INTERVIEW: Filmmaker and BlackBoxTV Creator Tony E. Valenzuela On ‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’
A talk with the innovative filmmaker about his recent film.
Tony E. Valenzuela is an award winning writer/director whose latest film ‘The Axe Murders of Villisca’ is now in release. We recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his film and career. A gracious talent, he had lots to say about his work.
Tony E. Valenzuela is the creator of BlackBoxTV, the #1 most-subscribed and watched sci-fi/horror channel on YouTube, including “BlackBoxTV Presents,” an anthology series (in the vein of the “Twilight Zone”) being the longest-running scripted drama online. In 2012, Tony partnered with Anthony E. Zuiker (creator of C.S.I.) for two BlackBoxTV series, “Silverwood” and “AZP.” Tony recently completed his first feature, “Villisca”(which we’ll discuss below), and the wildly successful YouTube zombie survival game “Fight of the Living Dead.” He has collaborated with Jon Turtletaub, CBS, Fox Studios and Guillermo del Toro amongst others. His scripted adventure series, “The Fourth Door”, recently debuted on Verizon’s Go90 streaming platform and was produced by Ron Howard & Brian Grazer‘s New Form Digital. Let’s talk with Tony E. Valenzuela.
Hello and thank you for talking with us. Before we get started on your film, I want to just briefly ask about BlackBoxTV. What got that going?
It’s good stuff and I recommend readers to go there and subscribe. Let’s move on to The Axe Murders of Villisca, your first feature film. Its backstory is based on true events, but the film itself is not. How important was keeping a sense of authenticity to the facts and how close to reality did you come in recreating some of those horrific murders?
The film itself is loosely based on a night I spent at the Villisca Axe Murder House (with Joey Anderton and Jessica Lee Rose) in December of 2010. That night provided the true inspiration for Axe Murders of Villisca. You can watch a mini-doc (or below) from that night on BlackBoxTV. In 2012, producer Cindy Cowan suggested I make a movie about my overnight stay at the house I disagreed as I was still trying to process what had happened to me in Villisca. I felt unsure that there was a story I wanted to tell. In the fall of 2012, producer Michael Wormser introduced me to Kevin Abrams who suggested that I reach back into my past and look for narrative inspiration. It was this process that created Jess (a small nod to Jessica Lee Rose) Caleb and Denny, a mash up of my friends from high school. Telling their fictional story made the going easier. After that, things began to narratively fall in place. When Jarrett Sleeper, the actor who plays Denny told me that I was the true inspiration for his character, I couldn’t disagree, the truth always finds it’s way to the surface.
As far as how the murders are reenacted in the film (from Lena letting in Kelly, to Mrs. Moore appearing “stuck” in her bed) after researching the Villisca axe murders from 2010-2013 I believe the film to be my best guess at what truly happened that night.
You’re obviously a big horror fan and as this is your feature film directorial debut, what were some of the larger challenges if any in bringing your vision to the screen?
You’ve got a bright young cast in the film. Were you involved in any of the casting? And can you tell us a bit about some of your stars?
There’s a couple of familiar names in the film as well, including Conchata Ferrell, who is always so reliable, but also the great Jon Gries, who is one of those character actors that whenever I see, I know I’m in for something special. How’d they get involved and can you share some stories?
As an independent filmmaker, what do you like best about the process?
What’s next for you? Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
We dedicate a portion of the site to discussing great moments in movies. Are there any movie moments (or movies in general) that you would say have had influence on you or you regard as being important to cinema?
Thanks again for talking with us. Best of luck and hope our paths cross again.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.