By Bob Freville
A stoner med student receives a knock on his dorm room door. When he opens it a lanky woman, butt naked, stands before him, her pert nipples staring at him. This temptress wants to fuck and who’s this pipsqueak to say no?
The med student invites her in and they get right down to it, but you can imagine his disappointment when she takes the shape of a hunched little man with fiendish eyes, gnarly teeth and barnacles growing on his flesh. This terrible little man also has the distinction of possessing a monstrously large cock which he uses to defile and demolish his young prey.
Drugs, sex and murder. This was my introduction to the work of Chad Ferrin. The movie was Someone’s Knocking at the Door and I first became acquainted with this trippy, batshit horror flick and its mysterious director after Breaking Glass Pictures sent me a press kit.
At the time, I wasn’t thrilled about writing small caption reviews of indie movies for horror sites because I was itching to make my very own. Up until that point I had only directed one hour-long video, the avant-garde anti-love story Of Bitches & Hounds which would go on to become a cult hit on Berkeley TV. But I wanted to do something slightly bigger, I just couldn’t figure out how.
What Chad Ferrin, the director of ‘Someone’s Knocking‘ taught me was that you could make a micro-budget film look like it cost way more money than it did if you could learn to think on the spot. ‘Someone’s Knocking‘ may not have the look of a Hollywood picture, but it’s densely packed with one-of-a-kind imagery from the prosthetic genitalia of its two thrill killers to the bizarre black face funeral sequence that comes later in the pic.
After the film came out, I got in touch with Ferrin and we talked shop. He gave me copies of his other movies, Easter Bunny Kill! Kill! and The Chair, and I loved them, warts and all. Over the years, we lost touch as each of us suffered at the hands of an unmerciful film industry, but I recently had the opportunity to remedy that.
Looking like nothing so much as the oldest guy at a Frat party in Encino, Chad Ferrin struts into a room with all the swagger of Robert Mitchum in his prime. At 5′ 11” and with his sandy hair trailing behind him as he walks, he is somehow more imposing than any 6′ 3” ex-con you’ve ever met.
Perhaps this owes to his battle scars, ones that are not necessarily visible to the naked eye but reside within him. They can be glimpsed in his face which wears the furrowed mask of a gunfighter who’s been in a series of brush ups.
The former Minnesota native and longtime Angeleno has lived in the pits of smoggy California long enough to have not only seen beneath the facade of palm trees and palm pilots but to have been burned by its ersatz rays of light.
At 45 years young, Ferrin has gotten enough raw deals to inspire a Dostoyevsky novel. A lesser auteur would have left the city long ago and turned to writing novels or film criticism, but Ferrin isn’t a man who sees himself to the door when he’s asked to leave. He’s the guy with his boots up on your desk, refusing to step off until he’s gotten what he came for.
A true embodiment of the By All Means Necessary spirit of filmmaking spearheaded by Spike Lee and his NYU brethren (Jarmusch, Soderbergh, Alexandre Rockwell, etc.), Chad has been churning out underground movies for the better part of 20 years, starting with the no-budget feature The Ghouls and running right up to 2016’s Attack on L.A., formerly Parasites.
I ask him about when we first talked. “At the time, you had come off a series of bad experiences with film producers and distributors and I was gearing up to let Troma ass rape me without the courtesy of a reach-around. Do you remember what your first experience as a director was in terms of navigating the world of film distribution and acquisitions reps?”
Ferrin casts his mind back to the eve of the new millennium. “I had just finished the rough edit of Unspeakable (available from Troma) and with unbridled enthusiasm, I copied it onto countless VHS tapes and mailed one to every distributor from Artisan Entertainment to Warner Bros.
“To this day, almost twenty years later, I still remember the excitement of seeing the Paramount letter head before reading the rejection below it. You know, sometimes the best thing in this business is the anticipation of your dreams coming true just around the corner.”
The name Troma, once synonymous with the satirical revenge flick Mother’s Day and the punk rock hilarity of Tromeo & Juliet, now makes me cringe. That’s what bogus quarterly reports and a worthless net profit deal will give you.
“I know we were both screwed over by Troma,” I say. “But you were the first with Unspeakable. And to be fair, you warned me about working with Troma prior to them acquiring my film Hemo. I’m curious how our situations differed though and if you could shed some light on why young filmmakers should stay away from this famous cult movie house.”
To my surprise, Chad no longer shares my distaste. “Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the bulk of the blame falls on myself for not negotiating a better contract with them. If I had been more shrewd in working out the details of the contract, like fighting for a split of gross profits or capping expenses at $5k instead of $25k, then things would have turned out better on my end.
“I’m not saying they’re saints, I can’t imagine there are any in this business that are but; they worked the contract in their favor and you can’t fault ’em for that. When our term ended recently, I called up Michael Herz, we re-negotiated a new contract, and now every three months I get a check. Not a big check mind you, but hey, a little something is better than nothing, right? So, for the love of God, everyone reading this go to http://www.troma.com and a order a copy of Unspeakable right NOW!
“That said, let me take this moment, swallow my pride, and apologize to Troma for the years of ill will that I harbored against them. Now, if you want a warning of a horrible distributor, every filmmaker out there should stay far, far away from 108 Media!”
We’ll get to that in a moment, but first it is worth acknowledging how humble Ferrin is. As someone who’s been raw dogged by this industry more times than I care to recount, I can’t say that I possess even a modicum of Chad’s understanding. The fact that he could not only forgive but also apologize to the bastards that ripped him off speaks volumes about his character.
It’s a character which Ferrin brings to bear on his actors when developing a scene which goes far towards explaining why his particular brand of exploitation cinema works—there is a beating heart under the layer of grime.
“I reached out to you about two weeks ago to ask if you had a screener of your last movie Parasites and you shared some pretty unfortunate news with me. As I understand it, the film’s original distributor, 108 Media, breached contract by not paying the MG and then breached your subsequent termination agreement by selling rights away to the Netherlands. Can you talk more about that and why the film’s name has been changed to Attack In LA?”
Ferrin thinks. Ferrin is always thinking. “After Parasites screened at the Fantasia film festival in 2016, it had a buzz swirling around which caused a bidding war that 108 Media came out on top of, and we signed a deal. Then, they failed to pay the minimum guarantee, thus breaching the contract. We terminated the agreement, and I searched for a new distributor. Then to my shock, I find out 108 had released the DVD in the U.S. on Amazon!
“I called them up screaming, ‘What the fuck?! It’s on Amazon, what the hell are you doing?’ They said, ‘Oh, sorry, Amazon made a mistake by putting it.’ Ughhhh! ‘No shit!’ I exclaimed, then proceeded to threaten to sue them for breaching our termination agreement and doing damage to the value of the film.
“After an hour of yelling back and fourth, we made a new termination deal, they pulled the DVD off Amazon, but the fact that it had been released pretty much destroyed the title Parasites. The new distributor ITN decided to change the name to Attack In LA and see if that shakes the stink of the previous release. Unfortunately, it hasn’t really caught on under that title. It has been heartbreaking, soul crushing ordeal which doesn’t end yet…
“…a few months later, I find it being sold on the UK Amazon by Red Square Film in the Netherlands. A sale which 108 Media denied up and down, in fact, they denied making any foreign sales at all. After about a week of research, I dig up a company called Take 1 in Sweden who admits to buying it from 108. Take 1 then sold it to Red Square Film. I call up 108, and with this evidence, they finally admit to selling it, but say, ‘Chad, we didn’t make much money on it.’”
Ferrin growls. “I said enough is enough and I sued the bastards. And on November 16, a judge in Toronto ruled in my favor, ordering them to pay me $25,155.00. Score one for the little guy!”
Stay tuned for Part II in which Chad talks about how to make a movie among junkies, street racers and gang members.