J.R. Bookwalter is one of the many talented filmmakers ever to bring Horror and Sci-fi films straight to video store shelves around the world. He is one of the pioneers behind keeping the low budget B-movie world alive today. Although you may or may not enjoy his films you have to respect the man, without his films the world of B-Movie horror might of died a long time ago.
Many people don’t know that he was discovered by Evil Dead and Spiderman Director Sam Raimi, who helped fund JR’s first film “The Dead Next Door”. After completing the film JR started to produce, write, direct and edit other films for Horror Director/Producer David DeCoteau. Soon after JR started his own Production/Distribution company Tempe Entertainment. Working with Charlie Band and Fullmoon Entertainment, JR and Tempe Entertainment have become one of the bigger and better Indie and B-movie Video and DVD Distributors.
I am glad to have the opportunity to speak with him about his success in the Indie film business and his films, as well as rumors and what next for him and Tempe Entertainment.
Horror Bob: Hello JR, are you ready for your interview?
JR Bookwalter: sure am!
Horror Bob: Ok cool, first off thank you very much for taking the time to do this for me and my site.
JR Bookwalter: No problem, hopefully I can clear the air on some subjects! (Laughs)
Horror Bob: How did you get started in the film business and why have you decided to mainly make Horror and Sci-Fi films?
JR Bookwalter: Along with a junior high school friend named David Barton (who would later direct DEAD & ROTTING for me), I picked up my mother’s Super-8mm camera and made a short film animating STAR WARS action figures. (laughs) It was 1978 and we were bored. At that time my interests were more sci-fi and less horror, though I did like them both. So I started at age 11 and did a ton of short Super-8mm films over the years which led to my first “professional” gig.
Horror Bob: I guess everyone starts out that way with the action figure movies
JR Bookwalter: Hahaha well they’re cheap actors, and quite talented. That Darth Vader action figure has a real attitude though.
Horror Bob: (Laughs) And you don’t have to pay any SAG fees.
JR Bookwalter: Yes exactly…inanimate actors you have total control over!
Horror Bob: As someone who has a big fan base mainly in the video market, do you find it easier to release your films straight to video, or would you much prefer given the chance that they go into theaters first?
JR Bookwalter: Sadly I missed the theatrical boat by several years, certainly only because of my age. I started THE DEAD NEXT DOOR when I was 18 going on 19, so I don’t think I could have started any earlier than that! So I never had the choice of what market I sold to, I went with what was available to me. Keep in mind also that the theatrical market for independent movies in the late ’80s was waning so video was really the place to be anyway. That said, I’d love a theatrical release…I grew up watching most movies that way so it’s still “the dream.”
Horror Bob: Do you still think Video is the place to be now.
JR Bookwalter: Thank God that DVD came along 6 years ago, because home video has really flat lined in the last few years. It’s gotten tough because there are so many outlets competing for everyone’s attention, pay-per-view, Internet, video games. DVD has been a great salvation for independents because we can load our discs with extras and compete to some degree.
Horror Bob: How did you end up working at/with Fullmoon and Charlie Band?
JR Bookwalter: After completing BLOODLETTING at the beginning of 1997, I moved to Los Angeles with a few of the Tempe regulars to pursue “greener pastures.” Basically, anything bigger than the $10,000 movies we were already making at the time. I had been doing some post-production work on the side for some filmmakers in Wisconsin and because it was a 16mm movie, a director friend of mine took notice and decided to hire me to edit SHRIEKER, his latest for Full Moon. The irony being that this director had already seen all the shot-on-video stuff I’d made the same way, but he was a film snob so I guess that’s what made the difference. But SHRIEKER was edited and mixed mostly the same way that we’d already been doing.
Horror Bob: So basically from there is where Fullmoon started giving you more and more work.
JR Bookwalter: Yes I wound up being their post-production supervisor for the next couple of years which paid grotesquely well but it was grueling work and not what I wanted to do. Toward the end of that era I was managing some 20 people, posting 3 movies a month ? editing, sound mixing, trailers, making-of reels…it was a lot of work. So I left in September, 1999 only to wind up getting hired to direct WITCHOUSE 2: BLOOD COVEN for them a couple of months later.
We also never really stopped doing the post work…I moved everything back to my place in North Hollywood and there was less work, but the hours were better and I could pursue other things. I’m one of those people who’s not really happy unless I’m doing my own thing. (laughs)
Horror Bob: So that’s mainly why you left Fullmoon. Because I know from looking at the Tempe site that some people think you left Fullmoon on bad terms, But it’s seems like that is not the case. (Laughs)
JR Bookwalter: It went through phases…the post work was fun because it elevated things to a different level and it was financially good because I was able to secure a lot of equipment which I could continue to use on my own movies. But once Charlie Band sucks you in, it’s hard to get out of his grasp because he makes things seem so tempting. Very often they’re nightmarish! Once I started producing films for them, I thought it was my chance to correct what I saw as mistakes other filmmakers had been making in the generation of movies before me…all the ones that were being made badly and left for us to “fix it in post” which we would do, every month without failing. Of course, during this time the budgets continued to drop as Full Moon got squeezed by the market…so eventually even producing the movies for them became dissatisfying, and even worse I started to get accused of “selling out”!! Which to me was funny because if that were my intention I would have held out for a better situation, right? (laughs)
Horror Bob: (Laughs) Yeah the whole sell out thing just boggles my mind sometimes. I don’t see anything wrong with trying to make money off of a film that you’ve worked so hard on.
JR Bookwalter: Yeah but it’s not always just about the money…for me I just wanted to make movies, and if someone is offering me that opportunity, why not take it? I’d prefer to do my own movies, but that’s historically been a rocky ride so I have no problem with loaning my “skills” to another company if there’s some creative control involved, at least. And for the most part, with Full Moon there was.
Horror Bob: Are there any rumors floating around the web or in the film world about you that you would like to clear up.
JR Bookwalter: (laughs) Yes I suppose certain people think ill of me, or I have been accused of having many “enemies.” My response to that is simple…I don’t subscribe to THE GODFATHER philosophy of “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Horror Bob: (Laughs)
JR Bookwalter: If someone betrays my trust or makes an effort to screw me over, I cut them off. Period. It wasn’t always that way, and I used to get accused of being too “soft” and letting people take advantage of me. Actually, when I started with DEAD NEXT DOOR I was a bit of a little dictator…then got soft over time…and have now come full-circle back to “Do it my way or the highway.” (laughs)
So most of the “rumors” that get started about me come from that approach to dealing with people, I guess. I never thought I had much to offer people in particular, but yet people always seem to want something from me and if I don’t oblige, I make enemies.
The other part of that stems from people’s insecurities, or jealousy or whatever. I guess if someone thinks I have something I don’t deserve, they have the right to trash me accordingly?
Horror Bob: It seems that there are more and more Indie Horror Companies releasing films out in big video chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Do you find it hard as one of the bigger companies to compete with some of these smaller companies, and does it effect your company in the way the video chains pick the films they want to sell.
JR Bookwalter: It’s funny because when I started with Full Moon and watched them get smaller over 5+ years, I started to feel like the industry was lowering its standards to my level. (laughs) Or maybe I was growing, I’m not sure. But the fact is, as the video market has tightened its belt, the standards of what’s acceptable have fallen lower and lower. For instance, SKINNED ALIVE played on pay-per-view in Feb. & March of this year, which I would never have expected. I don’t think it’s our best work and it’s a shoddy movie at best, but yet it’s in Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and on cable. There’s a lot of movies out there that I’ve seen far worse than my own stuff and I’m just shocked that they got the exposure they did. People in the distribution end of things always say “Nothing matters except a great box and trailer” and I guess now it’s true.
Horror Bob: Which film of yours do you wish you could of have made better?
JR Bookwalter: Oh, I wish they all could have been better! (laughs) I’m my own worst critic…part of that comes from having to make certain sacrifices because of low budgets and short schedules. But I’m also a perfectionist at heart, and very rarely do I think I got it just right. It’s hard for me to watch my own movies because all I see are the mistakes. People misjudge me because I get down on my own stuff, but it’s just an internal thing…the desire to do better. I’m very happy that the movies find an audience! That said, I’ll be shot for saying I want to remake THE DEAD NEXT DOOR.
Horror Bob: (laughs) Wow, you read my mind that was my next question, “Would you like to remake any of your films”.
JR Bookwalter: (laughs) I’m not a big fan of remakes, though there are a few that I’ve liked. In the last few months, with no firm deal in place for my DEAD NEXT DOOR sequel, I started to think that was a better route to take.
Horror Bob: How did you get the name Tempe Entertainment?
JR Bookwalter: The name Tempe started as The Suburban Tempe Company and was a joke from the opening of RAISING ARIZONA, one of my favorite films. They said something about buying a “starter home in suburban Tempe” which was a trailer in the middle of nowhere. I thought that was funny. But Debbie Rochon, in writing a DVD insert introduction for me recently, hit on the real reason…the symbol of the cactus and what that represents.
Which is basically, survival. (Laughs)
Horror Bob: Which do you like working with better Film or Digital Video?
JR Bookwalter: I think they both have pros and cons…film is something I would only feel comfortable doing again with a reasonable budget. The reason being is that I direct my movies with an editor’s sensibility…and that means lots of coverage and keep things moving. You can’t do that by shooting on a lean amount of footage and have it look decent. I was pretty proud of how WITCHOUSE 2 turned out, because it was mostly 35mm and I got a lot more coverage on the same amount of film stock allotted for most Full Moon movies.
So in that sense, DV is a better option because you can shoot a lot of tape for pennies…though if the shooting schedule is still short, it might not matter. So really it’s not the format, it’s the balance of time and money, as always.
Horror Bob: What’s are you planning on doing next, are there any new projects you are working on that fans can look forward too.
JR Bookwalter: I’ve been trying to break away from Full Moon (now Shadow Entertainment) for the last year or so, which I have successfully done in the last few months. Tempe scored a national distribution deal for our DVDs which will put us out there with everybody else starting in May.
I’ve been dabbling in DVD for the last year or so, trying to see what worked and what didn’t, and now I feel like we can go full-force into this, with 2 new releases a month starting in July.
There will be 3 different labels: Tempe DVD for the “classic” flicks we’ve made and ones that we will be acquiring, loaded with extras.
Splatter Rampage for the no-budget gore flicks and extreme stuff few others would dare to touch,
and Bad Movie Police, which will take some of the worst movies ever made and put them in a hilarious light, complete with wraparound segments that follow the exploits of two dominatrix cops out to bust everyone involved in making these movies.
We’ll be shooting some new Tempe movies soon also, now that we have the distribution firmly in place. It’s very nice to be back in business on my own!
Last but not least, the last film we made for Shadow is coming to video soon from Fox Home Video. It’s called STINGERS (title will change) and sadly I was not so happy with how it came out so I won’t be taking the director’s credit, although a lot of it I do like.
Horror Bob: Wow so it seems you got your plate full
JR Bookwalter: Yes it’s a lot of work to do but I really enjoy it so I’m happy to do so!
I’d like to once again thank Mr. Bookwalter for taking the time of talking with me and being patient though some of my technical difficulties with my computer. He was a great guy to talk to and is very down to earth. I think as a Indie filmmaker he is one of those guys who will be remembered in time as a pioneer in B-movie/Indie Horror, Sci-fi and Fantasy. Please click on the links throughout this page to visit the Tempe Entertainment Website and buy some of his films to support the Indie Horror Scene.