"I want to make movies so people can drink beer and throw their cans at the screen," says James Bickert of his microbudget approach to movies. The Atlanta-based filmmaker behind Troma Entertainment's 2000 horror film Dumpster Baby pays homage to Southern drive-in fare with Dear God No!, in which the Impalers, a gang of "filthy, degenerate bikers," encounters a legendary monster. Bickert, who looks like a jolly biker himself, filmed Dear God No! over two weeks in the North Georgia mountains and unleashes his creation at the Plaza Theatre for its Atlanta premiere Sept. 9.
When did you pick up your interest in drive-in films?
When I was a kid, both of my parents were in grad school and working to pay for college, so the only time we'd all go out together would be at the drive-in. They'd sit in the backseat together and put me in the front. I'd pretend to fall asleep for the second feature, which was usually the most interesting. My favorites were Roger Corman movies like Death Race 2000 — anything with car crashes and explosions.
How did you get started making films?
I just did it. I was dating a woman at the time who knew I was interested in film, and it turned out she was a dominatrix. So I started making these S&M films, and they were the most boring things in the world to shoot. The owner of the company would say things like "I want the girls tied up this way, and they need to look like secretaries." I tried to do interesting camera shots, but he'd tell me, "Not so artsy."
How'd the idea for Dear God No! come about?
I was writing a ton of title ideas and pitching them to my friend Shane Morton, who runs the Silver Scream Spook Show, and when I said "Dear God No!" he started laughing. And we decided that it should be a biker movie that has Bigfoot in it.
Why shoot on 16 mm film, in the style of vintage drive-in movie?
I just love that look. I built a drive-in theater in my backyard and I show nothing but 1960s and 1970s exploitation movies. For Dear God No! I had access to Red digital cameras, but they're too slick. I like grain. I felt that only film could capture that look. Transferring the film to a digital medium for editing cost more than the film stock.
What were the greatest challenges of making such a low budget production?
The hardest thing was the motorcycles. We were using real, vintage Harleys, a couple from the 1940s, and they would break down a lot. To get a group shot of the motorcycles was the hardest thing: "Please let them all make it down this hill!"
Your bio says that you have a goal "to inject highfalutin film elements into the genre trash [you] love." Can you give examples from your new film and its connection to Kate Chopin's feminist novel The Awakening?
That book was my motivation of my lead character, who I named Edna, after the lead character of The Awakening. She's in this situation that she can't get out of, and it keeps getting worse for her. But I don't use the plot of the book — there's no Bigfoot in The Awakening. On the surface, it's a misogynistic exploitation film from the 1970s, but there's a lot of layers that people pick up on repeat viewings. I've seen enough Fellini and Truffaut and Buñuel that they get in there, too.
How did you use the online fundraising system Kickstarter to raise money for the film?
We shot it first, because we thought people would be more likely to invest if principal photography was finished. We used Kickstarter to raise money for the transfer, and we raised it in a week. I never expected that kind of response, and I wouldn't have been able to finish the film if it hadn't been for them. All of the people who donate get awards, like movie props and signed posters. Our biggest donor got a Thompson submachine gun that shoots blanks.
What's next for Dear God No! after the Plaza screening?
I've set up screenings in Ontario. I've gotten upward of 20 distribution requests in other countries based on the poster from Tom Hodge. The craziest thing is that I've been contracted by Chelsea Films for the DVD release. They produced The King's Speech. Talk about sinking in quality — what are they thinking?