An Interview with Artist and Filmmaker Jeremy Joseph Arruda
What influences your art style? It reminds me a lot of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
You know I’ve heard that from quite a few people. Surprisingly I don’t really remember being influenced by those books at a young age. Although it does seem that it appears that I would have been. I discovered Stephen Gammell’s illustrations later on. I’ve been more inspired by his art recently than early on. I partly think other artists inspire me. I think there are so many great talents out there and every artist builds in some way from another artist. But ultimately besides that, I’m not sure what influences me. That’s always been kind of difficult for me to answer because I’m not sure where it comes from. Drawing and creating the way I do feels natural in its style to me and it provides a comfort to just go with it.
That makes sense. While you can see a bit of that, it definitely has its own unique flavor to it. What started your drawing/painting/computer drawing? When did you realize you really had a talent for it?
Very very early in childhood. I think as soon as I had access to a pencil and paper it just seemed to take off. I had a lot of Disney VHS tapes in my childhood and my earliest memory was illustrating the villains on the box art. But I thought everyone could draw like me at that age because it felt so effortless. It wasn’t until I started getting noticed by other kids that I realized that maybe this was something special. I recently began computer drawing digitally in the past year and after one afternoon of playing with the program, I fell in love with it.
Is there a specific headspace you get into to draw, or does inspiration just strike and you have to put pen to paper, so to speak?
Inspiration just strikes. And when the urge to make something is there I have to immediately make that a top priority to sit down and make the work happen.
Is there anything specific that you like to draw, or something that you find to be more challenging that you prefer not to try, or at least try to perfect before you show it off?
I love drawing bizarre cartoons. I find myself going back and forth between styles. But making creepy looking creatures is something I like to revisit. I’m really attracted to the imagery of the characters having white eyes. No iris or pupil. I love the way it looks. Not sure why to be honest. But it feels right to me. As far as challenging I find portraits to be incredibly difficult. I can’t imagine how tedious and hard making an effective landscape is either. Luckily I’m not interested in making art like that haha.
You’re not only a talented artist, but you’re also a talented filmmaker. What made you want to make a movie?
Just by watching movies and falling in love with the medium. I felt that there were ideas that I had to get out that were beyond paper and canvas. And I knew film making would be the answer to that. So it was important that I find a way to make those ideas happen.
What was the concept in your head for Strawberry Lane? Did it start as a short story or was this something that you knew had to be a film?
I knew from the beginning that it had to be a film. I needed to see those images on a screen. To me, it wasn’t enough to be on pages. It was a scary concept for me because it was my first very serious film project. The film took 3 years to finish in its entirety from the beginning of filming to the end of editing. I was honestly obsessed with it.
As far as the concept for the film itself, it was, to me, a combination of films that I loved watching and the feelings that they gave me. I have joked before that Strawberry Lane is John Waters Eraserhead if John waters weren’t funny. It was the tone of Eraserhead that was really a driving force. I loved the world Lynch created in that film. It’s a film that makes you just feel gross. Its a nightmare on screen and I felt that my imagination is pretty much a nightmare so there has to be some way to get that into a movie for people to experience but with my own voice.
When people first saw it, were their initial reactions what you were expecting? I’ve seen it twice at screenings (plus I own the DVD) and I have seen people walk out or have looks of abject horror and disgust on their faces. Was this your goal? What I mean is, did you want to show people the darker side of life, the stuff that most people never experience or talk about at parties? Did you want to show them the depths of human depravity, and what an unwell person could be capable of if left to their own devices?
Yes. I think shock value is an art form in a film. I think it gets that effect from a person where they are so bothered that they feel the need to walk out. I don’t sit down and only focus on the shock, however. In Strawberry Lane, I really wanted to get into how dark and depraved human beings are capable of being. Because like it or not there are horrific souls around us that we may not even be aware of when we pass them. There was not a single good or relatable character in Strawberry Lane and that was by design. The film was about the horror of the human race. It has an overwhelming sense of darkness. Apparently enough to drive someone to leave from watching it. But I’d rather have a film that gets a reaction than it gets buried underneath 12 other films at some screening because of how safe it is. But while there is an art to shock I think it has to have more than that.
I think it’s important to go there though. Because terror is part of our world
It was absolutely memorable, disturbing, and uncomfortable. I agree with you that art should elicit deep, visceral responses from people and you absolutely achieved that with Strawberry Lane. My question regarding that is, do you think people missed some of the subtleties, story, or the character depth that you added as a result of not being able to stomach certain scenes?
I think some people did, yes. Because the horror is so upfront especially at the ending. I think its easy to just see that perversion and repulsive nature as the only takeaway for some people. It’s shocking. And I think with being appalled by elements of the film that’s all some people can think of. I think it’s easy to be angry with it. But when you make this kind of a movie that’s going to be expected.
Does that disappoint you, because of the work you put into it? Or was it something you expected? Like, you knew only a handful of people would really get the message you were trying to convey, and if so, were they your target audience?
It didn’t really disappoint me. I screened it at a screening that wasn’t specific to genre fans the second time it went to the public. I did expect that there would be people that would hate it. I made the film for a very specific audience. It’s also a very small audience. But yeah it was expected and when I heard the news of two walkouts I was thrilled. I think my audience watched it and was like “Okay I get it. This is for me” You either like it or you don’t I think.
Are you planning/working on another film? If so will it be similar to Strawberry Lane in its depiction of depravity or will it perhaps focus on something else, maybe another human vice?
I am working on one right now! It’s actually not a horror film at all. I don’t feel the need to revisit that level of depravity for a while. I feel like Strawberry Lane covered a lot of that aspect of the disturbed human mind. And I really want to change it up. My new film is more poignant and deals with loss and grief. I’m keeping it kind of under wraps mostly but it’s a very different kind of film. More of a drama.
Is there something that, when put on screen, you have a difficult time watching?
Animal cruelty. I can’t stand it. It gets a response, yeah, but like David Cronenberg said it’s not the right response. As much as I enjoyed Cannibal Holocaust I had to buy the “cruelty-free” blu ray without those animal scenes. There is a difference from real horror and fake horror.
What is something that you look for in a film, something that really hooks you in?
Very strong imagery. Visual storytelling. A good story. Great direction and acting. And the film regardless of the subject matter has to feel like there was a passion put into it. I think you can tell when a filmmaker really cares about the film just by viewing it. If you don’t care the audience won’t either. So all of those elements are really important to me to make the movie a great movie.
So what about the opposite? What destroys the immersion of the film for you and makes you enjoy it less?
Poor pacing. Bad acting. Bad direction. Very standard things. And just that lack of caring from everyone involved.
What is one message you would want to give to people who are looking to get their creativity out there into the world but maybe don’t have the confidence to do so?
I’d say I can relate. Haha, sometimes when pursuing a project I feel like I don’t have the confidence. I feel like maybe this is the time, this is the film that I end up wasting everybody’s time on. It’s easy to be insecure as an artist especially when you think about the competition around. But I think you can’t worry about everyone else. If you want to be obsessed with a thought then direct it towards your ideas. Work hard. I don’t think I’ve ever been confident. Just really really crazy and obsessive with making an idea happen. But It’s the obsession that gets things made. Be honest to your ideas. It’ll happen as long as you keep at it. And make sure you’re having fun. That’s the most important part.
Last question – What constitutes success for you? Whether in art or in your films.
I think success to me is that gut feeling when you know that your idea translated to the medium exactly how you wanted. It’s that happy feeling that reinforces that this is what you should be doing with your time. When you get that feeling it’s amazing and you know that your efforts were worth it.