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Interview: Filmmaker Paul Tarnopol talks ‘Jersey Shore Massacre’

Paul Tarnopol
Paul Tarnopol
Courtesy of Paul Tarnopol, used with permission

Writer/director Paul Tarnopol recently spoke to the Chico Movie Examiner about his feature film debut, “Jersey Shore Massacre.” The film releases to limited theaters on Aug. 22 and DVD on Aug. 25.

This horror comedy doesn’t have the cast of “Jersey Shore” being chased by some crazed serial killer, but the film does spoof those kinds of characters. Six ladies and five annoying, fist-pumping guys decide to take a vacation to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. What they think is going to be a weekend of fun turns into something deadly, as members of the group are taken out one by one in vicious fashion.

Tarnopol talks about how the film never had intentions to use the original “Jersey Shore” cast; how the film can be for people who loved the show or people who truly despised it; and why he prefers to use practical effects over CGI. Check out the full interview below.

David Wangberg: When I first heard about “Jersey Shore Massacre,” I thought it was the entire cast of “Jersey Shore” getting together for a horror film. Were there intentions to make it that way originally?

Paul Tarnopol: No. We started filming while the show was still on TV. And we knew there was no way to get them to work this into their schedule a frenzy shoot, so we didn’t even bother trying to reach out to them that way. And, quite frankly, I think that, if that was the case, we never would have gotten it off the ground.

DW: Did you ever watch the show when it was on the air, or did you just base it on what you saw in the media?

PT: I only watched it once I saw how popular the ratings were. When I heard it was about 10 million viewers who watched one of their season premieres, I looked into it, and I started watching the show to see what it was all about. Until that point, I was not a fan of the show.

DW: I’ve only seen maybe 10 minutes of one episode. It’s not my kind of thing; I’m not usually a reality TV show fan anyway. And I wanted to clarify that a lot of people may think this is for the fans of “Jersey Shore,” but this is actually for anyone who’s never seen it or has seen it. Would you say that?

PT: Well not just that. To tell you the truth, I was amazed at the ratings. I just could not get over how many people watched it. What even got me a little more surprised was how many people hated them. I swear to God, I went online, and I saw the viciousness, and I said, “Wow, holy moly.”

I was 20-some-odd years old once in my life, too, and I did stupid things also, but I just couldn’t understand why they were so hated. So I figured it’d be kind of funny to take these kinds of characters and put them in a classic slasher scenario. It wasn’t just that. At the time, too, “The Sopranos” had just finished; “Jerseylicious” was on; and there was “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

There were just a lot of shows that seemed to be very popular on New Jersey, and I thought, “Well, let’s take the hairdressers; the fist pumpers; and the mobsters, and let’s put them in this scenario.”

DW: I’m based in California, and people who are not from California automatically think that it’s all “Baywatch” or “The O.C.” or all just beach living. And I think the same can be said for people who haven’t been to New Jersey. A lot of them might think it’s all “Jersey Shore” kind of people. How much of that demographic is actually true?

PT: To tell you the truth, New Jersey gets a bad rap. Most of the people in New Jersey are not like that at all, and they get offended by that reputation. I grew up in New York, and the fact of the matter is that whether you’re in Long Island; Staten Island; Westchester; or Rockland County, you have that element everywhere in the area.

And it wasn’t just “Jersey Shore.” When I was growing up in the 70s, we called them greasers. They were just tough kids who were more concerned about their muscles than their brains. It’s not a usual thing.

DW: When you were casting for the film, did you specifically look for people who were, I guess, guidos and guidettes, or did you for anyone who could play the role perfectly?

PT: We looked for a certain type. We thought that since it was a non-fact film, we had to be really, really careful in getting the right actors and making it look like who they were supposed to be. We did want to make direct parodies on the actual Jersey Shore kids. I really felt that if we developed our own characters for the film, the film wouldn’t have a lot longer life once MTV stops airing reruns of “Jersey Shore.” We didn’t do a direct parody on their show.

DW: The only credits I saw for you were this film, and you were an executive producer on “Girls Gone Dead.”

PT: That was how I got into this whole business, actually. My background’s in music business, and a friend of mine got me into independent films and we decided to do a low budget horror comedy called “Girls Gone Dead.” I brought in some of my friends from “The Howard Stern Show” and Jerry Lawler from WWE to make it kind of eclectic. It’s become pretty popular. But, again, it’s a low budget horror comedy, but we spent the entire time on set watching the dos and don’ts of filmmaking.

DW: What did you take from working on that film to help you prepare and make this film?

PT: From the ground up, just the preparation in making a film… I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a set; it’s grueling. It’s not an easy thing to do – how to deal with the actors, how to deal with your crew, and trying to get what you want on camera. I think the director is the least technical job on the set, and thank God I’m not technical at all. But I just knew, from a marketing standpoint, I wanted a certain product. The product was going to be a light-hearted horror comedy, and I just knew, in my mind at least, how the actors should act.

DW: One of the things I noticed is that a lot of the dialogue is really funny, and in horror films – from my perspective, anyway – dialogue is secondary to the blood and the violence. When you were writing the script for this, was the dialogue the number one thing you had to think about before the blood and the violence?

PT: Yeah. The truth of the matter is, to me, I didn’t want to make a normal horror film; I don’t think I could do it, actually. And I just know this type of character, and I put these characters together in my head and wrote what I thought was pretty funny. And then I brought in Cat Bernier, our special effects girl, and we went over some ideas I had for kills and she made it happen.

DW: What I liked was that the majority of the special effects were practical – the slashing and all that. What was your decision to go with practical effects rather than CGI?

PT: Really simple. I mean, I know a lot of people are really OK with CGI. When I see CGI in a film, I’m out. It takes me right out of the story. I’d rather spend a little more money and a little more time having practical effects.

DW: Are you not a fan of all the big CGI blockbusters that have been coming out recently, like all the summer films?

PT: Like “Sharknado” and everything?

DW: “Sharknado” or even “Transformers” or something like that.

PT: Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of that, because the CGI now is so great that things just seem unreal – I don’t know what it is. But then you see low budget CGI like “Sharknado” and everything, it just takes me out of the picture; I can’t follow it.

DW: Well, to me, “Sharknado” was meant to be low budget, and so it…

PT: Oh, yeah, and I totally appreciate that. I think that if it went high budget, it would ruin it.

DW: Indeed. Now, you’ve had two back-to-back films that take reality shows and give them a horror spoof. What’s another reality show to which you’d like to give a horror spoof?

PT: Well, the next project we’re going to do – I’m working with Sal and Richard from “The Howard Stern Show.” It’s not a horror movie, really; it’s more of a sci-fi comedy. It’ll take place in the South with a kind of “Swamp People,” “Duck Dynasty” thing to it.

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