Mick: Basically I've always liked to tell stories... Since I was a little kid that's been a real interest of mine. First I wrote stories and then started to sort of act out plays from the stories that I made up. From there my friends and myself would plan out movies that we couldn't make because we didn't have access to a camera. Finally in 1982 I bothered my Dad sufficiently and he bought me a $99 Super-8 film camera (we had a projector in the house already), and I started to actually shoot the movies that I used to just plan. I made a ton of 3 minute 'shorts' (remember those 50 foot Super-8 reels only lasted 3 minutes and 23 seconds!), and then some slightly longer (15 minute) 'features'. Finally in the mid-80's I started to shoot some video... mostly because of the growing lack of availability of Super-8 film stock and the growing affordability of video. In 1989 I produced my first feature length film, a family comedy (yes... FAMILY COMEDY!) called 'CROOKS'. The next year I shot my epic and somewhat disastrous (to me anyway) 'THE KILLING OF BOBBY GREENE'. It took me four more years before I could call it 'finished' (and even now I have deranged thoughts of re-cutting it to make improvements). From there I shot a number of flicks with Brimstone Productions, and a bunch more music videos with the guy who would become my lead in 'TRACK 16', Billy Franks. I'm currently working on my new thriller tentatively titled, 'murder.com'.
Q: What are you influences and aspirations and what got you into wanting to make movies?
MICK: Hard to say, I don't really have a favorite Director, there are just a bunch of Directors whose films I really respect. In recent years I would say Guy Ritchie's 'SNATCH', Chris Nolan's 'MEMENTO', and even Frank Darabont's 'THE GREEN MILE' just to name a few. The best way for me to tell if a like a film is if, after seeing it, I am mad that I didn't make them. And as far as whay I like making movies, it's all about the expressing of your ideas in one form or another, I just happened to have chosen movies. If I could paint or play music I might not be making films and all.
Q: TRACK 16 is a project that you've worked on for a very long time. I remember you talking about it years before it was ever made. What was so important to you about making this specific movie?
MICK: The original idea for 'TRACK 16' (which for awhile was called 'TRACK 8', 'TRACK 13', and 'TRACK 14') was just one of those things that 'stuck with me'. I was about 16 or 17 and heard a story about a musical recording made in a cheap studio with thin walls. The band recorded the song and then on playback heard some muffled screams in the distant background. Upon investigation, they discovered a raped and/or murdered girl in the alleyway next to the studio. I tucked it away as a 'nice story idea' and revisited it for many years after as my 'next project'. Finally in 1997, Billy Franks was out from England while we were working on a sitcom he and his friend Brad Clayton had written ('COMING TO SAVE AMERICA'). The project was done and he was about to return to London. We were out drinking with a whole gang of folks as his sort of going away party and he was telling me how much he enjoyed the experience of acting in the sitcom. Seeing as how he would be the perfect peron to play the lead in 'TRACK 16', I told him the story and asked him if he wanted to do. He was very game so we decided that we'd make it the next summer... And that's just what we did.
Q: How did you first meet Billy Franks?
MICK: I went through Temple University's film program and they offer a semester in London as part of their curriculum. Sounded like a good time (I often call it 'Beer School') so I went out in the fall of 1989 with my next door neighbor (and life long friend) John Innocenzo, whose school also had a semester abroad program. The pub down the end of the street was called 'Ye Olde Leather Bottle'. Needless to say, John and I spent a lot of time at the pub. Every Saturday Night a band played there by the name of 'THE BIG 5', Billy Franks was their singer/guitar player. Anyway I was making a sort of a video documentary of our trip in England and I figured I should get some footage of 'THE BIG 5' so I asked Billy if he or the band would mind if a taped one of their gigs... He said it was fine and we started talking about movies and videos and making some music videos for his album he was currently working on, called 'MASS'. It turns out that he had a nice little musical career in the UK during the mid-80's with a band called THE FAITH BROTHERS, they had a deal with Virgin and some chart success from '85 -'87, they opened for U2 and REM... stuff like that. But by 1989 THE FAITH BROTHERS thing was sort of over and he was ready to move on with the next part of his career, and for the next few years he would come over here for a couple of weeks and we'd do a video or two, then I'd go over there and we'd do another video. It wasn't until he started having an interest in acting with the sitcom that I thought to even pitch him the idea of 'TRACK 16'. There is one other interesting thing on Billy Franks' acting resume, when he was a kid of like 12 he appeared in the movie Mark Lester and Jack Wilde made after their megahit 'OLIVER!'. It's called 'MELODY' and it's sort of a 12 year old 'LOVE STORY', Billy played a mate (buddy) of Mark andJack.
Q: Why did you decide to do a serial killer/suspense/mystery movie than direct horror film? Or a another comedy like DON'T WATCH THIS SHOW?
MICK: My two favorite types of movie projects to do are thrillers with a nasty edge, and comedies with a crazy edge. Some day I'll figure out how to marry the two and make millions. Really, that is just the way my mind works, it's just the way I write. My next film is much in the same vein, a sort of nasty thriller. There has been talk about the 'DON'T WATCH THIS SHOW!' guys getting together to make another episode (there are 3 right now). But life gets in the way... Since the last show was finished there has been 4 kids born to the members of the show, and four marriages too! (but not necessarily in that order). Time marches on, and every year we don't make an Episode 4 we are that much less likely to ever make it. With DVD though I should at least compile all of the footage on one packed disc. I'll put that on my 'to do' list right under 'make a new movie'. As for comedies in general, I do have plans for a couple of comedies and I will be returning to that genre soon.
Q: How important is your script? How much did your script change during shooting?
MICK: The script is very important! That being said sometimes you reach the point where you have to start shooting or risk not making the film at all. I spend lots of time writing and re-writing and then reading thru with my actors and then rewriting. Everything to try to get the story right before shooting. Now 'TRACK 16' contains a very unorthodox use of time. The story is not told in a linear way. Basically, I had the idea to tell two stories that happen to the same group of people but at different times, but cut those stories as you would in a regular linear movie (parallel cutting), the pay off being at some point those stories intersect (collide really!) and we continue on in just one timeline strand. Tough to expect everyone to swallow, and I knew from the get go that I would lose some folks, actually it's been great because most people really do get what I was trying to do, some others don't get it but make up a whole new story (which is still cool), and some (my mother included) doesn't understand my use of flashbacks at all... . All I can tell her to do is watch it again, and pay fucking attention this time!
Q: What equipment/format do you use and why did you choose this?
MICK: Right before production started I purchased a SONY DVCAM DSR200. Great camera. I love it. Looks great on screen, feels great to shoot with and has all the needed switches right at your fingertips because it is a full size camera (some of the smaller cameras resort to menu options for everything to conserve space... I hate that!). I edit on a non-linear system called a Draco Casablanca. Nice little system and one of the first truly reliable non-linear systems around (by now of course there are tons of them out there just as good). In the end... I, like everyone else would love to shoot film but can't because of cost issues. I do plan on transferring my next DVCAM movie to 16mm (as you did with 'RAINDROPS') for exhibition as well as aesthetic reasons.
Q: Talk about cost/budget/funding
MICK: On the 'KILLING OF BOBBY GREENE' I convinced both my Dad and my Step-Dad (talk about a coup d'état) to 'invest' some money to help me make the movie. In the end it took me forever to pay them back and I just felt bad about it. So this time I used my own cash and since it was spread out over 3 1/2 years (from shooting movie to pressing the DVD) it was manageable. People ask me the budget and I with creative accounting I could make it cost anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000. But the break down is this... . My DVCAM camcorder cost about $5,500, my edit system cost $5,000, the actual shoot cost somewhere around $3,000, VHS boxes cost $1,000, other artwork and promotional materials (SOUNDTRACK CDS) cost $2,500, festival entries and travel to them cost $4,000... what's that add up to? $21,000???? Fuck that's a lot of money! I could have a new car! Well a pre-owned car anyway! Actually right now was the first time I actually tried to add it up... . And I'm sure I missed some stuff (like mailing, and tape stock for dubs, all the beer I drink when I'm working... etc. ) In the end it's all money well spent (most of it anyhow). We do this cause we love it. If God (or some other all-powerful being) came down tomorrow and told me that my next ten movies would not make me any money I would still make those movies... . as sick as that sounds I would still do it. Not to say the 'TRACK 16' has been a total bust. Though it's not in the black yet it's selling nicely on-line at amazon.com and locally (Philly area) at Tower Records stores (one week we even had better sales than 'THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS' and 'AMERICAN PIE 2').
Q: What's with the blonde hair for your character?
MICK: What you didn't like me as a blonde? I figure I ain't good looking enough to be a leading man so I got to be a character actor! So in each of my next movies I'm gonna be a character. Maybe shave my head in one flick, gain 120 pounds for another and so forth. Nawww really I just wanted to look more 'Band Member Like'. I really am not very musical so I needed all the help I could get in looking like I play bass guitar. I did take lessons for a bit but I think the spiked blonde hair sells it the best! Funny though, Mike McLaughlin, the actor who plays our drummer 'Buzz' in the movie is in a real punk band called 'TRAILER TRASH' and he kept saying that I (and my blonde hair) look just like the bass player in his band. So he brings in a tape and there you have it, his bass player and myself could be twin brothers! So without knowing it I made myself look like a real live bass player! Scary huh?
Q: Did you have any of these actors in mind when you were writing your script? Talk a bit about each actor.
MICK: Billy Franks was in from the get go. I knew he could play this character very easily. He also did something early on in the scripting process that helped a lot. He said he wasn't worried about being a 'nice guy'. That he'd play a bit of a prick. And even though Paul Matthews is our protagonist he is still a self centered bastard. I think that helped the movie (especially the funnier moments) a whole bunch. The fact that Billy wasn't concerned about how he might come off allowed that to happen. Hate to bring up 'WATERWORLD' seeing how people love to pick on that movie (and it surely deserves a lot of what it gets), but the part I like best about it Kevin Costner's decision to play a pretty unlikeable character in it (sure he gets to be nice by the end, but hell, he throws that little girl in the water like she was nothing! Very cool move for a Hollywood guy. ) Bobbi Ashton was originally going to play the murdered girl. But when I had to dismiss the original female lead (more on that later) Bobbi was upgraded to the lead... She did a great job and I'm certain I will work with her again (in fact, she just married my best friend!). In fact she was just nominted for 'Best Supporting Actress' for her role in 'TRACK 16' by the REWIND FEST in South Dakota. Just a small fest but it's always nice to be appreciated. Both my cops, C Fox C and Alan Pratt I got from a local casting agent called Wickline Casting. I like the way they play off of one another and their different approaches to acting... plus I like seeing the name 'C Fox C' up on the screen. It just looks cool.
Mike Mclaughlin and Larry Shneider, the guys who play band members Buzz and Carl are actual musicians who I've known for years. I thought they'd be good in the parts and asked them if they wanted to do it. They were game and did a nice job for me. Plus Larry handles all of the artwork for the posters, DVD sleeves, VHS boxes and so forth. Nice to have multi-talented people on your side.
Abby Lazur who plays the girl band member 'Johnni' also came from Wickline casting, during auditions she hands down gave the best audition for that part. She's a real team player too, which is important on indie movies (more on that later).
Finally the dead girl was played by my wife, Renee. She was really just helping me out when I had to move Bobbi up to the lead and the part of the dead girl suddenly became vacant. She's made a career on these kinds of parts. Whenever we are missing an actor she becomes that part... . Check out her imdb.com credits... . It reads like Mom, sister, girl, dead girl, etc. Very funny.
Q: How important are the actors to your movie?
MICK: Of course actors are important but I often call them a 'necessary evil' in movie making. The right ones can make the experience great fun while the wrong ones can make it a real chore. And since we are making these movies with the knowledge that the may make no money they better damn well be fun to make! So the best thing one can do as a Director is learn to pick people who will be part of the indie-team and help the process, rather than think they are bottom feeding to fill out their resume and therefore can become a real drain on the energies of your movie making team. A great thing about Billy Franks is when he gets involved in a production he gives it all his attention. He is always available for shooting, he is always ready to do another take, and he is always willing to try to find ways to make the project better. In the end you need your cast and crew to like each other and work as a team, if one member is taking energy from the group rather than giving energy then they have to go. (*This all counts only for indie projects where folks our working for free, if you are paying people other rules may apply. ) My whole thing is that making a movie should be FUN! Not every second of every day but overall you should remember the film making experience with a smile on your face, not a frown.
Q: How long did it take to make TRACK 16?
MICK: Hard to say... . in many ways I've been making it for 15 years! At least from original conception... but actual working time? Started the actual script in the fall of '97. Shot in august of '98, completed editing in August of 2000. Released the VHS in January of 2001 and released the DVD in March of 2002. So really 3 1/2 years from shooting to DVD release.
Q: Weirdest thing that ever happened while shooting the movie.
MICK: Well this is the thing I've been promising I'd get to. It wasn't really weird, but just a new experience for me as a Director. Bobbi Ashton wasn't originally going to play the female lead, Fallon Russo. But it soon became evident that the girl who was cast was one of those energy drainers (sounds like a 'DR. WHO' monster) that I spoke of earlier. She didn't get along with any of the cast members. Didn't seem to want to be on set. My take on that is... you aren't getting paid, you aren't happy here... . leave. Get the Fuck out! Do it now before we shoot anymore footage that will have to be re-shot later... So I had to let her go. She actually seemed surprised by it. Like she didn't realize that she was putting off a 'I hate this project and everyone involved' sort of vibe. Lesson learned.
Q: What are your future projects?
MICK: Next up for me is the tentatively titled 'murder.com'. While shooting TRACK 16 in 1998 I had a great title for a movie... that title was 'murder.com' but back then I figured that by the time I made the movie someone would have already grabbed that title and then it would just look like I was ripping those people off. So here it is 4 years later and there is still no popular use of that title... Now recently I've done and internet search and found that there are at least 3 movies with that title and 3 more books... . But none have been popular enough to sort of grab ownership of it. Titles are not copywrite-able and while I still may use that title I probably will try to come up with something else. We'll see. Anyone it's due to be shot in August of this year.
Q: Anything you want to add?
MICK: For myself I would love to be able to compress the time it takes me to complete a project. Four years is just too long! And I'm not getting any younger. So that is my main goal on my next project... to go from shooting to DVD in one year! A lofty goal indeed... And that's it. If you've read this far in the article I congratulate you, I'm sure it was no easy task! Thanks for your interest.