TIFF Q&A: Matt Watts and Vivieno Caldinelli on Roddy Piper-starring Short “PORTAL TO HELL!!!”Movies/TV,News Amy Seidman
Getting a film into the Toronto International Film Festival is an achievement most filmmakers can only dream of. Getting a film into TIFF called PORTAL TO HELL!!! which stars the late Roddy Piper battling Cthluhu himself, reads like a total pipe dream. It ain’t so though.
Writer/co-star Matt Watts and director Vivieno Caldinelli are the boy wonders behind this off-the-wall project, which will stand as Piper’s final performance. Though clearly difficult to talk about, Matt and Viv fondly reminisced about their time with Roddy on set, their plans for the future, and the complexes and sleepless nights that envelop you when you’re running an Indiegogo campaign. FANGORIA sat down with the gentlemen on Fan Expo weekend to talk about PORTAL TO HELL!!!, which plays the 2015 TIFF “Short Cuts” program.
FANGORIA: What inspired you to write such a gonzo story?
WATTS: The original idea was OVERBOARD, if directed by John Carpenter. That bounced around in my brain for a while. I’m not sure why I’m only talking about this now for the first time, but I was really inspired by SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I really admire guys like Edgar Wright. So I sat on it for A LONG time.
Vivieno and I are of the VHS generation, we love horror and we both have the same childhood background of obsessions with FANGORIA and GOREZONE. So one day, Vivieno and I were on the phone talking about stuff we wanted to do and I said, “I have this old idea and I think you’d really like it,” and we bounced it around. Viv suggested doing it as a short and so I wrote a draft and sent to him. We exchanged notes back and forth until we had a solid draft! It made more sense to do it as a short when it came to funding, ’cause what a crazy idea it would be to try and sell as a feature.
FANGORIA: In PORTAL TO HELL!!!, two shitty cultist tenants open the portal to hell in the basement of a building that is managed by Jack (the late Roddy Piper), the reclusive super. Do you think this is a cautionary tale to be a less demanding and shitty tenant or the heroic story of a man least likely to be suspected of saving those who put his life through a daily hell?
WATTS: [laughs] I think it’s the latter! We are very pro-landlord! It’s funny ‘cause [Jack] has been there for 15 years but he doesn’t own the building and that is something the people there don’t understand. The owners are a real piece of shit! Jacks just working there! See, when we do the feature, you will meet the owner. That’s when you meet the REAL monster!
FANGORIA: Your Indiegogo campaign video started with both you and Viveno asking internet visitors if they really love movies. What are your favorite movies and did you draw on any of them as inspiration for PORTAL TO HELL!!!
CALDINELLI: [John] Carpenter, first and foremost, but there are so many little things in there, like so many little homages to horror, comedy and drama. Not to blow anything (SPOILER ALERT) but the face pull-off was one.
FANGORIA: Totally ! It reminded me of SLIME CITY MASSACRE, POLTERGEIST and FACE/OFF strictly based on the sound.
CALDINELLI: It was actually influenced by THE FLY 2!
WATTS: Viv had the idea: “So your face will melt and then you will run around and run around,” and I said “What?!” So he sent me a video clip from THE FLY 2 and I said “Yup, that looks pretty good!”
FANGORIA: Did you get any flack for the scenes involving the little girl?
CALDINELLI: Yes and No. I think we got a lot of nervous flack in the beginning but everyone who has seen it just laughs and says “I can’t believe you did that.” It was more on paper that people questioned it, but interestingly it was never the funders like Harold Greenberg. They were like “Yeah! Do it!” and that’s not even that bad because originally, the cultists were going to be naked!
WATTS: We had this idea to have full-on, full frontal nudity, like dicks swinging! And Harold Greenberg was like “You really gonna do that?” And we said “Yeah,” and he said “Okay!” Then it just became an issue of finding the actors who were willing to do it, and that really limited our pool. In the end, I think we made the right call.
CALDINELLI: The little girl scene is a real homage to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, by the way.
FANGORIA: Speaking of casting, we should talk about the casting of the legendary Rowdy Roddy Piper who tragically passed away recently. Can you tell me how he got involved in the project?
CALDINELLI: Wow! Well, it was really more a case of “Who would be the best person?” over “Who can we get?” So Matt and I were shooting out names back and forth and I think it was Matt that said Piper. As soon as Piper’s name came up, that was it.
Now, we didn’t know if we could get him but we talked to mutual friends who knew him. He came to Toronto a lot; for instance, he used to go to the comedy bar a lot. So we reached out to his management and kept writing the script for him, and then we talked to him and he was into it. It became a bit of a nightmare trying to figure out when we could shoot it. Then he came and he did it and he was amazing. He really was the heart and soul of this film!
FANGORIA: What are your fondest memories of Rowdy Roddy?
CALDINELLI: I think it’s when we first met him. We weren’t even sure he was gonna make it in ’cause there was a huge snowstorm. [Producer] Lori Fischburg picked him up while we were shooting at the fraternity, and we were like pacing around nervously saying, “Oh my God, Roddy Piper’s coming! Oh my God, Roddy Piper’s coming!” We kept getting play-by-play updates from Lori, like, “I got him,” and “He’s in the car.” Then, we would pace and say, “Oh my God, Roddy Piper is coming.” We had already met him but it was more because now he was coming to make our short!
WATTS: When we were shooting the ladder scene, he really loved me playing scared. He said, [in a Piper impression] “We should do a show where you’re like my nephew and you are afraid of everything. It would be like THE ODD COUPLE, and you just keep coming up to me being afraid of everything.” It became a running joke for a couple of days. I had this idea where Roddy would be asleep, I’d come up to him and say “Uncle Rod, Uncle Rod!’ and he’d say, “Jesus Christ, you’re 40!”
FANGORIA: How did Voyag3r get on board to score the film?
WATTS: Nobody asked us about that! So it starts when Viv calls me up and says, “I just put a bunch of stuff on my iPod, I’ve been walking around and I found this band, so go listen to “Summoning the Forgotten One” by Voyag3r.” I listened to it and I just thought, “That’s it!!!” Then Viv just fuckin’ emailed them and asked if they would score it, and they said yeah!
CALDINELLI: They are a great bunch of dudes from Detroit and they rock. They couldn’t have been a better fit.
FANGORIA: How did Steve Kostanski of Astron-6 get involved?
WATTS: Viv showed me MANBORG and I was like, “Oh my God, what is this movie?” When we went to his shop… let’s just say the 12 year-old me would have wet himself!
CALDINELLI: I met Steve through [Executive Producer] Todd Brown years ago for another film I was doing that needed FX work and we just became friends. As soon as we got this project going, he was on board. We really wanted to do everything as practically as possible when it comes to FX. That was the real goal.
FANGORIA: What would be different if this is extended into a feature?
CALDINELLI: The feature would be a different story but of the same world. The whole point of the short was to do the feature.
WATTS: Yeah. It will still take place in an apartment building with similar characters. The feature is more of a western sci-fi, a mission movie. In a nutshell, it’s the “rags to riches” story of Jeannie, a well-to-do woman who now is in this building after a divorce and she pesters the superintendent and then this small group of misfits come together to try and stop the world from ending. As far as Roddy’s character is concerned, we don’t want to give away what we will do. But whatever we do, there will be an homage to Roddy himself in there for sure.
FANGORIA: Will you do an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the feature as well?
CALDINELLI: No! Never again! Loved it and it was great but never again because of the torture of thinking, “Nobody likes the project” if you don’t see any movement for a bit. The insecurities it brings…
WATTS: Oh God, you are checking the app every 5 minutes.
CALDINELLI: You wake up in the middle of the night and checking it is the first thing you do. If 5 or 6 hours go by and nobody is donating, you think “Okay. This is over.” It’s not for the weak.
FANGORIA: What can audiences expect from PORTAL TO HELL!!!?
CALDINELLI: It’s not what you would expect. I think people are expecting something a little schlocky but it’s not. It’s a short film that has some effects in it, but it’s a story about a man redeeming himself and finding his place in the world.
FANGORIA: You guys have read FANGORIA since you were kids, so what would you like FANGORIA readers to know about you and the film?
WATTS: It’s a passion-driven film, and whomever we cast in the lead role for the feature, they will be worthy. We are going to have to find a legend who is the right person or we won’t do it. We really want to do [Piper] proud. It’s very hard, and a very bittersweet kind of thing, ’cause how do you fill those shoes? It’s gonna be hard.
For us, it’s about the story because we are in a strange position because it’s got a silly title and it’s Roddy Piper vs Cthulhu, and there are tentacles, but at the same time, we really wanted to tell a story that would still hold without all the FX and everything. We want to make a future classic, like SHAUN OF THE DEAD or ATTACK THE BLOCK because they leave you with feeling something at the end instead of just feeling like you were on a ride. It’s a ride and more.