Joel D Wynkoop (Part 1)
When I e-mailed actor Joel D Wynkoop (star of such notorious low-budget indies as Creep and Dirty Cop No Donut) half a dozen questions in April 2008 I was expecting a few short replies. But Joel went to town with some massively detailed answers, as you can see.
Jump straight to Part 2 of this long interview.
At what point in your career did you realise/discover that your name on a video sleeve might have some value to a film-maker?
“When I did Creep in 1995. Tim Ritter, my partner, got a call from a young movie maker named Marcus Koch who had seen Creep and asked Tim if he could get me in his movie Rot. Tim got a hold of me and told me. I called Marcus and we talked for a couple hours about the part I would play. It sounded like fun and the money was good so I said yes. While I was in Tampa making Rot, another movie maker heard I was in town and contacted Marcus to see if he could get me in his movie Brain Robbers from Outer Space. I worked out a deal with Garland Hewlett the director of the movie and ended up doing his movie while I was in town doing Rot.
“Right after this, Kevin Lindenmuth called Tim and asked him if he could get myself to appear in his movie Alien Agenda: Out of the Darkness. I accepted; it was a bit part but it got me the front cover of Alternative Cinema. Out of the Darkness led Kevin to ask Tim again, could you get Joel in another movie of mine entitled Alien Agenda: Endangered Species? This was a bigger role and a lot of fun to play. Shortly after this Kevin again asked Tim, can you get Joel to do a part for me in Addicted to Murder 2: Tainted Blood? Again I accepted, I think that was in 1996.
“Tim and I kept doing movies together but soon I started getting calls from movie makers all over the country wanting me to be in their movies. I even had distributors tell me the only reason they picked up the movie was because I was in it and my name meant something in the low budget movie arena. Other parts I got were from Ryan Cavalline of 4th Floor Productions and Mike Hoffman of Wet Floor Productions, all because of my previous track record with the movies Tim and I were cranking out. So it was and is pretty cool to have other directors and producers seek me out because of my past work and offer me rolls in their flicks.”
Realistically, how happy are you, making films for a few hundred bucks? Do you have (or did you ever have) any serious ambitions or dreams to take things to the next level?
“Realistically I am very happy doing low budget movies. I ask $300 a day now but I'll work within the movie maker’s means. Besides just being paid for your performance there are other attributes like a place to stay, your meals covered and airfare or gas depending how far away the shoot is. I have always had the dream to take it to the next level. That's every actor’s dream. If this is what it takes to get to that level then so be it. When I finally make it I can look back and say, 'Man, I really worked hard to get to where I am now.'
“A lot of actors just make indie movies, a lot of actors just do what their agent gets them. I do both, plus I am invited to conventions as well and I do voice over work also, so it balances everything out pretty even. When I do make it to that next level I would still like to do the indies because I love acting, whether it's the big time or not.”
At this low, low level of film-making, there must be plenty of BS-merchants: how can you spot them and avoid them?
“My partner Tim Ritter and I have heard it all, trust me. Every time I hear, ‘I'm making this little independent movie and I might even have Tom Cruise in it,’ - while everyone else is going, ‘Wow, did you hear that? He's getting Tom Cruise in his movie,’ I'm the first one to say, ‘Oh really, well bring him by when you get him so I can say hi.’
“I've always said when I hear, ‘I'm waiting for a million dollars to do my movie,’ I always say, ‘You keep waiting for that million dollars and I'll have knocked out 20 B-movies in that time.’ Now there are the times where the money does come through but most of the time it's just talk. Another is: ‘Give me your movie and I'll make you a million dollars. Just sign on the dotted line that I get all the rights and I'll take care of you.’
“Tim and I really got burned on our movie Creep. The distributor's cheques all bounced and they were impossible to track down because they would keep packing up and moving their offices to avoid us and our lawyers. I've seen so many movie makers make deals with distributors and they all got burned - the distributor never pays or if they do it's so very little. Okay, I take that back, most of the deals I've seen the movie maker has gotten burned. There are of course the exceptions; with us it is Ron Bonk of Sub Rosa Studios. Ron has always given us a fair shake. He has gotten our flicks out into the market and we have seen return on our movies.
“As far as spotting a distributor I would say just look over what they have to offer and ask other movie makers if they have dealt with them and see what their experiences were. I'm not downing all distributors, I'm just pointing out the ones we have dealt with. Other ways to look at it are: some will take your flick and get it out there all over the place and you get nothing or very little so it's up to the movie maker to make his or her choice. Honestly I don't think anybody becomes a millionaire off indie flicks, even the Blair Witch and Open Water deals are few and far between.”
How has the production and distribution of low-budget indies changed over the 20-odd years that you've been making them?
“Tim Ritter and I started back in 1984 with a little video called Twisted Illusions. At this time there wasn't any indie production at our level or others going on then. Tim and I were one of the first to really start this low budget, video-released industry. Yeah, there were the big boys like Herschell Gordon Lewis and George Romero but they were still studio-released stuff, I'm talking like it is today where everyone and his brother has a camcorder and is flooding the market with indies. When Tim and I started there wasn't any. I mean Blood Cult I think came out the same time we released Truth or Dare and Peter Jackson's Bad Taste came out right after Truth or Dare. Peerless films had put out a line of shot-on-video features called Video to Video but with very limited release.
“Truth or Dare was really the first big deal in the low budget arena (low budget meaning one million dollars). Killing Spree was next and still fairly new to the low budget movie arena. By the time we got Creep out everybody was shooting low budget indie movies. Nowadays the market is flooded, it seems everyone is shooting a movie. It is hard to get something released when there's so much product these distributors have to go through.
“Of course the more money you spent the harder it was to get back. Truth or Dare made all its money back and then some almost right away. A lot of Truth or Dare though was Tim going to Chicago to secure financing and do all the red tape stuff to get the ball rolling so it's not like we shot it in our backyard, a lot of time went into getting that movie going. Nowadays I think it is a lot harder. Well, there's two ways to look at it: then it was hard because no one was giving money to do it, we really had to be persistent or it never would have happened. Nowadays there's so much but no one really wants to give you anything for your work, or very little.
“Like I said, no one says, ‘Wow, cool movie you made, here's a million dollars for it." Also CGI, you didn't have that in the ‘80s, not like today where you can make the whole damn movie on your computer. (Well, I can't but people that know computers can. I can't even turn mine on.)
“Distribution I think is the same. Truth or Dare got out all over the country and overseas but that is the same with most distributors as well today, I don't think that is any different. All our movies are released all over the world. I think production just relies on the amount of money you have to spend on the movie. In Truth or Dare we were blowing things up right and left, we had Bob Shelley from Ghostbusters and Invasion USA and Jere Berry from Prom Night and Sharkey’s Machine. On Killing Spree the budget was a lot less but you make the best out of what you got. When I did Lost Faith there was no budget, actors worked because they wanted to be in a movie and all my catering was donated by local establishments. Money never stopped Tim and I from making a movie, I mean we wouldn't wait on a certain budget we'd just start shooting. Don't let the money stop you. Today there's just a lot more going on with indie movies then when Tim and I started in the ‘80s.”
“Uh oh, another in-depth answer coming here. Phil has been a friend of mine for over 13 years. I read an article on him and Falcon Video (his company) in Independent Video, a now defunct independent movie magazine. I called Phil and we became immediate friends, we talked about Burglar from Hell and Creep. We started a crossover friendship right off the bat. He started appearing in my movies and I started appearing in his. Phil was supposed to play the detective in Screaming for Sanity but a scheduling problem occurred and we had to use someone else at the last second. In Screaming for Sanity we changed one of the lines Kathy Kay Kurtz was saying to: ‘And Mr Herman thinks he's the Jacker.’
“Another movie I was acting in had a board in the background with people's names on it who were to be ‘reaped’ (I played a Reaper, sickle and all) in this particular movie and I wrote Phil's name on it. That was Jason Liquori's All Wrapped Up segment called Bogged Down. Phil had me do scenes in Jacker 2: Descent to Hell, Tales for the Midnight Hour, Tales Till the End and most recently we collaborated on Always Midnight which was the wrap-up to the Midnight series: Around Midnight and After Midnight. Cathy my wife and I shot three segments for this: The Bronze Princess (which everyone hates), Andrea’s Revenge and Kill Her, Arnold and we did the wraparound.
“Originally I was doing The Bite for Phil's Midnight series but I took too long to finish and he had to release it without The Bite. Now I had a short with nowhere to put it so I made lemonade out of lemons and turned The Bite into an 80-minute feature. I still owed Phil a segment so we shot a short called Kill Her, Arnold and Phil used it in the next Midnight movie, Always Midnight.
“Finally when Always Midnight was finished (that's another story in itself), Phil told me he was going to make another feature. I told him, ‘Cool - otherwise people tend to forget we can do full features.’ Tim had told me the same thing before I started The Bite. ’Man,’ he said, 'you need to do another feature otherwise people forget what you've done in the past and they just see you doing shorts and say: is that all he can do?’
“Anyway, Phil asked me right away if I and Cathy would do a cameo in the movie, my answer was yes. As said above, Phil and I have always helped each other, appearing in each other’s movies as well as whatever else we do for other movie makers. Phil had told me he needed a scene where two guards were watching a monitor in the Mental Institution. Like I said it's just a cameo and if you sneeze you will miss it but it was a lot of fun doing it and it is always fun working with Phil. I still say his best performance is in Tales Till the End when Phil (Parker) recounts the making of Burglar from Hell in The Distributor segment.
“In Into the Woods, the patient we are watching is Phil's crazed character, so it was a fun scene to do knowing we were looking at Phil. To give you an idea of the conversation, one of the guards (played by my wife) is asking all these questions about the crazed psycho we're watching on the monitor. She asks all these questions about his life and what drove him to the murders, she goes on and on (like this interview) with the questions about his life and rehabilitation and I simply say, ‘He's a crazy, fucked up son of a bitch! If you ask me, give 'em the chair!’"
Continue to Part 2 of this long interview where Joel discusses how his Christian faith relates to his movie career.