An Interview with Insane Mike Saunders – By Duane L. Martin

Ok let’s start off with the obvious question. Where did you pick up the name "Insane" Mike Saunders?

My nickname dates back to junior high. I’ve always lived my life “outside the box”. I was the odd one in school and well known for it. The name has carried over to my adult life for obvious reasons, but I also figure it would easily identify me as the type of director I am. Beside, people will remember “Insane Mike” over just plain Mike.

How long did it take you to write The Bag Man, and how closely did the final product match the original script? Was much changed during the course of shooting?

I am a very raw writer. I just write. My purpose is to just get the ideas out of my head. Mostly so I can sleep at night. So I don’t concern myself with proper script construction. I write in 3 steps. 1) An outline of all the ideas. 2) A very raw script, putting those ideas together. 3) A proper formatted script. The Bag Man, in all, took me two months to write from the idea to the completed script. There were some changes during shooting. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not Hitler when it comes to the script. I am very open to improvisation and suggestions. I want my actors to make their roles their own and many times they say or do things that fit the character that I never thought of. At the same time though, there are occasions when I do put my foot down. Because the phase, “too many cooks” is never truer than in moviemaking, especially in comedy. Too many jokes loses focus on a scene and at that point they stop being funny.

Did you have any problems arranging locations for each shoot or did it all come together pretty easily?

The only major problem was finding Reverend Lucas’ church. How do you ask to use someone’s church to kill a child-molesting Reverend and then have sex under his dead body? We ended up using the Masonic Lodge in Iowa City for that. Other than that, getting locations for this film was easy. We even had some that were handed to us. Like the night club, it was originally supposed to take place in the street, according to the script. We had a friend who was managing a dance club at the time and offered it up for us to use.

How long did it take you to assemble the cast, and did you have any problems with people flaking on you before or during production?

We hold auditions during pre-production and had an amazing turnout. We had a super committed (or needed to be committed) cast who stuck through the whole production. We did have a few problems. Mostly with the minor roles which were easily fixed. We did lose our original Ann. She shows up one day and told us she was moving out of state. So we had to find a new Ann and re-shoot a lot of scenes. We found Lindsey through another fellow filmmaker and she quickly came on board and saved the day.

What kinds of problems did you run up against during production? Anything major?

Other than recasting Ann, only a couple come to mind. Continuity is always an issue with these types of productions, when you stretch a shot out over 4 months, you usually run into problems. We made the mistake of shooting 2 scenes that happen side by side in 2 different months. Of course this was outside and during 2 different seasons. So in one scene, there’s no leaves on the trees, the sky is cloudy. Then the next, everything is green and it’s sunny outside. To fix it, we just added a new scene in between. We figured that this would not make it as obvious of a change and since this was a comedy, we just pointed it out and made fun of ourselves with the new scene. Oddly enough, it worked.

What kind of camera did you use during shooting and what are your feelings about how it performed? Were you happy with the image quality, low light quality, etc…?

Overall I was very pleased with the quality of the film. There were a few issues. We used the Sony PD-150 for most of the film. It was a camera we didn’t have a lot of practice with yet and there were some scenes where the iris wasn’t set properly.

Mike and the gang.

At what point did you decide you wanted to make this a 2-disc special edition and include all the great special features on a second disc?

I’m a sucker for gimmicks. Put out the director’s cut 4-disc set with making of and commentary tracks of a lens cleaner DVD and I’d buy it. I just love that stuff. So I always wanted to make DVDs with all the lights and whistles. Besides, I wanted to give people more for their money.

Got any funny stories or stories of utter disaster from the production?

The Charles Manson press conference scene was mostly improvisation. I had written the speech he gave, which was an actual quote from Manson. But during the questions and answers, I just let everyone play, especially Manson (played by Jeff “Cheesepeck” Alexander). Cheesepeck is one of the funniest and nuttiest people I know and I would have been a waste to not let him just go off on camera. We’d roll and I wouldn’t cut until everyone was laughing. The best was when the Mexican wrestler got Cheesepeck to laugh. A couple of takes, he let loose so hard that he spit all over the front row.

How did you get Lloyd Kaufman to make a cameo in this picture? Did you send him a bottle of booze and a hooker or what?

I’d hate to give away our trade secrets, so I don’t think I should say. Okay, I’ll tell you… we just showed up and asked him.

I just noticed that on the back of the DVD you refer to your Jackie the Ripper, Jill Emmert, as Jill "Bacon Eyes" Emmert. How’d she ever end up with that nickname?

During the filming of our previous film “Lights, Camera… Kill!” Jill had a scene where her eyelids had been cut off. So she had this appliance on her brow to look like her eye lids were removed. Once we were done for the day, we removed the make-up and left it lying around. One of the crew members found it and commented that it looked like a piece of bacon. So of course, the smart asses we are and the fact that the “bacon” was above her eyes, she was dubbed “Bacon Eyes”.

One of the special features on disc 2 is a five minute short film called Death Comes Knocking, which you made for a short film competition. Tell us about that film and how difficult it was to make within the restrictive rules of the competition.

“Death Comes a Knockin’” was our entry into Iowa City Microcinema’s 24 Hour Film Race. It was a film competition where we had only 24 hours to make a 5 minute or less film. There were some catches. We were given a prop then we had to use it in our film and we couldn’t use any outside editing. The prop we were given was a paddle ball. One of our disadvantages was that on Saturday we had to go to the Iowa City Public Library at 5pm to pick up the prop. Then we had to return Sunday at 5pm with the complete film. The problem was we live 2 hours away. That’s 4 hours lost on our project due to driving. When you only have 24 to write, cast, rehearse, and shoot a film, every hour counts. It was tough to make. With no outside editing, it made it a real challenge. Once we had the script (one sheet hand written), we planned out each shot on paper, and then rehearsed it for over an hour with cast and camera. Because if we messed up one shot, we’d have to start all over. This isn’t the first time we’ve entered a film race like this. The cult classic PF film called “A Time for a Change” was done the same way. We entered a film contest in which we had to shoot a five minute or less film using only in-camera editing. We won first place with “A Time for a Change” and it was our #1 selling VHS.

So what’s next on the agenda for Insane Mike Saunders? Have you got something new in the works right now?

Eventually world domination, but first I’ll make a sandwich. I’m thinking peanut butter sounds good. As far as PF, we must always stay busy. As of right now, we are filming a serious horror movie called “Through the Night” and we’re editing a comedy documentary we filmed over the winter called “Going to TromaDance”.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give to other indie filmmakers who are just starting out but aren’t sure where to begin or what they should do for their first project?

The best advice I could give would be to just go out and do it. Don’t let anything get in your way of being a filmmaker. Don’t stop yourself because you don’t have a budget, or you don’t know how to write a proper script, or you think you need all these supplies for effects. Work with what you’ve got and make your movie. You’ll learn as you go and you won’t sit there for 5 years thinking “if I only had this…” You don’t need fancy lights, or great actors to make your dream come true, just passion and lots of imagination.

Is there anything else you’ve got going on that you’d like to talk about before we wrap this up?

Taco?

If you’d like to find out more about The Bag Man or any of Prescribed Films other movies, you can check out their website at http://www.prescribedfilms.com.