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Written by by Kathy Casey   
Dec 19, 2004 at 07:00 PM

Advanced impressions with lead actress Sasha Graham and director Ron Bonk.

1) What were you doing prior to THE VICIOUS SWEET?
Ron: I hadn't worked on a movie of any kind, production wise, since I'VE KILLED BEFORE, which was last summer. After that, I worked long and hard getting the business running well and generating some serious income. I was very rusty though once production started, which was bad. Mentally, before VSWEET, I was very uncertain, scared. Could I be a real movie-maker?
But now, after it's done, I feel a lot better about my chances in this industry.
Sasha: I had had a pretty good year. Worked on two alien themed movies POLYMORPH (for J.R. Bookwalter) and ALIEN AGENDA (for Kevin Lindenmuth) in the spring. I hosted an educational anti-smoking CD-ROM and I had just finished working on a film called the SANTA EFFECT. I played the mother of two little girls who kidnap Santa on Christmas Eve. Great movie. It's being submitted to Sundance and the East Hampton Film Festival. Anyway, we wrapped that and I did a day part in Pete Jackelone's PSYCHO SISTERS 2. Played a snippy nurse who gets a little bitchy with J.J. North. I was getting ready to do a play and wondering what my next film project might be. It's frightening because being an actor, you are always out of a job. You can work on the coolest project, but when it's over, there is no guarantee that you will ever work again. Anyway, I got a call from out of the blue to go up to Syracuse and shoot the VICIOUS SWEET. I'll tell you, there's nothing better in the world than being offered a part and not having to audition for it. And I like nothing more than getting out of New York City to shoot something. It's like the best vacation I could imagine. I'd be happier shooting a movie than just lounging around on a beach anyday. So anyway, I rearranged my schedule in about an hour and before I knew it I was in Syracuse shooting the coolest movie I have yet to be involved in.
2) First day of shooting, you were faced with the what was easily the toughest possible stuff in the whole script -- the zombie sequence. What were you thinking?
Ron: First off, I had planned to start with something much easier. But due to delays, early dates got shuffled to the end. But because "Zombie Day" was so big and so involved, and the location had been paid for, and John Pinkerton, the effects guy, was on his way out here from Ohio, and all the zombie extras had been called, I was forced to proceed. But in many ways, it was a blessing. I learned a lot from my mistakes that day -- especially that I couldn't jam that much into that little time again. And it made the rest of the shoot so much easier. And it was easier on me directing Sasha -- who I hadn't even started to work on the role with -- because it didn't require a lot of dialogue, mainly action. And thank God for Sasha, because she wasn't afraid to do what I asked her to, like scream, and role in the dirt with some stranger. Keep this in mind -- I had only meet her once before at the Chiller show in Spring for all of two hours, and she had been in town all of nine hours at that point -- and everything she did was so great. At one point, she staggers out and falls to her knees, and screams for anyone to hear to "Help her!". And when she did that, the first little bit of serious acting I required from her, my jaw just dropped. She made those early days easy, because she needed the least amount of attention. And lucky for me, because we were having so many technical problems. If she had turned out to be some prima donna, then the whole movie might have totally blown up right there! A lot of the success of that first day goes to her -- equally spread out along with my crew, my effects guys, and my great zombies!
Sasha: Oh my God. I had no idea what I was in for that day. I've worked on lots of low budget stuff and I sort had a preconceived notion of what to expect. I figured small crew and very low key. Well, there were about 30 people there that day. The zombies looked amazing. The location was perfect. The very first shot had me rolling in the dirt. I saw there was no way I was gonna stay clean that day and I probably got more dirty and disgusting than I ever have. It was so much fun though. It was like being a little kid again getting all dirty and stuff. Fighting and running away from zombies in this cool warehouse. It was the best way to start out the shoot. I think it was about a 16 hour day, and I think we (actors and crew) got to really see what each other were made of. Everyone was so amazing. The BEST crew. Plus it was easy because it was just running around and being chased. There was not a lot of dialogue or real heavy scenes. It gave me a chance to sort of relax and get to know everybody. You should have seen everyone at the end of that day. We all looked like we had been through a war. Sort of a very quick bonding experience.
3) The script -- what were your first thoughts when you wrote/read it?
Ron: That I was off my rocker. It was so weird. Originally, I had picked this idea because it was going to be small -- an obsessed fan kidnaps a scream queen and they mentally battle it out in this jail cell he holds her in. Two actors, one location. As I wrote it, it got bigger and bigger, and ideas hit me as I was writing it, and I knew suddenly it was too big. But somehow, we pulled it off. And I just knew it was so weird and so much different than anything else I had seen before. I knew it suddenly was the toughest possible thing I could have chosen. But I didn't care, because it was a big test, and I wanted to see if I could pass it. Now, the next thing I make doesn't have to be bigger or as deep. It can just exist on its own. Debbie Rochon read the script and called me the "Tennessee Williams of the B-Movie Industry," because of the strong female role. But I like what Marc Moser said -- I thought it fit much better -- when he called me "Young David Lynch."
It is really a weird script, and I hope I was able to translate it well to the audience. Because in many ways, I wasn't a mature enough director for it. Many things in the movie would come out so much better if I was shooting it five years from now, which is normal. But I also loved the script because of the strong lead. It was a strong lead, and not just a strong female lead. I can't think of another role, male or female, at this ultra low-budget, which the lead gets to experience so much, go through so much, or is explored so deeply. This ain't an ego stroke. I honestly believe it. And what makes it so much cooler is that it's a female character. I always want to write strong female roles. And it really seemed to effect everyone who read it. I remember Sasha, just off the train, getting into my truck, and thanking me over and over for letting her play this role and how cool it was. That's the sort of effect I want it to have on people.
Sasha: I thought it was so cool! It's often hard to read something on the page and than try to imagine it translating onto the screen. It's always so much different than you imagine. Watching the play back on the monitor while we were shooting blew my mind. This film looks as good as it reads. Even better. On the first read through I was amazed. It's not your average b-movie script. It had so much depth. It was like a dream come true, because every actor wants to be able to play the whole spectrum of emotion. If you look at any good women's roles -- Alabama in TRUE ROMANCE for instance -- great roles are the ones where you get to do everything. To be funny, sexy, angry, scared, ugly, frightened, strong, loving, furious, pained. Everyday, while shooting, I would wake up so excited because I knew I would get to do something different each day and it was the most incredible challenge. It's really very funny actually because if you have ever seen an actors scene night where the actors choose the scenes themselves, it always a night of gut-wrenching heartbreaking scenes. Every actor wants to show you how tortured they are. They want to move everyone to tears. Now in reality, some of the most touching scenes are toned down, subtle. Think about it. It's more fascinating to watch an actor being on the brink of tears. Watching and waiting for them to break down then to just watch someone crying their eyes out. Take, BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. There was no insane dramatics in any of that movie. The characters didn't run around with their hearts on their sleeves, but at the end of the film, the audience is torn to shreds. I guess my point is that it's so much fun to get crazy and intense and this script gave me a chance to do so. Ron really wrote an incredible female role. I was amazed. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
4) The actually production of the movie sounds like it was a big success. What do you attribute to this?
Ron: Gee, what don't I! Sasha was the greatest. She is such an incredible actress, and I can't see anyone else in that role now. She came to totally embody Tyler Phenix. I mean, I think she might be deserving of some Academy Award notice here or something -- she is that good! And it was important that the lead pull it off, because if she didn't, the whole movie would fall with her. And she did, beyond all imagination. It didn't matter how good my shots were, how great the lighting was, because this was totally character driven, and if the audience didn't ultimately care about her, then the movie was dead where it stood. Jerry O'Sullivan, my producer man, was the best. He came up with so many great things that just added to the movie -- the tunnels, the lift for a great crane shot. He was the perfect producer, and I never had to tell him what to do or that he was doing something wrong, something a producer doesn't do. He was a natural for it. And he always stuck by me, even when the others were off goofing around, which was rare, and I had no problem with that because maybe we were wrapping things up or I was doing something extra that wasn't planned, but he was always there, so I could turn to him, tell him I needed something, and he would get it done, and done right! I know he even took some expense out of his own pocket, and never asked for it back. He took some time off from work, from his family, lost lots of sleep when we worked late (he gets up at 6am every morning - construction), and just went above and beyond the call. I owe him so much. Jeff Forsthye, Jeff Meyers, Marc Moser, John Pinkerton, Bob Licata, Theresa Constantine, all the others -- my crew, my main folk! They worked so hard, and believed in me so much, which was more pressure to succeed, but ultimately had me striving for so much more, and ultimately getting it. How often can a director say that his crew inspired him? This one did. And all the actors -- Bob Licata, who was so scary as Grimaldi, Jason Wicks, Theresa Constantine, Joe Zappala, Jeff Jones, Bob Fullenbaum, Al Marshall, Kathryn Grer-English, Jeff Forsthye, Jeff Meyer, Jessica McGrail... I apologize if I forget anyone. There is just so many I can include. What a great, totally dedicated, totally professional group. And maybe that's they key, because on my last couple projects, there was so much in-fighting and everyone had there own goals in mind. Very unprofessional. Everyone on this one was totally cool and professional and worked for the best of the movie and towards the best of my vision. I can't thank all involved enough! And I don't want to forget those who supplied us with locations, props, food! There, I hope I didn't leave anything out.
Sasha: The production was a success because everyone was so committed to it. So positive. Let's face it. We didn't have a multi-million dollar budget. Everyone was really there for the fact they knew they were making a great movie. Most of the crew had families, jobs and all kinds of things to worry about. They all showed up each night and gave 100%! No one ever pulled an attitude trip. Nobody came up with excuses as to why they couldn't show up. Everyone really got along great. Ron just thanked everybody and I want to thank them too. When I first started shooting, I didn't know what to expect. I was in my bra and underwear for half of the movie. Everyone could have been really obnoxious. Instead, they treated me with so much respect. They were all so wonderful and the energy was great. The actors that Ron cast all had tremendous stage experience and gave such great performances. The crew and the actors were beyond what I had hoped they would be. They made this one of the greatest experiences of my life. Thank you everybody!
5) Last, how do you think you will ultimately feel about the finished product?
Ron: I'll be happy with it, probably 75% so, because it will be miles beyond anything I have ever worked on before. At least to me. I mean, I'm sure I will be editing it and think "Why didn't I do that, light it that way, shoot it that way." That's just natural. Ideally, I would have ran more rehearsals, shot test footage in all the locations ahead of time, so when we went back, I would be ready, and know what I had to do to make it better. But we weren't afforded that luxury, so most times I was just winging it. In many ways, I was too immature of a director to ideally pull it off, but I'm very proud of myself for what I did do, and what we did come up with. And I usually tend to be very hard on myself and hate my work and get all depressed while shooting it because I will be thinking in the back of my head that I'm screwing it up and shouldn't ever be a director. But I didn't feel this way about this one. Maybe briefly, early on, but not by the end. I felt I had done a good job. And I'll also feel good for all involved, because I think they will, hope they will, ultimately look at it and be proud to have their names on it and it will be something they can point to and say "I worked on that," and people will care. They can each look at the individual job they did, and feel good about it, and make others happy with it, and then look at what they dedicated to the whole, and be happy with themselves. I don't know -- the whole thing was kind of "spiritual." It helped more than a few people, just the actual production. The excitement, the enthusiasm -- too cool! So what it did will mean so much more to me than what it is. But I'm certain what it is is something quite good, and quite cool, and will make a lot of people stop and listen. I hope (laughs).
Sasha: I think I'll be happy with it. When you work on something so intensely, you can't help but fall in love with it and think it's the greatest thing in the world. It's probably a sign that you're in the wrong project if you don't feel that way. All I know is that we all gave our best and tried our hardest. I know that counts for something and will show through in the finished product. I also know that making this movie reaffirmed to me that acting is what I love most. And there isn't anything else that I'd rather do. I think it's gonna be a wonderful film. I can't wait to see it!

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