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South By Southwest Film Interview Ė HOLY GHOST PEOPLE director Mitchell Alteri

Holy Ghost People - At SxSW 2013
by Jason Whyte

ďA nineteen-year old girl (Emma Greenwell) enlists the help of an alcoholic ex-Marine (Brendan McCarthy) to infiltrate a sinister Appalachian snake-handling church to find her missing sister. Itís a psychological thriller that plays like an old Southern Gothic novel.Ē Director Mitchell Alteri on ďHoly Ghost PeopleĒ which screens at this year's South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience?

It is my first SXSW experience but not my first Austin experience. My film THE VIOLENT KIND screened at Fantastic Fest in 2010. We started off premiering at Sundance and ended our festival run in Austin. It was a fabulous experience. I truly had fun. I enjoyed myself. A lot of festivals are work, stressful. I really had a blast in Austin. I was also drinking moonshine till the wee hours of the morning with some of the other filmmakers and one other night I did find myself in a karaoke room in the back of the High Ball with Elijah Wood and Rza from Wu-Tang. Good times.

What do you love the most about Austin?

I think what I mentioned above holds true; I have fun there. I can experience the festivals, the town, the great environment. Most of the time you are running around and donít get a chance to take it all in. I got the sense that Austin promotes taking a minute to stop and appreciate all things around you.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also would love to hear about anything else you have made in the past!

I made my first short film when I was 19. I was inspired by offbeat films like OVER THE EDGE, THE WANDERERS and anything David Lynch. I would shoot short movies with my friends about growing up in a rough, blue-collar neighborhood. That led me to shoot my first feature film a few years later. My past films include THE HAMILTONS and its sequel THE THOMPSONS, THE VIOLENT KIND which world premiered at Sundance, LURKING IN SUBURBIA, a comedy, and Iím currently in post for my new film RAISED BY WOLVES.

What was the biggest challenge, or challenges, in making the film?

Being trapped in a small shed with live rattlesnakes. Of course, I can bore you with the typical challenges that all indies have. But you put a lot of things into perspective when you walk into a room filled with vicious rattlers. Nothing else seems as important or as pressing. Itís just the hope of walking out of there without one of those scaly snakes attached to your leg or arm. After that, nothing seems so out of reach.

What was your single favorite moment out of the entire production?

The service/church scenes. In these scenes we had a full band rocking, people dancing, the lead actors handling live snakes -- all under one roof. It was really intense and amazing all at the same time. Amanda Treyz (director of photography) was weaving the camera in and out of the crowd. The camera dept gave me a handheld monitor so I could follow her and direct the action. At one point, I realized that I was dancing along with everyone else, unknowingly. The camera dept was laughing. I just could not help myself. The music, the vibe in the room; it was rather contagious.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Movie making is not easy. Iíve made a handful of them and it is tough. When you first start out, you think it will get easier over time. Donít get me wrong, some things do, but with every film comes a whole new set of problems, stresses, obstacles; No matter the size of your film, and Iíve done extremely different ranges, it is never easy. But what keeps me going is that every morning when I wake up on location, in production I think, ďHey, Iím shooting my movie. This is what I always wanted to do!Ē No matter how tired I am or beat up, that keeps me going. The fact that Iíve been able to live out my childhood dream, make a living at it through all these years, still keeps me humble and very honored to be doing what I do.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

We shot the picture with the RED EPIC. B camera was the RED SCARLET. We had a very specific look in mind and felt these cameras would be best not only during production but also for post to achieve what we were after. Post is such a big part of filmmaking these days, especially when you are shooting an indie. You really have to think a few steps ahead. As for my relationship with Amanda my cinematographer, we were inseparable. She was the first person I spoke with at breakfast and the last person I spoke with before bed. Every night after we wrapped for the day, we would give ourselves about a 30-minute break then work the rest of the night. Itís very important to me that my DP and I are on the same page, making the same movie. Everyone has a different interpretation of what something will be or look like. Amanda and I met numerous times before we flew out to location. We found our common ground with photography books, movies and videos. She is truly a talent and I look forward to working with her again!

What do you want audiences to take from the film?

A feeling of ďhaunting beautyĒ is the best way I can describe it. Something that you enjoy thinking about, but it haunts you equally. I want people to enjoy the fun and intense ride that this film is, but the film is about absolute faith. And even though the story is fiction, we all have something to do with faith.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

I think it has always been important. The two need each other. Now there are quite a few different combinations when youíre talking about cult films, genre movies, or extreme films, but for the most part I think the media response is very important to a film. Trying to get your film seen by the world is a daunting task. It helps very much when you get folks chatting about it.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, what is the future release plan for the movie? Where would you like it to go?

I can see this film having a nice theatrical run in some of the major to mid level markets.†It's a commercial film with art house roots and given the beauty of the locations should definitely be seen on the big screen.
Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

To be honest, anywhere in San Francisco. Thatís my home. Thatís where I learned to be a filmmaker, learned to be an artist. I enjoy very much when I can share my work with that city.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film?

Every time you talk or text during a movie, a movie theater will die because of it. Who wants that on their conscience?

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

Just keep shooting. I mean it. Itís a great time to get your work out with the web, festivals. Starting out, I wish I couldíve been in this media environment we have now. You can shoot for practically nothing. Get your work out there! Directors are getting feature deals off of shorts from the web. Itís a good time. You just have to bring something to the table.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

GUMMO. San Francisco International Film Festival. 1997. Kinda slapped me in my face. In a good way.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2013 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 8-16. For more information on the filmís screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/07/13 06:41:02
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