June 30, 2020 Interview – Roman Chimienti & Tyler Jensen
Stereotypes are the over-simplified idea of what someone is or isn’t. In short, they are limiting, hurtful, and just plain wrong. Why should a person act a certain way based on their ethnicity, sexuality, or artistic preferences? Is it because people fear what they don’t understand? Perhaps. Is it because of a lack of understanding and education? Most certainly.
Compelled by these very topics, Filmmakers Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen teamed up together to create the striking new documentary Scream Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street. A film which digs into the story behind 1985’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge star Mark Patton, you are given an insightful look into why he all but disappeared from film, the struggles he faces, and the reality of being gay in the 1980s. A topic Chimienti and Jensen were inspired to learn more on, both as outspoken gay rights activists, together they created a movie everyone needs to see. Taking the time out amidst Pride Month, they recently sat down to chat about the making of Scream Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street, what they learned, and a whole lot more.
Cryptic Rock – Having both been involved in film for some time now, working in audio, editing, and directing, what inspired you to initially pursue your careers?
Roman Chimienti – I think what inspired me to jump into film was that I always loved sound. I went to audio school not quite knowing exactly where I was going to fit. I just found myself working with directors who were doing short films; I think my very first job was working with the Director Jeremiah Kipp. On that film I was working with Harry Manfredini, who is the composer from all the Friday the 13th films. That just blew my mind that I was working side by side with this guy doing these projects.
I realized how much fun it was and how important sound was to the overall experience, especially with Horror. There was this power there that I got to create something that was so impactful. Then when I met Tyler he was kind of doing the same thing with his editing.
Tyler Jensen – I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker. I made my first movie at 11, which was a stop animation re-telling of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget in a curly blonde wig dressed as Frank N. Furter. I had the soundtrack on a cassette tape that I would play for one second, I would hit record on the camera for one second, move everything, and I did it all on camera.
I think I gravitated toward Horror films because they always got the best, biggest responses out of people. I remember being that annoying, bratty younger brother at my older sister’s sleepover party in the late ’80s and they rented Elvira: Mistress of the Dark (1988). The whole living room was full of screaming teenage girls and it was intoxicating to me. I said, “I’m going to grow up and make movies that make people scream, laugh, giggle, and have the best time of their life.”
Cryptic Rock – It seems like you both found the road you wanted to travel. How did you two come together to work on Scream Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street?
Tyler Jensen – I met Roman on a job. We were both freelancing; he was doing sound and I was editing. I overheard him talk to the producer about starting to work on Scream Queen! with Mark Patton, about the gay A Nightmare on Elm Street movie. My ears perked up and I said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but I know I’m going to be a part of it. So, how can I help?”
Cryptic Rock – And here we are today where you both worked side by side making the film. Scream Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street is a compelling documentary, even if you are not a Horror fan. What led you to decide you wanted to dig into Mark Patton’s story and this A Nightmare on Elm Street film?
Roman Chimienti – I feel like, in this regard, I’m a Horror fan second. I was just like everybody else: I was very shocked when I realized I didn’t know what happened to one of these great actors in one of my favorite movies. It never even occurred to me that he had just disappeared. When I connected with Mark Patton, of course I was excited, because I love A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985), which was always my favorite. It then quickly became clear, because I’ve always been more of an outspoken advocate for gay rights – the community as a whole and watching where we are headed – that this was a very important story.
At the time, Tyler and I were outspoken in terms of being gay, being Horror fans, and loving what we like, but that wasn’t a very common thing even five years ago; a Gay Horror crowd is something that has really caught a lot of traction lately. When we started this, a lot of them were still sort of in the closet; they didn’t have as much representation as they have now. I felt like Scream Queen! was an extremely important story to tell because it crossed over so many bridges.
Tyler Jensen – Right. Definitely the Freddy Krueger angle of the story is what really brought my attention toward it. Upon meeting Mark, and hearing his journey touched on this thing that both Roman and I share as gay men – we are kind of missing that queer mentorship that would have happened had AIDS not taken a lot of those people from us. The stories that Mark provided were kind of that missing education that a lot of us still don’t have. It became more about queer mentorship and understanding where we’ve come from as a group to where we are now.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. The film is highly educational to people outside the gay community, as well. Did you find yourself learning a lot from your research?
Roman Chimienti – I think it was different for all of us because each of us are a different generation of age. I was more aware of what was happening in the ’80s; more so than say Tyler was, who is much younger. We all grew up with similar feelings, but I think at the end of the day I didn’t know what it was like to be Mark in the ’80s. Obviously not just Hollywood, but we are talking about the unspoken culture of being gay in the ’80s; you kind of had to keep a mask on at all times.
I remember I lived in San Francisco when I turned 18 years old. I felt like there was a big missing gap of people: there were people my age, people much older, and no one in the middle. That was a very strange feeling. There was a lot I learned from this. I realized this is also my time, as a 40-year-old man, that I now have to be a mentor to the people below. That is what Scream Queen! is for me.
Tyler Jensen – Exactly. We went through old magazines of the era, such as People or National Enquirer, and just saw the vile things that were put in print about the gay community. The death of Rock Hudson sparked this movement for everyone to kind of go back into the closet to this scared and fearful place. It kind of put the queer aspect of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 into a new context that is not necessarily prideful.
I think my generation now like to look at A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 as this great gay masterpiece. It certainly has become that in the 30 years since it came out, but at the time it came out, not understanding what it was like to be gay, in the closet, and then be the face of a movie that was so queer. How that can hurt you and end your career I think is an eye opening thing for a lot of people, especially for me.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and watching this documentary people are going to learn a lot. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 is a film a lot of people poked fun of years ago. They called it ‘gay,’ etc. Why do you think there was such negativity to the idea that this film has a gay subtext?
Roman Chimienti – I do think most people didn’t catch onto subtext. The whole point of subtext in a movie like that is to just give it something that it is tapping into. You’re not supposed to be grasping all of that, but what people were responding to was the gender role swap of the characters. This actually opens up a much larger conversations of how we view women and femininity, because Mark was playing a female role. That’s what people were responding to; they were saying, “We don’t like that, it doesn’t make us feel good.” Then eventually the gay jokes begin. That is actually a very important topic to discuss. While it’s dangerous for gay people, it’s also poisonous for women in the long run.
I remember watching it in the ’80s and I heard all the same stuff. Most of the time it was guys going, “It’s not that good” or “I didn’t like it” or “He screams like a girl.” It’s always ‘like a girl’ where this joke lands, ultimately. I think it’s toxic and I’m very proud to have shined a light on this.
Cryptic Rock – It is toxic, you are right. It is also negative for men. Why should a man have to act a certain way?
Roman Chimienti – That’s exactly the root of homophobia, essentially. You are acting ‘like a girl’ and why is that bad? That’s a stereotype, of course, but that’s the root of it. It’s dangerous for men. Gay men and feminine transpeople are the ones who seem to trigger those aspects of femininity that men are insecure with. That’s where a lot of this stems from.
Cryptic Rock – Hopefully we are making a turn for the better as a culture to be open-minded. Do you feel we are making a turn for the better?
Tyler Jensen – I am the eternal Pollyanna-ist: I always think we are striving to be better. I think definitely in the last month of civil unrest, amongst everything else going on in the world, people are taking to the streets and showing up to support Black Lives Matter, Black Transwomen, and other people of color in solidarity. I definitely am hopeful that progress is being made. I hope that people are looking inward, seeing how they are part of the problem, and how they can correct their own issues to better this world.
Roman Chimienti – I agree. I do think it is absolutely improving because all of this is infectious. The reason it was running rampant for so long, especially in the ’80s, is because as this disease started communication shutdown. I think the straight communities that weren’t exposed to other lifestyles went further away from them with fear. It set us back a little bit in terms of progress and acclimating into society.
I feel that this point now, especially with social media, we are able to be visible with everyone. Just since we started Scream Queen!, things have changed so much. Just in the Horror world, we now have a community of Gay Horror fans, that is something present and loud. That wasn’t there before because Horror films were traditionally for straight, teenage boys, and that was it. Now there is an appreciation for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s subtext. People are appreciating that it as not just some throwaway film, somebody is putting more thought into it. That is what gives it longevity.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, and it is interesting to hear your thoughts and opinions on the progression of society. You worked closely with Mark Patton as the main subject of your film. Mark has every right to be angry, hurt, and bitter, but he comes across very non-vindictive in the film. What was it like working with him?
Tyler Jensen – Incredible. He was totally game, honest and open for the years it took us to get this movie made. I think we traveled with him for the better part of 2 1/2 to 3 years; going to different conventions, hearing him tell his story to different crowds of people. He never shied away and never told us anything was off the table.
Roman Chimienti – He wasn’t always comfortable with everything, but he was completely game for facing the situations. That was honorable. He didn’t know what was going to happen with David Chaskin, he didn’t know how people were going to respond to him at certain conventions. People think you go to a convention and everybody loves you, but what happens if you go to a convention that is in a very conservative state? You never know what is going to happen. He’s a very bold and fiery person who didn’t shy away from any of these situations.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a fantastic experience. Now that Scream Queen!, My Nightmare on Elm Street is out, on Shudder just in time for Pride Month, will you be working on any other projects together?
Roman Chimienti – Never! (Laughs)
Tyler Jensen – Yes! (Laughs)
Roman Chimienti – We have some things we are developing. We are wrapping up a film. Wow would you describe it, Tyler?
Tyler Jensen – A drag queen slasher movie in a drag club. It is filthy, disgusting, and totally fabulous, and it is called Death Drop Gorgeous. Friends of ours directed it in Providence, Rhode Island. We are helping polish it up to make it look beautiful.
Roman Chimienti – It is in post-production and premieres the end of July.
Tyler Jensen – Yes, we just dropped a new trailer!
Cryptic Rock – That is something to look out for! Last question. What are some of your personal favorite Horror films?
Roman Chimienti – I love haunted house stuff. I love The Exorcist (1973), I love The Changeling (1980). Although, I really love the more surreal stuff like Phantasm (1979) and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Anything that is a little bit Fantasy/Horror, I love.
Tyler Jensen – Ever since I was a kid I loved watching scary movies with friends; I love that communal experience. When I recommend a Horror movie, I have that in mind – what plays an audience properly? In that context, I think my favorites are Drag Me To Hell (2009), Piranha 3D (2010) which was so perfect, and of course, our spiritual queer horror sister, Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II (1987). If you watch those three films with a group of friends, you will be laughing, screaming, and begging for more.