• Rock! Shock! Pop! Presents - An Interview With Erica Benedikty Director Of Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments

    In 1995, Erica Benedikty made a movie for $250.00 that would go on to become a bit of a local sensation In the Niagara Region where she lived and worked. That film was Phobe: The Xenophobic Experiments, a micro-budget sci-fi/action/horror hybrid that has recently been given a special edition DVD release from Intervision Picture Corp (and you can read all about that release here). Erica was cool enough to take some time out of her schedule to talk to us about making Phobe and about shooting in and around Niagara Falls and St. Catharines, Ontario.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - What inspired you to shoot a movie in Niagara Falls/St. Catharines instead of trying to get a feature made in nearby Toronto, obviously a much bigger ‘destination’ when it comes to making movies?

    Erica Benedikty - The inspiration to shoot in Niagara Falls/St. Catharines was due to limitations on where I could use the gear from the Community Channel. Phobe started back in the late 80's as a small project for a college assignment. The movie was only about five minutes and was shot on Super 8mm. A few different versions developed from this including, a type of space cop sci-fi movie. Then an opportunity arose, so I developed the story into a horror/slasher for financing from an interested party. This was going to be shot on 16mm and would cost around 500k. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, the investor went in a different direction.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - How important were your connections at the local community TV channel to getting the movie finished, and how did they respond when you used their equipment to make the movie?

    Erica Benedikty - The only way to get the movie made was to become a volunteer first. I could prove to them I know how to use the gear. The reception was great to the idea, so after a short time volunteering, I made Back In Black. This took place over the course of the summer. I had a limited amount of gear and was restricted on when I could use the gear. I think back then the biggest concern was whether or not I would be able to finish the project. Most people don't really know how much work is involved that goes into making something like Phobe or any movie. Once I became staff, I was able to book out the gear when I needed it and it was available. This made shooting a little easier.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Anyone familiar with the region will notice some of the locations used in the movie – how did you go about securing Hodgson Steel to shoot the movie’s finale? Were they okay with you sending John Rubick across the back lot hanging off of a crane? Were there any employees hanging around to supervise this or where you and your crew left to your own devices?

    Erica Benedikty - Hodgson Steel was a bonus score! This came about as my Uncle worked at Hodgson Steel (John Rubick Sr.). He asked the owners if we could go in and shoot our movie with my uncle there to supervise and they said sure, no problem! It was my Uncle who was working all the heavy cranes for those awesome shots and stunts. I think for the ending, he looked like he was higher than he really was, but of course we were always trying to be safe. During the day of shooting, I believe it was a Sunday and had the place all to ourselves, just my Uncle to watch over us. He had some work to do so he kept busy until we needed the crane shots.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Your first movie, Back In Black, features a few interesting locations – the most obvious one is the cave and forest area. Was this the Niagara Gorge? Was the city okay with a movie being shot down there or did you just go for it?

    Erica Benedikty - The Gorge shots we did out at Decew Falls in Thorold. I think I used the Niagara Gorge in Kobblestone. The funny part about shooting out by Decew Falls was when we scouted the location, everything looked cool, with the falls in the background of the Morningstar Mill. The day we went out to shoot, they had shut the falls virtually off to do some restoration work on the Morningstar Mill. So if you look, you can only see a small trickle of water coming over the edge. I kept walking around all day yelling "Who shuts off a falls! Why me!" It's been a while but I believe we would have had permission to shoot there, that would have been arranged through contacts at the community channel. Most of those kinds of places you do need permission to shoot, as well as insurance. Being staff and shooting for the community channel at the time, we were covered on this.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Back In Black also features a scene shot in a comic store called Len’s Odd And Ends that was on St. Paul Street in St. Catharines forever (though it’s gone now). How and why did this come about? Were you a comic junkie growing up?

    Erica Benedikty - The classic comic book shop, this came from my cousin, John Rubick, who shopped at Len's all the time. He was the one who used to collect comic books, his favorite was always The Hulk. I went to the store one day and asked the manager or owner, can't remember now, if we could use the store for the movie and give them a credit at the end, of course they said yes. That was one of the amazing things in this community, the businesses that jump in and help no problem. I don't think anyone I asked said no, they all wanted to help.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - In Phobe there’s an amazing scene where Dapp and Jennifer head into a bar and take a break from alien hunting to enjoy a slow dance! A band plays in this scene in the background – one guy looks to be wearing a blonde wig. Who were these guys and how did they end up in this scene?

    Erica Benedikty - The dance scene, LOL. The two characters in the wigs (bass guitar and drummer) are the two guys from the forest scene earlier (Tim-Dan Shugan and Jerry- Jerry Dumoulin). In the movie they had already died of course, but we thought it would be fun to put them in the scene to see if anyone would notice. They, of course, are the ones who did play the dance number music for real and also the opening music as well. We ended up calling them Gribble Hell for fun in the credits.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Clearly you were influenced by 80s sci-fi and action hybrids like Predator and the like, but what other films and filmmakers would you say had a hand in inspiring Phobe and why?

    Erica Benedikty - Predator is definitely an inspiration to Phobe, as well as The Terminator and Aliens. My biggest inspiration really comes from Star Wars and George Lucas. Back in Black got its inspiration from my favorite director Steven Spielberg. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll actually be able to meet Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, of course I would probably pass out. Wonder if they bought a copy of Phobe yet?

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Having grown up in Niagara Falls, one of the big things that hit me when watching Phobe is just how intensely it captures the area’s distinct and quirky culture. When you were making the movie, did it ever occur to you that in a way you were making a documentary? By that I mean the film is such a time capsule and so much has changed there since Phobe was made, but here we have this awesome movie that, in its own way, shows it like it really was.

    Erica Benedikty - Great question. It's funny because now I see that, but at the time I never really thought that far into the future and how it would become such a moment in time, frozen for us forever. I love that everyone is talking about the Blue Jays T-Shirt and the now famous mullet my cousin had.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - It’s fair to say that Phobe was a pretty obscure movie. What went through your mind when Severin contacted you about putting together a DVD release? Now that it’s out, what has the reception been like to the release?

    Erica Benedikty - Well my first honest reaction was "Am I being Punked"? I was amazed that people still knew about the movie, then once it sank in, I was super pumped about the idea and super stoked on what they've done with the poster and behind the scenes documentary. It's been an amazing experience thanks to Severin. Prior to Severin there was nothing as I didn't really even think about doing much with the movie, it just wasn't on my mind. It just sat on the shelf. This all really started when Peter Kuplowsky wanted to show Phobe at his film festival in Toronto (WTFilm Festival). Since Phobe had never been on the big screen, I thought it would be fun to pull it out and restore the movie. The rest is history.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Severin also went all out on the special features for this disc, including not just a commentary but a great documentary and a few other bits and pieces too. What was it like ‘getting the gang back together’ for this?

    Erica Benedikty - Getting the group back together was wild! It was as if a day hadn't gone by. We had a good time catching up and reminiscing about the making of Phobe back in the day. It was really nice too when the movie played on the screen at the new Performing Arts Centre in St. Catharines, I ran into others who were in the movie as well: Merv Wrighton who played the Phobe and Jerry Potter who did the Phobe make-up and blood effects.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Rumor has it you made another film called Kobblestone – what’s that movie like and will it ever get a home video release?

    Erica Benedikty - I did make a movie called Kobblestone. It's a medieval fantasy movie in which a group of friends who play Dungeons and Dragons end up in the fantasy world as their characters. They must rescue a princess and defeat the evil wizard to get home. I'm hoping to get it to DVD soon as well. I'm in the process of bringing it off the old Beta Tape and onto the computer. I have a friend who uses DaVinci Resolve that's going through and cleaning it up in his spare time. Hopefully soon it will be ready for release as well.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Phobe shows the limitations of its budget at times, but it also shows a remarkable sense of creativity and determination. What’s your favorite scene in the movie and why?

    Erica Benedikty - I think I would have to go with the ending at the Hodgson Steel plant, it was just such a cool location to be able to film in, especially on such a small budget. It's not what you would expect to see. It also had its share of challenges. We got to do all kinds of effects there, like laser blasts to explosions and even the forced perspective model of a space ship landing. That location was our last day of shooting as well. Because the movie took so long to make, the main bad guy Tolkien (Kelly Ewtuchovich) showed up to the shoot with short hair instead of the long hair he had months ago when we filmed the early scene with him and the Commander in his office.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! - Last but not least, and I’m sure you’ve been asked this by every interviewer you’ve talked to about the release, but are there any plans for a sequel?

    Erica Benedikty - Love this question. Yes, there have always been plans for a sequel. I just never had a script that I liked until now. With the renewed interest in Phobe, it inspired me to finally write a sequel. So If Steven Spielberg isn't busy, maybe we could do lunch and talk about Phobe 2. I'm pretty sure this time I can scrape together $350 dollars.

    Rock! Shock! Pop! – Here’s hoping! Thanks again for doing this Erica.

    Interested parties are advised to check out the Phone website here!