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Ronnie Sortor, the return of Ravage PDF Print E-mail
Written by By Wendell Redding   
Jan 04, 2005 at 02:00 AM
Few fans of the independent SOV scene can forget when a little gem called RAVAGE was released in 1997 by Salt City Home Video. It took the industry by storm, setting new standards in quality and upping the ante in the indie action/gore categories. Audiences and reviewers alike were hammered to the floor with Missouri director Ronnie Sortor's intense visuals and bloody gunfights that still pack a John Woo wallop to this very day!
RAVAGE's plot is about a criminal psychologist whose family is slaughtered and his subsequent revenge on the violent underworld that caused this to happen. But story really doesn't matter here, because the way it's told is what counts. When the action kicks in, it never stops! Rapid-fire gunfights, screeching car chases, squibs packed fuller than a Johnny Holmes condom, and a body count the size of two Arnold Schwarzenegger epics are just some of the things this classic movie have going for it! The likes of Fangoria magazine and some of the top directors in the independent scene hailed RAVAGE.
Although the movie sold quite well when it was initially released, director Sortor surprisingly dropped out of the scene (after Kitty Killers, 1998) not long after the movie was released. In a recent interview published in The Independent Film Experience, Sortor describes himself as "broke and burned out." While anyone who has ever made a feature-length movie knows that it's an absolute necessity to recharge one's batteries between projects, fans and colleagues wondered what really happened to Ronnie Sortor after RAVAGE.
It turns out he really didn't "quit the biz" as was rumored; he's merely biding his time until bigger and better things come his way. Seems like a good idea, really, as many of the more prevalent directors in the micro scene seem to be churning out more and more dribble that is just a pale imitation of the glory days when they first started. So why not humble yourself and wait patiently for the next big break as opposed to joining a crowd of camcorder geeks intent on shooting nothing more than naked lesbians with vampire teeth in the shower?
I recently caught up with Sortor in Springfield, Missouri, and he wasn't short on words at all. As a matter of fact, he's very excited about the RAVAGE re-release on dvd that's being expertly handled by Sub Rosa Studios and very anxious to make another movie again...if the circumstances are right.
And don't let Sortor's harshness on his own work fool you---RAVAGE has never looked better than it does in this deluxe new dvd. The picture is crystal clear, the sound is awesome, and it easily stacks up to anything shot on digital video these days (proving once again that it doesn't matter what kind of equipment you have, it's how you use it!). And content? Well, quite simply, RAVAGE annihilates the competition!
Without further ado, heeeeeeeeere's Rooooooonie!
  1.) What movies got you interested in making independent films and what directors inspired your work?
RONNIE SORTOR: The usual suspects. Romero and his zombie films, Carpenter's early films, all of Cronenberg's. And of course, the Hong Kong action movies of John Woo, Billy Tang and Ringo Lam.
2.) Tell us about your early films, pre-RAVAGE, and how they came about.
RS: SINYSTER happened because I decided that it was time to either shit or get off the pot. My friends and I had whined about how difficult it was to make movies and made cop-out excuses for not doing it for years. I discovered the alternative to the expense of shooting on film thanks to J.R. Bookwalter when his SOV feature OZONE hit my local video store shelf. Suddenly there was an affordable way to make feature-length independent movies! There would be no more excuses! So we wrote the script, bought the best-quality camera we could get at the time, assembled the cast & crew and shot our first movie. Just like that! The next feature was Todd Reynold's LIVING A ZOMBIE DREAM. I was still editing SINYSTER when they started shooting it. Todd was a co-writer and co-producer of SINYSTER and remained in the background, but when LaZD happened, he invested a lot of money upgrading our equipment and post-production facilities, which benefited RAVAGE considerably...
3.) RAVAGE has got to be...still to this day...the most explosive, epic "guns and fire" movie ever made in the underground scene. When you and Bryon Blakey wrote the original script...what kind of budget were you thinking you'd get to accomplish all that---and what was the final RAVAGE budget?
RS: We worked out a $10,000.00 budget for RAVAGE during pre-production, but the final costs added up to much LESS than that. Production started with only $1000.00 seed money that came out of my own pocket. Bryon claimed at the beginning that he could raise the balance but it never happened. Budget-wise, RAVAGE can only be described as an out-of-pocket production. Frank Alexander and Todd provided incidental funds as we went.
Let me put it this way: (anti- big-budget Hollywood rant coming up) If there was a way to break down production costs on a per-shot basis, I would bet that the 2-second look-see shot of dog turds in David Lynch's MULHOLLAND DRIVE cost more than the entire negative cost (i.e. "budget") of RAVAGE. Think about it! Consider the poop. (and please bear with me) Was it real? I doubt it. The turds were probably made by professional special effects artist for a fee. Plus the cost of the material to sculpt, cast, mold and paint the fake excrement. The art director and set decorator/property master confer with the 2nd unit director (or did David Lynch himself insist on being there for this important scene?) as to where to place the turd cluster for maximum impact. The cinematographer tells the steadicam operator how execute the shot. Equipment rentals needed to light and shoot the scene aren't cheap. Lab costs to print the take (including workprint and digital transfer for editing) All the people involved with the shot got paid (and paid a whole lot more than you and I make at our day jobs) from the writer/director who imagines the scene right down to the negative cutter who splices the dogshit shot into the finished movie. That silly little shot probably cost tens of thousands of dollars.
I never tallied up a final cost of RAVAGE, but since most of our equipment was already paid for after SINYSTER and LIVING A ZOMBIE DREAM, it couldn't have been more than $5,000.00.
4.) How did you pull off all the car chase scenes on city streets--especially in an era where red tape and insurance policies generally rule over indie filmmakers accomplishing such feats?
RS: I may complain about Springfield, Missouri being as far from the motion picture industry as one can get, but in this regard, it was a blessing in disguise. Our city has no policy for shooting movies in public. We just used common sense and called the local police to make them aware of what we were doing and they were cool with it. They would put the information on their message board for the night so that patrolling officers would have a heads-up. Sometimes they'd stop and watch us doing our thing. They were quite entertained! Only once did we need to actually close a road and we just followed their protocol for road construction and arranged a detour. It was much cheaper than I had expected. But I must admit to doing much of it guerrilla-style.
5.) What was in those guns to make the explosive discharges so fiery? It had an incredible visual look...
RS: Frank Alexander was the man responsible for RAVAGE's pyrotechnics. He made all the blanks by hand using real bullets. The lead slug and original guts of the bullet were replaced with flash cotton and sparking powder that he got from a local magic shop.
6.) The massacre scene in the movie...with all guns blazing...was easily equal to similar sequences in Cameron's TERMINATOR and Lustig's MANIAC COP 2... but obviously done for a fraction of the cost. How did you accomplish this, and was it your goal to outdo those aforementioned sequences with virtually no financial backing?
RS: Well, thanks for the compliment! But our goal really wasn't to out-do anything. To be honest, we were simply riding the John Woo wave of the mid-'90s. I've always been a fan of stylish gunplay in movies because I grew up with the slow-motion bloodbaths of Sam Peckinpah. Everyone else in the crew thought that John Woo's HK crime flicks were the shit, so naturally we wanted to emulate them and make a marketable action flick. Many people have made the TERMINATOR comparison because of the police-station shoot-out, but that movie was the farthest thing from my mind when we were shooting the scene. Every beat of that action was pretty much made up on the spot because we didn't know for sure how many bit-players and extras we'd have to work with. Luckily, the location served us well in how the shooting was broken up over three nights. It was shot in sequence with the dialog and first part of the shoot-out done the first night, the second night, the psycho (played by Lei Renniks) moves through different sections of the set, so we didn't have to worry about the continuity of the previous night's carnage. The third night, I saved for his overkill when the cops blasted him to smithereens because I knew it would take a long time to wire him with so many squibs.
7.) The music score by Clark Carter was certainly a cut-above most scores in general. Tell us how all that came about, and how it was synchronized so perfectly with the action...
RS: First of all, Clark is a very talented guy. He understands music the way I understand movies. Also, he makes his living in professional audio, so he's extremely savvy in that respect. It really galled both of us that we didn't have higher quality equipment to record the audio tracks of the movies with. We kept pushing the envelope, but the format we were working with just wasn't capable of reproducing the sound quality we wanted. Anyway, I'm not very musically inclined at all and would never be able to score my own movies like many directors try to do. (I'm talking about guys like Todd Sheets who drone away on their keyboards.) But I have a very eclectic taste in music. Especially movie music. I love the music of Goblin in Argento's movies and the great synth scores of John Carpenter's early movies. To me and my movies, music is a very important element. Music should be a prevalent characteristic of the audience's experience. Having Clark Carter as part of my team is a tremendous blessing because we're friends and I'm able to describe the music style I want for a project and Clark is able to interpret my cinematic sensibilities musically. He would initially read the script and then as post-production wound down, I'd show him the workprint. Then we'd talk about the overall theme of the movie and break down certain moods for certain scenes. Sometimes, I'd play samples of music from other movies that I thought came close to what I had in mind. Then he'd let it sink in for a few days before sitting down in the studio to compose. Clark then would record some melodies and themes for me to hear. Somehow, he came up with better music than I ever hoped for! From there, we took it one scene at a time and sort of matched the rhythm of the pace and editing onscreen with the music. Music was always the best part of the whole movie-making process because Clark performed so brilliantly!
8.) Looking back on RAVAGE now, what do you see? Anything you'd change?
RS: A couple of awkward things, like the abduction scene early in the movie. Audiences are always confused about what happened to the Lydia character after Greg (Mark Brazeale) gets thrown in the trunk of the car. I would have added a couple of shots to establish that there were two separate vehicles being used in the scene and that Lydia was left behind unconscious in one of them. But it was dusk when we shot that and light was fading, so it was rushed. There's an excuse for every flaw I see in the movie. It's always something I had no control over or some compromise because the people I counted on didn't deliver (or didn't show up at all in some cases)
9.) RAVAGE is destined to do great business in the dvd market. How did it do when it came out on VHS back in 1997? Did it kind of get lost in all the higher-budgeted "action" movies that were hitting the market at that time?
RS: The money RAVAGE made upon its VHS release was the first money I made on any movie! So at the time, it seemed like a gold mine! Ron Bonk at Sub Rosa Studios did an outstanding job of getting it out there among so much competition and it performed really well at first. But you seem to be onto something about how little movies like ours get lost among the mass-marketed stuff. Now it's encouraging to see the obscure titles and indie product among the DVDs at Best Buy these days, so I've got my hopes up that RAVAGE and similar low-budget flicks can find a second life in this wonderful new format!
10.) What extras can the fans expect on this dvd?
RS: We recorded two commentaries. A fun one with myself, Todd Reynolds, Frank Alexander, Dan Rowland and Mike Smith, and one of me going solo with more in-depth director's information. Some behind-the-scenes footage and outtakes, trailers for all four of our movies, and a weekend short we threw together in 1990 called "Cereal Killer". This is stuff I provided when the DVD started coming together but I'm not sure if all of it will be included. At the time that we recorded the commentaries, the idea was that the DVD would be a RAVAGE/KITTY KILLERS double feature, so there are some comments about that in our discussion...
11.) After RAVAGE hit, other than playing a role in KITTY KILLERS, you kind of dropped out of the scene. What happened there and what have you been up to for the last four years?
RS: I got married. In fact, my wife and I just celebrated our fourth anniversary. Last year I almost started another feature that would have been shot on digital video, but due to some creative differences with a new collaborator, the project had to be shelved. The experience was bad enough for me to put filmmaking on hold indefinitely.
Meanwhile, I'm working two jobs. One of them is at my local cable TV studio and I really love it! Also, my wife and I just bought a new house that we've not moved into yet. So that's where most of my attention will be focused for 2002. This whole thing with the house started with my desire for a HDTV home theater. I remodeled a room in our current house for it, but we'd already caught the bug for a bigger, better place and it's really escalated!
12.) What's the future hold in terms of your next possible movie?
RS: A budget! I will not shoot another cheap-o out-of-pocket amateur-hour compromised movie. I'm still adamant about shooting on film. Sure, digital video's quality is light years ahead of what I had to work with less than a decade ago, but the technology keeps changing. If I'm going to make another feature some day, I insist that it will have enough of a budget to be done more professionally. It's too much work and it's too important and meaningful to me not to take it that seriously.
Content-wise, there are all sorts of ideas and possibilities for future movies. It's just a matter of being inspired enough and dedicated enough to take the plunge on one of them. Rest assured, it will not be a disappointment for fans of independent horror!
13.) Anything you'd care to ad?
RS: A big thanks to Sub Rosa for breathing new life into RAVAGE! I'm as big a collector of DVDs and a fan of independent horror as anyone reading this, so popping the RAVAGE disc in the player will be a thrill! And an even bigger thanks to the fans who buy the DVD!

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