Ken “The Bug Guy” MacNeil talks about collaborating on the film “Epic”

Ken MacNeil, also know as “The Bug Guy” is the owner of the largest retail pet shop in the country that is devoted to insects and other arthropods. Ken was recently contacted to work on the film “Epic” as the bug expert. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Ken about his love for bugs and his work on the film.

Mike Gencarelli: I think the first obvious question has to be how have you developed this love for bugs?
Ken MacNeil: I have been into bugs my entire life. Going back, I had started with having some hissing roaches and mantises. I ended up breeding my mantises and got an egg sack. I was a programmer at the time, so I sold those to a local pet shop and made some money. I new a local buy guy at the time that was going out of business, so my wife and I drove out and ended up coming home with 130 tarantulas. We thought we were crazy but at the time we didn’t realize that that number was nothing (laughs). We ended up selling them over a month or so. So then I got a call from the same guy hearing that I sold the first 130 so fast and he asked me if I wanted to buy the other 2,000 tarantulas he had (laughs). Well once again I asked my wife and she told me to go for it, since I liked it so much. We thought we were really crazy when we drove home with a truck full of tarantulas (laughs).

MG: So you have no fear to those kind of bugs?
KM: No, not at all. At the very beginning when I was packing a tarantula that wasn’t docile, I was a little nervous. My wife was less nervous since she grew up having tarantulas. My mom was arachnophobic, so I didn’t have any type of spiders growing up but I have always been fascinated by them.

MG: How did you end up getting contacted to work on “Epic” as the bug expert?
KM: Truthfully, I am not 100% sure how they found me. Because I am an ex-programmer, I was able to get my name and website into the front of the search engines. So if you do a general search for a pet bug, I come up first. So I bet they just did a search and came across me.

MG: Tell us about “Bugs of Camouflage” available on the special features on the home release?
KM: They came into the shop and wanted to see a bunch of different bugs. They wanted to see a bunch of different things that could fit the movie. We tried to pull up some that the movie had, the same kind of ability or the actual bug itself. I got a hold of some walking sticks for them to film since there is an actual walking stick in the movie. They have a great demonstration of camouflage and how these insects use their defense in the wild.

MG: What other films or TV shows have you been asked to consult on?
KM: I have done a few different things over the years. We also had a TV show on the Science Channel called “Bugging Out”. I have also done a bunch of articles of newspapers and also NPR did some pieces on us as well.

MG: Tell us about your retail pet shop in Tucson, AZ that is the only one in the country devoted to insects and other arthropods?
KM: We are the largest bug business in the U.S. by a lot. The next guy down probably has about 1/10th of what we got. It is what we specialize in and the tarantula hobby is the biggest part of the business. So we have more tarantulas that anything but we also carry scorpions, centipedes, millipedes, roaches and many others. On top of that I have opened an exotic pet shop that carries others pets like reptiles etc. But it seems more like an after thought when you have 10,000 bugs to 40 animals (laughs).

“Tommy” director Ken Russell dead at 84

Ken Russell, the British filmmaker who successfully brought the Who’s rock opera “Tommy” to the big screen, died yesterday (November 27) in his sleep. At the time of his death he was beginning pre-production on a new film, a musical version of “Alice in Wonderland.”

Seen as both flamboyant and controversial, Russell dreamed as a child of being a ballet dancer. But after a stint in the Royal Air Force and the Merchant Navy, and unsuccessful attempts at dancing and photography, he got a job working in television. After many successful years creating documentaries for the BBC he directed his first feature film, a 1963 comedy called “French Dressing.” The film was a rousing failure and it wasn’t until 1967 that he was allowed a second feature. “Billion Dollar Brain,” featuring Michael Caine, was well received and led to the film that would be considered his breakthrough.

In 1969 Russell released “Women In Love,” an adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence novel. The film starred Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed and Alan Bates. The film gained notoriety for a nude wrestling scene and was among the first films to show male genitalia on screen. The film was nominated for eleven BAFTA awards as well as four Academy Awards, including a nomination for Russell. This would be his only Oscar nomination for direction. Glenda Jackson won the Best Actress Academy Award for her performance in the film.

As the 1970s began, Russell found himself edited by the studios he worked for. His 1971 release “The Devils” was so upsetting that Warner Brothers refused to release it without some cuts. The film featured Oliver Reed (a Russell regular) as a priest who defies a corrupt church and state. Most of the brouhaha over the film came from the scenes featuring sexuality among nuns. Despite, or in spite of, the outrage the film led the British box office for eight straight weeks. In 1975 he released his vision of the Who’s “Tommy.” Featuring Ann Margaret, Jack Nicholson, Roger Daltrey and Elton John, the film earned Margaret an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. He teamed up with Daltrey for his next project, “Lisztomania,” He ended the 70’s with the biopic “Valentino.”

In 1980 Russell collaborated with writer Paddy Chayefsky for the film adaptation of Chayefsky’s novel, “Altered States.” Starring William Hurt, the film is better known for the many on-set arguments between director and writer. Blaming his many quarrels with Chayefsky for “blacklisting” him in Hollywood, Russell made one more film in America, the very kinky “Crimes of Passion” with Kathleen Turner and Anthony Perkins. Returning to England he directed such period films as “Gothic,” with Gabrielle Byrne and “The Lair of the White Worm.”

In 1990 Russell took a job in front of the camera, appearing in a pivotal role opposite Sean Connery, Michelle Pfeiffer and Roy Scheider in “The Russia House.” His last significant film as a director was the 1991 film “Whore,” which starred Theresa Russell (no relation). Slapped with an NC 17 rating, the film could not be advertised on television nor could posters be displayed. The studio re-titled the film, “If You Can’t Say It, Just See It.” Russell was vocally upset at the film’s rating, noting that the same year’s “Pretty Woman” was given an “R” rating, noting that his film dealt with the hardships of prostitution while the Julia Roberts film just glamorized the profession.

An accomplished author, Russell wrote six novels along with several books on filmmaking. In 1989 he released his autobiography.