The Cast and Director of Netflix’s Okja

Have you met Okja? The titular “super pig” is at the heart of Director Bong Joon Ho’s newest feature which is currently streaming on Netflix. The imaginative film follows Okja, a creature genetically engineered by the shady Mirando Corporation (headed by a boundlessly enthusiastic Tilda Swinton) as a source of new consumable meat product. In a longterm PR move, this super pig is farm-raised by a young girl in Korea named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) until, unbeknownst to Mija, she is scheduled to make her big trip to NYC where Mirando aims to cash in on their investment. What follows is a wild journey to the city where Mija encounters a radical PETA-like eco-group, the ALF, as well as some harsh realities of this film’s version of the terrifying food industry.

Last month, cast members Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Lily Collins, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Giancarlo Esposito gathered in New York along with Director Bong to give their insight on making the film and its message.

Some minor spoilers

Seo-Hyun Ahn carries the film as Mija, an acting and physical feat, her and Director Bong spoke via translators about developing her performance:

Ahn: [I] was always thinking how Mija would perceive all of the things that are happening and [I] would say [I] was there as an intermediate state and Director Bong helped [me] constantly think about why would Mija do this? And what would Mija think? That sort of helped [me] in maximizing how Mija would think in the story.

Director Bong: Ahn is very experienced and she’s very energetic and focused. So She has enough energy to confront Tilda or Paul. And because of this high energy whenever we were shooting the scenic mountain scenes, [I] tried to distract Mija as best as [I] could. Whenever [Ahn] was focusing on the script, [I] would distract her by talking about catering and talking about snacks in the snack corner. [I] did [my] best to distract her as best as possible because if you try too hard then there are times that the performance doesn’t come out right. And because there are so many great actors and actresses around, she might have been pressured into giving a poor performance. [I] did [my] best to try to relax her as much as possible.

As Lucy Mirando, and later Nancy Mirando, Tilda Swinton enjoyed working with her Snowpiercer Director Bong:

Swinton: It’s a very simple and relaxed business when working with someone like Director Bong who invites a kind of playfulness and as he just described , a kind of relaxedness in all his company, not just the performers, but in all departments. What he knows…is he wants people to be relaxed and really bring something fresh and creative. And that’s an environment that I love. It’s like a kind of playpen, it’s like a sandbox to me, it’s like kindergarten. Especially working with him, he’s my playmate.

The Mirando sisters are reminiscent in their emphatic, almost cult-leader like energy of Swinton’s Snowpiercer character Mason, she discussed their similarities:

Swinton: Yes we worked on Snowpiercer together, Director Bong and I, and we kind of whipped up this insane burlesque, Mason, who is supposed to be beyond any reality but as it happens, it seems that we were behind the curve [laughs] With this one we wanted to come at the idea of a fool-clown-villain in a slightly different way. We wanted to find different ways—the different faces of high capitalism and exploitation. And so we decided in fact to split it in fact, either into a schizophrenic—I mean I sometimes wonder whether there are two people here, whether actually there isn’t one. You know because let’s face it when Lucy fades away, Nancy appears and vice-versa. So we wanted to look at two different ways of messing the world up. So we have Nancy, who is the—she doesn’t fall far from the tree of their toxic, horrendous father. And then Lucy, who is so determined to be different. She’s driving 180 degrees away from Nancy and trying to be all user-friendly and “woke” and squeaky clean. And lovable. So it was an opportunity to look at these two different faces. But I suppose you know, especially when you’re working together and your collaboration over projects, the conversation is kind of the same conversation that just evolves and goes into a whole new area. All sorts of conversations we had about Mason just sort of moved into conversations about the Mirandos. So yeah, they are cousins of a sort. And they ALL have teeth. [Laughs]

Director Bong is no stranger to centralizing creatures as metaphors in his stories, after his successful feature The Host, and he spoke about using them in that way:

Director Bong: [I’m] always drawn into creature films and creatures. However in The Host, the creature was a monster who attacked people and in Okja the creature is a very intimate friend of the protagonist Mija. They sleep together, they have a lot of interaction, they hug each other and because of this interaction, it required a lot of cutting edge visual effects work which was [my] first challenge. So it’s a pig and now in retrospect [I’m] wondering when [I contemplate why I] chose a pig as the animal. [I think] there’s no better animal than the pig that humans associate with food. Ham, sausage, jerky, etc etc. But in reality, pigs are very delicate, sophisticated and smart and obviously clean. [I think] that the way the two perspectives we have when we look at animals are all coalesced inside a pig. Through the one perspective, we look at animals as family and friends, as pets. And the other perspective is when we look at animals as food. And [I believe] these two perspectives co-exist inside a pig. In our every day lives, people try to separate these two universes apart. We play with our pets in the day and at night, we have a steak dinner. But in this film, we try to merge those two universes together and try to create this sense of discomfort…A creature film is a very effective tool to create special commentary and to get commentary in the world that we live in.

Lily Collins and Steven Yeun are both play part of the fictional eco-group led by Paul Dano and they talked about their views of such groups and animal rights activism in light of doing the film:

Collins: I’ve always been weirdly interested in food documentaries so during the prep of this movie, I watched more and Director Bong gave us all this ALF handbook. We saw lots of really difficult images of animals and treatment and the facilities…And I’m not a red-meat eater anyway, so it wasn’t that I changed my food habits or my eating habits but I definitely became more of a conscious consumer in many other types of products. I think the great thing about this film though is that it speaks to so many different types of themes—you know, nutrition and environment, politics, love, innocence lost. There’s just so many different things to be taken from this film that I think are dealt with in a way that never tutorialized [sic], but always just prompts conversations…I think what Director Bong is amazing at is taking so many different things and presenting them to you. Never telling you how to think, but if you leave the theater thinking something, we’ve done our job right.

Yeun: …I really enjoyed working with director Bong. Mostly because he likes to just tell it to you how it is, with all the gray. And so, when you get to dive into [something] like the ALF, I know that we were playing a characterization of people that are really doing stuff like this, but I feel like one thing it sheds a light on–at least for myself–was why does an individual sign up for something like this? And they’re all different. Especially in our little subgroup of the ALF. Every single character had a different reason for being there. Or had different ethics that were willing to go far or less than the other person next to them. And I think it an interesting study in that regard because sometimes you see the ALF, as they intend, to just be this giant glob organization, or anything in that way. But when you pick apart the specific individuals that take part in something like this it’s interesting to see that not all the interests necessarily align.

Animal rights groups in real life sometimes draw criticism for their tactics and in this film we see the ALF arguing for non-violence while taking part in it, Director Bong on that contradiction:

Director Bong: There’s definitely a level of contradiction within the group ALF. Even in the film, the ALF shout that they hate violence but you can see throughout the film that they constantly inflict it. They have a very noble cause and you can understand the cause. But the film also portrays them to at times [to] look foolish and portray them making very human mistakes. Simply put, [I think] they’re humans just like us. Even Lucy Mirando. She doesn’t feel like she’s a pure villain or villainess in the pure sense. She also has flaws and a fragility. There’s a moment in the dressing room scene where Lucy talks to Frank and she raises the super pig jerky and says ‘its a shame that we have to tell these little white lies’… That was an honest moment on her part. Whether that be the Mirando Corporation or the ALF members, [I want] to embrace them within the boundaries of humanity where they have flaws or they make mistakes. Actually every character in this movie is pathetic except Mija and Okja.

Dano: And how complicated it is to put a beautiful young girl in the middle of all that contradiction, you know? it’s really one of the special things about the story….I like that the film to me, even though it has many topical issues, I don’t think it’s overly preaching. It’s too complicated for that. Even Mija eats chicken stew, or catches the fish and throws the little fish back in. That’s such an important detail for this film to be true. And even though it has a fantasy animation-comic-book-graphic-novel sort of level to it, I like the truth in the contradictions.

Finally the cast gave their initial response to this project:

Collins:…You know, you sit down with Director Bong–my first meeting with director Bong was at 11am and he orders ice cream and starts talking about this pig, and I go ‘OK, I think I know what I’m signing on for!?’ [Laughs] And I fell in love with the idea that he could see me as this character and I don’t think a lot of people would have been able to see me as someone like this. But it’s so much. It’s a love story, it’s a drama, it’s a comedy, it’s an action movie, it’s a fantasy movie. It’s kind of everything you’ve ever wanted to see in one movie. And yeah…It was a moment of enlightenment really, when you read it.

Giancarlo Esposito: For me it was in many ways a return to innocence. Odd for me to say after having played [Mirando corporation lackey] Frank Dawson, but this story is so absolutely beautiful in its very connected relationship message. It doesn’t matter what that relationship is. It could be a child with their goldfish in the tank who is their best friend, or it could be Okja. But that warmth, that sensitivity and that understanding that’s developed in that relationship, for me, guided me back to thinking about my loss of innocence. When did I grow up? And how could I unlearn that growing up and see the world in a new light? Many times we are so smart, that we are ignorant and they say that education is learned ignorance. We, as performers who fantasize about telling our stories, that will make a comment on our–a social comment, a political comment, an artistic comment– through our creativity, are gifted with our ultimate gift to still remain somewhere in our heart and soul, that beautiful child that Mija is.

Swinton: I didn’t read the script for a long time because I was privileged to be a part of the cloud of the idea before it ever came to script stage. I remember very clearly Director Bong, when we went to Seoul for the premiere of Snowpiercer, he drove us to the airport the following day and leaned over the back of the seat of the car and showed me this drawing of the pig and the girl and that was it. That was three years before there was a script. But even before that moment, I have to say that one of the bonds we share is a great love of the master Hayao Miyazaki, in particular My Neighbor Totoro, and in fact we regularly sing the Totoro theme tune. It’s a thing we do. And so, the second I saw this drawing, I saw that. I this as an opportunity to fill to that homage. But also we talked about the twin sisters in Spirited Away, which I think was the seed of the Mirando sisters. Yeah, so I was, you know, I was in before it existed. Put it that way.

Conference has been edited for length and clarity. Okja is available to stream now on Netflix.

Director Jon Cassar Talks About His New Film, “Forsaken” and the Possible Return of “24”

You may know the name Jon Cassar from his Emmy Award winning association with the popular television series, “24.” But when he’s not putting Jack Bauer through his paces, he’s taking the reigns of one of the best Westerns of the past decade.

“Forsaken,” which Mr. Cassar directed, boasts a strong script and an even stronger cast, including Donald and Keifer Sutherland, who star as father and son. Mr. Cassar took some time out to talk to me about “Forsaken,” the return of the Kennedys and what may be next for “24.”

MIKE SMITH: What attracted you to “Forsaken?”
JON CASSAR: Actually I was there when the project was born. A few of us were sitting around on the set of “24” talking, waiting to set up a shot when we started asking each other, ‘what would be a great thing to do once “24” ends?’ Eventually we all decided, ‘let’s do a Western together.’ So that’s really where it started. Once we decided on that Keifer came along. He wanted to do a film with his father so everything just worked. I’m happy to say that I was there at the inception. We got a brilliant writer (Brad Mirman) who not only wrote us a classic Western but also a touching father/son story. So by then I had Keifer, I had a great script and THEN I get Donald Sutherland? There’s no way I wasn’t going to be involved!

MS: Any trepidations about taking on a Western? They seem to be so hit and miss these days.
JC: Yeah, of course. I mean you do worry about it. I mean at one point it was the most popular film genre’. The most popular television genre’ also. I mean, it’s amazing how many popular television shows were Westerns. But it did, of course, begin to fall out of favor, all though it is making a little bitty comeback over the past few months. But you’re right. But I knew I had a great Western story. And I knew I had a great father/son story that people could connect with. I knew that relationship was really the heart of it and if we did it right I knew if would connect. And it’s fun doing something that isn’t a true CGI film. It’s fun doing something where the effects are more simple.

MS: What was it like as an observer to watch Keifer and his father work together?
JC: It was great. I’m very fortunate to have had a front row seat to watch Keifer and Donald working together. From the first time it was fantastic. They are both veteran actors and, in my opinion, two of the best actors of our time. To watch them work together was a pleasure. As it was watching all of the actors. Demi Moore. Brian Cox. Michael Wincott. They are all so experienced. I was very lucky to have a front row seat and watch them work.

MS: Keifer. Michael Wincott. Greg Ellis. You used quite a few of your “24” company in the film. Was that because you already had a good familiarity with them and their work?
JC: Absolutely. First of all, you have to know that all of the actors in the film were basically my friends. I didn’t have a studio dictating who was going to play what part. We actually got to pick who we liked. A lot of them were Keifer’s friends. And of course, by having done “24,” they knew me so it made the connection easier for sure.

MS; The recent return of “24” was very successful. I’ve heard rumors that Fox is considering re-booting the show. Is that something you plan to be involved with?
JC: Nothing is official yet. I am involved and we have talked. I can say that if it goes forward I won’t be involved in the pilot but I do hope to be involved in the series. However, at this point I’m not.

MS: What else are you working on now?
JC: A few years ago I did a mini-series called “The Kennedys,” which was an eight-part mini-series that starred Greg Kinnear as JFK and Katie Holmes as Jackie. We’re doing a sequel to that, called “After Camelot,” based on a book. It will deal with what happened to the Kennedys after John and Robert died. It’s mostly the Jackie story and it follow her during her marriage to Onassis as well as John Jr. and Ted Kennedy. It will encompass all of that history. We shoot that soon in Toronto. It will run on the Reelz Channel. It’s actually a fun project for me to do because we’re re-creating all of the history that we all grew up with.

Lake Bell chats about “Man Up” along with director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris at Tribeca Film Festival

Man Up, the hilarious new comedy from director Ben Palmer and writer Tess Morris, made its NY debut at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival with the creators and star Lake Bell in a cheerful mood on the red carpet. They along with producers Nira Park and Rachel Prior spoke with me about working on the film.

The film focuses on the awkward Nancy (Bell) accidentally swiping some else’s blind date, Jack (Simon Pegg) and the wild night they have out in London. True to the spirit of Man Up’s main character Nancy, writer Tess Morris was unabashedly honest about how she felt about the premiere, laughing and saying, “First time I’m going to see it with a paying audience–so I’m really excited and also I feel sick!”

Lauren Damon: How did you come up with some of the phrases and strategies that Nancy throws out in this film? The tactical puke? The blowjob paradox?
Tess Morris: Because they’re all actual things in my life! Actually, The Blowjob Paradox is my friend Austin. I have to credit him. That was his theory that I stole. Never be friends with a writer because they’ll just use everything of yours. Tactical puke? Because I’m the least sporty person in the world. So the idea of me actually having to do a tactical puke is sort of like half the joke. But yeah, I just base a lot of stuff on–I have a notebook with me everywhere I go and I just nick everyone else’s…

LD: Like Nancy carrying a notebook.
Morris: Oh yeah! Yeah, she’s very much myself.

LD: Did you write Jack with Simon Pegg in mind?
Morris: No I didn’t, I actually wrote it on spec, but he came on board it quite early and just changed the whole process for me. Because obviously once he was playing Jack, I could just have even more fun with him. And he brought so much to it, obviously. As did Lake. So yeah, that was a very exciting moment when he agreed to do it.
LD: I appreciated how none of your other female characters are mean, how the other date isn’t grotesque or competitive.
Morris: Oh yeah, like she gets her–I just sort felt like it was really important that she didn’t come across as like some young shallow kind of gal. Like she’s really excited for them because she’s a good soul. And I don’t like mean movies, you know? What’s the point?

LD: Can you name some of your favorite romantic comedies?
Morris: Oh yeah! I love Moonstruck. I think it’s underrated a lot. And I obviously love When Harry Met Sally and I also, most recently, Silver Linings Playbook and Crazy, Stupid, Love and Enough Said actually. I really liked Enough Said a lot. I think there’s been a slight resurgance recently.

 

Producers Nira Park and Rachel Prior had worked with star Simon Pegg throughout his entire “Cornetto Trilogy” with Edgar Wright and even earliar than that on UK sitcom “Spaced.”

LD: Can you speak about your relationship with Simon Pegg since you’ve worked with him dating back to spaced?
Nira Park: Eighteen years, seventeen years…we met on Spaced actually so I’d done something small with Channel 4 with Edgar before Spaced, then Spaced was starting up and Channel 4 actually asked me if I’d just do a couple of days a week initially to just kind of help them get it together. And I remember being really nervous when I met Simon and Jessica [Hynes] and I’m a bit older than them and they said they were terrified of me for the whole of the first series but I was actually quite scared of them! And–cause he’s just so bright and so brilliant and so funny–so yeah, I did a couple of days a week at first and then we all got on so well that kind of within a few weeks they were like ‘will you produce it??’ So okay.

 

LD:How did you get connected to this particular script?
Park: Well this script came about, we were just saying, because Rachel [Prior]–well we were all completely obsessed with Bridesmaids because we premiered Paul at SXSW and Bridesmaids was the surprise screening at midnight after Paul’s screening and it wasn’t finished at that point and actually [producer] James [Biddle] and Rachel weren’t there but I came back to London and was like ‘Oh my god, I’ve seen this film! It’s amazing! I wanna make this film!’ and we were just like ‘Why are there no more female writers in the UK who are writing this kind of thing??’ And then literally a couple of weeks later, this script, no one in the UK really writes on spec in the same way–it’s not the same as in the States–and this script just arrived through the letter box written by Tess and she’d kind of written it for Big Talk in the hope that we’d like it. Because she liked the films, the other films. And it was like everything we’d been hoping for! So at that point, we picked it up and we developed it for like a year and a half, we attached Simon kind of six months into the development.

 

LD:When did Lake come in?
Rachel Prior: When Lake came in it was just as we got to the point where we had a script that we were happy with and we were about to sort of start putting together and actually with BBC films and StudioCanal to actually start going into production. And we saw a couple of trailers for In A World and it was like there’s this–we had knew Lake from “Children’s Hospital” but there was something in In a World where we were like ‘Oh my god, she could play Nancy’ It’s obvious she was great at accents. And then we read an interview with her where she had said she studied drama in the UK for four years so we were like ‘Can she do a British accent?’ And she can.
Park: A brilliant one.
Rachel: Some Brits when we tested the film had no idea that she was American!

 

Lake Bell’s previous film, In a World featured her playing none other than a dialect coach with a great ear for accents.

LD:Was it gratifying going from In A World where the subject matter was doing dialects to this full feature where you’re using your British accent?
Lake Bell: It definitely was. You know accents and dialects are very much an obsession of mine. That is very authentic to In a World. So this was definitely on my actor bucket list of things to do was to play a fully realized British character, so yes. It absolutely satiated a desire to play a British character.

 

LD: How familiar were you with Simon Pegg before you paired up here?
Bell: You know I had known Simon’s work and certainly upon first meeting him I noticed we had a good sort of comedic chemistry and you know was excited to kind of go down this journey with him because I thought ‘Yeah, this if is gonna work.’ Especially with Tess Morris’s words which are so brilliantly…I really do attribute the brilliant repartee to her script.

 

Finally, director Ben Palmer comes from having done the feature film of UK TV teen comedy Inbetweeners.

LD: Your previous feature was The Inbetweeners, with just this manic teenage male energy, how was it switching to having a strong female lead?
Ben Palmer: It’s how I respond to a script, to be honest. And so the Inbetweeners was a really big part of my life and when I got sent Man Up, I almost felt they probably had sent it to the wrong person. Because I never thought that I’d be doing a British romantic comedy. But there was something–within the first couple of pages of reading Tess’s script, there’s something in that dialogue that stuck with me. And in a way, it has sort of that sharpness and that speed and the naturalism, I suppose. Those characters are so well drawn that I was a sucker for it, basically. And there’s and edge and there’s a truthfulness and it’s anarchic in its own way. There’s swears, there’s all that sort of stuff that excites me, I suppose. Although it is a romantic comedy, there is a crossover to the Inbetweeners. And it’s nice just to keep shaking it up and do a different thing.

LD: The film takes place over the course of one night, but has so many locations, what was that shoot like?
Palmer
: I loved that hook, that it happened over sort of 24 hours, in one night really. So within that…the challenge is to try and liven it up and move it around and the fluidity and the speed that they’re hammering through this city. It’s trying to find locations, not the easy locations to shoot in, but to go well ‘this is where this would happen.’ And so with that, when you’re doing a low budget film, there’s problems there. Because you can’t close down whole blocks, so you’ve gotta sort of work around general public in a way. But that’s how you achieve something that feels real and honest.

LD: Bowling features heavily in Nancy and Jack’s date, was there a best bowler on the set?
Ben: (Laughs) Simon. Simon’s a pretty good bowler. I’d say he’d edged it.

Man Up opens in UK cinemas on May 29th, while Saban Entertainment has recently acquired US distribution rights. You can read my review from Tribeca here.

Director John Maclean and Stars Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn talk about “Slow West”

Slow West held its New York premiere on April 19th at the SVA Theater during the 14th annual Tribeca Film Festival. Writer and director John Maclean joined stars Kodi Smit-McPhee and Ben Mendelsohn in speaking with me about the Michael-Fassbender-lead western on the red carpet.

Ben Mendelsohn is a renowned Australian actor who in Slow West takes on the larger-than-life role of Payne. Payne, in his oversized furry coat, is the leader of a vicious gang that Fassbender’s character Silas used to run with, and like his character, Mendelsohn seemed a bit bitter at the abandonedment of his gang-mate…

Lauren Damon: Can you discuss the relationship of Silas and Payne
Ben Mendelsohn: Okay, so Silas and Payne rode together back in the day and Silas essentially decided he was gonna go his own way–you know, he’d had enough, like ‘Yeah yeah, I’ve got what I wanted, I’m off doing my own thing’ Which, when you think about it is sort of a really punk move, you know? Because essentially Payne you know, gave this guy A LOT. Now, I’m not saying Silas isn’t a talented man, he is. But basically, he packed up and he got his tail between his legs and off he ran. And you know, time’s come now where our paths  have crossed again and [Silas]’s got this fine little bounty he’s traveling around with and really I just wanna know what’s up with that? Are we gonna share this spoil? Or are you gonna TRY and take it all for yourself? Or are you gonna try and be “a good boy”? So that’s a lot of what that’s about.

 

LD: And how did you all develop the look of Payne?
Ben: Oh the coat is genius. The very talented wardrobe lady [Kirsty Cameron] had it made and showed me all the pictures of trappers and what not from that period with these massive coats on. So once you put that coat on and that hat and you’ve got the tattoos, the rest of it’s a cake walk.

 

LD: How was it to shoot in NZ and with that wardrobe?
Ben: It was…yeah, it’s really crazy open wide spaces. It’s very desolate, it’s harsh. It’s a harsh sort of enviroment but very beautiful too. New Zealand’s a great place to shoot, it’s really got an extraordinary array of you know, locations and looks and feels…it’s all there. It’s a beautiful place to shoot.

 

LD: What attracted you to the film? I mean for a western it had a sense of humor about it too that I didn’t expect at all.
Ben: Yeah, I wasn’t sure how that would go. Michael Fassbender had started with John Maclean and they’d done a couple of short films and essentially the fact that you know that Michael Fassbender had sort of backed this to the degree he did was a very good sign. I’d seen his short films that John Maclean had done and they had something. You know, you could feel there was something there, western, it felt pretty cool. It felt like a good bit of fun with a decent chance of it working.

 

Director John Maclean had previously worked with Michael Fassbender on the short film Pitch Black Heist, which was shown at the 2012 Tribeca Film Fest.
LD: Can you talk about how you initially came to work with Michael Fassbender, what drew you to him or him to your work?
John Maclean: I think it was around the time that he was shooting with Tarantino [on Inglourious Basterds], I knew his agent. And his agent had given Michael some of my early short films I was making on my own. Michael saw something in them, came to me and said you know, if you want to do something, I’ll give up a day. So we started working together there.

 

LD: And when you approached this script, there’s a lot of dark humor in it—did you primarily come at it as a comedy or a western first?
John: I think, like my favorite films—I mean you look at a film like Fargo and it’s not a comedy, it’s not a thriller—I think some of the films I’m interested in, I think you just have to try and be truthful. And like life, comedy comes in to sad moments and sadness comes in to comedy moments.

 

LD: And it’s unconventional that your young romantic lead, his love interest doesn’t actually like him like that back!
John: I think “spoilers” here!

LD: I know, I’m sorry, my review says he’s been friend zoned
John: I just I mean, maybe that was from personal experience (laughs) when I was younger. But that’s what happens with young boys, I think. I guess it was for personal experience actually but um, I think he was never right for her. I think she was always more practical and he always too much of a dreamer. So from the beginning, I guess it’s doomed.

 

LD: How do you describe the back story between Payne and Silas?
John: Yeah, I think that’s the hard thing with wanting to make a shorter film—you can’t branch out into too many of the backstories but…I just imagined that the wild west, there wasn’t that many people at that time. So people sort of crossed paths much more often than you’d expect. I imagine they travelled together and [Silas] was part of Payne’s gang and then didn’t like the senselessness of some of the violence and left and went to go alone and Payne’s trying to draw him back into it.

 

Kodi Smit-McPhee was recently cast as Nightcrawler in next year’s X-men: Apocalypse, seeing as his previous film co-starred Nicholas Hoult (“Beast”) and this one he shared the screen with Fassbender (“Magneto”) I had to ask about joining them as mutants.

Lauren Damon: Have you contacted your past coworkers here for advice on joining the X-Men?
Kodi Smit McPhee: I haven’t contacted them yet. So we got Nicholas Hoult, Ty Sheridan and Michael Fassbender whom I know well. And I really can’t wait to get on set and work with them. And I haven’t said a word to them.

 

LD: What’re you most looking forward to about playing Nightcrawler?
Kodi: I really love the warmth that comes with the passion behind his character. And the novelty within just the tradition of him. I don’t necessarily have a desire to bring new things to it, but just show the world that they love.

 

LD: And are you familiar with Alan Cumming’s take on it from X2?
Kodi: Yes, absolutely. Usually, I mean if I don’t need to–like for Let Me In, I didn’t look at Let the Right One In–but for something like this, I thought it  was right to just find all the roots, you know, see how Nightcrawler evolved into who he is now.

 

LD: If you could choose your own X-power what would it be?
Kodi: I would love to physically, and within my own body, be able to travel back and forth and time. See how the history and the future plays out.

 

LD: Back onto Slow West, I was rewatching The Road recently and I saw your character there sort of as the young optimist to an older guide, like Jay in this film, did you feel that connection there?
Kodi: Absolutely and maybe in fact this whole story itself and the concept of a western story, it was very much like that. Like desolate and moving towards something hopeful. So yeah I really loved that idea and that was never intentional, but I guess it’s something that I’m just great at expressing and hopefully with Nightcrawler, I can move onto other things.

Next week: A more in-depth discussion with John and Kodi, meanwhile, you can check out my review of Slow West here.

Director Jeppe Rønde and star Hannah Murray talk about “Bridgend” at Tribeca Film Festival

Jeppe Rønde’s harrowing new drama Bridgend made its debut during the Tribeca Film Festival this past week with both the director and star Hannah Murray (“Game of Thrones”) in attendance. Bridgend is based on the true story of a massive series of teen suicides that occurred in a small town in Wales. The suicides received media coverage at a point where seventy-nine young people had taken their lives between 2007 and 2012. In the film, teenager Sarah (Murray) moves to Brigend with her police officer father and quickly finds herself running with the pack of local teens who’ve recently lost some of their peers to suicide. They are a wild bunch who borderline worship the deceased and memorialize them in an anonymous online chat. All the while Sarah’s father, like the rest of the community, seeks to find what is causing this horrible phenomenon.

This mystery intrigued director Rønde who spent time in the actual community and eventually shot the film there on location. Rønde and Murray both spoke to me on the red carpet about how important it was to dramatize the town’s story in a respectful manner.

Lauren Damon: You spent time in the actual community of Bridgend, what was that like and did you go there with the goal of developing a film about it?
Jeppe Rønde
: I went there with the–a goal is a strong word–but I went there to try and find out what is this about? And why is this tragedy happening? Which is of course may be a mystery, because it doesn’t make sense. Why do so many youngsters kill themselves? So I was trying to figure out how can this happen? And how can it keep on going?

LD: Was Hannah’s character influenced by a particular story that you found there?
JR: Not particular, but I wrote the whole script through all the characters that I met there. Many of them. And I mixed them into, you know, one character. So you couldn’t do like a one-to-one, ‘oh this is that character’, because I would never be able to do that. Because that would be morally incorrect. So I built it on the reality I met but also making it a fiction which was important to me. Because it cannot be too close to the real people living there…

LD: How did you find filming in the actual location?
JR: Actually to film on the location was very important to me. Because you feel the presence of what is there. The geography is specific. There’s a fog coming, you know every day it rains a lot. And it can feel depressing. And at the same time it is extremely beautiful. And it was easy for me to get the actors into this state of mind that I wanted them to be in.

LD: How much preparation went into your work with the DP to get this very ominous atmosphere?
JR:
Of course we wanted to push forward a feeling of something that would be this collective subconsciousness. Something that’s within us that’s a darkness. So we wanted to put that also into the shot.

LD: What would you want audiences to take away from the ending of the film?
JR: I hope that they will take away from the ending that this is something that is beyond understanding of who we are as human beings. That there’s something in us that we don’t know what it is…that if we do look into it carefully, then we can maybe choose one or the other. Because it is an open ending.

LD: Is this still going on? All the suicide statistics associated with the town seem to come from 2007 and 2012.
JR: Because that’s the only figures that you can find officially. But unfortunately yes, it is still happening. From what I heard and no one really knows, but the media was shut down in 2010. So it’s difficult to say, but you would have to ask the authorities there.

 

Hannah Murray, who currently plays Gilly on “Game of Thrones” had a breakout role in the UK teen TV drama “Skins” but saw the role of Sarah as a wholly different teen.

LD: What was your initial reaction to the script?
Hannah Murray: I’d never done something that was based on you know, based loosely on true events. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and I didn’t really want to get involved unless I thought things were going to be done sensitivly and respectfully. And when I had been offered the part I had a meeting with Jeppe to ask him why he wanted to make this film because I was worried about someone, I don’t know, wanting to do it in a kind of half-hearted way or taking advantage. So when I understood how long he’d taken to research it and how dedicated he was to the subject matter, and how involved he’d become with the community, I thought ‘Oh, you’re going to do this right and you’re going to do this honestly and bravely and compassionately.’ So that made me decide that it was something that it was worth jumping into.

LD: How was it shooting in that location?
HM: I don’t think we could have made the movie anywhere else. When you go there, you feel something very unique about that place and it’s beautiful. It’s incredibly beautiful but in a very bleak way. And there’s something kind of almost mystical and strange about it. I loved being there but it was, yeah you do feel a sort of sense of darkness in the air. Maybe that was because of the story we were telling though, I’m sure.

LD: You have this background coming from “Skins” of acting in the midst of a bunch of wild teens, did you feel a little like you were tapping into that again?
HM: I mean I feel like they’re incredibly different projects in sort of every way. Skins shows a dark side of teenage life but it also shows an incredibly fun and comedic side of teenage life. And in this, I mean, one of my friends saw this movie and described it as a gangster movie. Which I think is a really really interesting way of looking at it. And I think there’s a kind of, there’s a level of tribalism in this world that is so much more severe than anything that related to my teen experience. Whereas “Skins” I could kind of go like ‘Oh yeah, it was fun, we went to parties.” It was very different.

LD: How was it different on set with between the days you had you just acting with the pack of young actors versus the more intimate, intense scenes of just your character and her father?
HM: I mean that was one of the most amazing things about the project was all the different people I was working with were so different in terms of experience they’d had and the types of things they’d brought to these characters. So yeah, I remember every day we had the gang there it was just like this injection of energy and they were so exciting and would throw all these amazing lines that they’d improvised…And they would talk a thousand words a minute. And when I was working with Steve [Waddington] I felt like a child and when I was working with the kids I felt more like an adult because I felt sort of more responsible for them. And then I also had the love story with Josh O’Connor, which was a whole other element to play out…but I love everyone who worked on the film. It was such an amazing group of people.

LD: Finally, congratulations of continuing with Game of Thrones–especially this season’s opener being their highest rated–
HM: Oh was it?
LD: Apparently
HM: Oh that’s great!

LD: Why do you think the audience just keeps growing for it?
HM: I think it’s a REALLY good TV show. I think people put an incredible amount of hard work into it. The production values are really high and I just think David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and George [RR Martin] are geniuses. I just think they’re so smart…And George created this amazing world in the books and these incredible characters and then the way David and Dan have adapted it is beyond. I think they’re so so smart.

LD: And how many times a day does Kit Harrington have to hear he knows nothing?
HM: He gets told quite a few times. Not by our crew, but I’ve seen people come up to him in the street and that’s allllways the thing they want to say to him.

LD: How about you, do you get fan recognition out and about?
HM: Um, a bit. Less so than I think some of the others. I think because I’m–well, now I have red hair, but I’m normally blond in real life whereas I have dark hair in the show so I can kind of be a little bit more under the radar. But I still, I’m surprised how many people still spot me. I think because there are so many fans of the show.

“Grease” Director Randal Kleiser talks about his stage debut

What do you do when, in a span of two years, you direct some of the best episodic television as well as one of the most popular television movies of all time? If you’re Randal Kleiser, you graduate to features, where you’re first film, “Grease,” remains, almost four decades later, the highest grossing movie musical of all time. Not a bad start!

Born in Philadelphia, Kleiser headed west to study his chosen craft at the University of Southern California. It was there he met a fellow student named George Lucas. He graduated USC in 1968 and, on the basis of his impressive Master’s thesis film, “Peege,” began his career. After directing episodes of such popular television shows as “Marcus Welby, M.D.,” “The Rookies” and “Family,” he graduated to made-for-television films. His first, “Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway,” starred former “Brady Bunch” star Eve Plumb as a girl who, feeling her home life is tough, runs away to the big city where she’s soon selling her body. While this is almost happenstance on today’s television it was quite a shocker in 1976. His second film-for-television starred up and coming “Welcome Back, Kotter” star John Travolta as “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.” Based on a true story, the film earned three Emmy nominations, winning one. It also became a favorite of fans, thanks to Travolta’s performance and Paul Williams’ song, “What Would They Say,” which Travolta sang. Travolta and Kleiser would reunite the next year when the young star appeared opposite Olivia Newton-John in the musical smash “Grease.”

Kleiser, a director with an eye for young talent, followed up with “The Blue Lagoon,” starring Brooke Shields. He then featured Peter Gallagher and Daryl Hannah in “Summer Lovers” (which Kleiser also wrote) and then teamed up Jamie Lee Curtis and Patrick Swayze in “Grandview U.S.A.” Other films include “Big Top Pee Wee,” “Flight of the Navigator” and “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid.” In 1996 Kleiser wrote and directed “It’s My Party,” one of the first major films to address the issue of AIDS (though, in “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble,” Travolta’s character, Tod, was born with a deficient immune system, which is not unlike being born with AIDS). “It’s My Party” tells the story of Nick (Eric Roberts), whose most recent blood test reveals that he is HIV positive. Nick decides to go out on his own terms and throws himself a “going away” party.

This year, Kleiser turned to the stage, where his first production, “The Penis Chronicles,” currently plays four times weekly at the Coastal Playhouse, in West Hollywood, California through January 11, 2015. Mr. Kleiser took time out from his schedule to speak with me about working on the stage, the continued magic of “Grease” and a project near and dear to his heart: “The Nina Foch Project.”

Mike Smith: You’re about to finish your first foray onto the stage. How did you get involved with “The Penis Chronicles?”
Randal Kleiser: Tom Yewell was my assistant on “White Fang” and “Honey, I Blew Up the Kid”. He then became my director of development at Disney Studios. After that he moved back East for several years. Last year his friend Greg O’Connor sent me his play, “The Penis Chronicles” and I read it expecting to just give him my comments. I was extremely impressed and immediately wanted to help launch it.

MS: As someone who had worked primarily in television and film, does the role of the director change when it’s live theatre?
RK: The biggest difference is that the control is in the hands of the actors, rather than the director. I’m used to being able to fine tune movie performances, doing multiple takes until we achieve each moment perfectly. There is an excitement about live theater that I haven’t experienced in my movie career. You never know what’s going to happen. Last week we had a power outage during the play and used iPhone flashlight apps to light the actor.

MS: You were able to fund the initial 8-week run of the show through Indigogo. Any thoughts of extending the run?
RK: We are pleased to announce that we are extending until at least January 11th. After that, we aren’t sure. It depends on the public continuing to show up.

MS: What can you tell us about your upcoming film, “B.F.F.?”
RK: That is a project written and directed by young filmmaker Greg Carter. I’m overseeing it in an executive producer capacity.

MS: You went from directing one of the most popular television films of all time (“The Boy in the Plastic Bubble”) to helming the most popular movie musical as a first time feature film director. Why do you think “Grease” continues to find fans after all these years?
RK: I get asked that a lot. It must have been the perfect storm of cast chemistry, a hit Broadway play, the new music, and characters that everyone could identify with.

MS: It’s been almost 20 years since “It’s My Party” was released. These days in Hollywood it’s almost common-place to have major studios producing projects like “Angels in America” and “The Normal Heart.” How hard was it to get “It’s My Party” made?
RK: I wrote it while under a deal at Disney. They were not jumping at making it. Duh. Luckily, John Calley had just taken over United Artists and I went over to see him. I showed him pictures from the actual party that the script was based on and he greenlit the project that day.
I couldn’t have been more thrilled.

MS: Tell us a little about the “Nina Foch Project” and her influence on your career?
RK: Nina Foch was a vital presence in the entertainment industry, at home onstage, on screen, and in the classroom. Her acting career spanned seven decades, including starring roles on the Broadway stage and numerous television appearances from the golden era of live television drama through the most popular series and sitcoms of recent years. She was best known for her performances in classic films, such as “An American in Paris,” “Spartacus,” and “The Ten Commandments.” Her role as Erica Martin in “Executive Suite,” directed by Robert Wise, garnered her an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress in 1955. Nina joined the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she taught for many years, offering the Advanced Seminar in Directing Actors for Film. She worked with – and inspired – many of today’s most successful actors, singers, directors, screenwriters, and producers. After studying with her, I hired her on several occasions to guide me in breaking down scripts I was about to shoot. She would drill me on each moment, each line, each piece of punctuation so that I was ready to shoot only what was necessary to forward the story and ready for any possible question from the actors. My classmate George Lucas put up some funds to shoot a whole semester of her class before her death in 2008. She instilled in me the same thing that motivated her: a desire to transfer the fascination. The Nina Foch Course for Filmmakers and Actors is available in DVD and online form at www.ninafochproject.com.

MS: What, if anything, do you have planned next?
RK: I have four films ready to go and am looking to complete funding on them. All my director friends are in the same boat. We have to become entrepreneurs and do our own projects, rather than wait for the studios to change from only doing sequels, comics and remakes.

Mike Nichols, Oscar Winning Director, Passes Away

Mike Nichols, whose films were both timely and timeless, passed away this morning, a few weeks after his birthday. He was 83.

Born Michael Igor Peschkowsky on November 6, 1931 in Berlin, Germany, the filmmaker emigrated to America with his family in 1937.

Nichols began his career as an actor and, along with other performers like Elaine May, Paul Sills and Ed Asner helped create the popular Second City Comedy Group. He also formed a popular comedy duo with May, sharing the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Comedy Recording for “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.” Nichols moved on to Broadway, where he won a record (6) Tony Awards (and seven more nominations) for Best Direction of a Play for the following shows: “Barefoot in the Park,” “Luv and the Odd Couple,” “Plaza Suite,” “The Prisoner of Second Avenue,” The Real Thing” and the 2012 revival of “Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.” He also won Tony Awards for Best Direction of a Musical for “Monty Python’s SPAMALOT” and for producing both the original production of “Annie” and “The Real Thing.” I had the great opportunity to meet Mr. Nichols in New York City after a production of “Death and the Maiden,” a brilliant show which featured Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfuss and Glenn Close.

Naturally Hollywood soon came calling. His first film behind the camera, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was not only the first film to come with a rating recomendation that “no one under 18 would be admitted” but the first film where the entire credited cast (Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal) earned Oscar nominations. Taylor won for Best Actress as did Dennis for Best Supporting Actress. His follow-up film, “The Graduate,” made a star of Dustin Hoffman and earned Nichols the Academy Award as the years Best Director. Among his other films: “Catch-22,” “Silkwood,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Working Girl,” “Primary Colors” and “Closer.” His last film was 2007’s “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

Nichols was a member of the rare EGOT club – a group of 12 people that have won Emmy, Grammy, Academy and Tony Awards. He won an Emmy award as Best Director for the television adaption of Tony Kushner’s play “Angels in America.” Mr. Nichols is survived by three children and his fourth wife, ABC News’ Diane Sawyer.

Director Brin Hill Talks About Joss Whedon’s “In Your Eyes”

In Your Eyes held it premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Fest and fortunately for viewers became immediately available to stream thereafter. This intimate romantic comedy was directed by Brin Hill working from a script from none other than The Avengers’ Joss Whedon. Hill attended the festival in New York and sat down with me to discuss this unique, genre-blending story.

The film stars Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl David as two complete strangers, Rebecca and Dylan, who find themselves beginning to literally see out each other’s eyes. The unexplained connection—they can hear eachother as well— bonds the pair who use it to help each other navigate trying times in their respective lives. Casting the lead couple, Hill said, came about from discussions with producers and Whedon.         

“Joss really loved [Kazan] in this movie that he called ‘Spoledy Girl’ [2009’s The Exploding Girl] and he thought that she was a really inspired choice and Kai [Cole, co-founder of Bellwether Pictures ] loved her in that movie and Michael loved her in that movie and I loved her in all her movies. And you know she’s different, she’s not what you would normally think in the genre of like a love story, so that was really inspiring. And what I like about her was she’s quirky, you know, she brings a lot of range to her stuff so that was exciting.” As for Michael Stahl-David, Hill said “he just came in auditioned and I was like this is the guy…[he] was just charismatic and he just got it. He was just great in the read.”

The mysterious connection between Rebecca and Dylan manifests itself in the film as superimposed imagery in their shared vision, a decision Hill called intentionally “low-fi” adding “I wanted them to feel like an old bolex camera like when I read it I was like ‘Oh you shoot it once and then you roll the camera through and then you shoot it again’ and I wanted these two images on top of eachother. That was how I saw it…I tried to embrace it like something that was really happening to them.”

The result of the distant connection in the film is that Kazan and Stahl-David don’t actually share much screentime together. However to keep their relationship feeling natural, Hill had both the actors on set. “They both had to be there run-of-show so when we shot Zoe’s side in New Hampshire, [Michael] was there…They didn’t want to look at each other necessarily but he would be there. I mean like literally. Like I would have him under the desk. And so the idea was to build that chemistry and build that emotion between them and I think it worked.”

Although there’s a sci-fi conceit at the center of the film, Hill and Whedon didn’t trouble themselves too much with the exposition as to why or how the Rebecca-Dylan connection is established.  “They almost manifested it for themselves when they needed it” Hill said of the conclusion of the story. “I said to Joss, you know, to me what’s most important is that these people need this connection…they need this connection in this moment in their lives and that’s why it’s happening. And it doesn’t need explanation beyond that. It’s just like these people, when they need it, it shows up in their life and they need to find each other. And if they can find each other, they can break free. And it goes under that whole thing of sort of what Joss is dealing with in this movie —and all his movies sort of—is loner heroes that have to figure out a way to band together to overcome adversity. And eventually hopefully find their fate or their destiny…You can’t go it alone.” When asked if Hill would ever seek this particular brand of connection with another person given the choice, he wasn’t sure “I never asked that. You know, it’s a mixed bag I bet.”

Speaking of Whedon’s other work, while filming Avengers he went and made the lovely lower budget Shakespeare adaptation Much Ado About Nothing. I asked Hill if doing that and then scripting In Your Eyes was for Whedon to avoid being pidgeonholed as the big sci-fi director.

“I think so.  I think there’s a little bit of, I mean the notion with [Bellwether] I think, to some degree, was just trying to do stuff differently and kind of trying to put stuff out there that was just different. And in a weird way experimental. I mean I know it’s not an ‘Experimental Film’ but it’s like we’re trying an experiment…Even in how they’re distributing it.”

Of the distribution, which was announced by Whedon during TribecaHill was glad, saying  “It’s exciting to me. I like the idea of trying to get it out there to as many people as possible. I mean I’ve made stuff that’s been seen by a lot of people and I’ve made stuff that nobody’s seen yet and stuff that got released widely that not that many people saw. So for me, like casting the widest net with indie film is really exciting. We all independently have had different experiences with different sort of release strategies. Obviously this is sort of an extension of what they did with Dr. Horrible and you know, Much Ado had its own version. I think it services the film really well because I feel like it’s a fun sort of infectious movie. And I feel like people being able to consume it however they want to consume it is really kind of interesting to me.”

In Your Eyes, as noted above, is now available to stream online.

Win the Latest Movie from the Director of “Jeepers Creepers”, “Dark House” on Blu-ray [ENDED]

To celebrate the release on Blu-ray, Media Mikes is excited to giveaway one (1) copy of “Dark House” on Blu-ray. If you would like to enter for your chance to win one of this prize, please leave us a comment below or send us an email with your favorite horror film. This giveaway will remain open until March 28th at Noon, Eastern Time. This is open to our readers in US and Canada only. One entry per person, per household. All other entries will be considered invalid. Media Mikes will randomly select winners. Winners will be alerted via email

Famed horror director Victor Salva (“Jeepers Creepers”  returns in the blood-curdling new film starring Tobin Bell (“Saw” franchise), “Dark House”. From the mind of Charles Agron, the eerie thriller follows Nick Di Santo (Luke Kleintank, “Pretty Little Liars”) who has the chilling ability to foresee how one will inevitably perish by simply touching them. Tormented by this power, Nick learns from his institutionalized mother (Golden Globe nominee Lesley-Anne Down, “North and South”) that his father, whom he previously thought was deceased, is actually alive. Hoping that he can reveal the origin of his dark gift, Nick sets off to find his father with his best friend (Anthony Ray Perez, “Don’t Pass Me By”) and girlfriend (Alex McKenna, “90210”).
Along their journey, they are terrified when they realize that every road they take leads them to the same decrepit mansion, one that only previously existed in Nick’s childhood imagination. Finally succumbing to the will of the house, Nick soon finds himself in a horrifying battle with a mysterious, haunting figure (Bell).

Director of “Tourist Trap” and “Puppet Master”, David Schmoeller talks about his new film “Little Monsters”

David Schmoeller is the director of such horror classics such as “Tourist Trap”, “Crawlspace” and “Puppet Master”.  David has a new film coming out in 2013 that is a different type of horror film called “Little Monsters”.  Media Mikes had some time to chat with David about his new film and also reflecting on his horror classics.

Mike Gencarelli: You are known for your work with monsters but tell us about how your new film “Little Monsters”, tells the story of a different kind of monster?
David Schmoeller: The horrible crimes of patricide or matricide or any of the cidas (fili, frati, parri) are familiar and fascinating subjects of literature and cinema. But the crime of children killing children, in this case, two ten-year olds killing a three-year old – for no reason at all – and then being released at eighteen with new identities, seemed to me to be a fresh and challenging subject for a movie. The opening of the film – the first four shots of the movie, actually – are difficult to watch, but I thought it important to set the stakes as high as possible: we don’t see the murder itself, but the immediate aftermath, the horrible results of a senseless murder. Because of the unusual subject matter, the only way “Little Monsters” would ever get made is if I financed it myself. So, I did. I’m glad I made this movie. I hope it is appreciated.

MG: Where did you come up with the idea for the film?
DS: “Little Monsters” is very loosely inspired by the circumstances of a real murder case, the Bulger murder in England in 1993. In that case, there was so much outrage when the murderers were given new identities and released when they turned 18, that the government passed laws that it was illegal to reveal their identities. So, we know very little about what happened after they were released. I just thought it would be interesting to write a story that speculated what would happen to child murderers if they were adults – and released.

MG: Tell us about your role of Wakefield?
DS: It’s just a funny cameo I played – a silent bit as the retired cop that Carl lives with. It really started during the Empire International days when we shot our films in Rome, Italy. We could only take a handful of American actors because of the cost – and we would pick up the rest of the actors in Rome. So, the directors – and producers – would sometimes cast themselves in small roles – basically because we could speak English (with no accent). I’m not an actor – but I have been in half-a-dozen movies – but, it has to be a really small part – little or no dialogue. We actually shot the scene with sound – with me actually telling this really corny jokes…and I am so dead-panned, Charles and the crew were cracking up. I’ll put the scene in the DVD extras…it’s so bad it’s really funny.

MG: How can you reflect on creating some of horror most beloved films like “Tourist Trap”?
DS: It’s always rewarding when your work from so many years ago grows in appreciation. So, that makes “Tourist Trap” particularly rewarding – since it was my first film – and my oldest. And in the beginning, it wasn’t immediately appreciated. It had what was then called a “regional” release. The distributor struck 50-100 prints and it went from region to region. There wasn’t much advertising. It was a different time. The film was released onto the world – and the world yawned. It wasn’t until a few yeas after it’s theatrical release that Tourist Trap starting playing on TV and slowly began to make some impact – which came, I think, primarily because it was mis-rated by the MPAA. Instead of the usual R rating that horror films need – and generally receive – “Tourist Trap” was rated PG (or PG-13) or whatever the milder rating was. What that meant was that “Tourist Trap” could play on Saturday afternoon TV. And parents across the country were telling their kids – “I have to do the laundry, go watch TV.” And across the country, seven years olds went into the living room and started watching this crazy movie with screaming mannequins with gaping mouths and baby blue eyes – and it scared them to death. And then they would tell their friends and interest in Tourist Trap began to grow. Earlier this year, Jonathan Rigby released his book: “Studies in Terror, Landmarks of the Horror Cinema and Tourist Trap was one of 130 landmark horror films from the beginning of film to present day. In the year 1978, three films were listed: “Halloween”, “Cronenberg’s The Brood”, and “Tourist Trap”. Pretty good company, I was given a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Fantaspoa Film Festival in Porto Alegre, Brazil earlier this year. And they screened most of my films. It was very rewarding that every screening was sold out – and that most of the people were YOUNG people – and the screenings were subtitled in Portuguese. “Tourist Trap” (and “Crawlspace”) still screen in 35MM in art houses across the US – even though the prints are starting to fade. [David Schmoeller starts the New Year with a guest appearance at the famous Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin where a 35MM print of TOURIST TRAP will screen at 10pm on January 1, 2013. Check it out here]

MG: And how about “Puppet Master”?
DS: “Puppet Master” is a slightly different story. Again, I am happy to make a film that is remembered – or still around for whatever reason. I wrote and directed the first “Puppet Master” – and created some of the puppets. The face of Blade was actually our homage to Klaus Kinski – if you look closely enough. But the concept and original story came from Charlie Band. And the franchise is due almost completely by Charlie. I’ll take all the credit people want to give me for that film…but be aware that it really pisses Charlie Band off when they do. That is why he took my “A Film By” credit off – and put his name – ABOVE THE TITLE – on the new Blu-ray versions of Puppet Master. It is now: “Charles Bands’ Puppet Master” – the classic first film. Charlie is getting insecure in his old age. 😉

MG: How do you feel that horror genre has changed over the years?
DS: The changes in the horror film really reflect the changes in the film business itself: lot’s of remakes and sequels and cannibalizing the past. I suspect the more original horror films today come from foreign countries and – in the US – from indie filmmakers. To make a truly original horror film today, a filmmaker would have to figure out the zeitgeist (global financial worries & problems – not exactly an exciting topic for a horror film) –or whatever – it would have to be something we really haven’t seen or experience – and that would never receive real financing, because it won’t have been tested. Tough times for films…

“The Puppet Monster Massacre” Director Dustin Mills talks about new film “Zombie A-Hole”

Dustin Mills is the director of the wild and crazy film “The Puppet Monster Massacre”. Dustin took out some time with Media Mikes to chat about that film as well as his new film “Zombie A-Hole”.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about what the inspiration was behind “The Puppet Monster Massacre”?
Dustin Mills: It’s the same with every film idea I come up with. I am just trying to make films that I would want to watch. I look for holes in the B-Movie universe and try to fill them.

MG: Are you surprised with the response this film has gotten?
DM: The response has been rather mixed, and honestly the only places it sells well are Horror Conventions. I think my surprise came from seeing it featured in magazines and websites that I had read for years. We were in HorrorHound, Fangoria, and there was a review on AintItCoolNews. That was wild. That’s the stuff that makes my heart race.

MG: When can we expect the sequel to this film?
DM: I really want to make one, but so for we haven’t had a ton of luck with raising the funds. I have the outline, I have started the screenplay, but now it just boils down to hard numbers. I’m not going to make the film until I can give it everything it needs. My plan right now is to produce some low budget exploitative short films to sell with the sole purpose of raising money for PMM2. It will happen… its just a matter of time.

MG: Tell us how it was going to puppets to “Zombie A-Hole”?
DM: It was much much easier. Production was smoother because I wasn’t playing every single part (we had no puppeteers for PMM) and post was easier because we had real locations instead of a greenscreen that required keying and or matte paintings and 3d backgrounds. The only thing that is more difficult about a live action film vs something like PMM is that you have to be willing to relinquish control and improvise and let your actors help build your world. Making a virtual backlot puppet film allows you to have a much narrower mind, but working with people and weird conditions forces you to be a resourceful soldier.

MG: What was your biggest challenge besides the budget of $1K?
DM: The budget was never actually a hindrance. I like working with nothing. A low budget like that forces you to be a renegade and I like that. there is something really exhilarating about shaking your camera while your actor’s wife blows fog over your car with a $20 fog machine and a fan that barely works and a couple of your buddies bounce the trunk up and down so it will kinda sorta look like the zombie hunting cowboy is driving at night. I live for that shit. The biggest challenge I guess was just time. Its hard to line up schedules, and we had a medical emergency with one of our actors that set us back for a month or so (not an onset injury mind you). That’s really it. Once we got folks together there was never really anything that held us back too much.

MG: Sticking with the horror genre, who are your idols?
DM: Thats a hard question because I have two sets of idols. I got my mainstreamers like Robert Rodriguez, Guillermo Del Toro, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, and Fred Dekker. But then I also have my indie heroes. People like Eric Stanze, Bill Zebub, Fred Vogel, Jason Eisener, Kevin Strange, The Kuchar Brothers, and a few others. These are guys with true vision who know how to make their budgets and indie status work for them. I may not even like every movie they put out, but I respect the shit out of them. My grandaddy idol at least for right now is Jim Wynorski. I’m not sure the world will ever truly appreciate his genius.

MG: Favorite horror film?
DM: My favorite horror film and probably favorite film of all time is “The Monster Squad”. It embodies just about everything I love about horror and the magic of the movies.

MG: Tell us about your upcoming “Theatre of the Deranged II”?
DM: Well James Bressack is spearheading this wacky anthology and on it I have an animated short that is sort of inspired by anime and the sushi typhoon films called Girl Girl: Mutant Lesbo Vengeance. Its going to be quite strange and extremely bloody. I am pretty excited about it, and I am in good company on that collection. James really gathered a good group of filmmakers and I am pretty honored to be rubbing shoulders with them.

MG: What else do you have set on the horizon?
DM: I am putting the finishing touches on Night of the Tentacles. It will be out early next year probably. I am shooting a film called Kill That Bitch which will be out early next year as well. I am shooting a puppet porno music video for a Las Vegas band called The Fat Dukes of Fuck that is perhaps the strangest thing I have ever done. I recently did a video for one of their member’s other band called Demon Lung, check it out here. I have two other projects; one of which is already filmed and the other I am filming currently. I’m honestly not sure how much I can say about them so that might be a tale for another time.

“Top Gun” director Tony Scott dead at 68

Tony Scott who, along with his brother, Ridley, was one of the most successful directors of the past three decades, died yesterday after jumping off a bridge to his death in California. He was 68.

One of three sons born into a military family in Britain, Scott showed an interest in art and painting and pursued that career in college, earning a Masters of Fine Art from the Royal College of Art. After failing to make a successful living painting for a couple of years, he teamed with his brother, Ridley, to form the Ridley Scott Association, where he began directing commercials.

His 1983 feature film debut was “The Hunger,” a vampire romance starring David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve. He followed that film with 1986’s “Top Gun,” which launched Tom Cruise to super-stardom. The next year he directed Eddie Murphy in the hugely successful sequel “Beverly Hills Cop II.”

Other early successes include “True Romance,” “The Last Boyscout” and “Days of Thunder.” He then began a long association with Denzel Washington by directing the actor in “Crimson Tide.” He guided Will Smith, Jon Voight and Marty Kircher through the political thriller “Enemy of the State.” His last four features, “Man on Fire,” “Deja Vu,” “The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3” and “Unstoppable” all co-starred Washington.

Executive Director Kim Klingler talks about working with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Kim Klingler talks is the Executive Director with the Ian Somerhalder Foundation.  Over the the last 12 years, she has worked with a variety of for profits and non profits, in a variety of industries, focusing on strategic mission, start up, product, brand and team development. Kim took out some time to chat with Media Mikes to tell us how she got started with ISF and what they have planned upcoming.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you take on the role of Executive Director of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation?
Kim Klingler: I was watching Ian on the Larry King Gulf Oil Spill Telethon, and was struck with Ian’s authenticity.. and wanted to connect with him to see if there were potentials to collaborate with Well World, a project I was working on with Deepak Chopra. Ian and I spoke on the phone and clicked…we felt the same way about the current state of the planet, and had the same vibe about the types of solutions we wished to see… the rest as they say is history.

MG: Tell us about the foundation’s mission and goals?
KK: Our mission statement is: “The Ian Somerhalder Foundation aims to empower, educate and collaborate with people and projects to positively impact the planet and its creatures.” The underlying energy of the foundation enables our mission and vision. There are more than 650 ISF community groups world wide. ISF is more than an organization, it’s a family of people who wish to see great change for all
living beings on this planet. We thrive off of the collaborative nature of everyone from volunteers to corporate bodies. We welcome out of the box thinkers and encourage people to share their innate talents with change makers creating opportunities for the best of many worlds to come together.

MG: How has it been working with Ian to accomplish these goals?
KK: If you can believe it, I’m not asked this question often. Which is truly crazy! I’ve seen Ian inspired, happy, very sad and even angry – I’ve got all the goods! I wish people would ask this question more, because it gives me an opportunity to share a little more about him and why I’m grateful to be working towards change with him.Ian is a very creative being, in too many forms to list. He’s also exceptionally intelligent and quite strategic. If he could he would try to solve every problem, because it’s in his genuine nature to heal. He’s very sensitive to the energy in a room, and can pick up things most people miss. He’s also a naturally grateful person which makes working with him a delight. He’s one of my more favourite human beings on this planet but keeping up with him is not an easy task! Im almost convinced the man has perfected teleporation and mastered sleep deprivation!

MG: How did ISF get involved with Best Friends Animal Society’s Strut Your Mutt?
KK: We are huge fans of Best Friends it was just natural to get involved withthis awesome project. We all work virtually, and I love the way I can work in tandem with people all over the world but there is something to be said about connecting in person. It renews that human connection all social animals crave, so having the opportunity to walk with and power up with people who care in person was to hard to resist!

MG: What can people do to get involved even if that can’t attend?
KK: If you can’t be in Lafayette, LA on September 22nd, you can still Strut Your Mutt by becoming a “virtual” member of the ISF Dog Pack. Every ISF Dog Pack member creates their own personal SYM page, sets there own fundraising goal and raises funds via sponsors like family and friends. For the virtual walkers, we are encouraging them to set aside a day and take their pet on a special walk. Then share their walk with their sponsors and others on the SYM Facebook page through pictures and a story.

MG: What does ISF have planned next after this event?
KK: We have a stack of to do’s a bunch of creative directions and a whole lot of work ahead of us! We are VERY excited about moving forward with the Animal Sancturary and it’s bully program- keep your eyes posted!

Tracey Gold and Bug Hall and Director Griff Furst talk about Syfy’s “Arachnoquake”

If you are a fan of SyFy, they you must be a fan of their original movies. This summer, the month of June is packed with new great films. “Arachnoquake”, Syfy’s Saturday original movie, premiered on Saturday, June 23 and is one hell of a fun ride. It stars Tracey Gold (“Growing Pains”) and Bug Hall (“The Little Rascals”) and is directed by Griff Furst (“Swamp Shark”, “Lake Placid 3”). Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Tracey, Bug and Griff to discuss the film and their experience working on it.

Mike Gencarelli: First question is for Tracey and Bug. What did you guys like most about taking on a role in a movie like this?
Tracey Gold: I’ll start. Well, I would just have to say working with the cast and crew on the movie. I think it was just one of the better productions I’ve done. It was easy. It was fun. It was well organized. Everybody got along. It was a subject matter that was obviously, liked, I mean it has albino spiders…and it was just a lot of fun and a really great group of people.
Bug Hall: Yes, I think that was definitely perk number one for me as well, you know. The cast, crew and Griff and everyone at Syfy was great. And I liked that we were all on the same page going into it. My very first question to Griff was, how funny is this thing? He was right there with me saying “We’re going to hit every moment for comedy that we have”. This thing is comedy at heart and that was to me the most exciting part was really getting to be funny and getting to just sort of run with jokes and have a lot of fun with it.

MG: Can you talk about the scene that you had the most fun with while shooting?
TG: Yes, I think the scene I had the most fun with was when we got to jump off the big boat and into the water. Then we all had to scramble up onto the ground. There were also some funny moments with it and Ethan Phillips which were hysterical and made us laugh. I like doing stuff like that when they say okay we’re not going to use stunt doubles or something, you guys can do it and I think that’s always like, just kind of so fun. Brings out the kid in us.
BH: Yes. Exactly, I’m a big kid at heart and any moment that I have to fire guns or, you know, tuck and roll, I’m a kid in a candy store and, you know, to me that is – that was the biggest appeal. A lot of the comedy stuff was – felt so good when we were finished though, you know. Like, going through it I’m always nervous because I don’t feel like I’m funny most of the time. But then as soon as it’s done, you know, you feel so good about it. I had a moment with Luck Johnson in a grocery store. I know when we were finished with the scene me and him were just elated, you know, we really felt like we nailed it and we were really happy with it and I felt like it was a big payoff. So, the comedy was a big appeal.

MG: Bug, do you feel that your nickname was factor into being cast int this film?
BH: As far as it factoring into me being cast, yes, I like to think that, it definitely played a part, right. I mean, Bug’s doing a movie about bugs. It certainly can’t hurt.

MG: Griff, you’ve been working, quite a bit with these creature features, like “Lake Placid 3” and “Swamp Shark”. What do you enjoy most about this genre?
Griff Furst: Well, I’ve always been a fan of creature and horror and sci-fi. What I’m enjoying most about is that these movies don’t take themselves too seriously. So, as long as you have actors who are down to experiment and to play with the humor in it and to kind of almost be aware of the situations that they’re in but still playing it for keeps and playing it seriously. That’s always really fun because you still get to do what you love to do but it’s all about having a good time and making sure that the audience in turn has a good time watching it as well. There’s not millions and trillions of dollars at stake and but that’s part of the fun with it.

MG: Tracey and Bug, as your co-stars in the film are huge giant bugs, what would you say is your biggest challenge working on this film?
TG: Sure, for me I had never done anything like this. So I remember when I read the script I was like, okay this is like funny, right? So it was an adjustment for me, we’re really like reacting to something that’s not there. But then that’s true acting. You get to use your imagination and that’s what made it so fun. So we had an idea of what the spiders looked like and probably in all of our heads it was slightly different. So, it’ll be interesting to actually see the way it really is. But it was a challenge and it was fun.
BH: Yes, I think the challenge of not having them there was probably more difficult than I expected going into it and it was just a lot of talking, you know. There was a lot of talking from scene to scene about what we were seeing and where it was and how big it was and what it was doing. You know, just to really kind of have that placeholder locked down and make sure we were all on the same page.
TG: To make sure we’re looking at the same thing.
BH: Right, A lot of Xs on apple boxed. But again, that was part of the appeal. It was a lot of fun just kind of letting the imagination run and really having fun with it. I can’t stress the having fun with it aspect of it enough. I mean, that was goal number one and we accomplished that.

MG: You guys have any room for any improv during the production?
BH: The cast and Griff there was, you know, it was always, you know, always open to whatever, you know, we wanted to throw out, especially with comedy, you know, you kind of have to just go with what, you know, what you’re feeling and what feels funny at the moment. And a lot of times what’s funny on the page, you know, doesn’t quite read and so you tweak it and you, you know, you bend it a little bit and you make, you know, you make the funny happen. So there was a lot of great moments where we just kind of ran and just played off each other.
GF: And also the character types that were listed in screenplays were actually quite different than a lot of the folks we ended up casting on purpose because it’s just interesting to go opposite. So we found out that, you know, there was some differences between Bug’s character and Lucky Johnson’s character so then that allowed more of this improve and kind of experimenting with their personalities and it’s not in the script, which didn’t originally call for that kind of personality. So, definitely a lot of improv.

MG: It sounded like you have a lot of fun with this obviously. Were there any times when you just kind of couldn’t keep a straightface because it’s something so silly?
TG: Many…
BH: Absolutely. Yes, especially those late nights when you’re starting to get delirious and it just really occurs to you what you’re doing. We definitely had quite a few moments of the giggle fits that had to be subsided.
GF: There’s a great blooper reel…
TG: I think that’s always fun.

Director Tony Kaye talks about New Film “Detachment”

Multi-award nominated video director Tony Kaye, who has worked with such artists as Soul Asylum, Roger Waters and the late Johnny Cash, made a big splash with his first feature film, “American History X.” The film, about a white supremist gang member trying to keep his younger brother from following in his footsteps, featured Edward Norton in an Oscar nominated performance. The studio, New Line Cinema, asked Kaye to re-cut his original version, which he did. Unsatisfied, a third edit was done without Kaye’s approval. Outraged he asked the studio to remove his name from the credits and replace it with Alan Smithee, a common pseudonym for directors whose film was taken away from them and re-cut against their wishes. The name has appeared on such films as “Hellraiser: Bloodline” (directed by Kevin Yagher), “Catchfire” (directed by Dennis Hopper) and the television film “Riviera,” which was directed by the great John Frankemheimer. When the studio refused he asked that his credit be listed as “Humpty Dumpty.”

Despite the controversy, Kaye is still a talented and much sought after director. He has earned six Grammy award nominations for his video work, winning the award in 2006 for his video of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” His second feature, an abortion documentary entitled “Lake of Fire,” was praised by critics and named to the short list (Best 15) of documentaries by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His third and most recent film, “Detachment,” recently screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, again to high praise. During a long day promoting the film Mr. Kaye took the time to sit down with Media Mikes to talk about art, working with his daughter and the meaning of life!

Mike Smith: How has your day been?
Tony Kaye: Quite hectic, thank you. But I enjoy these different experiences in speaking about my work.

MS: “Detachment” is a very deep and dark film. How did you become attached to the project?
TK: I’ve always had an interest in being a teacher…maybe art school or film school or something. I’m very interested in social issues. So when my agent sent me the script and I saw what it was about I was immediately intrigued. It was really the wonderful writing of Carl Lund…it was so good that I wished I had written it. I felt it would give me a wonderful opportunity to get some great actors and some great performances.

MS: The film features some of Adrien Brody’s best work. How did you attract him to the film?
TK: Adrien’s father has been a public high school teacher for 30 years. And he reads a lot of the scripts that are sent to Adrien. And he said, “son, you have to do this one!” (laughs) It was really an incredible opportunity for me. I’ve got a teacher that wrote the movie and then I get the son of a teacher as the star of the movie. Plus I had the opportunity to cast an Oscar winning movie star. Adrien is such a cool guy and he brought that dynamic to the set. All of the other actors were saying, “well, Adrien seems to be listening to Tony so I might as well do the same!”

MS: Speaking of the other actors, you have a great supporting cast, including James Caan, Blythe Danner and Marcia Gay Harden. Were you involved in the casting? Were you able to pick and choose the actors you thought best for the roles?
TK: When you have a script that’s as good as the one Carl wrote it’s very easy…it’s certainly not difficult…for great actors to want to give their time.

MS: The animation sequences in the film are quite original. How did you come about the decision to include it?
TK: The idea of the animation came to me during editing. I wanted the school to be a character. I wanted the school to talk. And the way I thought it could talk would be if the blackboard became animated. And there was no texting in the movie…there was no “smart” board. There was a blackboard. There are no computers…in fact the teachers don’t have lap tops, they write in composition books.

MS: The film also features the screen debut of Ms. Betty Kaye, your daughter. What was the experience like, directing her?
TK: It was an incredible gift and opportunity for a father that’s a director to actually work with his oldest daughter on her first film. It was an incredibly challenging role for her and she’s so brave. It makes me cry…I weep…and I’ve seen the movie fifty times! And I still cry when I see what she’s exposed herself to. Really unbelievable. She’s a great artist and she’s finishing her education now at University. I should add that I had every intention of not giving her the role if she wasn’t the best. I saw a couple hundred girls for that role and she really was the best. I gave her the script two or three years before we made the film so she really knew the movie. She really knew that character from every single angle.

MS: You have a book coming out titled “Epicomedy.” Tell us a little bit about that project.
TK: I was originally an art student…I had to study filmmaking when I was in college. My initial calling was to pain. I’ve been painting all my life. I did a couple of conceptual shows in the late 1980s. I’m doing a book…a couple books…which will include all of my scribbling and paintings and things.

MS: IMDB lists your next project as “Attachment.” Any similarities in that film and this one or just in the titles?
TK: Well, nothing is an accident, you know? I believe that everything is predestined…worked out…in your life. But yet your choices are what your choices are. And it’s up to us how we deal with them….re-actively or proactively. Hopefully not re-actively, as I’ve learned in my own life. There is a similarity in the underlying theme. I didn’t write “Attachment.” I actually thought it was a joke when it was sent to me. The underlying theme of both movies is love. And that love beats death. So there is an underlying theme, but it’s buried eight million miles deep!