John Pata, the director/writer of the award winning film Black Mold talks Panic Fest, space pirates and his incredible film team with The Blonde in Front

Writer/director John Pata introducing his film BLACK MOLD to the crowd at Panic Fest

“Panic Fest 2023”

I met director John Pata at my first convention which was Wizard World Chicago. He and his directing partner Adam Bartlett had their feature film DEAD WEIGHT for sale at their table and I immediately noted the quality of the cinematography of the film playing on the table and intrigued to see what the full film looked like I purchased one. My gateway into independent horror, I was shocked due to my low expectations and how they were blown away by this film. I went back the next day and purchased another. That was almost 11 years ago and John and I have been friends ever since. He has been my sounding board when I was starting The Blonde in Front and I’ve supported any of his cinematic endeavors however I can. John is legendary throughout the independent film community for both his influences and involvement in a number of films both big and small that span the genre filmmaking world. Known for his generosity, genuine character and excellent craftsmanship for whatever aspect he is involved with a film, when you meet him you most likely will never forget him. With his third feature BLACK MOLD having its World Premiere and winning both the Audience Award for Best Indie//Feature Film AND Best Actress at Panic Fest I had to get an interview in before he gets a franchise with Marvel or a Star Wars spin-off.

Cast and crew after the World Premiere of Black Mold post Q&A at Panic Fest

You just had your world Premiere of your feature film Black Mold at Panic Fest, what did you do right after? 

We were lucky enough to have a huge number of the cast and crew at Panic Fest, so we all went out for a post-premiere celebration. This group of people are truly incredible and it was so great to just be around each other, laugh, reminisce, and celebrate everyone’s work. Then we headed back to Panic Fest for the karaoke party and I made a fool of myself singing Weird Al’s “Dare To Be Stupid.” 

BLACK MOLD cast and crew after the World Premiere at Panic Fest

How many films were you involved with at Panic Fest this year?

I somehow ended up with three films this year. BLACK MOLD, which I wrote/directed/edited; BUG BITES, a short directed by my really good friend Danny DelPurgatorio that I edited; and BROOKLYN 45 directed by Ted Geoghegan. I came down for a few days to shoot BTS stills and interview the cast and Ted for the EPK. This is where I first met Jeremy Holm, who plays The Man Upstairs in BLACK MOLD. We sat down for our BROOKLYN 45 interview on December 8, 2021 and Jeremy’s first day on set was exactly three months later on March 8, 2022.

What makes Panic Fest so special to you? 

There are a lot of reasons, but at the core of them is the community. The horror community that Kansas City has cultivated is truly unreal. Everyone is so enthusiastic and supportive and welcoming. The fans there are so hungry for the genre, it’s so refreshing to see. And there’s no pretentiousness or attitudes abound, everyone is so damn personable and just wants to have a good time. Also, having the mixture of podcasts and Nightmare Junkhead’s Game of Games makes it about so much more than just watching movies. It’s just fun, so damn fun and for some reason Kansas City/Panic Fest continue to be really, really kind to me. 

Oshkosh is your #1 city. Would you say that Kansas City is a close second and why?

I’m not going to do any ranking of cities because that might get me in trouble, but let’s just say that I would have moved to Kansas City years ago if it didn’t get so hot there. I’m the opposite of most people; the older I get, the less I can tolerate hot temperatures. For real though, fuck that heat and double-fuck that humidity. 

Black Mold was a very personal film for you as you discussed in the post Q&A. Do you think you’ll make another feature as personal to you as Black Mold? 

I didn’t necessarily expect BLACK MOLD to be so personal when I began writing it, it just sort of happened so I can’t really say. However, I think anything I write will always be personal to a certain extent. That’s kind of just how I am.

What did your lead cast bring to their characters that was not on the page? 

In a lot of ways, they brought everything. Characters never become 3-dimensional until they’re on set, in wardrobe and makeup, with an actor making choices. There’s a foundation on the page, and the cast built upon that. They brought humanity and life to these characters, as well as their own ideas. Getting to sculpt the characters through collaboration with the cast is such a rewarding experience.  

With the weather, locations and overnights this seems like many things could go wrong and yet didn’t on screen. What is the scene that surprised you the most how smoothly it went? 

The last scene in the film (scene 35) was 11 pages and I pushed to shoot it over the course of three days. I have never extended a scene over multiple days before, especially one that important and with so much going on. I knew how to approach it but it’s one thing to think about it and another to actually do it. Even over the course of three days, it was a lot of work but it was exactly what we needed to do to craft the conclusion of the film. When we wrapped the third day of the scene, I couldn’t help but think, “Holy shit, we did it!” And of course we did, the cast and crew were beyond incredible and there’s no way we wouldn’t have. 

What would you like your cinematic legacy to be? 

I don’t think of things like that. It’s been nine years since I’ve directed so who the heck knows if I’ll ever get to direct again. I’d love to, but getting one film made is damn near impossible and I’m not going to assume it’ll happen again. It would be sick as hell if it did, though. 

John Pata writer/director of award winning film Black Mold and The Blonde in Front at Panic Fest

AND the litmus test question for The Blonde in Front; Who is your favorite space pirate? 

Some might think this is a stretch, and they might not be wrong, but I’m going with Roland Deschain from The Dark Tower series.

#PanicFest2023 #JohnPata #BlackMold #interview #director #genre #filmfestival

Interview with Kyle Butenhoff writer/director/actor of LACED after it’s Panic Fest 2023 premiere

LACED is a modern film noir that is taut and stylish with the originality and the reminiscence of thrillers from the 50s and 80s that I loved. Contained in a solitary location the viewer feels the isolation not only from the locale but also from the heart of it’s characters. LACED is Kyle’s directorial debut and the debut feature of the production team of Butenhoff, producers Matt Ramey and Dana Mackin. LACED played at Panic Fest 2023 and was one of the best of the hybrid films at the fest in my opinion. I met writer/director/actor Kyle Butenhoff at the fest and we spoke about the festival, genre films and my adoration for the poster art of LACED.

Kyle Butenhoff is Charlie in LACED

How has your recovery been since the premiere of Laced and what did you think of Panic Fest 2023

Kyle Butenhoff: We absolutely loved Panic Fest! It was like a horror fan’s superbowl, and that energy translated into such a welcoming environment. I mentioned during my Q&A, that watching Laced with a Panic Fest crowd was probably one of my favorite times ever watching it. That being said, yes it is definitely a wild weekend to bounce back from.

Panic Fest 2023 at Screenland Armour in Kansas City

We spoke briefly at the festival regarding the array of films classified within the genre label. What was your gateway drug for each of you into genre films and how did that influence your film career and taste in films for the future? 

Kyle Butenhoff: My gateway into the world of genre was without a doubt watching Silence of the Lambs when I was nine. In my opinion that is a near perfect movie, and it spiked my interest from a young age into the world of the macabre and serial killers. My parents obviously didn’t believe in the MPAA. 

I spoke with Kyle about how much I love the poster art for Laced. It’s not a design that I see that much and I wish I did. How closely were you involved in designing the poster? Have there been any surprising reactions to the poster and what have they been? 

Kyle Butenhoff: From the jump I knew I didn’t want a traditional poster with faces looking into the abyss. I wanted something that if you took away the title and credits block, would just look like a really cool print. I got obsessed with minimalist renditions of old movie posters, specifically retro Hitchcock, and the best guy working in that field, in my opinion, is the man who made our poster, Michal Krasnopolski. Everywhere we have been the poster has become a topic of conversation, and I can only pass on the praise to our incredible artist.

The location and music seemed like the 5th and 6th costars of the film. How was the location found for the film? How important was the music to you and how hands on were you with the involvement? 

Kyle Butenhoff: We all were actually up at a friend’s cabin for a small bubble New Years celebration when the entire team looked around and thought, “damn we could make Laced here.” I had written Laced at the end of 2019, and the location actually is the thing that sparked pre-production to happen. It was in the middle of the pandemic when the entire industry was shut down, so we all felt like we kinda had nothing to lose. As for the score, we found Steph Copeland through her agent, and I think it is obvious to anyone who watches the film that we hit the jackpot. She is such a talented composer, and the collaboration with her was absolutely effortless. She is in Toronto and I’m in LA, but there would be times that we would send emails to each other seconds apart asking the same question after not speaking for a couple of days. It really felt like we were on the same wavelength.

With starring producing, directing and writing the film along with wardrobe and makeup, Dana and Kyle you had your hands pretty full. Will you be doing the same with your next film? 

Kyle Butenhoff: On the next film, probably not. In the future I would love to. The problem with directing and acting at the same time, is that each shot you are in instantly becomes twice as expensive, because it takes twice as long to check playback and make corrections. That’s fine when you have a multi-million dollar budget and can afford that luxury, but when you are working at our size and shooting in 16 days, time is the ultimate commodity.  

Kyle Butenhoff as Charlie in LACED

Where is LACED going next?

Kyle Butenhoff: Laced will be the closing film at the Sunscreen Film Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida and then we will continue on our festival circuit.

Dana Mackin as Molly and Kyle Butenhoff as Charlie in LACED

And the litmus test question for The Blonde in Front: Who is your favorite space pirates? 

Kyle Butenhoff: Okay so this is a bit of a deep cut, but have you ever seen the 2002 film Treasure Planet? It was a sci-fi retelling of Treasure Island that Disney put out with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and I believe it was considered a bomb at the time, but I think it is criminally underrated. Especially their version of Long John-Silver. He comes into the film and becomes a father figure to the protagonist, and his speech to Joseph about the potential he sees in him always brings a tear to my eye.

#PanicFest2023 #Laced #KyleButehoff #directorialdebut #noir #thriller #genrefilm #filmfestival #interview

Interview with LACED actress and producer Dana Mackin after the Panic Fest premiere

A modern day neo noir thriller with the twists and turns that rival the best in the genre. LACED tells the story of a couple on a secluded weekend getaway where the secrets from their past and present collide in murder. I was fortunate enough to meet with the creatives from LACED at Panic Fest in Kansas City on April 14th. For a dark story they could not have been nicer which is normally the case from what I have found for the creatives in genre film making. Dana was one of the first of the team I met and after watching the film and meeting her in person, it was obvious to me this is a woman that is going to have an incredible career in film.

Dana Mackin as Molly in LACED

How has your recovery been since the premiere of Laced and what did you think of Panic Fest? 

Dana Mackin: Panic Fest was amazing because everyone there was so informed and enthusiastic about indie filmmaking. For the past 2+ years we’ve all been so focused on the film, and have had to make an active effort to talk to our friends and family about literally anything else. Panic Fest almost felt like a relief, because we could have a 45 minute long conversation with a near stranger about day-for-night shooting, 5.1 mixes, or distribution terms without them checking their watch. In terms of recovery…our team is one of extroverts, but I know that for the first two days back we all just needed a bit of time to recharge that social battery and battle the near-addiction level dependency on red bull that I personally developed the weekend of Panic Fest. 

We spoke briefly at the festival regarding the array of films classified within the genre label. What was your gateway drug for each of you into genre films and how did that influence your film career and taste in films for the future? 

Dana Mackin: I have a secret to share: I am a huge baby when it comes to “scary” movies. I slept on the floor of my parents bedroom until I was twelve, terrified that I was going to be abducted by aliens or possessed by an ancient demon, and I can admit that I am still absolutely afraid of the dark. When I was but a sheltered little kid at a Thanksgiving gathering one year, one of my ten million cousins decided to throw on Signs in the living room, and I exited that room fully traumatized. For about a decade after that I avoided genre films like the plague, certain that I would be unable to sleep for years after any of them. Imagine my surprise when a friend of mine forced me to watch The Babadook and, despite the fact that I cried at one point, I found myself enthralled with the power of the genre and enthusiastic about the idea of instilling that same reaction in others with my own stories. I think that in a lot of ways, being an absolute wuss has motivated my passion for genre films, because I know how powerfully fear can be translated through the screen.

I spoke with Kyle about how much I love the poster for Laced. It’s not a design that I see that much and I wish I did. How closely were you involved in designing the poster? Have there been any surprising reactions to the poster and what have they been? 

Dana Mackin: I am a total maniac and control freak about the art displayed in my apartment. Kyle hung up a 27×40 print of the poster in our kitchen, and it’s still there. It’s Mattisse, Rothko, and now Krasnopolski. I love this poster. So far that’s been the reaction across the board, but I’m curious to see if at any point there will be questions raised about its commercial appeal – I have faith that the general public doesn’t need a heavily edited picture of a fearful face, dripping blood, or a “scary” font to garner interest in a film like this, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see!

The location and music seemed like the 5th and 6th costars of the film. How was the location found for the film? How important was the music to you and how hands on were you with the involvement? 

Dana Mackin: Kyle spent nearly a month obsessing over a temp score for the film – he knew exactly what he wanted for it, and when we found Steph Copeland it was like the film gods had hand-picked her for him. Her hard work and talent elevated this film in a massive way, and she also just happened to be an absolute pleasure to work with. Not only did the cabin provide the perfect set for this script, it also provided a place for all of the cast and crew to sleep during production. I think the fact that it feels like a costar in the film speaks so much to the talent of our DP, Sam Robinson, and the way he and Kyle worked together to make every shot in this single location dynamic and thoughtful.

With starring producing, directing and writing the film along with wardrobe and makeup, Dana and Kyle you had your hands pretty full. Will you be doing the same with your next film? 

Dana Mackin: I’ve always thought of myself as an actor by trade, but producing this film has been an incredibly empowering, challenging, and educational experience. I loved being a part of every step of the process, from pre-production all the way through to this space of festivals and marketing, and I feel certain that this is just the start of my journey as a producer. That being said, applying high-stakes special effects prosthetics and then hopping directly in front of the camera to try and deliver an authentic and intensely emotional performance was, in a word, stressful. So I would love to not ever do those two things on the same day ever, ever, ever again. 

Where is Laced going next? 

SunScreen in St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia) and hopefully many more festivals after that!

And the litmus test question for The Blonde in Front: Who is your favorite space pirate? 

I’m stealing Kyle’s answer on this one – Treasure Planet. Best Mcdonald’s happy meal toys to date, in my opinion.

My Favorite Shorts of 2016 

My Favorite Shorts of 2016 

“Be gentle, it’s my first time.”

Catwoman – Batman Returns 1992

Welcome one and probably one to my very first blog post. I know, I figured out how to turn on the tablet and everything all by myself and thought I may as well write about some things before I break it! Those who know me are aware that I suffer from two conditions: Cinephilia and being Technology Challenged so why not combine the two and put them to some use while also entertaining, I hope. Here I am, proof that ANYONE can do what they love and go from there. Film Festivals, Conventions, Events, Pre-screenings, Celebs, Film Reviews and more……trying everything and telling you all about it. So to keep my first post short, I thought I would begin with my favorite shorts of 2016. And to keep it even shorter, I will do my favorite 5 instead of 10 so here we go.

#5 The Stylist – Director Jill Gevargizian

The Stylist tells the story of Claire, a hairstylist working on her last client of the night and the dark turn it takes. From the first image of Claire daydreaming at the ceiling as she slowly spins in her stylist chair to that last emotional scene, Najarra Townsend captures your attention and breath with her performance and leaves you wanting to see and know more about what makes Claire who she is and what has led to her to this place. A mesmerizing score by Nicholas Elert, great cinematography by Robert Patrick Stern, editing by John Pata and production design by Sarah Sharp elevate the filmgoing experience. If a feature is to be made of any of the shorts listed, I can not only see this being made into one but also sequels to follow. Currently streaming on Shudder.

#4 The Light Thief – Director Eva Daoud

The Light Thief reminds me of It Follows with its subject matter and The Hunger with its eerie beauty. After a woman becomes involved with a man who takes her essence of love, how does it change her and how can she regain the light that was stolen from her? Daoud does a beautiful job giving equal attention to the character development of our dual villains and heroine, enough to care or despise them while also suprising you when you think you know everything about them. Phenomenal direction by Eva Daoud with excellent art direction by Marta Gutierrez-Abad, it also has one of the most beautiful production designs on a film, short or otherwise. I truly look forward to what Daoud will put forth to entertain and elevate us all. I believe it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

#3 Hard Broads – Director Mindy Bledsoe

Hard Broads kept me laughing long after it had ended with 4 others shorts still to view. The film immediately made me want to be best friends with director/writer/actress Mindy Bledsoe and her leading ladies or know I would be in good company if I found a dead male stripper in the trunk of my car. One of the only films last year, short or feature, that passed the Bechdel Test, when 3 female friends are brought back together to help one with a corpse, an evening of hilarious adventures go down. Fantastic physical comedy by all the ladies and Susan Kirton who says so much without saying a word. A look at female friendship and A Weekend at Bernie’s for the millenium with more pot and laughs, the tag line says it all: Three Women. One Corpse. Stupid Plan. A funny, funny gory good time I am lucky enough to own.

#2 Light up the Night – Directors Caspar Newbolt and Matt Sundin

Short or 15 minute video, I’m not sure if it was the performance of James Ransone, the music of the Protomen or some weird Mr. Roboto girl crush thing I never knew I had that drew me to this Big Brother musical fantasy but I watched it, forwared it, spoke about it and then watched it again within 30 minutes. While it has a Repo! The Genetic Opera look to it, that will be the only comparison I will make about this story in a 1984 style setting with the robotic law enforcement and mounting tensions of the citizens ready to explode during a concert by the Protomen whose music narrates the struggle between the two. A Streets of Fire flashback came to mind with the city that sees no light, steam and violence in the streets and a soundtrack that makes it all work.I really like Streets of Fire so I think this is a big compliment. Now on YouTube for your viewing pleasure.

#1 Fragile Storm – Dawn Fields

So there were 2 instances last year where I needed to walk out of what I was watching. The first instance for exiting was Phantasm Ravager in the theater during a horror film festival. The second was during the Etheria 2016 tour lineup at Days of the Dead Chicago after watching this jewel. While the reason for the first was because it was absolutely horrendous, the latter left me so emotional I had to skip the remaining short films to compose myself and try not to ugly cry while making my exit. This film is one of the best pieces of art I have seen all year. When a young woman is held hostage by an older man, played by the incredible Lance Henriksen, you are taken on her terrifying journey trying to break free from her captor, only to find out the truth of why she is actually there. My emotional response took me by suprise at what the story truly reveals which I can only imagine was a peronal experience for writer Carly Street that is becoming far too relatable for many others. Writing about it 2 months later after only one viewing and I am still fighting back tears. Even the tagline: He promised her…no matter what, is haunting. Suspense, Drama, Horror….however you categorize it, they are all true. Prepare to view greatness and bring some tissues, you’ll need them.

Best Actress in a Short Film

Najarra Townsend – The Stylist

Best Actor in a Short Film

Lance Henriksen – Fragile Storms

I have to acknowledge and thank Stacy Pippi for her excellent judgement as 4 of the 5 films are from the Etheria Film Festival or Tour Selections and I would probably not have had the opportunity to view them if not for her. Enjoy these at your leisure friends and let me know if there are any others you recommend. If you see me at the movies, I’ll be the blonde in front.