Your movie Dead Girls
- in a few words, what is it about?
Itís about girls
who have been terribly abused and cast aside who come back from the
dead to exact their revenge.
How did the project
come together in the first place?
I had this idea for a
couple of years and tried to get it going with a couple of other people.
That never worked because they had other projects in the works or did
not see any value in the project.
What were your
inspirations for writing Dead
Girls, and what can you tell us about your co-writers and your
collaboration with them?
long time ago I worked at Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, part of
Disney Studios, doing market analysis of films, stars, directors, the
industry. The studios had these positions in house so they could compete
better with the other studios. Now there are computer services like
Baseline and Movieline/Reelsource, etc. which have taken over that role.
Anyway, after looking at dozens of horror films, it occurred to me that
there were certain elements which were key to the current marketplace -
films which told compact, immediate stories; films which featured girls in
the 15-25 demographic; and horror films. The more I thought about it, the
more I realized something as simple as Dead
Girls would work. That
was my initial inspiration.
I had been working with
Neal for over a year on another project, and he was trying to help get
that off the ground. We could see that the mid-sized studio we were
working with was going to take some time getting that project going, so I
tossed out the idea of doing a micro budget feature. We both wanted to
direct, so I suggested the horror anthology. Something we could share
directing and producing responsibilities on. I had a story, he had a
story, and a friend of his had a third story. We needed a connecting story
and I put that together in a couple of days. The conceptualization really
did not take long at all. Neal is such a great person to work with, and
Drake Linder, who wrote the final segment - Vengeance Is Mine - is
an amazingly talented writer. So it all happened fairly quickly and
Do talk about your movie's
approach to the horror genre, and how far did you go in terms of creepines
and gruesomeness? And is horror a genre at all dear to you, and why (not)?
we knew we would only have about $20,000 to $30,000 to make a feature. And
as it turned out, we made it for $25,000. Iíve been making films for
decades, and have a pretty good feel of what we can and cannot get away
with insofar as budget is concerned. We knew we couldnít be outlandish
with the special effects. At the same time, we knew we wanted to make a
film which was as fun for our core audience as it was gruesome. So we
worked within those parameters. We pushed the envelope as far as we could.
We had the help on set of a great practical special effects artists, Josh
Gaetz. Plus an amazing costumer in Amber Stevens. And a number of other
folks who pitched in with effects help wherever they could - Shannon L.
Novak, Brittany Vogel, Zoe James, and a bunch of other great folks I know
Iím forgetting right now. They did amazing things to help us get the
most gore and goo we could out of our local Wal-mart and Dollar Stores.
Yeah, Neal and I both
love horror films, so we approached this film as a labor of love more than
anything else. We each had our own approaches and were respective of them.
can you tell us about Dead
Girls' look and feel?
were trying for a different decade for each segment. The first segment, Over My Dead
Body, was supposed to look '70s. The second, Theta Phiís Never
Die, was supposed to have a strong Ď80s feel.
And the third, Vengeance Is Mine, was supposed to be more
contemporary. Iím not sure we achieved that, especially considering how
few lights and how much run-and-gun we used, but between our two DPís
Leo Flores and Bret Hamilton, and lighting crew Nathan Olson and Alex
Hughes, and our superb editor/colorist Kevin Kirchman, we tried.
Your co-director Neal
Fischer - what can you tell us about him, what was your collaboration
like, and did the two of you in any way agree on some aesthetic basics
before going ahead and filming your stories?
Iíve said, a great guy to work with. He has an extensive knowledge
and understanding of film, film history, and a very positive attitude. We
would both make suggestions and try to help each other out from the very
beginning, so it really was one of the best working experiences I have
ever had. We mapped out each segment, discussed ways we could try to make
them the same or different, how to save money on each one, ways to make
the schedule work easier, ways to make each one look better. And during
the actual production process, strived to stay on top of every aspect as
we went along. We really had a very good third partner in our line producer, Garrett Woods, who was equally positive - if not frazzled - and
helped keep us both straight as we jumped from producer to director roles.
We shot this film over four weekends, at about eight different locations,
with a total cast head count of nearly 70 people, including extras. So
there was a ton of coordination going on.
about your key cast for a bit, and why exactly these people?
both have made a lot of short films and worked on a number of projects in
the Chicago area. We had certain people in mind for specific roles, based
upon their talent. Of course, often as not scheduling becomes an issue, or
there are always people who are drawn to one genre more than another, and
we would have to change a cast member last minute in one or two places.
But for the most part, that really did not happen as much as it could have
with such a complex project.
We held auditions,
knowing in advance some of the people we wanted for key roles. Some
surprised us and a few were disappointments, most likely because their
hearts werenít in it. But we went through the audition process in a
matter of five evenings, spending four to six hours at a time on
auditioning. We made our choices for each role in each segment, had call
backs, and were locked on cast within a matter of two weeks. And we were
very lucky in that there were so many wonderful and talented actors who
were able to be a part of the project. The worst part was having to turn
away several dozen extremely talented actors after auditions. Itís
always that way and you always appreciate their efforts, but it is tough
to have to make those decisions.
Also, we needed a
strong voice-over actor for the wraparound. I have been a huge fan of
actress Lynn Lowryís since forever, and was so extremely grateful when
she agreed to do it!
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
on-set atmosphere, from my own perspective, was intense. But I approach
almost every film that way. I have heard from dozens of people involved
and many of them would like to work together again. That speaks volumes to
our on-set atmosphere, I think. The days were long - sometimes 12 to 14
hours at a time - but everyone was resilient and stayed focused. Towards
the end we had a very long overnight shoot on the edge of downtown
Chicago. Our script supervisor, Ali Hadley, had played a key role in
another segment and was back to supervising. I remember she was so tired
she almost could not stand up a few times, but she still got the notes and
did an amazing job. That was the kind of work everyone did on the film.
Truly amazing stuff. The energy was positive and upbeat, in spite of the
long hours. So many great people involved, we were truly fortunate.
few words about audience and critical reception of your movie so far?
letís be honest - itís a micro budget horror anthology which is almost
as much comedy as it is horror. The reception so far has been extremely
positive. Weíve been fortunate to get the film into two different cities
for the Days Of The Dead festival and the Chicago Horror Film
And we havenít really even tried to get it into any festivals, so
thatís pretty positive, I think. Weíve had about ten reviews and only
one was semi-negative. Not a bad ratio.
future projects you'd like to share?
actually. One is a horror script under consideration with a well known
mid-sized LA. production studio. Weíve got Donít Save Me, a
vampire film which brings back some of the talent from Dead
well as introducing some new talent. Itís about a young woman who does
not know sheís been destined to become the leader of a vampire clan. And
another horror script Iím working on with the aforementioned Lynn Lowry,
which is a re-imagining of a 70ís classic horror film. And two other
feature scripts in the work which are dramas, one of which is faith-based.
And Iím producing a horror-comedy feature, Night of the Living
Dong, for friends Ryan Marshall and Calin Johnson, who are also
excellent cinematographers. The story is pretty funny; itís about
Hitlerís spirit passing on from one inanimate object to another until it
winds up inside a vibrator, and the havoc it wreaks once itís loosed
upon the world. So, yes, pretty serious and dramatic stuff.
thank you for allowing me to shamelessly plug them!
How did you get
into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject? And what can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to Dead
started writing fiction when I was 6 years old. I was trying to make my
own Robert Louis Stevenson stories. When I was eleven I made an
experimental short which won an award from the State of California. I was
hooked. I never had formal training in anything but writing, but went on
to make dozens of shorts and even worked production on dozens of features
and a few TV shows in LA. A few years ago I had to get a degree to
continue teaching film, and now I have a Masterís. But I learned story
by being an intern for TV writers Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts. And I learned
how to make films by watching movies since I was about five years old. Nosteratu,
Citizen Kane, all the Hammer horror classics, Hitchcock, David
Lean, biker films, and several versions of Chushingura. All of those fed
my brain and gave me an understanding of the visual art. By the time I got
my degree, Iíd already been teaching how to make films for years, and
had already worked at Disney Studios,
Lucasfilm/THX, and the Directors
Guild of America.
How would you describe yourself as a director?
Intensely focused. I
have learned to see the big picture - the entire film - and try to
communicate that to the people in front of and behind the camera as best I
can so that we are all collaborating on brining a certain vision to life.
Of course, thatís a lot of different entities at work and it takes
diligence and sticking to the plan. Iíve been fortunate to find people
who are willing to help me achieve that vision.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
John Carpenter, Tony
Scott, Johnnie To, Tony Gilroy, David Fincher, John Huston, Orson
Welles, Jane Campion, Gordon Parks, Akira Kurosawa, Katheryn Bigelow,
Alfred Hitchcock. David Leanís and Dean Cundy's cinematography.
Your favourite movies?
Just saw The
Rover and absolutely loved it. The post-apocalyptic film starring Guy
Pearce? All-time favoritesÖ The Maltese
Falcon, The Birds,
Blade Runner, Blood Simple, Man On Fire, Johnnie Toís
Hoon-jungís New World, Ghost Dog, Demolition ManÖ okay, enough. LOL.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
HmmmÖ Iíd have
to say any French films where the ending just sort of trails off or takes
a sudden left turn to someplace completely unexplained.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten
Thank you very much
to anyone I forgot to mention. And thank you, Mike, for the opportunity to
talk about the project!
Thanks for the interview!