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An Interview with Paul C. Hemmes, Director of Maya

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2023

Films directed by Paul C. Hemmes on (re)Search my Trash

 

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

 

Maya, a shape shifting soul collector seeks to lead a group of unsuspecting non-believers into the afterlife. When space and time become a blurred mirror of reality and Maya's mysterious abilities take on a dark and ominous tone, fear becomes the only key to salvation.

 

What were your sources of inspiration when writing Maya?

 

I gave Maya a sophisticated backbone. Itís based on a combination of philosophical concepts. If you were dead and in purgatory, and have no physical body, does time still apply? The laws of physics demand that time and space be connected but a soul or spirit has no mass. What then of the laws of general relativity? A soul can exist for eternity because physics doesnít apply. That was my jumping off point.

 

I was listening to George Harrisonís All Things Must Pass CD and took special note of a song called Beware of Darkness. In that song, George mentions the Hindu concept of Maya, which is complicated but fundamentally links the rejection of deception and illusion with spiritual transcendence. Thatís where it all came together. My character of Maya is both a person and a concept. Those two interconnected pieces ultimately became the story. Nothing is truly real, and nothing is connected by the laws of physics. If the illusion is primal enough, flawed humans cannot reject it and cannot transcend. All humans are flawed and therefore all humans are ultimately doomed to an individually eternal fate.

 

Maya has its fair share of gruesome bits - so what can you tell us about the effects in your movie, and how were they achieved?

 

I did a large chunk of the visual effects myself. I had some excellent talent help along the way, but what you see on screen is largely me. I wanted a combination of practical and digital effects. I used a wide variety of techniques including Pepper's Ghost, an old Coney Island bit where you use mirrors and high key lighting to create the illusion of a spirit in the middle of a room. After we shot it practically, I color graded it to blow away the details in the shadow. Since there is actually no actual color data in those parts of the reflection, it created a ghostly look that is hard to recreate especially digitally. Beyond that, there was a little of everything from 3D modeling and VFX composites. We also did a few matte paintings and some digital animation. The practical make up effects (with some of his own digital assist) were done by Joe Castro [Joe Castro interview - click here] who Iíve been a fan of since the 90s. All told, we put a lot of VFX into this film and Iím happy with how it came out.

 

Do talk about Maya's approach to horror for a bit!

 

I wanted Maya to be faithful to horror tropes while also expansive into new areas. Horror fans love the things they love and are very loyal so they can tell when you are being disrespectful to the genre. Maya has many of the familiar elements that the fans love but with some new ideas and a different approach that can also be a fresh experience for them. It comes from my being a horror fan myself.

 

A few words about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

My directorial approach was shaped by the budget. We had a pretty low budget, so I wanted to shoot this like a George A. Romero film. Chaotic and energetic but edited with a sort of poetry to it. I wanted to create a flow of emotion with each scene (especially the death scenes). I also tried to soften the rough elements so that the blood was legit but not over the top. I wanted the death scenes to be horrific but with a sense of humor about them. I really just didnít want Maya to be too much of any one thing.

 

What can you tell us about Maya's cast, and why exactly these people?

 

The cast was great. I had worked with Victoria Paege previously as an actor. I had her in mind when I was writing Maya. She was exactly what I was picturing because, as one of my characters says, ďSheís not the type of person you would expect to find living out in the woods.Ē She, wardrobe, all of it, was meant to be a little weird.

 

I actually lost my main actor one week into shooting and I had a real crisis on my hands with things paid for and arrangements already made. I had worked with Seth Gandrud in the past and he is a friend. Seth is one of those guys you may not run into for a year but if you call him out of the blue with a problem, heís johnny on the spot. That was kind of the situation here. He stepped in with no lead time, and within a week we were shooting. Complicating matters was the fact that he just started a new job and so he would drive between Prescott and Phoenix over and over again just to film. He really was the MVP on this project. For multiple reasons, I likely wouldnít have been able to continue the film as I'd had to spend a month or two recasting.

 

I really wanted Brinke Stevens [Brinke Stevens interview - click here] in this movie because I was a fan. The experience exceeded by expectations. I had her as an evil Tea House Lady. In the scene where she (as the embodiment of Maya) murders Kira, I knew she could do both scary and funny. I try to add some goofy to the kills scenes to offset some of the cruelty. This particular scene, where she is butchering Kira, is pretty rough so I actually have her dialogue channeling Bugs Bunny. I think only old guys like me will pick it up, but it may get by some younger viewers. In any case, Brinke definitely brought her A game.

 

Beyond that the cast is a nice combination of more seasoned actors and rookies. Everybody gelled pretty well and worked as an ensemble. For an indie film with so many characters, I was very pleased that each individual personality comes across and is clearly defined. And they too (as I mentioned about Brinke) did a fine job straddling between the silly and the intense. They came off as human which I was very happy about. I could share great stories of each one of them stepping up and surprising me with their level of dedication. I was very lucky to have them.

 

With Maya being an outdoors film for the most part, where was it actually filmed, and what were the main challenges when it comes to filming in the wild?

 

Filming in the woods is tough, especially with a low budget in Arizona. The trick was to make the desert look like the forest. Tough trick huh? This was another problem related to losing our lead actor, there is a time window when there is enough green in parts of Phoenix, Arizona to shoot the night shots there. By summer this green burns off and day or night, itís the desert. Night shots were shot in Phoenix and then when it was too hot to shoot in Phoenix and the greenery burned off, we went up to Mt Lemmon in Tucson to shoot the day scenes in an actual forest-like environment. If we had not gotten the night shots done within the small time window, we would have had to shoot everything up North or in the mountains which would have ballooned our limited budget. When you work on a shoestring you have to think outside the box.

 

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

 

Honestly there was more stress than I would have liked. Almost all of it was related to the shooting schedule which went from relatively organized to more opportunistic (mainly working around Sethís work schedule and ability to travel into town). There was a lot of change which is tough for professionals trying to prepare. Beyond that, everyone got along very well. The chemistry was good among the actors and crew. There werenít a lot of us so that was very important that we got along.

 

The $64-question of course, where can Maya be seen?

 

Well, we are beginning submissions to film festivals right now. Several are getting close to making final line-up decisions, so I expect to have that announcement soon. Ultimately, we will be hitting as many festivals as possible over the next year. Other options are being thought through now, but final decisions havenít been made at this point.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Maya?

 

The early response has been very nice. People seem to be really responsive to the elaborate kill scenes which (Letís face it) are the heart and soul of most horror films. Itís always about the kill scenes and mine seem to be getting a pretty positive response. However, we are getting good notices across the board. The actors do a real good job, the direction, the editing. I look forward to having it seen by more people in the months ahead.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Yes, I want to write/direct a short film called the Sons of Naco. It is a comedic take on a very familiar western trope. Iím also attached to a feature film as their VFX guy. The producers were super thrilled by the effects done for Maya, and this is a direct result. Iím excited about this one for multiple reasons, not only do I not have to worry about duties other than the VFX but the budget is significantly higher than any other film Iíve been involved with previously. What a multimillion-dollar budget would give me is the opportunity to work with newer, higher end VFX tools. Thatís pretty exciting for a tech head like me. From there, I have a feature that I plan to write/produce/direct which is more of a psychological thriller. Besides that, Iím trying to free up time for scripts. Iím always writing so I have at least six or seven great ideas in various stages of development (mostly horror).

 

What got you filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

Iíve always loved film. In fact, I did study filmmaking in college. When I graduated, I used my skills to create my own business doing industrials and training videos. Sadly, within two years, the analogue era was over, and the digital era had begun. Literally within a few years, nearly everything I learned in school was outdated. After a while, I went back and got more education specifically on computer systems design and software. After receiving my masterís degree in that, I went back and taught myself how to make films with digital technology including cameras and editing. I guess Iím both formally trained AND self-taught.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Maya?

 

I worked on several smaller films for myself and others. Many of those films are still available on streaming services. While Iím proud of all of them, I am so heavily invested in improving my skills that they are hard to watch. Maya is hard to watch because Iím an infinitely better filmmaker than I was the day I started production. I guess thatís the nature of the artform in a way.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

My approach to directing is to direct the whole project. There are some directors that are good with actors but stink with the technical side (some donít even know what lenses to use), others are technical directors who effectively spend the production shadowing the director of photography and everyone else just kind of does their thing. My recent experiences required me to be all in on everything. This means that there is really nothing on a film set that someone can throw by me. This experience has made me a much better director because the more knowledge you have, the better decisions you can make.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

Early on was John Carpenter and David Cronenberg for the fearless way they approached filmmaking. Their films have a signature to them. Visuals, content, all of it has a real personality. Sam Raimi also for creating a signature. He used POV shots for inanimate objects. Amazing and distinctly Sam. I would also throw in George MťliŤs for approaching filmmaking like a magician. Keep everything in camera if possible is my motto. Use CG to accent and move to the next level. Finally, I would be remiss if I didnít mention Chuck Jones. Jones created animated shorts with the eye of a serious filmmaker. His animated shorts were real films, not filler for kids. He is following all the rules of the artform.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Saturday Night Fever Ė Excellent character study of the era with amazing photography on the dancefloor. Beautiful low angle shots put you right down on the dancefloor. Wonderful.

Hugo Ė Scorseseís George MťliŤs tribute film. Perfect mix of practical filmmaking and digital effects. Can watch it every day.

Somewhere in Time - Genre jumping between science fiction and romance. Iíve seen it 100 times, I still cry every time.

 

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

 

I donít really deplore any films. I can enjoy and learn as much from a low budget exploitation film as I can from a big Hollywood blockbuster. The films that I like MORE than others are those that have a personality. Films that have a voice. Iím not as much of a fan of the same thing over and over again, especially if itís a stale formula. Filmmakers can always use the formula as a jumping off point, but they donít need to just regurgitate the same thing.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2780464/

https://www.facebook.com/paul.hemmes

https://www.instagram.com/fancyladfilms/

https://twitter.com/HemmesPaul

https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-c-hemmes-525320a/

 

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

 

Not really, other than to express how appreciative I am to all the people that have supported me over the years and continue to support me as a filmmaker. Life can make you cynical sometimes. Especially when you associate with the wrong people. Iíve been relatively lucky. Iíve got great people around me now and the path to success looks wide open. Thank you as well for taking the time to allow me this opportunity to rant J

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
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Your Bones to

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On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
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WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
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directed by
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written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD