It’s always cool to see how different media interact across platforms. Here, ML reviewer Colleen Wanglund interviews filmmaker Eric Shapiro about transforming Greg F. Gifune’s short story “Hoax”, which appears in his short story collection Down to Sleep into a short film. As a filmmaker, Shapiro’s first feature was Rule of Three, which won awards for Best Acting Performance at Shriekfest and Best Actor at Fantasia International Film Festival in 2010. His second feature, Living Things, was released by Cinema Libre Studio in 2014. Shapiro’s current project is a 15-minute short film adaptation of Greg F. Gifune’s “Hoax”, starring Rodney Eastman, with DarkFuse as executive producer, and releasing the film via digital distribution.
In addition to making films, Shapiro is also an author, screenwriter, and ghostwriter. He has had numerous stories published in anthologies, and his books include Love & Zombies, The Devoted, Stories for the End of the World, and Short of a Picnic. Shapiro’s 2005 novella It’s Only Temporary was included on the Preliminary Nominee Ballot for the Bram Stoker Award in Long Fiction, and appeared in Nightmare Magazine’s list of the Top 100 Horror Books.
Interview with Eric Shapiro
ML: Tell me a little bit about Greg F. Gifune’s short story “Hoax” and why you wanted to adapt it into a short film.
ES: All I can say about the story is that it’s about a guy in a bar who may or may not be trying to pick up the bartender – and may or may not pose a threat to her. It’s about that and a whole lot more…
Greg and I had been talking for a while about the possibility of me adapting his fiction into film. Since we’re in an environment where indie features are struggling financially, I said I’m of the mindset that it really doesn’t pay to pour yourself, and your cash, into creating 80 or 90 minutes when you can create 15 for a specific audience. Greg’s worked for ages with Shane Staley at DarkFuse, and he got Shane to come aboard and provide us with a digital distribution platform – which I would have been a fool to not jump all over. Great author, great company; I last worked with them on my novella Love & Zombies. They’re organized; they have fans. They’re not caught up in horror scene politics. It’s the first time I’ve done a film where the audience and platform are waiting, which is fun. The alternative is hoping you can find an audience. In this case, it’s hoping what I bring will impress the fans.
ML: What is it about Greg’s work that you enjoy so much?
ES: A lot of things, but mostly the attitudes of the characters. I get the sense from Greg’s writing that he’s lived a lot, and continues to. I pick up on a sensitivity in the prose. These aren’t sunny or prepackaged personalities; they’re difficult and ambiguous, and very human. It’s heavy material, but his poetic prose gives it a lift. He’s a major artist. Plus he has a gift for coming up with creative story lines you wouldn’t have expected. And his work is in a very classic vein. My own prose is more outwardly gonzo and manic; Greg’s more with the people.
ML: What are the differences and/or similarities between writing books/short stories and writing screenplays?
ES: On a technical level, it’s the fact that fiction is a finished thing and a screenplay is a blueprint for something else. However, my fiction is often spare and screenplay-like, and my screenplays are often poetic and prose-like, so I tend to mesh and blend what each medium has to offer. On a professional or political level, I think prose is more personal and screenplays are more social. The editors and publishers I’ve encountered in the fiction world hold your work as sacred in a sense. It’s a more private and intimate medium than films. More introverted. With screenwriting, I’m often working with producers or co-writers who are coming at it from the standpoint of having fun and/or making a hit. Creating an exciting experience for ourselves and the audience. It’s more extroverted and party-like.
ML: Which do you enjoy more, being an author or being a filmmaker?
ES: I’m gonna punt and say screenwriter, but it happens to be the truth. My passions reach their maximum when I’m screenwriting. Producing and directing are incredibly demanding jobs, particularly when funds are limited. You’re up against time. Technology’s erratic. You’re managing a bunch of personalities and expectations. I’m generally pretty quiet when I direct, which comes from caring so much. If I started to outwardly express how much I care about the end result, I’d be screaming and giving grand speeches all day. But that’s no way to behave, so I internalize it and pipe it all into the work, which is exhausting. So directing’s more like a sport for me. Filmmaking’s fun in the writing phase, though – and post-production, which is a lot like writing. More grounded and pleasure-producing.
ML: Where does your creative inspiration come from?
ES: Since I became a dad four years ago, my mind is generally focused on my kids: where they are, are they OK, are they fed, happy, what’s next on the schedule. I don’t float up into the ether as much, so creativity’s become more about ass-plus-seat. I work constantly as a ghostwriter and editor, so I have daily deadlines and assignments. It’s during the act of creation itself when I’m in the ether again. I just have to do it; the muse doesn’t come to me; I go to her. It’s more intense and exciting that way, as the time is precious. I’m on the clock. Which makes it all sound very dry and practical, but the truth is when I clock in I let loose. My metabolism’s fast; I tend to be emotional; so I just jump. I think everyone’s got that ocean inside; it’s just a question of how willing we are to go in.
ML: Besides Gifune, who are some of your favorite authors and genres?
ES: It’s reached the point where there are just so many. One of my favorite aspects of life is changing my perceptual aperture; opening and adjusting for new input and experiences. So I’ll read any genre. I read a book called Assholes: A Theory, by Aaron James recently. That was excellent; it was a complex philosophical examination of what makes someone an asshole, and how to deal with it. I’m reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates right now; he did an extraordinary job mapping how his racial consciousness, of himself and his culture, has evolved throughout his lifetime. You feel like you’re in there growing with him. My favorite author as of now is Eric Bogosian, who’s more known for plays like “subUrbia” and “Talk Radio”, but happens to be an extraordinary novelist. He has every aspect of fine prose at his fingertips, mixing high and low, speed and patience, eloquence and grit. He’s pretty amazing.
ML: Who are your favorite filmmakers and why?
ES: Oliver Stone’s at the top because of what he’s accomplished in his career, the depth and breadth of his body of work and the amount of topics he’s not only spanned, but actually penetrated and examined. He’s consistently operated within the establishment yet offered a product that they usually would run away from. Whether or not you agree with or accept his points-of-view, it’s amazing to consider how consistently he’s infiltrated the mainstream with radical content. He could have used his talent to make crime films or suspense thrillers, but he’s hunting for bigger game. Kubrick’s up there, too, for the same reasons. Scorsese’s probably the biggest natural talent alive. And from a business standpoint, I like what Coppola’s been up to in the past decade: He self-finances his films and does whatever he wants. He’s taken the studio trip already, so he’s not motivated by conquering the marketplace. He makes his money from wine and puts it into true art. Once you see how the system can muck up your content, that starts to seem like the sanest path to travel…
ML: Thanks so much for your time, Eric.
Hoax will be filming in the next few months, so keep your eye out for it in 2016.