When you’re the new guy on the scene, you have to try a lit­tle hard­er to get noticed.  Daniel Griffith’s work sug­gests that he has tak­en that max­im to heart: he’s rel­a­tive­ly new to the world of home video spe­cial fea­tures but he’s quick­ly carved out a name for him­self by giv­ing his all to the extras he’s pro­duced for sev­er­al cult film titles.  The style he brings to the­se pro­duc­tions shows a real cin­e­mat­ic flair, often includ­ing fun touch­es like elab­o­rate title sequences and musi­cal scores.  Griffith is also not shy about the going the dis­tance to cov­er the full behind-the-sce­nes sto­ry: he’s cre­at­ed fea­ture-length doc­u­men­taries for the recent home video releas­es of Dark Star and Twins Of Evil.

As a result, his work show­cas­es a high lev­el of cinephil­ia — and you’ll get the low­down on how it all began with this first part of Schlockmania’s inter­view with Griffith.  Prepare to get into the mind of a hard-work­ing, dyed-in-the-wool film fanat­ic made good…

At what age did you get into movies — and what were the movies that inspired your cin­e­mat­ic obses­sion?

As far back as I can remem­ber, motion pic­tures have played essen­tial role in my life. From an ear­ly age, I was exposed to many film genre’s… all rang­ing from con­tem­po­rary to clas­sic. My grand­fa­ther intro­duced me to west­erns and crime drama’s, while my father ush­ered in the sci-fi/fantasy films. But it was my Grandmother and Aunt who real­ly made me fear the dark. They were the har­bin­gers of all things goth­ic and chill­ing. From Vincent Price to Freddy Krueger, I watched them all.

But it was the first hor­ror film they exposed me to that real­ly played a part in my cin­e­mat­ic obses­sion. On a dark sum­mer night, I was sub­ject­ed to THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Now, as a four year child, I was already ter­ri­fied by the super­nat­u­ral events tran­spir­ing on the sil­ver screen. But then, to be told that it was all a ‘true sto­ry’, well… that was the begin­ning of many sleep­less nights.

However, that expe­ri­ence helped me appre­ci­ate the fine line between fact and fic­tion, and how eas­i­ly it can be manip­u­lat­ed to spin a good hor­ror sto­ry. Come to think of it, that was also my first expo­sure to the art of ‘bal­ly­hoo’ being applied to a motion pic­ture. The the­atri­cal one-sheet itself states that the film is “based on the best­seller that made mil­lions believe in the unbe­liev­able”. Now, how could you avoid any film claim­ing that?

Has your film­mak­ing focus always been doc­u­men­taries or have you exper­i­ment­ed with nar­ra­tive film­mak­ing?  And if you could make a fea­ture film, what kind of film would you make?

My focus has always visu­al sto­ry­telling, regard­less of gen­re or type. I do love doc­u­men­taries, almost as much as I love nar­ra­tive film. But I fell into doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing by acci­dent (or chance).

While every­thing was falling apart on a web-series I had been devel­op­ing for over a year, I real­ized that I could visu­al­ly tell a sto­ry with­out the par­tic­i­pa­tion of actors or a large crew. With a doc­u­men­tary, the crew could be as min­i­mal as myself. All I would have to do is research each sto­ry and find the right indi­vid­u­als (or interviewee’s) to bring it to life. THE WONDER WORLD OF K. GORDON MURRAY (the fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary on dis­trib­u­tor K. Gordon Murray) was born out of that ratio­nale.

Looking back, I was very naïve. I had no idea what I was get­ting myself into. I would lat­er dis­cov­er that doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing is far more tax­ing than nar­ra­tive film, and less reward­ing.

As far as what type of nar­ra­tive film, who can say? Most of the screen­plays I have writ­ten in the past defy most of the gen­re con­ven­tions. I have always admired film­mak­ers who strive to re-invent a par­tic­u­lar gen­re. But since I have always been a fol­low­er of super­nat­u­ral-based short fic­tion and pulp nov­els, most of my projects (so far) are with­in that realm of sto­ry­telling.

How did you get into pro­duc­ing bonus fea­tures for DVD’s?

While I was devel­op­ing the K. Gordon Murray doc­u­men­tary, I was approached by DVD pro­duc­er Cliff MacMillan to provide bonus mate­ri­als for a spe­cial edi­tion of the William Grefé snake thriller, STANLEY (for the now defunct BCI ECLIPSE). From there, I was asked to pro­duce mate­ri­al for Shout! Factory’s MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 box sets and the rest is his­to­ry.

Your fea­turettes tend to have a dis­tinct style in their visu­als and edit­ing — how would you describe your style as a doc­u­men­tar­i­an and how much influ­ence does the sub­ject mat­ter have on the look/feel of each fea­turet­te?

The film or sub­ject I base each doc­u­men­tary on always plays a role in the final style and approach I take. Besides the film itself, I am also fas­ci­nat­ed by the era in which it was cre­at­ed. History, in gen­er­al, has always fas­ci­nat­ed me. So, before I deter­mine the ‘look’ of my doc­u­men­taries, I research the his­to­ry sur­round­ing the pro­duc­tion. This includes all the pop cul­ture influ­ences of the peri­od. Then, I let the infor­ma­tion sim­mer, stim­u­lat­ing my cre­ativ­i­ty, until I engi­neer a con­tem­po­rary spin on it. In a way, it’s like I’m hold­ing a mir­ror up to the past. The mir­ror exist in the present, but its reflec­tion cap­tures the look and the feel of a bygone age. I like to think that my doc­u­men­taries, how­ev­er play­ful they can be, are not only a trib­ute, but a tan­gi­ble link to the accom­plish­ments of those who came before us.

What inspired the name “Ballyhoo Motion Pictures” for your com­pa­ny?

The name of my com­pa­ny, and the design of its logo, is com­prised of sev­er­al unique per­son­al events. The logo itself hear­kens back to my own child­hood. When I was grow­ing up, a local tele­vi­sion sta­tion would host a hor­ror show every Friday night called “Friday Night Frights”. On one par­tic­u­lar Friday night, they were sched­uled to air William Castles 1959 clas­sic, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. Well, blame it on an over­dose of piz­za or too many red vines, but I passed out in the floor, in front of the tele­vi­sion set, long before the pro­gram even start­ed. However, once that first pre-cred­it scream echoed from my TV, I shot up off the floor. And, for the next 70 min­utes, my eyes were glued to the screen. That was my first intro­duc­tion to William Castle, a cin­e­mat­ic show­man whose influ­ence extend­ed beyond the movie itself.

Castle was also the first film­mak­er that helped me visu­al­ize the con­nec­tion between motion pic­ture pro­mo­tion­al tac­tics… and the ‘bal­ly­hoo’ found on the mid­way of any trav­el­ing car­ni­val cir­cuit. Well, cir­cus and sideshow his­to­ry being anoth­er pas­sion of mine, when it came time to iden­ti­fy myself with a com­pa­ny name, BALLYHOO was my first and only choice.

And if you watch my logo close­ly, you will see an illus­tra­tion of Castle on the right-hand side of the screen, ges­tur­ing to the ‘emerg-o’ skele­ton oppo­site him. The resound­ing scream you hear is the same scream that woke me up as a child. I guess the Ballyhoo logo is my way of say­ing, “WAKE UP! The show is about to begin… and you won’t want to miss it!”.

One of your first doc­u­men­taries was a fea­turet­te about the William Grefe snake-hor­ror flick STANLEY — sad­ly, most peo­ple haven’t seen it because the DVD it was on quick­ly went out of print.  Can you tell us about how this job came togeth­er and are there future plans to revive this doc on anoth­er disc?

As I men­tioned before, the project sprung out of my work on the K. Gordon Murray doc­u­men­tary. I had inter­viewed Bill Grefé (the direc­tor of STANLEY) for the Murray doc­u­men­tary, and he had expressed to Cliff MacMillan (at BCI) that I would be the right per­son to doc­u­ment STANLEY. Bill real­ly believed in me and encour­aged me to take the job. And since sev­er­al of the indi­vid­u­als involved with STANLEY were also his­tor­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed to the Murray doc­u­men­tary, it was almost kismet.

The doc­u­men­tary turned out to be a great suc­cess, and the unfor­tu­nate ‘swan song’ DVD release of BCI ECLIPSE. However, the spe­cial edi­tion STANLEY dvd is now avail­able in a lim­it­ed release from CODE RED, with all the bonus fea­ture intact. Which is great because we all believed in the title, espe­cial­ly Cliff. I real­ly he took a chance on me and I will always be grate­ful for that. And of course, Cliff would go on to do remark­able work at Shout! Factory.

Speaking of William Grefe, you’ve also got a fea­ture-length doc­u­men­tary going about his career in the works.  Can you tell us what it will involve and what its cur­rent sta­tus is?

The William Grefé doc­u­men­tary, enti­tled “THEY CAME FROM THE SWAMP”, high­lights his entire film career. The doc­u­men­tary also con­tains over 25 inter­views, from vet­er­an actors to spe­cial effects tech­ni­cians. It even includes com­ments from William Shatner, who not only starred in Grefé’s IMPULSE, but also actor in sev­er­al Rum com­mer­cials for the direc­tor. Which, by the way, will be includ­ed in the doc­u­men­tary.

Currently, I am track­ing down bet­ter film mate­ri­als to pull clips from. But hope­ful­ly, that search will come to an end in the near future.