Documentaries about filmmakers are a dime a dozen and most end up being nothing more than fluff pieces that don’t provide insight into the subject beyond what we as film fans already know. DIARY OF A DEADBEAT which chronicles the life and work of Jim VanBebber goes above and beyond by shining a light on a filmmaker that inspires those who dream of making films their way without interference from outside sources. Victor Bonacore is the director of the documentary and I was honored to be able to pick his brain recently about his introduction to Jim’s work, making the documentary, and what he has in store for the future.
Terror Time: Hi Victor, Congratulations on DIARY OF A DEADBEAT. It’s an amazing and inspiring documentary. What was your first exposure to Jim VanBebber and his films?
Victor Bonacore: The first time I ever heard of Jim VanBebber I was in high school and I was friends with these two metal heads and I was at their house and they wanted to show me something crazy so they showed me a tape of NECROPHAGIA: THROUGH THE EYES OF THE DEAD. It’s an insane music video shot on Super eight with extreme gore and just insanely disgusting. I was drawn to it because I hadn’t seen anything like that. I didn’t know that Jim had directed it at that time. Combine that with the local video store by my house called 112 Video which had a huge horror and cult section. I saw this movie on the shelf in the cult section called DEADBEAT AT DAWN so I rented it and instantly I loved it. I saw that this one guy starred in it, did the stunts and directed it. So that sparked my interest throughout the years to seek out everything I could find by this guy named Jim VanBebber.
TT: What gave you the idea to reach out to Jim and ask to do a definitive documentary on his life and career?
VB: I was working at Media Blasters and I ran the releasing department so I was booking 35 mm prints to screen all across the country. I booked a screening in Atlanta and I was talking with the guy doing the screening and he also loved VanBebber’s work and he told me that Jim has super 8 films from his childhood up to his college years and he’s looking to release them. So I got Jim’s email and contacted him about the films. After talking to Jim I took out a loan and bought the rights to the short films. These are films he was making at 11 in his back yard with just amazing stuff including stop motion and stunts like Jim staging a jump off a roof and blood fx. Very innovative stuff and films that had never been seen by anyone. I was planning on just opening a company to release the films but then it dawns on me that these films tell a story of a born filmmaker and I have his films from age eleven to eighteen then throw in his cult following and I realized this makes a great story. So I contacted Jim and told him let’s do a documentary and get your story out to a wider audience and he was totally hip to it.
TT: That’s amazing. Jim’s career is full of stories and myths. Was there any subject matter that you were afraid of tackling?
VB: Wow that’s a great question. When I first started doing it I heard all the stories and people talking but I never paid attention to that. I wanted to go on my experiences and focus on the artist who will do anything to get the shot or finish the movie. I was more nervous about tackling the fact that he hadn’t done anything in a while. I didn’t know if that would spark anything. I knew there were reasons but other people don’t so you’ve got to ask the questions. When I started the documentary it was 2010 so I was a different person and at that time I hadn’t done a documentary outside of film school so this was a journey for me doing this documentary on someone who I respected. I was scared about everything especially bringing up things that I didn’t know if he would be cool with discussing but once the camera was rolling we were both comfortable and it was cool. Jim’s a good guy and he just wants to make movies. He’s a true authentic independent and someone who wants it the way he wants it or it’s not happening.
TT: He’s honestly this generation’s Orson Welles.
VB: Yes, exactly just not on that mainstream pedestal.
TT: You spoke with many of Jim’s collaborators for the documentary. Who’s experiences with Jim really took you by surprise?
VB: Phil Anselmo surprised me not with his experiences but the fact that he and Jim are like brothers. Phil’s willingness to talk about anything and everything was just great and they don’t make it widely known that they are really close. Maureen Pelamati was fantastic as well because I had never interviewed her and I was in Florida with Jim because he was gearing up to do GATOR GREEN and Maureen is in GATOR GREEN and I loved her from THE MANSON FAMILY and ROADKILL. She was just a student at Wright State in the acting program when she got approached by them to be in a film and ROADKILL is her first film role and she’s naked in a cage on a stove top and there’s real dead animals surrounding her. That’s just wild. She’s worked with Jim for years and after doing these films with him for years no matter what she will still show up any time to work with him. Jim always told me “Make your own stars.” If you know somebody if they look the part make your own stars, make them act. MANSON FAMILY just has so many great performances across the board.
TT: Exactly! Which brings me to my next question. Did you make any attempt to speak to Marcello Games for the documentary?
VB: He’s the one I wish I could have spoken to for the documentary. I couldn’t ever get in contact with him. I couldn’t find any information on him. All I know is during THE MANSON FAMILY he left he was in a different head space and was at a point in his life where he didn’t want to do it anymore. He was a filmmaker at Wright State as well. I mean he was playing Charlie Manson and the movies no picnic so I think playing that role he just reached his limit.
TT: Since you spent so much time with Jim over the six years it took making the documentary do you think he’ll get another feature film made and distributed?
VB: I do. I really do. I don’t know if it’ll be GATOR GREEN or CAPONE or another film but I do think so. He has to. MANSON FAMILY took fifteen years to make but he got it done. He’ll make another film regardless of what format it’s shot on Super 8 or 16 mm it’ll always be shot on film.
TT: So after spending so much time on the documentary what’s next for you film wise?
VB: I started making a film entitled BLOOD WINGS about 7 years ago that’s shot on 16 mm. It’s about 65% shot it’s a crazy movie about a satanic cult that helps this young girl that has a terrible upbringing and she has a husband who’s a cop but he runs a dog fighting ring. It’s just a crazy film that I ran out of money on due to the film and processing but recently a producer contacted me and said he wants to help me finish it. There is also ten-minutes of animated scenes mixed throughout the film thats done by Jimmy Screamerclauz along with scenes shot on VHS and Super 8 it’ll be a weird mixed media format but it really fits for the story. I’ll also be doing a documentary on Linnea Quigley. I’ve known Linnea for a while so that’ll be really fun to do and the VanBebber short films will be available in a few months and it’ll be twenty-five short films that no one’s seen with commentary by Jim. There’s also new soundtracks for the films and it’ll have some extras as well. It’s just a really great package.
TT: Thank you so much Victor for the conversation. Where can people find you online?
Buy DIARY OF A DEADBEAT on Amazon