Interview With ‘Tar’ Writer/Director Aaron Wolf

As the co-founder of Howling Wolf Productions, Aaron Wolf has had not shortage of film projects. In the past 17 years, Wolf has been involved in directing, producing, acting, writing, and editing film that span the genre spectrum from comedies to documentaries to dramas. This year, Wolf has decided to throw his hat into the horror ring with the upcoming creature feature flick Tar. PopHorror got the chance to chat with this Jack of All Trades about his projects, both old and new, and what inspires him.

PopHorror: You’ve been working in the film industry for a almost 20 years now. How did you get into filmmaking?

Aaron Wolf: I actually started interning in high school but the entertainment industry has always held a fascination for me. My father worked at Walt Disney Studios as a speechwriter so I was introduced to this kind of stuff at a young age. I would hang out at his office. I was eight years old and I would sit there reading Variety magazine. Today’s my dad’s birthday, by the way.

PopHorror: Is it? Happy birthday, Dad!

Aaron Wolf: (laughs) Dad, happy birthday! Yeah, so at 12 years old, we got a camcorder and I started making my own movies. Then later on, I got a job at a movie theater. This is going to sound super nerdy, but I would pay attention to what tickets people bought and what movies they went to see. I was fascinated to see what they chose and why they chose it. I wanted to know what movies were popular and with what kind of people. We would always go to the movies on Christmas and I would keep track to see what movies the people in front of me went to, what tickets they would buy. When I was working at the theater and I would see people buying tickets to something I didn’t like, I would try to convince them to go see something else. (laughs) I would try to change their minds.

PopHorror: Did it work?

Aaron Wolf: Yeah, actually. I wanted to see the ticket money go to the guys who made the movies I liked. I didn’t want that other guy to win.

PopHorror: What is The Groundlings?

Aaron Wolf: Oh, The Groundlings! Sure! So, I had started working in theater when I was like six or seven and then I went on to New York University where I took some film classes. After that, I went out to LA to learn to do improv. It used to be that you had to audition for these improv groups, so I auditioned for The Groundlings and got to the first level. Then I auditioned my way up. Let me tell you, I learned more in The Groundlings than I learned in any acting class ever. I recommend it for anyone, no matter what kind of job you have. It’s a great learning experience.

PopHorror: It helps think on your feet.

Aaron Wolf: Exactly! Any time life throws you a curveball, you learn to go with it and keep it going. It definitely affected how I work with actors… and pretty much everyone else.

PopHorror: Tell me about Restoring Tomorrow and Aaron Wolf’s Restoring Your Tomorrow.

Aaron Wolf: Restoring Tomorrow is definitely a labor of love for me. My grandfather was a Rabbi, so it was near and dear to my heart. My current Rabbi brought me in and explained how Hollywood moguls had actually built our Temple, the Wilshire Boulevard Temple. So I asked, “Now what?” He said he wanted me to film the journey of the Temple’s restoration. So that’s what I did. I filmed the restoration. And then 6 months later, I realized the bigger story. Young people lose their place and forget about the important things. They forget what’s really important. Five years later, I signed a theatrical deal for distribution of the film. Now it’s being seen all over the place, even on the Truli Network.

*The official synopsis for Restoring Tomorrow:

Today, religious institutions are losing younger members and even closing their doors at an alarming rate. Director Aaron Wolf’s personal journey of rediscovery comes alive in Restoring Tomorrow, an extraordinary story of a treasured local temple near demise that was saved by a Jewish community’s determination to achieve the impossible. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, a Los Angeles treasure built by the original Hollywood moguls, needs to raise millions to restore its majesty and vibrancy, thus also restoring the future of the Jewish community, the greater Los Angeles community-and on a personal level, Wolf himself.*

I’m just as guilty as anyone else in letting this [forgetfulness of youth] happen. If these places go away, we’re losing that inherent concept and a lot of people don’t realize that. But now I know. Every project I do, I get really involved in. All of the movies I do becomes my passion.

PopHorror: You had quite a bit of success with Guest House (2013), winning awards at the Uptown Film Festival, Nevada Film Festival, Hang Onto Your Shorts Film Festival and the Wild Rose Independant Film Festival. Tell me a bit about that one.

Aaron Wolf: The story behind Guest House started awhile ago. It came from personal experience. I was engaged and a month before the wedding, it was all called off. You know, you have a couple hundred people coming and you have to tell them what happened. Being me, my intuition was to make a movie out of it. I had my own story but I wanted to make something universal. So I made a film about this guy; he’s in his late 20s and he loses his job and his fiance all in one day. He’s down on his luck so he moves back to his parent’s guest house. Suddenly his past comes alive and propels him forward.

For the father, I wanted a cool actor, so I reached out to Michael Gross. People are used to seeing him in the Tremors films so I asked him if he would play against type as the irritable, angry dad and he agreed. I called up a good friend of mine, Mark Gessner, he was in Benders (2015), and I also got Heather Lind, who’s now in the TV series Turn on AMC. I was pretty nervous when I made it. I wondered how many people would get it, but I was surprised at how many people could relate.

PopHorror: We are a horror site here at PopHorror, so I’m dying to hear more about your newest project, Tar. What’s the movie about?

Aaron Wolf: Tar is a thriller horror. When we made Tar, we created a whole new world. Everywhere you look, all you see are remakes, sequels, Saw part 47, Halloween reboots. My co-writer Tim Nuttall (Guest House 2013) and I, we wanted to create something original but also something that people could actually imagine, something that could really happen. So you know the La Brea Tar Pits in LA? There’s a creature that lives below the tar pits. And all of the construction and stuff they’re always doing in LA has woken it up. The creature attacks a family whose business is closing, a family of three generations. I play the son, and Golden Globe nominee Timothy Bottoms (Johnny Got His Gun 1971) plays my father. It’s such a new and interesting world we’ve created. What’s also exciting is that we’re making a comic version through Action Lab Comics and we’ve already got a sequel written.

What’s interesting about horror is that horror is about isolating people. You’re isolated in the cabin in the woods. You’re isolated at the mall. You’re isolated at the farmhouse. But Tar isn’t about isolation. The entire city is affected. There’s no safe place. And the tar pits are real. They’re a real thing.

*The official synopsis for Tar:

In the murky depths of Los Angeles’ world-famous La Brea Tar Pits there lies an ancient secret – a creature that, awakened by underground construction, turns a night of somber packing for Barry Greenwood and his co-workers into a desperate fight for survival.*

PopHorror: You’re right about there being very little originality in horror lately. It’s something we horror fans have noticed as a trend that’s been happening for awhile now. So Tar sounds pretty exciting to me. When is it due out?

Aaron Wolf: Tar will be released in theaters in the fall or winter of this year.

Also, another thing we wanted to do was use all practical effects. There was very, very little CGI in this film. We wanted the creature to feel real. The tar pits are real. So maybe the creature is real, too?

PopHorror: Horror fans do love practical effects!

Aaron Wolf: So do I! Even at places like Disney, I’d much rather go on the rides with animatronics. At Universal, they use a lot of green screens, but I’m not a big fan of those at all.

PopHorror: Tar is your first horror project. Are you a fan of the horror genre?

Aaron Wolf: Yeah, I’m a fan of horror. I’m a fan of all movies or just good stories. Stories transcend genre. It could be a rom-com or it could be horror, once I care about people in the movie, I’m hooked. Look at the movie Get Out. There was a totally different take on storytelling going on there. I loved it. I love talking about movies, watching movies, any kind of movies… Do you have a favorite horror movie?

*Pause as I wax nostalgic on Jaws and why I love it so much*

Aaron Wolf: Actually, Jaws is my favorite horror movie as well! When we made Tar, we modeled it after what they did with Jaws. It’s a natural phenomenon so it’s something that could really happen. Instead of “Watch where you swim,” it’s “Watch where you step.” In LA, the tar gets everywhere. You find it up on the sidewalks and it gets on everything. Be prepared – disgusting things will happen. This is going to be a fun thrill ride.

PopHorror: You’ve worked in front of and behind the camera. What do you prefer?

Aaron Wolf: Hmmm… well, I prefer both equally. They’re both are different forms of getting the story across. Acting is storytelling. Directing is sending actors in the right direction for their story. I love both. I call filmmaking “problem solving” because the process of making a film is solving the problem of getting it to make sense at the end.

Editing is equally important – or even more important – than any other job on the set. My editor, Simon Carmody (Tar 2017), is amazing. I mean, he’s really a genius. He takes all the info that I’ve given him and he creates these fantastic stories. I’m amazed at him. It’s like taking the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle – the director and the actors, they do the outer edge of the puzzle, but the editor takes the rest of the scattered pieces and fills it in. Without him, the film would just be a jumbled, confusing mess of tiny pieces. But once he’s done with it, you get this whole, solid and complete story where everything fits together perfectly.

 

PopHorror: Do you have anything you’re working on now that you can talk about?

Aaron Wolf: I’ve got two new films coming up. We started production on a comedy that I describe as “Animal House meets Revenge of the Nerds.” It’s called LDUniversity and it’s about a school of kids with learning disabilities. Rather than being the forgotten, these kids end up being the heroes. I’m also working on a documentary about that film called (We Are All) Disabled. These two films are companion pieces. They’ll be released around the same time. They’re both meant to dispell stigmas. But in some way, we are all disabled. Think about it. Everyone is.

PopHorror: Aaron, my last question for you is this: What scares you?

Aaron Wolf: Edges. Standing on edges, especially those next to a steep drop. Once I went to Yellowstone and I stood on the canyon near the edge. Oh, gosh! (laughs)

PopHorror: You never know when a rogue wind is going to come by and blow you right over!

Aaron Wolf: Exactly! (laughs)

PopHorror: That about wraps it up. Thanks so much for taking the time to grant us this interview!

Aaron Wolf: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me!

Stay tuned to PopHorror, where we’ll give you all the news on Aaron and his upcoming creature feature, Tar.

About Tracy Allen

As the co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of PopHorror.com, Tracy has learned a lot about independent horror films and the people who love them. Now an approved critic for Rotten Tomatoes, she hopes the masses will follow her reviews back to PopHorror and learn more about the creativity and uniqueness of indie horror movies.

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