An Interview with Mike Peterson – By Matthew Saliba

The Fantasia International Film Festival is renowned the world over for being a festival of discovery. You may go to the festival with plans of checking out the latest Takashi Miike film but come back having seen a few other gems by filmmakers you’d never heard of before. Such was the case for yours truly this year. I went into a screening of Mike Peterson’s "Lloyd the Conqueror" not knowing what to expect but came out with my stomach literally in pain from having laughed from beginning to end. "Lloyd the Conqueror" was unqestionably one of the most entertaining films at Fantasia this year and placed fourth in my "Top 10 of the Fest" this year. I had a chance to chat with the director and much like the film he made, he was full of surprises.

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MS: For those who may not know, tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of indie filmmaking.

MP: I grew up watching movies, all sorts of movies. I remember my dad taking me to see "Time Bandits" and "Eraserhead" at the local rep cinema. We saw movies all the time, this was partly because we grew up without a TV in the house for most of my growing up years. So, there was that, it definitely instilled a love for movies as an audience member. It also seemed like something really cool, I just didn’t know how to do it myself as far as a career goes.

There were technical schools where you could learn to be a camera op or a grip or an AD but that didn’t seem like the right path for me. Basically, I’m self taught. I did a lot of school but it was almost entirely academic. I did my undergrad in Humanities and Communications Studies at York University and my Masters degree in Comm Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. All this time I continued my informal education watching movies, on average of one a day, at least, using the fantastic a/v libraries that these schools had available to their students. I’d do something random like pick a country, say Poland, and find all the films from there and watch them and follow some other thread, like John Cassavetes and then maybe an actor from one of his films until I’d exhausted that thread and latch onto another one.

At UNC there was some opportunity to work on documentaries, so that’s where I formally started. From UNC I had a chance to internship in LA, and being a grad student, had a bit more say in where i wanted to go than the undergrads did. I gave the course instructor a list of about ten directors who I wanted to find a way to work with as an intern. Right near the top of my list was Ridley Scott. So, it just kind of worked out that there was an alumni working at his office who set up an internship with Scott Free. It was pretty cool and I definitely got to see lots of how the machine worked. In between that I was in LA for about a year and half, I did random shitty production jobs from b-camera operator on this terrible mockumentary porn feature to doing video assist on "Blue Demon" a killer shark movie.

Soon, I became illegal in LA and had to move back to Canada. No one would hire me for anything but doc type projects so I just grinded and hustled away making a dozen shorts, a bunch featuring robots, a few music videos and commercials, until I felt ready that I wouldn’t blow it when I had the chance to direct my first feature. And that feature is "Lloyd the Conqueror." We spent a long time writing, or rewriting that script, and there was no way that I was going to let someone else take it away from me and let someone else direct it. If someone was going to screw it up, it was going to be me.

MS: What are some of your favorite films and filmmakers?

MP: Fuck me, I hate this question. Terry Gilliam, Ridley Scott, specifically "Blade Runner" and "Time Bandits" are definitely movies I always go back to. I’m a huge fan of Krzysztof Kieślowski, he was an amazing visualist and his humanist POV is so strong and affecting. On the other hand, I love Seijun Suzuki’s films especially his stuff from around the late ’60s where he was messing around with narrative and genre and kind of using strange psychological/stagy lighting FX. Truffaut and Cronenberg are also hugely influential, for different reasons and I don’t always like their films but I always find them incredible for one reason or another. I love Woody Allen, especially his first dozen or so films, where he was playing with comedy and possibly being more experimental, for example, "Zelig" and "Sleepers." Now I feel bad ’cause I’m leaving too many out.

MS: Being from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, tell us a little bit about the film scene out there and how one goes about getting into film.

MP: It’s a small but great community out here, mostly very supportive of one another. I think there’s a tiny movement of people making stuff here, we all kind of know one another and try and be supportive. We make movies in Calgary so most people here work in something oil-related, so we are kind of a novelty and the most common question you get from someone, when you tell them you are a filmmaker is: "So, what do you do to make money though?" Your head never gets to full. On the other hand, the community is also very supportive and that novelty goes the other way too. People really want to help you succeed and offer what they can to help you out too in ways that is really genuine and kind.

MS: How did the idea for "Lloyd the Conqueror" come about? Are you yourself a LARPer or into fantasy at all?

MP: I do not LARP. But I am an avid fan of fantasy and used to play "D&D." I love "Conan," especially the comics. It seemed like a great place to set a comedy and I felt I understood their obsession and dedication to something that is totally sincere and unironic, I had a lot of respect for it, things that to me are really positive, and not that different from most obsessions, filmmaking and fantasy football leagues included. And beating the crap out of someone with a foam sword has an intrinsic attraction for all. Who hasn’t wanted to do this?

MS: "Lloyd the Conqueror" was written by yourself and Andrew Herman. From a filmmaker’s point-of-view, I’m especially curious to learn how you guys worked together and what, if any, system you had when it came to who would write what.

MP: There was no real system, we’d just take a scene each, pass them off to one another and try and make the other guy laugh, and if we thought we could write something better or make a joke funnier then we’d do that rather than complain that something wasn’t funny enough. Most of it was actually done over phone and email, remotely, sending the pieces back and forth.

MS: How did you hook up with Brendan and company? And along those lines, how did you pitch the project?

MP: Brendan acted in the first short film I made when I moved back to Calgary. From there he acted in a bunch more of my shorts and he had some obvious skills that complimented my own and an interest in doing more than just acting. I had been looking for someone to help me produce during this time as well because I was doing too many jobs, and I needed someone I could rely on, I went through about a half dozen people who either were incompetent or who liked the part of producing that might get you laid but not the actual work. So, I showed him the ropes for different positions like PMing and producing and he helped me PM and then helped me produce a documentary and then kind of got thrown in the fire on "Lloyd," and it didn’t take him down, he stood up to the test and thrived. Been very nice and organic, this happened over about eight years, and think we have come to the point that even though we definitely can drive one another crazy we both have lots of respect for one another, and faith in the other’s abilities, and also really compliment each other in the what we bring to each project, and that’s only getting better and stronger with each one. I want to make an analogy to marriage or similar relationships here: It’s kind of like the vacation test with a girlfriend, where the stress of traveling will tear apart the weak, or not right relationships, and the right relationships will become war hardened with the experience.

I pitched the project by telling people to read the script. I felt if they could do that, and they got it, then it hopefully sold itself. I was sometimes right. "Fresh Dog" is named after a painting I did, it was a point in time in my early twenties where I decided that I was going to follow this type of a life, no matter how difficult and not just do a job for reasons of money or some sense of ‘adult responsibility.’

MS: There’s some pretty big names in your film. Was there any sense of being awestruck when you actually got to meet Mike Smith or Brian Posehn in person and then realize, "Holy shit! I’m directing these guys!"

MP: Yes, I wish I had time to be more awestruck. 15 days to make this and not blow it, I didn’t have to much time to think of much else. But it did happen, especially with Brian Posehn, I know so much of his comedy and he’s a legend, and I’m supposed to be telling him what to do – which is exactly what I was supposed to do, and did.

MS: For some reason when I was watching this film, I was reminded of some of the comedies I loved growing up and "The Sandlot" kept coming up. Even though these films are lightyears apart in terms of subject matter, the idea of a band of friends busting each others’ balls while growing up in a small town was what made me make the connection. What was your inspiration when creating the dynamics between your characters and what sort of comedic films would you say this film owes a lot to in terms of its style?

MP: There’s definitely some "Python" in there along with a strong connection to ’80s-style comedies and sports movies.

MS: What has the reaction of the LARPing community been to this film thus far?

MP: So far, really positive. I was concerned about it. Thankfully they’ve all responded really well to it, from some hardcore groups in Denmark who said it reminded them of the ’90s to a screening Brendan did for Rick McCoy from the LARP Alliance in CA, who thought it was the best LARPing comedy they’ve ever seen. (Small field but I took it as a big compliment.)

MS: After conquering the Calgary International Film Festival as well as Fantasia, where’s "Lloyd" off to now?

MP: We are a true indie. Our fate is a little up in the air, but we should be out in January 2013 and in between then and now we currently have a bunch of comic cons around North America and Toronto After Dark, Friar’s Club Comedy Festival in NY and our Mexican premiere at Feratum. I’m hoping there are one or two more fests but waiting to hear back – could be by week’s end.

MS: Have you got anything cooking post-"Lloyd?"

MP: Just finished a script with a great writer named Kevin Cockle. It’s a dark, sci-fi, full of sex and violence. Just working out the financing now. But it’s polar opposite of "Lloyd." This wasn’t a conscious choice to do something different than a comedy, but I’m really excited about it. Hope to start shooting beginning of next summer. It’s bad ass, smart, pulpy sci-fi – as long as I don’t screw it up, anyway. (I won’t but I need that pressure of failure and challenge.) After that a comedy again I hope.

MS: And finally, I ask this of all filmmakers, if you could direct a remake of any film, what would it be, why and what would you do differently?

MP: Maybe Claude Chabrol’s "This Man Must Die" but make it more comedic, which is a good challenge with a child death revenge story but I think it could work.

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For more information on "Lloyd the Conqueror," check out the following sites:

Official Website: www.lloydtheconqueror.com
Twitter: www.twitter.com/LloydConqueror
IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt1675439
YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/LloydTheConqueror