Interview

Interview

Exclusive Interview: Stevan Mena On The 'Malevolence' Trilogy

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For myself personally, I've been a huge fan of filmmaker Stevan Mena ever since I first caught a theatrical showing of his debut feature 'Malevolence' back in 2004. You have to keep in mind what was going on in horror at the time. The two ficks I'd seen prior to 'Malevolence' were 'Aliens Vs Predator' and 'The Exorcist: The Beginning,' so I had pretty much given up on the genre at that point. But thankfully, Mena's brutal and relentless "slasher" perfectly captured the essence of the movies I grew up loving; so much so that I later had to reconfirm it was a new movie and not something from the 80's only at that time finally getting a release. But 'Malevolence' was always intended to be the middle part of a more epic trilogy. 'Bereavement' came out in 2010 and told the prequel story of how Martin Bristol became the killer we see in 'Malevolence.' And now, Mena is prepping the third and final chapter in his 'Malevolence' trilogy. FEARnet got to chat with him about his intentions for the new movie, how it fits in to his original concept of the trilogy and how he's delving into the world of crowd-funding to help cross the finish line. His thoughts on this approach are refreshingly candid.
 

Writer/Director Stevan Mena on the set of Bereavement

 


FEARnet: I’ve always had a personal interest in the 'Malevolence' films because the original was one of the first films we championed over on Icons Of Fright. And I was always fascinated back then over how you had this epic novel version in 3 parts with 'Malevolence' being the middle story. You went back and got to do 'Bereavement,' the prequel story and now you’re prepping for the third and final chapter titled 'Malevolence 3'. Now that you’ve made 2 of the films and gear up for the 3rd, how much has changed in the story from that original novel?

Stevan Mena: I think what I’ve changed just a little bit is I put a bit of hope into the last film, because I think at the end of the day, we know the real world is an evil and horrible place, so I don’t really need to emphasize that point as much as I did in the novel and also in the pre-stories. I take the subject matter very seriously and I want to present it honestly but at the same time it’s a movie and it needs to have a certain level of entertainment value, so I’ve adjusted it a little bit in the sense that there’s some humor & lighthearted moments to break the tension in 'Malevolence 3' that weren’t in the other two films. It’s going to be a far more entertaining film.

That helps make for a more satisfying conclusion to the overall story.

Well, it’s that but the ending was a super downer of an ending, and now the conclusion to the story is somewhat a happy ending. And it leaves it open for potentially more films. The original ending was finite. There was definitely no chance for another film, but now I’ve figured out a way where there could be. That’s your hint! (Laughs)

The thing I love about each of the films is they feel like “hybrid” films. And what I mean by that is that the first 'Malevolence' is a heist film that becomes a slasher. 'Bereavement' is a hardcore drama that becomes a slasher film. Are you continuing with that formula for the third one? What genre combination is it?

'Malevolence 3' is an action film. It’s a suspenseful action film. It’s all about Martin being on the loose and the hunt to find him before it’s too late; of course we know it’s already too late. It’s really an action film where the moving pieces come together very quickly. There’s not a lot of build up the way there was in the other 2 films. We basically hit the ground running with this film and don’t let up. It’s 90 minutes of non-stop action and suspense and mayhem. There’s very few slow moments in this film and I think people will find that to be very different. 'Bereavement' was more of a character study, but by this film we know everything we need to know about all these characters so now it’s all about having fun with it.
 

Martin Bristol, the killer in Malevolence

Does it pick up immediately after the last frame of 'Malevolence'? Is it a direct sequel?

Yes, as a matter a fact, the very first scene takes place right at the moment that Julian (Brandon Johnson) is shot.

As a fan, when people ask me about these films in terms of how to watch them, while they could watch them chronologically starting with 'Bereavement' and then moving onto 'Malevolence,' I personally always recommend people watch them in the order they came out. First 'Malevolence,' then 'Bereavement,' because it’s fun not knowing the full story in 'Malevolence' and then being able to go back to the prequel story. As the filmmaker, do you have a preference? Would you prefer people watch them in the order they came out or chronologically?

It’s interesting, because 'Malevolence' was made on such a shoe-string budget and also none of us really knew what we were doing. A lot of that shows up in the film. If you watch 'Bereavement' which I think is a much more polished film than 'Malevolence' and then go back and watch 'Malevolence' after, it feels like you’re going backwards even though chronologically you’re going forward, mainly because of the quality of the film. So there’s a lot of reasons thematically I think you should watch 'Malevolence' first but the most important thing is that it’s not as scary once you learn everything about the killer which you learn in 'Bereavement.' It’s fun to see 'Malevolence' as a mystery, and then watch 'Bereavement' to see how the mystery unfolded. I think it’s a much more fun way to watch it that way and that’s why I shot them in that way.

Because of the subject matter in 'Bereavement' and because of how dark the film gets, I feel like you went through a lot of trouble in the post-production phase. For example, I remember the original theatrical one sheet poster had little Martin holding the knife and you had to change that. Can you talk a bit about the challenges of bringing 'Bereavement' across the finish line and how that’ll affect your approach to 'Malevolence 3'?

Well, the funny thing is, as dark as it was; it was the subject matter on 'Bereavement' that kicked us in the balls more than anything else. It’s gory, but it’s not more gory than any other film out there and certainly the new 'Evil Dead' seems like it’s going to be a lot more violent and gory than 'Bereavement' ever was. It’s wasn’t about the gore, it’s about the subject matter. It’s the reason that poster was so troublesome. It’s the idea of putting a child in danger and exposing them to the things that Martin is exposed to – I mean, it is what it is, that’s the story and you can’t change that. But a lot of people look at that in a completely different way and take offense to it. So it made it really difficult to get the film out there. There are certain countries we couldn’t even sell it to. I can’t remember which one, but I think it’ll never be released in the Philippines? Then again, I hear we’re headlining the Horror Channel in the UK with 'Bereavement,' so you never know how people are going to react to it and if over time they become desensitized to it, but at the end of the day, the subject matter was definitely a problem. 'Malevolence 3' – one thing that’s going to be different is that it’s going to be a much more accessible film. People that like 'Halloween' and the 'Friday The 13th' films will be able to just jump right in because it’ll be right up their alley.
 

On Set of Bereavement, the prequel to Malevolence

Have you ever thought about releasing your original 3 part novel of the 'Malevolence' trilogy after you finish up all the movies?

That’s a good question and I have a two part answer. The first part is no. (Laughs) However the second part is partially yes. I am going to release the novel version of 'Bereavement,' of just that story, which is the bulk of the original novel. I’d say its 70 percent of the novel. I already have it done, it would just need to be edited. But if I release this, the point would be to see if there’s any market for it. Would anyone want to read this story? And if there is, I’d consider releasing the other two.

I remember reading the original script for 'Bereavement' and there was a lot of material that didn’t make it into the final film. One of the challenges of adapting this material is figuring out what to put into the movie version.

Oh my God, there’s so much stuff from that story that’s not on the screen. And so many people say to me “the motivation of the killer isn’t really fleshed out!” How freakin’ long do you want me to make this movie? Should I make it an 8 part mini-series? How much shit do I have to throw in there! (Laughs) Whereas I’ve gotten other reviews that say it’s a multi-layered study on violence and nature versus nurture and some people get that. But then I’ll read “there’s no story to it”. I have 18 stories going on in that movie!

(Laughs) Well, the big news about the way you’re approaching 'Malevolence 3' is that you’re turning it into a collaboration with fans by going the crowd funding route and getting them involved in making the third one. What was the motivation in doing it this way?

A couple of things. The main one was being able to retain complete control because I have taken meetings with producers that wanted to put their own stamp on things, whom had seen 'Bereavement' and wanted to make significant changes to what happened in 'Malevolence 3.' Some of which I listened to, but at the end of the day I’m a very self-contained filmmaker. I like to do things myself. I like to make my own decisions. I don’t like people looking over my shoulder and telling me what to do. What I liked about the crowd funding approach was it gives me a certain level of independence by not only being able to raise funds that way, but also as you said be able to interact directly with the fans. The other thing is I believe there has to be a sea change in how things are done because the industry is eating itself, especially on the independent side. There were so many ways you were able to make money with films before that just don’t exist anymore. So films that were made at a certain price point, you know that we could make our money back, but none of those numbers make sense anymore. It’s a fraction. If we’re making a fraction of a dollar for what we used to make, then we have to produce these things at a fraction of the cost too. There have been a lot of advances in technology that have reduced the cost; just not having to shoot on film alone. If you’re a $100 million dollar film, then saving a million on film processing and purchasing is 1 percent of your budget so they don’t really care, but they’re still shooting digital if they can. When your budget is a million or half a million and you can cut that in half by not shooting on film, that makes a huge difference. I don’t even want to bring piracy up, but obviously it’s the gorilla in the room. Everybody’s pirating movies. Everybody’s watching them for free on Netflix. There aren’t any Blockbuster’s anymore. And here’s a fact, a rent share at Blockbuster, if someone would rent a video at Blockbuster for $5 bucks, you’d get $2.50 of that $5 bucks. Of course after what your distributor took of that half. Even if you were getting the full half, let’s say you were earning $2.50 for every rental. Now, when someone goes to Redbox or watches it on Netflix, a filmmaker will get 10 cents, 5 cents, maybe just a penny. So think about it as if it were your job – how do you go from making $2.50 to 10 cents and still be able to continue to do this? So with crowd funding it’s just one of many other ways to alleviate pressure in financing these films. It’s another way of saying OK, it’s just a little less that we need to raise. A little less to make this happen. Because now there’s a tremendous amount of pressure. Where are you going to target the rest of your films to make money? It’s really hard. So that’s what I like about this new model. It’s a potential answer to things that are collapsing. VOD is another ray of sunshine. Now I can go directly to VOD which saves me on manufacturing costs and distribution costs. It’s a great way to make something off of your own movie. Crowd funding is another way to get to keep doing it.

It seems that people haven’t fully figured out the best way to implement the crowd funding option quite yet…

I don’t really have the answers; I’m still fishing around to see what works! Look, bottom line, I want to keep making movies. It’s not a clear cut answer for anybody these days on how to keep making them. Everyone’s trying to figure out the new business model. And no one outside the industry understands just how devastating the last couple of years have been for the indie guy. They see box office totals going up, up, up. A lot of our investors who believed in us for the first few films got let down by the system and the way the business is now, so I’ve been looking for a new way to do business, basically. To keep going and doing what I’m doing and that means changing a lot of things. The whole Kickstarter thing I got from (producer) Sean Tiedeman. We figured why not? Anything to get us rolling in the right direction. But then I didn’t realize that the horror sites don’t really promote those kind of projects because then it opens the door to every Kickstarter project. Had I known that, I probably wouldn’t even have done it. I do still think it’s a cool idea for up and coming filmmakers. What better way to tell a couple of thousand people that ‘hey the movie’s coming out, check it out, buy the DVD, spread the word.’ It’s good publicity. Anything that gets the word out about my film, I’m all for it.

But I’m actually pushing it over to IndieGoGo because I didn’t know much about Kickstarter going in. The other thing with Kickstarter is how many people go out of their way to troll on that site. I can’t begin to tell you how many bogus emails I’ve gotten and there are people on there that will actually pledge money and then take it off a few weeks later. We had people who basically the whole reason they did that was because they wanted me to take a look at their headshot and resume. So I fell for it and looked at these resumes and gave them feedback and this and that and they were like, “ok thanks” and pulled their pledges. (Laughs) That’s one of the (many) problems I was having with Kickstarter, which is why I moved it over to IndieGoGo. So far we are much happier with it. People say Kickstarter is more vetted and trustworthy. But that is not true, they approve anything. At least with indiegogo, the people pledging are vetted for me, because I know they are legit, so I’m MUCH more willing to open a dialogue with each one of them.

Wow. I didn’t even think about some of the problems that arise from even starting a campaign like this.

But again, I still think it’s such a cool idea! And it gives independent filmmakers a chance.

Well again, as a huge fan of the entire 'Malevolence' trilogy, I’m excited for you to get the third chapter going so I wish you the absolute best with it!

 

You can keep up to date with all the progress on 'Malevolence 3,' the final chapter in the 'Malevolence' trilogy via the 'Malevolence 3' IndieGoGo page, as well as the official 'Malevolence 3' Facebook page.

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