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Austin-based Eric Pham got his start working visual effects on hit films like “Mission: Impossible 2” and “Red Planet” and later became famed filmmaker Robert Rodriguez’s right-hand fx guy, working on many of Rodriguez’s projects, including “Grindhouse,” “Sin City” and “Spy Kids 3D.” Using what he learned from Rodriguez as a filmmaker, and combining it with his vast knowledge of visual effects, Pham decided to make his own movie – “Flay,” a supernatural thriller being released in March. Eric Pham recently discussed this movie and more vis an exclusive interview.

Making movies and creating visual effects

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to get into filmmaking and special effects?

Eric Pham (EP): Watching Ridley Scott's “Blade Runner” for the first time.

I got my start doing visual effects. Learning the ins and outs of how it all works in visual effects and post-production really lit a fire in my head that I could literally be creating worlds with my imagination. I shot my first film called Kat and entered it into a festival sponsored by Showtime Network. It turned out I won the Grand Prize out of six different categories for my 15-minute short. I spent $1,000 to make the film and got a check for $10,000. It was a nice, warm fuzzy feeling. I shot “Kat” and my first feature film, “Action News 5,” on 35mm film with Panavision lenses. These days, I've been using RED cameras. Flay was shot on a RED along with Panavision lenses. I love making Movies, but if this doesn’t work out I could always be a novelist or a farmer!

MM: How did the concept of “Flay” come to you?

EP: I really wanted to do something a bit different than just the usual, blood-filled teen horror, the haunted house or the found footage stuff.

I tend to gravitate towards the history and discovered a story that hasn't really been told, ghost hauntings based on Native American atrocities committed by colonists in the name of assimilation. After I settled on an origins story, everything else worked itself out when I collaborated with writer Matthew Daley. We tried to create a movie that is not strictly in the horror genre, and instead combined basic elements of other genres and what we consider to be a good story.

The movie took long enough to come out. I was surprised how challenging it is for independent filmmakers to take charge of their own distribution. We had a lot of distribution offers along the way that didn't make financial sense to us given the rapidly changing environment of digital distribution. We had a fallout with one distributor over “creative” differences. We also had a great offer from a well-known producer who I won't name, that offered us the moon regarding a limited independent theater release with a substantial marketing budget.

Waiting for this offer which didn't come to terms took away about nine months of our time. It was actually good for me to be able to forget about the film for a while and take a look at it again with fresh eyes. I was able to make changes to the edit without too much attachment and improve the overall pacing. Now, it's ready. Flay will be released on iTunes, Amazon, and the “Flay Movie” website on March 6th.

Casting, actors, and characters

MM: How did Violett Beane get involved and how rewarding is it to be part of the film industry?

EP: We had a large casting call lead by Sarah Dowling in Austin, Texas. Violett audition for her role and I knew right away that she was perfect for it. She has great instincts and a sense of fearlessness that I appreciated, given that she had only done minor roles before “Flay.” I was involved throughout the process and selection of each actor. Casting is a fun process for me once you see how characters and actors are matched up and seeing the dialogue and story come to life. Being a part of the creative process and seeing the results of your ideas and vision come to fruition is very rewarding. Hopefully, I'll be an established writer/Director that can choose the projects that I work on in a few years.

MM: What is coming up next and what advice can you offer newcomers?

EP: Working on a sequel to “Flay,” a feature film adaptation of “Tinder & Flint” novel, and a couple of TV projects. My advice is to be humble and learn as much as you can from those who hold jobs that you eventually want. When your opportunity comes, be fearless and stand out from the crowd.