Published on February 17th, 2021 | by Richard Gary0
Interview: Director/Actor Henrique Couto
If one is familiar at all with indie director and actor Henrique Couto, what will probably come to mind is colorful glasses, Dali-esque facial hair, loud clothes including Hawaiian shirts, and two incredibly beautiful, big dogs, Henwolf and Chicano. Oh, of course, then there are his films.
Hailing from the state of Ohio, one of the things I like about Henrique’s works is no matter what the topic or genre, they have heart. Also, he finds actors that fit his characters so well.
I sent him a list of questions, and he was gracious enough to answer back. Note that my queries are quite random. Many of his films are available on various platforms, including YouTube and TubiTV.
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The Feedback Society: Let me start with a silly question: Is it pronounced Hen-REEK, or Hen-REE-kay?.
Henrique Couto: You’re close on the first! My family has always went with a somewhat off-English pronunciation, so it’s Hen-RICK, but I have never corrected Hen-REEK as I see it being basically the same.
TFS: To begin in earnest with a simple query: what brought you to directing? Was it a particular film, or something you’ve wanted to do since, like, forever?
Henrique: Movies were my favorite thing in the world for as long as I can remember. The first thing I ever wanted, the first ever, was a TV set. The second thing I ever wanted was a video camera. The first film I ever saw that I think informed my imagination on the subject was the 1989 Batman, the scene where the Joker and his thugs ruin a museum full of art while moving and dancing to a Prince song. That was the first time I actively noticed that in film there is a rhythm to the presentation style, that made me grow more curious and then fascinated by the process.
TFS: You’ve been making films since at least 2003, and acting in them since 2002; how do you direct yourself as an actor that’s different from other actors that aren’t you?
Henrique: In 2003 I was 15 years old directing movies in my backyard, so it wasn’t exactly high art by any stretch, but it was where I began to learn the nuts and bolts of how to do what I do. It’s funny when you’re some kid with a camera throwing fake blood around your yard, you don’t realize you’re building a ton of skills that will pay off more later. When it comes to appearing in my own films, however, it’s a mixed bag. I usually give myself small roles, something I knock out in an hour so I can get back to concentrating only on directing. But in my romantic comedy Making Out (2016), I was actually a bit of a major character, which was challenging because I needed to remember my lines but also worry about all the other aspects of the scenes. I find acting comes pretty natural to me and I’ve watched myself back enough to kinda know when to reel it in a bit. When I did Devil’s Trail (2017), one of the main reasons I starred in it was because my co-star John Hambrick and I had great chemistry and we loved to improvise together. I had learned that just from directing him.
TFS: You are part of big collective of directors and actors in the Ohio area, such as Dustin Mills, John Oak Dalton, John Bradley Hambrick, Erin R. Ryan, Joni Durian, Dave Parker, and Josh Miller, just to name a few. Many of them appear in multiple films you have directed. Why do you think that neck of the woods is so prolific in talent?
Henrique: I couldn’t tell you for sure. Ohio is, however, a pretty big place; a lot of the people you mentioned live 2-3 hours away, so we collaborate when we are able to make the drive. I think there are lots of talented people hiding most places and I’m just so honored to be able to showcase some of them in my work.
TFS: Hambrick seems of be one of your muses. How did you two connect up?
Henrique: John Hambrick has everything going for him in that he is talented, he is reliable, and I like him. I met John and formed our friendship from making movies and I always have a good time with him. I’ve also seen his ability as an actor grow so fast before my eyes, I’m really very proud of him.
TFS: I guess a similar question would be about Erin R. Ryan.
Henrique: Erin and I met on an audition for Babysitter Massacre (2013) and I thought she had a great presence; after that film we went on a tear working together any chance we could. We just had fun and she was very reliable, so we kept it going.
TFS: You have also been a Cinematographer for other directors, such as Dalton (The Girl in the Crawlspace in 2018; Scarecrow County in 2019). How does it feel to work the camera under other directors?
Henrique: I love running the camera on those films. I also produced so I had some extra duties. Most of the Cinematography I’ve done has been for first time feature directors, so I sometimes find myself frustrated, but I always find myself enthralled in collaborating to bring their films to life. John Dalton is a dear friend and I often joke with him, “I wish my first film looked as good as yours!”
TFS: What is the appeal of acting to you. Do you ever want to help out the directors with advice?
Henrique: Acting is fun! It’s playing and pretending. It’s also a lot of intense work and heavy thought but also just a blast to do. So, I jump at any opportunity I get honestly. As far as helping directors with advice, I love to talk shop with directors and try to help them find their way whether we are working together or not.
TFS: You seemed to hit some level of stride with 2009’s anthology, The Faces of Shlock, and fame with Babysitter Massacre. What do you think changed, or did it feel like making any other film?
Henrique: Faces of Schlock was my first film to get national exposure, but Babysitter Massacre was something special. It was a love letter to the films I adored as a teenager, but it was also a desperate film: I was desperate to be successful, desperate to make a film that delivered. I was working part time, barely paying my bills, but I had this opportunity with Camp Motion Pictures to create this wild, bloody film, and I didn’t want to disappoint. I think that youthful energy fed into the film itself and made people connect with it on a deeper level.
TFS: That same year you came out with another popular film, the comedic A Bulldog for Christmas. Is doing a horror film a different headspace than a seasonal comedy, or do you approach all your films the same?
Henrique: Films are as different as they are the same. I’d say every horror film is as different from other horror movies as they are from comedies. I mean you may have less makeup effects or a smaller cast but overall, they all have unexpected challenges and you never truly know what you’ve gotten into ‘til you’re out there doing it.
TFS: Similarly, the following year, 2014, you came out with Haunted House on Sorority Row and Awkward Thanksgiving. I see a pattern here…
Henrique: Awkward Thanksgiving was basically all the ideas I had for Bulldog for Christmas that were NOT family friendly, haha. So, I made a holiday film that was raunchy and ridiculous and hilarious. Haunted House on Sorority Row is a good example of how different two horror films can be if you compare it to Babysitter Massacre. Both horror movies, similar cast, but so massively different in tone and style.
TFS: In 2015, you came out with a very “straight” western, Calamity Jane’s Revenge. I don’t know too many genre directors that have done westerns, so I wanted to know if and how it felt different to you, compared to comedies or horror.
Henrique: Making a western was fun; you just slap on the costumes and the guns and start running around making it. I remember getting the first shot of a cowboy with their gun up and their hat tilted, and I thought, “Whoa, this is a western!” I made some style choices that fed into my influences from spaghetti westerns, but the movie found its own groove as we went.
TFS: In 2017, you did a found footage style release, Devil’s Trail. How was the FF experience, compared to blocking and shooting a film?
Henrique: Devil’s Trail was my third found footage film. What I love about making a found footage project is how it is captured and what types of cameras you are using is part of the story itself. You tell a story as much with why people are filming each other as you do with who they are. In many ways you can film scenes incredibly fast, but in other ways you don’t have as much control and you have to think your shots and choices out very deeply. You may do scenes in a found footage movie where you don’t cut for more than a minute or longer, as to where on a narrative feature you wouldn’t go longer than 20 seconds.
TFS: Lately, it seems you have really been getting into podcasts, having three running at once (Spooky Stories, Boggy Creek: The Bigfoot Series, Popcorn Fodder). How are they different from each other? Do you like podcasting as much as filmmaking?
Henrique: Boggy Creek: The Series is a TV series produced by Fred Olen Ray and directed by me, available on Prime Video. Popcorn Fodder is also a TV series available on various outlets that I host. I have two podcasts: Weekly Spooky, which is a new short story audiobook every week, and This Show is Awkward, which is a talk show featuring myself and musician/comic artist Michelle Antisocial. Podcasting is very fun and allows a lot of engagement with your audience.
TFS: Do you like podcasting as much as filmmaking?
Henrique: Comparing it to filmmaking wouldn’t be fair. Podcasts are a long term commitment, but you maybe only put an hour or two in a week, as to where films you work all at once, get it done, then move on. I enjoy podcasting and find it relaxing because the pressure is a lot lower, but filmmaking is a deep passion for me.
TFS: Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure getting to ask you these questions, and I look forward to seeing your upcoming films.
Henrique: My pleasure, thank you for the chat!
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Between this article being written and its publication, Couto’s Christmas-themed horror short, Christmas Presence won the New York PBS Thirteen “Reel 13 Shorts” contest on January 13, 2021. It received over 300 more votes than its nearest competitor. Congrats, Henrique!