Interview With Director/Writer/Producer B. Harrison Smith

By Ruth on April 30, 2017 in Interview, movie, television
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For me, there is nothing quite as thrilling as supporting indie films. I often go on “scavenger hunts” throughout social media to discover indie films that are new to me, and I regularly follow actors, directors, writers, and more who are involved with these films. One such person I discovered a while back is B. Harrison Smith. The movie Death House kept appearing in my feed, and when I looked him up, I discovered his involvement with this film as a director, writer, and more. Recently, Harrison agreed to answer a few questions for me about his career and the films in which he has labored and ultimately brought to fruition.

RH: Why did you decide to pursue a career in entertainment?  What kind of training have you had?

BHS: I wanted to make movies from the time I saw Jaws in theaters in 1975. I was eight years old. Training? I started making movies from the age of ten. I had a comedy TV show on local cable by the time I was sixteen and worked at Universal Studios in the 1980’s. Experience was my training.

It looks like writing and producing (The Fields) were the first things you did as far as film/TV is concerned. How did that opportunity come about? What was that experience like for you?

I wrote and produced The Fields. The opportunity came from a private investor who wanted to make a thriller-type film. The Fields is based on the true story of my life, growing up on my grandparents’ farm in 1973. It is not a horror film. It’s a psychological thriller. I wish I could say the making of my first film was a great experience. It wasn’t, and it was a crash course in producing a real, full-blown feature film. The final film veered from the original script as well. Overall, I think The Fields is a well-made film, but it’s not the movie I would have made. Hindsight is 20/20 and I am glad that so many people enjoy it. However, as a movie-making experience, it was not a happy experience for me. Working with Cloris {Leachman} and Tara {Reid} was wonderful and we have remained in contact and good friends.

With Camp Dread, you added directing to your credits in addition to writing/producing. What was this first experience of directing like for you?

I had a blast making Camp Dread. It was very much like being at summer camp. We had a wonderful cast and a great crew. The weather was perfect and the atmosphere translates into a very successful film. We had a blast. The chance to direct people like Eric {Roberts}, Danielle {Harris} and Felissa {Rose} was complemented by a group of “kids” who were just the nicest cast of people to work with to that point.

Since that time, it seems that you have been committed to doing at least two of these three jobs on your films. What are the challenges and benefits of doing these three jobs for one film?

Well, the biggest challenge is when the reviews come back. If you wrote and directed…well if the review is bad and it targets those two areas…I’m the target. The opposite works as well. Anyone who thinks it’s easy to make a movie is not a professional filmmaker. Producing entails more than just finding the money. It’s location scouting, negotiations with talent, crew, unions, everything. It’s dealing with the actual production, then handling post-production; then add to it distribution, marketing and everything else. Making a movie is akin to pulling off a minor miracle. Then you write it; then you direct it. As director, you are managing crew and cast, celebrities…it’s all part of the process.

Please tell us about Garlic and Gunpowder. What was the inspiration for this story? Any interesting behind-the-scenes stories you can share? What is the next step for this film? 

Garlic is an action-comedy and my first comedy and I am putting it on record: the funniest movie of 2017. I don’t hype, but with the vanilla, safe comedies that have flooded the market, including the boring, unfunny Ghostbusters remake, we have something great and funny. Behind-the-scenes stories? We just laughed every day. How can you not with Judy Tenuta, Dean McDermott, Jimmy Duval…seeing these people all interacting and most of all flexing their comedy improv chops…that was the best. We plan the festival circuit and the film should be finalized by Memorial Day; then we can talk distribution.

One very notable thing you have coming up is Death House. What can you tell us about this film? Where did you get the inspiration for this film?

Death House is my fifth feature film: the fifth I have written and the third I have directed. Frankly, I am doing what no one else is doing in Hollywood–making consistently high-quality product on very low budgets. I’ve made one film a year since doing this profession full-time.

Death House was brought to me at a screening for my previous film Zombie Killers: Elephant’s Graveyard. At its center were four evil beings known as The Four Horsemen, a group of people who descend into the bowels of an abandoned asylum to find it’s not exactly abandoned. The original script was penned by Texas Chainsaw legend Gunnar Hansen, but I knew a rewrite was in order. And one day, it hit me. What if Death House wasn’t an asylum, but a prison? What if a tour of that prison went wrong? Like really wrong? What if the monsters got out?

The Four Horsemen became The Five Evils. I added a fifth baddie to complete the points of the pentagram and made her a woman. And that’s a smart move in horror circles as any fan of that genre knows.

Once the funding was in place (January 2016), location was the next thing to decide upon, and I planned to film it in the Poconos of Pennsylvania as I had my four other films. Upon examination, it was clear that the sites were in such disrepair that we had to move the film to uncharted territory in Philadelphia.

I think our synopsis summarizes well what you can expect from this film:

“During an exclusive tour, a power breakdown inside a secret prison known as the Death House sends two agents fighting through a labyrinth of horrors while being pursued by a ruthless army of roaming inmates. As they fight to escape, the agents push toward the lowest depths of the facility where they learn a supernatural group of evil beings are their only chance for survival.”

{For more information, head over to http://horrorfuel.com/horror/creature-feature/road-death-house-part-1/ and check out the four “The Road to Death House” posts penned by Harrison himself.}

Death House first day of filming

One thing I notice about the casts you use is that they are very big. Since this is an independent film, I am not used to seeing such large casts. How do you make that work?

The strength of the scripts helps to secure the cast. Death House was different as the whole “team of horror” thing was already in place before I came to the project.

You seem to be drawn to horror films. Why this particular genre? Any chance you’ll branch out one day and tackle a different genre?

Garlic is that step outside of horror and I think I made a great step. I have plans with high concept drama and would love more comedy. I enjoy horror films. Not all horror films. There are a lot of great films, but the genre, like all the genres, also has a lot of crap.

Since you mainly do indie films, what are the benefits and challenges of indie films?

That’s a long answer. I think the benefits are also the challenges. You get to do your thing, have more control, but you also are usually limited in budget. “Indie” these days now can mean a twenty-million budget. So when we talk of indie in relation to me, I mean two million and under for now. The real challenge is that you have an audience out there that thinks they know how films are made and have expectations that don’t fit into the proper paradigm. A million-dollar film is not going to have the same production value as a twenty-million film. And because of CGI technology, audiences have a new distorted view of film and the images displayed. For more information, I have a Cynema piece here:  http://horrorfuel.com/crypt-tv/suspension-disbelief-film-dysmorphia/

What other upcoming works do you have that you can mention?

My IMDB has everything. I don’t list projects that don’t have funding firmly done because they can go away and then you look like you’re blowing smoke. I will crow when the egg is laid.

If you could do a remake of a horror film and/or a sequel, which one would you choose? Why?

Hmm…I have an exciting concept for a Fright Night Part 3 (a sequel to the 80s Fright Night films). If you have an in with Tom Holland, let him know.  🙂 Although I am sure he gets this all the time and has his own plans.

In your opinion, what are the top five best horror films ever made?

Wow. Well, this is all subjective, so it may not mean that it’s my favorite. Although one might question what is horror. So here we go and in no order:

1. Jaws

2. Alien

3. The Bride of Frankenstein

4. The Exorcist

5. Psycho

Runners Up:

The Omen

The Thing (’82)

Dawn of the Dead (’79)

Evil Dead 2

High Tension

As one who celebrates the great work of filmmakers both indie and mainstream, I applaud Harrison’s attention to detail, his strong work ethic, and his enterprising expertise. While some people recline comfortably on the sidelines and criticize the works of others in this industry, Harrison actually jumps in with skill, ingenuity, and ambition. Instead of focusing on what he doesn’t have and bemoaning the fact that he is not able to do this or that or have access to this or that, he rolls up his sleeves and makes a movie that all too often outshines the typical Hollywood film fare. He makes sacrifices in the areas where he must, but he never skimps on the things that really matter. And if that means that he must accept the seemingly insurmountable challenge of directing, producing, and writing in order to create this film project about which he is passionate, he is not afraid of investing his time and resources in what he considers an advantageous commodity. I appreciate the fact that Harrison consistently hones his craft by whatever means possible, and he refuses to do anything halfway. No matter what you think about horror films, I would invite all of you to look up the works of Harrison and consider following him on social media. While the preponderance of his works are horror films, he does have something else coming up this year as he mentioned (Garlic and Gunpowder), so be sure to watch out for all his updates. While not all of his films may appeal to the masses, he is one of those people who thinks outside the box and does what others often only envision and imagine. He is not content to sit idly by and watch other people chase their dreams and visions; he is driven to do the kind of work that is necessary in a business and a world where too many people suffer from the entitlement syndrome in which they expect success to come their way by osmosis. I salute Harrison for always being willing to give his all no matter what!

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth
42-year-old single mother of an active 13-year-old girl Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA Entertainment Writer Available For Interviews and Reviews Substitute Teacher

1 Comment

  1. Rachael DeBates May 2, 2017 Reply

    looks fun!

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