Fantastic Fest Interviews Movies

Fantastic Fest 2019: In Conversation With Mark Patton, Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen of “Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street”

“Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street” is a documentary exploring the gay (sub)text of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge.” The lead actor from the 1985 film is centered in the documentary, sharing his personal story. The film also extrapolates on the history of LGBTQ+ characters in horror and the gay rights movement.

At 2019’s Fantastic Fest, we got to speak with the documentary’s directors, Roman Chimienti and Tyler Jensen, as well as star Mark Patton. Read our conversation below (edited for clarity):

Tyler and Roman, this is your first feature. What drew you to tackle such a huge project?

Roman: As a sound engineer, I’ve done like a hundred things already and got to the point where I was like, ‘I want to do my own thing, and I want it to be something that’s meaningful to me.’ I’ve worked on a lot of other people’s projects. So by the time I met Mark and the story was developing, I was already really looking for something where I could interject my voice in there. That’s why this whole thing just happened so quickly.

And I think Tyler was also a rebel heart person; when I met him I could tell. This was at a time when being a gay horror fan was not quite as popular, and to be able to identify that in someone else was like a shining light in the dark. I was like, ‘That’s someone that I need on this team.’ We kind of joined forces fast.

Tyler: We met on a job; I was an editor. I’m also a music video director and do short doc stuff. This is my first feature, but we were working on this gay dating reality show together. He was talking to the producer about starting “Scream, Queen!” and interviewing Mark Patton. And my ears perked up and I lifted up my t-shirt, and I showed him my Freddy Krueger tattoo. I was like, ‘I’m the guy for this job. I’ve been a Freddy Krueger fan since I was a kid. Whatever it is, I’m in.’ And then I get to Florida to meet Mark for the first time, and I actually hear the story of what “Scream, Queen!” actually became. It was just like a no-brainer — I have to be a part of this.

Tyler Jensen’s Freddy Krueger tattoo | Photo credit: Jackie Ruth

And Mark, for you, it was on your own terms, but after being out of the spotlight for so long, what was it like to delve into such personal topics for the documentary?

Mark: Well, you know, I was built emotionally and physically for this type of situation. And I feel like my whole life has been leading, honestly, toward this moment. We were talking just a while ago about truth. And I learned the power of telling the truth at a certain point in my life. I knew that if I was going to do anything, it was going to be truthful. When I came back for “Never Sleep Again,” they had promised me that they would present me in a certain way. They weren’t going to have me on the back burner and I was going to get to tell this story. And it just wasn’t that kind of documentary; I mean, it was a talking-head thing, and I felt unfulfilled by that. I actually felt like it was kind of a blowjob joke, and I really don’t want to be a blowjob joke. I think Jesse and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” deserve more than that, and I think I deserve more than that.

So we started. There were some misfires and whatnot. When I first became aware of Roman, I was totally impressed with his sound factory, with the music, and everything was so professional. We all came in wearing a different hat. I didn’t really think it was going to be all about me, to be honest with you. I thought it was going to be… the original name was “There Is No Jesse,” and it was about these boys who disappeared in the 1980s, like Mitchell Anderson, boys I knew, who had done one or two movies and then — GONE. They were either dead or run out of town, and I wanted to tell their stories. But through happenstance it became more and more about… I became the center of the story. It was an easy story to tell. This man [points to Tyler] came over and barrelled his way up the ladder and just banged his way in, you know.

Tyler: ‘Put the camera there! Say these things!’

Mark: He was like, ‘People don’t know what they’re doing; I’m taking over.’ And God bless him, he was right. This movie could not have been made without these three personalities. It’s equal parts… it’s our movie. Don’t ever let anybody say it isn’t. It’s our story, it’s our movie and it just couldn’t have been done without the three of us. I’m pleased to be sitting here with them, and I’m proud of both of them. We come at it differently from different generations, so it’s kind of cool.

Tyler, Roman, Mark and Robert Rusler at “Scream, Queen!” Q&A | Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

Yeah. The movie tackles cultural and political history, as well as film studies, and then your personal story is also a part of it. How did you guys work together to make that all come together without feeling messy or disjointed?

Tyler: The editing process was very difficult. Our first test screening was in early 2017, and it was just our friends and our peers. It was just so disastrous, I think, just for Roman and I to finally watch the film and not be able to stop it and explain ourselves. We just had to be like, ‘Oh, we have to redo this. We have to start again.’

Roman: I was completely thrilled after that, actually, because I had clear answers as to what I do and don’t want.

Tyler: Exactly.

Roman: Like you said, so many different angles come together. It’s a house of cards, the way you have to do it. So how did we make it not messy? I guess I don’t know.

Mark: They’re filmmakers. And that’s the magic. It’s very interesting, because I can sit down and tell you my story in an hour, and you’ll be fascinated. I mean, I could do a TED Talk or a keynote, and you’d be fascinated by the story. But to actually take that and turn it into a feature film that gives it that intimate experience, that’s magical. And it’s a very difficult thing to do. It really is all in the editing; that’s the storytelling.

Roman: You have to really get to know your partner well.

Tyler: Roman and I were roommates for about six months as well during the process of this.

Roman: We’re putting part of ourselves into it. So it’s not just something you can say on paper, ‘This is the way you do it.’ It’s encouraging each other as well.

Mark: You know, but it is funny, because [director of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2”] Jack Sholder was talking to me about it. He hadn’t seen it, and he just recently saw it. We don’t know how that went, so we’ll find out one day. Right now he’s going to Copenhagen to speak for a queer film symposium, which I think is going to be very interesting for him, and for Copenhagen. But he said, ‘Well you did it. You got lucky because you got what you wanted.’

Is that the way it works?… I knew exactly what I wanted; I knew what we wanted to say and how we wanted to get there. Of course, I’m a magical thinker so I think I’ll get what I want, and I did. For me, it’s a breeze — it’s a three-year breeze and it cost a lot of money and a lot of labor.

Roman: But you trust your intuition.

Mark: Yeah, I knew the story was real. I knew it was a cool story.

Mark with a Freddy Krueger cake at A Drag Horror Affair | Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

Roman: I believe we all were drawn together. I believe that the things that magically appear to us, we’re drawing to us. You believe in what you’re saying. This isn’t just a grab for the attention of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” fans; this is something real.

Tyler: Right. It’s a way to tell a predominantly gay history to a predominantly straight audience who wouldn’t normally seek out gay documentaries. But because it’s got this pop culture icon in it, suddenly everyone is like, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll give you an hour and a half of my life.’ A lot of people have no idea what they’re walking into and they’re moved and they’re changed by the time they come out. So that’s been really rewarding.

Mark: If you circle back around, I think it’s very important for young LGBT people to know their history, and they don’t know it. I want to be the elder that tells them the story and gives it to them in a way that’s like ‘You’re getting married today and you’re having a fabulous time. But heads were being pounded into the ground a few years ago. There was a lot of blood on the streets that led to getting what we got.’

I don’t think that the liberation of LGBT people would be possible without AIDS. I think AIDS was the quantifier. It was there, but this put a power behind it; you couldn’t deny it any longer. People would say, ‘That’s other people’s problems.’ But when their sons started coming home and they were dying, in Austin, in Dallas, in Paris, in London — you could no longer say, ‘Oh, it’s not in my family.’ Every negative is a positive, I think, if you know how to use it and turn it. That’s what we were trying to do. I think hopefully we did it.

Like Tyler said, it’s hard to get straight people to watch gay stories sometimes. And with the horror community, there’s something about these outsiders that band together. But it is primarily a male, hetero, white space also. Now that there are some more diverse voices, what do you think of how LGBTQ characters or stories are being portrayed in horror now?

Roman: I think that it has a long way to go. I do think the horror community was the first to sort of embrace these kinds of characters. They’re always looking for how they can up the ante with the next horror movie. It became kind of a thing to add a gay character — a token gay guy. Okay, that’s not great representation, but it was a start. And it’s been moving. They’re starting to embrace it, if for no other reason than it’s different, and they want something different.

Mark: Yes, and also the power. Many of the people that wrote these movies, directed these movies, starred in these movies — they’re all gay people. To be very blunt, we used to say that if there were no gays and no Jews, there would be no Hollywood. So we’re it. The people who were most homophobic in the industry in the ‘80s were actually homosexual.

But now as those people start to come out, like Ryan Murphy: He’s committed to absolutely everybody above the line being gay, lesbian or transgender. That means directors, writers, camera people, producers, caterers, actors, everything. And he has the muscle to pull that off. Dustin Lance Black, same thing: They have the muscle. So this is how you start.

For me, I take a great thrill for someone like Connor Jessup, who came out on his 25th birthday and is in the process of being a movie star and has a big career. Many people were telling him, ‘No, don’t do that.’ But he did, and he was met with great acceptance. And he — unlike some of the other actors that have come out — he has the acting chops to go all the way. He’s not just a body or a pretty boy; he’s an actor. So they’re there, all over the place. The more they get to speak, the more it’ll be even.

Mark with Robert Rusler on the Horror Queers podcast | Photo credit: Jack Plunkett

Tyler: Right. Ever since the success of “Get Out,” and it became an Oscar-winning movie, people are looking back to horror to give us new story lines and new heroes. You know, the black character isn’t always going to die first in the movie; they could be the hero and survive. I think the queer community needs the same resurgence and attention to detail. It’s not enough to have a token gay character who gets killed off and then is gone. It’s our time to survive and thrive.

Mark: It’s also interesting to watch gay people accept themselves. It used to be like, ‘Oh there’s this gay guy who’s like a straight guy, and he’ll be a movie star.’ And that’s not the deal anymore. We’re trading in a lot of gender things right now. But like Timothée Chalamet — that energy. It’s very feminine, and very vulnerable, and people are turned on by it now. So this is the moment to strike. And I think we’re striking.

You guys were featured in the second volume of the new Fangoria talking about the documentary. What was that like, especially for Mark, after having been featured in a less prominent way in the ‘80s?

Tyler: We were totally honored. We sent them a super rough cut and they were not only excited about it, but floored. They were like, ‘We need to do this right now.’ We’re absolutely indebted. I’ve been a huge Fangoria fan since I was a kid. To even have my name in it was fantastic.

Mark: My first interview for “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2” was with Fangoria. It was the first Q&A that I ever did in my life. Originally, Fangoria wasn’t very kind to me. They decided to circle back around and be extra kind to me now, and the same with Rue Morgue. It’s fantastic. They crowned me. They put a laurel wreath on my head, and they said, ‘You’re the scream queen. And we love you for it.’ And that IBTrav [Travis Falligant] art! So gorgeous. And it’s all mine! I’m grateful for it. I deserve it.

Tyler [to Mark]: You’re my Brad Pitt.

Mark [to Tyler]: Aww, thank you. You’re my Angelina Jolie. I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

Tyler: As long as you’re talking about “Hackers,” it’s all good.

Tyler, Roman and Mark on the “Scream, Queen!” red carpet | Photo credit: Rick Kern

So you get to see the documentary have its U.S. premiere at the festival, as well as a screening of “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge” in 35mm. How does it feel to know you’ll be seeing them with this audience?

Tyler: So exciting.

Roman: For me, this is still unreal. I process things and I’ll have a freakout tomorrow or after the fact. The producer in me is like, ‘What do we look like? What do we have to do? Let’s make sure the table is set.’ And then I’ll have the experience and then tomorrow I’ll say, ‘What the fuck happened? That was amazing.’ I’m excited, but it hasn’t really hit me yet what’s about to happen. These guys are living in the moment, having the time of their lives, I’m sure. It is still overwhelming because, for us, this is like the top of what we wanted.

Mark: This is the Oscar, right here. We’re receiving it. And to be heralded in such a way. We weren’t given a 10 p.m. slot and four tickets. We’re given the whole day. We have the [Horror Queers] podcast to begin it, then the documentary, then “A Nightmare on Elm Street” with Q&As in between, talking to people. And then to have a drag ball at the end! And it’s all happening on my birthday! Wild happenstance. It’s magical for me, and I’m living in the moment. I’m only going to cry when there’s no Prada under the Christmas tree.

Roman: The horror tree.

Mark: That’s right, the horror tree.

We’d like to sincerely thank these three for talking to us. It was a treat, and we can’t wait to see what’s next for them.

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Featured image credit: Jackie Ruth

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