❉ We catch up with the indie filmmaker to discuss his movies, influences, inspirations, career and cult faves.
Ansel H. Faraj is an award-winning independent director, screenwriter, and producer. He has directed eight feature films and countless short subjects, operating on a budget of chewing gum, shoestring, and sheer determination. He first gained attention with his revisionist Doctor Mabuse films, the first of which premiered in limited theatrical release in May 2013, with its follow up feature releasing the following year. In 2015, his Lovecraft Noir feature film The Last Case of August T. Harrison, starring Jerry Lacy and Nathan Wilson, made the rounds at film festivals across the country. In 2018, his film, Will & Liz: A Love Story in Venice Beach, starring Nathan Wilson (who co wrote the film with Faraj) and Christine Tucker – was released on Amazon Prime Video.
His latest film is Loon Lake, a psychological thriller starring Nathan Wilson and David Selby, shot on location in Minnesota.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I’m 29 years old, I’m an independent film maker from Los Angeles. My family had no industry connections, I never attended film school – everything I know I taught myself by learning on the job; and I grew up loving classic film – classic horror in particular. I saw Phantom Of The Opera with Claude Rains when I was 5 years old, and shortly afterwards saw House Of Dark Shadows – and I’ve been cursed with the filmmaking bug ever since, haha!
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Has filmmaking always been your main focus?
Always, since I was six – I made the conscious decision I would be a director with no idea of how that would ever happen, but I knew there was nothing else I would rather do.
How did you start your career as a filmmaker?
Depending upon the decade, I started when I was a kid with a VHS camcorder and Universal Monster action figures, and eventually friends from school and just never stopped. But I suppose “officially” the film that garnered me professional attention was my 2013 reinvention of Doctor Mabuse, which was released in a limited theatrical run when I was 20 years old and the experience was pretty gobsmacking. I’d always been off in my own corner doing my own thing, and suddenly I was directing the cast members from Dark Shadows and Fangoria Magazine was interviewing me. It was a whirlwind. And I’ve done my best to continue building upon that momentum and growing as a filmmaker, and you learn from each film along the way.
Who has inspired you over the years?
Roger Corman, Fellini, Robert Altman are my holy trinity; Orson Welles, Christopher Nolan, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, David Lynch, Curtis Harrington, Mario Bava, Dan Curtis are heroes and guides. I could list on and on, but I’ll try to keep things simple.
What can you tell us about the cast and story from your current movie, Loon Lake?
Loon Lake is based on the Minnesota legend of Mary Jane the Witch of Loon Lake, which is a very popular local belief in that area of the Midwest. My best friend and filmmaking collaborator Nathan Wilson (who plays the haunted lead character Louis) grew up with this legend of the witch and her haunted grave – his family farm is only ten minutes from the cemetery where she’s buried and he had always wanted to make a film about it. Nate and I had talked about this idea for as long as I’ve known him and then we finally said ‘Let’s just do it!’ , so he and I wrote the script together.
I had always wanted to play around in the folk horror world and this provided a great opportunity – and David Selby and myself had been hoping to work together on a film, and again this presented the perfect opportunity. My other good friend Kelly Kitko plays Mary Jane. She’s appeared in a number of my films, and she, Nate and myself all produced the film with no outside resources (though we certainly did try to secure funding). Kelly really made this film happen. Nate and I wrote the script but without Kelly, this movie would not exist. She figured out how to pull together a production with no money and no outside financing – she’s a real witch. And Kathryn Leigh Scott joined us once more and had a great time giving David Selby the riot act in the film. It’s currently on Special Edition Blu-ray and DVD, and streaming on TubiTV and Amazon Prime.
Where did you film your movie?
We shot entirely on location in Southwest Minnesota where the story originates, in a wonderful town called Round Lake, where Nate is from. And being a Los Angeles native myself – it was an exhilarating experience. Here in LA nobody cares you’re making a movie because everyone films here, and it’s all about money. But out there, it was magical because it was magic for the townspeople. We rolled in and took over their little town and had it all to ourselves, and they were only too happy to host us and to help us out in any way they could. They were excited we were bringing this story to life, as they were all familiar with Mary Jane’s ghost story and everyone was eager to be a part of it. It was truly an incredible experience, the best filmmaking experience I’ve had thus far, and I think I will forever be living vicariously off that memory.
What can you tell us about your other films and work?
I have been busy, I like to work. Some of the films I’m quite proud of are The Last Case Of August T Harrison which is a contemporary film noir starring Jerry Lacy – it tells the story of retired Private eye August Harrison who finds himself caught up in an occult conspiracy in Venice Beach revolving around the writings of scifi author H.P. Lovecraft and if the horrors he described in his stories are true – we hit the festival circuit with this film and did quite well; there’s The Detective Adam Sera Chronicles which are based on little comic book short stories I wrote in the last year of high school, exploring the misadventures of haunted Detective Adam Sera and the gallery of rogues he battles in “Lost Angeles.”; and then there’s my three Doctor Mabuse films which as I’d mentioned before brought me my first attention. I had always been fascinated by the character of Mabuse, and when I was a teenager I wrote a steampunk flavored thriller that was a new set of adventures for the criminal archfiend. There’s also my web series Theatre Fantastique which was a two season anthology series of horror and macabre tales. All of these are available on DVD.
What has been the most rewarding project in your professional career so far – and why?
I will say my love story Will & Liz, which was a much-needed change of air for me. It was incredibly challenging because it had to be real, honest and compelling, it’s also a genre I would normally not watch, nor am as well versed in – and as a result it was so much more fun, because it was exploration and lots of psychological discussion and subtlety, and more ‘dig your hands into the dirt’ than any fantasy film I’ve made. It was invigorating and when it was finally released, people were affected, lots of people said to me they had been in that relationship, they had been either Will or Liz, and that was very rewarding to know this film had touched and affected people, especially as it was such a different project than one would expect from me. And making it too was loads of fun. It was only myself, Christine Tucker, and Nathan Wilson hanging out, basically going on dates every day for the month of June 2017 – and we had a great time laughing and immersing ourselves into this world. It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
What element of your work gives you the most personal satisfaction?
Being there on set because I’m not in reality. I’m playing around with my friends and that creative energy is addicting. Filmmaking is the greatest drug out there. The act of creation.
What was the last film that you watched?
Fade To Black with Dennis Christopher, a film I absolutely LOVE, especially being a film geek from Venice Beach. I’m very happy Vinegar Syndrome released it on Blu-ray with a commentary track and everything. He was brilliant, he should have been nominated. I would love to work with Dennis Christopher one day because of this film.
What film could you watch every day?
Um…. This is tricky. There are several contenders. Let’s say Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus. Or Polanski’s The Tenant.
What’s your favourite film soundtrack?
Soundtrack as in “soundtrack” – the compilation that makes up the soundtrack for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood was marvellous and I’m still dancing to it. As far as ‘score’… probably Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo. I’ve listened to that quite a bit since childhood.
Which four actors would you like to see in a film together and which genre?
May I be selfish and list one of my own projects? Because I have a brilliant screenplay for The Dunwich Horror based on the Lovecraft tale which I have longed to make since I was 11 years old; and it would have Jerry Lacy as Old Wizard Whately, Nathan Wilson as Professor Armitage, David Selby as Professor Morgan, and Kelly Kitko as Dr. Rice, and here’s a fifth actor, Christopher Pennock as George Corey one Of the Dunwich denizens. If anyone would like to help finance this film, I can guarantee you a colourful scary adventure and a faithful interpretation of Lovecraft’s story. We’ve been working on this script since 2014. It would be great fun.
What’s the best bit of advice anyone has given you?
Linden Chiles told me “Do your job and be a real person.” Don’t be fake. Don’t bullshit. I would also amend this with a passage from William Goldman, who wrote in his book Adventures In The Screen Trade: “Make some glorious moments for all those people out there in the dark as earlier craftsmen created such moments for you.”.
What do you do to chill out?
I watch movies and smoke. Also ride my bike around Venice Beach, I get a lot of thinking and story problem solving done that way.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
“Hang in there kiddo, it’s going to be just fine, just hold tight.” – and I’d also give him a big much needed hug.
What’s your definition of what makes something cult?
Something that went unnoticed at first yet continues to live on because one or two people continue to love it with so much enthusiasm they manage to draw in others to share in its uniqueness – until suddenly all the hipsters start making Suspiria artwork and T-shirts after you’ve been convinced you’re the only person who knows about this film. The same thing happened with Creature From The Black Lagoon, I was made fun of as a kid for loving these movies, and then Shape Of Water was released, suddenly they all discovered the original Creature and I stood there repeating “I’ve only been preaching from the rafters for years!” while they’re just now discovering what a great film it’s always been. But there’s beauty in this because it allows these things to be immortal, the rediscovery and rebirth of the film.
Fade To Black as I mentioned earlier is most definitely a cult film, and if it weren’t for obsessed fans like me keeping these films alive, we wouldn’t be gifted a wonderful blu-ray loaded down with special features. And I damn well know now all the hipsters are going to be saying “Have you seen Fade To Black yet?” and I will contend myself by knowing I’ve long had good taste in movies, and now maybe I can actually discuss this film with someone else rather than getting the usual blank stare.
What is your advice for all young independent filmmakers on how they should work on achieving their goals and reach the best audience for their individual work?
Make what YOU want to see, and don’t worry about failure. You’re going to fail but keep going. Push against the wind. Especially when you can film it all on your iPhone and then edit it and upload it online from your phone as well. There’s no excuse to not make a movie if you want to – everyone says this, but it’s true. And the audience will find you, you just gotta keep at it. You will make something that someone else will have been looking to see. But one must begin first.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
This past year we made our third Doctor Mabuse film, a small little tale during the COVID 19 lockdown – The Thousand And One Lives Of Doctor Mabuse, which is both a third film and its own standalone piece – it can be viewed online. I’m also finishing up post-production on a short film The Most Haunted House Of Venice Beach, which is a memory piece about a lost time, the Venice Beach of the past; a kind of documentary told to us by ghosts who still remember. I also have two great action thriller screenplays – one about a bareknuckle boxer, and one about three misfits in a robbery gone south; as well as a comedy screenplay, and the aforementioned Dunwich screenplay should there be an investor out there who wants to make a strong quality film. Nathan Wilson and myself spend our days writing and rewriting and doing all we can to try to mount our next production. You can check out my website www.hollinsworthproductions.com for more work.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
My parents named me after Ansel Adams the famous photographer, never expecting I too would end up behind a camera. I love making movies and storytelling, but I suppose if I weren’t doing this I always dreamt of designing theme park rides – which I suppose is another form of storytelling and “theatre” as it were, only more immersive and mechanic. I don’t know if that’s unique enough… How’s this: I’m probably the only 29-year-old who wants Myra Breckinridge on Blu-ray and can quote almost all the dialogue in that movie. That should do it.
❉ Hollinsworth Productions website: hollinsworthproductions.com
❉ Ansel J. Faraj on IMDB: imdb.com/name/nm4043796
❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA ISBN: 9798664990546.