured at the Macabre Fair Film Festival. It was the winner and I absolutely loved it. Director-Editor- Camera done by Manny Serrano, Writer-Makeup-Best Boy done by Lindsay Serrano, Music by Ramon Inoa and Manny Serrano, Krampus played by Patrick Devaney.
The rules for this short film listed five items and the film had to be completed in forty-eight hours. Items were a shovel, a red balloon, a trophy and the words, “Powerpuff Girls,” had to be spoken out loud. I loved the short which shows a horned creature shoveling his pathway for his big Christmas party. His attempt to blow up red balloons is foiled by his sharp claws. When the creature checks his Facebook page to see who is attending, he is shocked to learn that no one, not even the Powerpuff girls are coming. You don’t want to piss off a monster or be on his naughty list. My review is a ****star rating.
A Waltz for A Night Not for children
This film was written by Lindsay and Manny Serrano, Directed by Lindsay Serrano, Editor and DP by Manny Serrano, lights done by Marcus Henderson, actress Yumii R, actor Omar Hernandez.
A beautiful song about a waltz is heard in the background as a young girl prepares for a date with a very handsome young man. She’s heard a few rumors about the young man, but warnings are dispelled with his bringing flowers and behaving like Prince Charming during dinner and a movie, but the song hints that things will soon change. What appears at first as consensual lovemaking is in reality, rape. How does this young lady handle this horror? Revenge is best served with a good tune and a sharp object. I really loved how we were lulled into thinking this was a routine girl meets boy story. It isn’t. This short film also rated **** stars. It was done well.
Check out Mass Grave Pictures and Manny and Lindsay Serrano. I think we will be seeing more of them and their work in the upcoming year.