Filmage-A-Trois: Nathan Thomas Milliner – 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 (OBSOLESCENCE, 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 you the 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!

Today we’re talking with an insanely awesome artistic talent, not just behind the camera, but on the canvas as well. Nathan Thomas Milliner, a native of Louisville, Kentucky, realized his true calling after experiencing the original BATMAN. After studying the medium for over fourteen years Nathan’s life dream of becoming an established comic book creator came to fruition when his epic crime drama “The Malevolent” was published in 2003. In 2007 he published yet another called “Girl Number Three” that was then adapted into a feature film in 2009 of which he wrote and Produced. The same year Nathan began working for the popular horror publication HorrorHound Magazine creating cover art and several other artistic endeavors for the magazine. Recently Milliner was contracted by Scream Factory to create covers for their DVD/Blu-ray releases of popular horror films the likes of THE BURNING, HALLOWEEN II, TERROR TRAIN, THE FUNHOUSE and more. He also recently wrapped principle photography on his zombie epic A WISH FOR THE DEAD that he wrote and directed. An accomplished artist and filmmaker, Nathan is definitely going to be a rising name as time moves on. Enough buttering his bread, let’s get to the good stuff.

PJ: If you could remake an 80’s classic what would it be and how would you re-imagine it?

NTM: I’m not big on remakes really. I think remakes should be for films that need improvement. I like that remakes can bring attention to a forgotten film. I’d do STREETS OF FIRE for that. But I couldn’t do it better than Walter Hill did. It was planned to be a trilogy so maybe I could make a sequel instead. I have always wanted to adapt Elmore Leonard’s "Swag" to film. It has never been done. So if I did that, I could follow it up with the next novel "Stick" which was adapted to film in 1985 by Burt Reynolds who also starred in it. Not a very good film and Burt was totally wrong to play Ernest Stick Stickley. Or I could remake a William Lustig film like VIGILANTE or RELENTLESS…which I both love. Or maybe the TV movie "The Park is Mine" since TV movies fall into obscurity. I’ll have to think of what I’d do differently if I made Stick. It would mostly start by casting the right actor. I’ll think on it and add that.

JB: So I gather you’re a fellow obsessive cinephile, if I’m not mistaken. What, to you, is so special about film as a storytelling/entertainment/artistic medium?

NTM: Greg Mclean who directed WOLF CREEK and ROGUE was a painter before he became a filmmaker. On the WOLF CREEK dvd he talks about why he became a director and gave up painting as his medium. He said that movie making is the highest form of art that there is in today’s world and if you are going to be an artist, you might as well use the greatest medium available. He said if Leonardo Da Vinci were alive today, he’d be a film director. I became a comic book creator at age 13 after seeing Tim Burton’s BATMAN movie in 1989. It changed my life. And since a movie was what led me to comics, my comics were always very cinematic. So I never really was a comic book creator–I was making movies on paper. I don’t know if film is the best form of storytelling there ever was, but it is the most collaborative. And really…the most fun to work in. And in many ways, the most rewarding. A filmmaker can sit down with their audience and see exactly how they respond to your art when it comes to film. Books, comics, paintings, ect…they are mostly a private engagement between author and reader. Film is community. Film is a campfire story to the tribe.

PJ: Ryan Reynolds calls and says, “write me a vehicle to get back into the horror scene." What would it be and what’s the tag line?

NTM: I actually have a script called SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN about a charming serial killer who is dealing with a relationship going South and his obsession with a pretty nurse that I think Ryan would be great to play the lead/serial killer. While most of Ryan’s stuff hasn’t clicked with me I have been a fan of his since he was on that sitcom he did, Two Guys, A Girl and A Pizza Place". He was excellent in Buried. Ryan has darkness and a cold in his eyes. Imagine his character in WAITING if he were a serial killer. Also think about Mathew in Killer Joe. That would be a direction for him I think. The tag line would be “God, Country and Murder.”

JB: I love that you’re a guy who wears so many hats. You adapted your comic “Girl Number Three” into a screenplay for the film version. You’ve had a hell of a progression in your career over the years. Where do you see yourself several years from now?

NTM: I have plenty of other comics I could adapt to film: The Malevolent, Final Days, A Bloody Pulp, or Juvenile. I have a few other stories from back in the day; have a few scripts like SUNDAY MORNING COMING DOWN, STOCK BOYS. I am currently writing my crime film screenplay "Lay Down, You’re Dead" which I am hoping to actually make my second film. We’ll see. There’s a filmmaker up in Indiana about to start filming his third film and he wants to work with me on anything. Right now we are talking about a web series. I don’t know where I see myself in several years. The cool thing about being so versatile is that no opportunity is off limits. I am offered so many opportunities and I have the freedom to say no or yes. I have so many interests that if I am offered to do something I really want to do, I will. I’d like to be a freelance artist still because I like the surprise of the job. You are going from project to project, there is diversity and it is exciting to only have to work on something for one week and for it to be different every week. Keeps things interesting and fun.

PJ: You are an incredible talent when it comes to art. You’ve drawn some fantastic film posters and DVD/Blu-ray artwork. What is the coolest celebrity moment that involves your artwork?

NTM: First off, thank you for the compliment. There have been some very cool moments between myself and the celebrities featured or attached to the subject of my art. No better feeling than to see the person in your work so happy about seeing it. I might call it a tie. The first would be Robert Englund. The reason I became a horror fan was because of the Nightmare movies, so one day I just decided it was time to meet Robert. He was appearing in Chicago, over five hours away. I got off work, skipping sleep and my wife and I drove all the way to Chicago. I arrived at the hotel 3 hours before they opened because photo op tickets were going to be limited. I was third in line that morning. I buy my tickets one hour before they opened and had to get in Englund’s line for another hour. Finally Robert walks by and begins signing. At this point I have driven five hours and stood in lines for three hours. I have now been awake for about 30 hours but I didn’t feel it. I had a NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET poster; I had recently drawn, to give him. Robert is a great celebrity to meet as he gives his fans his time. I stepped up and told him who I was and gave him the art, told him he is the reason I do what I do. He just stares at it, and stares at it and begins talking to me about how much he loved it. He must have studied it for three minutes as the security guy took five photos of us and three of them are Robert looking at the poster. They are only meant to take one photo but five were taken. That is how much time Robert gave me and my art. It had been 23 years of wanting to meet him, I had been up for 30 hours and Robert was so great and appreciative (he told me he was going to hang it in his office) after we walked away we headed to the vendor room and suddenly it hit me. I told my wife I needed to sit down. I sat down in a chair a little bit hidden from the other people and had to fight back crying. It was emotional and I was tearing up. I held back but it was overwhelming for me as this guy meant so much to my life and career.

JB: I love your artwork, man. I find it to be quite kinetic, visceral, and intrinsically filmic in presentation (which you cite as a personal intent). Your montage-style pieces really call to mind some of my favorite 80s (ballpark) era VHS covers; yet while feeling retro they still retain a sort of modern edge. In developing your unique style, what specifically, or who (artists or otherwise) inspired you?

NTM: I think it just comes from having grown up at the time and being influenced by the artists of the 70s and 80s and then learning more from artists from the 90s and 2000s as a teen and adult. Obviously I was influenced by guys like Drew Struzan, Basil Gogos, Frank Frazetta, Barry Windsor Smith and Berni Wrightson. As a comic guy I was inspired by the guys from the 1980s and 90s like Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Marc Silvestri, Sam Keith, Norm Breyfogle, Brian Bolland, Cam Kennedy, Frank Miller, Mike Mignola. There are dozens more, I could go on and on. When I came into the movie poster thing and the horror genre in general I knew that my 20 years drawing comic books would maybe offer something different and fresh to the horror art world because most horror artists have a painting background and do a lot of Basil Gogos inspired styles. I was never a painter, I love to draw. I love ink work. So I knew my "drawing" passion would give my work a different look from all of the others in the genre so I went with that. I’ve teased doing the painting thing and people really liked it and some have said they’d like me to do more of it, but I have no desire to produce work that looks like everyone else’s work so I am fine sticking to the comic book inking inspired art that I do.

PJ: What would your version of "torture porn" be exactly?

NYM: I am not a big fan of the label "torture porn". I think it is an unflattering and unfair label for many films. A girl walked out on my film "Girl Number Three" because she said it was torture porn. I took it as offensive. My definition of torture porn would maybe be those cheap, underground films that have no story but are just set pieces of sexual deviancy and mutilation. No script, no real talent…just shock for the sake of it. A movie like HOSTEL or WOLF CREEK are in my book, survival horror films. While extreme and graphic, they offer more than mindless exploitation created strictly to excite the sick minded who get off on seeing the red stuff. Porn arouses the viewer, and while I am sure violence on screen arouses some, I believe the majority of filmgoers are repelled and disgusted by what they see in those films.

JB: We’re coming into a time where Marvel’s cinematic universe plan has proved that it works, with films featuring individual superheroes connecting to giant collaborative maelstroms that wind up being the most financially successful thing ever. Two questions: What’s your take on the modern state of comic/superhero films? And what property, however obscure or mainstream, would you like to see adapted to the big screen?

NTM: I kind of feel like the comic book well is starting to run dry. I really do. It has been amazing to see some of these films get realized and at times, very disappointing to see some of them realized so poorly. It has been cool to see non-mainstream books make it to screen like THE CROW, ROAD TO PERDITION, GHOST WORLD, AMERICAN SPLENDOR, A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, V FOR VENDETTA, WATCHMEN, HELLBOY, ect. But I really do think soon, the genre is going to have to take a nose dive. Nolan set the bar so high with his Batman films that everyone tried to make similar films–even James Bond took inspiration in SKYFALL from what Nolan did. I think whoever re-boots Batman is going to have a lot of problems. Marvel has done something so smart and so well that I can’t see others having the same success. The X-Men and Spider-Man films were really the ones that made the genre explode in the early 2000’s but they fell so short so quickly that today, I don’t think people REALLY have faith in the new Spidey or Wolverine/X-Men films. THE AVENGERS was such a well-oiled machine of films building up to that big daddy of a blockbuster. I don’t think it can be done again–I really think the first Avengers movie was the one shot and anything more will flounder. The reason Avengers worked so well was they were able to pit the heroes against each other for most of the film and in a sequel, that won’t happen. It’ll just be a hero team against a bad guy movie again. The Avengers was spectacular but offered very little in story. As for what comic I’d like to see adapted, I really couldn’t say. Nothing is jumping out at me. A few years ago Alexandre Aja was toying around with doing Black Hole as a film. That would have been interesting.

PJ: Most frustrating and rewarding aspects of independent filmmaking?

NTM: I think the most rewarding thing plays into the frustrating thing as well. The most rewarding thing, apart from finally sharing your work with the public at a theater, but I think working with other motivated and creative people who aren’t just working for a check but because they believe in the work is something very special and because of that there is a responsibility to make sure that you are producing quality work that everyone can be proud that they were a part of. The most frustrating thing is that because there isn’t always a check involved, some people tend to be very irresponsible with other people’s time. A cast and crew of thirty shows up ready to go and an actor crucial to the scene decides to not show or show up two hours late. I just have an old fashioned work ethic and commitment that if I tell you I will be there, I will be there. A lot of actors seem to have a lot of problems with that and it can screw up everything. A lot of settling with what you can get instead of what you wanted because your six hour shoot turns into four hours.

JB: What advice or encouragement would you offer to any young artists/writers/filmmakers who might want to tread the path that you’re walking?

NTM: The best advice I can give anyone is to just keep working. Keep moving forward. Keep learning, attack and conquer your weaknesses and always do your best. No shortcuts. Your reputation is on the line with everything you do so treat it as the most important thing you ever did before. It just may end up being what you are known for, or might be that rung in the ladder that gets you from here to where you want to be. The more you do, and do well and with professionalism, the more people notice and seek you out. And with that, opportunity.

We wanted to thank Nathan for being such an awesome artist and letting us pick his brain in such a random way. If you want to learn more about Nathan, his art or his films you can check out www.rebelrouserart.com or “fan” his art page on Facebook, just search The Art of Nathan Thomas Milliner. Keep your eyes peeled for more three-way interview action in the future and from both of us here at Filmage-A-Trois, keep your minds in the gutter and your hands out of the toilet.