Ok let’s start in the usual way by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, etc…
I was born in the mid-70’s in a wooded and spooky section of New Jersey, and went to school in New York for film. Though I love all genres of film it was really the indie horror boom in the late 80’s, just before horror died for a long time, that inspired me to go back into horror’s history and absorb it all, and that made me interested in getting into filmmaking. Originally I was doing and was obsessed with special effects. But that had evolved into a passion for writing and directing after a few years. I did the requisite cheesy camcorder commercials and mini-movies in the neighborhood as a kid like most of us did.
Where did the idea for Mainstream germinate from and what were some of the first steps you took in making it a reality?
I literally had the entire idea, start to finish, as this strange euphoric rush of inspiration many years ago. I had been dealing at the time with a lot of people who would respond very negatively to anything that might provoke thought..They hated their lives, frowned on anything outside the box or that they’d term as ‘weird or sick’.. I was connected to very few artists or creative/driven people at the time and it was like a Body Snatchers scenario. People just seemed very programmed, they weren’t going after any higher goals or aspiring towards anything but the weekend where they could drink and avoid their spouses… a very fearful herd indeed, you know? Desperate to just be like everyone else. “Stop rocking the boat!”
Not that anyone who works at an office or isn’t, say, painting, who wants a simple life is wrong. That is honorable if that’s your true goal. But I don’t think you should ‘settle’ in any part of your life just because others told you that’s all you’ll get, or you’re getting older, or you’re not like others, etc. Never give up. The first man in the operation sequence barely puts up a fight..he’s kind of like “oh well, what can you do..” And the second man is happy to subject himself to the process.
That was the first trigger for this weird dreamlike scene in my head. I kind of took the process of making someone who might have been more strong-willed, active, creative, revolutionary etc. and having them numbed repeatedly, anything that made them unique was removed and replaced with generic elements, and they’re branded and shocked like cattle into being ‘average’ and frustrated. Mainstream. The symbols and events in the short began to take on additional significance, and since I was happy people were interested in thinking about it/debating its meaning I left it slightly ambiguous. This felt right for this project, but not every film I make is going to be this abstract. The sequence was burning my brain out and I had to get it on film. That was the pure motivation.
First steps? Well after the initial vision I had, I outlined it. I still have the paper with chicken-scratch notes where I put down every image that came to me in order! I did a lot of conceptual design and drawings- I took a lot of photographs, people posing as the actors, lying on tables, etc. so I could come up with storyboards. I had storyboards done long before the film was made. Just so I could come up with what I needed- I figured we’d have to depart from the boards, but I wanted a solid game plan to start with. I also broke down everything that is shown or happens in the movie to make sure I had a reason for it to be there. On set we had a firm base to start with and stray from as needed.
A good director of photography is really important to the look of a film. Your DP for this film was Matthew Caton. Have you worked with him before and what drew you to working with him on this film?
I hadn’t worked with him before; actually I was the DP on my previous 16mm and video shorts, in and out of school. I have an eye for framing and composition and what I want to see, but not as much know-how with lighting. Plus I wanted to start working with more people on set, people who knew way more than I did/more industry experience. Start surrounding myself with good people you know? Matt’s reel really stood out and he seemed interested in more abstract/experimental work than standard films. I don’t think he’d been used to working on such a small/maverick scale in some time, he works on some big things in NYC and LA, but everything worked out.
Did you cast for this film or were the people in the film people you had worked with in the past? If you did cast, how long did it take you to find all the right people?
I did cast for it, and I worked with one person previously. Randy, the surgeon, had appeared in two previous films of mine, and is very active in martial arts/stunts etc. He’s not an ‘actor’ but I knew he could handle a part consisting simply of body language, and he could endure being in that makeup all day. Edmundo Santos and Jean Arlea were cast early on, they were both into the material and ‘got’ it. Probably had them both inside of a month..I didn’t talk to many people for the parts. Many responded to the casting ads, I just got lucky early.
The robotic syringes were a really important visual effect in this film. How did you initially describe what you wanted to your effects guy Rick Crane, and did the final product match up the image you initially had of how they should look and feel?
I did drawings, he did drawings, a lot of conceptual art..I pulled pictures from catalogs of metallic fixtures, anything that had shapes and textures that were similar to my interest. I think I even made a tape of medical instruments I’d seen in films etc. to illustrate similarities to what I wanted. I know I said I didn’t want them to be too futuristic or sci-fi, but not too obviously based in the present. It kept changing and was altered again when we realized what it would take financially to pull off the initial ideas. We couldn’t make them be as elaborate as we wanted for that price- I’m talking in terms of their range and movement.
How much changed from the time you wrote this film until the time it was completed? Did you change anything once you saw the finished props and once you had all the roles cast, or did it pretty much stay the same from conception to completion?
The props, if you mean the machines, were completed the day before shooting, so no time for changes! Generally it stayed on course. It’s not a traditional ‘story’ and it’s not one that would have benefited from a lot of alteration/improv. I was ready to roll with changes on the set, but other than having 1/5 of the budget I’d have liked to use for it, it’s not too different. It would have remained simple; yet more visually elaborate if we had the budget I wanted.
We cut 2-3 shots to make our schedule and because of practical constraints. I think, because some of the machines looked more realistic than others, that I made slightly different choices in editing as to how long I’d show certain items. But they’re in and out of the scene so quickly, that you get an eerie sense of them without ever dwelling on them.
How much did it cost to make this film and how was it funded?
Three and a half thousand dollars, self-funded. One person I know gave us like $200 right before we started to help out though. Man, that took a long time to come up with.. I’m happy to say that the funding for the upcoming short film is already in place. I’m starting to speak with interested investors about future projects too.
You left the ending somewhat open to interpretation. What do you hope that people take away from this film?
Well I don’t want to say ‘I hope you get this interpretation and this one alone’ to anyone watching,
But I hope the viewer gives it a chance to wash over them. I don’t want to tell you what to think about this one. Trust your own take on it.
What are you the most proud of about how this film turned out, and what if anything would you go back and change now that all is said and done?
I think I’m happiest with the soundtrack/sound design. Considering how limited we were with time and resources for the sound, and none of it was recorded live, I’m pretty happy with it. Ed and Jean were great; I guess I’m just happy that I set out to make it and despite a lot of setbacks, I still made the film. I’d change a lot, if I could- I’d do it at its proper budget and vary the look a bit. I also don’t think Eddie looks ‘different’ enough after the operation. In the beginning, I should have had him looking more like an obvious artist, or long hair or something similar. A more obvious physical change. And I would have completely FILLED that cabinet with prescription bottles..made it ridiculous, like something out of Brazil.
What are your feelings about the current run of short films coming out of the independent film community with regards to quality and inventiveness? As a reviewer, I personally have been really impressed with the quality of films that people have been coming out with lately.
On one hand, because of so many tools, especially in postproduction that are easily available to filmmakers now, people can and do get quite inventive- there’s no excuse any more to sit on your ass and wait for 5 million, you know? But the lack of funds or resources can really bring out your inventiveness if you let it. I’ve seen a lot of shorts all over both ends of the spectrum- good/bad, slick and expensive/cheap. But more often than not I’m seeing films that don’t have much personality, or the filmmaker didn’t try to put their own spin on things, IE they like vampire films so they make another by-the-numbers vampire film. I’d just say don’t be afraid to do your own thing. And if that’s a vampire flick find something in you that can make it unique. It’s good and bad that I see, but I’m glad that people are out there actually DOING something because so many people aren’t. And every short is a HUGE learning experience.
So how did Mainstream end up on the Fangoria Blood Drive II DVD? How did that come about and what was your reaction when you found out?
We just finished the film close to the deadline; I used their deadline as mine just to make sure we’d finish in the spring of ’05 as planned. But I sent it in as one of my first submissions, and found out a month later we were in. I was pretty psyched! Fango was there when my obsession started and my first real distribution came through them. Awesome.
Has Mainstream or any of your other work ever gotten a bad review, and how do you deal with bad reviews? Do they affect you at all?
Oh yeah. Not many but a few. Can’t please everyone. Mainstream is the first widely-seen/distributed short of mine. People seem to really enjoy it or hate it- no middle ground. I don’t mind, you can even learn from a bad review sometimes. And the film’s not perfect. But sometimes people just lash out because it’s not a spoonfed film, which is kind of what the film’s about anyway (people who are frustrated and don’t want to think/just want to be passive). So that kind of review validates my themes. J At least I’m out there doing it. The last one was harsh, and on a leading indie website, but the guy was someone who praised flicks like Dracula 3000 so I’m not too upset.
On the flip side, how have you been feeling about the good reviews you’ve been getting? Are you surprised by it at all?
It’s nice, better than I thought the response would be; totally surprised. You never know how people will react to something. I felt it could go either way. And generally, it’s like 90% have “gotten” it and responded well. It’s been helping with investors and people taking an interest in my future work.
Do you have anything in the works right now you’d like to talk about, or just anything in general you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?
I’m prepping a new short, an offbeat thriller which used to be titled EIGHT PHONE CALLS and is now titled EVELYN STANDING. Takes place in one room with one person. It has a few layers and twists to it, but is more straightforward than Mainstream was. I’m building the sound design now as I rewrite and streamline the script. I’m gonna keep quiet about that one for now but it will surface this Spring.
Got a few sound design jobs for other films coming up, and a few music videos I’ll be directing. In addition, I’m developing several screenplays including my directorial debut. There are also a few potential gigs coming up as a result of the notice I’ve gotten for winning the Blood Drive/Fango award. And it probably won’t be my first feature, but there’s a possibility of Mainstream as a feature-length, at some point. I’m trying to crack the idea in a longer format, wedded to a (slightly) more traditional story. It’d be much creepier, still social commentary, but more story. It would be out there. Kind of Donnie Darko meets Ghost World.