Written and directed by Jeff Wedding
Produced by Katie Groshong
The movie barely begins when we’re dragged into a squirm-inducing rape-scene-turned-revenge bludgeoning. Then, our battered victim Sylvia (Jackie Kelly) is rescued by widowed farmer Paw (Victor Hollingsworth). With more heart than brains, Paw takes the unconscious girl back to his farm to care for her with the help of his equally dim-witted teenaged son, Caleb (William Ryan Watson). Meanwhile, some angry dude in suspiciously clean overalls is hunting down the orphaned girl, hellbent on avenging his brother’s death.
Grateful for their help, our sexy damsel in distress soon applies her feminine touch in more ways than one. Everything is peachy on the farm for a while. Even the local preacher tolerates Sylvia staying there so long as he gets to “counsel” her on the regular. And by counseling, I mean plowing the holy hell out of her which everyone else seems to be doing. By the time Sylvia announces she’s pregnant, the mental and physical toll of the men she’s afflicted is so far gone, they can’t be bothered to back out now.
The preacher (Wynn Reicher), who adds comedic gold to every scene, agrees to marry off the new parents lest they be the shame of the town. Problem is, who’s the daddy? Only an old-fashioned game of catch the greased pig will decide. With all the livestock mysteriously dead, Sylvia fills in as the greased-up pig – Go girl power! – and the preacher agrees to marry the lucky couple, underage laws be damned.
All the sex, shame, and shenanigans lead to a final showdown where Watson gives a gut-wrenching performance portraying all the anguish and heartache a tortured soul can bare as Caleb’s worst fears collide with a reality he can no longer ignore.
Overall, TENESSEE GOTHIC is an outrageously raunchy, hilariously satisfying romp.
Rent or buy TENNESSEE GOTHIC on demand HERE!
Bonus interview with Katie Groshong, Jeff Wedding and Jackie Kelly
DARK BITES: How did the collaboration with writer, director Jeff first come about, and what is it about the working dynamics you two have that makes the partnership of your production company, GypsyRoot Productions, work so well film after film?
KATIE GROSHONG: Jeff and I have been working together for 18 years now. We met in 2001 when I was cast in his first feature film, Blind, which he was directing alongside his brother, Steve. We were instant best buds and have worked together ever since. We started GypsyRoot Productions in 2005 and have made multiple shorts and 2 features with that endeavor (all which we’ve shot on film). We are now at a point where we know each other so well that we can communicate without communicating sometimes. We both can pretty much feel when the other needs something on set, is about to call or is having a rough day. I believe that anticipating the others needs (on set, and behind the scenes), knowing when to push and when to pull back, respecting and trusting each other’s instincts and ideas, and being present in each others lives is what makes us such a great partnership. We are family.
DB: Considering your extensive acting credentials on such films as JUG FACE, A MEASURE OF THE SIN and, most recently, DEMENTER, what would you say are the most important tools you’ve been able to take from acting and utilize for producing?
KG: I would say it is important for the producer to know every job on set. Something that I bring from being an actor is limitless creativity, so I love bringing my ideas to set, which Jeff is ‘almost always’ excited to hear. I feel like it has also helped me with casting and knowing what to look for, while having a lot of connections to amazing actors.
DB: With TENNESSEE GOTHIC, it seems your multiple talents shined bright as you not only produced the film, but also wore hats for the roles of Set Designer, Special Effects, Make-up and Wardrobe. What was the experience of juggling all these roles at once like for you, and what do you feel such a broad range of perspective lent to the overall value of the film?
KG: I have always worn a lot of hats on our projects because it is usually just a few of us on set. It was always out of necessity. We were lucky enough to have a lot more help on this film. I still did it a little bit out of necessity, but also because I enjoy it, and I know what Jeff wants at this point better than anyone else. I know I am not an amazing special effects artist, but it is fun for me and I guess Jeff trusts me enough to not make it look too ridiculous. I feel like I am getting to help bring his vision to life. It is a creation from beginning to end for us. From the special effects, to set design, to building props and designing wardrobes. We are creating an art experience and want to be as hands on as possible to create this world… also… we’re broke.
I love how you adapted your film from a pre-existing short story. Of all the stories to choose from, why American Gothic by Playboy fiction editor, Ray Russell?
JEFF WEDDING: Firstly, thanks so much for the great compliment. While I love writing my own material, I have found myself being really driven to adapt some fantastic works (A MEASURE OF THE SIN being the first) that I believe either haven’t been discovered, or, in the case of Ray Russell, simply underappreciated. I have always loved Russell’s tale of AMERICAN GOTHIC, and felt like it perfectly suited my so-called “style” of film making. I love horror, I love sex, and I love comedy in films, and AMERICAN GOTHIC had all of those elements. The greased pig scene, in particular, I was very fond of and knew it could be cinematic and ridiculously funny. So much credit has to be given to the actors. They got the tone and went to work.
What was the casting process like for such a goofy ensemble and how did you manage to fill each role as though they were born to play the part?
KG: Casting was a blast and we didn’t realize how many laughs the film would have, until seeing the actors auditions and watching them in rehearsals together. We realized we were in for more of a comedy than we knew once the collaboration started. Jeff wanted to cast Jackie based on her look, her willingness to do what the film needed to be successful, and knowing her acting abilities. Also, her and Tennessee Gothic cinematographer, Eric Stanze, filmed her a beautiful and haunting film-like taped audition. It was fun to watch and really brought her character to life. Caleb (William Ryan Watson) was the hardest to cast. Trying to find someone to do the content, who looks young enough and has both comedic and dramatic abilities was quite difficult. Ryan transformed physically to become exactly what the movie needed. He impressed the hell out of me. Paw (Victor Hollingsworth) was reading with someone else for the role of Caleb and they asked me if Victor could audition for Paw. We of course said yes since we hadn’t found a Paw yet, and as soon as we saw his audition he had us rolling and we knew he was our Paw. Jeff knew he wanted to cast local actor Wynn Reichert as Reverend Simms from the start. He knew he was the right man for the cloth, and good God, is he a funny character. The 4 of them together was always magic on set, and luckily the other cast members we added in, just brought more magic. Mrs. Simms was an acting friend of mine who auditioned and gave us goosebumps with her chilling portrayal of the reverend’s wife. Her eyes are piercing and her
performance was stunning. The others, like the store clerk (master of improv and chair acting, Jim Ousley) and Ronnie (Jason Christ) both came from St. Louis and we knew them from working on set for Eric Stanze’s film “In Memory Of”. The 2 hillbillies being attacked in the beginning are Chip Ramsey (who I know from working with on Jug Face) and Harry Walker. Harry was here from Iowa as associate producer and a camera operator. Jeff basically told him he had to do the job b/c he looked most like Jason Christ, who plays his brother in the film. We laugh every time we see Harry on screen knowing Jeff made him do it and because he actually really made us laugh when the words on the page came out of his mouth. “Gimme them matches!”
JW: Yeah, I don’t have a whole lot to add to this question. Katie pretty much laid it all out. She has her finger on the pulse of the acting community here in Nashville, and her instincts are spot-on. Casting can be a stress-inducing process, but TENNESSEE GOTHIC was relatively smooth.
I enjoyed how the film walked a line between outright comedy and some pretty dark, serious situations. How did you manage to walk so well between them while ensuring each side was portrayed to the greatest effect?
JW: The tone and the fluctuation of it were, hands down, the most difficult thing about making this picture. Truthfully, it terrified me. I was sure I would fail. Maintaining a certain tone throughout a movie is difficult enough, and to shift it left to right, up and down, is asking for trouble. Tone is one of the things that audience members aren’t necessarily aware of, but in many cases, it’s what keeps them watching. It’s that thing you can’t put your finger on, but you know you either like it or don’t. AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is an excellent example of complicated tone shifts that work flawlessly. Every beat in an actor’s speech, every sound, every music drop, every picture wipe. They all build that tone. Getting it to where it is in the final was really a whole lot of putting stuff in and taking it back out until it felt right.
When I sat down to write the screenplay I thought it was going to happen very quickly because of how solid Ray Russell’s original prose is, but it really took some time and numerous drafts to get right. In my opinion, tone might be the most important part of the filmmaking process because it has to be inherent in every aspect of the journey: the writing, the casting, the lighting, the performances, the editing, the music and sound design and how they are cued. All of those things and how much or how little can make or break the experience.
For such a fun and silly sleaze-filled romp of a movie, I gotta admit, I expected the scenes of sexuality to be a lot trashier than they were. Instead, I felt they were pretty erotic and conveyed a lot of sensuality right up to the bitter end. What was your motivation or inspiration for the way the sexual scenes were shot? Did Ray Russell have any influence or input on this aspect?
JW: Unfortunately, Ray Russell is no longer with us, but I am in close contact with his children, and I ran lots of ideas by them before shooting. They have gotten a real kick out of the film. I for sure knew the sex scenes were going to get ridiculous, especially between Paw and Reverend Simms, but the sex scenes reserved for Caleb and Sylvia were always meant to be more tender in nature (outside of the montages, which begged for silliness). I probably owe Paul Brickman money for how much I ripped off of him from RISKY BUSINESS – a great, great film that gets undue beatings because it’s viewed as “that Tom Cruise movie where he dances in sunglasses and underwear listening to Bob Seger”. Even some of the cues from Tangerine Dream I had Greg Bennett (the composer) mimic. One of the things I’m most proud of in the film is how beautifully Ryan Watson (Caleb) and Jackie Kelly (Sylvia) made that relationship seem real. Again, that’s a really hard thing to do when you are jumping into some absurdity minutes later. It’s a delicate thing because the film is in danger of being damaged if it doesn’t work.
I had many conversations with Jackie about sexuality and eroticism, and you wouldn’t know it by watching the film; because she exudes sexual desire in it, but in real life, Jackie isn’t a flirty individual, so in that regard I know playing Sylvia was a stretch for her. We would rewatch movies like BASIC INSTINCT, CARRIED AWAY, Verhoeven’s THE FOURTH MAN, and, as mentioned above, RISKY BUSINESS. We would get on the phone and talk about why the femme fatales in these worked. It’s this weird, southern-fried, coming-of-age, erotic thriller-horror-comedy hybrid. Haha. That’s what the film is, I guess. No way should it even work!
I can only imagine, with such an outrageous film, there must have been plenty of gags and bloopers throughout the shoot. Are there any that stand out to you? Can we expect to see any on a DVD in the future?
JW: Because we shot on 16mm, our shooting ratio was super lean, like 3:1, so there isn’t a ton, but there are some gems on the Blu-ray and DVD. I’m a little bummed we didn’t capture more of those, because the actors had so many priceless gags that only survive in memory.
KG: There were a few times we all just burst out laughing in the middle of a take b/c of some ridiculous improv that threw us off. For the most part, everyone knows not to laugh during a take since it is film and we don’t waste it! So usually the outtakes were more physical, mess ups by the actors or by us. There are outtakes on our blu-ray which is already available at www.gypsyrootproductions.com/shop along with some other really great features. Our subtitles even offer some comedic relief.
Speaking of outrageous, that greased pig scene… This might be a question best answered by Jackie Kelly, but how much fun was that, and what was the clean up like?
KG: I made the grease for the greased pig scene out of crisco and maple syrup. They basically slathered Jackie’s body in it and it was so hot out (July in the South) that she just smelled like syrup and glistened in the 1K lighting. We had a lot of laughs that night. Ryan took off running once and ran into the giant can of fire as he went down in nothing but cowboy boots. I was concerned for Jackie so we had a nice and sticky robe for her to use between takes. I think the guys were all actually kind of tipsy from the local bar they went to that day so some of the banter and missteps were pretty real. I think we made her shower in the outside shower that night.
JACKIE KELLY: The greased pig scene was a lot of fun to shoot. I remember it being pretty difficult to not laugh at the three guys playing drunk and acting like fools. The clean up, however, was not as fun. It took me a solid half hour to scrub off the crisco in the outdoor shower on location. I can recall thinking, “Wow, I have a very odd life” the entire time I was cleaning up from that scene.
JW: As mentioned, the greased pig scene, and the dialogue scene that precedes it, were a big draw for me. It’s just so bizarre. Jackie Kelly gave new meaning to the whole “doing what it takes” idea. She was so game and the scene wouldn’t have worked had she been apprehensive.
With the success of TENNESSEE GOTHIC, what’s next for you and GypsyRoots Productions?
KG: What’s next? Well, we have Tennessee Gothic traveling the festival, small movie theater and convention markets. We are pushing the blu-ray sales through our newest venture, GypsyRoot Releasing and you can buy yours at www.gypsyrootproductions.com/shop, along with other fun merchandise. We also have it for sale or rent on Vimeo on Demand. We are always working on creating new content. I’ve been pitching a tv pilot and am currently writing another one that’s more of a passion project for me. I am also the lead in Chad Crawford Kinkle’s newest film, Dementer, (Jeff Wedding was the cinematographer) which is traveling around festivals at the moment. I can’t wait for you all to see it. We are also talking about doing a horror anthology.
JW: Oh, man. Lots of ideas swimming around. I’d love to do some kind of horror anthology with friends, a slasher, a crime flick, a straight-up erotic thriller, an honest-to-goodness-shit-in-your-pants-scary-movie. While traveling with TENNESSEE GOTHIC I will be writing and discarding what doesn’t work until something sticks. I will send it to Katie and she’ll tell me I’m crazy, then after a few days of me pouting, she’ll call and say, “If that’s really what you want to do next we’ll figure it out.” 🙂 Katie makes the shoots happen. As discussed earlier, she works around the clock to make sure every aspect of production is covered. Put simply, these things wouldn’t happen without her constant enthusiasm and pure love of doing 900 jobs on set. She loves to be tortured 🙂
Thanks so much for doing this! Was there anything we missed that you feel you’d like to mention about TENNESSEE GOTHIC?
KG: If you hate horror, sex and comedy, then DO NOT WATCH THIS MOVIE!!!! It isn’t for delicate city mice. Thank you so much for your questions.
JW: Thanks so much for having us for this interview!
Click on the camera below to watch the trailer for TENNESSEE GOTCHIC right now!