I had the opportunity to have a chat with Mike Lyddon recently about his latest film, FIRST MAN ON MARS; his upcoming film, HELLPACA; his love of all things sci-fi-schlocky; our mutual adoration of Lloyd Kaufman; and lots more. Check it out because it’s chock-full of interesting tidbits!
MML: Your latest flick FIRST MAN ON MARS is now out on DVD and VOD, both in the US and internationally. It tells the story of a billionaire who builds his own spaceship to go to Mars but falls into a bit of trouble while there (translation: he’s exposed to something funky and turns into a wicked, flesh-eating monster). You’ve called it a “satirical homage to 60s/70s drive-in sci-fi schlockers” – was it inspired by any one particular movie or writer/director or is it a mish-mash of the genre in general?
MTL: “The Incredible Melting Man” and “Equinox” were influential along with some earlier Roger Corman flicks like “Creature from the Haunted Sea,” but FMOM was actually a re-work of a short super 8mm movie I made as a teen in the early 80’s called “Mutilation Maniacs” which was more influenced by films like “Dawn of the Dead” and “Friday the 13th.” It takes place in the mythical town of Brazen Flats, California and features Sheriff Dick Ruffman along with town coroner Fred Sadismo whose name was updated to Fritz Leiber for FMOM. The real Fritz Leiber was not only a great writer, he also played the part of the professor in “Equinox.” For Mutilation Maniacs, the name of the game was how much gore we could do for fifty bucks lol. So we had some head chopping, body ripping and leg sawing primarily done with a mannequin and a few gallons of Dick Smith formula blood and some inspiration from Don Dohler’s great amateur how-to effects magazine, Cinemagic. My good ol’ pal John Woods worked on Mutilation and came back many years later as a cinematographer for FMOM.
MML: Which sci-fi shlocker was most influential to your film education and why did it have such impact?
MTL: Impossible to nail only one, but the 1980’s super 8mm flicks “Desperate Teenage Lovedolls” and the follow up “Lovedolls Superstar” are pretty sweet, and both have some sci-fi-ish elements to them. “Equinox,” “Forbidden Zone,” “Dr. Caligari 1991” and “Fiend without a Face” were huge influences. Generally, I dig Troma, Dario Argento, Fritz Lang, Don Dohler, Jack Arnold, David Cronenberg. There’s another 70’s movie called “Idaho Transfer” made by Peter Fonda that you can catch on online. What a weird little flick this is, with a brutal, dystopian ending that truly shocked me. It’s that kind of film where you think “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”
MML: What’s your favorite thing about FIRST MAN ON MARS?
MTL: Probably the fact that it garnered a decent amount of response from distributors. Within two months after I finished the film, I had four offers and ultimately decided to go with Summer Hill (Tomcat Films). With FMOM, I decided to forego the typical “spend a year and a few thousand bucks on film festivals” route and directed my energy for securing a distribution deal first. The thing is, unless you have a breakout hit of a movie on your hands, you’re going to waste a lot of time and money on film festivals, many of which are rather dubious and don’t give you the kind of agent/distributor exposure you need (if any at all). If you decide to do film fests , be sure to research them before you fork over your cash. How is their track record? Do actual distributors/agents attend the festival? What kind of venue is being used to show your film? I can tell you stories of warped screens, poor sound, malfunctioning projectors and festival “managers” who seem far less interested in the films they are showing than the “special guests” and photo-ops they have lined up.
MML: How often do you go to the drive-in? Do you prefer it to traditional theatres and if so, why?
MTL: Only the drive-in of my mind lol. Drive-ins are pretty much dead, but I used to go to them all the time in my youth. You could see a triple bill of “Zombie,” “Blood Beach” and “The Thirsty Dead” for 3 bucks a carload at the JET in Lancaster, Ca. Good times.
MML: Your next film, HELLPACA!, goes in a bit of a different direction. In the 60’s, a low budget film crew attempted to make the film HELLPACA!, but things went horribly wrong and all crew vanished without a trace in the mountains of Cusco near Machu Picchu. Was it HELLPACA, a creature of local legend, or were other strange forces at work during the production? To say I’m excited to see this one would be an understatement, haha. So why HELLPACA?
MTL: Wherein FMOM was basically a test in getting reacquainted with shooting on film, HELLPACA! will be a more complex, bigger budget production spanning both North and South America. It will incorporate 16mm, super 8mm and 4K video. I’m currently in pre-production here in Lima doing location scouting, creature fabrication and writing the second draft of the screenplay with shooting scheduled to commence in the latter half of 2017. HELLPACA! is based upon the completely true honest-to-gods story of a mythical beast who dwells in the hills and valleys of the Cusco region. Not much is known about the legend and I’ve only encountered one article in Beyond Fact magazine. It seems that very few people have lived to tell the tale.
MML: Any nods to BLACK SHEEP in HELLPACA?
MTL: No, but here is an interesting bit of trivia. In Peru, Alpacas and Llamas are often used to guard sheep and other livestock. They might look cute, but if you cross their territory you will most likely get a big hoof up your arse! Recently I went to an archaeological site with my wife Rubi, who, by the way, does superb costume design for films, and we found ourselves in the direct path of a herd of full grown alpacas as they were moving them from the grazing field back to their corral. Needless to say we quickly got the hell out of the way. Imposing beasts indeed! And the way they stare at you can be rather unnerving…
MML: Lloyd Kaufman is making an appearance in HELLPACA which is the most awesomest of awesome things! How is it to actually work with the legend?
MTL: I’m not sure because I haven’t worked with him yet lol. I’ve received confirmation that his schedule is clear for the shooting dates so it’s looking good for his role in HELLPACA! I’ve conversed with Lloyd through email and as I understand it, he’s finishing the sound on Return to Return to Nuk’em High AKA Vol. 2 right now. If you look on IMDB at his list of upcoming films he’s going to be in, I don’t know how the guy does it. I think he’s on his way to having more acting credits than anyone in the history of cinema.
MML: Old school vs modern films – pros & cons of each? Have things improved over time or are films missing heart & soul these days?
MTL: There are a lot of good films being made these days along with a lot of crap just like it has always been. The difference now is that a lot more of the crap are the biggest budget films. Who writes these scripts? Are they actually written? I imagine a “scriptomatic” device where they toss in a bunch of old successful scripts and spit out more high concept bollocks aimed at tweens. Where are the adult science fiction and horror films? Instead it’s all “Young Adult” fiction which was originally meant for teens, but now seems to be the norm for entertainment. In the 70’s, some the biggest sci-fi and horror films were The Exorcist, Alien, The Other, The Omen, Dawn of the Dead…I could go on. Where are those adult oriented kinds of films today? Instead we have comic book adaptations, lame remakes, reboots and YA crapola. And when Syfy channel gets the rights to Arthur C. Clarke’s “Childhood’s End,” they massacre it. Of course, Syfy also has pro wrasslin’ on Friday nights, so…
MML: Practical effects will ALWAYS be better than CGI, in my opinion, and you utilize practical effects in your films. Do you do so out of the love of it or because of budgetary reasons?
MTL: So there’s a lot of shark movies, right? Why are there so many shark movies? Because it’s freakin’ easy to make a CGI shark and make a lame-ass shark movie.
Let’s say it together, “PRACTICAL EFFECTS RULE!” There have been a few films that have made good use of CGI, but it’s getting so easy to do (even for no-budget films) that now you have all these movies with CGI blood?? When you get too lazy to use stage blood in your film, you’re not making a film, you’re making a video game. Step away from the NLE plugins and get some blood on your hands 😉
MML: Did the great Tom Savini influence your love of and usage of practical effects
MTL: One of the masters. As I said earlier, two big influences were Friday the 13th and Dawn of the Dead, both featuring special make up effects by Tom Savini. Really nice guy as well. I met him a few times back in the 80’s/90’s and for a bonafide genius he was absolutely down the earth and totally cool. I still refer to his Grande Illusions books when I’m doing my own effects.
MML: You make monster movies. Do you think there are any good monster movies being made today?
MTL: In the 21st century, yes. FEAST was awesome and one of my favorite recent monster movies. Reeker, The Bay, Cabin in the Woods, Frankenstein’s Army, Slither, Splinter…all are excellent creature features, some with superb practical effects, or at least a good mix of practical with CGI. Pontypool is kind of monstery (people turned into homicidal maniacs via sound virus) and it kicks royal monster ass. Not only is the build up of tension perfectly executed and the acting top notch, the horror is mainly derived from things you hear, which is brilliant considering the subject matter. I think it would make for one hell of a stage play.
MML: What do you think is the point of horror?
MTL: Blood, fear and love.
MML: What kind of monster lives under your bed?
MTL: The monster called TOMAS (aka Mr. Bitey), which is my Peruvian rat terrier mix. Actually he sleeps on the bed, or the couch, or my chair, or…
MML: What advice would you give to aspiring director/writers/filmmakers?
MTL: Use social media as a business tool, nothing else. If you get bogged down with Facebook bullshit and find yourself wasting hours a day posting the same lame ass memes and commenting on trivial, meaningless drivel because you need to put in your “2 cents worth,” you’re depriving yourself of making your art and you’re becoming an SMV (social media victim). If you become obsessed with your virtual status on the internets, your art will suffer. Many of my favorite artists/filmmakers are not on Twitter or Facebook (or at most they have a proxy). Instead, they’re working on their next film, or book, or whatever. Over the last several years I’ve discovered that the less I’m on social media, the happier and more creative I am.
Also, be careful of who you hire for your films. Even with no-budget flicks like the movies I make, there are plenty of sociopaths just waiting to try and make your life miserable. Background check your cast/crew. Find out if they’ve been fired from a production, criminal records, etc. Which brings me to the last point: Pay your cast and crew. Even if it’s minimal, pay them and have them sign attorney approved contracts stating exactly what their job is, their schedule, how much they are making, and what, if any, they can expect in deferments.
Dot the i’s and cross the t’s, folks. It will give you additional peace of mind during the hectic filmmaking process. The film is your baby, and the film is also king.
MML: Is there anything else you want to discuss or share with us?
MTL: There has been a profound backlash to shooting on video. I don’t have problems with digital video, but I prefer film whenever possible. “The Walking Dead” (16mm), “American Horror Story”(35mm and a bit of 16mm), The Coen Brothers, Rob Zombie, tons of “mainstream” movies being shot on film now including Tod Haynes’ CAROL, which was shot on 16mm and received several academy award nominations. Because of technical problems with the main 16mm camera on the first day of shooting First Man on Mars, we ended up shooting more than half of the film with a four hundred dollar camera. Let that sink in. 400 dollar camera. While technocrats are fawning over 20 grand digital monstrosities loaded with so much shit that you can’t even see the camera on the tripod, we were shooting a lot of scenes with a 1970’s 16mm Canon Scoopic. No extra gadgets, just the camera which was modified for Ultra 16mm. And very little fucking around with “color correction” because as “American Horror Story” DP Michael Goi pointed out, when you shoot on film and you light it correctly, there should be little to no color correction needed in post. What you film is what you get. That being said, you will pay more for film stock and processing, but considering the time you will save in post I think it’s well worth it. First Man on Mars budget was 14K and half that went to film and processing, but there is no way I was going to get that 70’s look with digital video. If you’ve seen THE FINAL GIRLS, you know what I mean. They tried getting an early 80’s grindhouse film look with video, and after all the massaging in post, it still looks like video.
Thank you for the interview, Misty! I also want to thank Duane Martin and crew at Rogue Cinema for running a superb, no-nonsense site for genre films. It’s refreshing to go to a page like Rogue Cinema and not find a ton of ads, pop-ups and annoying auto-play videos. Keep up the great work.