Q: Mike, tell us a bit about your background as a filmmaker.
Well, I've been around the independent scene for a while now. I began working on shoestring-budgeted films when still a teenager. While attending high school, I performed "bitch-boy" duties on the sets of Tim Ritter's DIRTY COP NO DONUT and TRUTH OR DARE: SCREAMING FOR SANITY. A few years later I directed, edited, produced and co-wrote the SCARY TALES films, as well as directed two segments for HORRORTALES.666 with Julie Strain (but used the pseudonym Allen Smithee, as I felt the screenplay, which dealt with internet-theme horror, was just a poor idea at best - and was unhappy with the overall quality of the film - it was an anthology with segments from different directors across the US).
Q: Why horror movies?
Why not? It's a proven genre with a substantial "cult" following. It seems filmgoers are easier on independent horror films than comedies or dramas - which require a "star" of some sort to validate their success. Of course, I grew up watching Elvira and Joe Bob Briggs late-night with my mother, so it's definitely something of that I'm a fan.
However, when I made the SCARY TALES films, I was actually attempting to make comedies. I really wanted to be subtle with my execution of lampooning the anthology format and not entirely up-front with my intentions. So, by making Mr. Longfellow (the story teller) insane, and Dennis Frye or Don Leifert (the object of his tales) not interested in listening, I was able to satirize the idea that people actually listen to folks who ramble and spout off stories in the anthology genre. Think of the TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE MOVIE; "I'm going to cook you in the oven... but would you like to hear some creepy horror tales first?". Ridiculous. Also, Longfellow's insanity allowed me to go too far with the segments, lead them in various wrong directions, back-peddle and alter them back to where they started .My main concern is that folks actually think we're trying to be scary. That was never our intentions. I basically let a few actors know what I was doing (Joel D. Wynkoop, George Randol), and led the rest to believe they were in a straight horror film. Jason Daly (the co-director) and I would actually crack up during the delivery on what were supposed to be the "serious" or "scary" scenes. Of course, the actors thought they were in a scary movie, but with the inane dialogue they had, it made the whole thing campy, and kind of worked as a mocking of 80's cinema (poor acting and all) - we hope. Our concern was if that the actors thought they were in a comedy, they, themselves, would camp it up - and ruin the whole joke - it's NOT SCARY - but is to Mr. Longfellow, who's telling the ridiculous yarns. I also wanted to make a films that weren't too heavy-handed with either the horror or comedy, more corny than anything else - with good intentions. I didn't even want the nudity in the original SCARY TALES, but it was added later for "marketability".
Q: SCARY TALES 2 has a bigger budget and more recognizable "names" in it, such as Joe Estevez, Felissa Rose and Robert Z'Dar. How did you go about getting them? Any interesting "on-set" stories in regard to them?
Well, getting them attached wasn't too difficult. Basically, I had contacted Felissa through a friend of mine, Pizowell, who had interviewed her for his now-defunct website Burnout Central. Randy Benzie, Robert Z'Dar's representative in Chicago, also knew Mr. Estevez, and set me up with a workable deal. Although; there were all sorts of budget issues and constraints which interfered with Joe Estevez's scheduling - he almost didn't make it in the film. I'm glad he stuck with us, because his performance was fantastic.
Funny stories from the set? Sure. Let's see... Well, when I went to pick up Mr. Z'Dar for the first morning's shoot, he let me in his hotel room - then exited the shower - NAKED, and continued to have a cup of coffee - NAKED. This went on for THIRTY MINUTES. Let's just say, it was like a train wreck. I didn't want to, but I had to look! So, now, I hold with me the knowledge of Mr. Z'Dar's pee-pee size.
Also, after Z'Dar's shoot, Jason Daly decided to head to the liquor store to pick up a celebratory bottle. He was wearing a leather jacket - and drove an undercover police car we been utilizing for the day's filming. He pulled into the liquor store, threw a bottle of Seagrams Seven onto the counter - only to have the clerk respond - "Uhh, Officer. Didn't you pull that lady over?". Jay looked out the window - only to realize the dashboard light on the car was flashing - and an elderly woman had believed Jay to have pulled her into the parking lot! Of course, the employee thought jay was inebriated on duty.
We shot for two straight nights; sun-down to sun-up, with Felissa Rose. She was really great. Unfortunately, she was forced to sleep in my car - as there was very little rest between work. That was after my car broke down on the way to pick her up from the airport, and my production assistant Bob (who drove down from Louisiana) was four hours late! Poor girl was forced to sit at baggage claim, listening to a looped recording over the loudspeaker. Think AIRPLANE. "The yellow zone... ".
Q: How do you think 2 compares to SCARY TALES 1?
It's the film I wanted to make with part 1, but couldn't afford to. The good news: I'm heading back to Florida this week to master the final print of SCARY TALES 1 + 2 (we had to go high-def, with 5.1 audio) - and have worked out a much nicer cut that is more in line with the sequel. They should play nicely together. We had to up the special effects, alter some lighting, change the frame rate, and include a more "hip" edit, including trimming styles that are more in-line with a release that would target today's youth.
Q: What were the most difficult & most fun aspects of making the movie?
Not committing suicide was the most difficult. Attempting to commit suicide was the most fun.
The shoot went on far too long, and there were many - TOO many issues. Sound (about 50% of the entire production ended up dubbed because of "road noise" and other pesky problems), effects (Jason Daly provided special CGI work that took forever - because of the animation), and re-shoots (I think Joel Wynkoop wanted to kill me when I said - "back to the car lot" - he was like "It's been a year, man! - What gives?").
Of course, it all seems worth it every time we have a theatrical screening. I've seen the movie 3 times with an audience in Florida, and at other venues, including; Ohio, New York, Chicago - and it was previewed at Cannes 2003, courtesy of 1st American Media (of course - I couldn't afford a plane ticket there).
Q: What's happening with the movie now?
Well, I have a lot of deals pending. Troma wanted Domestic distribution rights, but we politely passed for now. We can self-distribute - and Best Buy, NetFlix and Movie Gallery - have all made offers to purchase it (in double-movie release with the original SCARY TALES). But, we are still looking to other avenues. Large companies in both Los Angeles and New York seem to think the film will do very well overseas, and are negotiating a deal for foreign rights. We haven't seen the offers as of yet, but will this Tuesday. The good news is, whichever deal we go with (aside from Troma), there is up-front money involved - enough to recoup our budget 3 1/2 times just from the signing bonuses, or filling the first orders (hopefully, if we self-distribute, Best Buy will re-stock quarterly).
Q: What is your favorite movie you have worked on?
Well, my favorite stories come from the set of SCARY TALES: THE RETURN OF MR. LONGFELLOW, but the best over-all project I've been involved with is a moderately-budgeted action film called BAD LIST. Director Jason Daly really out-did himself. Machine gun fights, huge amounts of stunt work, explosions. It really looks nice. I thought he dropped about a hundred grand - but was pleasantly surprised (and so were the investors) to find it was all done at a little more than a quarter of that price. I served as a co-producer, assistant directed a few scenes, and am in charge of post-production sound/mastering details. Look for it in 2006.
Q: Talk about your current projects.
Well, my partner, Meghan Jones, and I recently were hired by Corbin Bernsen, star of MAJOR LEAGUE and the DENTIST, to comprise the horror screenplay THE CLOWN for his newly formed company Public Media Works. Mr. Bernsen expects to begin production late this year. Needless to say, he's a really down-to Earth guy who knows what he wants, and is easy to work with. I also landed an editing job for myself, and Jason Daly, on the $200,000 horror/action film WHEN SHADOWS DIE, which was shot in Arizona. It stars world-renowned weight lifting star Milos Sarcev, and should have it's international theatrical release early next year. Check out www.disruptivemedia.com for details and updates.
I'm also directing three films later this year. No word on which scripts/genres the investors will go with. The only lock is a little flick I foreshadowed in SCARY TALES called NIGHT OF THE DRINKING DEAD. Another distributor, if we sign, actually requested we shoot SCARY TALES 3 - which was promised at the end of part 2. Of course, that's not something I was expecting to do, but it's a pleasant surprise to find that people may actually WANT to see the final chapter. All the films will be moderately budgeted ($40,000 to $100,000) - and have a guarantee for distribution from a major media outlet before we begin. My new partner/representative is a real hustler. Don't expect to see those films out until 2006, though.
BAD LIST will also be available early next year.
Thanks for the interview, man! It's been fun! Now, if only I had some time to sleep.