Interview With Director Todd Bartoo: Defying Genre with ‘Killing Joan’

Some of the best films that have stood the test of time and gained a cult following are those that are difficult to classify. Genre blending films such as Ghostbusters (1984), Death Wish (1974), The Crow (1994) and The Shining (1980) may have stronger horror elements than others, but ultimately, they stand on their own. This was Todd Bartoo’s intention when creating his directorial debut, Killing Joan. Check out our review for his feature here. As the release date for his film quickly approaches, PopHorror had the pleasure of speaking with Todd in regards to his start in the film industry and his passion for film, which lead him to create Killing Joan.

PopHorror: Hi, Todd! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

Todd Bartoo: No problem!

PopHorror: So, to start, how long have you been in the film industry?

Todd Bartoo: I’ve been in the industry since graduating college. So, it’s been almost 21 years.

PopHorror: How and when did you get your start?

Todd Bartoo: Always having been a filmmaker at heart, I made films as a kid back when we had Super 8 cameras and transitioned to VHS cameras, and I also did theater all through school. While attending college at UC Santa Barbara as a film and theater double major, I started doing next level theater. I shifted my focus when I took notice of my friends who were pursuing film. Seeing the differences in opportunity, I decided to transition from studying theater to pursuing film. Once I graduated, I moved to L.A. and did the PA thing for a while, which I hated, as everyone does (laughs). You don’t necessarily want to be a PA for life. It’s something you do for a little bit, pay your dues and move on. From there, I realized that I really preferred being in the production office and seeing the nuts and bolts of how a film gets made. Actually filming is typically the shortest part of production. It can take years of pre-production and development, and it can take years of post-production. I found this very fascinating, and I wanted to understand the business as a whole.

Eventually, I moved into acquisitions and distribution. I’ve been doing that since 2001, and I find this side of the industry very fascinating. It’s a large world, and it can be anything from picking up a finished film and getting it out into the world, or you can be involved in the script phase, packaging and guiding a film from beginning to end. It’s sort of the overall catchall of the life of a film. To me, I find this very compelling, and I love being able to bring films out into the world in this way. It really prepared me to become a filmmaker as well, because it showed me how to prevent making mistakes early on, which can prevent a film from getting made or being seen by an audience.

PopHorror: Your first full-feature, Killing Joan, seems to be very much an action horror film. Has this always been your genre of choice?

Todd Bartoo: I would say that I love genre films in general, and I think that includes not just action and horror, but also others like the sci-fi and creature feature categories. I just love films and stories that just excite the 12-year-old kid in me. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. The ’80s were the heyday of horror. There were so many amazing horror films that came out during that time. I love anything with a creature, someone coming back from the dead, killers spouting off crazy one-liners like Freddy Krueger… I just love that stuff. Most of all, I love mashing up genres, much like I did with Killing Joan. It opens as kind of a gangster film, which transitions into a supernatural thriller. I love playing around with genre, and what it means to be a horror or to be a thriller.

PopHorror: Oh, absolutely! Personally, I love films that cross genres and don’t necessarily fit into one category.

Todd Bartoo: I agree! What I really enjoy, in particular, about the horror genre, though, is the community. The fans are great and very supportive! If you’re a fan of horror, you’ll see everything. Even the worst direct-to-video feature. You’ll watch it, and you’ll love it for what it is. You’re able to overlook some of the string and duct tape. Especially some of the early horror films. I recently went to a triple feature showing of Basket Case, Brain Damage and Frankenhooker. Now, if you’ve ever seen the first Basket Case, you’ll know what I’m talking about. They basically had a crew of two people (laughs). It was about as low budget as you can get. But it turned into a classic and spawned two sequels. And that is what I absolutely love about the horror genre.

PopHorror: I totally agree! I’m one who loves all types of horror films. Diving more into Killing Joan, what served as the film’s inspiration?

Todd Bartoo: The film changed a lot over the course of development and production. My first concept revolved around someone who isn’t necessarily a good person. At the start of the film, Joan is a badass bitch. She doesn’t take any lip, and she’s not a nice person. She’s not necessarily someone who you’d want to go and hang out with. Over the course of the film, based on what happens to her, she gains redemption, in a way. To me, that was the heart of the story. Starting out, I tried different versions of it. At one point, it was something more along the lines of Albert Brooks’ Defending Your Life. It eventually started taking the shape of more of a straight action film, and eventually started forming more of a revenge story. It eventually settled in between all of that, becoming an action horror with supernatural elements.

PopHorror: How did you come across Jamie Bernadette? She was excellent for the role of Joan, by the way! She doesn’t appear to be intimidating, but she blew that role out of the park!

Todd Bartoo: Jamie is great! I wasn’t as familiar with her work at first, but she came highly recommended by my producer. A lot of actors can pull off a tough chick. But not a lot can also pull off the vulnerability the role required. Jamie had the range of portraying a cold-blooded killer as well as a real human being with emotions.

PopHorror: She was able to make that leap in the character development, for sure. So, I think it is safe to say that there was influence from Brandon Lee in The Crow. In what ways was this intended? Did you have anything else in mind when you wrote the script?

Todd Bartoo: There were a lot of influences in the film. I knew going into it that people would inevitably compare it to The Crow. Personally, I love the film. But there were a lot of other films that I had in mind when writing Killing Joan. For example, Clint Eastwood’s Hang Em’ High and Death Wish 3, as well as various anime and video games. There’s also some stylistic influence from ’80s neo noir films like Blade Runner. Another very big influence was Night Watch, where the forces of good and evil fight for one to prevail over the other. As someone who’s a bit of a pop culture junkie, my goal was to take a little bit of everything and put it together.

PopHorror: What was your favorite part of making Killing Joan?

Todd Bartoo: My favorite part of production was probably the last day of filming (laughs). Just kidding! I have done short films for probably close to 30 years, and nothing will completely prepare you for making a full-length feature. It’s not like making a bunch of short films. It’s a marathon. Just being able to reach the finish line is amazing. So many people start, but are unable to finish. It’s such a struggle, especially on the independent level, that you really have to hand it to anyone who gets a full-feature made.

PopHorror: It can’t be easy, that’s for sure. What was the most challenging part of production?

Todd Bartoo: ….everything (laughs). Just kidding. I would probably say the most challenging part of any independent production is securing financing, as well as getting what you want with the resources you have available. It’s a constant challenge. My motto on this film was to do it as simple and straightforward as possible, because we don’t have time to be fancy. The aesthetic of the film is to be down and dirty and just get it done. As you watch the film, you’ll see that there aren’t any huge, flashy camera movements, cranes and steady cams. It was meant to feel grounded and gritty. Another challenge we had was a technical issue to where one of the hard drives crashed, and we ended up losing some of the footage. This forced us to do about three days worth of reshoots. At that point, we had to decide what scenes weren’t absolutely necessary to the story. There was some stuff that added background to the characters that got left out, but I feel like the film still works as a story.

PopHorror: I previously interviewed Jamie, who also mentioned the lost footage, which included scenes with wirework. She also mentioned this included doing the same stunt that caused the unfortunate death of the Harry Potter stunt double.

Todd Bartoo: Prior to filming, I had not heard that this was the stunt that caused that terrible accident. But the first thing that was always in the forefront of my mind was the safety of the cast and crew. Any stunts that we did, especially the fight sequences, were rehearsed so much that everyone knew them forward and backwards. You hear stories about actors getting overly excited on set and accidently punching a stunt person. You don’t want to have that happen, so we were very strategic implementing the stunts that we did. Our stunt coordinator and crew were very professional as well and knew exactly what they were doing. When we did this particular stunt, we had a lot of padding, space and made sure that safety was the utmost importance. Unfortunately, accidents do happen. But at the end of the day, it’s just a movie. It’s not worth losing a life over.

PopHorror: Absolutely. When we spoke, Jamie gave a lot of credit to you, the stunt coordinator and the production crew with how everything was handled. It seems like there’s a lot you could do with adaptations of Killing Joan, as well as a sequel. Do you have anything in the works?

Todd Bartoo: There is plenty I could still explore in the world portrayed in the film. It could be a comic book series, graphic novel or an anime series. I’m very interested to see where this all goes, but it all depends on how the film does. If it does well, and there’s an audience for it, I’ll likely explore this further. It’s like Thomas Lennon once said: “You don’t want to think about sequels until the film is released.” If the film does well, there will be a sequel. There’s a lot more that doesn’t even get touched upon in the film, such as what happens when Joan goes through these supernatural portals and exploring the shadow realm. Not to give away too much, but as the film ends, the question remains as to if Joan has really solved anything or if it has gotten worse. I would also love to bring back Jamie as Joan and Katarina as Donna. I think they are wonderful characters that still have a lot to be explored. Of course, there would be the added benefit of working with two wonderful actresses that I would love to work with again.

PopHorror: That would be great to see! So, as of right now, do you have any upcoming projects?

Todd Bartoo: I have a lot of things that I am currently developing. It’s more of a matter of figuring out which project will be next. I have about a million different projects that I’d love to tackle (laughs). I have a couple of creature features in mind, a sci-fi alien invasion film that I’d love to do, as well as a haunted house feature. I have no shortage of ideas. It’s more of a matter of figuring out which one to pursue. In the meantime, my hope for Killing Joan is that it will develop a following over time.

Be sure to check out Killing Joan available on Video on Demand on April 3rd! Audiences can find this genre blending feature on multiple major platforms including Amazon and look for it on DVD in July. Stay tuned to PopHorror for future news and updates!

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