Independent Horror: An Interview With Director Jeff Frumess

Interview Conducted By Jerome Reuter

Romeo’s Distress is the directorial debut of Jeff Frumess. It’s an independent horror film combining good storytelling, strong character study, as well as wonderful attention to detail.

SQ: First of all Jeff, I’d like to thank you for taking your time to talk with us at SQ Magazine. More importantly, I’d like to commend you on Romeo’s Distress. It’s a great film, with a impressive use of storytelling.

Of course! And thank you for a truly great first review for Romeo. It was so validating to see that the story works the way I was hoping it would.

SQ: What motivated you to go with the title Romeo’s Distress? I have to admit, it’s what piqued my interest right away, as I love Rozz Williams era Christian Death. I also noticed a subtle reference to The Buzzcocks in the films first act. Was this the intention from the beginning, or something that found its way into the story overtime? Either way, It’s a very nice touch. 

I am really glad to hear that! It’s just something I’ve always sort of done, maybe it is my signature or how I connect the music I love to the visual storytelling I aspire to create. A lot of screenplays and treatments I write are named after songs. I wrote a Werewolf screenplay called “The Shift”, after the Samhain song, and recently, I collaborated on a treatment based on a friend’s story and called my draft “Alligator Wine” like the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song.

As for the Buzzcocks lyrics, I am just a HUGE fan of “Singles Going Steady”. It is one of those albums I can play all the way through, over and over. Those songs are very special. A lot of them deal with love and heartbreak and tie into things I have felt over the years listening to them. So I guess it felt right when talking about loving people that you shouldn’t or can’t or don’t. I love sticking little Easter eggs in dialogue like that. “Lipstick” & “Love You More” were used for temp music in earlier cuts of the film.

SQ: I found the lead protagonist James quite an intriguing character. He’s someone who generates empathy, yet other times we wonder about his true intentions. What where some of the motivations behind creating him?

My favorite characters have always been those that leave me confused or conflicted as to how I should feel about them. The Human condition is not black and white, but a vast  gradient of grays. And those grays represent different perspectives and points of view based on how one experiences their life. So there aren’t paint by numbers, cookie cutter, “Good & Evil” name tags slapped on the characters. They act based on the wants and needs that motivate  their lives. And blinded, they end up misunderstanding or being misunderstood – usually with tragic consequences to their actions.

I suppose that is one of the main motivations for James as a character. He’s a dreamer, a childlike, lovesick weirdo with the best intentions, but as we know, the best intentions can pave the road to hell.

SQ: I also noticed a great deal of color contrast and saturation, what made you want to utilize black and white film as well as color?

Nick Bohun ( Romeo’s Associate Producer, Sound, Score, & Gaffer) encouraged me to shoot the film myself, but I am not a Cinematographer. So shooting using the in-camera Monochrome profile became a practical choice as well as an aesthetic one because it is easier to achieve a good looking image.I have always admired black & white because it effortlessly transports me into the world I am watching. There is something magical about the absence of color that sells me more on the illusion. Especially if the budget is small.

Monochrome was also very useful as a visual story telling tool because it created a dynamic contrast between the present, the past, and the dreams. Originally I was trying to think of all these surreal tricks I could add to say, “Hey you guys!!! This is a dream, this is a flashback”! But simplicity prevailed, and I learned that just adding color to a black and white world could say it all.

SQ: Were there any films you were particularly influenced by on this one? Some of the scenes with color reminded me of some of John Waters’ earlier works, especially with the soundtrack you went with.

There was a whole myriad of things that influenced Romeo including : “Night of the Living Dead”, “Gummo”, Christian Death, “The American Astronaut”, “Red, White, & Blue”, “Romeo & Juliette”, “Pink Flamingos”, Edgar Allan Poe, “Nekromantik”, “Eraserhead”.

The way we filmed the electrocution (It can be seen in the trailer) was copied from “Phantom of the Paradise”. Nick and I were watching the gorgeous Scream Factory release at my apartment. On the supplemental “Making of…” Documentary, the editor talked about how he achieved the stylized electrocution by rearranging single frames of film out of order to achieve the jittery look of Beef (the character) receiving a fatal electrical current. As I was explaining this process to Nick while watching that particular scene ( in Phantom), he suggested we try it ourselves. After a few tests we realized we could do it digitally- It’s one of my favorite scenes in Romeo!

SQ: Who are 5 filmmakers who have had a profound influence on your work?

There are SO many, but if I have to pick 5 off the top of the noggin – George Romero, Robert Rodriguez, John Waters, Cory MCabee, Richard Elfman.

SQ: Do you have any idea what your next project will be? Any hints to what we should be bracing ourselves for?

I am constantly writing and have several completed scripts. But I always find myself inspired in the moment. I spent close to a year trying to write my first screenplay and it was horrible. I put it on the shelf and months later I was struck by a lightening bolt of inspiration and typed out Romeo in 2 months and was shooting 3 months after that. So who really knows what will come next… I am waiting for that another bolt of lightning! Because when it strikes, a sense of intuition and urgency follow. One thing is for certain, whatever it is, I want to shoot it all at once. It took FOREVER to finish production on Romeo.

I’ve also been working on this documentary about a prominent horror punk band that will come out at some point, but that is still in post production…

SQ: Thank you for your time, Best of luck with Romeo’s Distress, you certainly deserve any and all praise headed your way.

Thank you guys for all you help and wonderful support! Shine on!!!