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An Interview with Neil Meschino, Director of Mold!

by Mike Haberfelner

June 2013

Films directed by Neil Meschino on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Mold! - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Mold! is about a group of people associated with a secret gov't project who are exposed to and endangered by the very weapon they are a part of creating - which is a particularly virulent strain of mold used as a weapon in the War on Drugs. The supposedly intended use is to destroy Colombian coca fields.

 

Not only for me, Mold! looks and feels like an hommage to low budget sci-fi horror from the 1980's. Was that at all intended, and if so, what do you find so appealing about these films? And some of your favourites (even if for all the wrong reasons)?

 

Mold! wasn't originally written as an homage to the 80's splatter films. That came out of a combination of rewrites and necessity. The original script was more straight-forward in its approach and I was stumped as how to create a modern gov't science lab on such a small budget. I knew it would end up looking cheap and unbelievable. So it dawned on me that if I set it back in the 80's I could essentially find all I needed at thrift stores, ebay or just old junk laying around my grandmother's house. Coming up with that angle opened up a slew of comedic opportunities as well as a new way to approach the film from script to set design. I grew up in the 80's and was obsessed with sci-fi and horror films as a kid. I was obviously more exposed to Hollywood films but I got a chance to see my fair share of indies as well since my best friend's mom worked at the local video store. We got free rentals and would come in and go directly to the horror shelf. I got to see all the classics; the Evil Dead trilogy, Child's Play, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Alien, The Thing, The Fly, etc. Those films really left an impression on me and I think that free VHS rental opportunity is directly to blame/thank for my current career path. Otherwise a 10 year old with only coins in his pocket would be buying candy not renting VHS horror tapes.

 

Other sources of inspiration when writing Mold!? And connected to that: The subtext about the "war on drugs", to what extent does that mirror your own personal views (which might be a stupid question, but still)?

 

I wouldn't say I had any particular inspiration when working on the script. It came more from my cumulative experiences. In particular the War on Drugs angle. I grew up in a very marijuana-friendly home/neighborhood/world. I remember the Just Say No ads Nancy Reagan would televise. The DARE program we had to go through in school where they vilified drug use. Those weird commercials with the egg and the frying pan. "This is your brain (the egg) this is your brain on drugs (the egg frying in the pan)." Just silly. It has always baffled me that marijuana is illegal and has led me to not trust the police or any authority for that matter. Now I know the War on Drugs is mostly in response to the crack epidemic and heavier drugs which I can completely understand being illegal and dangerous. But the War on Drugs was begun by Nixon, not Reagan, and he did it to crack down on the counterculture that was threatening his presidency. And no "drug" defined the counterculture as much as marijuana. But I digress, aside from marijuana, the War on Drugs has been an expensive failure and I wanted to do everything I could within the confines of this script to mock it and expose the people behind it for the hypocrites they are. Here we are 30 years later with no end in sight. It needs to stop.

 

What can you tell us about your co-writer Dave Fogerson, and what was your collaboration like?

 

Believe it or not, I have never actually met Dave Fogerson though I feel like I have since we've had so much communication over the last few years. Many people don't know this but Mold! was actually my student thesis at film school. I decided to do a feature length film and I didn't feel comfortable writing my own script at the time so I put out an ad for a script on Mandy.com, and there found Mold! - I had received well over 100 scripts in response to my ad and Mold! was the 1st one I read. I just kinda knew from the title (it had no exclamation point at that time) that it was gonna be right up my alley. It stuck out like a sore thumb amongst a sea of mediocre sounding titles and synopsis' (how do you pluralize synopsis?!). I read the script and loved it but knew it needed a lot of work to make it filmable on a low budget. I optioned the rights to the script and gave Dave a pile of notes to get started on rewrites. I think he got as far as the 3rd draft before I took over and did the rewrites myself. I couldn't just keep asking him to rewrite it over and over again when I wasn't paying him so I got to work on it myself. Dave had provided the skeleton for me to put the muscle on. The plot, characters and story arc are all his. I set it in the 80's, gave the title an exclamation point and tweaked the dialog to match it. I added the snipers to keep them in the building in a more believable manner. In the end, the final draft is very different from the original draft but I never could've gotten there without Dave Fogerson, and I hope we get to work together again in the future.

 

How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

Well, although I made Mold! to appeal to the horror fans, I wanted it to have a comedic foundation. So quite often my approach was of the hands-off variety. You can't force comedy. It needs to arise organically from the situation you put your actors in. We'd have a scenario for them and I would allow them to improvise much of the dialog and action. Of course there were lines from the script that they had but I treated that more as a rough outline. I'm rarely married to any dialog. It serves a purpose to get from point A to point B but it's just words on paper and quite often a better approach is found while shooting. I allow my actors the freedom to try things their own way. When they are allowed more creative freedom with their characters, they assume more personal responsibility to the outcome. Everyone becomes engaged at a higher level. Of course I give them guidance within their improvisation and sometimes have to put my foot down when I think they're ideas are off track but overall it benefits the movie to get everyone involved on such a creative level. And it's more fun for everyone.

 

Mold! is a film that's pretty much restricted to only a handful of locations - what kind of a challenge was that and in what way do you think it might actually have helped the movie?

 

Mold! taking place in what is essentially a single location had its benefits and drawbacks. I rented a warehouse in Long Island and built all the sets myself. The benefit is we had total control over lighting and didn't have to fit our shoot around the location availability. We were able to get the set lit and keep it that way without breaking down the gear and setting it back up on a daily basis. The drawback is that you're entire movie takes place essentially in one room. And it's a challenge to maintain a dynamic film within such a constraint. And the only way to overcome that is to have a good script and strong actors to provide the missing dynamic.

 

What can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Some of the cast are people I had worked with before. Larry George (Dr. Roger Bolton) and James Murphy (Congressman Blankenship)  were both in a short film I had shot a couple years beforehand. I knew Ardis Campbell (Dr. Julia Young) from a job we both worked together when I was still in the restaurant industry. At the time she was an acting student and I was in film school. The rest of the cast came from a casting call I had put out. I held auditions and the remaining roles were filled out from the actors who won out in the auditions.

 

Many people, me included, loved the low-fi practical special effects you used in Mold! - so you just have to talk about those for a bit, obviously!

 

I'm very happy that people appreciate the special effects in Mold! - I'm adamant about not using any CGI in my films. It's a tool that, at some point in my career, I may employ but I feel it's entirely overused. It should be a last resort when there is no way to possibly do something with practical FX. And I've never come across an effect yet that I couldn't do in camera. Jeremy Selenfriend of Monster in my Closet FX was tasked with bringing the moldy putrescence to life and he excelled with honors. Creating collapsible heads and melting eyes. Putrid corpses. A mold monster. He brought everything to life in all its green, gooey glory. And to set the record straight on one little tid-bit that reviewers constantly assume. There was NO CGI in this movie. The mold spores were done in camera. Obviously they didn't exist in the same space as the actors on set. But the spores themselves were not digital creations. It was a composite effect. And stop motion effects were used to create the effect of growing, spreading mold. So just to reiterate :), there was not one bit of CGI used anywhere in this film.

 

A few words about the actual shoot, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The shoot was a blast. Of course the days were LONG and the days off were few and far between, leading us to be out of our minds with exhaustion most of the time - but that aside, this was one of the best experiences of my life and it was a pleasure to be with this group and create this film. We truly became a family as we made this movie. There was little or no drama to speak of. We all had a great time making it.  Everyone was really into what we were trying to create. There was no laziness because it didn't feel like work. We all shared a common goal in creating what we all knew was going to be a special movie. The living conditions during the shoot were pretty bad. As I said I rented a warehouse for this shoot, which was basically a former mechanics shop surrounded by current mechanics shops. We would shoot at night mostly because during the day all the mechanic's were at work making TONS of noise. I built a loft into the back of the warehouse which had beds lined up. We would wrap around 4 or 5am, watch our dailies for an hour or two and laugh our asses off with that. Then just as we were getting to sleep, the neighboring mechanics would all be starting their work day and power up their machinery. We would sleep there 2-3 nights at a time and come home to our beds once or twice a week. There was no shower and just a tiny bathroom with a 2 gallon hot water tank. It was also shot during a REALLY brutal winter and it was FREEZING outside, and while the warehouse did have a barely working heater, it made a lot of noise and had to be off while we were filming so it was rarely above 60 degrees at any time. But all that discomfort didn't deter our spirit. In fact, it may have enhanced it.

 

What can you tell us about critical and audience reception of your film so far?

 

The reception for Mold! has been beyond what I could have expected going in. We knew pretty early on during the shoot that we really had something here but for most of us it was our first feature and we didn't know what was waiting for us on the other side. It took a long time to get through post production and get the movie out there, mostly because I had to everything on my own. But we finally hit the festival circuit and instantly starting winning awards and getting distribution offers. I attended a number of horror conventions and did really well there, selling a lot of DVDs and merchandise and getting wonderful feedback from all the crazy horror nerds. Horror fans really are the most loyal, avid fans out there. And the support for low budget movies is extraordinary. Good luck getting this kind of attention and following with a low-budget romantic comedy! I've been likened to an early Frank Henenlotter. What bigger praise can their be?! Mold! has been called a future cult classic and a splatter masterpiece. It's all extremely flattering. I only hope I get the opportunity to continue doing what I love to do and make a name for myself in what is a very crowded industry.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Up next for me is a creature feature. A university science major leads an expedition into the mountains to search for evidence of pollution from a nearby fracking site. They find all the evidence they can handle when they are attacked by a horde of overgrown, man-eating mutant maggots. Its a fight for survival as they must destroy these maggots before they can become flies and take over the world. Its similar to Mold! in that its science gone wrong, but instead of the government being the bad guys here, its the greedy corporations (is there really any separation between the gov't and corporations anymore?) that run the fracking site, and of course the hungry maggots they've unwittingly created. We're going over the top with the creature effects in this one. All practical FX with rod and cable controlled maggots. Not a lick of CGI will be used. It's gonna be an insanely gory rollercoaster ride with TONS of FX and I can't wait to get started.

 

Let's go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

My love for horror films goes back to my childhood growing up in the 80's and watching the great horror films of that era. I initially wanted to be a comic book artist and went to school at FIT for illustration. I quickly realized there was not much of a future in illustration and needed to find a new direction. At the time there was this VHS liquidator across the street from FIT that sold VHS tapes for $1. I would pour through thousands of dusty boxes everyday and come with a handful of movies everyday and just became obsessed with horror movies. When I realized illustration was not my path it was an easy decision and transition to decide filmmaking was the way to go. I finished up my degree at FIT then enrolled at SVA (school of visual arts) on the other side of town. I made nothing but horror shorts my first few years there and ended up making Mold! for my thesis film.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

This may be an oversimplification but I find the key to being a good director is:

1-Being PREPARED enough to know what you want,

2-Being AWARE enough to know when you're not getting it,

3-Being RESOURCEFUL enough to find a way to get what you need.

Am I on PAR?

I try to be. 1 and 2 come the easiest to me. 3 is a bit tougher as each situation creates its own unique challenges. And in the end the only measuring stick is the movies you've made and the opinion of your fans.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

For me its easier to name films that inspire me than filmmakers that inspire me. The films that have the most lasting effect and influence on me are Evil Dead 2, Night of the Creeps, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Street Trash, Alien, The Thing, The Fly, Monster Squad - oh boy I can go on and on, so many great movies that came out in the 80s. Let's just say I'm inspired by 80's horror - and Cronenberg.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Oh boy. Well to keep this list manageable I'll stick with horror movies - with very few exceptions, any modern remake of a horror classic. The most egregious film being the Nightmare on Elm Street remake. Ugh, what an atrocious piece of uninspired trash that was. But how can I forget The Thing-prequel? How can you do a "prequel" to a movie that had the greatest examples of practical FX genius and make it with CG? That's just criminal. And to think the FX team actually created great practical FX pieces that weren't even used in the movie! Wow, just wow. I watched that movie and came away disgusted. Then I watched a video that showed the FX they didn't use and my anger at the empty headed suits who made the decision to use CGI only grew.

 

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When I have these debates on modern remakes people like to say "hey, The Thing and The Fly were both remakes and they're great!" And while that's true, there's one glaring difference. The films they were remaking were terribly outdated. They were black and white B-movies from the 50's and 60's that were silly in comparison to modern movies. They were able to improve upon the originals. The movies they are remaking today are FAR superior to their updates and never needed to be updated in the first place. Can anyone honestly say The Thing is no longer relevant?

 

Anything else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Mold! is available on VOD in over 100 million homes across America. Check with your provider for availability. It can be found at most major retail outlets or at their online stores, including Blockbuster, Best Buy, Amazon, Walmart, Target and FYE.

Become a fan of Facebook to keep up with updates and availability - https://www.facebook.com/MOLDmovie

Or visit the Wildeye-site that distributes Mold! - http://wildeyereleasing.com

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

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