“I can’t think of a single thing I that I have planned for the weeknights, with the exception of working overtime—which I really don’t want to do, if I have a choice.” Jeff Hamielec, one of the supporting actors of the upcoming horror film, Sacrament, (premiering June 7th in Dallas, Texas at the famous Texas Theater) tells me in a email leading up to our interview. It is amazing what you learn when you start having a conversation with actors. We have this common misconception that they are lounging away in their million dollar mansions where all their needs are catered to them at the snap of their fingers. Some may wave openly to the paparazzi while others cover the lens to avoid the world seeing them at their worst. We don’t tend to think about is those actors having everyday issues to compete with just as you and I do. They are people who pay taxes, fight traffic, and need dental work when they lose a filling. However, independent actors still have regular day jobs on top of working tight filming schedules on the weekend. They still get their job done at work and on the set, then wedged between their family life it is off to do interviews.
Take Jeff for instance. He is an independent part time actor and husband to writer/producer/director Shawn Ewert. He works long hours and still manages to do PR for Sacrament’s upcoming release. He’s a regular guy, who works a regular job and may get some time onscreen but does not get caught up in the highbrow Hollywood mindset; you know the type of people who cannot discuss movies without referring to them as “cinema”. Talking to Jeff was going to be enjoyable (as you will read). I was appreciative to have the chance to catch up with Jeff during his busy schedule and talk about acting, his love for horror comedies, and Sacrament.
Renfield Rasputin: Tell us a little about your background in acting and writing.
Jeff Hamielec: Zero! (Laughs) I have absolutely none! I had one very brief role, I was maybe on the screen for maybe half a second, again it was just the moment where I was pretending to be a drunk guy, with my arm around the shoulder of another drunk guy stumbling down the sidewalk. We turn the corner and run right into this one chick, who is actually a friend of ours, and we scare the shit out of her, and we keep going.. It was a random jump moment in Shawn (Ewert)’s first film, Jack’s Bad Day. I was credited as “Drunk #2”. That was me. People were like “Why weren’t you filmed as ‘Drunk #1’, you’re sleeping with the director?” So I give him shit about that, because it’s fun!
R.R. I never thought of that until now! But, that is funny!
J.H. I didn’t think of it either but our friends are trouble makers and instigators so they pointed that out! (Laughs)
R.R. “Thanks, assholes!” (Laughs.)
J.H. (Laughs) Yeah! You’re right! But seriously, that is actually the only time I’ve been on screen before Sacrament and it wasn’t supposed to be me. It was supposed to be a friend of ours who flaked out. So I was there on set like I always was and I just ended up doing it. But if you don’t know it right when it is happening, you won’t know that you just saw me!
R.R. That’s awesome.
J.H. Yeah, it was just that quick.
R.R. Well you know that is how Norman Reedus started out right? He had no experience and he was found by being drunk at a party and screaming at the top of his lungs when someone told him he should try out for a play. So you never know.
J.H. That’s true.
R.R. Did you love films before you met Shawn? Or was there an influence there?
J.H. I always enjoyed movies and T.V. but I can’t say that I was a super fan or aficionado. I have a really bad short term memory. I’m one of those people who I can see somebody’s name I know or who I’ve seen a bunch of their films and go “Oh it’s that guy!” and I’ve never really learned their name. I still love that actor, I just don’t know who the fuck they are! So I really did enjoy films, but it is really weird, before I met Shawn, my enjoyment of B-Horror films because of the way that people talk about that sort of thing, I really didn’t know any hardcore horror fans most of my life, because of the perception by non-horror fans about B-Horror films, the one film that I did like I didn’t talk about it. It was kind of like a guilty pleasure. Kind of one of those things like if you like the Spice Girls, you don’t want to admit it – I don’t by the way.
J.H. Just so you know, I’m not that gay! (Laughs)
J.H. I draw a line at the Spice Girls.
R.R. I wouldn’t say that was gay, I’d say that was just sad!
J.H. Well yeah, you know what? You have a point. Well it was a guilty pleasure thing for me but when I met Shawn he was the biggest horror fan that I’ve ever met up to that point. Of course now I’ve met a ton of them, but knowing Shawn and being with him these past 10 years has really deepened and broadened my whole appreciation of the horror genre and film in general. I’m still nowhere near the lover of that sort of thing as Shawn or others. I don’t have a head for trivia like they do, I mean Shawn can beat most people I know in horror trivia specifically, but Shawn has done a lot to help me appreciate horror. I love all kinds of different ones now, so Shawn did a lot for me in that area.
R.R. Shawn and you have done a couple of short horror comedies. Do you enjoy doing more comical horror as you did in “Jack’s Bad Day” or genuine dark horror such as Sacrament?
J. H. Just as far as watching or acting?
J.H. Acting, I really don’t have a preference because I really don’t have any aspirations to be an actor. Not seriously anyway. But as far as watching, I have to say horror comedies. Before I loved horror films, I had a love for comedies. I mean sure, dramas, are wonderful and I seen some amazing films that were just fantastic and I would recommend them to anybody. But comedies were always my favorite. The horror comedies, like Shawn of the Dead, Zombieland, and hell even the independent ones like Black Sheep. Have you seen Black Sheep?
R.R. No, I’ve heard of it.
J.H. It’s basically were-sheep only they can’t change their shape so they are turning into man-sheep creatures. There is a scene where somebody takes a jar of mint jelly and smashes it over their head and the mint jelly causes him to start burning and smoking. It just cracks me up!
R.R. That is awesome. I love that humor.
J.H. It is fun and there is so many movies that most people haven’t seen like Fido.
R.R. Right, I’ve seen that. Not as funny as the others but still, yes. I can definitely see where it had its spot in the horror genre. Zombieland, now that was funny!
J.H. (Laughs) Yeah, I really liked it and that was main stream. It was so good. A lot of people who make horror films, and even lower budget horror films even if they weren’t necessarily independent, they start to develop this chip on their shoulder when it comes to big budget horror films. But I thought that film was fantastic. I loved Cabin in the Woods, one of my favorite in the last year. I fucking loved that movie! But there are many other excellent films such as Tucker & Dale vs. Evil. Here’s a really good independent film to check out called George’s Intervention by J.T. Seaton…it is funny as hell! His sister, his best friend and a couple of other people are holding an intervention because they want him to stop eating people. It is fan-fucking-tastic! The interventionist is this really flighty middle aged woman who has the feathery pencil topper and her intervention scripts have the sparkly stickers all over them. It is amazing. Everything that J.T. does though is amazing so I can’t recommend him enough. So, long story long, horror comedies are absolutely my favorite.
R.R. Satire at its finest! Thanks for turning my on to that. Well I want to dive straight in to Sacrament now. Can you describe your character “Wiles” in the film.
J.H. Yeah, absolutely. Wiles, well the idea for him was actually one thing and it sort of changed a little bit after the shooting was done, but I’ll get into that later as much as I can. But basically, he’s a resident of the mental hospital, violently insane. He has no actual lines in the movie, just some gibbering and cackling. He basically a vehicle to add a little bit of gore into the film. There is a little bit of gore where he is involved, not a whole lot, because he is not a big part. He is basically a vehicle for someone to get out of a certain situation. He serves as a distraction. I think Shawn would be mad at me if I said how he ended up, so I really can’t!
R.R. We’ll stop there!
J.H. Yeah! Well I can tell you also, he was originally, umm, there were things that indicated that he was supposed to be the brother of one of the main villains, and a traumatic experience when they were kids, Wiles basically killed and ate their mother. That really fucked him up mentally and he’s been violently insane and institutionalized ever since. So that was supposed to be an explanation of why this guy was even allowed to live in the town where they eat people. Why would they even keep him around, why wouldn’t they have killed him off, or made him “cow”? And it was technically because he was one of the sons of the leader of this church in this town. When the film was originally done and we have a final edit, we’re still working on the score, the final cut of the film, I watched it and I turned to Shawn and I was like “It’s not coming across!” And he didn’t agree with me. He thought that I was underestimated the average intelligence of the view, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I was going based off what if I was watching the film and didn’t know, I would have not gotten that he was the son of that guy or the brother of that guy. I actually in the editing process, talked to the assistant director who done most of the editing, and one of our producer Donna White, who also helped a little bit with the script. I talked to them about it with Shawn there, and I explained to them how I felt and I why I felt it, why it didn’t make sense and why it needed to be changed. Once I convinced them that I was right, Shawn was like “Well okay, I guess” so I think that was the biggest impact that I had on final edit.
R.R. I would say that was a big impact.
J.H. Well I was so adamant about it, he just didn’t really agree with me at first and I couldn’t leave it alone. Heading in if he would’ve convinced me, I would have dropped it. But what he said in response didn’t convince me so I was like “I’m going to consult. I’m not going to go behind your back but I’m going to consult and see if anyone else see s it the same way.” At least one person did. I felt really good about that because I think it would’ve led to confusion, so I think it needed that.
R.R. I understand, I have the same problem. My wife can call the plot twist and the ending of a movie 10 minutes into it. I’m like “How do you know that?” and she’s “It’s obvious!” I’m thinking “It is NOT freaking obvious! I dream up plot twists, I write scripts, and I don’t …oh shit! She’s right. That actually just happened.”
J.H. Yeah. I do exactly the same thing. I’m one of those people that when I’m watching a movie or a T.V. show and half way through I’m thinking “This is actually going to happen” or “This is where this is going” I feel like it is way too obvious because I am one of those people who doesn’t look for that when I watch movies. I am not usually the one to catch the inconsistencies like the shirt changing color. I am just that oblivious. So I am not the one to catch that kind of shit, so when I catch it, I think someone really needed to be paying more attention.
R.R. That’s pretty messed up man. (Laughs)
J.H. I know! (Laughs)
R.R. So where did you find the inspiration for the character of Wiles? Was there a particular role in a previous movie that you saw?
J.H. Really, you know I just really thought about the other things I’ve seen where people are supposed to be acting like mental patients. If you watch a lot of this stuff a lot of it just sinks in. So I just tried to use the stuff that I’ve seen in general that is “believable crazy”. I don’t know really well how it came out but I can make some cackling, really insane noises too so that really helped.
R.R. You helped Shawn read through Sacrament for the pace, and looking for errors. Was there something that you got Shawn to change?
J.H. As far as writing goes, I’m told that I’m a good writer, but I don’t write, unless it is for school. I’m apparently good at it when I find myself, but it is something that I never focused on. The most I did, was as Shawn was writing it he would bring it to me and I would tell him “This doesn’t make sense to me.” I’m one of those people who is really picky. I love to read! Typos piss me off! They really do, I’m very anal about that so I edited the script to some extent to look for typos or grammatical bullshit and like I said, I read it because he wanted my opinion. Shawn did most all of the writing and he had some help from out producer Amanda Rebholz and Donna White.
R.R. Sacrament touches on a controversial subject of religious extremism. After speaking with Shawn I noticed that certain religious words such as God, Jesus, and Christianity, were intentionally left out so that the parishioners in the film were not closely related to a specific religion. Did at anytime you worry about being associated with a horror movie that touches on something controversial as this?
J.H. Not at all. Not at all. In fact, had I been writing the script I might have made the choice for it to be more controversial in the religious aspect and not tried to be nondenominational about it. But Shawn made decisions that were right for him and right for the movie. It was supposed to be about Christianity specifically, so that is why he didn’t want to do that. Me, personally, I’m a little less over my issues with Catholic upbringing and my experience with that group of religion. I would have gone a much more offensive route, myself. However I completely agree with the way that Shawn went, because the way that he did makes complete sense.
R.R. There is also the introduction of a gay couple in Sacrament which until recently has been a nontraditional role. How has the reception of these characters been in the horror community from anyone who has seen the film?
J.H. I haven’t seen or heard anything really overt, I have to admit. Shawn has said a couple of times that he has heard a couple of things here and there from people being a little bit uncomfortable about that. The really big issue isn’t that fact that we had a gay couple as two of the main cast. It was like we had a couple of extras say that where we are showing it at, where we are premiering it at, that they will not be there, because it is a LGBT film festival or they are offended by the name of the festival “Fears for Queers”. So me personally I haven’t experienced anything. I found that most people don’t have the balls to say anything to your face if you’re comfortable in your own skin and you show it. I’ve had to deal with that very little in my life in general to be honest. I know it’s there, I know there is mutterings here and there. But it isn’t a big deal with the cast and crew. We let them know what was up before they agreed to sign on to the movie so anybody that had a problem with it, well, they hid it pretty well or they didn’t come out with it until later.
R.R. I know that Shawn and most of the crew have said that there were some sensitive parts to film. Did as anytime did you sit down with Shawn and talk about how to approach these scenes?
J.H. Honestly, Shawn handled it pretty well being that it was his first feature film, I think. A couple of the scenes were sensitive, a little nudity here and there. When he did those things, there were only a few essential people there as possible. If there were any people that weren’t essential to that part, they went away, they weren’t there spectating. We do best to keep people comfortable. Shawn really did his best. He never really came to me for suggestions because honestly, as I said I had no aspirations for acting, if it wasn’t for my husband I wouldn’t have gotten into film. Shawn worked all that out with the people who were actually involved in it and I think he handled it very well.
R.R. Do you see yourself taking on any more roles in future movies?
J.H. You know, I don’ know if it is going to happen, but one of the actor in our films, she has done some shorts and filmmaking as well to some extent. He has some web shorts. I think one is the Misadventures of Baby Jesus or something, it is really funny. He was there the two days that I was filming my scene in the mental hospital. I was nervous prior to filming but then I forgot that they were rolling, which probably worked out in my favor, but he actually thought I did a really good job because we were together in the scene. So he wanted me to consider being a part in his web series that he was coming up with. So I did get asked to do that at some point. I don’t know if or when it is going to happen. If someone came up to me and said “Hey I think you would be good for this I would absolutely go for it” because most of these people are friends and if I can help them out I would be more than happy to do that.
R.R. And what about Sacrament.
J.H. Well as far as Shawn’s ideas, we’re going to submit this to as many film festivals as possible. We’re trying to get it out there for distribution. We’re not sure, first feature length, I think it has potential to get distribution. We just want it to get seen.
For more information go to the official Sacrament website : Sinners4dinner.com
For Jeff’s IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3904450/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1
Tickets for Sacrament’s premier can be bought online here http://rightleftturnproductions.com/portfolio/sacrament/