The decision to co-direct it was based on two things: my stress levels and my instinct that China White Serpentine (2003) was going to be a pretty cool movie.
At the time, I was producing very low budget, rapidly-shot horror, exploitation, and adult comedy films, helmed by a variety of directors. The films were commissioned by a collective of overseas production companies in the UK, France, and Germany. Most often, I was working on five feature films at once to fill an ambitious slate, producing all of them, editing most of them, and contributing various other tasks as dictated by each project. At the thickest point of this insanity, I worked about a year and a half without taking a single day off. Toward the end of this stretch of 12-to-15-hour work days, seven days a week, I was ready to throw in the towel.
Still, I was very grateful for a couple of things. First, while nobody was becoming wealthy, the work was paying the overhead just fine. Secondly, this avalanche of feature film production was sharpening some valuable skills. I was becoming better at thinking on my feet, achieving goals under great stress, and juggling many responsibilities, schedules, and personalities at once. I was being commissioned for my organizational skills, my ability to stretch a dollar, and my experience in delivering professional work on ridiculously tight schedules. I was not, however, being paid to produce good films. Rapidly, the job requirement of quantity over quality became more stressful than the grueling work schedule.
In 2002, as part of my slate for said overseas producers, we developed a brutal, grim horror feature that could be shot quickly and cheaply. It was called The Suicide Room and it was to be the debut film for the newcomer director attached. We got the green light to make it, but almost immediately the project started to crumble. When it was clear The Suicide Room was not going to come together, Jeremy Wallace and I developed a "Plan B" project to take its place. This new film was originally conceived as a brain-bending mix of David Cronenberg style sci-fi / horror and David Lynch style experimental weirdness. The project evolved and transformed - but this was our jumping-off point.
I cranked out a first draft of the screenplay - which was titled Tales Of Bloody Serpents. The title was kinda terrible, but I fell in love with the story and characters immediately. I desired deeply that this movie be good, instead of just quick 'n' cheap - and whatever extra effort I had to put toward the project to make that happen, I was prepared to exert. I knew I wanted to direct the film, but I didn't think my schedule would permit such a thing. Plus, I assumed if I directed it, my focus would be shaken routinely by the other films in the pipeline - and I didn't want to demolish a good script by shooting it without the proper wherewithal.
Robin Garrels had written and starred in a film for me called Insaniac (2002), directed by John Specht, and produced for the same UK, French, and German production companies for whom I worked at the time. I thought Insaniac was extremely well executed considering the no-budget, no-time circumstances under which Robin and John were working. Furthermore, Robin is a huge David Lynch fan, so she was in the right brain space for Tales Of Bloody Serpents. I contacted Robin, and asked her if she would like to both write her own draft of Tales Of Bloody Serpents, and direct the movie.
Robin, who was very active writing, directing, and acting for the stage at the time, had the same concerns about directing Tales Of Bloody Serpents: not enough room in her schedule, and an overwhelming workload. On one hand, I was disappointed. On the other hand, it was a signal that I should indeed direct the movie myself, which is really what I wanted to do in the first place.
Around this time, Jason Christ (who would become my co-cinematographer on the movie) suggested a new (and greatly superior) title: China White Serpentine. After officially changing the title to this, I continued trying to get Robin involved. After discussing a multitude of options, Robin and I ended up co-writing and co-directing the movie. This was the best possible chance for the project's success.
Working with a co-director is not something I'd normally embrace, but in this case, I'm very glad it happened. Making the movie with Robin was an absolute pleasure, and I believe the film is much better than it would have been if either of us had tried to tackle it solo.
Due to the other projects on the slate, we could not start shooting China White Serpentine until after the first of August, 2002... and we absolutely had to be wrapped by the end of that month, because the subsequent films needed to get rolling.
China White Serpentine was shot lightning-fast over the course of 13 days in August. DJ Vivona, who had acted in my previous films Savage Harvest (1995) and Ice From the Sun (1999), took one of the leading roles. Eli DeGeer, who I'd also worked with before, took on another lead part (in addition to becoming an associate producer on the project). The remaining lead roles were filled by Amanda Booth, Jason Allen Wolfe, and Rachel Lewis - all of whom I'd met only once before the first day of shooting. Everyone did outstanding work - and we managed to make a film we all were very proud of, despite the typically debilitating time and budget constraints.
Upon release, I think China White Serpentine made a decent splash overseas... but in the U.S. there was hardly a ripple, despite some great critical acclaim. The movie was essentially ignored, and it faded away as quickly as it had been made. However, in the years that followed, it began to be discovered by its audience (very, very slowly), and finally there was some attention being paid to this little movie we all worked so hard, and so rapidly, to create.
Our efforts to produce quality over quantity paid off, as evidenced by the current spotlight the film is receiving. Last month, China White Serpentine celebrated its ten-year anniversary by screening as a special showcase selection of the PollyGrind Film Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This month, the movie is being re-released in the form of a signed and numbered Limited Edition VHS collector's item. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think a CD of the excellent music from the film comes with the movie. You can purchase right here.
I've been asked about this movie more in the past six months than I have in the last ten years. I'm still very proud of China White Serpentine, so I'm thankful it is receiving the positive attention it deserves. Coiled for many years, the snake has decided to strike.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze