An Interview with R.P. Whalen – By Duane L. Martin

 Last month I was sent a rather different type of an independent film. It was a documentary, which isn’t all that odd. What was odd about it was the fact that the filmmaker, R.P. Whalen put it together in Mondo style, complete with go-go dancers and other bizarre stuff. After seeing it, I just knew I had to interview Mr. Whalen and find out all about what went into making this most strange and yet marvelously entertaining film.

* * *

Let’s start off by having you tell us all a little about yourself and your background.

Well, I’m a filmmaker and entertainer. My background is one of exploring sketch comedy, music, film, and comic books from my teens to early twenties. I then realized that I kept coming back to wanting to tell stories. So, I decided that comic books were the way to go until I discovered how much work was involved in drawing the stories. It’s much easier for me to just photograph a scene and edit it together than spend hours hunched over a drawing table! I did feel that I was just being lazy, but I discovered that I was more interested in the other aspects one can bring to a film over a comic book. That, and I had met Michael Heagle who was really into filmmaking and invited me into his pursuit of making a feature.

Before we get to Mondo Collecto, tell us about some of your past projects.

Filmwise, I was lead actor and co-screenwriter on GO TO HELL. It’s a feature that was finished in 1999 and is being distributed by Troma. That project took most of the 1990’s to complete. The next film project was a short subject called THIS IS BIGFOOT. Finished in 2001, I was the writer, photographer, and editor on it. Shot and edited the music video "Decayed" for the band Impaler in 2002. And in 2003, shot and edited a short subject documentary called WEEKEND WITH LLOYD starring Lloyd Kaufman.

What did you learn from your previous projects that helped you when you were putting together Mondo Collecto? Was there anything in your past experiences that came in particularly useful?

Aside from THIS IS BIGFOOT, probably the some of the most beneficial experiences came from RAY TV which was started by The Great Luke Ski and Jason Stahl back in 1990 or ’91. RAY TV was basically small group of people getting together in a basement in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin and performing improve comedy sketches in front of a video camera for fun. After a few years, I used it for creating short subjects. In 1997, I put together a 40 minute short called RAY TV: OMEGA PROJECT using Luke, Jason and any other friends and relatives they had down in Lake Geneva. I edited it using a VCR and a S-VHS camcorder. It had some production flaws, but I was able to pull off something entertaining using what was available to me at the time.

When it came time to choose your next project, what made you decide on a documentary as opposed to just a normal scripted film?

Cash and resources. I had no money and only a borrowed vhs-c camera. I figured with that, the only thing I could shoot (that would be acceptable to an audience) would be a documentary. I had done THIS IS BIGFOOT with borrowed equipment and knew I could do it again. MONDO COLLECTO was originally going to be a short subject.

What are some of the more difficult aspects of putting together a documentary as opposed to putting together a regular film?

Rolling the dice and getting a decent subject to shoot. That’s the first thing. Then, it’s kinda like working backwards. After picking your subject matter, you shoot it, then take the footage and try to tell a story with it. The real work comes in the editing. There are so many ways one can piece together a scene. It’s the equivalent of writing a script only you’ve got the characters, situations, and dialog in a big pile on the floor, waiting for you to make sense of it.

 You proudly announce on the cover that the film was shot in glorious VHS-C. Explain to people what that is and how you ended up shooting in this format.

A VHS-C camera is one that shoots vhs tape on a compact version of a standard size VHS cassette tape. It also has the same vulnerabilities of said tape. I shot in this format because a friend had borrowed me the camera to shoot some of THIS IS BIGFOOT with. I was pretty confident with the camera, so I used it. I later thought it would funny to use as a tagline, but I had to comment to using the camera for the rest of the shoot! Over 90% of the feature is on VHS-C.

You wanted to do this documentary with a "mondo" sort of a feel too it. What appealed to you most about this style and how hard was it to integrate that into a documentary style of film?

The ability to take just about any footage and put a spin on it. I felt it gave me the freedom to shoot whatever I wanted to as long as I could make some kind of connection with the overall subject matter. All non-related scenes were created and edited into the final cut as how they relate to what they preceded or followed. If well thought out, they were easy. If not, I had to work my creativity. I would say medium hard at most.

On to some of the collectors now. How did you end up interviewing classic director Ted V. Mikels about his collection of ancient weapons, and what was that experience like?

I worked on his MARK OF THE ASTRO ZOMBIES and we became friends. To get Ted on board this project only took a phone call. I told him what I was doing, what I wanted to do with him and his weapon collection, and Ted said, "Well, how far do you want to go with this project?" I replied, "All the way." Easy. Hanging out with Ted for a few days was great. Since we are friends, I stayed at his place. My friend Jorge said it best when he said that it must’ve been like staying with your favorite superhero, and he was right! Just think about spending a couple days at Wayne Manor interviewing Bruce Wayne and checking out the Bat Cave…very cool!!!

Many of the collectors were eccentric to say the least. Was there any point where you started getting weirded out and maybe a little uncomfortable during any of the shoots?

Never. I interviewed all the collectors before shooting them. So, I never felt uncomfortable with them when I rolled tape. Any odd behavior from them during shooting was welcome.

Which collector did you have the most fun shooting, and if different, who’s collection impressed you the most?

Militia Man Mark was the most fun to shoot and the easiest segment to edit. JR The Toy Wizard’s toy collection was HUGE!!! It filled a complete basement and he had more! Only, I had about an hour to shoot his stuff and interview him. So, I did my best. Those glass cases were a pain to shoot!

The scenes with the go-go girls were shot in spurts during the time it took you to put the film together. How hard was it for you to find appropriate girls for the dancing scenes and did you have a hard time explaining to them just what kind of a vibe you were looking for?

Like a jackass, I thought that getting go-go dancers was going to be a breeze. So, I didn’t have auditions for that. DUMB! Given that I shot those scenes in my bedroom, I must’ve sounded like a serial killer or something explaining what I wanted to shoot with potential dancers! Thankfully, I’ve got friends. So, it ended up being friends, or friends of friends. It wasn’t difficult explaining to them what I wanted, just where I was shooting it. Of course, when they would show up, my room looked like a real set with lights and stuff. I would tell them that when dancing have fun and make sure that you play to the camera. I wanted the dancer to be dancing for the viewer. I learned that from watching Benny Hill.

 The film took a very long time to put together. What were some of the issues that made it take so long, and describe the feeling the moment you finally made the last edit, thus closing the book on the whole experience.

Editing. Editing and having to have a full time job made the process long. (When I started editing it, it was December of 2003 and the final edit came in Spring of 2006.) It would not be unusual for one collector segment to take one month to finish. At first, I thought I was losing the ability to edit until I watched a documentary on the men who made MONDO CANE. The amount of time needed to edit a sequence of MONDO CANE took solid weeks of work. When I made the final edit, which, I believe, was a score edit, I was excited to show it to others who had watched it without a score or end credits. But, the experience didn’t end there! I had to design the dvd product and set up the world premiere. That took work, too. Thankfully, it wasn’t quite as time consuming as the editing process was. It’s only been since the beginning of 2007 where I feel that with the completion of MONDO COLLECTO, a major chapter of my life is over. That chapter is one that I began in 1994 by moving to Minneapolis to make a feature film. Everything that I did (and was involved with) paved the way for, helped produce, and finish MONDO COLLECTO. I accomplished it! And now, it’s time to start anew with the objective of being a professional filmmaker. The real deal, baby!

Have you sent out the film to any film festivals, and if not are you planning to? Are you arranging any other public showings of the film outside of the festivals?

I’m still on the fence with the whole film festival thing for MONDO COLLECTO, but I have not ruled them out yet. I did send it off to the Wisconsin Exploitation Film Festival, but that festival was cancelled due to new management of venue and increased rental charges. It just played Marscon 2007 up here in Minneapolis in March. I did get turned down by the Pioneer Theater in New York, but I’ve got a couple other leads for public showings that I’ll be looking into soon.

What kind of feedback have you gotten on the film from reviewers and others?

Overall, the response is that MONDO COLLECTO is an entertaining, well made film. My parents didn’t like the melon humper segment, but I knew they wouldn’t. And, there was that one lady at the Uptown Theater midnight screening that wondered why that scene was in there as well… In regards to film critics, they fall into three categories- The first are the ones that get the whole Mondo thing and love the entire film. The second are ones that like it, but are confused by the Mondo segments. The third are the ones that enjoy the film, but do not care for the Mondo segments and want MONDO COLLECTO to be more of a traditional documentary about collectors.

Are you taking a break now or do you have something else in the works? If so, what can we look forward to from you next?

I did take a break and am starting pre-production on a short subject based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. I want to see if I can complete this project in a more traditional filmmaking manner and not do everything myself with very little money.

Do you have a sort of a "dream project" that you’d like to do someday?

I don’t think I have a dream project. I do have a "dream career" of being a professional filmmaker and producing films that are right up there with my favorite directors.

What the most important piece of advice you could give to a novice filmmaker just starting out?

Start out making a short subject of any length. Shoot what you know or what you think you know. Show it to people and listen to what they say about it. If that doesn’t kick your ass too hard, make another one. I guarantee that you’ll learn more from trying to make one short subject than talking about making that one great feature film. To quote Jackie Chan, Just do it!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

MONDO COLLECTO is available on DVD for $10 plus $3 S&H. Check out my website at www.rockandrollray.com or at www.myspace.com/mondocollecto for trailers reviews and other details! RAWR!!!

* * *

Headshot photo credits: Matthew Berg