Exclusive Interview: Kody Zimmermann, writer/director of 'The Familiar'


Phobia Friday: Hemophobia or Hemaphobia or Hematophobia - Fear of blood.

The Familiar is a short film written and directed by movie 'grunt,' Kody Zimmermann.  In it, a young man leaps at the chance to be a vampire’s "familiar" – basically, his assistant – thinking that it will put him on the fast-track to immortality.  Kody was inspired to write The Familiar during a particularly gruesome stint as a personal assistant.  Kody’s 4am runs were for Cocoa Puffs, not blood bags, but the sentiment remains the same.

FEARnet: This short was inspired by a horrible assistant job you once had.  Was it so bad you hoped to become a vampire?  How did one inspire the other?

Zimmermann: Most good horror movies use metaphor.  Like, Dawn of the Dead was a metaphor for consumerism.  In Buffy, there weren’t real demons in high school, but it felt that way.  I felt like in The Familiar, the vampire was a metaphor for the boss from hell.  I was always interested in the Renfield character in Dracula, and no one ever really did his story – that I know of. 

What kind of a person would devote himself to this sinister, Satanic agent and still call himself a human being?  I thought that was the connection – you are crazy for being part of this world, but you are not exactly the main character, either.  I wanted to bridge those two things, and I think it fit well while I was writing it: serving this greater being while being caught up in this insanity.  A lot of us go into these jobs where we ask ourselves, “why are we doing this?”

What is it about the character Renfield that draws you to him?

That "selling out."  What is his motivation for being in Dracula’s employ?  What would make a person want to serve a monster?  That was always a hook for me.

Why did you choose the short-form for this film, as opposed to feature-length?

Simple: funding!  This came out of me and my producer’s pockets.  If we had the resources  to do a feature, we would have.  The circumstances dictated that we could do a 22 minute short.  Believe me, if we could, it would have been a 90 minute feature.

Do you mind if I ask what the budget was?

We spent about $15,000 of our own money out-of-pocket.  When you start adding up all the services and people we got [for free] it runs pretty high into the six-figure range.  My producer and I have both been working in the industry for over 10 years each, so we were able to get great help from crew members, production house, post and sound facilities, effects... everything came willingly and graciously.  It was a completely humbling experience.

The pitfalls of working with a small budget are pretty obvious, but are there any benefits?

Absolutely.  You have to be on your toes.  I had to know my script so well.  The cheapest form of filmmaking is on paper.  That was ingrained in me in film school, so I made sure that every shot was prepped and storyboarded, floor plans were there, constant communication with everyone around you so that they are all prepped and on the same page.  When you have that kind of preparation and you have to make a change at the last second, I can look three steps ahead to see what I can sacrifice, what fat I need to trim to make sure I am still getting the story I want.

How long was your shoot schedule?

Five days.

And what was the total time from conception to the completion of post?

It was two years ago that my partner and I decided we were going to do this.  Post was finished around four months ago.  It was a very long process, especially in the edit.  We wanted to make sure the story was there, that it was the story that needed to be told without being rushed along.

All of your projects are horror-related in some way.  What draws you to the genre?

You can tell the stories without hitting people over the head  [with a message].  It all comes down to when you were a kid, living in that fantasy world.  I love superheroes, comic books, horror films, all that kind of stuff.  I think for myself, I like all that because it takes me back to that innocent time.  I used to watch this great show on TV called Creature Features and there was just this feeling of sitting there, on a Saturday afternoon, watching these morality tales – vampires, werewolves, witches – that just evokes my childhood to me.  Oh, and Creepshow.  I loved Creepshow.  That was one of my favorite movies growing up – I watched it every weekend.  There is just something about the lighting and the style.  It’s kind of this "bubblegum horror" that harkens back to my youth.

When I was a kid, I was flipping through one of those magazines – it must have been Fangoria – and I saw a picture of Sam Raimi.  He was wearing a white lab coat with some safety goggles, and was just covered in blood.  He had this grin on his face, and I remember thinking to myself, "That looks like a great job!"  So I am drawn to the genre because of how it affected me in my childhood, and I like that you can say things in horror movies without being too pretentious, like Romero’s films.  If you want to watch it as a zombie film, you can watch it as a zombie film.  But if you want to read into it a little more, you can do that too.

What are you working on now?

I showed the rough cut of The Familiar to a couple of guys who have ins with money men, and they just went crackers for it.  They told me they really wanted to do a horror movie with us, so right now I am working on a low-budget slasher movie right now, called The Hollow Season.  I convinced them to include a supernatural element as well, because I like that a bit more than the slasher genre.  So this one is kind of The Amityville Horror meets Candyman meets Carrie.

Will it be feature-length?

Yes.  I have the first draft written, so now I am going in and ripping out the guts of the script.  We are really excited to sink our teeth into it!

You can see The Familiar at the LA Screamfest, check out  for times.