A revealing chat with indie filmmaker James Bickert discussing his influences, women in horror, and what makes “Amazon Hot Box” so special.
We recently brought you some breaking news about the surprise new film, AMAZON HOT BOX, from indie horror filmmakers James Bickert (FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS) and Brian K. Williams (SPACE BABES FROM OUTER SPACE). While most filmmakers tease genre fans for months, sometimes years, ahead of a film’s release, Bickert and Williams wanted to give fans instant gratification. Thus, immediately upon announcing AMAZON HOT BOX, the innovative duo made the film available for pre-order (which you can get here).
I caught up with the talented AMAZON HOT BOX writer, director and co-producer James Bickert to talk to him about his new film, which he describes as “a unique approach to the women in prison genre that combines action, dark comedy, 70s Italian horror and an array of strong female characters.”
INTERVIEW WITH JAMES BICKERT, WRITER/DIRECTOR “AMAZON HOT BOX”
You decided to keep Amazon Hot Box a clandestine project until it was finished, which I love. How difficult was it for you to keep all this under wraps?
For me, It wasn’t difficult at all. Marketing quickly becomes a full-time job, so staying under the radar gave us time to concentrate on the film without distraction. It sped up the entire process. That wasn’t my initial intention, but it was a positive byproduct of the approach we took to get the film in the hands of the fans as quickly as possible.
In contrast, my last film FRANKENSTEIN CREATED BIKERS was crowdfunded from the start. Shooting on Super 35mm Film with the money we raised caused some issues, which made the film run over budget and over schedule. I had to regroup, get some loans, find film and keep rolling several months later. The entire process took almost 2 years before people had discs in their hands, and I’m surprised I pulled it off.
When you have 1200 people rightfully wanting to know where their stuff is, and you’re trying to assure them and apply for credit cards to get the film developed, it’s brutal. I went through that entire process alone. My 5 year old daughter and I stuffed and mailed every package. Lesson learned. So this time, I didn’t want our fans to wait longer than 3 months.
Along with “Amazon Hot Box” being recently announced, so was Work In Progress, LCC (WIP) the formidable alliance between yourself and Producer Brian K. Williams. Was this in hopes to retain creative control and distribution rights to your films? Also, how long was this considered between you two before officially combining forces?
After meeting on the festival circuit, we’ve been friends and supported each other for several years. Brian has a similar organized, drama-free work ethic, and we’re not motivated by ego, fame or skirt chasing. It’s been film first, which has been great. And he’s always up for a beer followed by a discussion on Indonesian flying head movies. WIP came together last summer when he moved to Atlanta. Striking a deal with Generativity Productions, Concord Creative and Darkside Releasing had us on our way.
You have mentioned slight homages within “Amazon Hot Box”. Is it important for you to pay respects to certain talents in this way, after being a lifelong fan of these films?
I think it’s inevitable when you submerge yourself into a subgenre. When I’m aware of the history, I’m better at contributing a fresh and unique voice. You can’t help but bring in other influences too that might be outside the genre. My personal questions about our relationships and existence will always dominate the underlying themes, but don’t let that scare you. I’m not trying to change minds, just better understand myself. The ultimate goal is creating an entertaining experience for the audience.
On your Facebook page, you wrote something I found so refreshing. You stated, “I wrote Amazon Hot Box before the #metoo movement but it was always my intention to tackle this genre without depicting any violence towards women being perpetuated by men. I like strong and complex female characters inhabiting a world of clueless men. It was inspiring working with the brilliant and talented women on this production. Their professionalism, motivation and friendship made this old rocker a better human being.” Why is it so important for you to incorporate these types of roles in your film?
Women are more interesting. I really enjoy writing female characters and, when I kill them in the script, it hurts! I really don’t want them to die, but just about everyone in my films has to die. I create worlds of exploitation — so just like life, there are no happy endings. I can’t have the women being murdered by men right now. It’s cheap. These characters deserve better than that. I want them to be aggressive, independent, intelligent, cunning, complex and flawed if necessary. I want to see women on screen who could ruin me, spit on my grave and laugh. That’s exciting. I want to see how they handle conflict and complex situations with each other.
This genre does require female nudity. It’s what lured men to the drive-in. So in this age when the objectification of women is a hot button social issue, and on the other side of the spectrum Porn Hub supplies instant gratification for male fantasies, it can be difficult to walk this exploitation tightrope. While I find women to be the embodiment of beauty and their form inspirational, it’s their sense of humor I find to be the most alluring.
I’m not motivated by the sexual act. But I can’t beat myself up for being heterosexual and attracted to them either. I’ve studied the work of the postmodern feminist artist, but honestly not as much as the golden-age of pornography. When you watch his work, you can tell exploring these issue frightens the hell out of Quentin Tarantino. I have the freedom to explore it, and in this film sex is weaponized by the females who inhabit this world.
Now the elephant in the room is the treatment of actresses within this genre. We have a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate behavior towards the women on our production. If someone gets grabby or tries to sneak a cell phone picture, they will be taken out back and relieved of their teeth. And then we’ll let lead actor Jett Bryant get ahold of them! We don’t have time for that bullshit.
Maybe it’s being Southern, but I was raised to respect and protect women. And we’ve found ourselves casting actresses that have the balls to stand up to it. Halt filming, call a motherfucker out and kick them in the nuts. We’re not in this business to get laid or harass someone because of our personal issues. The last thing I want to do is put anyone through an experience they’ll regret.
Our goal is to build a team. The actresses in this film are fantastic and they deserve respect. It’s sad that I have to even have this discussion in this century, but these issues do play into the narrative of our story, in an entertaining way. Don’t get me wrong, AMAZON HOT BOX is still sexy as sin.
I couldn’t help but applaud all you said in that response, James! It does come across too, that Brian and yourself are business orientated gentleman, with great work ethic and a no nonsense approach to filmmaking. With that said, the previous films you have unleashed on the masses are wild, over the top and so much fucking fun. What can we all expect from Amazon Hot Box and Work In Progress?
“Amazon Hot Box” is faster and crazier. It was a really ambitious project, and we finished under budget and ahead of schedule. Not only is it my best film, it was the most fun to make with the least amount of stress.
We worked hard and played hard too. I really contribute that to producers Brian K. Williams, David Aboussafy, Robyn Gay, Cindy Tjoflat, Dusty Booze, Richard Doucette and being a part of the best cast and crew. Work In Progress will continue to make the films that we want to see and nobody else is making. That’s our mission.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or deceased, who would it be and why?
I’m fine with Brian K. Williams right now. The dynamic works. I have always wanted to work with musician Evil Jim Wright, and we were able get him on this project. Hmmm…I would love to work with Pam Grier if someone else would do the 28 pages of SAG/AFTRA paperwork!
Finally, where can folks find you and more information on “Amazon Hot Box”?
Thank you for the wonderful questions!