Don’t put a limit on yourself- An interview with filmmaker and musician Dylan Greenberg
Dylan Greenberg is an acclaimed 19-year-old filmmaker and musician who is best-known for her 2015 art-horror film, Dark Prism, which featured Mac Demarco and Matt Katz-Boen of Blondie. She is currently in post-production on her newest film, Re-Agitator: Revenge of the Parody. WIMA caught up with her at her day job with Troma films, a horror movie company based in New York City.
Written by: Sarah Devine
Photography: Alison Brady
What are some of your favourite Troma films?
I love Class of Nuke 'Em High, and actually a lot of the actors from Class of Nuke 'Em High are in a lot of my movies. So I love that and I'm also a little partial to the new Troma movie that's coming out; Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2, because I have a small part in it. I love Death by Temptation, which was a movie made by most of the cast and crew of Spike Lee films, it was a vampire movie that was made by pretty much all the cast and crew that weren't Spike Lee on School Daze. And I love Virgin Beasts and Mr. Bricks, I think those are my favourites.
How do you separate your work with Troma from your own work? I see that you've done some directing with Troma, but is it separate?
Yes, it's definitely separate from my own, as currently none of my films are distributed by Troma, although I think that's going to change soon because I think we're going to work out a distribution deal for one of my movies. I would say my work is influenced by Troma, but I also kind of do my own thing. Troma has definitely helped me a lot, Lloyd has definitely helped me a lot —Lloyd Kauffman, who is the president— has definitely helped me a lot and influenced me a lot.
I guess really the only thing that mostly separates it is that it my movies aren’t distributed by Troma or is under the company Troma, but most of my movies say, at the end, "special thanks to Troma", because they usually have helped me in some way.
There's a spectrum of reviews surrounding your work, some are calling you the next Warhol, and some are saying your work is "headache inducing." How does that criticism affect you? Do you let it?
Actually, I think it's hilarious, like the bad reviews I think they're super funny. And one of my favourite, favourite, reviews ever, of my movie Wakers, which is just now–it kind of faded into obscurity–but it's coming back now, it's about to make a big comeback, because a big YouTube channel just acquired it, to show on their channel. Basically, I had never really made a coherent movie before, and I kind of wanted to combine like, the Nightmare on Elm Street concept with like an abstract video art piece. So I made this movie called Wakers, and I didn't really have any connections to the art world, but I had connections to the horror world, so I released it as just a horror movie, and no one got it, because they were so confused by it, because it really is almost something that, —in my opinion it has a coherent plot—, but it is also a thing to me that, you would maybe show on like three walls in a gallery. In my opinion, it isn’t really the kind of movie that you can just sit down and watch like a normal movie. So a lot of people really didn't get it, but my favourite, favourite review is from this horror site called 1428 Elm, and my favourite comment from that was, "What is this, a horror movie or The Wizard of Oz?"– because it was in black and white and colour. That's also the one that said that my movies were headache-inducing, then the last sentence in it was, "my advice is don’t see Wakers." So I took those two quotes, the one about the Wizard of Oz and the one at the end, and made both of those quotes huge on the poster, when I released it on DVD. I made them gigantic. Because those are the ones I was most proud of, I think The Wizard of Oz is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen, it certainly gave me nightmares, and I can tell you one thing, a lot of the new horror movies I see coming out don't even stick in my mind, if I'm watching a horror movie, I want to see a movie that makes me fucking look behind me, you know? I was always afraid that Glinda the Good Witch was going to get me, because I was pretty wicked as a kid.
Do you face challenges being a young trans woman in the film world?
Photography: Alison Brady
In some ways, but I think that I also just face the challenges that any young person faces. I think actually, that a lot of the challenges I face are because I'm so young, people don't really take me seriously. Like I'll tell someone I directed any movie at all, and they go, "oh that's great," and they kind of pat me on the head and they turn and talk to someone else. But yeah, I do think that are some challenges, I'd say that maybe some women's only film festivals, or women's only art spaces, I would say that sometimes maybe it's a little harder to relate to my work if it's mostly women who aren't transgender, because I guess especially some of my earlier work, was a little more overtly political and queer, which sometimes, I kind of like to be more apolitical with my work. So I think that sometimes it's a little hard for people to grasp, but ultimately, I've found that it really is just about who's a nice person and who isn't. I think that really goes for anyone, is that you really have to find nice people, and those people will help you; really, truly nice people will help you regardless of your sexuality or your gender, they'll help you because they believe in you.
Do you have any advice for fellow young, broke people who are trying to make their own films or music?
Absolutely, absolutely. So my advice is, first off, don't put a limit on yourself. I've seen a lot of young filmmakers, and they say, "well I've directed a few short films, and I can't really make a feature film, because I don't have any money, so I guess I'll just have to take my old films to film festivals." Or I'll have people who say, "oh when I was at film school I could make movies. But now that I'm not in film school anymore, I don't have the resources." And most of these people, I see they have cameras, they have computers with editing systems on them, and I say, "that's all you need." Obviously not everyone has these things, but I think that now it's easier than ever to make a movie. I'd rather see a masterpiece shot on an iPhone than a $2 million bore fest that's shot on the fanciest camera on the market, you know? So my advice is: don't tell yourself that you don't have enough money to make a movie, because you don't need even $10 000 to make a movie at this point, you only need a little bit of money. It cost me more to premiere Wakers, which cost me $700 to rent the theatre, than it did for me to make the movie. The actual movie, I'd say, cost about $100. I had no money, zero dollars. I don't even think it cost $100. Everything was favours, people lent me stuff, sometimes I had to work for people to repay them for them giving me their time, and I actually got ripped off a few times, because I'd work for people and they wouldn't give the resource that they promised. But it taught me an important lesson: that I didn't need money to make a completed feature film. I could distribute and market, which I also did all myself, I actually distributed the movie myself, and I didn't need any money to do it. Plus the camera and my computer, I would say if you factor the cost of that in, maybe it's like $1000. But I know a lot of people have computers, and if you have a new phone, like an iPhone, I know the most recent iPhone actually has an editing system app, on the phone, so you could actually make your own movie, just on the phone.
And if you can't do that, then you can just take an old VCR and you can take an old camcorder, which you can probably get from a thrift store, and you can run the camcorder into the VCR, and you can just press STOP and GO on your remote, and you play the footage back through the VRC, and record that onto a VHS tape, and if you just get that digitized, that's another way to film and edit your own feature film. You don't even need a computer to do it.
What are you working on currently?
Currently I'm in post-production on my new film, I directed a big feature film that's actually my biggest budget feature film yet. I did it in association with the incredible Wendigo Productions, and the Brooklyn Fire Proof in association, with my production company, which is called Disck Pictures. It's basically a horror parody extravaganza, it's a parody of everyone's favourite cult horror movies, and it's called Re-Agitator: Revenge of the Parody, and it's got a huge all-star cast, it's got Schoolly D, who was the original gangster rapper, who plays the President of The United States. It stars Aurelio Voltaire, who is one of the most well-known dark cabaret singers in the country, he tours all over the world. It's got Howie Pyro, who's a punk legend, it's got Allan Merrill, the original singer and songwriter of, "I Love Rock n Roll." He's a star in the film, not just a little cameo. Fallon Ven Detta, who is a major model and actress has an appearance in the film. HIRS and HYM have songs in the movie, Jeffery Lewis, the folk singer has a song in the movie, Purple Pam has a song, Allan Merrill has I think, two songs in the movie, that he lent us to use totally for free, he's a very nice guy. Matt Katz-Bohen, the keyboardist for Blondie also has a song in the movie, so it's a very big undertaking, it's a big production, it stars Amanda Flowers, and Jurgen Azazel Munster as the Mad Doctor, Yolpie Kaiser, Max Husten, Mickala McFarlane and Sofe Cote, who is also a great, great actress, and has been in all my films.
Why do you create music and film, what are you hoping to achieve or convey?
What I'm hoping to achieve is a few things, I mean selfishly, I definitely would like to receive a little more recognition than I have right now. Mostly right now my films are more of a specialty thing, so they're usually shown in America at least, in little galleries and very small venues. Actually the biggest venue that show my films regularly is a biker bar, they have a giant, giant backroom, and they've actually hosted several premieres of my movies, they're called Lucky 13, and if you live in Brooklyn, or if you live in New York, you should definitely go, they're fantastic. I'd like to see my films, if not necessarily get theatrical releases, at least get more worldwide distribution and the videos, I'd like to see them in retail stores.
What I'd like to achieve in the scheme of things, because that's (the previous is a) more a selfish, more capitalist wish, I want people to think abut movies differently, and I want people to think about art differently, because I want people to realize that there isn't just one way — not just to watch movies– but to make a movie. And I hope that when people see my movies, they can be inspired to make their own and they can see that, “look this person made this movie with barely anything”. And you know even though with my new movie I had a little bit of money towards it, but compared to any movie, —even a movie that's considered low-budget or no-budget by today's standards— that's still a higher budget than my movie. And this is the biggest budget movie that I've ever made—still under $10 000, I've never made a movie that's exceeded $5000. So I want people to see my movies and think, "Wow I could do something just like that.” So many people have all these ideas swimming in their heads that they never really think that they can realize, and I want people to know that they can realize them. It's very important that you do; I think that making art, and that new, independent artists are the future of this world, and they're the most important thing to the future of mankind. I mean, what are we as humans identified as, if not our art?
Within your art, how is your music project going? Do your film and music interact?
Yes, my music and film definitely interact. With my last film, Amityville Vanishing Point, I composed a lot of the music for that, there was a lot of my instrumental tracks that I used, I used several synthesizers, and I composed a lot of more ambient tracks. And then, in my new movie I had actually a bit of my new single, called Dark Dancer, which was made specifically for the movie, it's already out, we released it early to help promote the movie even though we're still shooting it, and we had a whole music video for it. So I did that with a great LA producer called VANDAL MOON, and so that's my newest single, it's a great, like dark synth pop song, I think a lot of goths are really into it, so that's one of the featured singles in my new movie. Besides that, I think I've also composed a few tracks for my new movie, and I also direct my own music videos, and I've directed quite a lot of music videos for my self, and actually, when I was 17–this was before I had even directed a feature film in fact– this was actually the first notoriety I'd ever really gotten, was that I directed my own music video for one of my early songs called, “High High Higher,” and astonishingly, it got on this really great cable access show in Florida, called the "Uncharted Zone." And from that, people on reddit started showing it, and they were super confused to what it was, but suddenly overnight, I looked and it had gotten very very popular, and it was mostly because of the video I directed. I think the song was was part of it, but the video added a whole new image to it. Both the video and the song were engineered to be very lo fi and I shot the video on this VHS camera, and I shot the video on this set that looked like this very deliberately tacky set from the 90s or 80s, with leopard print everywhere, and I had this very ridiculous up-do, and people were going nuts over it. Occasionally, like maybe once a year, someone will recognize me from that music video and they've never met me before. In fact, some of my coworkers at Troma actually recognized me when I started working there, before they had met me, and said, "oh my god, you're that kid from the music video." So that's definitely I guess how my film and music careers kind of intersect.
And I'm also a professional music video director, and I've actually directed music videos for James Chance and the Contortions, which are a major, major band, they were one of the key players in the no-wave scene of the early 1980s, they're on the album that was curated and produced by Brian Eno, called "No New York", they were one of the major players on that album with Lydia Lunch and the Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, and several other bands. I've directed music for them, I've directed a music video for Matt Ellin, and a band called Onset, which is one of my favourite bands, and a video for Matt Katz-Bohen, he's the keyboardist for Blondie, he has a solo project called Pastel Confession. I have about 5 or so music videos that are probably going to be coming out in the next few months, I'm actually going up to Austin Texas to SXSW to shoot some new music videos, for several artists, possibly even James Chance, we're not sure yet, but a lot of really great artists. Tomás Doncker, his video isn't out yet, but I directed a great video for him. I can't say the title yet, he told me that we have to keep it sort of a secret, but he has some great great stuff coming out.
You can see Dylan's most recent film Dark Prism on Amazon at: http://https://www.amazon.com/Dark-Prism-Lloyd-Kaufman/dp/B01N8T4J0X%3FSubscriptionId%3D0NYB3SKF1S4GEN0AE182%26tag%3Da978b-20%26
Werewolf Bitches from outerspace: https://www.amazon.com/Werewolf-Bitches-Outer-Janeane-Garofalo/dp/B01NBVSY1N
Her movies are also available for rent on http://DisckPictures.VHX.tv