These Week at PCA: Ansel Faraj

Los Angeles based film maker Ansel Faraj has made more films by the age of twenty five then many established directors make in a life time, solidly placing him on the modern cult film landscape.

I first heard of Ansel Faraj during an interview with a actor Jerry Lacy.  Having just finished portraying the title character in Faraj’s film Doctor Mabuse, Lacy called Faraj “a young genius” and said “the kid is going to be very very big.”  Well in the time since that interview it seems that Lacy may not be far off of his mark.  Still in his early twenties writer/director Ansel Faraj has not only made more films than some directors make in a lifetime, but he has created a solid audience and become one of the most exciting independent cult film directors currently on the movie making landscape.

Making his first film at age six, Faraj started seriously pursuing filmmaking as a teenager when he released his first short, The Loneliness Trilogy, in 2008.  As his knowledge of film making and storytelling grew, so did the scope of his productions, and slowly Faraj has been able to pull in cult film and television actors into his productions.  It would just be a matter of time before Faraj and I would cross paths because the two of us have a similar love for the 1960’s serial Dark Shadows.  With the influence of the gothic soap opera strongly evident in his work, in 2013 Faraj assembled three of the program’s key performers; Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, for his retooling of the long dormant pulp franchise Doctor Mabuse.  Although it had only a modest release, Doctor Mabuse created a buzz amongst both horror and Dark Shadows fans, receiving national attention, and put Faraj solidly on the map.  This month Faraj is releasing the sequel to the film, Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar, where he’ll be bringing many of the actors from the first film back, and bringing in another Dark Shadows alumnist, Christopher Pennock.  Furthermore, Faraj and Pennock have partnered up on a gothic on-line series of short films titled Theatre Fantastique, featuring stories by Edgar Allen Poe and other gotic literature icons.

One of the busiest young directors today, Faraj has a mind that is always working and moving, allowing him to create an impressive body of work via Hollinsworth Productions.  I was pleased to sit down and talk to Ansel about his career as a filmmaker, and to discuss his current and upcoming projects.

In 2013 Ansel Faraj caught the attention of the horror industry when he breathed new life into the dormant pulp character Doctor Mabuse and reassembled three of “Dark Shadows” key performers; Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, in “Dr. Mabuse.”

Sam Tweedle:  One thing you and I have in common is that we are both Dark Shadows fans, but we are from the generation that didn’t watch it “after school” when we were kids.  Dark Shadows has obviously played an important role in your films.  How did you get exposed to it originally?

Ansel  Faraj: My Mom was an original Dark Shadows fan.  When it originally aired, she was watching it.  In the early 90’s, when I came along, she had the first book that Katheryn Leigh Scott put out, My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows, and as a little kid you get into your parents stuff and I found the book and I was looking at these images of the show.  It just clicked with me.  I was always kind of into the horror genre.  Phantom of the Opera got me [interested in] entertainment because my parents took me to see the play [when I was very young].  I was fascinated with how they did it, and wondered if could I do the same thing.  So I saw that, and then Dark Shadows came along.  My mother started renting the [Dark Shadows] video tapes and I was hooked at a young age.  I think House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows have had a bigger impact on me then the TV show.  So it has always been there in my pool of influences.

Sam:  So when did you start making films?

Ansel:  Well when I was six years old I decided I wanted to make movies.  I said I wanted to be a director.  So I’ve been making stuff since then, first on VHS with action figures and legos, and then coercing my school friends to come and act.

Sam:  How many movies have you made to date?

Ansel:  Out of the work that I would show publicly, and not be embarrassed of, twenty three or twenty four films, starting back in 2006.

Sam:  Now you’ve been making gaining a lot of publicity with your Doctor Mabuse series.  Doctor Mabuse is sort of an obscure character.  Tell me a bit about the character and his history.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Doctor Mabuse in Fritz Lang’s original 1922 Mabuse film “Doctor Mabuse: The Gambler”: “As a teenager I saw the second film, The Testament of Doctor Mabuse, and I was very intrigued by this guy who could do whatever he set his mind to.  Add the hypnotism and the master of disguise and you got me right there.  That’s fun to me.”

Ansel:  Doctor Mabuse was a character created by Norbert Jacques back in the early 1920’s.  He was basically a gambler, hypnotist and a master of disguise.  In Germany, there was something called the raffke, who were newly rich war profiteers, and he was that type of a character.  He was using all of his gifts to finance his own world in the jungles of South America which was to be a utopian society.  Fritz Lang did a film about him, and then a trilogy, where he reconfigured the character to his own vision, and to reflect what was going on at the time {in Germany] in each film.  For instance, in   the second film Doctor Mabuse is very much a Hitler type figure, and in the third film he is used as a metaphor for the cold war and the Soviet spies.  As a teenager I saw the second film, The Testament of Doctor Mabuse, and I was very intrigued by this guy who could do whatever he set his mind to.  Add the hypnotism and the master of disguise and you got me right there.  That’s fun to me.  I thought that I would love to do a character like that.  So he was in the back of my head and one day the idea for the film came to me.  I took the character and took him apart.  I took what I liked about him, and then reshaped and remolded my own interpretation of Mabuse and wanted to tell a story about him.

Sam:   What was it about Jerry Lacy which made you cast him as Doctor Mabuse, and how did you get him involved in the first film?

Famous for his portrayal of the villainous Reverend Trask on “Dark Shadows,” actor Jerry Lacy portrays Ansel Faraj’s Doctor Mabuse:”When I was writing the actual script, I kept hearing his Reverend Trask voice in my head saying the lines.  I thought “Wow.  Jerry Lacy would be really cool.”  I was seventeen or eighteen at the time, so I thought that there was no way it could happen.”

Ansel:  When I was writing the actual script, I kept hearing his Reverend Trask voice in my head saying the lines.  I thought “Wow.  Jerry Lacy would be really cool.”  I was seventeen or eighteen at the time, so I thought that there was no way it could happen.  It would be a pipe dream.  [After a failed attempt to film it earlier], another opportunity came to make it and I felt confident enough as a filmmaker to pursue bigger names.  Why not?  All they could say was no.  So I went after Jerry.  I actually contacted him through his facebook page, but I didn’t hear from him.  Then, a month later, I got an e-mail from him saying “I rarely check my facebook page but I saw this message and if you’re still making this thing I’m interested.  Send me the script.”  So I was thrilled and he gave me his number and I called him and we talked, and that was terrifying, and I sent him the script and he was taken aback because, he told me, that he thought it would be ten or fifteen pages and it was over a hundred pages.  But he liked the script, and he liked my vision for the film so he postponed his planned vacation to make the movie, and I am so glad that he did that.

Sam:  But you went a step further and got Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker as well!  You really tapped into Dark Shadows fandom in a big way.

Ansel:  I was working at getting them at the same time without any of the parties knowing I was trying to get them all together.  I actually got Kathryn first, before I even got Jerry.  She didn’t know I was going after Jerry until very shortly before the first read through.  I had gotten Kathryn’s contact and sent her the script.  She helped me to get Lara Parker on board.  I had no way to contact her and Kathryn did convince her to do it, so I have to thank her for that.

Sam:  Working with three of the standout stars of Dark Shadows must have been a rush for you.

Ansel Faraj with “Dark Shadows” stars Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker, who both appeared in his 2013 film “Doctor Mabuse.”: “I actually got Kathryn first, before I even got Jerry… She helped me to get Lara Parker on board. “

Ansel:  Yeah.  It was pretty cool.  A bit harrowing at first.  Not from the Dark Shadows aspect, but from their other body of work.  I said to them “I’m a fan of Dark Shadows, but I want to work with you as actors because I respect your work as actors.”  Knowing Jerry had worked with Woody Allen in Play it Again Sam, and here I am directing Jerry, was a little surreal moment for me.  But working with them was interesting, because you had a lot of time to discuss the characters and collaborate on their previous lives and back stories.  That was a nice process.  But I was still pretty nervous directing.  I was twenty and making this movie, and we were working with very little money entirely on a blue screen, which was a very new thing for them.  The way we shot the film is that there is nothing at all.  It’s just a very big blue screen.  There were very little props, no scenery and so you have to imagine everything, which they had never done before.  So everybody was nervous on their own end, but you find a groove and the work gets done.

Sam:  What was the reception like for Dcoctor Mabuse?  I assume it was positive enough for a sequel.

Ansel Faraj’s second Mabuse film, “Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar” will be released May 2014 and reunites Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker with former “Dark Shadows” cast mate Christopher Pennock: “It’s a very different film from the first one.  The first film was very much about “Who is Doctor Mabuse?”  The second one is about how he affects everyone else.”

Ansel:  Well the second film had been planned in conjunction to the first film.  I had told a couple of the actors so that they would come back.  I said “If you say yes to this, you’ll be saying yes to another film.”  But the premier was really exciting.  I had never experienced anything like that.  We premiered in San Diego on Coronado Island in a newly restored movie palace.  It was really thrilling when the car comes along and there is a line around the block of people to come and see your movie.  It was the best film school graduation experience that I could get.  It was really great.  Nobody knew what to expect from the film.  They only knew that it was this movie with Jerry, Kathryn and Lara and when it was over they were pretty thrilled.  It was just a great overall.  It played over two weekends in Los Angeles, and it was pretty fantastic.

Sam:  What can you tell me about Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar?

Ansel:  It’s a very different film from the first one.  The first film was very much about “Who is Doctor Mabuse?”  The second one is about how he affects everyone else.  It’s much more expansive and Robert Altman-esque fantasy/thriller.  There are multiple characters and storylines that are all converging.  It’s a much more intricately plotted story.  We have Chris Pennock playing the new villain.  It was a very stressful situation, but a very successful one.  In the first one there was no expectation and nobody knew what they got themselves into, but for this one the movie had played and everyone showed up ready to attack the material in the best way possible. It was a much smoother set and a very exhilarating experience.  Very exciting.  Very exhausting, but I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever made.  Very rewarding.

Sam:  Is there any plans for a third Mabuse film?

Ansel:  Well, I won’t say no, but I wouldn’t rule anything out at this time.

In February 2014 Ansel Faraj and Christopher Pennock premiered “The Madness of Roderick Usher,” the first episode of an on-line series of short films under the banner “Theatre Fantastique”: “We are doing two Edgar Allen Poe tales, and two originals, and then the fifth one is an adaptation of another genre classic.  We just finished filming the second episode, A Descent into A Malestrom, and next month we are filming the next two episodes.”

Sam:  Let’s talk about your anthology web-series Theatre Fantastique!  You’ve mentioned Thriller and The Twilight Zone as inspirations.  You are doing this with, of course another Dark Shadows alumnist, who you mentioned is in Doctor Mabuse: Etiopomar, Christopher Pennock.  Did you connect with Christopher after the success of Doctor Mabuse?

Ansel:  Actually, I offered him a part in the first film but he had to turn it down because of scheduling, but he told me to keep him in mind and I said “of course.”  So when the script had been finalized and I sent it to him he said he’d be in it.  So we were sort of talking before the first film was made.  But as we were doing Doctor. Mabuse: Etiopomar I said “Hey Chris.  I’d really like to do an Edgar Allen Poe movie and I’d like to do House of Usher.”  Chris said “Yeah!  Let’s do that!”  We were talking about doing it as a feature, but it didn’t work out.  I got busy doing the special features on the Doctor Mabuse DVD and my science fiction film,  The Rising Light,  was coming out in December.  Our schedules were not aligned.  So I said to Chris “Let’s do this as a short” and we did The Madness of Roderick Usher.  Then I pitched “Let’s do more of these.  This is pretty fun” and it evolved into Theater Fantastique.  We are doing vie short films which will be debuting on-line over the year.  We are doing two Edgar Allen Poe tales, and two originals, and then the fifth one is an adaptation of another genre classic.  We just finished filming the second episode, A Descent into a Malestrom, and next month we are filming the next two episodes.

Sam:  Now you’re in your early twenties and you have a body of work of over twenty films already.  This is obviously going to keep expanding.  You’ve already made more movies than some people do in a lifetime.  What’s your dream project?  Who are some of the people you would like to work with?

Ansel:  There are so many films that I would love to work, none of which I will mention.  I’d love to make a Batman movie.  I have a story in my mind that I’d love to do.  I don’t know about who I’d love to work with.  There are so many great actors and writers and I can’t even fathom it.  Really, with me, it’s who would be great to work with on a project.  That’s a more complicated question.

Sam:  It’s very inspirational to hear how you are just taking this thing and running with it.  Doing what you love to do.  I wish there were more stories of creative people doing what you are doing.

Ansel:  Well, if you get the opportunity grab it and don’t let go.  I’ve been training my whole life for the opportunity that I was given with Doctor Mabuse and getting to work with Jerry, Kathryn and Lara and being able to create a platform for myself.  As a young filmmaker you very rarely get noticed.  To make something and know you’re going to have an audience for it, and then build an audience, it becomes a great opportunity for an independent film maker.  I’m not letting go of my opportunity and letting it build into as big as a platform that I can.

Just like Jerry Lacy, I predict that Ansel Faraj is going to very very big.  Remember his name, and keep an eye out for his films at film festivals and horror conventions.  For more information on Ansel’s projects visit the Hollinsworth Productions web-site at http://www.hollinsworthproductions.com/ .

 

J

Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>