Evan Jacobs, who has been making movies since 1995, first gained my notice for his amazing documentary ORANGE COUNTY HARDCORE SCENESTER, which covered the Orange County Hardcore Punk scene from 1990-1997, but it turns out he has made and released over 30 films! Crossing several different genres from horror, sci-fi, romantic comedy, experimental, and unexpected crossovers, his DIY company Anhedenia Films has seen home video move from tape, disc and to the now ubiquitous streaming format. Evan has recently launched Anhedenia Films on Demand via Vimeo and our paths finally crossed when he dropped me a line about his latest movie “The Death Toilet”, in which “Vietnam veteran Brett Baxter comes home to settle his dead brother’s affairs and soon realizes that his toilet may be the embodiment of Satan.” It stars Mike from New Age Records and Isaac from Californian straight edge hardcore act A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL, and it sparked my curiosity to learn more about Evan’s work and jump right into an interview on DIY filmmaking and his connection to the hardcore punk scene.
When I started most of my movies were made around the hardcore punk scene. I used music from bands like Farside, Gameface, A Chorus of Disapproval, Iceburn, Ignite, Eleven-Thirty Four, etc. Many of the people from those bands have also acted in my films. Nearly 25 years later very little has changed in that regard.
See the full interview with Evan Jacobs of Anhedenia Films below.
Hey Evan! Thanks for taking some time with us. It’s a pleasure to have you here on IDIOTEQ. Please tell us about your independent movie project, your background and how you started your career back in the 90s.
Thank you for having me on IDIOTEQ! I recently released a new movie titled DEATH TOILET via my movie label Anhedenia Films On Demand. Right now it is available to stream although I am working on a special edition, collectors-edition DVD. It will be coming to other streaming services like Amazon Prime very soon. DEATH TOILET stars Mike Hartsfield (NEW AGE RECORDS) and Isaac Golub (COUNT CATASTROPHIC; A CHORUS OF DISAPPROVAL). DEATH TOILET is a very low brow, horror comedy about a Vietnam veteran named Brett Baxter (Hartsfield) who comes home to settle his dead brother’s affairs and soon realizes that his toilet may be the embodiment of Satan. It is meant to be a fun, silly film.
I made my first movie WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS in 1995. That movie and a few others that followed were primarily geared toward the hxc/punk scene. They had people from the scene starring in them and soundtracks from the bands. Then I started making other kinds of films (experimental, animation, documentaries) and then I moved into horror, sci-fi, dramas, etc. Nowadays, nothing is off limits. I make it all (rom-coms, horror comedies, animated horror films, animated dramas, etc). The most known films have probably been the ones that are more hardcore-centric like CURSE OF INSTINCT: 108’s FINAL TOUR and ORANGE COUNTY HARDCORE SCENESTER. I’d like to make another hardcore documentary. I just need to find the right project.
I am also lucky enough to get work as a screenwriter (sometimes) and a young-adult fiction author. I co-wrote a film titled BLACK FRIDAY that at one time came out through Universal Home Video. Another screenplay I co-wrote with Louis Lombardi (THE SOPRANOS, ENTOURAGE, THE SPIRIT) titled DOUGHBOYS, is available on DVD from MTI Home Video. A screenplay I co-wrote titled KNOCKOUT starring Stone Cold Steve Austin, came out on DVD/Blu-ray from Phase 4. Lastly, a film I co-wrote titled A FATHER’S SECRET plays on Lifetime Movie Network.
As a young/adult fiction author I have written about 60 books for both Saddleback Educational Publishing and my own book label Ronni’s Books.
Wow, that’s a lot of work! Let’s take it bit by bit. How do you recall those early days and the cinema scene of the 90s? Do you still own a bunch of VHS tapes? :)
The early days were really a different time. This was before DVDs. I got started in the mid-90s. I literally made a film, grabbed a film magazine, and started contacting people. Even though my first film was a drama, I found myself in a very accepting world of horror filmmakers. A lot of these people were much better and much more accomplished than I was. Still, they liked my movie, they helped me get press and, in some cases, distribution. Back then the holy grail was Blockbuster. It was very hard to get in those video stores. Some of those filmmakers did WITH their films that they had made all by themselves. I managed to get in there with a film called BLACK FRIDAY (and later KNOCKOUT) but I didn’t make those films. I just wrote them. What is really impressive to me looking back is how the filmmakers got their films into the hands of people without the internet. That is really amazing if you think about it.
In regards to video tapes, I have a small collection of tapes I will never part with. Mostly campy stuff like SUMMER CAMP NIGHTMARE or THE NEW KIDS. I also have a few boxes of VHS tapes of Anhedenia Films. These were titles that never got sold on VHS once DVDs came along.
Considering your full collection of movies, which items are you most fond of?
I love them all! Haahahha… Whenever I make a film I genuinely it has a chance to find an audience. Sometimes that happens, oftentimes it doesn’t, but like Roger Corman says, “There are very few great successes and total failures.” I think the best film I have made is INSECT. It’s an animated horror movie that was really inspired by PHANTASM. It’s a very personal film and really came out the way I wanted it to. I am also proud of the 108 documentary I did. Considering what that band means to people, I was happy I was able to capture a very small chunk of that band’s existence. I think THE PARK starring myself and Isaac Golub is certainly one of the funnest films I’ve made. I truly feel Isaac is very funny and he cracks me up in that film. I really loved the process of making ORANGE COUNTY HARDCORE SCENESTER. Going through the old footage. Finding footage. Reconnecting with so many old friends. I think it might’ve fared better as a straight documentary. I just had a specific story I wanted to tell and I went in that direction. And then there’s my newest film, DEATH TOILET. That movie was an idea with Mike Hartsfield. We had it forever and one day we just said we’re gonna finally make that movie about the killer toilet. And we sure did!
And apart from productions you’ve been involved in? What movies, both mainstream and independent, will you always stop and watch no matter how many times you’ve seen it?
Sadly, I can’t just stop and watch things now. There’s always something I am working on or something I have to do. So I actually have to plan things. What often happens is I might see a clip of a movie I loved. Take a film like GRAVESEND for instance. If I see that movie, I’ll literally write a note to myself and watch it later either on DVD or streaming. Also, there’s always so much new content coming at us. I am currently in a quagmire that includes the TV shows CASTLE ROCK, BETTER CALL SAUL and the DVD of VISION QUEST. I truly love all kinds of movies. I will watch anything. I don’t love everything but I will watch everything.
How do you think the independent cinema has changed over the years? Given the crazy digital times we live in, what do you think about its future?
The fact that I can shoot a movie, edit it, and then upload it and sell it through ANHEDENIA FILMS ON DEMAND is crazy to me. I started editing on VHS tapes. Player to player. Then I edited on a machine called the CUBE paying $15. In the 1990s that was a lot of money! (Heck, it still is!) Then I got a computer that I could edit on (the Mac Cube, ironically) and everything changed. This was all before YouTube. Personally, I love these times. Yes, it’s a very cluttered market. At the same time, selling films has always been work. I’ve never made my living off this. I always just made what I wanted to make. The trick was figuring out how to do it very cheaply. The “digital times” have made this possible. I think independent has always been kind of a funny term. Is a cookie cutter film with big budget stars made for five cents an independent film? Is a Christopher Nolan big budget film with a real point of view and unique story, not? I think the subject matter is what makes something independent. As for the future, everything will eventually be streamable whenever we want it. People will still be able to go to movie theaters. However, what comes after that? When will the language of film change? Where will it go? Who can tell? I just want to make as many films as I can.
Well said and totally agreed!
Ok, so let’s jump into the details of your work with Anhedenia. A couple of your titles, including Orange County Hardcore Scenester or the 2011’s Knockout, which you co-wrote with Jack Nasser, became quite a big success. How do you look back at your career after all these years and which of your projects did you enjoy the most?
Thank you! I was very happy with the way KNOCKOUT came out because they kept the ending from the script. Oftentimes when I work as a writer for hire things change and I understand that is going to happen. In this case because I am a huge boxing fan and I felt like I had actually contributed a good movie to the sport.
As far as looking back at my career, I always feel like I am getting started. I want to make a lot of things. I know that sometimes they may not all be great but I want to be as prolific as possible. When I look back now I am so stoked that I made something like CURSE OF INSTINCT: 108’s FINAL TOUR in the 1990s. It wasn’t made in 2018 with a crazy camera and all the editing stuff we have now. It was shot on my parents camcorder and I edited it for $15 an hour in Pasadena, CA. It may not be the most amazing documentary you will ever see but it’s very much of its time.
The projects I enjoyed the most were ORANGE COUNTY HARDCORE SCENESTER (watching all that old footage, editing it… not some of the stuff that happened after), INSECT, THE PARK, DV4, DV2, and I am sure that there are others but I can’t remember them. WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS will always be special because it was the first movie I made. It ended up doing a lot for me in regards to getting out into the marketplace and allowing me to meet other filmmakers.
The storyline of your newest production sounds insane. What drew you into it and interested you about this particular story?
DEATH TOILET this was an idea Mike Hartsfield and I had forever. He and I love bad movies and even more than that we love the names of bad movies. We’d always talk about it but never got around to actually doing DEATH TOILET. So, I said lets shoot it really quickly and get the film made. Then we can make a sequel or a better version after that but at least we’ll have DEATH TOILET as a living breathing thing. So we shot it really quickly, throwing in all manner of odd ideas, and then I edited it and now its available from Anhedenia Films On Demand and Anhedenia Films Unlimited (the $2 a month subscription service).
COOL SUMMER was inspired by Richard Ramirez and the killing spree he engaged in, in the summer of 1985. He had California on edge because his killings were so random. It was also really hot. We couldn’t open our windows because that’s how he would get some of his victims. Ultimately, Ramirez got caught because he came to Orange County, CA where I live. His car looked odd, a young person told his parents, and they called the police. His description led to Ramirez being caught. In COOL SUMMER three young people meet someone who may or may not be a serial killer. They live in an area like Orange County. I love films where we don’t know if somebody is good or bad. I say that because few people are just one thing. COOL SUMMER looks at this as well as the idea of being young and taking chances so you can have fun. It’s set in the 1980s.
Why did you adopt the tropes of the horror genre? How do you enjoy manipulating the genre?
Basically, I have always loved horror films. When I was starting out I wrote 90-100 page screenplays and made those. I shot them over 2-4 weeks. The more I did it the more I realized that I could get a lot more done if I worked smarter. Then I made WATCHING A MOVIE in 4 days. That little film did a lot for a quick movie. It’s been re-released, remastered and rebooted all by different people! Then I made ANGELA’S HOME MOVIE in a few days for less than $100. That film was just based on an outline. A few years later I made DV in a few days and it too was based on an outline. I found that these films connected with people. Horror offers me the ability to work in a genre and, using just an outline, I can kind of get arty while still making something that’s accessible. Truthfully, I really find horror, sci-fi, horror-comedies the funnest films to make.
Death Toilet is your 9th feature in just 2 years. Would you like to try to maintain that heavy productivity throughout the coming years?
I sure want to! I’d like to make 3-5 films a year (or more) til I die. It’s just tough because I work a regular (though very fulfilling) job in with people who have special needs. I also do a lot writing for MovieWeb.com and Saddleback Educational Publishing. I do a few things on top of that, too. I know that 3 films a year is manageable. Considering that I make my live action films with just outlines and small casts that makes it easier. However, COOL SUMMER is an animated film with a full script. Animation (even simple animation like mine!) takes forever. That’s why I draw the film in 10 page chunks. Once the “animating” is done the editing will move along much faster.
What is more fulfilling for you, to be a writer or a director?
I am a much better writer than I am a director though I am sure there are some people that would say I suck at both. Writing will always be my first love because I’ve always been able to do it. You can sit me in front of a blank page and I can just go. It might not be good but I can do it. I love directing and I really love editing.
How happy are you making films with little budgets? Do you have serious ambitions or dreams to take things to the next level and make these productions bigger?
I think all my films have a shot to be bigger. I have heard that term “the next level” but the next level to what? Making homogeneous films that don’t interest me? Sure, it’d be great to have an unlimited bank roll and make whatever I want. However, VERY few directors have that. If you dig deep enough you will see that this is true. If Spike Lee and Steven Speilberg have problems getting things made… what chance do I have! It’s funny, I directed a bigger production once. It had a crew of 20, a great Director of Photography, solid cast and it was ultimately shelved. Never saw the light of day. Meanwhile, FLEAS, a film a I made in an afternoon with Popeye from Farside is on Amazon Prime. I just found out CURSE OF INSTINCT: 108’S FINAL TOUR, a film I made over two decades ago, is in the library of New York University. I never would’ve gotten into that school as a film major let alone a film production major.
What film are you planning on directing next?
Right now I am thinking that DV5 will be next. The last DV film really dealt with technology. This new one will deal with cord cutting and the world of streaming that has shaken up the cable industry. I also need to finish animating COOL SUMMER and I plan to write the screenplay for INSECT 2. At present, I am editing a romantic comedy of sorts called HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY I LOVE YOU?
Ok, so finally, tell me about the contributions from Mike of New Age Records and Isaac from A Chorus Of Disapproval. How often do you try to link members of hardcore community to your projects?
Without my friends from the hardcore community I wouldn’t be able to do a lot of what I do. Mike shot my first three movies. No questions asked, any time of day, Mike always showed up and was there for as long as it took. Isaac and I worked together a little in the 1990s (on my and other people’s projects), and I always thought he was funny and scary at the same time. We all love horror movies. Mike is really good at taking an idea and making it even more outrageous. Isaac, while being a really solid actor, is also excellent with making low budget effects on a moments notice. I truly think he can do whatever he sets his mind to. Mike recently starred im DEATH TOILET and did excellent. Most of my friends are from the hardcore scene. Popeye (Farside, Your Favorite Trainwreck) stars in a lot of my movies. These people tend to be open-minded and don’t mind making movies in less than ideal conditions with very odd plots. Most of the time!
In hardcore it’s all about being resourceful. We’re always finding workarounds whether we are making a movie, editing a movie, working on a layout in Photoshop, putting on a show, etc. That resourcefulness that the hardcore scene gave me is what makes it possible to make and distribute my own stuff.
Hardcore scene wise, how active and involved are you these days?
I find that when bands from “my era” play in Orange County I usually go. Especially, if I haven’t seen the band or the guys in a while. I am starting to try and listen to more current music but I really don’t go to shows where new bands are playing all that often. As I’ve said, most of my friends are from “the scene” of the early to mid-1990s. So even though I may not be involved in what is happening in the scene currently, I am fairly up on what my friends and their bands are doing. I make videos for bands when I can. Every so often Mike from New Age will ask me to write something for the New Age site. I try and do what I can when I can.
Are there any newer artists or records you’d like to recommend to our readers?
Ok, so lastly, just to circle back to our main subject matter, what recent movies that you’ve seen are a good representation of what you like in the art of cinema?
I loved 8TH GRADE. I love the books of S.E. Hinton and RL Stine. 8TH GRADE was so well done. I work with young people and that film really nailed it. BLINDSPOTTING was a real surprise. It reminded me of DO THE RIGHT THING, FRIDAY and HANGIN’ WITH THE HOMEBOYS. I just loved it. I also loved THE LAST JEDI. I know that movie pissed a lot of people off. They feel it ruined STAR WARS and messed up all these sacrosanct myths. I truly loved that they did that. Things need to evolve and it’s great to see that STAR WARS isn’t immune to that. Plus, I am a big fan of that director Rian Johnson. I loved his first film, Brick.
Great, thanks so much for your time Evan! Really appreciate it. Feel free to share your final thoughts and take care! Cheers from Warsaw!
Thank you so much, Karol! Honored to be interviewed.