S. Michael Phillips is the mastermind behind “Hippies,” which is easily one of the best independently made comedies that I’ve ever seen! But before finding success with “Hippies” (as well as his previous short film, “Slay Bottle”), S. Michael toiled on several other indie shorts that never caught the public eye (a shame because they sound very cool). Despite his bumpy start, Mr. Phillips has definitely found his groove and is even now plotting to bring his eccentric vision to people across the globe by making more movies! S. Michael is an extremely nice fellow; a true fan of film, and he had plenty of interesting things to say about the joys and hardships of making movies! To learn more about the man behind “Hippies,” I urge you to read on!
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I really appreciate you taking the time for this interview S. Michael! As you know, I really enjoyed “Hippies” and would like to know more about that film, as well as your other completed (and newly started) projects. But first, would you formally introduce yourself to our readers and give us all a little background on your career as a film maker? How did your love of film begin and what films and/or film makers inspired you along the way?
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me. As you know, independent film is a very competitive art form, and it’s difficult to get anyone to watch – let alone review – your work, so thank you. My name is S. Michael Phillips, and I’m 33 years old. I began my career behind the camera when I was about ten years old. My father was a church musician and he would play at weddings on Saturdays. He had a video camera, which I used to videotape the weddings while he played music. My love of movies came about when I first saw “Star Wars.” After that I was hooked. I did a lot of shoot-to-edit short films, but nothing serious. Right now I’m going through a Coen Brothers phase. Their films are brilliant.
I find it quite interesting that your film making experience began with filming weddings! Most film makers I’ve talked to started out by making home movies in their backyards, so I guess this kind of gives you an edge over all the competition. (As for the Coen Brothers, I must sadly admit that I haven’t really seen any of their films. I feel ashamed to even admit that!) Now, according to your mini-biography at the No Points Productions website, you made your first short film when you were twenty-eight. Could you give us a little more background on that making of that short zombie flick and do you have any plans to release it onto DVD?
That movie was more of an experiment than anything else. I got about a dozen friends together and went camping for a weekend with the goal of having a short film done by Monday morning. Everyone had a good time, and I learned a lot about working with different personalities. A movie set can be a good place to find out just how close you think you are to your “friends.” The final product was awful. So awful that I don’t even want to give you the name of it. A couple of the people that helped with that film thought it was pretty good and actually did print up some DVDs. So I’m sure if you search for it online, you’ll eventually run across it.
Hahaha! Sounds like something that’s right up my alley! And your zombie film can’t be any worse that the recent “Return of the Living Dead” sequels, or Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead” so don’t be too quick to bash your first film! Speaking of which, you followed up your zombie short with a post-apocalyptic action short. Again, could you gives us the goods on this film and will it ever see the light of day?
Same story on this one except we shot it all in one night. It’s about 5 minutes long and awful. I figured out how to do a lot of gore, a lot of blood, no real story line, just more of a “Hey, let’s see if I can smash this guy’s head in with a bat, now how would I do that,” kind of movie. If you find my first film online, this one is usually attached to it.
Well it looks like it’s high time I combed the internet for these flicks! If I find either or both, I’ll let you know! 😉 So after completing those two movies (which sadly didn’t generate a lot of buzz) you moved on to your first hit film, namely “Slay Bottle,” in which a man is terrorized by a killer bottle. (Hahahaha!) It sounds like a lot of fun and apparently made some waves at several film festivals. Where in the heck did you come up with the idea for a killer bottle movie, and when can we all expect the Special Edition DVD of “Slay Bottle?”
“Slay Bottle” was a fun time. I used to work at the same TV station with a friend of mine named Kurt Richter. We were talking one day about doing a short horror film about an inanimate object coming to life and terrorizing someone. It just so happens that there was a spray bottle sitting on his desk. I grabbed it – we looked at it – and if you’ve ever looked at a spray bottle, it kind of looks like a head and a face on top. We said, let’s do it with this. Kurt wrote the script, played the lead role, and I directed him. It turned out great. We went to New York for the NYIIFVF festival. It was accepted at a handful of other festivals. At the Rebel Film Festival in Chattanooga, TN, it took home an award for Best Editing. Slay Bottle will probably turn up on the extras of my new movie.
Hahaha! I’m still trying to figure out how a spray bottle can kill a human being. I guess I won’t know until I see the movie! Now, according to your bio, you worked as the DP (director of photography) and editor on a movie called “Gronk the Blade” after completing “Slay Bottle.” What was it like working on someone else’s film and did you enjoy working on that particular project?
Working on someone else’s project is a totally different animal than doing your own thing. When you’re doing your own film, you know exactly how you want every shot, every look, every little detail to be. You have the final product in your head, and it’s just a matter of getting it on film. If you’re trying to do that on someone else’s project, it can be a problem. Unless everyone is on the same page, you end up getting 3 or 4 different visions of what the film should look like. Once you’re in the editing room, what sounded good on the set doesn’t really translate like you thought it would. I guess I’m too much of a control freak because I like to do everything from beginning to end – from writing to shooting to editing.
Once you completed work on “Gronk the Blade,” the next obvious step in the evolution of your career was to make your very own feature length film. In 2006, you made that happen with the completion of the terrifically hilarious “Hippies,” produced, directed, and composed some music for! (Am I leaving anything out? Hahaha!) Where did the idea for “Hippies” come from and did you enjoy the experience of making your very own feature length film?
After we got back from New York, and “Slay Bottle” had done pretty well, we had a meeting about what the next project should be. I have a close knit group of talented people that all had input. I wanted to do a comedy, so one of our writers, Sean Schoppe, said that we should do a movie about a subject we know. I live in Eugene, Oregon – the Hippie capital of the world. We looked at each other and we knew that this was it. Let’s do a movie about dirty, smelly Hippies. It was so obvious to us that the rest of the country would think it was funny too even though a lot of people might think there are no more Hippies. Trust me they’re here and they smell….bad. So once again Kurt Richter starred in it, and wrote the script with Sean Schoppe. The soundtrack had to be good, but we’re poor independent film makers with no money. Enter Aaron Doughan. Aaron and I have been playing music together for more than ten years, so I asked him if he wanted to help me write some songs for this new movie “Hippies.” He said sure, and we ended up writing and recording all the music you hear in the film. The movie itself was a great learning process for me, because this was the first time I had worked on something that was more than thirty minutes long. I learned a lot about pacing, shot selection, character development – a lot of things you don’t have time for in a short film. We shot it over three months in the summer of 2005. We had a great time doing it.
Well I for one can say that you are a quick study S. Michael because “Hippies” was great! The main thing I enjoyed about your film was the cast of oddball characters, especially Cinder, the old stoner that obssessedly searches the forests of Oregon for a tree he saved back in his younger days. Was this character based off of anyone in particular, and what is up Cinder’s oversized undies?!
Cinder isn’t actually based on anyone I know, but when I first met Michael Roberts, I knew he would be perfect. We shot most of his scenes in one weekend, and he was a great guy to have around. Someone threw out the idea of having him run around the whole movie wearing nothing but huge, oversized underwear. When he first put them on, they looked a little too clean so he took them off and dragged them through the mud a few times. Genius! I think we settled on the back story that while protecting the forest in the sixties, he lost his pants and had been running around without them ever since. Either way, Michael had no problem with the costume selection. We did get a few stares from people walking by while we were shooting some of his scenes though.
Hahaha! I can’t imagine why? Now this is just a throwaway question, but who was your favorite character in “Hippies?”
I think my favorite character in “Hippies” is Ian/“Roach.” Not just because of the stoner jokes – which I think are great – but because if you know Kevin George, you know he is nothing like that character. To see him play that role to me is the funniest thing ever. The hair (which was real), the patchwork pants, and his whole ‘Chewbacca’ vibe. If you saw him now, you wouldn’t ever know it was the same guy.
Moving along then, the last I knew, you were still hunting for a distributor for “Hippies.” Have you found one yet?”
Unfortunately, when you shoot a movie on digital video, most distribution houses won’t even look at it. But fortunately for us there’s something called the internet that makes it possible for anyone to self-distribute a movie. So that’s what we ended up doing. You can get the movie by going to a few different sites, including: www.filmbaby.com, www.indieflix.com, and www.undergroundfilm.org. We also just signed a deal with Hayden Films to put “Hippies” on their new On Demand service. So if you have the Akimbo On Demand service, surf over to the Hayden Films channel and order “Hippies”.
Wow, thank god for the internet right? And I hope that your quick plug gets more people to watch your awesome flick S. Michael! 😉 So with “Hippies” completed, I’m sure that you’re looking to work on other film projects. After a tiny bit of research, I’ve found that you’ve got several projects for all of us indie film fans to look forward to, including a sequel to “Hippies!” Can you shed any light on the plot of this followup film?
At one point we did talk about doing a sequel, but it’s not going to happen. We did have an outline put together. But Kurt Richter moved out of state, and I think the rest of the cast and crew – including myself – would like to try something a little bit different. The new film we are currently working on is as far away from “Hippies” as you can get.
Awww man, no “Hippies 2?!” My hopes and dreams are crumbling all around me! 😉 I’ve read that you’re going to make a series of short films that focus on the lives (and deaths) of functioning alcoholics. This sounds very interesting, especially to someone (like myself) that has lived with and/or been friends with an alcoholic, both functioning and otherwise. Will you be approaching this as a series of serious (and dramatic) short films, or will you be taking a comedic route with them?
Very much a comedic route with this one. Here’s how it came about. Our new feature film is going to be shot on 16mm film. Since this will be the first actual ‘film’ I’ve ever shot, I figured I better see if I know what I’m doing with a film camera. So, Aaron Doughan and I shot two rolls of film in one night, and put together this short film called “Functional Alcoholic.” We called it a ‘series’ because it takes us through one week in his life and each day is a series. The film turned out pretty good, and the big thing that I learned is that there is no comparing video to film – film wins every time. If you want to check out Functional Alcoholic just go to Youtube.com!
“Functional Alcoholic” sounds like a good time, I’ll definitely check it out on Youtube! Well, since “Hippies 2” is dead in the water, what other films do you have lined up over the next few years?
The film I am currently working on is a throwback horror picture called “Crowbar.” We plan to start shooting in January, and we will hopefully be wrapped by June. I’m shooting for an October release, so keep your fingers crossed! I wanted to do a horror picture because most of today’s ‘horror’ movies aren’t horror at all – they’re torture flicks. “Hostel,” “Saw,” all these movies that focus on torture and mutilation and seeing who can be grosser than the next guy – to me, that’s not horror. I’m working on a film that’s more “classic” horror – the original “Halloween,” the original “Friday the 13th” – these films scared the crap out of me when I was younger. Not because they were terribly graphic, but because they used lighting and music to create a mood – an environment where everyday life seemed to be just a little off. That’s creepier to me than a guy getting chopped up for an hour and a half.
Wow, your reply here sort of shocks me, but in a good way. A lot of folks have hailed “Hostel” and “Saw” as two of the greatest recent horror franchises ever made, but it seems that you stand on the other side of the fence. I personally enjoyed them and would toss them into the horror film category, if only because the films had vast amounts of violence and bloodshed, but I totally agree with you that the classic horror films are ten times better, because they focused more on mood and atmosphere than on blood and guts. Well I suppose that’s all I have to inquire about S. Michael. Before I let you get back to ma
ing movies, is there anything else you’d like to say before we go our separate ways?
Nobody will ever care more about your film than you.
Thanks for your time S. Michael! I have high hopes for “Crowbar” and I can’t wait to see it when it’s finished! Please keep me updated on all your future projects if you have time!
Wait, where are you going? Yeah the interview is over, but I did manage to squeeze out one more question from “S. Michael Phillips” before he went back to work. This question provides a shocking revelation concerning this talented film maker’s true identity. Viewer Discretion is Advised: Your “stage-name” is S. Michael Phillips and is, as you told me a while back, a joke made in reference to director M. Night Shyamalan’s name. Judging by that, I take it that you’re not really a big fan of Mr. Shyamalan’s films?
I saw “The Sixth Sense” in the theaters before anyone could ruin the ending for me, and I loved it. I thought it was great. But I think Hollywood is just so desperate for the next Spielberg, that they’ll give anyone who comes close, that label. Even if it’s way too early to tell. And once they’ve done that, they can’t turn around and say they were wrong. They’re trying to sell you a product. So what do they do? They act like he is the new Spielberg, they tell him he’s brilliant and that everything he touches will turn to gold. Then he starts to believe it. He thinks everything he writes is brilliant. And since no one would dare tell the director of “The Sixth Sense” that his new movie sucks, he keeps making them and they keep selling them. So my ‘S. Michael Phillips’ was kind of an inside joke with my friends about how pretentious some film makers can be. I know humility isn’t a staple of the entertainment industry, but a little perspective would be nice.
Well that’s officially it folks! Once again, many thanks to you S. Michael for doing this interview. I wish you and the No Points Productions Crew all the luck in the world with your next film and I sincerely hope that it turns out to be a big success! For more information about S. Michael Phillips and his films, visit the No Points Productions homepage!