Billy Pon is one helluva awesome filmmaker and an even better human being. I met Billy at Days of the Dead: Atlanta last year and you can tell the second you meet him that he lives and breathes film. He’s always available to help other filmmakers and is fantastic with his fans. Circus of the Dead has been a film festival favorite for quite a while and now it is widely available on VOD and pre-sale’s are open for the Blu-Ray and DVD that are shipping in March. This film will truly amaze you and Bill Oberst’s Papa Corn character is an instant genre icon. Billy was gracious enough to take time out of his insane schedule to chat about the film, it’s release and what he has in store for the future.
Terror Time: Billy you have toured all over the world with Circus of the Dead and lived this movie for the last few years. What was the first feeling you experienced when you were finally able to announce the DVD and VOD release of the film?
Billy Pon: It’s like a ton of bricks off my back, but it goes back to the first premiere. Honestly I’m just now starting to accept that people like the movie because for the longest time even though people said it was good I was thinking, well maybe they’re just being nice. Now that the VOD release is here and the DVD pre-sale is starting maybe I’ll get a breather and feel a little more comfortable. I think it’s just in my nature that I’m just too high strung.
TT: Here’s hoping that happens for you after all these years of work. I’ve spoken to both you and Bill Oberst Jr. previously about the brilliance of the film and how yes it is technically a “clown” horror film but it’s so much more than that with the depths of psychological horror that the film hits on. Was it your plan from the beginning to make a film that plays on so many different levels?
BP: Oh absolutely. I do a haunted house here in Texas and it’s a clown themed haunted house and people were always saying “You should do a movie about that.” I always told them I didn’t want the movie to be a cheesy clown horror film I wanted to make a great horror film that just happened to be about clowns.
TT: Was Bill Oberst your first choice for the role of Papa Corn or did you initially have other actor’s in mind for the role?
BP: He was definitely my first choice and my assistant director Ray Ballard and I were searching the Internet for potential actors and he was the only person on both of our shortlists. When we got a hold of him I didn’t know how to do contracts or anything so I was afraid I couldn’t get him for the role and that maybe I was gonna have to use amateur talent so I went looking for someone else but after Bill read the script he absolutely fell in love with it and said to me “This is something that I have to do.”
TT: That is awesome. Another fantastic aspect of the film is the amazing FX work done by Marcus Koch and with Circus of the Dead he once again proves that he is the reigning king of prosthetic penises.
BP: Yeah, ha ha ha. I have video of him sculpting it and making it and I’m going to put the video on the special features of the DVD. He didn’t look at anything for reference or any of that. He just pulled it out the top of his head but him sculpting the penis reminded me of that scene in Ghost with Demi Moore except instead of pottery he’s got this wet prosthetic penis that he’s shaping. It was the funniest thing that I’ve ever seen.
TT: The film is extremely graphic and hits on some very dark subject matter. When you were making the film and even editing the film were you ever worried about potential problems in getting it out to a wider audience?
BP: Yeah but I really think that everything’s headed that way. Even the things that they’re getting away with on the Walking Dead is getting crazier. I don’t do it just for the sake of shock I let the film be organic and the film and the story tells me where the story is going to continue going and that’s how it all comes together. I mean the shocking things that the characters do in the film, if these characters are really that type of person this is the kind of stuff they would be doing. But then to add a little dark humor to it which is a little bit of my special twist it’s not the real thing happening it’s still just a movie so watch it and just enjoy yourself. It’s like a roller coaster ride for your mind and your eyes.
TT: Exactly. Another aspect of the film that is insanely inspiring for independent filmmakers is that you did not make this film on a large budget yet you put everything including the kitchen sink into this movie. How were you able to achieve that?
BP: I was only able to do that with the people that I surround myself with including the cast and crew and everyone on the set. We had to beg and borrow and living in Odessa, Texas no one would charge us for locations because they’re all friends of mine and if I liked something I would just ask them how much and they would say go ahead use whatever you need just fix whatever you break. I knew the cops so I worked out a deal with them and we closed the street down. It was all pretty simple stuff to do for the most part.
TT: Did you have a lot of issues finding female talent and child actors since both the female and child characters in the film do endure a good amount of the brutality in the film?
BP: On the female part yes at first it was really hard because there were a bunch of actresses that turned me down. A lot of people were scared but Chanel Ryan wasn’t scared at all. She was the ballsiest on the set. She’s just a fearless person. As for the kids, I’m friends with the parents. Their mother owns a dance gym with hundreds of dance kids. What’s ironic is the oldest kid in the film has actually graduated now and moved to California to pursue acting.
TT: Speaking of Chanel. She’s fantastic in the film and she endures the first real torturous stuff both physically and psychologically that we see in the film. Was it hard to shoot those initial scenes of her and the clowns?
BP:Yeah even for me watching that it’s pretty scary. Bill’s a scary person to see when he turns that creepiness on for the camera. He can really turn it on and off. He’s Bill one second and you say action and he turns it on full blast. It’s a wonderful thing to watch. He’s a true master at what he’s doing. For Chanel I think the worst thing to happen was the kitchen scene where they are yelling in each other’s face and she does this fall in the scene and she falls off camera so you don’t see it and Bill accidentally stepped on her foot and he’s wearing like a 24 inch shoe and that was the worst she took was him stepping on her foot with a huge clown shoe.
TT: Ha ha ha. So it was a clown shoe that injured her the worst but not the face licking scene?
BP: Ha ha. No not the licking of the face. She’s honestly the bravest person I know and it didn’t phase her.
TT: Before we started the interview we were talking about the deleted Conway Twitty scene. What’s your stance on Conway Twitty? Do you love him or do you think like the character in the film states he’s a pussy?
BP: I like all the old country music. I can’t tolerate the new country music but all the old country music is great. The story in the scene is actually a real story that I heard from a man about 20 years ago and I always thought when I make a movie I’m going to put that story somewhere in it and that’s why I put it in the diner scene. Unfortunately I cut it because it didn’t fit with the film but it’ll be in the directors cut.
TT: A struggle I always discuss with independent filmmakers is piracy. You have done an amazing job throughout the film’s festival run of keeping this film off of torrent websites. Is that something you are worried about with the recent VOD and upcoming DVD release?
BP: No and I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it’s already up on those websites.This is something you just have to deal with these days as a filmmaker. I was talking with fellow filmmaker, Justin Seaman (The Barn) the other night and we were talking about piracy and there’s nothing you can do but we were talking about trying to maybe start a society for other filmmakers where we try to help somehow stop piracy and if all these filmmakers were joined together to stop it maybe we would have a bit of leverage and could figure out a way to stop it or at least be able to help other independent filmmakers.
TT: That would be a great thing to do. The Barn is such a fantastic film. Have you seen it yet?
BP: No I haven’t seen it yet. Justin and I are going to do a movie swap and I’m going to watch it but Justin is such a great dude and us filmmakers we go through such hell. I put my life savings into Circus of the Dead and I’m getting ready to come to the end of my day job after 20 years. This is just a scary time for me but yet exciting because it’s all about the movies and the art.
TT: You speak about quitting your day job. Are we getting a Circus of the Dead 2 in the future or is a Doll Boy film in the works?
BP: Circus of the Dead 2 has been written and the character of Doll Boy is a big part of it. Before Circus of the Dead 2 though I want to do a horror film titled Cowboys From Hell and that will star Brad Potts who had a cameo in Circus of the Dead.
TT: Very nice and my fingers are crossed for Bill returning as Papa Corn in the sequel.
BP: Yeah Bill is going to work on everything that I do. I told him even if it’s just a one day shoot he better get out and do something with me.
TT: What advice do you give to aspiring filmmakers who desperately want to make a film?
BP: I say start off with something like a fake trailer like a one or two day shoot then work your way to a short film. I would not start off with doing a feature length film right off the bat. There’s just so much to learn so do the little things first if you can organize a day shoot then you’ll be ready for a short and then once you master a short then your ready for a feature.
TT: That’s great advice. Now since Circus of the Dead is clearly the best clown film what in your opinion is the 2nd best clown film?
BP: I’m going to say Killer Klowns from Outer Space but I’ve got to give props to House of 1000 Corpses as well. The character of Captain Spaulding is epic and of course you have IT but that turns to a giant spider at the end and things just go straight to hell. When I was writing Circus of the Dead I stayed away from all clown horror films because I didn’t want to be influenced. I haven’t even seen Marcus’s film, 100 Tears.
TT: Oh Man. You have got to watch 100 Tears. It’s so good. If you had an unlimited budget what would be the film that you would make?
BP: Unlimited budget. I have one called 508 Park Ave. It takes the whole Robert Johnson thing where he sold his soul to the devil and it takes Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Buddy Holly and all of these people are living in a purgatory until they do 666 jobs for the devil. It’s like Men in Black meets Stranger Things in a purgatory world where Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn are going out and capturing demons for the devil.
TT: That sounds absolutely amazing. So please tell me you’re going to have T-shirts and other merchandise along with the Blu-ray and DVD for sale?
BP: Oh yeah absolutely all the T-shirts and everything else are coming soon. It will all be available at Circusofthedeadmovie.com and for the haunted house and to see what I’m doing people can go to bloodybill.com
TT: Thank you so much Billy for taking the time out of your insane schedule to speak with me today. I really appreciate it and I can’t wait to see what you do next.
BP: Thank you so much my friend. I really appreciate it so much. Keep in touch.
Check the film out on VOD and pre-order the DVD or Blu-Ray HERE
Like Circus of the Dead on Facebook