As I’ve been blogging for more than a decade, it’s always a joy and privilege to feature indie filmmakers and supporting their work.
Josh Stifter is a local Minneapolis filmmaker who had the opportunity to be a part of the reality show for El Rey Network (elreynetwork.com) and he got to make a $7k feature with mentorship from Robert Rodriguez. Yep you read that right, he made his horror comedy The Good Exorcist for seven thousand dollars. I sat down with Josh in a coffee shop in a Minneapolis suburbs and it was a blast listening to him talk about the experience making the film, shot in Texas in just 14 days!
The film premiered at a special event during SXSW Film Festival and it also won Best Texas Narrative at Austin Revolution Film Festival.
After a ranch in Texas is befallen to a mysterious, demonic presence, it is up to an eccentric, wandering priest to find answers and dispel the darkness. As he digs deeper he soon finds that he may be in over his head and out of time.
A Go90 and Rebel Without A Crew Production
Directed, Edited and Shot by: Josh Stifter
Written by: Daniel Degnan and Josh Stifter
Starring: Daniel Degnan, Brittaney Ortiz, Avery Merrifield, John Baran, and Ali Meier
JOSH STIFTER’S BIO
Josh Stifter began his filmmaking adventure crafting short movies with his friends after school everyday. He pursued animation and quickly found a job directing cartoons for the director Kevin Smith. After years of creating shorts and animated films, Josh has decided to tackle features, jumping at the opportunity to make his first feature length film with Robert Rodriguez. He has worked with companies such as Troma, CNN, SModco, 1517 Media, and El Rey Network.
Follow Josh Stifter & Flush Studios on social media:
Twenty-five years ago, Robert Rodriguez made his first feature-length film, El Mariachi. Armed with a budget of just $7,000 and 14 days to shoot his movie, Rodriguez created an award-winning film that changed independent filmmaking. To mark the 25th anniversary of “El Mariachi,” Rodriguez has invited five aspiring filmmakers to Austin, Texas to take on the same challenge.
Check out Season 1 of Rebel Without A Crew series on elreynetwork.com »
Brief review of The Good Exorcist
by Laura Schaubschlager
Apparently 2018 has been the year of independent horror comedy for me-first with Ahockalypse, then Better off Zed, and now Josh Stifter’s The Good Exorcist. The Minneapolis writer and drector was a part of the El Rey Network reality show Rebel Without a Crew, where he had the opportunity to create a $7,000 feature in two weeks with mentorship from renowned filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. The result was a wonderfully bizarre and hilariously campy paranormal mystery starring a small but engaging cast.
The film follows Father Gil (Daniel Degnan), an eccentric but cheerful exorcist, to a small vacation ranch in Texas run by married couple Mr. and Mrs. Willows (John Baran and Ali Meier) to investigate a strong demonic presence. Along with the Willows’ dim-witted but good-natured son Stanley (Avery Merrifield) and enigmatic ranch employee Maria (Brittany Ortiz), Father Gil struggles to unravel the mystery behind the dark force plaguing the area.
Q&A with Josh Stifter
Thanks Laura Schaubschlager for the interview questions!
Q1: How did you get involved with Rebel Without a Crew? What was the process to get on the show like?
A little over a year ago, I sent an animation called Other Fish to El Rey Network I wanted Robert to see. It featured voice talent by Michael Parks, an actor Robert has worked with before who had recently passed away, and I thought he’d like to see it. After El Rey saw my work, they asked me to be on the program The Peoples Network Showcase. While I was there filming a sequence for that show, the show runner noticed that I had a copy of Robert’s book Rebel Without A Crew on me. I told him that I always have a copy with me. It’s my Bible.
Then, he asked if I had any live action films I could show him…
From there, I applied like the thousands of others who wanted to make a feature film for $7,000. The process of applying went in multiple steps. First, I filled out a survey. After that, I was asked to send in a synopsis for my film. I had an idea for what I could do (i.e. I had a priest costume, my best friend to star, and a few props such as a Teddy Bear and a fake tentacle), so before work one Monday, I wrote up a synopsis, made a really quick poster (which is still being used as the poster for marketing!), and came up with some ideas for characters. The next day I got a call asking for the script… which hadn’t been written yet…. I got on the phone with folks at El Rey and basically lied. I said, “I have the script kind of complete, but can I get two weeks to clean it up and make it more readable?” They said, “Okay” and from there, Daniel Degnan and I set out to write a feature film that Robert Rodriguez would be reading in two weeks. And somehow, miraculously, we did it! After a few weeks I got a call that my script was chosen by Robert and they wanted me to make my movie.
Q2: Being mentored by Robert Rodriguez must have been an incredible opportunity. What did you learn from him that you incorporated into The Good Exorcist?
One of the first things Robert told me was, “The road to success is going to be hell, but it’s going to worth it when you see your movie play on the big screen”. He was a cheerleader for keeping the independent spirit and pushing forward. But mostly, he was just a friend through the whole process. Sometimes the hardest part of making art is just continuing when you’re tired, frustrated, or feel like it’s all a waste of time. Robert continuously reminded me that 10 years from now, not a single moment will have felt like a waste of time because we keep learning and pushing ourselves.
I felt like quitting all the time on The Good Exorcist. For every shot that went right, 10 things went wrong. With the help of Robert, and my entire cast, I was able to push past the self doubt, bronchitis (yes, I got bronchitis on reality t.v. *doh!*), missing my family, being terrified of how the reality show would portray me, sound issues, and every other thing that went wrong.
Robert also told me, “Don’t be scared to put yourself up on the screen.” By that, he meant that I shouldn’t be afraid to go silly, ridiculous, and DIY with my movie. He really emphasized that I should use my strengths. That people won’t care that it’s super low budget if they can see the passion on the screen and my personality. Every time I thought a joke was too silly or a visual effect idea was stupid, I just remembered… I’M SILLY AND STUPID! That’s exactly what I should be showing! And in the end, some of the moments in the film that get the biggest reactions are those moments where I decided to just not hold back and put my personality on the screen.
Q3: What kind of obstacles did having such a small budget and short time frame present, and how did you overcome them?
There was a new obstacle around every corner while filming The Good Exorcist. Whether it was a construction crew tearing my set apart, sound equipment not working, my cast having too much fun and struggling to make the day, or bronchitis, we had to just keep adapting and pushing forward. A 14 day shoot doesn’t allow for anyone to get sick and take a day off, especially not the director.
We made the best use of the $7,000 we could, pinching every penny to get all we could from it. We utilized my knowledge of Visual Effects and tried to come up with ideas that wouldn’t cost a lot, but could be enhanced in post production.
Abaddon’s final form for instance was a garbage bag filled with El Rey Network teeshirts and other swag, ping pong ball eyes, a fake mouth from the Halloween store that was on sale the day after Halloween, and rubber snakes on sale at Target my wife bought a few years ago. All together, that final effect cost around $15. Then, I just added an extra tentacle, some fire, enhanced the eyes and mouth, and added some motion in post production that I knew would be fun to do.
I also utilized what I had at my disposal to add to production value. Originally in the script, Father Gil and Maria were supposed to be dancing at Father Gil’s car. But when John Baran (who played Mr. Willows) told me he had a really cool old car with flames and a skull shift, I rewrote the scene so that it could be Maria’s car. And why wouldn’t Maria have an awesome car, right? It was all about adapting the story to fit anything that would add to the value of the movie.
Q4: You hinted at a Good Exorcist sequel at the end of the movie (and gave me some Ash vs the Evil Dead vibes, which I love). Can you give us any clues about what Father Gil, Stanley, and Maria are up to next?
I would absolutely LOVE to make a sequel to The Good Exorcist. In fact, we already have a script called Father Gil and the Daughter’s of Lilith. And coming from an animation background, I plan to make some of the stories that Father Gil told, such as the Ice Cream Demon and the Hell Hound Infestation into cartoons at some point. Growing up on Evil Dead, Gremlins, The Burbs, and the other creepy comedies of the 80’s, I wanted the film to feel like something you’d see on cable late at night. Those were always my favorite films, so trying to recreate that midnight movie feel was paramount for me.
At the moment though, we’re just waiting for this first movie to release and how the audience reacts. So, while we wait, Daniel and I have been shooting and editing our second film titled Greywood’s Plot. We loved making The Good Exorcist with the Rebel mentality and we’re trying to do that again without a reality crew following us around this time.
Q5: When you first got into filmmaking, did you plan on specifically focusing on horror?Are there any other genres you’d like to explore?
I don’t actually see The Good Exorcist as a horror but more as a comedy. There are definitely horror elements along with dramatic scenes, but blending genres is always fun. I definitely enjoy making people laugh and can’t see myself not putting some sort of humor into everything I do, but I also always want to be challenging myself.
While I never see myself not having some sort of “dark sense of humor” I’d love to try making content for different audiences. In 2019, I’ll be hopefully finishing up two more features that both sort of play in the horror genre, but I’m really hoping to make a kids movie while my sons are still young. I personally love movies that my whole family and I can enjoy and I’d really enjoy making something that I would know other families are enjoying together.
Thanks Josh for talking to FlixChatter!