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Frank Difficult Shows Providence’s Weird Side in Web Series

Saturday, August 17, 2013


The name Frank Difficult may be unfamiliar to some Rhode Islanders, but this filmmaker/musician has been a mainstay in the Providence arts scene for the last three decades. From film and music production to owning a successful underground video store, Difficult has done it all. And now, fresh off the heels of a successful Kickstarter campaign, Difficult is on the verge of unveiling his latest and perhaps most exciting project Difficult Tales, an innovative web series that combines various elements of sci-fi, horror, and fantasy.

Despite being hard at work in the pre-production stages of Difficult Tales, Difficult took some time out to speak to GoLocal about his new web series, his eclectic array of artistic influences, and his love of Providence—which he believes is historically the "ultimate haven for weirdos." Difficult also clued GoLocal in on a couple of his most famous video store customers, but you'll have to keep reading to find out who.

What first got you interested in film?

I was a typical "monster kid" of the 70's - collecting Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and covering my bedroom walls with Frankenstein and King Kong posters. My obsession with these creatures is what got me interested in how they were created. I began reading up on how special effects were made in those pre-Star Wars days, and eventually learned that a person called the director was who really shaped the film. I started noticing how some films were so much better than others even when they had no monsters. At this young age, I became fascinated with Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, both jolly fat men with dark senses of humor that I would often see on TV, whose visual styles were some of my earliest influences.

My interest in filmmaking expanded as I learned more about the history and language of film. In my early teens I moved to Las Vegas and there my father introduced me to Ray Dennis Steckler, a filmmaker who made B-Movies such as The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed Up Zombies. Ray took me on as his assistant when I was 16, where I learned the craft of sound and editing for 16mm and 35mm film. At that point, my film education grew via the VHS boom of the early 80's and film classes at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. It was at UNLV that my DJ name, Frank Difficult, was coined at the college radio station.

What brought you to Providence and how has the city shaped your artistic style?

For most of my Vegas years I also worked in bookstores as Steckler's film projects failed to materialize. In 1992, I was living in Brooklyn when I got a call from an old Vegas friend who was living in Providence and was about to open an underground bookstore. Frustrated with trying to find like-minded collaborators in film and music, I came out here to help her open Newspeak Bookstore. There inside Newspeak, emerged my video store, Obsidian Video, a collection reflective of my cinematic tastes—sleazy trash, high art and everything in-between.

The 90's were a fertile time for music and art in Providence. Obsidian supplied video weirdness to the scene that surrounded AS220, Fort Thunder, RISD and Brown. Shepard Fairey and Seth MacFarlane were just a few of my customers. During this time I started playing in many local bands—helping to bring synth noise to a city that would eventually become noise-rock central of the world.

Immersed in the thriving underground art scene, I became aware that historically Providence was the ultimate haven for weirdos, the weirdest of all being H. P. Lovecraft. His work baffled and haunted me as a youngster and as an adult helped me understand and appreciate this strange and inspiring city.

What is Difficult Tales and what's the inspiration behind it?

Difficult Tales is an anthology web series of short films of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. Much of the look of the series will be influenced by the psychedelic horror and pop-art sci-fi of the '60s and '70s such as the work of Mario Bava, Roger Corman's Poe films, the original Star Trek, Doctor Who, and The Prisoner. These and many others will serve as inspiration, not only in terms of style, but also as models for making a studio-bound production as economically but visually interesting as possible. It's a very personal project—influenced not just by my taste in genre cinema, but by my love of art-house and experimental film, as well as art, literature, music and all my various esoteric interests.

What sets Difficult Tales apart from other horror anthology series?

As I said, it's a personal project, bringing in all my life's experience—all the weird things I've lived through—and even delving deep into my sub-conscience. Added to that will be the unique influence of the various collaborators that I am working with. Much of my cast and crew are musicians and singers, which will enable me to eventually make a musical version of Difficult Tales—bringing in my taste in musicals and rock opera.

Most of the films will be shot at my studio in front of a rear projection screen with modular set pieces. With that setup, we can create a wide variety of stylish settings as cheaply as possible. One of the main goals of this project is to make sure it will not be like anything being produced right now. Although I’m looking at the past as an inspiration, I am determined to make something with a totally original look and sound.

Visual effects will be a major part of the series, but I will be focusing on old-school techniques to achieve them. Miniatures, puppets and in-camera effects will be used, but I'm not afraid of digital technology to clean up and expand on the images. I want to create a balance of the best of both techniques.

Where are you currently in the Difficult Tales production?

We are currently in pre-production for the first scripted tales. Because of the elaborate needs of the visuals and special effects, this is taking some time to get right. While all this is happening, I shot and completed a film for the Providence 48 Hour Film Project. I am very pleased with this improvised experiment, and will be expanding it into a longer story for the Difficult Tales project. It was always my plan to include improvisation into this project, since I enjoy the process of creating something out the chaos of the moment.

I know that you're looking for volunteers and donations; how can readers get involved with the project?

Since we are trying to create rather ambitious visuals on a very small budget, it requires creative use of whatever I can get my hands on. I am looking for donated materials for props, costumes and special effects. Difficult Tales is not opposed to contributions of cash as well.

We are also looking for interesting locations to create background images, so any help finding indoor and outdoor locations in the New England area would be appreciated. We are also looking for cast and crew for future shoots.

When can readers expect to see the first installment of Difficult Tales?

The film made for the 48 Hour Film Project will be shown at the "Best Of" screening at Columbus Theater on August 18th. Shortly after that I will post it or an expanded version online. I also the host "Frank Difficult Presents," a monthly night of film and performance at the 95 Empire Black Box next to AS220. There I will screen whatever I make before it gets released online.

Difficult Tales may be in pre-production, but you can watch four minutes of test footage below and visit http://www.difficulttales.com for more details. 


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