‘Cult filmmaker Damon Packard lives off Kickstarter. The fundraising he does on the site finances his films and pays the rent. He also sells Blu-ray discs of obscure films and does the occasional low-paid editing job to survive. Budget limitations inform Packard’s aesthetic: single characters are played by multiple actors, scenes inexplicably switch locations and bizarre plot points are created to explain away inconsistencies. His films slip between the fantasy and reality of Hollywood, often filtered through a pastiche of iconic 70s and 80s cinema.
‘I met Packard online in 2009, when we corresponded about screening his films in Australia. When I moved to Los Angeles from Melbourne in 2015, he was the only person I knew (apart from my wife). I suggested we meet up for coffee. He agreed. We met two more times, coincidentally at some of LA’s most-frequented diners, where we discussed his films, local history, and the decline of late-night culture in LA.
‘Packard is nocturnal. When I attempt to meet him on an afternoon at 12:30pm, he retorts that 12:30am would be better. Eventually, he concedes. He tells me he can probably be awake by noon, so we confirm lunch. He suggests the Coral Café in Burbank.
‘This is the first time I’ve met Packard in person. Having recently moved to LA from Melbourne, I don’t have a car and am still in the public transport mindset—thinking I can get around LA on the Metro and on foot. After an hour and a half on two buses and the Red Line, I arrive at North Hollywood Station. It takes me another 45 minutes to walk the two miles along Burbank Boulevard to the Coral Café. Packard is already seated when I arrive in his signature fishing hat, jeans, and a t-shirt. True to its name, the Coral Café has a calm, pastel vibe. I introduce myself and sit down. He doesn’t remember me specifically—he has hundreds of friends on Facebook and people contact him all the time to organize screenings of his films.
‘Packard wants to hear about the screenings in Australia. He seems interested in the audience responses. A friend and I screened Packard’s Skatebang (2007) at a gallery in Melbourne along with some other video works. (Packard’s work could be considered a distant cousin to Ryan Trecartin’s, whose work we also planned to screen, until his gallerist revoked permission.) Skatebang features a series of teenage skateboarders thrown from their boards after being shot by hidden snipers, while black helicopters circle and Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach plays in the background. It humorously exaggerates the media’s paranoid fixation on terrorism during the Bush era. The audience was visibly uncomfortable, occasionally breaking out into nervous laughter. The second screening was at the Electrofringe Festival in Newcastle, this time in a theatre, the audience visibly more relaxed and receptive. People were more relaxed and openly enjoyed themselves. Perhaps there is less pressure in a darkened theatre than in an austere white cube.
‘We both order ice tea. Packard orders the Caesar salad and I ask for a cheese quesadilla. He talks about his current project Fatal Pulse AKA Yuppie Fear Thriller. The film’s plot involves Janet Jackson’s manager, an illuminati conspiracy to stop time in 1991, and a pop locker murder plot. Packard managed to shoot scenes at the Less Than Zero mansion in Bel Air, Lautner’s Sheats-Goldstein Residence and a house in the Hollywood Hills. Due to budget limitations, the rest of the shoot will take place outdoors, though—in true Packard fashion—he hasn’t worked out all the details of the plot yet. “To be honest,” he confesses, “I don’t want to finish the film as I’ll have to stop the crowdfunder campaigns”—he’s worried about covering the rent. “But, the film was sold months ago and I have to send it to Fandor.” …
‘LA’s ‘heyday’ for Packard, was the mid-80s when he was working in cinemas in Westwood. Now he considers it a “deadzone”—the only thing out there is UCLA and a few dwindling businesses. The cinemas, music stores, bookstores and newsstands are all gone.
‘When Packard worked in Westwood in the 80s, there were a number of single-house theatres in an enclosed area. Film premieres would take place, with well-known actors, directors, and cinematographers regularly coming through. In 2015, there are only two cinemas remaining, preserved as “national landmarks” by major studios that only use them for the occasional premiere.
‘“I started working [in Westwood] in about ‘84, I was still in high school. I wanted to be around movies and that was the easiest way to do it. I really wanted to work in a studio. I wanted to be like Spielberg. I wanted to sneak into Universal Studios and take over a little office and work on production. That’s what I wanted to do, but you know, it’s a little more difficult. So working at a movie theatre was the easiest way.” In the early 80s, Packard started making super 8 films, pre-empting Spielberg with a low-budget adaptation of Amazing Stories.
‘Reflections of Evil, Packard’s 2002 epic, is set in LA in the early 2000s. At one point the film shifts into a grainy, 70s flashback sequence where the protagonist’s sister sneaks off a Universal Studios tour into the backlot and witnesses a young Spielberg directing Something Evil. Initially, I thought the footage in the sequence was appropriated from a documentary (at least partially), but Packard assures me it’s all fiction. “I had a decent budget for that one,” he says. Though he does admit that he lifted Spielberg’s voice from the audio tracks of several “Making of…” documentaries including Jaws, Empire of the Sun and Jurassic Park. The sequence shows a young Spielberg trying to manage an older crew and failing, resulting in a slapstick disaster.
‘While Packard has produced several feature (or near feature) length films, he has also explored the movie trailer as art form, creating trailers for logistically or financially impossible films. Movie trailers often misrepresent the film they promote, emphasizing minor sub-plots or even presenting a different film entirely in order to appeal to a particular demographic. Packard’s Early 70s Horror Trailer (1999) and Dawn of an Evil Millennium (1988) tease with the possibility of a yet-to-be-made perfect film—something that will never come to pass. …
‘While we’re talking, Packard points out a guy in a John Carpenter’s The Thing t-shirt. “That’s the third guy I’ve seen in a Thing t-shirt tonight. Where were they in 1982? Nobody cared about it then.” Packard recently finished a short titled John Carpenter’s Corpse about a group of special effects students who dig up Carpenter’s body (the film is set just after his death) and drag it to their graduation party. The film is soon to be released on a VHS compilation by Severin Films. “It’s about commercialized nostalgia,” he argues, “everything is commercialized nostalgia now, there’s nothing original being done. It’s all about reaching back into the past for inspiration.”
‘I ask him if he means film specifically, “I mean with everything. Film… music… fashion. Especially cinema, though. It seems like what I was saying in Foxfur, we’re living in a deadzone now, a sort of empty period where life did really end but we’re just schizm’ed off into some other dimension. We’re just looking at the past from this deadzone.”
‘Packard admits that all his films deal with this strange turn of events in some way. “It’s like the film I’m making now, Yuppie Fear Thriller, it’s set in the early 90s but time has frozen. I don’t see a lot of changes that have taken place since the late 80s. I mean we have cellphone technology and internet but all that stuff was around, it was just in its infancy—but the vibe is the same. Fear, punishment, rules, restrictions.” During the 70s and 80s he argues, there was an era of experimentation, “There were a lot of risks being taken. They didn’t know where the hell it was going, you could do anything.” But as soon as the markets were established, playing-it-safe was the lone strategy. “There was a big hardcore corporate takeover in the late 80s. Suddenly it was all about money and these yuppies and corporations were telling you to join the program or else get left behind. And nothing much has changed since then.”’— Matthew O’Shannessy, Fanzine
Damon Packard @ IMDb
The True Disco Inferno: The Films of Damon Packard
Damon Packard @ Twitter
Damon Packard’s films @ fandor
Lost In The 70’s: The Art Of Damon Packard
Après avoir vécu plusieurs années de petits boulots humiliants …
Damon Packard @ MUBI
Damon Packard: Has Gone Completely Insane!!!
THE DIGITAL NIGHTMARES OF DAMON PACKARD
The Worldwide Celluloid Massacre: Damon Packard
“I can’t help you, Friedkin!” Damon Packard’s Untitled Yuppie Fear Thriller
Comments from Damon Packard
Damon Packard, reluctant YouTube-mashup genius, is looking for a budget now
DAMON PACKARD, O GÊNIO UNDERGROUND
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Five Questions with Damon Packard
Damon Packard Uses His Insanity to Direct Nightmarish “Creature” Music Video
DAMON PACKARD NEEDS YOUR HELP!
Interview with Damon Packard in Silverlake, Los Angeles, CA January 25, 2010
Packard Teaches a Masterclass
The Making of Reflections of Evil
Grizzly Redux clip one
from The Adam Wingard Interviews
What was the most disturbing moment of your life?
DP: Honestly i can’t think of anything specific offhand, I was pretty upset when they threw me out of Universal Studios for unauthorized filming and nearly confiscated my camera/footage.
The dark shadow of authority, big brother and control structures we live under are the most disturbing things. Punishment and fear, rules, restrictions, fines and fee’s, they ruin lives. The fact that freedom can be taken away at any moment just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Law enforcement, courts, judges, prisons, jails, etc, these to me are the most disturbing things, they spoil the fun of life and many of the cold emotionally devoid people who work in these fields are equally disturbing.
My favorite scene from reflections of evil is the part where your character is being harassed by an endless drove of barking dogs. This scene seems to go on forever, always building in its intensity and madness. I can’t even start to tell you how brilliant I find that particular sequence’s use of sound and and editing. What was the inspiration there and are you afraid of animals?
DP: No i love animals, all animals especially dogs & cats.
When I watch Reflections of Evil I can’t help but feel the movie is a sort of insane horror film. To me it gives the impression of how overwhelming and terrifying a large city like Los Angeles can be. Was that your intention?
DP: It was a simple statement about anger, fear, hostility ramped up to exaggerated levels. But it rings true for everyone everywhere, especially large cities full of frustrated angry people who want to kill each other at a moments notice for no reason. It’s like that more than ever now, just as Orson Welles once stated. The dragon is unleashed. Your going to see more of it at alarming numbers including businessmen in suits, people are just ready to flip out and commit murder without any hesitation.
Your films are often a sensory overload of sounds, colors and visual effects. One could describe your work, in particular Reflection of Evil, as feeling like a bad acid trip. Have you had any bad acid trips?
DP: Nope, never done drugs.
You seem to have a love hate relationship with Steven Spielberg. From watching your films its sometimes hard to say if you admire him greatly or you want to kill him.
DP: I want to kill him..just kidding. I’ve stated many times I was greatly inspired by Spielberg in the early days (late 70’s early 80’s) His visual choreography was what really got me into filmmaking
Lately you’ve shown a great deal of interest in Japanese animation, specifically Hayao Miyazaki. Have you always been a fan or did you just recently get into that world.
DP: Been a mega-buff of Miyazaki for many years, going back to the original mid 80’s VHS release of “Nausicaa” (Warriors of the Wind”) He’s amazing in more ways that can be described and his success is well deserved.
What was your worst fear as a child and as an adult?
DP: Going bald and not reaching certain goals by age 22, both of which happened.
I’ve often read that your favorite show is Mash. Can you explain why and do you like the movie?
DP: I’m a MASH-AHOLIC, what more can be said. It’s a great show, great characters, good writing, etc Did you know Larry Gelbart just passed away today?
If you had to pick ten of your favorite films what would they be?
Our Mothers House (1967)
Night Terror (1977)
Secret Ceremony (1968)
The Innocents (1961)
The Pumpkin Eater (1964)
The Hospital (1971)
Cold Night’s Death (1973)
That Cold Day in the Park (1969)
Lost Horizon (1973)
Night of the Iguana (1967)
What are five films you think that any film student should see?
All the Kind Strangers (1974)
Home for the Holidays (1972)
Sarah T Portrait of an Alcoholic (1975)
Addio zio Tom (1971)
The Visitor (1978)
What in your opinion is consciousness?
DP: It is contained within Miyazaki films
Do you believe in life after death? Reincarnation?
DP: Yes and life during death as well.
14 of Damon Packard’s 15 films
Dawn of an Evil Millennium (1988)
‘An epic, 20-minute, completely fabricated theatrical trailer for a crypto-Vestron Video cheapie (by way of Willow-era Ron Howard)—a supposedly 18-hour movie about a Jeff Daniels lookalike demon sent to destroy the planet (and possibly the universe) with his “Turbo-power!” Olds dragster. There are shades of John Carpenter’s They Live, caffeinated Evil Dead speed-freakery, a cameo by Miles O’Keeffe, and uncanny movie preview clichés, such as sentence prepositions that never reach a resolution: “On an alien planet…the beauty and wisdom of a sorceress….” Sometimes the liner note blurbs speak for themselves: “Damon Packard is to Stephen Spielberg what George Kuchar is to Douglas Sirk.”’ — letterboxd
‘This is Damon Packard’s early Elfquest (!) inspired short film, shot in Hawaii while living in a tent (!!), and while I know next to nothing about Elfquest, and I’m admittedly not a huge fantasy film fan, there’s something about this that totally hooked me. It might be the nostalgic 80’s fantasy film music, it might be those sweeping camera movements, it might be Damon’s signature sound design and innovative editing techniques, hell it’s probably all of those things. This admittedly works much better in it’s edited down trailer form, which is around 9 minutes, and Damon has said he prefers that to the full 27 minutes. Overall if you’re into Elfquest or Damon’s other works, this is on YouTube in three parts (the expanded revamped trailer is there too, watch that first).’ — Justin W.
The Early 70’s Horror Trailer (1999)
‘Groovy short film homage to tripped-out early ’70s horror fare.’ — letterboxd
Reflections of Evil (2002)
‘After being caught while filming REFLECTIONS OF EVIL inside Universal Studios, filmmaker Damon Packard was banned for life from the theme park. He made the right choice.
‘One fine day in Los Angeles, Bobby (Damon Packard) materializes. Bobby is a behemoth who looks like a walking Salvation Army, with layers of tattered clothes, a somnambulistic gait, and dozens of broken headphones hanging from his neck. Like a mutated analog of SALESMAN, Bobby wanders the streets and attempts to sell discount watches. He loses his shit every time he misses the bus, makes eye contact with other humans, or encounters a dog. Everyone that Bobby meets is mean and aggressive, including a real-life cop who is disgustingly racist and homophobic — a true reflection of evil. During a flashback, it’s revealed that Julie, Bobby’s sister, ran away and joined a supernatural drug cult. Is Julie alive or undead? And will Bobby ever be able to fill the void of her absence?
‘REFLECTIONS OF EVIL is like seeing an astral projection of someone’s mental breakdown through the prism of low-budget horror aesthetics. Produced and self-distributed by Packard thanks to an unexpected inheritance, this is a highly personal psychedelic collage that utilizes 16mm film, video, and found footage to comment on the hopelessness of society. Packard’s stream-of-consciousness style is built on visual manipulations, breakneck editing, renegade plagiarism, mismatched audio effects, and the juxtaposition of tones. This is true genre anarchy: a rage-filled, 137-minute outsider manifesto that toes the line between artsy triumph and genre pastiche. Imagine Steven Spielberg smoking peyote for the first time while watching Peter Jackson’s BAD TASTE at Kenneth Anger’s house and you’re halfway there.
‘Unsettling, fascinating, sad, and hilarious, REFLECTIONS OF EVIL offers a glimpse into a secret dimension that the vast majority of the world’s population would violently reject. For the rest of us, it’s a dream come true. After watching this movie, you’ll never look at E.T., The Carpenters, or food the same way again.’ — JOSEPH A. ZIEMBA
The Untitled Star Wars Mockumentary (2003)
‘Damon Packard attained a level of notoriety for his epic Reflections of Evil, so where was he to go next? Where so many amateur film makers had gone before, not to a galaxy far far away but to one that’s all too familiar, yes, the Star Wars spoof. However, this is no loving tribute, but a savage parody of the franchise, dedicated to Lucas with the dates “1944-1977” added which should give you an idea of where Packard’s allegiances lie. If his previous film skewered Steven Spielberg, then this time it’s the turn of the creator of R2-D2 and Packard pulls no punches. By editing in footage from a variety of sources, not only the Star Wars franchise, a frequently hilarious landscape of a director gone mad with power emerges; whether that’s Lucas or Packard is unclear. It also creates a well-overdue satire of all those tedious featurettes on the DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters, you know the ones where everything is numbingly marvellous and everyone is having a great time and what a cinematic masterpiece they have wrought! Except you haven’t been as impressed as you would have wanted – but they got your money anyway.’ — The Spinning Image
Chemtrails: An Investigative Report (2004)
‘A gonzo, surreal mocumentary about chemtrails, conspiracy theories, mass hysteria, HAARP, Art Bell, 9/11, and other sundry bizarro elements.’ — letterboxd
Rollerboogie III (2005)
‘Edit-revamp client project. This was an unfinished amateur short film someone brought to me for “re-shaping” back in 2005.’ — DP
Lost in the Thinking (2005)
‘American underground filmmaker Damon Packard has long been carrying out a pitiless and very funny assault on the movie business, especially in the person of Hollywood’s blockbuster triumvirate: Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. The saga continues in the form of this 2005 short that embraces its own presumed failure in the most expressive and cunning of terms. In the end, the movie industry is a ready foil to explore a larger poverty amid abundance as the formulaic doom clouds of some sci-fi apocalypse give way to a sense of general, slow-moving decay.’ — Robert Avila
SpaceDisco One (2007)
‘Clocking in at just under 45 minutes, SpaceDisco One is still an epic, weaving together a deliriously entangled thread of sci-fi concepts, plus commentary on the whole nature of filmmaking and the juggernaut that is the Hollywood promotional industry.
‘The film is essentially two separate movies jammed together. Packard has taken two separate ideas, stuffed them into the bodies of crash test dummies, seated them unbuckled into two different automobiles, then set the vehicles at each other at 200 mph so he could film the resulting sculpture of twisted metal and broken glass entwined with plastic dummy limbs.
‘The first movie is a low-budget remake of George Orwell’s 1984, or more accurately I guess Michael Radford and Michael Anderson’s 1984 film adaptations. An emotionally unfulfilled Winston Smith (Robert Myers) aimlessly wanders the hollow shell that is Universal City’s CityWalk — a brilliant use of location on Packard’s part, mimicking those odd “space mall” outdoor spaces you’d see on Galactica and shows of that ilk — until he’s sent in for mental re-conditioning by Arthur Frain (James Mathers).
‘Meanwhile, a movie called “SpaceDisco One” is being filmed that features Stargirl 7 (Amanda Mullins), the daughter of Logan of Logan’s Run (the movie), being pursued by Francis 8 (Donnamarie Recco), the daughter of Logan’s pursuer Francis. The “SpaceDisco One” within the overall SpaceDisco One is presented as a mish-mash of movie clips and behind-the-scenes making-of footage, including incessant whining by the fake director (Patrick Thomas) about how he’s unable to fulfill his vision.’ — Mike Everleth
Tales of the Valley of the Wind (2009)
‘Tales of the Valley of the Wind composes an experimental love-letter to the spiritual world of Hayao Miyazaki, re-figuring [Nausicaa] into lush live-action scenes with period costumes, horses, swordplay, and, er…puppets. All on a tiny budget, Packard implements his signature experimental touch to create a very unique fan-film indeed.’ — letterboxd
‘Foxfur, Packard’s latest offering, revolves around a heretofore unconfessed obsession of his: UFO conspiracies. Well, who’s to say if it’s an “interest” or an “obsession,” but either way the film is jam-packed with well-known hot button topics and individuals involved in the field. However, one doesn’t need to know any arcane UFO abduction theories to enjoy the film. (This reviewer didn’t and only discovered that many of the names and events referenced in the film actually exist through post-viewing research.)
‘Anyway, trying to explain a Damon Packard film and to describe the enjoyment of it, is quite the difficult task. There are so many side ideas and plotlines sprinkled, stitched into and strewn about Foxfur, it’s a nigh impossible task to document it all. Like his previous films, Foxfur is best thought of as a total sensory overload of unbridled cinematic and narrative creativity.
‘Instead of trying to limit his imagination by his budgetary constraints, instead Packard throws in a little bit of everything he’s got and swirls it around with a steroid-injected soundtrack and blinding special effects. So, when the blonde Foxfur finds herself a brunette in a Robin Hood-eque costume in 1982 being pursued by obese bus drivers and bow-and-arrow slinging fuzz monsters, you either go with the flow or not at your own peril.’ — Underground Film Journal
Fatal Pulse (2018)
‘Damon Packard’s four-year in the making epic follows the exploits of husband/wife moguls trapped with a deadbeat couch potato brother in a hallucinogenic 1-900 world of 1991. Everyone is plotting the kill everyone else including themselves and ultimately do. Inspired by the corporate take-over era of the late 80s/early 90s and all the dark, atmospheric, neo-noir thrillers that came along with it.’ — Pit of Infinite Shadows
Tales Beyond Madness (2018)
‘Basically nothing, but even minor Packard has its charms. Damon himself shows up to play Dario Argento for like 10 seconds and in that moment I absolutely lost my mind.’ — Evan Pincus
p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Interesting about ‘A Man Escaped’. It’s up there among my favorite Bressons, for sure. ** Sypha, Hi, James. Yeah, that makes sense. You have a point. Could well be. Happy my suggestions helped, and, yeah, I have to learn to read the books piled up by my computer before grabbing and starting even newer ones. ** Steve Erickson, Ah, now that’s a happy coincidence: your review. Everyone, By sheer coincidence, Mr. Erickson has just reviewed one of the Damon Packard films in the post today, so you can go right here and read his thoughts on one of Packard’s best films, in my opinion anyway: ‘Fatal Pulse’. Lucky us! I basically agree with you about the Eggers, although I thought the cinematography was very academic and throw-back. And the symbolic baggage, I mean … mermaids?! Really?! Anyway, the wool seems to have been pulled, and now onwards and upwards, I hope. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi. I would start with Blanchot’s fiction. I did. I think you know his ‘Death Sentence’ in my all-time favorite novel. And it’s short! Wow, that was fast! Cool! Excited to read your piece! Everyone, the mighty Ben ‘_Black_Acrylic’ Robinson has written a no doubt fascinating piece in The Skinny about Scotland’s thriving zine scene, an exciting topic in and of itself, and you can so very easily read it here, and surely do. Have a giant blast at the zine fest today. Wish I could be there to wander through it myself and hang out at your table and bug you, ha ha. ** KeatonEscaped, Hey, bud. Lee said that? He had a way, that’s for sure. Like I’ve no doubt said repeatedly, I’ve only read two King novels — I know, I know — ‘Cujo’ and … I forget the other one. It’s been forever. I’m in the camp that thinks the second Tim Burton ‘Batman’ film is by far the best ‘Batman’, other than the TV series. Danny Elfman will never live down the blight on humanity that was Oingo Boingo for me. Huh, okay, I’m in for ‘Dr. Sleep’. I mean why the hell not? It must be playing here. It might even have the same English title here, although I wouldn’t put it past the French to have retitled it ‘Le Shining, Parte Deux’. Thank you! ** Okay. Do you guys know the films of the maverick, borderline no-budget director Damon Packard, maybe the most one-of-a-kind filmmaker in the USA? If you don’t, now you do. Or now you will, if you take the opportunity. Big fun. Should add a little positive, if not even enlightening, something or other to your weekends. So have at it? And I’ll see you back here on Monday.