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An Interview with Director Henrique Couto

Filmmaker Henrique Couto has been writing, directing, and performing since he was about the same age that you thought you had actually achieved something by placing 3rd in your middle school science fair (c'mon - I thought you were better than that).  Getting his start on a local cable public access station in his native Ohio, he has since had quite a prolific and varied career, writing and directing films ranging from comedy, to drama, to horror, and even a Christmas movie for the whole family.  With his latest two horror offerings, the excellent Babysitter Massacre (available now) and the upcoming Haunted House on Sorority Row (coming soon) under his belt, I had a chance to talk to him about his career - past, present, and future.

JASON HOWARD:  Firstly, is the 'H' silent?  Do you feel like H's have been silent for too long and should finally start speaking up for themselves?

HENRIQUE COUTO:  I'm used to needing to talk about this issue. The H isn't silent in my name, though it should be. My name is very Portuguese, but I was not raised by the Portuguese side of my family, so I've been mispronouncing my own first name since the 3rd grade. Some may find this silly or stupid, but I'm proud. I'm a trail blazer in names!

JH:  Are you a fan of genre films of the 80's?  Why do you think there is such a resurgence in recreating them now?

HC:  Being born in 1986 I was more influenced by the 80s than many realize because a lot of the major films of the 1980s hit the video and cable markets in the 90s. I think the nostalgia of the 80s is what makes people desire to capture that spirit. We see something from that era and we become children or teenagers again, that is a magical feeling. Trying to create your own work that gives that feeling is a noble task.

JH:  Babysitter Massacre struck me as less of an homage to 80's slashers and more of an actual, genuine entry into the subgenre.  Was it a conscious decision on your part to ignore the common trappings of just putting a few scratches in the print and throwing in a couple of references and calling it a throwback?

HC:  In all honesty, I never got into the “grindhouse” trend of trying to legitimately make a film that seems to be from the 1980s era. I think that kind of effort is counter productive and doesn't help your film stick out. I think the reason Babysitter Massacre comes across the way you described is because it is a throwback in that it is a low-budget slasher movie, it was made under the same circumstances as the inspirations that helped birth it. I think that plays into it more than anything.

JH:  Babysitter Massacre certainly doesn't shy away from many of the elements that made 80's horror so memorable - namely blood, guts, nudity, and a sense of goofy fun.  Do you think that modern horror has gotten away from these essential elements a bit?  Do you feel an obligation towards playing with those elements, or do you fully embrace them?

HC:  I think there is a strange and long standing attitude toward nudity, a lot of contemporaries feel it is too uncomfortable. Nudity made those films we watched back in the days, more than the violence in many ways. A lot of the classics had numerous off screen kills and skin to spare. I enjoy filming nudity, I enjoy making something fun to view.

JH:  You work with a lot of the same cast and crew in your features - do you find it beneficial to the process to work within a sort of 'troupe' aesthetic?  Do you write with those actors in mind?

HC:  I love my “regulars” because I know they are reliable, I know they are excited, and I can write in their voice. While it doesn't always work out, I do write with people in mind because it lets the character's voice form faster. Even if you don't end up casting your first choice it will speed the creative process. I also have had such huge luck with the people I work with, I have no complaints about the talented people I line up in front of and behind the camera.

JH:  With Depression: The Movie and Bulldog for Christmas, you've definitely branched out from the horror genre - is it important to you to avoid being pigeonholed?

HC:  I would say I certainly don't enjoy being pegged as a “horror guy” I am a filmmaker, I love films and I love making them. The idea of branching out of the genre was more about challenge than image. I wanted to see if I could make a feature that didn't rely on violence and suspense. I learned so much from those two non-horror features. When you are an independent in low-budget films you get chances to experiment. Before I did a film called Bleeding Through I was known as the “horror comedy guy” but I didn't feel like making horror comedies any more. Stories are about drama, but drama can be hard to grasp.

JH:  Is there a genre or subgenre that you've yet to attempt that you'd like to tackle?

HC:  I would really love to tackle Science Fiction or a straight up action film, those two genres can carry a slightly higher price tag though, so we will just have to see what develops in the future.

JH:  Do you consider working within a small budget to be mostly a liability, or do you find that it forces you to find creative solutions that end up benefitting the film?

HC:  It is hard for me to tell, I've always worked with low budgets. I think that filmmaking is a creative work, and that every aspect of the work is creative. From coming up with finances to marketing to scheduling they are all challenges that require creativity. To me making a movie is just solving about 1,000 problems. Once they are solved, you have a movie ready to show.

JH:  With VOD, Itunes, Netflix, YouTube, etc..., it seems that getting a movie into theaters is not a necessity for filmmakers anymore.  What do you think of the way that distribution models are changing ?  Is it easier than ever to get distribution, or is the market flooded?

HC:  Distribution is changing and the market is shifting, I think that it can be easier to get distributed but it is as hard as ever to be paid by your distributors. I've had great luck with distributors, but I've also had pretty good luck distributing my work on my own. Depression: The Movie is one of my most profitable ventures and I sold every copy myself or via Amazon VOD. The hardest part of being a filmmaker can be the need to hustle all the time, but you have to work to get your work seen.

JH:  Should Facebook invent an alternative to "Like" when someone posts about a family member or dog dying?

HC:  Hahaha, I must admit, it is very awkward hitting “like” and then realizing that maybe that doesn't look like a general show of support but more that you are overjoyed with the tooth they broke while eating an apple.

JH:  What can you tell us about your latest film, Haunted House on Sorority Row?

HC:  It is my horror genre follow up to Babysitter Massacre and in my opinion my scariest film to date. I was very excited to jump into the ghost story concept and I tried to go all out with exciting visuals and special effects makeups. It is also my first film working solely as a Producer/Director with writing duties going to the very talented scribe John Oak Dalton and editing duties going to my talented collaborator Eric Widing. We made the film for Alternative Cinema, the same company that produced Babysitter Massacre and the response from the has been huge. They think it is my best work to date and I'm inclined to agree with them!

JH:  When and where can we see it?

HC:  The world premiere will be held in Englewood Ohio on February 21st (more info at http://facebook.com/sororityghoststory) there is no official street date for DVD and VOD release, but it could be as soon as June of this year.

JH:  What's up next after House on Sorority Row?

HC:  We are getting ready to do an offbeat indie comedy called Awkward Thanksgiving. I loved making my Christmas family movie, but I had so many ideas of great jokes and scenarios for adult audiences I just couldn't resist. It's a crude comedy about family, fighting, and turkey.

JH:  What kind of budget will you be working with for Awkward Thanksgiving?

HC:  We will be launching a Kickstarter Campaign very soon (http://awkwardthanksgiving.com) with plans to raise $2,400. After the productions I did in 2013, I paid off all of my equipment and am able to pull in productions on very reasonable budgets.

JH:  Any thoughts towards sequalizing any of your films?  Films with Massacre in the title in particular seem ripe for follow ups that go off the deep end ( i.e. Slumber Party, Texas Chainsaw).

HC:  There's has been a little talk here and there about it. I would make Babysitter Massacre II in a heartbeat if there is a demand and the production company greenlights it. I might even have a storyline in mind, but I can't give it away at this time...

To find out more about Henrique Couto or for a nudge in the right direction for discovering his films, check him out at:  https://www.facebook.com/henriquecouto

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