Brian Alan Ellis

Brian Alan Ellis runs House of Vlad Press (, and is the author of several books, including Sad Laughter (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2018). His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Fanzine, Mon­keybicycle, Elec­tric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Funhouse, Heavy Feather Review, and Yes Poetry, among other places. He lives in Florida.

BRIAN ALAN ELLIS on film with Rebecca Gransden

What film, or films, made the first deep impression on you?

My aunt and uncle on Long Island, for whatever reason, had a big-box VHS copy of I Spit on Your Grave in their collection, nestled somewhere between Stripes and Mr. Mom. I never asked about it, or even watched it, but it always kind of confused me. I thought it was a porno or something. I finally ended up watching I Spit on Your Grave as a teenager, which made me thankful that I didn’t watch it as a child, though I did accidentally catch A Clockwork Orange on Cinemax at a very young age and it completely freaked me the hell out. 

Very often film is one of the ways we first come into contact with a world outside that of our direct experience. Which films introduced you to areas of life away from the familiar circumstances you grew up in? 

The coming-of-age films of John Hughes showed me that rich people have problems also, I guess. And it took me years to realize it, but Revenge of the Nerds taught me that nerds too can be real shitty, problematic people.

What films first felt transgressive to you? Do you remember being secretive about any films you watched growing up?

As a child I became obsessed with this Swedish film called My Life as a Dog that I’d see on HBO. It’s about a poor, lonely kid whose mom gets put in a looney bin. Then his dog is placed in a kennel. He gets abused by relatives and teachers. He learns to read by reciting lingerie catalogs to some creepy old man. Then he befriends this girl who is kind of a tomboy and they box for fun and they beat the crap out of each other. Then there’s a scene where he takes a bath with the tomboy and it all seemed very sexual and scandalous to me. It felt very much like watching porn, this movie. It made me feel icky and sad and enthralled and I’d only watch it if nobody was home. 

Are there any films that define your formative years?

The mid-1980s horror film The Gate showed me, at a very young age, that if you throw a dead dog (your untreated trauma and neurosis) into a demonic hellhole in your backyard (the void that exists within yourself) that bad shit will happen.

Can you talk about the influence film has had on your writing?

Plays, specifically movies based off of plays, probably influenced my writing quite a bit. Like Mike Nichols’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, or stuff like Comeback, Little Sheba. Splendor in the Grass. Tennessee Williams adaptations. I related to dialogue-heavy dramas about broken people. Experiencing Douglas Sirk films like Imitation of Life and Written on the Wind will really allow you to take your writing out of its comfort zone and just go bonkers with it. 

Do you use film as a prompt or direct motivation for your writing?

I try going into each writing project with the same energy as an Ernest P. Worrell film, especially Ernest Scared Stupid. 

What directors, film movements, or particular actors have been an influence?

I dig all the New Hollywood films of the 1970s. Hal Ashby, John Cassavetes, Peter Bogdanovich, etc. etc. That’s the best stuff, in a lot of ways. Great character stuff. Lots of hidden gems, too. Like Searching for Mr. Goodbar and Joe. Robert Altman’s Nashville is pretty much Brothers Karamazov, but better. 

Have you ever made a film? If so, has the process of doing that had an influence on your writing?

I’ve acted in little short films that friends and I have made, but nothing too serious. I would be down to do something more substantial one day. Filmmaking is a lot of hard work, even doing just nonsense stuff. 

Are there films you associate with a particular time in your life, or a specific writing project?

Ghostbusters will always remind me of childhood, especially because my mom sewed me a Ghostbusters jumpsuit for Halloween one year. 

My buddy and I, as teenagers, snuck into a screening of Boogie Nights, but it was at the end where the drug deal goes bad and then Mark Wahlberg shows off his prosthetic penis. We obviously stayed for the next showing.

Donnie Darko was kind of the movie of my twenties. I first saw it while my band was on tour and we were crashing on someone’s floor in Chicago. I didn’t think it was very good at first, but everyone I spoke to loved it. It took several viewings with different people at different periods of my twenties to really appreciate it. It’s now a movie I revisit often. 

My thirties were mostly spent in a majorly depressive stupor, though I do remember being very charmed by Frances Ha for quite some time. 

Note: How any of this random bs relates to specific writing projects, well, I have no clue. 

Thinking about the places you’ve lived, are there any environments that are cinematic? Have you lived anywhere that has been regularly depicted onscreen? If so, has this had an influence on your perception of the place, or how you’ve depicted it in any of your writings?

I grew up in a trailer park in south Florida, so maybe Gummo? I don’t think I put too much “place” in my writing, at least not intentionally. I guess I’m more into characters and situations than surroundings, I don’t know. There’s been a lot of films and TV shows made in Miami. The Larry Clark movie Bully was made in the neighborhood where I grew up. (The Florida Project also captures that empty, Florida outlet mall spirit pretty well.) I live in Gainesville, Florida, now, which is where that Paul Giamatti movie The Hawk is Dying (based off of a Harry Crews book) was filmed. That was 15 years ago, mind you, so the city has changed quite a bit since then. That’s one great thing about film—it captures a certain time and place to revisit, which is comforting. 

Are there films you regularly return to, and do you know why?

I mostly watch films I’ve already seen several times and I do that more than checking out newer releases, which is probably a bad habit. I think it means I have anxiety and that I’m mostly depressed. I especially enjoy revisiting “light and crunchy” stuff. For example, I recently watched 10 Things I Hate About You again, and let me tell you, it still slaps. 

Do you have any lines of film dialogue you regularly use in your daily life?

I regularly say “Dishes are done, man,” from Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, even when there are no dishes involved. Also, I’m pretty sure I still quote Wayne’s World as much as I did as a teenager and people rarely know what the hell I’m even talking about. A sphincter says what?

Are there individual scenes that stay with you?

The super sad ending in Wayne’s World where Wayne’s hot girlfriend resents him and all his idiot friends perish in an electrical fire.

What films have roused a visceral reaction in you? 

My mom took me to see that violent Stallone cop movie Cobra when I was a kid and the film opens with a gun pointing directly at the audience and I remember it giving me quite a jolt. I probably peed my pants. My mom was nuts, by the way. 

Are there films that are reliable for inspiring your creativity?

Pretty much any John Waters movie gives me a creative charge, though the results are never as funny or brilliant. See also: the work of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. 

Which of your writings would adapt most successfully to film?

Probably my book Something to Do with Self-Hate, which would make a sad tour de force about lost, damaged people further damaging themselves. A real “feel bad” flick. Lars von Trier could direct. 

Can you give some film recommendations for those who have liked your writing?

I recommend Shakespeare’s Thrashin’ (1986), where the older brother from The Goonies falls for the leader of the rival skater gang’s sister at a Red Hot Chili Peppers show, which Shakespeare rewrote in 1993, replacing the skateboards with rollerblades and calling it Airborne.

 Brian Alan Ellis' yearlong Internet novel, HOBBIES YOU ENJOY, is being updated daily on Instagram.

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An Inspirational/Crazy Informative Guide to Proper Book Blurbage

(An excerpt from Sad Laughter, forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms)

“[This book] will fry up some prose eggs in your ol’ brain pan.”


“[This writer] is the kind of poet whose madness and how [he/she] exorcises that madness is a thing of dark brilliance one can admire from afar but if you ever let [him/her] crash at your house for a few days [he/she] would scare the living shit out of you.”


“[This writer] can fix your pipes and your roofing but [his/her] book of durable, brick-layered stories can also fix your mind plumbing, too.”


“[This book] sends a roundhouse kick to your funny bone before blowing it up. Disagree? Then I don’t con­sider you a person; you are a terrorist towards good taste.”


“Reading [this book] is like waking up to find a bloody horsehead in bed with you and then screaming but not screaming because you’re repulsed but because you’ve actually discovered a fresh way to look at life and it’s amazing.”


“[This writer] definitely has a way with words—they aren’t written; they’re kicked and fondled before being splattered across the page like a dead, wet dog.”


“[He/She] is the type of writer you’d let crash at your apartment and then wake up to find they’ve murdered your pets and then turned them into dancing puppets that are now lip-synching to all your favorite Debbie Gibson cassingles, so yeah, a real party animal.”


“[This book] takes readers on an uncompromising fun­house ride of damaged people attractions.”


“[This writer] is the type of poet who will put [his/her] head through a plate glass window just to make killer poetry out of [his/her] face.”


“[This book] is a brave and poignant look into a per­son’s mind as they struggle to exist in a world where Hulka­mania is generally not the strongest force in the uni­verse and we are all in danger of being crushed by a 500-pound giant hailing from parts unknown.”


“[This book] is recommended for anyone who knows how to read.”


“[He/She] is the kind of writer clever enough to moon­light as a lawyer/sociopath capable of freaking out a table full of squares by using hella unassuming meth­ods, so yeah, a wonderful talent.”


“[This writer] writes like a sadistically imaginative child who plays house by burning down the house.”


“[This book is] a coming-of-age fever dream [the author] carved into some Ouija board [he/she] later used to summon the spirits of David Koresh, Jesus Christ, and Richard Ramirez.”


“[This writer] is like the Tombstone of frozen descrip­tive prose pizza.”


“While reading [this book] you’ll feel as though you’ve been taken hostage, like you’ve been stuffed and then zipped inside of [the author’s] emotional baggage, which is okay because it’s warm in there, at least.”


“[This book] is kind of like Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov meets Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, or maybe like The Notebook meets Re-Animator, I don’t fucking know.”


“[This writer] is like Sissy Spacek in the movie Carrie when they dump pig blood on her but instead of setting the prom on fire [he/she] ignites your thoughts using dark and mysterious word torches.”


“If the literary scene were a slammin’ mosh pit, [this writer] would be commanding that shit using wind­mills and crazy roundhouse kicks.”


 “[This book’s] narrative is like the music video for Van Halen’s ‘Right Now,’ except it makes sense, and it’s funny for the right reasons, and it isn’t as preachy.”


“[This book] is the literary equivalent of Kid Rock’s dandruff.”


“Though [this writer] has never won a literary award, it’s quite possible they’ve accidentally urinated on themselves while drunk, so…”


“Crackling with powerful satanic energy, [this book] is like When Harry Met Sally except Harry listens to nu metal and Sally is possessed by Zuul from Ghostbusters, has an addiction to shitty speed, and may or may not be a juggalo.”


“[He/She] is the type of writer you’d let crash at your apartment and then wake up to find naked and sum­moning weird spirits while kneeling in the center of some pentagram they’ve drawn out on your living room floor using your pet’s blood, so yeah, a real pain in the ass.”


“Reading [this book] is like having your emotions con­stantly dunked on by Shaq.”


“[He/She] is the kind of writer who will pilfer a leather bomber jacket out of a garbage can and then hit the shitty neighborhood bar thinking they look real god­damn good in it, so yeah, a kindred spirit.”


“[This book is] dripping with comical dark poignancy... like a bacon, egg and cheese McGriddle.”


“Reading [this writer] is like getting a totally sweet hand job from someone with an MFA—someone really smart, but also someone kinda shifty, kinda dangerous.”


“[This writer] is the type of person who’d eat the fries off your plate after you’ve gotten up to use the bathroom at Perkins, which means they’re a real sneaky ass.”


“Sorry, book blurb was replaced by Metallica’s St. Anger snare drum sound.”

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