He is the man behind A Very Tight Place Dollar Baby Film.
SKSM: Could you start with telling me a little bit about yourself? Who are you and what do you do?
Stephen Tramontana: Well, my name is Stephen Tramontana. I’m a Chicago-based filmmaker and comic book writer. For the last four years, I’ve made movies with my partners, Jennifer Kunkel and Paul Summers, under the production company banner Angry Mule Productions. Our most well-known movie is probably Killer Piñata.
SKSM: When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker?
Stephen Tramontana: Pretty early on, I would say by 10 or 11 years old. Both with film and comics, I just loved visual storytelling. My high school years happened to hit during the indie film boom of the 90s, and that was just such an incredible time. People like Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Tarantino, Spike Lee, etc – it just really opened my world up. And, for the first time, made you believe that you, too, could make a movie!
SKSM: When did you make A Very Tight Place? Can you tell me a little about the production? How much did it cost? How long did it take to film it?
Stephen Tramontana: We shot A Very Tight Place last fall, starting in September and wrapping in December. All in, we filmed about six days. At Angry Mule, we don’t really do the traditional 12-14 hour production days. We’re usually about an 8 hour day topside, and we like that kind of schedule. We own our equipment, so it’s really just about finding the right location and time of day, etc. In terms of budget, I think we came in around $2,000. We shot the film on iPhone X’s, using Moment anamorphic lens kits, so that really helped with production costs. Our biggest cost was probably the porta-potty itself, which we purchased brand new and I believe it was around $650. The cool thing was, for Durkin Village, we received permission to shoot in the oldest housing project in Chicago. So it was kind of a nice tip of the hat to another storied Chicago horror story – Candyman. In King’s version, the story takes place in Florida, we moved the setting to Chicago.
SKSM: How come you picked A Very Tight Place to develop into a movie? What is it in the story that you like so much?
Stephen Tramontana: I’ve loved it since I read it in 2008. It was just such a bonkers idea – but a very classic idea. It’s very much a Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents kind of story, and that’s basically how we shot it. As if we were given our own episode – I actually wouldn’t be surprised if some anthology show licensed AVTP down the line. Whenever you have a human in a contained situation – kind of a man versus nature and man versus self at the same time, you’ve got all the elements for a great short. And I think this could only work as a short, to try and develop it as a feature would probably be a mistake.
SKSM: How did you find out that King sold the movie rights to some of his stories for just $1? Was it just a wild guess or did you know it before you sent him the check?
Stephen Tramontana: Ha. Well, I think it was probably the story of Frank Darabont optioning a story as a USC film student. That’s a pretty famous story for film students. I remember hearing about dollar babies way back, but kind of forgot about them. After we did Killer Piñata, we knew that we wanted to spend some time making shorts because we just wanted to get more content out there, tell more stories, improve as filmmakers, etc. And in that process, I was reminded of the dollar baby program and went to his website to see if AVTP was available, which it was! I’m not sure how that list is curated, but it was available. We optioned it, but then our previous short, Eyelash, took longer than expected, by about six months, so we actually had to go back to them and ask for an extension. Originally, they said no. But we showed them Eyelash, and I think, based on that, they extended the option for another year, so they were really cool about that and we were very lucky.
SKSM: Was there any funny or special moment when you made the movie that you would like to tell me about?
Stephen Tramontana: I think the special moment for me was just watching the final mix, with Paul and Ryan’s amazing score layered in. I’ve never directed an adaptation before. As a screenwriter I’ve adapted Shirley Jackson, but I’ve never made a made a movie based on other material, and this is the only King short I ever wanted to do. So it was like this bucket list moment where I realized, “wow, we really did it. We made AVTP, and it works.” I’m really proud of how this came out. We set out trying to challenge ourselves on this one and I think we succeeded. Paul and Ryan Aldrich, who’s the 4th member of Angry Mule, they just really outdid themselves with the score and sound mix.
SKSM: How does it feel that all the King fans out there can’t see your movie? Do you think that will change in the future? Maybe a internet/dvd release would be possible?
Stephen Tramontana: So our deal with Mr. King basically says we have the rights to show it in film festivals, but we need to get additional permission to put it on our Vimeo and YouTube accounts, and we’re definitely interested in that. We need to get through festival season first, which will be most of this year, but I’m hopeful we can come to some agreement to get it to Mr. King’s wider fanbase toward the end of this year or early 2020.
SKSM: What “good or bad” reviews have you received on your film?
Stephen Tramontana: The only review so far has been with a podcast called Talk Nerdy 2 Me. We actually showed them an early cut, because I was going on to discuss Eyelash, Angry Mule, etc. But we thought it was a good time to get some eyes on it, the cut was pretty much finished. Of the three people who viewed it, we got 4/4, 4/4, and 3.5/4, so I’ll take those numbers on an assembly edit. Which basically means the film was 85% done with some final sound and visual effects that needed to be added.
SKSM: Do you plan to screen the movie at a particular festival?
Stephen Tramontana: We’re kicking off with Windy City Horrorama. It’s a terrific fest in Chicago, we actually debuted our previous short, Eyelash, there last year. The fest organizers, Matt Storc and Alex Vazquez, have such a terrific sense of film. They manage to find these hidden gems of horror, so it’s always an honor to be included in their programming. My guess is, in 3-5 years, Windy City Horrorama will be a destination festival for a lot of filmmakers. It’s that good.
SKSM: Are you a Stephen King fan? If so, which are your favorite works and adaptations?
Stephen Tramontana: I am. I haven’t had an opportunity to read his recent stuff, but I was that typical 80’s kid who soaked up Stephen King. True story, my mother read It to me as a bedtime story (she left out the gang bang bit). In terms of favorite books: Firestarter, Cujo, Pet Semetary, Dolores Claiborne, Needful Things, and Hearts in Atlantis. I’m also a fan of the Dark Tower series. In terms of adaptations, it would be Pet Semetary (89), The Dead Zone, Christine, It (2017), Cujo, Misery, and The Shawshank Redemption.
SKSM: Did you have any personal contact with King during the making of the movie? Has he seen it (and if so, what did he think about it)?
Stephen Tramontana: We did not. We connected a bit with Margaret in his office. When we finished post, I sent Margaret the link to the festival screener, the poster, etc. I imagine he hasn’t seen it yet. This is a very busy time for Stephen King, and I’m sure Dollar Babies get kinda pushed to the bottom of the pile. But I hope he likes, I think we had a very faithful adaptation.
SKSM: Do you have any plans for making more movies based on Stephen King’s stories? If you could pick -at least- one story to shoot, which one would it be and why?
Stephen Tramontana: Not at the moment. We’re hard at work on our next two shorts and we’re still sorting out what 2020 looks like. If I had my dream gig, I would adapt Hearts in Atlantis for Netflix or Amazon. It would be a tremendous 5 or 6 episode limited series.
I also think tackling Blaze as a feature would be fun. That’s just such a terrific pulpy story.
SKSM: What are you working on nowadays?
Stephen Tramontana: We’re in preproduction on our next short, Grief Counseling, which we’ll film in May and June. That one kind of has thematic echoes of Pet Semetary, I just realized. Then we’re filming a short after that in September, which will be pretty grisly. If people like gore, then that’ll be the short for them. And then just noodling on another Killer Piñata.
SKSM: What one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
Stephen Tramontana: I’m not sure I have anything surprising. Two fun facts: I’m related to U.S. President Harry Truman and I once travelled and worked with Bruce Campbell during his screening run of Man With The Screaming Brain, which Bruce co-wrote and directed. For a kid who grew up on Army of Darkness, that was a dream come true.
SKSM: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything you want to say to the fans that read this interview?
Stephen Tramontana: My pleasure! Thanks for your interest in the film. All I can say is if you’re a fan of this story, I hope we did well by you. We approached it as fans, and we’re really looking forward to connecting with other King fans as it rolls out this year.
SKSM: Would you like to add anything else?
Stephen Tramontana: If they want to follow the film, please follow us on social media – we’ll be posting regular updates, festival announcements, behind the scenes, etc. @AngryMule on Facebook, @AngryMuleProd on Twitter, and @AngryMule on Instagram