Writer/Director Joe Begos makes a huge leap in his feature debut in "Almost Human." Luckily, he's got good friends and even better instincts at hand to help him pull off his novel story of an alien abduction with hatchets in its future. The young director took a moment while on the road to talk to us about his foray into horror, breaking new ground and getting a movie done with a little help from his friends.
BILLY TATUM: What was going through your mind when you came up with “Almost Human?”
JOE BEGOS: it just came from the fact that I’ve been trying to get something going for a while with producers out here and it wasn’t working out, so me and my producing partner just decided to do something ourselves. We took a look at our bank accounts and saw what we could afford. We knew that we didn’t want to shoot in L.A, because everything here looks so f’n famous. It’s starting to get really bland. We knew if we went back to New England to shoot it. We went back to Rhode Island where we grew up and based the story around there. I’d always had a fascination with alien abductions and that’s where the genesis of that came from.
BILLY TATUM: I think your film will also appear to non-horror fans. How do you think it differs from what’s in theaters?
JOE BEGOS: I feel like a lot of the movies, especially in the horror genre, are like one movie will hit it big and everybody will try to copy it. It’s really a lot of the same stuff and people have no idea why it works or why people are liking it. They’re just taking a general framework or idea and just replicating it. Then, you see movies like that for five years straight and it’s just annoying. An alien abduction/slasher movie seems like a no-brainer. It’s a surprise that there hasn’t been quite a few of them. I think sort of coming from that area and taking an idea that’s sort of interesting and literally putting everything on screen into a film that me, as a film fan, would want to watch. It completely excites me and that was my biggest pull. What would make me smile throughout this entire ride. If I can do that, other people would enjoy it as much as I would.
BILLY TATUM: How did you keep your sanity in acting, directing and any other job on this film?
JOE BEGOS: It just came naturally. It’s how I’ve done shorts in the past and bringing it to a feature. It’s almost the same thing. It’s actually weird to me thinking of people doing those other things. It’s a lot easier for me. You’re sitting there with the camera on your shoulder. You can direct the gaffer. You can direct the actors. You can direct everyone around you and you just have your handle on all the jobs and things just move a lot quicker. I feel that if we had more people handling everything, I would not have been able to complete everything in 18 days. It streamlined the process so much.
BILLY TATUM: What was the greatest challenge in pulling this off in just 18 days?
JOE BEGOS: There were a few. The practical effects were a pain the butt. Things didn’t really work out how we wanted, so we’d be sitting there, already in a time crunch, and had to figure out how to adapt with what we had because what comes to set wasn’t close to anything we talked about or had planned. Not only that, but it’s 10 degrees out and everyone is freezing their asses off. And just putting the money together. We put the money together to get the movie in the can and we cut it in our apartment. We used pieces of the movie. Then, we used an edit of the movie to garner additional financing. We ended up having around 15 people who all threw in little chunks throughout the post process. So, we had a movie in the can and actually piecing it together and getting it finalized. Then, taking this movie that has no stars and nothing about it that sticks out and launching it at a festival. The entire process was definitely difficult, but worth it.
BILLY TATUM: You mentioned things not going the way you expected. What turned out better than you expected in the movie?
JOE BEGOS: Probably the one effect in the end. We were on set and I thought we weren’t going to be able to use it. I thought it would look awful. We were just so disappointed. Then, we went in there and did the sound effects and that actually gets one of the best reactions. The fact that it worked blows my mind. It was literally a mannequin with no head or facial features that wouldn’t break apart.
BILLY TATUM: With the budget, you cast purely unknowns. How much of a hand did you have in that?
JOE BEGOS: I wrote the script with Josh and Graham in mind, since we live in L.A together. I worked with Graham in a musical, so I based it around him. I also wrote it for Josh because I knew he’d be there doing everything with me and he has such a screen presence. He took the role of a lumberjack/alien pretty good (LAUGHS). Everybody else we cast locally out of Rhode Island. That was a nightmare experience for me, because I was like “What kind of actors are going to show up?” Luckily, we got some pretty good people. I think the fact that we got some pretty good non-SAG actors, people who were actors, but not pursuing it professionally, you get that feeling that they are people who would inhabit that town. They actually do live in that town that we shot in, so it adds a sense of realism.
BILLY TATUM: Josh has intensive technical experience. Was that a big help on-set?
JOE BEGOS: Yes. When we were on-set, he would do all of the producing stuff that I couldn’t because I was shooting and all that. Just with all of the shorts that we had cut, he had done all of the sound design. Because of that, we were able to move into post out here. He actually ran post on a bunch of independent horror movies like “Hatchet 2” and “Hatchet 3” and stuff like that. So, he knew the process. He was in charge of the entire post process, literally. Besides our DI Artist, our composer, and our mixer, it was us doing everything. That’s where he shines. For a one man show, he definitely knocked it out of the park.
BILLY TATUM: “Almost Human” has a bit of a surprise ending. Without giving too much away, was it the original plan for it to end the way it did?
JOE BEGOS: Actually, no. Two weeks beforehand, I was watching a bunch of movies and kind of getting into the spirit of the film. A lot of my favorite movies don’t have happy endings. I thought if I ever do a sequel, what would be the coolest way to do it.
BILLY TATUM: What kind of response have you gotten from the movie so far?
JOE BEGOS: It seems to be pretty good. The fact that we got into such a festival and IFC picked it up is beyond anything we imagined and definitely speaks volumes. I’m glad you liked the movie, even though you’re a non-horror fan because going into it, I thought not a lot of people would like it except for a very specific audience. That audience really likes it, but I’m finding other people are enjoying certain aspects of it and enjoying the movie itself. That’s all you can really ask for, really. It’s awesome.
BILLY TATUM: Your film has a real aspect of found footage without the grainy exposition. Do you think that’s the appeal to those who aren’t usually fans of the genre?
JOE BEGOS: I liked to go the Joel Silver role. I wrote a telekentic revenge movie which is like “Death Wish” meets “Scanners.” That’s my dream second movie. It’s a very brutal, action/sci-fi, paranoid conspiracy thriller with a telekinetic edge. That’s what I’d really like to do. I also wrote an anthology horror movie. Depending on what happens with this or my next movie tanks (LAUGHS), then I’ll come back and do that.
BILLY TATUM: What advice would you give yourself if you could go back before making the movie?
JOE BEGOS: I don’t know. Even stuff that went wrong, I feel, was a lesson learned. I’m happy with everything that happened. I guess, if I could go back, I’d just tell myself to relax and not be so nervous about everything. It’s scary, you know. You’re racking up your credit cards and you’re not sure if you’re going to get finished or if anyone’s going to buy it. I always had that. That was always helping push me to the finish line. I’d probably tell myself to not stress out so much and gain 30 pounds during the process. (LAUGHS)
"Almost Human" opens theatrically and on VOD today. Check back tomorrow to hear my review of this enjoyable horror hybrid.