Filmage-A-Trois: Dustin Mills – By P.J. Starks and Jakob Bilinski

Welcome to Filmage-A-Trois, our own little sexy slice of indie film heaven. We’re indie filmmaker’s P.J. Starks (HALLOWS EVE, A MIND BESIDE ITSELF) and Jakob Bilinski (SHADE OF GREY, THREE TEARS ON BLOODSTAINED FLESH) your tour guides through an unorthodox way of picking the brains of independent filmmakers from all over. What exactly is a filmage-a-trois you’re probably wondering? No, it’s not our attempt at three ways with other artists. It’s not as easy as you might think. So rather than suckering them into the sack, we’ve asked them to have a sit down. We’ve tasked ourselves with bringing youthe best and in some cases obscure filmmakers we’ve been privileged to call friends. To get right to the point of what makes their clocks tick and to see what kinds of film topics that get their gears turning. So put on a brain condom, cause we’re about to blow your sensory overload!

This month we’re speaking with independent filmmaker Dustin Wayde Mills, the creator of such epic horror insanity as The Puppet Monster Massacre and the recently released Easter Casket. He has steadily been making a name for himself in the low budget horror realm, regularly churning out grimy and creative genre features, visually arresting music videos, all with a unique flair for practical and digital effects. Dustin pulls from years of experience as a professional graphic designer, videographer and photographer; all of which allow him to deliver big budget visuals on a grassroots scale. He’s had tremendous success with his feature debut The Puppet Monster Massacre, as well as his follow up feature Zombie A-Hole, Night of the Tentacles, and Bath Salt Zombies. All of which have garnered great acclaim in the indie genre underground. He’s currently in post-production on the features Kill That Bitch!, and the Ballad of Skinless Pete, among others. We’re not quite sure how the man hasn’t lost his mind yet. Or maybe he has! That’s up to you to decide.

PJ: You have a very interesting filmography. You’ve dabbled in assholes that are zombies to puppet gore; it seems that the appeal to make ultra-low budget throw back endeavors of yesteryear has been coming back full force. Whether it’s a little more main stream like Hobo With A Shotgun to the grindhouse approach of Dead Hooker In A Trunk, there’s no denying that it’s becoming a popular sub-genre again. Why do you think so many indie filmmakers are going that route as opposed to going for something that might be considered "more marketable" by industry standards?

DM: Whether or not you make a marketable movie depends mostly on your motivations as a filmmaker I think. If you want to make money then make a movie about a mega shark with Eric Roberts in it. If you want to make art then make something that means something to you. I make movies that matter to me. I think Jason Eisener and the Soska’s are doing the same thing. I want to point out, though, that I don’t live in the same world as those filmmakers. I am in the realm of Concept Media, Bill Zebub, Jabb Pictures, Razor Sharp Studios, James Balsamo etc. Hobo with a Shotgun is a big budget movie in my eyes, and while the Soska’s made Dead Hooker In A Trunk for no money, they have since moved on.

JB: With how things have shifted, indie filmmakers are more and more seeking new avenues for distribution and means to get their work available to audiences. Traditional distribution has steered more towards digital, on demand, and self-distribution in some cases. What are your thoughts on the current state of independent film distribution? Where do you see it heading? And how are you focusing on making your films work within this shifting paradigm?

DM: It’s so weird because we are in this bizarre transitional period right now, and I don’t think every genre is going to go to same place at the same time. For instance: the average horror fan wants a physical copy of the film. They aren’t keen on digital distribution. They want a DVD or a VHS, and some of them want Blu-rays. It’s an interesting phenomenon. From a filmmakers perspective I don’t think there is a right answer. Not yet anyway. I think it depends on your film and your audience. I do think that self/diy distribution is more viable (especially for genre films) than anyone would like to admit. I think films that qualify as no-budget productions can maybe get the most out of self-distribution, but I also think that folks with a built in following can take great advantage of it. Louis C.K. is a perfect example. From personal experience: Traditional distribution has gotten my name out there. Its built the groundwork of my fan base. It’s done lots of great things for me, but the money isn’t exactly rolling in. After chargebacks and marketing fees there isn’t much left. This has inspired me to try self-distribution. Right now Easter Casket is only available from www.eastercasket.com or directly from me at conventions. Considering the budget for the film (not including what we raised on Indiegogo) was only $2000, its fairly likely we will make that money back and possibly profit. I also have the option of putting it out via Amazon.com in their store as a physical copy as well as through their popular VOD program. I haven’t done that yet though, because once you take that step you will have a very difficult time getting traditional distribution in the future. We are experimenting with it a bit, and I am going to try different strategies with different films as I move forward to find what is right for me. Long way of saying "Fuck if I know!", but that’s where I am personally with it. Distribution is a strange hungry beast.

PJ: What do you consider to be the most rewarding aspects of indie filmmaking & what are the down sides?

DM: I think every piece of the process is rewarding. Just the sense of accomplishment and knowing that you have performed a tiny miracle by creating something form virtually nothing.

The downsides are being poor. Which is manageable. I have never really had money anyway. And the poor unfortunate souls who decide to hate you and your work for no better reason then they have never created anything on their own. May they all die terrible and creative deaths.

JB: I know you get a lot of questions in the vein of "how do you get your actresses to get naked without coming off as a creep" – which sort of feels like a creepy question to begin with, if you ask me. (*I’m not asking that question, but you’re welcome to spout/rant about it here if you want*) What I’d like to know is, what do you do to lighten the mood on set during some of these uncomfortable sequences?

DM: When it comes to nudity it just sort of depends on the person. Some folks will gallivant around set all day in their birthday suit and not feel the least bit embarrassed. While other folks are willing to shed their clothes, but it’s only because they believe in the film and once "cut" is called they want their clothes back on. So you really just have to adjust according to who you are working with. Sometimes it’s okay to joke around and sometimes it isn’t. I generally just try to be as descriptive, honest, and accommodating as I possibly can be.

PJ: Good or bad, Hollywood remakes have been pumped out over the past decade. If given a chance, with no budget restrictions, what would you remake and why?

DM: There are 3 IPs that I would love to take part in.

Puppet Master. I love that franchise (warts and all) but they have sucked out loud since part 6. To use Hollywood parlance: "It needs a reboot". There is a lot of potential there, but the execution has been atrocious. I would love a go at it.

The Guyver. It’s a movie about a normal guy with retractable armor that pops out of his spine so that he can fight what are essentially werewolves. The concept and premise are amazing and there are years of manga to draw from. I am surprised no one has done it yet honestly.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I love the turtles, but I feel like the first movie is the only thing that has ever come close to getting them right outside of the comic book world. It would be amazing to make a new TMNT movie that would make the fans happy and appeal to the new generation of Turtle fans.

JB: From my conversations with you, you’ve seemed particularly excited about Easter Casket, even more so than some of your other films. It just seems your interest piques a bit when that one comes up. What, aside from the fact it’s the newest one to promote, excites you so much about this one?

DM: Easter Casket is just a perfect example of the films I like to make. It’s completely insane. I don’t want to give anything away, but it is the most Dustin Millsy of any of my films so far. I think all of the things that people love about a DMP film are there and cranked up to 11.

PJ: The horror genre is very prevalent throughout the world of independent filmmaking. In particular, ultra-low budget filmmaking. What do you think is so appealing about this genre & its sub-genres to indie artists?

DM: I think the horror genre is unique in that it generally benefits from being small scale and low budget. Nearly all of the classics are low budget endeavors. I think that has a lot to do with it.

JB: You sort of do the most interesting (and foul!) shit with puppets since I think Meet The Feebles. Is “puppetfuckery” going to continue to be one of your directorial traits as the year’s progress?

DM: I just really like puppets and animation, and I think they are underused when it comes to the realm of adult audiences. Maybe for a reason. I don’t know. I just love them, and it’s funny to make them do dirty shit. Yeah that cigarette video may have been even too much for me. It was a commissioned job and the band was very specific about what they wanted to happen. It was fun to make, but yeah… pretty icky.

PJ: Nearly every filmmaker I’ve ever spoken to has had a moment where we’re ready to pull their hair out due to either the stress of a project or just the overall pitfalls. Every project I’ve directed/produced came with an anxiety attack. Nevertheless, we push forward and keep at it. Why do you think we keep doing this to ourselves?

DM: Making a movie is difficult stressful work, but so is being a parent. Good parents don’t run out on their kids. Good filmmakers don’t run out on their movies. I think some folks keep doing it because it feels good to finish a film. It makes all the work worthwhile. I think some folks keep doing it because they think one day it will make them rich.

JB: Any words of wisdom/inspiration for artists out there looking to get started in getting their hands dirty in the cinema world?

DM: My advice to aspiring filmmakers and artists of all types is just to stop being a little bitch and do something with your life. People are so full of excuses. Especially film school grads. Shut your fucking dirty mouth, buy/steal a camera and make a god damn piece of art. Also… stop making slashers and zombie flicks unless you have something original to say. Jesus Christ on a cracker I am so tired of seeing the same indie slasher and zombie pictures over and over again. What is wrong with you people?

Special thanks go out to Dustin Mills for taking the time to let us rape his brain. A true indie filmmaker with a passion for making movies that appeal to him and hopefully those who love to see bloody pulps of puppet grotesquery. To find out more about Dustin and his productions visit www.dmpstudios.com.