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December 27, 2010

Interview: Israel Luna

By Lacey Paige

Independent filmmaker and proud member of the gay film community Israel Luna recently stirred up controversy with the 2010 release of his latest film—a throwback to ‘70s grindhouse/
exploitation/revenge flicks titled, Ticked-off Trannies with Knives. With several successful screenings across the States, Luna’s latest proved him to be the type of guy who takes no slack when it comes to his openness about his sexuality. A strong believer and supporter of homosexual rights, his films and audacious personality have helped him build a strong reputation in Dallas’ independent-gay film community. Breaking Glass Pictures recently released news of an official DVD release of his 2008 Slasher film, Fright Flick. Upon having recently returned from scouting for locations for his upcoming zombie film project, Luna took some time to share a bit about himself and his experiences with Cinesploitation.

Buy Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives on DVD!
Buy The Deadbeat Club on DVD!
Buy Fright Flick on DVD!
Buy R U Invited on DVD!

Lacey Paige: Tell me about your involvement in the gay film community?
Israel Luna: Dallas is not much of a filmmaking city, there’s a lot of commercial stuff but there’s not much as far as feature films going on. I’m sort of like a big fish in a small pond. I started out doing a little cable access show and used that as a stepping-stone. I shot my first film in south Dallas with some friends. I’ve tried to keep all of my projects utilizing Dallas actors and locations.

L.P.: How did you get involved in the industry?
I.L.: I’ve always known that I wanted to be a filmmaker, since watching horror films as a kid. It wasn’t until I moved to Dallas that I realized that public access was exactly that, it was access for the public to do any time of show you wanted so I took that opportunity and continued going from there and shooting little no-budget movies to small budget movies.

L.P.: How have your experiences working in television shaped you as an independent filmmaker?
I.L.: It’s been extremely handy in the way that it’s made me discover things about myself that I didn’t realize as a filmmaker. When you’re stepping out into the public, the public is not going to lie to you and be like your family and friends saying like, “oh my god, that was perfect, that was a masterpiece!” They’re very honest. Sometimes they have no mercy, so all you can do is really listen to what they’re saying because these are people that have nothing invested in your project so they’re just being completely honest as a film-goer. It really shapes what you do, you realize your weaknesses but I think it’s a really great benefit because it exposes weaknesses.

L.P.: Are you still working as an online segment producer for The Dallas Voice? What does the position entail? How did you get involved?
I.L.: The Dallas Voice is the local gay paper. They had wanted to branch out into doing online videos. They were doing these short littler two-minute segments and a friend of mine who worked there brought me on board to meet the boss (Robert Moore) and I just sort of pitched myself to him saying, “hey I’d be interested in taking over these online segments so that people can also have video to see online instead of just reading text,” they offered me the position of doing entertainment segments—I’m not a very serious person so I think that I would get bored doing just news segments—so anytime there was a celebrity in town to attend a gay event they would ask me to cover it. Sometimes I would be on camera and sometimes I would just be the cameraperson and I would bring someone on to do the interview. Then they would post it on their website. Those were a lot of fun for me because I’m not much of a “going-out” person so it got me going out to events and on top of that I got to meet celebrities so it was a lot of fun.

L.P.: You manage your own production company La Luna Entertainment, how did your company first get started and who do you have helping you out?
I.L.: It’s actually just me and one other person, his name is Tony Miller, he’s my producer and he is so needed! I’m not very organized and he’s very organized so I definitely need him around. He and I started the company back in 2000 because I was wanting to make more films so he came on board. We had started a relationship with each other—we’re no longer together but we were together for four years at the time—we just seemed to work well together and I asked him if he wanted to come on board as my partner with La Luna and during shooting of our first film was when we brought our third partner, he’s very hands off, unless we need him, he’s an attorney named Tom Maguire. So it’s been the three of us since about 2000.

L.P.: Do you think that the splitting of your personal relationship has had a negative impact on working together or did it make you stronger as business partners?
I.L.: For the first year that we had split up, everything in our company kind of went downhill for about a year, but after all of the bad feelings went away, we still had a strong bond and it has made us stronger now. So it’s done both, but in the end it has made us stronger and I think that with every project we’re getting better and better and one of those reasons is because he’s still on board and he’s still producing every one of my projects.

L.P.: What films have been produced under the La Luna Entertainment label?
I.L.: The first one was a horror movie called Is Anybody There?, then we did a movie called The Dead-Beat Club (that was ’03), then we did a movie called Are You Invited? (’05), then we did Fright Flick (’08), then Ticked-off Trannies with Knives (’10).

L.P.: Fright Flick is finally getting a DVD release through Breaking Glass (Pictures)?
I.L.: Yes, finally! Next month.

L.P.: Is it true that The Exorcist had a tremendous impact on you?
I.L.: When I was a kid we were in a drive-in where there were multiple screens around [me], we were parked in front of the original Superman but my eyes were drawn to the screen next to it which was [showing] The Exorcist and it scared me to death. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of it. I realized that it was so neat that images on a screen could make all of these emotions come out of people and I thought, ‘I want to scare the pants off of people, that would just make my day.’

L.P.: So you would say it’s one of your all-time favourite movies?
I.L.: It’s the only movie that I can think of that, still to this day, I would not watch it alone in a room.

L.P.: Do you think it’s impacted the creative process of filmmaking for you?
I.L.: I think so, I’m not much into crazy splat-stick type of horror—even though I try to add humour [to my own films]—The Exorcist is the perfect example because it could really happen. I like the idea of taking everyday surroundings and people and something really crazy happens to them. I think that’s what makes something really scary is that it could really happen.

L.P.: What are some of your other favourite movies?
I.L.: I love the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre—it’s still a force to be reckoned with to this very day because it’s so disturbing. I think horror movies today get it wrong. Noises and slams that make you jump aren’t scary. They make you jump because of reflexes—that doesn’t make a movie scary. My other all-time favourite is Fatal Attraction with Michael Douglas and Glen Close. It’s like a horror movie for adults.

L.P.: What inspired you to do Ticked-off Trannies with Knives?
I.L.: I kept reading about hate crimes and that was frustrating, but what frustrated me even more was hearing this chant from the gay community saying “Let’s fight hate with love, let’s try to understand these people that are bashing and murdering and hating” and I thought “hell no” am I the only one who’s getting pissed-off when I read these articles, I am not going to fight hate with love. And so I kept thinking the gay community doesn’t need to pretend to be all ‘goodie-two shoes’ all the time, we’re just like everybody else. We can get angry, we can get mad, we can curse and that’s okay because look at what they’re doing to our community. The movie came out of all of those frustrations and I thought I’m just going to make this about trans-gender women because they’re the most misunderstood (I feel) in our community; it’s not gay men anymore, it’s not lesbians, it’s trans-genders because people don’t understand who or what they are.

L.P.: Was it well received by audiences?
I.L.: It wasn’t at first before it came out. People were hearing all of these misconceptions about the film. But what’s funny is when people actually give it a chance and sit down and watch it, they get it. They think, ah yes, this is a revenge-chick flick but it’s a very empowering film as well. I honestly did not set out to [get a message across] with this film, but that’s how it turned out.

L.P.: It screened at a few theatres throughout the states, how were the screenings? Were you happy with the outcome?
I.L.: At one of the film festivals we won the top two prizes; we won the best overall film and we won the audience award. The other biggest one that I remember was one called ‘Another Hole in the Head’ in San Francisco and we probably had the best audience response ever. It wasn’t a gay audience; it was just a mainstream, regular horror-going audience. You couldn’t even hear [what was being said] on the screen because people were laughing and cheering and yelling at the bad guys and cheering on the good guys, it was really amazing. What thrilled me about that was the movie was not being seen as a gay movie. [The audience] was just seeing it as this exploitation-70s grindhouse-chick-flick, and that’s exactly what I wanted. It was the best mix of gay elements and the horror elements, which is pretty much me as a filmmaker.

L.P.: What are some of your upcoming projects?
I.L.: The next one that we’re doing is a zombie movie where the only survivors are gay people and bible thumbers. It’s called Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus. We actually just got back from location scouting in west Texas. I’m very excited about that. We’re just waiting to secure funding and we’re hoping to start shooting this year.

L.P.: So what do you have planned in the future for La Luna?
I.L.: I’ve talked to Breaking Glass about possibly doing a trilogy with Ticked-off Trannies with Knives being the first one, but not necessary a trilogy where it’s a continuation of the story, but companion pieces. They are going to be grindhouse films, I’m going to use the same actors; but putting them in different roles and shooting it the same way I did Ticked-off Trannies, and just sort of putting our own spin on traditional genres. That’s why I chose the zombie movie next, with a little gay twist [for the next film]. But after that we’re hoping to do a third one.

Stay updated on what’s new with Israel Luna and La Luna Entertainment at the official website,

Check out Breaking Glass Pictures for more information on the upcoming release of Luna’s Fright Flick.

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