Joachim Rønning & Espen Sandberg talk about directing of “Kon-Tiki” and plans for “Pirates of the Caribbean 5”

In 1951 the film “Kon-Tiki,” a film detailing the voyage of famed Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, won the Academy Award as the year’s best documentary feature.

Six decades later a pair of Norwegian filmmakers decided to tell the story of Heyerdahl’s incredible 4,300 mile journey across the ocean on a balsa wood raft. The film became the first in the country’s history to receive both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination as the year’s Best Foreign Film.

To celebrate the Blu-Ray release of “Kon-Tiki,” I sat down with directors Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg. I mention that it’s been Scandinavian Directors week for me, having just spoken to Renny Harlin a few days earlier. Hearing this they question me on Harlin and what he’s working on. Finally the interview begins and the pair talk about honoring Thor Heyerdahl, their national pride and how things are going on their next project, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales”

Mike Smith: This has been my week for Scandinavian filmmakers. I just spoke with Renny Harlin the other day.
Joachim Rønning/Espen Sandberg: (both laugh).
JR: How did that go?
MS: Very well. He’s really high on the “Hercules” movie he’s finishing up.
ES: Right, right.

MS: “Kon-Tiki” received an Academy Award nomination as Best Foreign Film. Obviously that’s a great honor personally but did it have extra meaning to you because it was a representative of your country?
JR: it was (pauses)…one of the best moments in our lives. (they both laugh). That’s all we can say. That morning, when we got the announcement. Because it is, in so many ways, the biggest reward you can get as a filmmaker. To be recognized in the US…to be recognized in the world…that meant so much for the film. For “Kon-Tiki” to have that when it goes traveling around the world, it really means everything for the film. And for us as filmmakers. We wouldn’t be sitting here in our production offices speaking with you if it wasn’t for that. Everything comes together.
ES: As for representing the country, absolutely. But that’s not really the first thing you think about (laughs) when you get that news. It was the first Norwegian film to be nominated both by the Oscars and the Golden Globes and that is a huge deal for our country.

MS: How did you get involved with “Kon-Tiki?”
JR: It was a story we’d grown up with. Espen and I began making films together when we were about 10 years old. We grew up in a small town. Thor Heyerdahl grew up in a neighboring town so he always had a presence in our lives. And he is the only Norwegian to win an Academy Award so as a filmmaker he was a huge inspiration.
ES: We always wanted to bring that story…the story of Kon-Tiki…to the big screen. But of course, it was such a huge endeavor. It took four years to finance. It was the biggest film production ever in Scandinavia.

MS: Thor Heyerdahl is probably your country’s best known figure internationally. Did you have any reservations in taking on his story?
ES: We always wanted to tell his story. It was just very hard to finance it. That was the big hurdle. We always wanted to do it.

MS: You’ve worked together for over two decades…(they both laugh)…do you split up the duties of directing? Do you direct together or do you each handle certain scenes?
ES: We basically do everything together, especially in pre-production and post production.
JR: It’s a very collaborative process and it’s the only way we know how to make movies. On the set it is divided somewhat. Espen concentrates more with the actors and I work more with the visuals. And that’s basically not to confuse the actors too much. We try to have one voice in accordance with them. It’s a very collaborative process and it’s how we’ve always done it.

MS: Have you ever had an instance where maybe one of you has yelled “cut” and the other one looks over and shakes his head? (they both laugh)
ES: No! You’d be surprised. Of course we both have different tastes but I think at the end of the day we both find common ground…what’s best for the scene and for the film.
JR: I think it’s actually an advantage to have two heads working. It’s a big deal for us to be unanimous. In front of everybody at least (laughs)

MS: You both are slated to direct the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” film. Can you give an update as to where that project is?
JR: Yeah! We’re in pre-production. We’ve been in pre-production for a couple of months and it’s inching along every day. It’s a dream come true, really, to be able to work with Jerry Bruckheimer and the Disney camp…with these actors and the rest of the crew. They’re the best in the world. It’s coming together. We have a fantastic script by Jeff Nathonson (“Catch Me If You Can,” “Rush Hour 2 and 3”). It’s really funny. And touching. It’s a true adventure movie and, in that sense, it reminds us of the kinds of movies we grew up with…the Indiana Jones films and stuff like that. Those films made us want to become filmmakers.

MS: That’s so cool. That’s almost exactly the same answer that Renny gave me when we talked about “Hercules.” He had grown up enjoying these films so much and finally getting the chance to make one is the ultimate honor. (they both laugh)
ES: That’s it exactly. We really feel great!

Wayne Kramer talks about directing “Pawn Shop Chronicles”

Wayne Kramer is the director of the “Pawn Shop Chronicles”, which has an epic cast including Paul Walker, Kevin Rankin, Elijah Wood, Brendan Fraser, Vincent D’Onofrio, Thomas Jane, Matt Dillon and Lukas Haas. Wayne has directed other recent films as well including “The Cooler”, “Running Scared” (also with Paul Walker) and “Crossing Over”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Wayne about this crazy fun film and how he achieve the feeling of watching a graphic novel coming to life.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you become attached to direct “Pawn Shop Chronicles”?
Wayne Kramer: I was originally talking to Paul Walker about directing him in a script that I had written, but it was having some difficulty getting set-up. Paul was already attached to “Pawn Shop” and when the original director fell out, he called me up and asked if I would be interested in coming on board because it was already financed and ready to go. I was initially reluctant because the budget was quite low and I was only looking to direct my own projects, but I read the script (by Adam Minarovich) out of a courtesy to Paul. I was immediately taken with it. I appealed to my sick sense of humor and I also enjoyed the more surreal aspects of the world Adam created. I also felt that the material would allow me to bring a certain fun filmmaking style to the piece, if we could figure out how to get there on such a low budget.

MG: From the moment the movie starts its feels like you are watching a graphic novel come to life, tell us about how you achieved that aspect?
WK: Upon first reading the script, I felt it required a very stylized, almost Tex Avery-ish approach. Despite the lazy critical assessment that we ripped-off Tarantino (I get this on every film – and it pisses me off to no end because I’ve never been influenced by Quentin’s films, but it’s clear that we share many of the same influences: De Palma, Peckinpah, Aldrich, Hill, etc.), my initial feeling was that PAWN SHOP belonged in a universe that felt like a cross between early Coen Brothers (“Raising Arizona”, “Big Lebowski”, “O Brother…”) and 70’s revenge/exploitation themed films like “White Lightning” and “Prime Cut”. The more I played around with it in pre-production, I started to pick up on a “Creepshow” meets “Crumb” kinda vibe as well – in that the actual storylines felt like something from old EERIE COMICS with a Redneck flavor to them. It’s a whole stew of whacky influences hopefully stirred into its own original thing. I just have to say, it’s near impossible for any filmmaker to escape the shadow of “Pulp Fiction” when telling an anthology crime story and it infuriates me in that’s the first thing film illiterate critics glom onto. Aside from one wink at “Pulp Fiction” about Alton’s brother being killed in a pawn shop on the west coast(which was always in Adam’s script and in hindsight, I probably should have cut), PULP was the furthest thing from our minds.

MG: How was it reuniting with Paul Walker and putting him in such a unique role?
WK: It was a blast working with Paul again. He’s the most game actor I’ve ever worked with and gives nothing less than 100 percent each time. We share the same sensibility when it comes to dark, kick-ass material, so it’s never a battle of wills when we get on the set. He’s also the kind of actor that always has the
director’s back and as a filmmaker you couldn’t ask for anything more. Paul is also a producer on PAWN SHOP, so he had a little more invested than just turning up and focusing on his own character.

MG:  Let’s talk about the rest of the cast, how did you gather all this great talent together?
WK: Well, once a film gets greenlit, you just start moving ahead and word gets out that the film is happening and agents start doing their thing, which is to get work for their clients and somehow it all just falls into place. I was super thrilled when Matt Dillon agreed to play Richard because Matt’s an actor I’ve always loved and thankfully he also turned out to be a joy to work with. I honestly think Matt had the most difficult role to pull off in the film because the leap his character makes tonally in just a few hours is insane and I don’t think many actors without Matt’s subtle comedic chops could have pulled it off. It felt to me like he was channeling Bruce Campbell circa EVIL DEAD towards the end there with his manic hysteria. I had met with Vincent D’Onofrio a few months earlier and he had a great take on Alton and thankfully it worked out and he ended up in the film. Vincent was another amazing actor to work with. I’d love to do anything with him in the future. Brendan Fraser really came and invested himself in the character and it was hysterical to watch him disappear into Ricky every day. He had the most difficult schedule on the film, having to fly in and out of Louisiana several times to accommodate his character turning up all over the schedule. We were also lucky to fit Elijah Wood into a very tight window as well and he was a total soldier for his few days on the film since he had to wear a very uncomfortable and complicated make-up rig, which he never ever complained about. Super cool guy and a total fan of the genre. I think one of the most exciting additions to our cast was Kevin Rankin as Randy, Raw Dog’s partner in crime. Kevin is the consummate actor and just disappears inside every character he plays. I didn’t even realize until we were a few days into shooting that he played the character of Devil on “Justified,” a show I’m a huge fan of. I also have to commend Pell James for having the courage to take on the role of Cyndi. She’s virtually unrecognizable in the part and we only see her clothed one time in a quick flashback moment – so she has my undying respect. She also happens to be an incredibly talented actor who should be doing way more movies. I’ve been friends with Thomas Jane for quite some time and he was kind enough to agree to play The Man for me, which I think is a fun little cameo. Another actor that should be working more often – and on bigger films. Same goes for Lukas Haas who was another joy to work with. We got very, very lucky with the cast and I hope to work with all of them again at some point.

MG:  Tell us about your decisions to switch aspect ratios between each segment?
WK:  I was just having some fun with some of the faux Sergio Leone type moments in each chronicle. The arrival of The Man felt like it wanted to be in widescreen, almost like those old Marlboro ads that played in movie theaters (it was probably more an international cinema thing because I saw them in South Africa when I was a kid and we saw a lot of commercials before the main feature started). When Matt Dillon faces off against Michael Cudlitz, it felt like it warranted a similar aspect ratio gag – and when Brendan Fraser’s Elvis impersonator arrives in front of the barber shops, again, I felt like it was almost a classical western motif of the stranger come to town. Having an aspect ratio gag in each chronicle also created a visual commonality between all three stories and for me is a reminder of the tongue in cheek approach to the film.

MG:  What was the biggest challenge of entwining these three segments together?
WK: I think the biggest challenge was taking three tonally very different stories and trying to make them fit within the same narrative. We jump from a Tex Averystyle, madcap Hillbilly episode to a darkly humorous Southern Gothic revenge story, to a more comedic take on the musician meeting the Devil at mythical crossroads in the deep South. But if someone looks a little deeper at the film, they will see a fun subtext about the town of Erwin, Georgia being purgatory and all the (morally dubious) characters coming through the portal of the pawn shop being challenged to make choices that decide their very fates. We buried lots of Satanic imagery throughout the film, some more obvious than others. There are pentagrams carved into the tables of the barbecue joint, which is also called “Lou’s Fire Pit” as in Lucifer, which features a very hellish red color motif. JJ gets his face burned into the seal of the smoker which reads, “Holy Smokes.” The meth lab goes up in hell fire… Satan makes a deal for Ricky’s soul by transforming him into Elvis for four minutes on stage… The liquor store with the blues player out front is called Cross Roads Liquor and the address is 666 Charon Street… The liquor store also has a painted clock sign with no hands suggesting time has stopped in this town. We have creepy, featureless masks on some of the carnival extras – if you look carefully, you’ll see them at times. Some of the girls at the carnival are also holding little devil dolls. Many other references as well…

MG: What do you have planned next?
WK: I’ve got a bunch of irons in the fire. It’s hard to talk about them until they actually get greenlit. I may be doing another film with Alec Baldwin (and Patrick Wilson) next year, so I’m really looking forward to that.

 

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Renny Harlin talks about directing “Devil’s Pass” and Hercules 3D”

Renny Harlin holds the distinction of being the most successful filmmaker to ever come out of Finland. Surprisingly (not because they weren’t famous but because I didn’t know they were from Finland), right behind him in popularity are two actors: 50’s horror film hostess and star of “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” Vampira and George Gaynes, probably best known as Commandant Lassard from the “Police Academy” films and the adoptive guardian of TV’s “Punky Brewster.”

Harlin rocketed to fame when he went behind the camera on “A Nightmare on Elmstreet 4: The Dream Master.” Impressed by the word of mouth on the picture, producer Joel Silver hired him to direct “Die Hard 2.” He followed these films up with such popular films as “The Adventures of Ford Fairlaine,” “Cutthroat Island,” “The Long Kiss Goodnight,” Cliffhanger” and “Deep Blue Sea.”

In preparation for the release of his latest project, “Devil’s Pass,” which follows the journey of five filmmakers investigating the real life mysterious deaths of nine skiers in the late 1950s, Harlin took time out to talk about his new film, his upcoming “Hercules” project and the incredible fact that Andrew Dice Clay could be an Oscar nominee this year!

Mike Smith: Before we begin I have to tell you that I think “Ford Fairlaine” is one of the most underrated comedies ever made.
Renny Harlin: Awesome! When I go to a bar in New York, or even in the middle of the country, if people somehow find out I directed “Ford Fairlaine” it’s always free drinks for the whole night.

MS: Nice. Now they’re talking about “Dice” Clay being an Oscar nominee for “Blue Jasmine.”
RH: That would be the most awesome thing ever!

MS: How did you come to direct and produce “Devil’s Pass?”
RH: It was an incident that I had been interested in for many years. I had read about it and had seen a couple of documentaries about it. And I thought to myself, “wow…what a weird mystery to occur in our lifetime.” Because still today nobody knows what really happened. With all of the evidence…I’ve been through the archives and have seen the photographs. With everything they have nobody still knows what happened. I always thought that it would make an interesting movie. And I found that by doing it as a “found footage” film I could find an angle where the movie takes place in today’s world while referencing what really happened.

MS: How much research were you able to do on the actual incident?
RS: I went through the archives. I spoke to people that had either been part of the rescue team or had had a connection to the people that disappeared. Everything I could find to read and watch I did. I feel like I was able to learn a lot and put a lot of that research into the film.

MS: What was it like to return two decades later to the same mountains where you had filmed “Cliffhanger?”
RH: It was like going home. I really love the challenge of filming in a natural environment. It’s great to shoot on a soundstage. It’s very controlled. But there’s nothing like putting the cast and crew in an extreme situation. And in this case it was in the darkest and deepest part of Russia in a tiny town called Kirov. There claim to fame is in the mining industry and that they have the northern-most prison in Russia. The people that live there are either miners or relatives of prisoners. So you know it’s not exactly the most uplifting place! (laughs) Then you figure in that it’s above the Arctic Circle…that’s it’s dark most of the year…that nine months of the year there is snow on the ground. When we were there it was constant sub-zero temperatures and 20 feet of snow. Many of the locations were only accessible by snow mobiles. It adds to the authenticity of the film and it adds to the experience of the crew and cast. Just like the characters in the story, every day is about survival. And I love that. I love being in those conditions and making a movie.

MS: Being, as you were, at the mercy of Mother Nature, how difficult was it to film the avalanche scene?
RH: That was one of the hardest sequences. We were filming in an area that was really “avalanche prone.” We were told by our mountain guides that every year several people perish in avalanches. We were told to be careful. Everything filmed on the mountains was filmed at night and it took a while to get the filming done. The mountain was the star as we only had a couple of hours to film each day. But we did it together.

MS: Was that the biggest challenge of filming?
RH: I would say that, in terms of preparation, that was certainly the biggest. There were certainly many other challenges. And if someone complained I’d say to them, “Hey…when was the last time you were able to hang around in a place like this?” People would pay a lot of money to be able to see what we see. This is something really unique.

MS: Finally, can you give a quick update on “Hercules 3D?”
RH: I’d be very happy to give an update! I’m sitting right now in the editing bay. We finished shooting about a month ago and I’m about six weeks away from delivering my director’s cut. It’s looking fantastic. This is really my dream project come true…it’s like a childhood dream. When I was growing up I would watch movies like “Ben Hur” and “Spartacus.” I grew up with an amazing love and knowledge of Greek mythology. To be able to do an epic movie like this…Hercules is really the father of the comic book movie. It’s really my return to those kind of movies.

“Devil’s Pass” is in select theaters on August 23rd and same day also available on Cable VOD, digital platforms (including SundanceNow and iTunes).

Ryuhei Kitamura chats about directing “No One Lives” and hints at “Versus 2”

Photo by Munetoshi Mukai

Ryuhei Kitamura has directed some of my favorite recent films like “Versus”, “The Midnight Meat Train”, “Godzilla: Final Wars” and most importantly his latest “No One Lives”. This film packs a great cast and is a hell of a fun ride. Media Mikes had a chance to ask Ryuhei a few questions about “No One Live” and also got some news about his planned sequel to the cult classic “Versus”.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you end up directing “No One Lives”?
Ryuhei Kitamura: I loved the script and this is not just about blood and guts, it’s a twisted and dark love story. I loved the main character DRIVER who does it all for love killing machine. I thought I could I create new iconic anti-hero. Also I liked the good old days 80’s Slasher movies.

MG: “No One Lives” is your second U.S. film after “Midnight Meat Train”; what was your biggest challenge on this project? How did the two productions differ for you?
RK: It’s always the same. Movie making is challenging no matter what size or where you do. You have to fight against time, money and ego. We had so many challenges, but I had strong support from my crew and cast, and my producer Harry Knapp and Elton Brand. They made me survive.

MG: What do you enjoy most about working in the horror genre?
RK: I enjoy killing tons of people in brutal ways because I can’t do that in real life even though there are tons of f*ckers I want to terminate (laughs).

MG: You are no stranger to gore; are you ever concerned about going too far?
RK: I was hired to do movies like “Midnight Meat Train” and “No One Lives”. What’s wrong with go too far? That’s what the fans want I believe. Of course I wouldn’t do the same when I do PG-13 horror movie.

MG: Being a huge Godzilla fan yourself, what was it like writing/directing the last film “Godzilla: Final Wars”?
RK: It was pure honor and fun to be the part of one of the greatest franchise of all time. Can’t wait to watch new Hollywood Godzilla.

MG: I’ve heard talk about a “Versus” sequel in the cards; what can you tell us?
RK: I can’t talk much, but I guarantee it will have same spirits, same craziness, much bigger scale and next level of action. I already have a great script and am going to make this happen in the next few years.

MG: What do you have planned next?
RK: I’m in pre-production of my new action movie to be shot in Asia. I have some projects lined up but it’s the movie business and never know what I’ll be doing in six months.

 

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David Lowery talks about directing “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

With a solid background of pretty much every behind the scenes job in Hollywood, it was obvious it would’nt be long before David Lowery began directing. With an impressive resume’ of short films and features under his belt he has now delivered “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints,” a classic film in the tradition of “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Badlands.” The film opened in limited release today (August 16) and to celebrate that opening I spoke with Mr. Lowery about his inspirations, misquoted songs and the proper use of the word “Malickian!”

Mike Smith: What was your inspiration…where did you come up with the story…for “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?”
David Lowery: It really came from a lot of different places but one of the main inspirations were the old movies about lovers on the run. I love the idea of outlaws…the idea of a young outlaw couple on the run from the law. Those movies have always appealed to me…been inspirational to me as a story teller. I love the mythology of the outlaw. I love how America has been built on outlaw mythology. I wanted to make a film that would participate in that tradition. So the inspiration was very simple when I decided what I wanted to do. I wasn’t looking to reinvent the wheel. I just took the basic concept, the basic archetypes of a guy, a girl, a policeman and a couple of guns and tried to find a new way to present them.

MS: For a young director you got pretty lucky in nabbing two Oscar nominated actors for your two leads. Were Casey and Rooney your original choices and how were you able to cast them?
DL: I wrote the script with no actors in mind. I wrote it in a vacuum, not knowing who was going to be in it. But when we finally had the opportunity to select a cast Casey Affleck was the first person I wanted to meet. I sat down with him and we talked for about an hour or so. We got along really, really well and the next day he wrote me and said he wanted to do it. It was so wonderful to have my first choice not only able but so willing to do it. And we had gotten along so well in our talk that I felt like I had known him for years. For the character of Ruth I wasn’t sure if I wanted an established actress or not. Maybe I could go to west Texas and find someone who had never acted before…who really was a woman who lived in a small town. I wanted to find someone who was really a natural. While I was thinking that, Rooney Mara’s agent wrote me and asked if I could send the script to her. This was about a week before “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” came out and I never believed in a million years that she would be willing to go from this huge, David Fincher film to doing a tiny independent film in Texas. But he assured me that she would be interested in it. She read it and wanted to meet with me. I sat down with her, we talked and then she said yes. It was really a great and unique situation where both of the people that I wanted the most and who were the first people I met were the ones who wound up in the movie.

MS: I’m sure you’ve seen that you’re getting a lot of comparisons to Terrence Malick with your visual style. As a director was it important to be able to tell the story “visually,” in addition to presenting the action that was going on on screen?
DL: Absolutely. I love dialogue and I love listening to people talk when the dialogue is good. But more than that I love visuals. And I love to let the visuals do the heavy lifting in a movie. This film was very carefully designed to look a certain way and to feel a certain way. There’s no denying that if you go outside at a certain time in Texas and put a 25mm lens on a camera it’s going to look like a lot of other movies. Texas has a very specific look that a lot of filmmakers have used in the past. It’s very suggestive so you use that kind of imagery when you want to suggest something. If you want to suggest a timelessness…If you want to suggest an epic-ness. And Terrence Malick is someone who has used that kind of imagery quite a bit. I’ve certainly loved his movies. I’ve loved all his movies. But at the same time I never really thought about it while we were making the film. I knew that we were using “Badlands” as a jumping off point as far as the story goes but when it comes to visuals we really went in a different direction. Even though there are some things that are, to use a word, “Malickian”….there are some things that are similar to what he’s done about 10 minutes into the movie we go into a completely different direction. So it’s kind of a nice surprise to be compared with him because I do love his work and I’m flattered to be compared to him. But we were going for something completely with our visuals.

MS: The film has a very unusual title. Casey Affleck recently told Jay Leno that it came from a misquoted song. Is this true and, if so, what was the song?
DL: I don’t know what the song was because it was on a CD that a friend had given me with a lot of old folk and country music. And none of the songs were listed…it was just track one, track two, track three…there were no titles or artists. I don’t know what it was but I need to find out (laughs). I heard it years ago, long before I made this film. And I got that phrase stuck in my head. Misheard lyrics stuck in my head with the idea that they would make a great movie title. A strange movie title but a great movie title! And when I started writing this movie I wanted it to feel like an old folk song. And I thought there would be no better way to set the stage for this movie than to have the title sound like the lyrics of an old folk song. That was really all there was to it.

MS: What are you working on next? Do you have anything in the pipeline?
DL: Yes. I’m writing a lot of different scripts right now and I hope to be making another movie soon. One of the movies that I’m working on is an adaptation of an article in “The New Yorker” that Robert Redford is going to produce and star in and that I’m going to direct. I’m working on that scripts very quickly right now because I’d like to turn in a draft soon and see what he thinks.

Baillie Walsh talks about directing documentary “Springsteen and I”

Maybe director Baillie Walsh could get a job as a diplomat. After all, his resume’ includes the Oasis documentary “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down,” where he managed to keep the often feuding Gallagher brothers fairly civil. He was also good enough to employ Daniel Craig in between Bond gigs, featuring him in “Flashbacks of a Fool,” his first fictional feature that he both wrote and directed. He has directed videos for such bands as Massive Attack and INXS. This week see’s the premiere of his new documentary, “Springsteen and I,” a look at the love affair between the Boss and his fans. How diplomatic is he? I was so engrossed in the last minute plans of my wife’s surprise 50th Birthday Party that when he called me for this interview (one I had set up a week before) I was totally unprepared. Undaunted, he agreed to call me a few days later, when he was on “his” time. Diplomatic and incredibly nice.

Mike Smith: What inspired you to do this project?
Baillie Walsh: I wish I could say it was my idea but actually I was asked by RSA Films (Ridley Scott’s Production Company) to do it. I was very excited about the concept of it and I thought it was a perfect idea for Bruce Springsteen and his fans. Actually I couldn’t resist it.

MS: When you approached Bruce was he keen to the idea as well?
BW: Absolutely. I mean we obviously needed Bruce’s approval to get the film made because I knew we would need archive footage and Bruce’s music to make the film possible. So I went to Bruce and Jon Landau (Springsteen’s longtime producer) and had a meeting with them. And it was very quick. They immediately realized that the idea was perfect for Bruce and they gave us permission to do it. And they gave us access to the archives and access to his music. They gave us the complete freedom to make the film we wanted to make. There was no editorial control. So it was an incredible experience for me. I feel very lucky to have been able to do it.

MS: A lot of your earlier work was in music videos, including INXS and the Oasis documentary “Lord Don’t Slow Me Down.” Do you think that experience made you the right person for this project in Springsteen’s mind?
BW: Yes. I’m sure the facts that I had both a music background and a documentary background were part of the reason I was asked to do it.

MS: You gave Daniel Craig his best role between Bond gigs when he starred in your first fictional feature, “Flashbacks of a Fool.” Do you plan to continue on the documentary side or do you want to concentrate more on fictional features?
BW: I love being able to really mix it up. Obviously I have to say that making a feature film that you’ve written is one of the great, extraordinary experiences in life. To be given the opportunity…and the finances…to be able to do that. I would love to be able to do that again. But I also really, really enjoy making documentaries. I really do. And this one was done in such a modern and interesting way…I really loved the approach and the idea. What excited me about it most was that I had never seen this film before…I didn’t know what the film could be. And to go into a project with fear, because you have no idea how it’s going to be, that is the most exciting way to work.

MS: What are you planning now?
BW: You know what I’m going to do now? I’m going to go on holiday! I’m going fishing, Michael.
MS: Don’t go to far.

BJ McDonnell talks about directing “Hatchet III”

BJ McDonnell made his directorial debut on the kick-ass horror film “Hatchet III”. He is no stranger to films though having worked as camera operator on over 100 films including “Star Trek Into Darkness”, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, “Battle Los Angeles” and Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with BJ about stepping into the director’s chair and taking over this fun horror franchise.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us what made you make the switch from working as stedicam/camera operator to directing?
BJ McDonnell: Adam (Green) knew that I wanted to start directing movies. When I got to CA, I went to film school and started working as a camera operator. I love working as a camera operator but my goal was get start directing. When the chance came up for “Hatchet III” and Adam wasn’t going to do it, he was quick to ask me since I worked on the first two as camera operator. I thought it would be a perfect stepping stone.

MG: What was your biggest challenge stepping into this role?
BJ: Being on the set is very comfortable for me now. I am used to working with actors and the crew since I am in that environment all the time. My issue was separating myself to focus on setting up the shots and making sure that I was getting the right performance from the actors. The post-production stuff was very tough. Our editor, Ed Marx, was awesome though. He is great. But the whole thing was a long process.

MG: What do you think makes the “Hatchet” franchise so unique?
BJ: These films are made just to be fun. These are meant to scary people or make them feel queasy with the gore and violence or just have fun. It is a real testament to the horror films of the 80’s. It is a fun sit back and watch a monster tear people up into shreds. They are also just fun movies to make. It is like a rollercoaster ride…

MG: I agree! From the moment that shotgun goes off…BANG!
BJ: That is one of the things I wanted to do. I wanted to make sure that this film flowed fast and that no one got bored throughout certain parts. I wanted to make it a good fast paced ride that would keep your interest that whole time. I think we accomplished that.

MG: Do you feel you had a grip of the franchise having worked on “Hatchet I & II”?
BJ: You look and see what happened with the other ones. There is advantages and disadvantages. You get to see what people’s comments are from the first two films and improve on that. A lot of the comments, I actually agree with. One was that “Hatchet II” didn’t get going till about 45 minutes in and I agree. So I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen with this one. There is the disadvantage with people that don’t like the “Hatchet” films to begin with. You got to take the good with the bad and say “Hey I made a fun movie, I hope you enjoy it”.

MG: The gore is super graphic and even goes beyond the second film; tell us about amping that up this time?
BJ: We all came up with the kills together – myself, Adam and Robert Pendergraft. We each had our own ideas what we wanted to do and we collaborated the whole time while the script was being done. I wanted to make it as gory as I could, which is tough to do when you do not have that big of a budget. That is also why some of the kills are so fast since they didn’t work as well as they should have and there are quick cuts. All in all it works out in the end and I think it still came out cool.

MG: What was it like working with all the great genre talent?
BJ: We had Kane and Danielle already on board. I worked with Kane going back to “The Devil Rejects” years ago. He is a great bud of mine. I worked with Danielle going back to Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”, so I knew her from that. It is good because everyone was family like. Derek Mears, I knew him “MacGruber”. He is just a great guy and true friend. Never worked with Zach Galligan before but he was a choice of mine to cast because I love “Gremlins”. He brought a lot to the table and had tons of great ideas. I hope to work with him again. I can go on and on, I just love this cast! It was like working with friends.

MG: I loved the Mears/Hodder face off.
BJ: That was planned on purpose, obviously. I think it was actually supposed to happen in the second film but Mears was working on “Predators”, I believe. We always wanted to do it and put Jason vs. Jason up against each other since it has never been done. Those guys are friends and they loved doing it, so it was just the right time.

MG: What do you love most about the horror films?
BJ: The thing about horror that I like is that you don’t have to play by all the rules. In horror you can do whatever you want. Like with Victor Crowley, he is a ghost so you can do whatever you want. So since he is a repeater, he will come back again and again. Plus with horror you have a fan base that is like no other. You do not find that with other genres. There isn’t a romantic comedy fan base. Horror fans are really great.

MG: Now that you got your feet wet directing, what is next?
BJ: There are two scripts being written right now that I will be working on. One is a 90’s action film, written by Jason Trost, who is a good buddy of mine and also in “Hatchet III”. The other is spy movie with a psychological twist. I am trying to go with something that is more action based for a second film and then probably going back to horror.

Jorge Hinojosa talks about directing documentary “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp”

Jorge Hinojosa is the producer/director of a new documentary about the influential writer Iceberg Slim. The film is titled “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp” and is a gritty in-depth look at the man who was a pimp turned author that would sell over 6 million copies of his works prior to his death in 1992. Media Mikes had the chance to talk with Jorge about the film and what it was like adding the title of director to his already impressive resume.

Adam Lawton: What was it that initially sparked your interest in the project?
Jorge Hinojosa: My regular gig is managing Ice-T and I have been doing that for the last 28 years. When I first met Ice-T I asked where he got his name and he told me that it was because of this guy Iceberg Slim. He gave me all the books to read and over our time together we were always referencing them. A couple years ago when it looked like there was going to be a Screen Actors Guild strike I came up with the idea for the documentary. Ice was all for it and then when the strike ended he told me that I should do the project. That’s really how it all came about.

AL: How did you go about choosing who you were going to interview for the film?
JH: Everyone we talked to was connected to Iceberg Slim in some form or another. Henry Rollins along with Rick Rubin released Slims spoken word album. Quincy Jones at one time was in talks to produce a movie about Iceberg Slim where Snoop Dogg would play Iceberg Slim. All these people had connections and I knew they were all fans. Everyone involved was really amazing and they all told some great stories.

AL: Was it hard in anyway getting the family members involved?
JH: Icebergs kids all loved him but at the same time its history and a legacy that is painful to them. On one hand Slim was a writer that did some incredible things but on the other no one feels as though they were properly compensated for the sales of those books. As a result of that the family lived in poverty. It’s bitter sweet. They wanted Slim to be portrayed in a way that was both honest and true however they knew that it was going to be painful. There were a lot of mixed emotions throughout the process.

AL: When you were putting everything together what was it like going back through all of the footage that was shot?
JH: Everyone we interviewed for the film said some really fascinating things. We had to be really careful in that we didn’t let something go off on a tangent. We wanted to wet people’s appetite but we didn’t want other stories to take away from the main idea of the film. It’s a fine line we had to dance along as there are many stories within this story that could make for their own movies. We had to make sure that our originally story was served first. We really had to be ruthless in what we cut.

AL: For you personally what did you find to be one of the more challenging parts of working on the film?
JH: We had such a tremendous amount of footage that I had to go through. So to figure out what I wanted to include was very difficult. I realized that the documentary should focus on a few major points that tell the emotional side of who Slim was. I definitely focused on that and the literary side of Slims life. I had to make sure that I included what I thought would be the best snap shots of Slims life. The other thing about this film is that I financed it myself. I had started off with an offer from Warner Bros. to finance it completely however as a first time director I felt that they may try and boss me around some. I wanted to be able to make the film the way I thought it should be so I took on the burden of financing the project. I am glad I did that because it made the journey that much more thrilling and at the same time terrifying. There were definitely highs and lows while we knocked this thing in to shape.

 

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Antoni Stutz talks about directing his new film “Rushlights”

After a few television appearances and a supporting role opposite Don Johnson in John Frankenheimer’s “Dead Bang,” Antoni Stutz decided to take his talents back behind the camera. He made his feature film directorial debut with the comedy/thriller “You’re Killing Me,” starring Julie Bowen and Traci Lords. This week sees the release of his latest film, the noir-ish drama “Rushlights.” While promoting the film’s release Stutz took the time to sit down with Media Mikes.

Mike Smith: Can you give our readers a brief introduction to “Rushlights?”
Antoni Stutz: “Rushlights” is a story about two young kids from the wrong side of the tracks that travel to a small town in Texas to falsely claim a dead friend’s inheritance. Their claim seems to be going in the right direction at first but it soon turns out that pretty much everybody in this little town has a stake – slash – interest in the estate. It’s also a coming-of-age story, which I think helps separate it from the usual crime story. The choices that you make when you’re in your early 20’s are much more random and impulsive than those of someone who is in their 30’s. They would think things through more. When we got to page 20 while writing the script we had to think, “what would a 20 year old do in this situation?” We’re looking at it from a late-30’s point of view…we had to remember back to when we were 20. It’s a completely different dynamic. And that’s what interested me in the film.

MS: We’re informed at the beginning that the film is based on a true story. How did you come across the tale?
AS: My co-writer (Ashley Scott Meyers) approached me with a story she had seen in a newspaper that took place in Alabama. These two young people went to a small town in Alabama and tried to pull a similar stunt…impersonating someone else and claiming an inheritance. And I realized that ONLY a teenager would come up with an idea like that and think it would work. I also realized that maybe what they did didn’t make them idiots. Maybe what they did made them desperate. And desperate people do desperate things.

MS: You had some success early on as an actor. What made you take your talents behind the camera?
AS: I actually started out behind the camera. I made short films…VHS, digital, High-8, Super-8. I started when I was 14. I came to Los Angeles and I guess I had the right look at the time. I did some commercials, some television. But that wasn’t where my drive was. I was up in Canada for three months with John Frankenheimer and Don Johnson doing “Dead Bang.” It wasn’t a big role but they decided to keep me there even when I wasn’t shooting. So I basically had a three month crash course in filmmaking. To the despair of John Frankenheimer, I should add. I know I got on his nerves. I kept asking “why are you putting the camera there?” Finally he said, “listen, kid, we’re paying you to be in FRONT of the camera, not behind the camera.” I was so naïve that I didn’t really know who he was or what a legend he was (among his films, Frankenheimer directed “Black Sunday,” “Birdman of Alcatraz” and the original “Manchurian Candidate”). He told me that if I shut up and didn’t bother him I could stay on set and watch him. So I basically went to film school for two and a half months. I had also worked with Bob Giraldi and Michael Mann so I had some great exposure. The only problem was that it was a studio environment. Making independent films is a completely different environment.

MS: Have you ever thought about acting again?
To pick up an acting career in my early 40’s…not really. I really enjoy working WITH actors. I think I can bring what experience I have acting to the directing job. But at the same time I’m not excluding it.

MS: You pull double duty on “Rushlights,” as both co-writer and director. Do you prefer one job over the other?
AT: Directing by far. That is where my passion lies in the creative process. Not that I don’t enjoy writing. You have to understand that filmmaking is a little bit like a modern day operetta. You have all of these different art forms. Photography. Acting. Writing. Production design. You name it. And you put it all under one umbrella. There are some things you’re going to be good at and some things you’re not going to be good at. You make sure you take advantage of the things you shine at and you also make sure that you have people that do shine on the things you don’t. It’s a great learning experience to put your ego in the drawer.

MS: Now that “Rushlights” is being released what do you have coming up?
AT: I have two thrillers on my desk. They’re both finished scripts but one is a little more developed than the other. That’s the one I’m favoring. It’s really a hair-raising original story written with bravura and balls. It’s really outside of the box. With a little bit of luck we should be shooting it the middle on next year.

MS: That’s really all I had. Thank you for your time.
AT: And thank you for taking the time to watch the film. I don’t make films for myself. I don’t put it on a shelf and just show it to my friends. I make them for an audience. The most enjoyable time for me on a film is the moment between “action” and “cut.” Second thing is a good Q&A, either with the audience or a critic. I’ve talked with people that really enjoyed the film and I’ve talked with people that were angry with me…”this doesn’t make sense…that doesn’t make sense!” And I’ve realized that this is part of being an artist. If a film I make generates this kind of emotion than I’ve done my job. It’s a dialogue like this that inspires me to get up in the morning, get on the horn, raise money…all of the crazy, insane stuff you have to do to get a film off the ground. When you’re a film buff you’re stuck with an incurable disease. I don’t recommend it for everybody!

 

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Rob Zombie talks about writing and directing “The Lords of Salem” and new album “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor”

Rob Zombie is one of the founding members of the band White Zombie, but is notable for his solo act which spawned hits like “Living Dead Girl” and “Dragula”. While still working in music, he turned his sites over to writing and directing films. He has written and directed films like “House of 1000 Corpses”, “The Devil Rejects”, “Halloween (2007)” and “Halloween II (2009)”. His latest film, “The Lords of Salem”, is his most real and dark film to date. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Rob about the film and also his newest solo album “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor”.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about what or who were you major influences when you were written “The Lords of Salem”?
Rob Zombie: There wasn’t really one thing in particular. Truthfully, the biggest influence for me is that I wanted to make the type of midnight film I remember watching when I was in high school. Back in the day before you can get your hands on everything, I used to have these film books. I used to look at photos from movies like “Suspiria” or “Eraserhead”. I used to say “Fuck, I got to see these movies!” The feeling I would get when I would watch these movies was so special since they were so unique, odd and unlike anything mainstream. I wanted to make a movie that was like that. If you go to see “Lords of Salem” you are going to see something that isn’t what you wouldn’t typical expect to see at the movies. It takes it you to a whole other place. On a grand scale, that was really the inspiration that I wanted to make something like that.

MG: In terms of directing, did you learn any new tricks on this film?
RZ: Well I learned more patience, I think. It is very easy to be impatient when you are making a movie. I learned to just slow the camera down, slow the actors down and let the movie breathe. I wasn’t worried about the audience getting bored or restless, those qualities sometimes can help a movie. It is very easy to make a movie fast paced and keep people interested but sometimes that detracts from the certain mood you are trying to create. Sometimes you need the movie to drag in order to pull people down with it. That was something that I learned on this movie.

MG: The budget was $1.5 million; what was your biggest challenge working with that?
RZ: Everything! [laughs]. Everything was huge challenge. We had no money for anything. The cheapest movie that I have ever made in my life cost $7 million (which was “House of 1000 Corpses”). I was not used to be down in the no budget range. So as we were shooting, I was constantly re-writing the script and constantly changing things. So every second of the day was a challenge.

MG: The witch burning scene was very intense; tell us about shooting that scene?
RZ: We shot that whole scene very quickly, in fact it was done in one night. We had no time. Once again, I had come up with this great plan for shooting the witch burning scene but then I realized that we only had an hour to shoot. I set up one grand shot that I thought would have the most impact and then just went for it. My big goal was to not make it ever look like we didn’t have any time or money. That was what I was always trying to hide.

MG: How did you get genre legends like Patricia Quinn and Meg Foster, who had quite the transformation, on board?
RZ: It was fantastic. I have always loved Patricia Quinn because I was a huge “Rocky Horror” fan. I loved her in everything that she has done but she also hasn’t done a lot. She also hasn’t done a lot recently. But I always wanted to work with her. I had met her over dinner about 15 years ago talking about a movie that never happened, so I had always had her in my mind from day one. Meg Foster was someone who I always thought was cool and very beautiful with those piercing eyes, but I didn’t know if she would be right of this film. I wasn’t sure at first. So I got her on the phone and after talking for about an hour, I know that she would be perfect. She totally understood and got the film.

MG: Being a musician yourself; tell us about working with John 5 on the score?
RZ: He was great to work with on this film and obviously I have been working with John now for over eight years. I know how talented he is, not just as a guitar player but also a musician. It was very easy. I conveyed my ideas and what I was thinking and he executed them perfectly. He was great on this film.

MG: Tell us about the composition of The Lords music track?
RZ: That one was tricky trying to figure out what that track would be. John had worked on a few things and it wasn’t just right. I remember one day we were on the phone together, I was on the east coast and John was on the west, and we were just humming little weird melodies back and forth to each other on the phone. It was then that we found the sound that we were looking for. Neither of us can remember who came up with it first but we just knew we had it when we heard it.

MG: Horror fans are the toughest of any genre fan; what do you think they will appreciate the most within “The Lords of Salem”?
RZ: What I would appreciate most about the film is that it is different. I think that horror fans are tricky. They are all different kinds of people. Sometimes they are not the first ones to embrace something different. But again all of those films that I spoke love as a kid, those weren’t embraced at the time either. So I purposely made a film that would be a tough sell to people…but that is why I made it. I think it will be split. Some people will love it to death and some people just won’t get it.  But that is ok with me since everybody cannot get everything!

MG: Your new album “Venomous Rat Regeneration Vendor” is heavy and dark; tell us about the inspiration behind this album?
RZ: Well I think the movie and album sort of played into each other. I was doing them both around the same time. I had an editing room in my house were we edited the movie. Then we moved the editing room out and moved in a recording studio. I went right from one to the other. I think the vibe of the two projects sort of melded together. I wanted both of them to be weird and unique and that was the goal for me.

MG: Where do you find time to tour, making films and also new music?
RZ: That is all I do man! Where do I find time for anything else is more the question…[laughs].

MG: Do you still plan on directing “Tyrannosaurus Rex” next? What else is in the cards?
RZ: No, that project isn’t happening anymore. What is happening next besides the two we just spoke about is that I will be doing a lot of touring. I headline the Mayhem Fest 2013 tour, which is starting in June and that will go for a while. But the next film project I got is called “The Broad Street Bullies”, which is a true life sports film about the Philadelphia Flyers… which is totally different!

Eric Walter talking about directing "My Amityville Horror"

Eric Walter is the director of the new film surrounding Long Island, NY’s famous haunted house with the documentary  “My Amityville Horror”. The film gets a first hand revisit the former house resident Daniel Lutz, who was only 10 during the events back in the 70’s. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Eric about the film and working with Daniel Lutz.

Mike Gencarelli: What made to you want to get involved with “My Amityville Horror”?
Eric Walter: To present a new perspective on the events in Amityville was my initial motivation. Daniel Lutz is the first of the Lutz children to come forward with his entire account of what he claims happened inside that house, so this was an extraordinary opportunity to explore these allegations with someone who was there. However, once I got to know Daniel, it was apparent he still wears the scars of The Amityville Horror to this day and has been unfortunately forever damaged by whatever happened to his family inside that house. I’ve also had an obsessive interest with this case since I was child. Reviewing the years of heated debates surrounding both the DeFeo murders and the Lutz haunting, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the personalities that surround it and their apparent desire to defend their part of the story. This controversy would have never continued if the original participants weren’t still so entangled within it. In January of 2007, I launched AmityvilleFiles.com, an enormous online archive of Amityville-related research. I wanted to create an unbiased presentation of the known facts surrounding the case – somewhere people who are interested in these events could go and read through the original newspaper articles, view media and essentially draw their own conclusions on what they believe went down in that house.

MG: What are your thoughts on the events that took place at 112 Ocean Avenue?
EW: I believe that something very real occurred to the Lutz family that truly frightened them. I believe that they believed the house was haunted. I don’t believe their account was a complete hoax created for profit or attention, however there are inconsistencies that make it a difficult picture. How many of their stories were real or possibly elaborated upon, no one will ever know. Their accounts have been lost in over 35 years of misinformation about the story and media exposure that have clouded the truth. This is why I felt it very necessary to allow Daniel Lutz to speak openly in the film, giving him an objective stage to do so. In many ways, I think his account has only deepened the mystery.

MG: How did you get in touch with Daniel Lutz?
EW: AmityvilleFiles.com proved to be the calling card for what became “My Amityville Horror.” I was contacted by a contractor in the New York area who claimed to be a friend of Daniel Lutz. Despite being very intrigued, I didn’t necessarily believe this man’s claims until I was able to see a picture of Daniel. After this, I knew this had to be him and I went about engaging in conversation with them. In 2009, I traveled to New York and conducted nearly 12 hours of audio recordings with Daniel.

MG: Tell us about your experience working with him.
EW: Working with Daniel has been very challenging at times. He’s very angry and difficult to approach at first. My immediate impression was that his willingness to speak to me was almost therapy for him — a way of unburdening himself of these stories that have lived inside his head for over 35 years. He was struggling to differentiate his point-of-view from the public’s perception of the story. Many of his memories seem to be skewed by the media fiction that surrounds these events. The subject of memory came heavily into play when listening to his account. For me, this started to transcend the Amityville topic and touch on a broader issue – the challenge of someone attempting to comprehend the unexplained. That’s what I hope people really take away from the film. This is something that has psychologically damaged and impacted this person. Whether it’s true or not, he believes it’s true.

MG: Some of the questions you approach him with are quite tough—were you ever concerned about that?
EW: There’s such intensity with him about this topic that I was constantly aware of how far to push him on certain questions. I never shied away from asking hard questions, but it was process of being conscious of when to ask certain things. He definitely does not like discussing Amityville and becomes very tense and angry when exploring those dark areas of his childhood. Looking back, I’m amazed I was able to capture as much as did within the film.

MG: What was your biggest challenge with working on the documentary?
EW: I’d have to say bringing all of the subjects together into one film was the greatest challenge. We tried very hard to interview Daniel’s other two siblings, but there’s such pain surrounding this time in their life, the remaining family members choose not to speak about it anymore. As filmmakers, we had to respect this, but it’s difficult because you desire that corroboration for the film. They seemed to have moved on from it more than Daniel apparently has. For me, obtaining all of the necessary witness testimony was the greatest challenge in producing this film.

MG: What do you have planned next?
EW: I’m currently in development on another feature documentary concept. The realm of the unexplained is what fuels my desire to make films, so I plan to stay in this field of study. I’m very interested in the combination of narrative and documentary and how these styles can be used to enhance the storytelling process. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to explore a variety of different subjects in the future and expanding my palette of work.

Jessica DiCicco talks about voicing Flame Princess on "Adventure Time" and directing Kovas' music video for "Ice Cream"

Jessica DiCicco is a voice actress best for voicing Flame Princess on “Adventure Time”.  She also various characters like Patches on “Pound Puppies”. She recently stepped behind the character directing Kovas’ latest music video for his song “Ice Cream”.  Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Jessica to chat about her voice work, her love for directing and her plans for visiting fan conventions.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about how you ended up voicing Flame Princess on “Adventure Time”?
Jessica DiCicco: It happened like they all do, which is through auditioning. It’s a way of life in this business, you try out for different projects everyday. The funny is that I had a feeling about the Flame Princess audition right away when I first got the email. I had heard of “Adventure Time” but I didn’t know what it was really about. So I did a little research and I watched some YouTube clips. Immediately, I knew this was a show I wanted to be on. I sent the audition and I was very happy when I found out I had booked the role. From the very first script that came in, I thought the show was just so amazing and well written. I knew that I was in for something great.

MG: What do you enjoy most about voicing that character?
JD: I love that she has such a range of emotion. She can go from super sweet to insane and crazy at the drop of a dime. It is so fun to play a character like that.

MG: Can you reflect on the fandom surrounding your character and the show itself?
JD: I have never been a part of such a big show. It has been such an amazing experience. It is very reminiscent for me of “Simpsons Mania”. I remember when “The Simpsons” had just come out, there was so much energy surrounding the show, it truly struck a cord with its audience. I was a huge fan of “The Simpsons” when I was a kid, I would wear my Simpson’s denim jacket, talk on my Bart phone, then go to sleep draped in my Simpson’s bed sheets. The insanity and excitement surrounding “Adventure Time” is reminiscent of that. I was actually at the Annie Awards this year and was presenting with Lucas Grabeel, and Matt Groening also was there. I got the chance to talk to him and it turns out his son is a big fan of “Adventure Time” and even was an intern on the show. I ran my theory by him about how “Adventure Time Mania” is reminiscent of “Simpsons Mania” and he said that he couldn’t agree more. Right from the creator’s mouth! So glad that I ran that by him, it was a very cool moment for me.

MG: How does your work on “Adventure Time” differ from Patches on “Pound Puppies”?
JD: I feel lucky that I get to voice so many different types of characters. It satisfies my desire to act and be creative. Patches is so much fun, he is so cute, fun and playful- he’s a puppy! I love dogs, so I put my love for my own dog, Kody, into that character. The head writer is Bart (Jennett) and he is incredibly talented. The episodes of “Pound Puppies” are so well written, they have so many layers, twists and turns throughout. It is always very fun to work on this show.

MG: How did you get involved directing Kovas’ music video for his song “Ice Cream”?
JD: Directing the video for “Ice Cream” was blast and easily one of my favorite experiences to date. I met Kovas, he is an incredibly talented music producer and also has a solo artist career, and we became quick friends. I listened to his mix tape while it was in the works and that song just inspired me. I am also friends with Jessie Heiman, the “nerd” from the GoDaddy Super Bowl XLVII commercial, he’s the one who made out with Bar Rafaeli [laughs]. We have been friends and have always wanted to work together. I thought it would be so funny to have Jesse be the main thug in a rap video [laughs]. That is what actually inspired the entire “Ice Cream” concept.

MG: What was your biggest challenge directing your first music video?
JD: I am very hard on myself and I like everything to be as good as it can possibly be. Even with my voice-overs, I really try to focus on my characters and have a deep connection with them. So I wanted to apply this to directing. I wanted the characters to be very solid and consistent throughout the entire video. One of the most fun parts of this video was casting it. As soon as it was cast with these incredibly talented people, a lot of it was setting up the scenes and it was such a joy to watch it all unfold. I was also fortunate to work with the best editor of all time, Steve Forner. It was such a great experience. I didn’t realize how truly happy directing makes me and I can’t wait to try this again.

MG: Do you see yourself pursuing more directing gigs in the near future? Film or TV?
JD: I’m actually directing another music video next week! I was actually offered this next video based on my work from “Ice Cream,” which I did just for fun! I’m excited to let this new-found love for directing unfold organically. I am going project by project. But I would like to challenge myself and try and tackle a short film in the near future. So that would happen within the next year hopefully. At this point, it is just a matter of finding an incredible script that inspires me.

MG: Tell us about “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West” coming out on Disney Junior starring Mandy Moore, Lucas Grabeel and yourself?
JD: I am very excited about this show. It’s the first Western musical for preschoolers, and it has been fantastic working with Mandy Moore and Lucas Grabeel. I play a 7-year-old boy cactus named Toby. The songs we sing get stuck in our heads for days, hopefully the kids love it, that way I don’t feel silly for liking it so much [laughs]. It has such a stellar cast in addition to Mandy and Lucas. It also includes Kevin Michael Richardson, Mo Williams, Cree Summer, Carlos Alazraqui, and Gary Anthony Williams.

MG: I know you can’t talk about it but you also have a few video game roles in the works also right?
JD: I wish I could tell you about them at this very moment! I’m so excited about these new roles. Voicing characters in a video game satisfies a whole other part of my creativity. It is very natural acting, very cinematic. So it challenges me in a very different way which is very fun for me.

Fan art by rorpie

MG: Tell us about how you got started with your girl DJ duo called Kittypillaz?
JD: I just started making appearances at conventions and anime cons. I didn’t realize how much fun they were. I went recently with a fellow voice actress, and we decided to also DJ at the con. She is big in the anime world. The first one we just did was Ichibancon, this past January in Charlotte, NC. We just figured to get out there play some good music and have fun with our fans. It was such an amazing experience, I look forward to doing it again!

MG: What else do you have going on that you would like to talk about?
JD: Fans can reach out to me on Facebook and Twitter. Also I love friendship bracelets. So when I make appearances at conventions, I am offering exclusive friendship bracelets for each con, that will only be available at that specific con. Also I am going to have a contest on deviantART for artists to submit the best Flame Princess fan art for the postcard my next exclusive friendship bracelet will come with. I am a huge fan of art and I love all the fan art that people do for “Adventure Time” and any of my characters. I am very excited to incorporate fan art into this project.

Rich Moore talks about directing Disney's "Wreck-It Ralph"

Rich Moore is the director of Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph”. He is best known for working on TV shows like “The Simpsons” and “Futurama”. “Wreck-It Ralph” has been nominated for both Golden Globes and Academy Award for Best Animated Film. It is set to be released on Blu-ray and DVD on March 5th. Media Mikes had the pleasure to chat with Rich to discuss the film and hopes for a sequel.

Mike Gencarelli: Just wanted to tell you how much I loved this film and that Media Mikes had voted “Wreck it Ralph” the best animated film of the year.
Rich Moore: Thanks. Wow, it was a great year so that is a huge compliment. Thank you that means so much.

MG: With “Wreck-It Ralph” being your feature directorial debut; how does this experience compare from your television work including “Futurama” and “The Simpsons”?
RM: It is different but the same. You know? With “Futurama” and “The Simpsons”, those were amazing projects to work with. Some of the people I worked with on those projects are some of the funniest and most talented people in that medium. My jobs on them were very much like the job I have on “Wreck-It Ralph”. I am telling the best story I can with heart, emotion and humor, while also having characters that we care about and make sure that the audience invests in and identifies with. In that regard “The Simpsons” and “Wreck-It Ralph” feel very similar. I feel like I am right in my element. On the hand, the machine itself here at Disney is big. In order to make these feature films it takes an army of artists to put them together over a long period of time. I feel like a kid in candy shop. It’s like going from having a toy train to running a real train [laughs]. It is fun and really great. It is just wild also just being at the studio during this process.

MG: Have you always wanted to be in this position?
RM: When I was a kid, the first film I saw in the theater was “The Jungle Book”. I was five years old at the time and it really got its hooks into me. It affected me in a way that really early on that I wanted to be involved with animation…or as much as a five year old could express that. So to find myself here at this point in my career at Disney Animation, at the place that put the bug in me, and adding my contribution to Disney movies is a spectacular feeling. It really goes down pretty deep.

MG: The cameos in the film are jam-packed but not overwhelming; what was the process for choosing which iconic characters to use?
RM: Well we always wanted to use the ones that felt appropriate to the scene. We definitely went for the ones that we loved as kids and now as adults. Early on in the production, I put up a big bulletin board in the break room with a sign asking what characters needed to be in the movie. We filled up that board quickly and kept that on hand and used it as a reference throughout. We didn’t just choose them all willy-nilly. It was based on characters that we loved and would need to see in the movie.

MG: You voiced Sour Bill and Zangief of Street Fighter in the film, which are two of my favorites. How did that come about?
RM: Thank You. What is funny about that was that those two performances started out as temporary dialogue – scratch dialogue. When it came time to cast actors in those roles, I was talking with John Lasseter about it, our executive producer, and I told him what I was thinking for Sour Bill and he asked me “Why do you want to change Sour Bill, it perfect?”. I told him it was just scratch dialogue but he told me to keep it in and that it was great. He also said the same thing for Zangief. So I am a reluctant actor.

MG: Well you know “Who else would crush man’s skull like sparrow’s egg…”
[laughs] That’s right [In Zangief’s voice] “like sparrow’s egg between my thighs” [laughs].

MG: When this film came out, I asked my mom if she was going to see it and she asked “I don’t know much about games, would I enjoy”; how can you address this concern for the non-gamers?
RM: Sure, that was something that I was very concerned about in the beginning. I didn’t want it to be so inside video games that only gamers would get it and enjoy it. It was very important to me that even if you just heard of video games but never played that you could watch the movie and enjoy it as much as a hardcore gamer. I was always checking this aspect as we were developing the story. I had a little core group of people. Some were hardcore gamers, casual gamers and some that didn’t play at all. I used them as a balancing stick to make sure if they were all equally enjoying it and able to relate. Once all those three points lined up, I knew that we got it in a good spot where everyone would be able to enjoy it. It was very important to me that that aspect was front and center.

MG: Well since then she has seen it twice and loves quoting it, especially the Oreo chant [laughs].
RM: It is funny that you can still make a joke about a movie that is over 70 years old and cookie that is over a hundred years old…and it still feels new.

MG: I also liked how you have little fun cameos like Devil Dogs, which are now not being made any more. So it is cool to see them get put in a piece of history.
RM: My experience on “The Simpsons”, Matt Groening would always remind us that the show is not for children, not for teenagers, or adults – it is for everybody. If we are making it too childish then we are losing a big part of our audience. If we are making it too adult then we are losing another part. The stuff that I love working on is the projects that don’t talk down to kids and doesn’t insult the intelligence of the adults. I think that the Pixar movies do that so well, as does the shows like “Futurama” and “The Simpsons”. These can play across and be a true family film or a piece of entertainment and that is my favorite kind of stuff.

MG: Is “Wreck-It Ralph 2” in the cards for you? What can we expect?
RM: The creative team would jump at it in a New York minute. The actors, the animators and myself – we all had such a great time making this movie and working together. We became like a family. It was such a cool experience. We really love these characters. There has been some talk about doing it and I am sure there will be some more talk about it. But we are all keeping out fingers crossed and hoping we get to go back there.

John Hyams talks about directing "Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning"

John Hyams is the writer and director of “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”, officially the fourth film in the series. John breathed new life into this franchise with “Universal Soldier: Regeneration” also reuniting Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with John about this franchise and the latest film.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us where “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” fits in the franchise?
John Hyams: When I first became involved with the Universal Soldier franchise in 2009 (with Regeneration) the idea was to focus on the broad mythological themes while ignoring specific storylines from the previous films. Although it was an action movie, I immediately responded to the Frankenstein myth elements, which kept one foot firmly planted in the sci-fi and horror genres. I felt that a movie made 20 years after its predecessors should be a stand alone film, while at the same time pay respect to the mythology of the first movie. With Day of Reckoning, the idea was to embrace the very same challenge – to make a movie that picked up where Regeneration left off, from a mythological standpoint, but could also stand alone as a unique interpretation of the material. This time we focused more on the psychological horror elements. We aimed to create a subjective, often hallucinatory experience, punctuated by moments of explosive action and violence. So, to me it fits right next to Regeneration, where they both can stand together or alone.

MG: Tell us about working with and also reuniting Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme?
JH: Regeneration served as a more formal reuniting of Dolph and Jean-Claude, since that movie pitted the two against each other, and allowed for a dramatic showdown more reminiscent of the scenario from the first movie. This time, their characters served a different function – as obstacles standing in between our protagonist, played by Scott Adkins, and his goals. As for working with them, I know them better this time around and we have a comfortable working relationship. I like them both as people and collaborators, but they’re very different from each other and present unique challenges. Jean Claude is emotional and leads with his heart, whereas Dolph is more analytical, and thinks in more technical terms. We all had a good time working on this one.

MG: What made take on the role of writer, as well, this time around?
JH: It’s always better to be involved with a story from the ground up. By coming up with the story and writing the script I could take part in the evolution of the mythology, and take it into directions I’d like to see it go. Ultimately, it leads to a much more interesting, challenging experience.

MG: After four films in the franchise, tell us about turning the hero Luc Deveraux into the villain?
JH: Regeneration ended with Luc Deveraux escaping. Day of Reckoning answers the question of what happened to him after he escaped. In order to facilitate this story, it was necessary that we introduce a new protagonist, whose journey was to find Luc Deveraux and, in this case, attempt to kill him. Therefore, Luc is the antagonist of the story… however, whether or not he is actually the villain is the central idea the film seeks to explore.

MG: Tell us about the decision to shoot “Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning” in 3D and was it a challenge?
JH: It wasn’t my decision to shoot in 3D, the producers sold it that way oversees, so it was part of the deal. 3D is a huge challenge because, quite simply, it costs more money and takes longer. So, on a budget as low as ours, it leaves you with less shooting days and less hours each day to work with. Therefore, the fact that it was going to be shot in 3D directly affected the content of the story. In essence, the decision to focus on subjective, horror thriller elements instead of large scale spectacle was informed by our budgetary constraints, due in large part to working in 3D. From an aesthetic standpoint, we used 3D to create an immersive environment. Since the perspective of the movie is very subjective, we felt that 3D could help enhance that feeling of being in the room with the characters while they interact. Conversely, we avoided the ‘comin-at-ya’ gimmickry often associated with 3D. The goal was to make the film work just as well in 2D as 3D.

MG: How did the productions differ from “Regeneration” To “Day of Reckoning”?
JH: Regeneration was shot in 2D, had a bigger budget and was shot in Sofia, Bulgaria, whereas Day of Reckoning was shot in the US. Therefore, Regeneration had a shooting schedule of almost 47 days, vs Day of Reckoning, which was shot in 29. So, Regeneration was larger in scope, involved more group battles, and was more of a straight action movie. Day of Reckoning, because of it’s schedule, became a much more intimate movie, though in some ways I think we achieved some even better action this time around.

MG: With 2012 being 20 years from the first film, how do you feel this franchise has evolved?
JH: I feel like the first Universal Soldier film was a product of its time, when movies like Terminator and Robocop had inspired an interest in bio-mechanical ideas. That coupled with the tongue in cheek nature of action movies from the 80s and early 90s, led to an aesthetic that was very much of its time. It did not take itself too seriously, and, in fact, embraced the comedic aspects of the story. For Regeneration and Day of Reckoning I took my cues from films like Alien, Sorcerer, The Terminator, as well as films by John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, among others, to create an aesthetic that took the mythology seriously, and tried to create a believable aesthetic. That idea led to the dark, serious tone that ended up dominating the proceedings.

MG: How was it getting to bring this series back to theaters after going DTV?
JH: I feel a sense of accomplishment that we took a franchise that had long been forgotten and reintroduced it in a way that created renewed interest. From the discussions I’ve had with people, whether during interviews, film festivals or on Facebook, there seems to be an appreciative audience out there that Is pleased with the direction we’ve taken things.

MG: Now that you have life back to “Universal Soldier”, do you see yourself continuing with this franchise?
JH: I have been developing a concept with the producers that we imagine as a larger scale production. If we are able to raise the budget necessary to execute these ideas, than I’d be interested.

MG: Can’t wait to see what you have planned next, any ideas?
JH: In addition to Universal Soldier, I’m developing a potential action franchise with a renowned sci-fi writer, as well as finishing an original screenplay of my own. Other than that, reading scripts and meeting with producers. Truth be told, I’m itching to get back in the trenches. When I’m not making a movie I feel like Captain Willard — drunk, naked and bleeding in a Saigon hotel room, just waiting for a mission.

Vlad Yudin talks about directing the long-awaited follow up to "Pumping Iron" titled "Generation Iron"

Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard

Growing up in Russia, Vlad Yudin took advantage of his countrymen’s love of movies by seeing pretty much everything he could.  Be they action films from America or the more “art” films of Europe and Asia, each time he left the theatre he could envision himself making movies one day.

After a successful series of documentaries on rap artists like Big Pun and Twista, he turned to features.  His first film, “Last Day of Summer” earned good reviews and can currently be seen on the various Showtime cable television channels.  His next project is “Generation Iron,” a revisit to the world of professional bodybuilding that was made popular in the 1977 documentary “Pumping Iron,” the film that introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger to the world.  What was intriguing about “Pumping Iron” was not the actual body building contest but the mental contest played between the participants.  In one segment Schwarzenegger senses that Lou Ferigno is not mentally ready to compete and slowly begins to attack him.  By the time Ferigno took to the stage he was already a loser in his mind, enabling Schwarzenegger to win his 7th consecutive Mr. Olympia title.  The film also serves as an early example of the sheer willpower that Schwarzenegger has to achieve whatever his goals may be, from Mr. Olympia to Hollywood star to Governor of California.
While in post-production on “Generation Iron”, Mr. Yudin took time out to talk about his inspirations, the benefits of bootlegging and his upcoming projects.

Mike Smith: As a young man growing up in Russia what inspired you to try your hand in the film business?
Vlad Yudin: As a young boy I enjoyed going to the movies…all kinds of movies. Living in Russia gave me access to films from all over the word. European films, American films, Asian films…I used to watch everything. I would watch a film and think about what it would be like to make one. So that’s where the interest came from and I kept that interest growing and growing and growing and little by little I got into it.

MS: We’re there a lot of western films available to you?
VY: In Russia in the early 1990s there was a lot of bootlegging going on. You could get almost anything on VHS tapes. So we would buy them and trade them with each other. That gave us a chance to see everything from action films to horror films.

MS: Addressing “Generation Iron.” What made you want to revisit a film like “Pumping Iron” and update it?
VY: Well first it’s important to mention that “Pumping Iron” was a monumental film. Not only as a documentary, but as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s introduction to the world. It changed the entire fitness industry and introduced body building to the world. In the 35 years since it’s been released the fitness industry has gotten huge…it’s big all around the world, but the sport of body building is still relatively unknown. It seemed like a great sport to revisit and to try to introduce some characters who just happen to be body builders. I think that’s what made the first film so interesting and fun to watch. The guys were just so colorful. So to me it made sense to revisit it.

MS: Besides the present day body builders will there be any appearances by some of the original “Pumping Iron” stars, like Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferigno?
VY: (laughs) I will only tell you that there are a lot of cameos. And that fans of the original “Pumping Iron” will not be disappointed.

MS: The competition aside, to me the best parts of “Pumping Iron” were the behind the scene looks at the various competitors and their lives. Will “Generation Iron” continue that theme?
VY: Definitely. That’s what really made the film. The great access I had to these guys behind the scenes…how they prepare. I mean, the most important thing is the preparation. In body building, when you go on stage and pose you’re showing off what you’ve been working on for the last year. Dieting…working out…your lifestyle…pushing your body to its limits every day. This is all of the stuff that takes place off stage. This film is about how much these guys want to win and how seriously they take it.

MS: A lot of your work to date has been documentaries. Do you hope to branch out and create fictional feature films?
VY: Absolutely. I would love to work in both directions. To me it comes down to making an interesting film…be it a documentary or a narrative feature. As long as the film is interesting to watch.

MS: Do you have a project planned after the release of “Generation Iron?”
VY: A few projects. “Generation Iron” is scheduled to come out this summer. Then we have a graphic novel being developed called “Head Smash” which will then be developed into a feature film. The graphic novel will be unveiled this year at the San Diego Comic Con. We also have a horror film in post production called “Catskill Park,” which should be ready by the end of the year.