One of my favorite humans is undoubtedly the brilliant and creative filmmaker Jaysen Buterin. He has a unique style and passion that you just can’t ignore. I was lucky enough to meet him at the 2018 Women in Horror Film Festival and it was quite the experience.
I recently reached out to him do a interview to talk about his career, his current passion project Kill Giggles, what his experience was like at WIHFF, who are his women in horror inspirations, and more.
PopHorror – It’s so great to talk with you again, Jaysen! You’ve done several projects over the years, how did you get involved in the film industry?
Jaysen Buterin – Like some of life’s most excellent adventures, it was something I never planned for, dreamed of, or even saw coming. I’d been a writer as long as I can remember, having youthfully dabbled in short stories and poetry before dipping my toes in the professional waters of music journalism and pop culture/couture columnist. I’d never thought about being a filmmaker but the story was always the first thing to draw me to a film, or repel me from it. For as many films as I loved, there were always those that would have been so much better if they’d just done something different. One night as my wife and I were talking out a film, I don’t even remember which one it was I think I disliked it that much, and I was bitching about how and what they should have done differently with the story, she just sort of looked at me with “that look” and said, “alright, you do it better then!” Naturally, her being a golden goddess and I being a mere mortal monkey of a man, my only hope for a riposte that would counter her feminine wiles was, “umm, okay” and to actually do it.
The idea for Mad Ones Films was the loudmouthed libertine lovechild of a torrid two-day love affair between the 2006 Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project and a band of renaissance Gen Xer gypsies known loosely as “the Mad Ones.” The genesis of the already overactive imaginations and the askew universe views of myself and two co-workers, the “Mad Ones” were born through our lunchtime conversations and collaborations. It was during these midday machinations that all manner of pop culture was often the dish du jour, and often ending with the phrase, “well this is how we’d do it better.” So we decided to see if we could do just that.
Running like a bat out of hell before we learned to walk, let alone crawl, a last-minute change of cinematic plans propelled us to the finish line of the 48 Hour Film Project with a copy of “Z-Day” in hand—a film for which we were awarded an “Honourable Mention for Best Writing.” Adding fuel to an already frenzied fire we dove headfirst into making movies and have never looked back since. From that point on we became the “inmates running the cinematic asylum!” Thirteen years later it has been a nonstop madcap adventure as we descend deeper down the rabbit hole in pursuit of the dark arts known as independent filmmaking.
PopHorror – Sounds like quite the journey. What are some of your favorite horror films?
Jaysen Buterin – Thank you SO MUCH for not putting a cap limit number on this question (Top 3, Top 5, Top 10)!! There are so many rotating through my head at any given time but the top tier is always a tie between The Exorcist (because of the sheer visceral reaction it evoked in its audience), Psycho (because of the tag team brilliance of Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins), the original Halloween (for me, the original slasher will ALWAYS be Michael Myers!), Nightmare on Elm Street (the first horror film I snuck into the movies to see, which promptly preceded my introduction to sleep deprivation), Sleepaway Camp (STILL has one of the best horror film endings EVER!!) and Exorcist III (it’s hard for a sequel to surpass its ancestor, this one does so amazingly well, and still has one of the best jump cut shots in modern horror history! Also, my dear old Dad looked EXACTLY like George C. Scott… seriously, it was downright uncanny!) I love Love LOVE the Universal monsters and Hammer Horror stuff as well!! Of course I will always have a slow shuffling broken gait place in my heart for the living dead universe that George Romero and John Russo created and the genre of film, and generations of filmmakers, that it spawned.
One of the first horror films I can remember talking my mum into letting me stay up way past my Saturday night bedtime to watch was Phantasm, and it’s been one of my favourites ever since. To this day even, I still get creeped out whenever I hear Angus Scrimm say that one magical word. As far as more modern horror goes, there’s so much stuff out there that I haven’t had the chance to check out yet, but I just don’t know if it gets much better than Get Out, I mean… DAMN!!!
PopHorror – It’s awesome how you broke down your reason for loving each of them! One of the things I love about you is your style. You stand out. You don’t fit inside a box. You have visions and you don’t care if they’re the norm. Is this something you also appreciate about yourself and try to show in your work?
Jaysen Buterin – Oh wow, this might be the hardest question of all to answer and not in that non-coy, “oh hey look, there’s something shiny over there now we can talk about something else” kind of way. My favourite Doctor Feelgood, Seuss not Satan just to clarify, said “you have to be odd to be number one.” So I don’t know if I appreciate it about myself as much as I made peace with it many many moons ago. Growing up in the backwoods of the backroads of small town Missouri in the early 80s was an interesting place for a kid with way too much imagination and not nearly enough friends and playpals to fill it. I never really fit in with any clique but I had acquaintances in most of them, so from an early age I was always sort of in the “miscellaneous” category, and still am really. So that sort of askew view of the universe has unavoidably trickled down into everything from the stream of conscious to my writing style to whatever it is that passes for my keen fashion sense. I think that my creative influences tend to be a bit kaleidoscopic too, so I certainly hope that comes across in my work?
PopHorror – Oh, I didn’t know you were a Mid-western boy! Also, yes all of what you said definitely shows in your work. What was the first film you ever worked on?
Jaysen Buterin – It was a small part in an indie film shot back in 2005 called The Tontine. It was a short film based off a story created by comic book artist Scott Hampton, that was later published in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser comic story. Scott was also the writer/director of the film adaptation, with Clive’s blessing, and that became my first foray into independent film. It was such an eye-opening experience in terms of being exposed to the movie magic behind the curtain! It was also absolute madness and chaos theory personified! A good part of the shooting took place at the Boy Scout camp up in the mountains, the same cabin/property where Eli Roth had recently filmed parts of Cabin Fever, and it was pure craziness. But it lit the match that would stoke the flames that would soon burn the bridge that would drop me RIGHT into the cinematic waters of making movies, so I owe it a great deal of gratitude.
PopHorror – That’s awesome. You had a small part in Samantha Kolesnik’s brilliant horror short Mama’s Boy. How did that come about?
Jaysen Buterin – First off, can we just talk for a second about how brilliant Sam Kolesnik is?!? A powerful writer, an award-winning director, a film festival creator, an amazing mum… wow. But this is really one of my favourite film stories to tell: I had been lucky enough to be film friends with Sam for some time, having ran (and screened) in the same film festival circles. She’d seen me in a few horror shorts that screened together and we’d been fans of each other’s work for many moons. We exchanged “If you ever need anything” vows, as filmmakers often do, and she called in hers.
I remember she asked me if I’d be interested in a small part in her next film and I immediately replied “YES!” She said she wanted to tell me what it was about and I told her that it didn’t matter… I was in. She told me that it was a rather dark story, and that the character itself would be dressed in drag. I was still confused by what part of “YES!” wasn’t translating properly. She hesitated to let me know that it didn’t have the largest speaking part, more of just a line really, and did she mention the whole transvestite thing? I believe I responded back with several pictures of me in drag from past events for various reasons, or none at all, and the rest was movie magic from there. She sent me the script, which is deliciously dark—which is also one of the things I love most about Sam— she’s such a positive, uplifting and charmingly convivial person, who writes some deeply dark and profoundly powerful stories.
PopHorror – I couldn’t agree more with all of that. What was it like to play that role?
Jaysen Buterin – Cold… very very cold. Then again, given for what passed as my “wardrobe” in the frigorific terrific Maryland January air, anything short of crawling inside a Tauntaun could be considered cold. I apologize, I digress yet once again. Working on Mama’s Boy was such an honour and a sincere pleasure! It was so fun to watch Sam be behind the camera, directing for the first time! It was exciting and delighting to work with film friends I’d known for many moons and to make some new ones as well!! For a cast and crew that largely met together for the first time, the creativity and the efficiency of the entire production was astounding. It was beyond bloody brilliant to finally work with Alan Rowe Kelly as we blasted ELO in the “make-up trailer” (aka, kitchen) in the early hours of a Sunday morning. I’ve been lucky enough to play some amazing roles in some absolutely astounding short films, but I’d never done anything quite like “Mick” before. While I know next to nothing about acting (although, please don’t tell the people that keep casting me that…), to be able to do something completely different, and particularly something that so many would find so shocking, was a no brainer.
PopHorror – You attended the WIHFF 2018, what was that experience like for you and why do you think festivals empowering women are so important?
Jaysen Buterin – Attending the Women In Horror Film Festival was such an excellent experience on so many levels!!! Being a judge for the festival, both last year and this coming one as well, it was rewarding to get to meet so many of the filmmakers whose work I was exposed to. And to see such a spectacular cinematic summit make such a strong presentation for only its second year was awe-inspiring. Vanessa and Sam (and many many others) have created something truly amazing—to get to be a part of it in any way really is an honour. It was also a proud papa moment for me personally, in that it was the first film festival I was able to attend with my wife and my son. And while we didn’t get to watch any of the films together there, to be able to introduce my family to so many members of my extended film family will be a special movie memory for some time for me. To be able to stand next to my son on the red carpet, and for him to look around in awe and wonder at so many fantastically talented female filmmakers, and hopefully just presume that every film festival is like that, was sort of a dream come true for me.
I think festivals empowering women are so important because of the necessity of their very existence. In a perfect world, I don’t think there should have to be “Women in Horror” film festivals because it should just be “Horror Film Festivals” where EVERYONE gets to make the very scariest movie they can, regardless of gender, identity, skin colour, religion, creed (actually, I take that back, people that like the band Creed probably shouldn’t be allowed to make movies), but until we can actually get to that egalitarian utopia, there needs to be film festivals and on a greater scale, artistic outlets, that truly celebrate and empower women, not just relegate them to a check box under the sub-genre of horror. I think, I hope, that festivals like WIHFF will open up the eyes of people around the world. And not just the eyes of future female filmmakers who will now not bother to ask, ‘Can I do that too?’ and instead already accepting that they can, but also the minds of those people who ostracized them to the point of exclusion to begin with.
PopHorror – I dream of that too. What has been your favorite project thus far in your career?
Jaysen Buterin – Fatherhood… holy hells, that beautiful boy of mine is my masterpiece!!! But seriously though, I think maybe that many filmmakers feel like each project is their cinematic lovechild, and how do you a pick a favourite?!? And I’m certainly no different. There was certainly a learning curve that I look back on and can’t, for the life of me, figure out how or why folks didn’t tell me to fuck off. But they didn’t and I’ve learned some amazing lessons from each and every film set. However, if we’re going secret squirrel between you, me, Bobby McGee and the government spook proofing this article, there are a couple of projects that will forever hold a special place in my heart. Between Hell and a Hard Place will always be at the top of that list for me because I think it’s honestly as close as I’ll ever come to making an episode of the original Twilight Zone (although I’m still waiting for that call from Jordan Peele). The Hot Pink Jesus Trilogy was a four-year labour of love that had one of THE MOST AMAZING SETS ever created, a topless taco bar. Yep, you read that right (please contact me for franchise information).
And of course, the one I’m working on right now, Kill Giggles, is exciting and delighting and terrifying and electrifying all at the same time! Not only is it my first feature, but it’s a story I’ve been obsessing about for what feels like forever now, it’s time to put up or shut up!
PopHorror – You had me had topless taco bar. (Laughs) So, you have a great relationship with your son, one of the best I’ve ever seen. Would you ever create a film and put him in it? Whether kid-friendly horror or not?
Jaysen Buterin – That means a lot, thank you. I know I’m a wee bit biased and all but I genuinely feel like he’s the most amazing person I will ever meet. And to know that I had some biological part in that just proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that my son is my masterpiece. He’s actually had a cameo in one of my film’s already, shot when he was still a wee thing. There was an outdoor flea market scene in Act II of the Hot Pink Jesus Trilogy where, if you look REALLY carefully, you’ll see myself, my son and my golden goddess of a wife pass quickly by the camera. I seem to have a habit of naming characters “Jack” in my screenplays (which I swear wasn’t intentional). My son seems to think that each and every one of them is him… then again, being far too smart for my own good already, it’s entirely possible that he’s right.
As for putting him in a film of his own, oh good gods, that would be bloody brilliant!! I would do it in a heartbeat if he wanted to. We have the most amazing conversations where he’s told me about stories that he’s writing, movies that he’s making, films that he’s already made AND screened at film festivals, as well all manner of kaleidoscopic creative asskickery that comes out of his mouth. Now I suspect a lot of it is said just to make Daddy even more effulgent, but if the day comes where he seriously wants to make a movie, or be in one, I am SO fucking in!!!
PopHorror – I hope so, but I don’t know if audiences can handle all those big blue eyes! Okay, now we can talk about your baby. Tell the readers about Kill Giggles.
Jaysen Buterin – Oh my, where to begin… well kids, Kill Giggles is the story of Tommy dos Santos, who wasn’t born a psychopath, but he wasn’t exactly made a sociopath either. Tommy is something entirely new, and he’s walking his own path—a path that will soon run red with the blood of the foulest most fiendishly frightening creatures ever conceived by man: clowns.
No longer do they have the starring role in our nightmares, it is now the clowns who are the prey, running for their lives from a killer who won’t stop until every single one of them is dead. As Tommy’s body count rises, he finds himself getting closer to what he thought was a ghost, the once great clown king known as Giggles, and wonders… If laughter can’t die, well, what about Giggles then?
The thought that always bothered me, aside from just even thinking about clowns in general, was how everyone had already seen and heard the story of the maniacs, the monsters, the serial killers who dress up as clowns. But what I wanted to see was a serial killer OF clowns, terrorizing them with fear instead. And with that one derailing train of thought in my head I sat down to write and direct Kill Giggles – a harrowing Hitchcockian horror story that will take a timeless terror trope and turn it on its rainbow wig-covered head.
PopHorror – You know I fully support it! What is your ultimate goal for Kill Giggles?
Jaysen Buterin – Umm, to kill all the clowns… we kind of thought that part was obvious? Ultimately though, we want what any self-respecting indie filmmaker wants… total fame, unlimited budgets and unconditional creative control. However, I would be perfectly willing to settle for a lucrative distribution deal that sets things up and lets us make the next movie and the one after that! I want Kill Giggles on as many screens around the world in every way/outlet/medium possible. I want a cartoon series, a comic book, a breakfast cereal, a sequel, a prequel, ALL OF IT!!! But at the end of the day, I just want a movie that everyone who has sacrificed so much of their lives to be a part of, can be as proud of as I will be. Now if there’s ANY way in ANY circle of hell, to get that raw and visceral reaction to the film like audiences had watching The Exorcist for the first time, well, that would just be the icing on the clown-killing cake for me, personally.
PopHorror – Fingers crossed! With it being Women in Horror Month, who are the women that inspire you?
Jaysen Buterin – Oh wow… how much time, or space, do we have for this question!?!? Well, first and foremost absolutely has to be my mother!! Not only was she the beautiful brilliant soul to first show me how to read, but she also let me rent my very first VHS tapes (ALL from the horror section of Video Classics), so if it wasn’t for all that she did and all that she is, there is no way that I would be anywhere near the movie-making mess that I am today (and I mean that in the best way possible Mama!!!). I also owe a big debt of gratitude to the lovely ladies that worked at the Warren County Scenic Regional Library during the 1980s, who were always nice enough to let this foul-mouthed little fop with a voracious appetite for reading, to check out the Universal Monsters “You Can Read” movie books, which really bridged the cerebral connection between reading and movies for me. Of course, my wife is certainly in that pantheon of plenipotentiary power as well, being both the motivation and the muse for me becoming involved with filmmaking in the first place!!!