Driven by a passion to make films at a young age, Director Joe Begos took risks to make his dream a reality. After learning some ins and outs of the business, Joe released his first full-feature in 2013, titled Almost Human. By 2016, the ambitious filmmaker attracted the attention of retro sci-fi horror geeks everywhere with his ’80s/’90s throwback feature, The Mind’s Eye.
Watch The Mind’s Eye Right Now!
This year, the award-winning director returns, taking his talent to a new level with his latest masterpiece titled Bliss (read our review here), which just finished rocking the film festival circuit. Completely different from his previous work, Bliss takes you on a wild ride through the grungy side of L.A., fueled by adrenalized drug abuse into a downward spiral of insanity as a painter tries to break free from her creative block. I recently caught up with the filmmaker to discuss how he got his start and what went into making this artistic, adrenaline fueled gore-drenched feature that has become a must-see for genre fanatics.
PopHorror: Hi, Joe! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Joe Begos: No problem!
PopHorror: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a filmmaking career, and how did you get your start?
Joe Begos: I’m not sure about the exact age, but it was definitely when I was a little kid. At first, I wanted to be an actor, because I thought they just made all the shit up when they were on set. (laughs) And I didn’t realize what a director really does. I was probably around 12 years-old when I figured out what all the positions are in filmmaking, and I realized I wanted to be a director. So, it was around that time when I used my dad’s camera and started shooting shit around the house. I eventually got my own camera and started making short films with my good buddy, Josh Either, who’s now my producing partner, editor and sometimes actor. We moved out to L.A. and worked for free for numerous people while trying to learn the business and save up some money. We decided to go back home and make a movie, which became Almost Human, all financed on our credit cards. We were able to get that released, and the rest is history!
PopHorror: That takes quite a bit of risk, but it looks like it’s paying off with your latest film that hit the festival circuit! Writers block, a painter’s lack of inspiration, and a song writer’s inability to make the next big hit all boils down to a creative’s inability to produce new work. This is also a big part of your latest production, titled Bliss. Have you experienced this sort of creative block as a filmmaker?
Joe Begos: Oh, yes! Bliss is basically me while I was writing the script. But I’m a dude writing a script instead of a girl painting a canvas. (both laugh) So, I wanted to get that cathartically out on screen. I was having trouble getting a movie made, and I was having trouble getting something going. I had a lot of shit going on in my life … some really bad stuff that was putting me in a really bad state of mind. So, I wrote Bliss in a fit of anger and rage at everything going on around me. So, that’s where it came from, and it was a relief to get all that stuff onto the pages and, eventually, onto the screen.
PopHorror: The mixture of emotions with intense anger and rage definitely does show through in the film! Creative block and emotions aside, was there anything else that inspired Bliss?
Joe Begos: Hitting a creative block and going through all the stuff I was going through at the time was the main place the film came from. But I live in Los Angeles, and I feel like no one really shoots L.A. properly. It’s always in a giant house that nobody in their right mind can afford! Or it’s up in the Hills, on Sunset Boulevard or in Santa Monica. There’s this really grungy aspect of Los Angeles that I don’t feel like anyone shoots. I wanted to do something in that realm. I hang out in a lot of these bars and metal clubs. I feel like they have a texture of life to them, which nobody captures. So, I wanted to try and do for L.A. what Abel Ferrara and Scorsese did for New York in their earlier works in the ’70s. The only thing in recent memory that showcased that sort of thing was the remake of Maniac. But I wanted to take it a step further and really be in this environment with this character. Just do something that’s really out of left field from my last couple films.
PopHorror: I think that definitely shows! The Mind’s Eye is a good film, but I feel like this went in a whole different direction, making this a step up from your last feature! Something the two films have in common, though, is the use of practical effects. Is this a personal preference over CGI?
Joe Begos: Yes! Totally. I feel like, even in two hundred million dollar movies, you can tell when something is bad CG. And I just know that hiring someone to do the work in post-production is going to be just as expensive. So, why not do it on set? I love figuring out ways to do special effects and having people ask how the fuck I did it. I think it comes down to how you plan on doing it. I mean, we’re a low-budget movie, but I plotted it out, scheduled and built production so that all of these complicated practical effects can be done with a very small skeleton crew either simultaneously or at a different time. This allowed me to be shooting effects without having three actors and 10 people waiting around for 8 hours until we got it right. We pre-planned a lot of things in advance so we could use the bare minimum of people to do it, and we wouldn’t be wasting anyone’s time and burning money. And that is how we were able to achieve a lot of the effects in The Mind’s Eye and Bliss. And these movies are very tiny. So, people who say they can’t afford practical effects are fucking idiots (both laugh).
PopHorror: I think there’s a place for CG, but practical effects are the way to go. Not only does this add more substance, but it really challenges the creativity of the filmmaker. And Bliss definitely amps up the gore from your last film. How much fake blood was used?
Joe Begos: Oh, I don’t even know. A lot. I know the special effects team was trying to use the most amount of blood they’ve ever used. There’s actually a couple shots that didn’t make the final cut and used the most blood in the entire movie (both laugh). The scene at the end? When we have the big explosion? To add to this shot, we used this giant fucking cannon from a pirate ship. We filled it with 20 gallons of blood and shot it up at the ceiling so that I could have it raining down blood after the explosion … but it didn’t really work out in the way that I wanted. So, we used all that blood. and it didn’t even make it on the screen (both laugh).
PopHorror: That’s crazy! What was the biggest challenge in filming your latest production?
Joe Begos: I would say that was mostly the budget and the time constraints. The film, itself, didn’t end up being too much of a challenge. Not being able to get playback on certain things was a little bit of a pain in the ass, and the heat was really bad. The locations created a little bit of a challenge because they were so small and cramped. So, it was little stuff that just comes with making a film production. But I think that some of these obstacles, in a way, ended up elevating the movie.
PopHorror: What was your favorite part of production?
Joe Begos: The whole entire shoot was a blast. It was probably the most fun I’ve had filming! The best part was probably just being on set with the actors and working out of all these cool locations.
PopHorror: This film seems to really capture the downward spiral of drug addiction and the insanity to where it can lead. Was it your intention to have such a deeper significant meaning?
Joe Begos: I just wanted the audience to question whether or not the character’s actions were due to the person, the drug that she’s taking or both. I wanted to mirror how some artists and creatives sometimes think that they need to depend on some sort of mind-altering substance to help them break out of their rut and get what they have in their brain out onto paper, tape or whatever form of artistry they’re doing. And I think that, once you create something with those vices, you feel the need to do it every time and increase the amount you’re taking. I think it’s a cycle. I’ve been in a similar situation before, and I know a lot of other people have as well. So, I think it’s something that comes along with that career field, so-to-speak.
PopHorror: Especially with the way the film ends, Bliss comes across as more of an psychedelic, adrenaline-fueled abstract piece rather than straight forward horror. Was this your intention as well?
Joe Begos: Yes, for sure! I’ve made straight forward action horror films before, and I wanted to do something that felt a lot different. I wanted to do something that was a step in a different direction.
PopHorror: So, especially with the vampire-esque aspect, would you say that much of this film is up to the audience’s interpretation?
Joe Begos: Oh, yes! For sure. That’s a big reason why I had the whole drug aspect in the film. It wasn’t my intention for the audience to specifically know what was causing Dezzy to become so out of control. I place you in the same mindset as this character. She’s not really fucking sure what’s causing her to act this way, and it’s driving her crazy and making her anxious. And I wanted the audience to feel that.
PopHorror: I think that you succeeded in capturing that and Dora Madison does a phenomenal job portraying Dezzy’s downward spiral of insanity on screen. When and where will people be able to check out Bliss?
Joe Begos: It comes out next week on Friday, September 27th and you’ll be able to get it on any VOD platform. It’s also going to select theaters, and it’s hitting Blu-ray in November and Shudder a few months after that.
PopHorror: That’s great news! Do you have any upcoming projects you would like to talk about?
Joe Begos: I have a movie called VFW premiering this weekend at Fantastic Fest. It’s an action horror movie about war veterans versus an army of punks, and it should be coming out sometime early next year.
PopHorror: That sounds like another one not to miss! Thank you, Joe, for taking the time to speak with me.
Joe Begos: Of course! Thank you.
Watch Almost Human Right Now!
As Joe continuously improves his craft, I’m sure his name will be one to look for at film festivals to come. And, as the director continues to branch out and explore various subgenres of horror, I’m excited to see what he does next!