Film, Interview

BOSTON SCIFI INTERVIEW: ‘House Shark’ Director Ron Bonk


I was lucky enough to conduct an interview with legendary b-movie icon Ron Bonk about his movie House Shark! My original plan was to use these answers in my write up on House Shark (which will be published tomorrow), but Bonk gave me all I needed plus more, so I decided to just release the interview separately.

BOSTON HASSLE: So House Shark started out as an Indiegogo project, and as of asking this question it seems it didn’t reach the goal, but you still got to make the film at the end of the day. How did not reaching the goal affect the making of the film?

RON BONK: Well, the movie was being made either way. The Indiegogo was a way to help alleviate some of the costs – obviously I had hope for more money, but I learned a lot from that fundraiser as I did from making the movie. I actually have a new campaign up now for presales and we’ve raised 800% of the goal as I write this (and going up fast). It soon will be triple what I did on that first campaign, and in just 11 days. Anyway, getting back to your question – now if I had raised the funds, I may have cast a b-movie name actor or two in it, and I certainly would have upgraded some of the equipment and extended the crew. Or maybe just replaced faulty equipment – I remember that the tripods kept breaking on it, even my slider, and I was just so out of money I couldn’t afford to replace them. So I pushed forward, changed shots up, simplified them if needed, and made it work. I would have also tried more of the Spielberg “oners,” where he does long takes that move and reblock over the course of the shot. But they’re difficult to pull off, especially when you lack the proper equipment and enough crew lol.

BH: Something that really struck me as I watched House Shark was how much love was put into this. In some ways, it took me back to my summers as a teenager and making home movies with my friends, and I think that really sealed the deal for my love of this movie. With all that being said, what were the challenges filming a film like this?

RB: First, thank you. I definitely was going for that vibe. I wrote the movie originally to play like an an old Super-8mm movie like, say, the short the kids made that plays at the end of Super 8. But then I went for a more cinematic look for it. Still I wanted it to feel like a movie I may have made if I had gotten my hands on a film camera as a pre-teen in the ’70s. I tried to transport myself back to that time mentally, how I felt as a kid who just saw Jaws in theaters and was now making my friends star in my own shark movie. I used to play “Jaws” with the neighborhood kids all the time, then it was “Star Wars”, then “Alien.” All that being said, it was a very difficult shoot– lots of fun, but difficult. The things that come up that you don’t expect was, first, the camera we used. I had shot on HD prior, but this was my first movie shooting 4k. We used a Blackmagic URSA then the URSA Mini. They had a slight learning curve, but what was interesting was you had to light them like you were shooting film, and I hadn’t shot on film in over 25 years. So it was harder to use, and took more time to get the shots to look just right. And the cameras both ended up having some technical issues that didn’t come to light until I was in post (luckily I was able to fix them or work around them). The shark was a bigger problem. Unlike Bruce from Jaws, ours always worked, but it was so big it just took over every room it was in. I had to change shots, even parts of the plot, to accommodate where it did and didn’t fit, what doors it couldn’t make it through, and so forth. It was fun working with a practical effects monster, but things definitely come up that you don’t expect – like people being inside to animate it, that was hard on the lucky ones who got to try it. And just how to shoot it to make it the most effective – what shots made it scarier than others for example. It definitely was a learning experience, but made me want to have monsters in all my movies now.

BH: At times, House Shark reminded me of a mixture of Adam Green’s Hatchet and the tone of a Kevin Smith film. What influenced you the most with House Shark?

RB: Well, I certainly was trying to give it a Spielberg vibe, but not sure how well I was able to do that lol. I was really looking at his shots a lot, but also adding like a “fan film” element to it. I knew it wasn’t going to look like we had a hundred million dollars in the movie, but I still wanted it to look cinematic and big budget, while retaining a bit of childhood and/or indie filmmaker feel to it. I certainly love Kevin Smith, there may be some intersection in our respective humor. I wasn’t thinking of him or his movies when I wrote or made it, but we do share a huge love for Jaws. Anyway, I tend to be a wiseass, sarcastic, and say outrageous stuff in life, and I just kind of went wild with the idea and dialogue, let my brain just run out on the page. Then once on set, I let the actors – who are all a crazy bunch – add their own elements to their characters from there. I’m also a giant b-movie fan, and I love bad movies, I watch Rifftrax and MST3k all the time, and also seek out the craziest indie movies with plots that are just so far out there. And have for pretty much my entire life. So a lot of those movies are just burned into my conscious now and come out on the page in humorous ways, even if the original source inspiration didn’t intend it to be so.

BH: I love that House Shark has those callbacks to Jaws, what with the last half almost being identical to the last half of Jaws but instead of being on a boat, it’s the house. One thing that House Shark does really well is that the callbacks don’t service the movie, and instead are more nods and inside jokes to the audience. With that in mind, how important was it to have the callbacks not be the main point, and how hard did you work at making sure this movie had a story of its own?

RB: I love Jaws, it is one of my top 10 favorite movies. If I’m flipping through channels and it’s on, I almost always stop and watch it. I just get right into it, it never bores me. And so many moments in the movie, even just the tiniest ones, like the dog getting eaten off camera, the hippy girl screaming “Shark,” they are so ingrained into me now. I don’t know if I intended House Shark to have so many inside jokes on Jaws, so many nods to random moments – both the ones that the every day audience member knows, but also the ones only the hardcore fan will catch – but as I wrote it they just came out. I thought of ways I could play this or that moment but in a different way, and then see who catches that in-joke. It could be a play on words, it could be a key moment taken and then twisted around 180 degrees. It could even be a series of shots – like in House Shark when they board up the house, I did the same exact shots in order and framing as Spielberg did in Jaws when they were assembling the shark cage. Only a hardcore fan might catch that. Anyway, though, these callbacks didn’t start out as being key, but once they were written in or thought up, then I wanted them in. I make these movies for fans like myself, which sometimes makes for some vary narrow audiences (like with my Grindhouse homage movie, She Kills), but other times, like with this movie, it has a more general, wider audience appeal. So I’m hoping everyone catches these jokes and moments and laughs that much harder. At the same time of course, I didn’t want a carbon copy of Jaws. I wanted a story that would surprise you, have it go in different directions, and be a fun ride all its own. That was certainly important, these stories have to be your own in the end or otherwise why make them – just go watch the original.

BH: The best part of House Shark, in my opinion, was easily the character dynamics and interactions of Frank, Zachary, and Abraham. Most of what’s great about them is just how great the lead actors (Trey Harrison, Michael Merchant, Wes Reid) really are. How crucial was their chemistry to making the movie work?

RB: I’ve worked with all three on several projects now, and I wrote the roles with them in mind. Almost all the roles in this movie were written with actors I’ve worked with before or people I know in mind. As for these three, though, they’ve been in the same movie together a few times, but never actually got to all act together in in the same scene, or come together as a team like this. And I really wanted to see that, so it was cathartic for me when it finally happened here. As we are all friends, I know how they are around each other. I have seen how they add little elements to their roles, especially as we roll more and more and they get more comfortable and confident with the characters. I always encourage them to make it their own and to push it to the limits, to not hold back, and only reel them in if it’s counter to the character. They’re all great actors, versatile, they can and have played characters exactly opposite what you see in this one. Their chemistry was definitely a key element to make the movie roll along, as they get together as a team for the first time around the 45-50 min mark. That’s often when movie’s might slow down for a bit, take a breather before gearing up for one or two more big set pieces to wrap the movie up. But once they get together in House Shark, I wrote it to just build and build, get more and more insane until the movie is over – right through the end credits and the bonus scene. And they came together better than I even hoped, you really root for them as a team once they do. And where you usually see one crazy character playing to another straight character or characters, it was fun to do two basically crazy characters playing against one straight character, and seeing how that makes him go a bit insane at times.

BH: How long did it take to design the shark costume and what were the hurdles of making it?

RB: Marcus, the effects master, when he finally assembled it, he did it in about 3 weeks. He did it at a monster FX house in Atlanta if I remembering correctly, and then cut the tail off, jammed it into his SUV and drove up to Syracuse. Ultimately, he would know better than me about what was difficult in constructing it. I do know he made it in a way to accommodate some of the more difficult shots or moments, like cutting off the fin for moments where just the fin is seen (we did try these at first with the whole shark, but it was just too big). So that worked well and made some things easier to pull off instead of always having to use the whole creature every time we needed it. I know it was difficult animating the shark for whoever was in it. You’d think you’d want like a big muscular guy in there, but bigger guys actually had more trouble in it. Marcus was in it the most, and he did a great job. It was exhausting and hot, though, and he’d sweat like crazy and need breaks. The best one at animating the shark was actually Michael Merchant, and he observed that being thin gave him more room inside it and maybe that’s why he was the best at it. But Michael’s also a b-movie fan like me, so I think he’d do a great job in a Godzilla costume for Toho. He just knew what I wanted when he got in there, like he understood it better than anyone else. I know also that it quickly took a beating. Being oversized made it harder to handle. The FX team was constantly touching it up, especially after we would have to jam it through doors to get it out of the way after we were done with it for a scene or for the day. Just using it, it got rips, tears, even the jaw broke at one point when one of our larger actors, Wayne Johnson, got in it to be eaten. And getting it to eat people, not as easy as you might think. And it was just so big that even with a wide angle lens in the far corner of a room, we weren’t able to (mostly) get the whole thing framed in the shot.

BH: Lastly and a more unrelated question, I’m in love with the poster! Could you let me know who designed it, and if you would ever make poster sized prints of it to sell?

RB: It was designed by Devon Whitehead and I am doing posters of it in fact – they are a part of the Indiegogo right now. I am doing both small 11×17 ones that go with the physical media, but also full size one-sheet sized posters too. So yes, for sure! I love doing cool original art for all my movies, that’s usually the movie art I love the most.

House Shark screens Friday 2/16, 9:00pm, at the Somerville Theatre, as part of the Boston SciFi Film Festival’s “SciFright Night.” Stay tuned for our review tomorrow!

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