An Interview with Christopher R. Mihm - By Duane L. Martin (roguecinema.com)
Christopher R. Mihm is doing his part to keep the spirit of classic b-movies alive. See, he makes black and white 50's b-movie style movies with great monsters, great characters, and a whole lot of fun thrown into the mix. In this interview, I ask Christopher about his previous films, his current film, Terror From Beneath the Earth, his future film plans and a whole lot more.
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I always start my interviews by having the interviewee (is that even a word?) tell everyone a little bit about themselves and their background. So let's start there.
I have always been a huge movie buff and I know that comes from my late father, George. My dad was one of those people that can best be described as a character. EVERYONE who knew him has a funny George Mihm story and each one is more outlandish than the last. When my dad was growing up in small town Minnesota, he liked to sneak away from the family farm and ride his bike into town to check out the double features at the local movie house. This being the 1950s and a VERY small town, the best the theater could get were the schlocky B-movies that were usually confined to the drive-ins. Thus, he got to see a whole slew of old classic B-movies when they were first released (and a couple of the better ones as well). Aside from listening to the Beatles, going to these movies was one of my dad's favorite pastimes as a kid.
When I was growing up in the 1970s and '80s, my dad, being a bit of a gadget junkie, was the first person we knew to buy a VCR a top-loading Betamax. We would take frequent trips to the local video store to rent movies, usually a kids movie (lots of Disney cartoon compilations), a modern movie and one of those retro B-classics. At home, I'd sit by my dad's side as he re-watched those old movies, never truly understanding what it was my dad loved so much about them. Sure, they were fun and as a six year old, watching cheesy giant ants attacking people was quite cool, but it never really excited me as much as Star Wars or Ghostbusters.
Because of my dad's love of movies, my family made trips to the local drive-ins almost every weekend during the summers. So, being constantly surrounded by movies (both new and old) and being lucky enough to experience all the different ways one can go to the movies, I quickly developed a lifelong love of the art form and secretly dreamed of making my own.
In 1999 (the day Star Wars: Episode I came out, in fact), my father was diagnosed with Signet Ring Adenocarcinoma of the Stomach, an extremely rare and highly fatal form of cancer. He fought it for a year but nothing really worked and, on Memorial Day 2000, he succumbed to the disease. Immediately following his death, I delved back into those classic films in a simple effort to feel closer to him. It was during these cathartic video-watching sessions I finally began to appreciate those films for what they were and I fell madly in love.
In the fall of 2004, my 13-year-old stepdaughter was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, a not uncommon childhood cancer of the bone. Immediately following her diagnosis (and while watching, of all things, Tim Burton's "Ed Wood"), a painful, tangible sense of my own mortality hit me like an out-of-control semi. If my seemingly healthy, athletic child could somehow randomly end up with cancer, I, being an overweight, bacon-loving almost-30-year-old, was probably next. Feeling cursed, I was taken right back to those memories of watching bug eyed aliens and barely passable monster costumes with my dad -- and then it hit me: I was finally going to make a movie and it would be in the retro B-cinema style -- a movie a young version of my dad would have loved back in that tiny small town theater.
A bunch of research online, three weeks of late night writing and suddenly, I had a script for my first feature, "The Monster of Phantom Lake." I bought a camera and some editing software. I enlisted the help of my friend Josh Craig, who had a background in theater (and played the hip, guitar-playing scientist "Professor Jackson" in the film), to help me through some of the "actor-related" stuff (auditions, etc.). Next thing I knew, I was making a movie! And somewhat serendipitously, the entire process became a family project with literally every member involved in some way. Having a project we could all focus on helped all of us cope with my stepdaughter's disease and treatment.
Next thing you know, it was finished and at almost the exact time my stepdaughter's treatments ended. It premiered in spring 2006 to great press and adulation and since then, I've never wanted to stop!
P.S. My stepdaughter is doing great, is four full years out from her last treatment (only one to go before the magic "five year mark"), has taken a keen interest in acting and is starting college in the fall!
You obviously love classic films as much as I do. What are some of your personal favorites that have inspired you in your film making?
Hands down one of my favorite films of that era is "This Island Earth." It's a wonderful 1950s science fiction film that really includes everything that's so great (and terrible in a good way) about the genre. It's got scientists, otherworldly technologies, aliens with big foreheads that no one seems to notice aren't right, flying saucers, death rays, big-brained bug-eyed creatures, perfect era-appropriate special effects, an "atomic war" parable AND a rather weird, pointless and way-too-quick ending. It exemplifies everything I'd like to accomplish with my films.
Other films include "Them!," a story about giant ants that was always a favorite of mine as a kid (and my father's). I think "The Land Unknown" is a great 1950s adventure film with papier-mâché-lookin' dinosaurs and a surprisingly good story. "The Deadly Mantis" is one that makes me laugh for its giant-bug-run-amok premise that's more or less HALF done well. "The Monolith Monsters" is one of my favorites simply because it takes a ridiculous premise but miraculously pulls it off in style. The "monsters" are literally big columns of rock that rise out of the ground, get too big and then fall on people
and they turn you to stone if they touch you
and it's a really good retro B-cinema movie!
Lastly, I'd like to include "Earth vs. The Flying Saucers" simply because it's such a cool example of Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion animation AND a surprisingly fun movie!
Making movies that try to look and feel like old classics is rather unique in today's world of CGI monsters and high tech, high budget productions. Do you feel like your films are inspiring people to re-discover the classics, and what if any feedback have you gotten from your viewers in that regard?
I do feel my films are inspiring people to re-discover the classics. One of the greatest things I've encountered is the handful of fans who have told me about their similar experiences growing up watching those classics with their parents and are using the experiences of going to (or watching) MY films to bond with their own sons and daughters AND open them up to the simple joys of old movies.
Some of the fans are people who remember those old films from when they were young and have used my films to relive those times or get reacquainted with the old B-movie classics. Since 2006, I have put out a monthly newsletter online in which I review a 1950s B-movie. Many subscribers have asked for the full list or mention how much they love checking out films they've never seen or even heard of!
In fact, one of the greatest compliments I feel I can ever get is when someone sees one of my films and asks, "What year was this made?" I feel like I did my job right if they can't tell.
Tell us about your previous films and how they all led up to Terror From Beneath the Earth. How has your film making expertise and style evolved from your first film, The Monster of Phantom Lake, to this one?
I think my underlying sensibilities have stayed the same as far as my sense of the genre and slavishness to authenticity, which I occasionally let lapse if it serves the story. But, my level of technical expertise and sense of editing and/or story has improved greatly. I've learned to let things go and not be afraid of cutting things out if doing so serves the story. During the making of my first film, "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I had a tendency to not want to part with anything I had shot. It was during my second film (which, admittedly, still needs some serious cutting!) "It Came From Another World!" that I realized that sometimes what you write doesn't always serve the best interests of the story or the viewers. In fact, it was the act of cutting two full scenes from that film that made me realize that just because I wrote it, doesn't mean it HAS to end up in the finished film. I believe that single realization has made me a better filmmaker!
From then to now, I feel like I've gotten an even better grasp of the style I'm going for and knowing a little more of what's authentic and what's not. I have a better sense of what I can get away with when it comes to that authenticity, like using modern flashlights but painting them chrome to emulate antiques. Also, I feel I better understand what works and what doesn't, both behind the camera and sitting in that movie theater watching the final work.
As for style, I think my films have slowly become more authentic to that 1950s retro B-movie era, sometimes to the detriment of the film! I'm learning to strike a better balance between pleasing modern movie-going and -watching sensibilities (something I think I did well in "Cave Women on Mars") and trying to recreate those films as perfectly as possible (which I think I did a little TOO WELL in "Terror from Beneath the Earth").
Let's talk about the monsters a bit now. The Monster of Phantom Lake and Terror From Beneath the Earth both had just awesome, cheesy b-movie monsters that really nailed the look of monsters in the old classics like Creature From the Haunted Sea. Tell us who designs these monster outfits, what goes into making them, and what kinds of problems you've had in dealing with them during filming.
I have personally designed most of the monster costumes used in the films with the actors helping "give them life." I always build the heads of the monster costumes (aside from the "space monkey" from "Cave Women on Mars" that was off the shelf) and have enlisted different people to help build the body suits. They all have a similar look and feel, of which, the big "googly-eyed" look to my monsters has become a bit of a signature. In fact, wait until you see my next film, "Destination: Outer Space!" I'm taking the big-bulgy-eyed look to the absolute extreme!
Most of the costumes are made from stuff lying around the house or "dollar store" finds. They usually involve cheap mop buckets or used sports helmets and always LOTS of cardboard and duct tape. The costumes usually start life as a sketch that I try my best to translate into three-dimensional "real life" to varying degrees of success.
The biggest problem we've had with the costumes is keeping them together through the length of a shoot. In "The Monster of Phantom Lake," the costume was constantly falling apart and needed a fresh spray-paint job before every shoot. We even had to postpone the shot of the monster emerging from the lake until the very end because, sure enough, one dip in the water and the costume was history. The other major problem is the ability of the actors to see! Both the monster from "The Monster of Phantom Lake" and mutant bat from "Terror from Beneath the Earth," suffered from horrible eyesight. Michael Kaiser, who played both monsters, had a heck of a time getting around without bumping into trees or knocking over papier-mâché set pieces!
The music you use in your films is authentic old film score music. Where did you find all that great music and did you have to pay for it or is it public domain now and freely available?
Almost every piece of music I've used has been free and in the public domain with a few "royalty free" (music and/or sound effects for which you pay a one-time fee) snippets thrown in. Mostly I just scour archive.org for public domain films of the era, download them and then "scrub out" any musical cues that don't contain dialogue or other overly recognizable sound effects. I then take those files and catalog them by "type" or "mood." While I'm editing, I'll go through my new "music library" and try things out to see what works. Sometimes, I'll even edit a scene to fit a particular music selection!
What are some of the harder aspects of getting the right props and costumes for your films so they keep that authentic look? Does that get expensive buying all this old stuff and making the sets or have you gotten off pretty cheap with most of it?
During the first film, "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I bought EVERYTHING that was authentic to the era. Now, I've realized that you can get away with using close mock-ups. During the first film, I spent over $100 on just three antique flashlights one of which we broke during the shoot! Then, when we were getting set up to do the newest one, "Terror from Beneath the Earth," I bought three $8 flashlights that had roughly the same profile as those antiques and spray painted them silver/chrome. In the film, they look almost exactly the same BUT, one added benefit is that the newer ones are LED flashlights, so they have much brighter and more coherent beams which look much better in the finished film! It's a balancing act, really. If I can get something authentic to the era for cheap (the transistor radio I keep using is a good example), I'll always go with that first. Otherwise, I do my best to find recreations or reissues or, barring that, make my own.
As for costumes, most of the time, the actors provide their own. For men, it's pretty easy since most men's styles haven't changed that much. For the women in my films, most of the actresses had things that worked or just needed a few extra touches, like a neckerchief or petticoat. On rare occasions, we've been able to get actual costume pieces from the '50s. Actress Shannon McDonough, who plays reoccurring character Julie Ann Saint Marie-Jackson, has a talent for procuring authentic 1950s dresses. In "Terror from Beneath the Earth," actress Elizabeth Kaiser was able to wear a skirt that her grandmother had in the back of her closet that she wore in the 1950s when she was just a kid! Otherwise, if the script called for something "non-traditional" (the "Cave Women on Mars" outfits being the best examples), we've had costumers create custom pieces for the films.
Mostly, we've been able to keep expenses low by taking advantage of used stuff from garage sales, thrift shops, eBay and Craigslist.
Speaking of expense, roughly how much have each of your films cost to make, and over the course of your film career, have you found any nifty tricks to keep the cost down?
Each film has cost roughly $2000 to $3500 to make. Since most of the talented people involved with these films are working for free or very little, that keeps costs down. I certainly don't take a paycheck! Also, like I mentioned before, we've been able to keep costs down by not ALWAYS using authentic antiques, borrowing props, hitting dollar stores and garage sales. Generally, the biggest expenses for these films are videotapes and DVD replication services. Aside from that, I tend to cut corners as much as I can or do the majority of the behind-the-scenes work myself (or employ family members that'll work for free). Since we're not going for "perfect" sets or even "wooden" ones (cardboard works just fine!), we're able to keep costs down.
You like to re-use some of your actors in multiple films, creating a well of talent that you can keep going back to. Tell us about some of these actors and what it's been like working with them.
First off, I have to mention Josh Craig, who's played every male member of the "Jackson family" in three of my four films (and in the forthcoming fifth). He's been my right-hand-man/co-conspirator throughout the production of most of the films. Though no one has done as much work for these films as I have, he's definitely pulling up second. He and I have been friends for years and have very similar sensibilities and tastes in entertainment. Thus, we've developed a short hand when it comes to developing stories or sets or props. That and I think he's a great actor whose look and style fit this genre perfectly. Whenever I can use his talents either onscreen or off, I always do!
Secondly, Mike Cook, who has played Canoe Cop Gustav and Dr. Vincent Edwards, is one of my absolute favorite people to work with. He's an INCREDIBLE actor who deserves to be in much higher quality fare, but I appreciate that he keeps coming back to my films. When he first auditioned for the role of Gustav the Canoe Cop in "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I found him literally too talented to be in the film -- I was intimidated by the guy! But the more I got to know and work with him, he's a great, easy-to-talk-to person. He's got a very measured, intelligent outlook on the world of independent film and has wisdom in spades. He goes above and beyond when it comes to showing up for screenings or helping promote the films. Hell, he even proofreads my online newsletter every month!
Also, Dan Sjerven was a guy who auditioned for and landed the role of Lt. Elliott in 2008's "Cave Women on Mars." From my first time meeting Dan, I instantly felt a kinship with the guy and now consider him one of my best friends. He's a very talented actor who has that "it factor" onscreen that makes people want to watch him. If he could just find a high quality independent film (aside from my films, of course) that would put him in a role that doesn't require a police officer's uniform, I think he could really take off. Or one that does have him playing a cop but as the lead. Just as long as he never has to say the words, "Do you? Do you really?" It's a line from "Terror from Beneath the Earth" that Dan hates his delivery of. I personally think it's fine, but he hates it -- and I have to mention it simply to give him grief.
Lastly, I want to mention all the members of my family that have appeared in my films. Though they might not always be the greatest actors in the world (often though!), they are always fun to work with and I love putting them in the films. If nothing else, I always want my films to be fun to make and having the family involved keeps it that way. In fact, my stepson Michael has been my go-to-guy when I need a costumed monster, from "The Monster of Phantom Lake," to the space monkey in "Cave Women on Mars," to the mutant bat creature in "Terror from Beneath the Earth." In my next film, "Destination: Outer Space," he's slated to play four costumed characters!
You see to be a big fan of doing screenings of your films rather than sending them out to lots of different film festivals. Is that the case? It seems to me that screenings are more personal and you can actually be there to receive feedback from your audience. Something that's hard to do at film festivals. Also, tell us about some of your better, more memorable screenings.
I learned rather early on that most film festivals aren't very interested in my films. After finishing "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I sent the film out to over fifty different festivals and only got into five. It cost me a lot of money and of the fests that played it, I probably sold two DVDs and got a handful of mailing list sign ups. Following that, I decided to be more selective in my festival choices, finally getting down to only a small handful that consistently showcase my work. I found that personally hosting screenings or finding theaters (such as the Hi-way 18 Outdoor Theater in Jefferson, Wisconsin) that are willing to show my films has been far more beneficial. I tend to sell more DVDs, which helps me to make some production money back -- so I can make more films! And, like you said, I tend to make more personal connections with people, connections that have allowed me to grow a small but dedicated fan base.
The premieres we've thrown have all been memorable in some way. I always try to do them up and recreate the movie going experience of the 1950s. I include a program with old newsreels that usually have some tangential relation to the film and classic trailers. After the film we always give out free custom-made cake. The cast and crew get all dressed up to attend and sign free autographs and take pictures with fans. At the "Terror from Beneath the Earth" premiere we even had actor Michael Kaiser dress up in the mutant bat costume from the film. There was a line for photos that ran the entire length of the theater!
Probably the most memorable screening ever was the first time "The Monster of Phantom Lake" played at the Hi-Way 18 drive-in over Labor Day weekend 2006. We were the third film of a triple-feature and over a hundred cars stuck around to see the film. Seeing my film on that beautiful September night, on that 90-foot drive-in screen with a lot full of laughing and cheering people was transcendent. After the film was over, the drive-in erupted to the sound of blaring car-horns the drive-in equivalent of a standing ovation. It was magic. That feeling was like a drug I've been chasing ever since. It keeps me going on those days when I step back and wonder why I still spend so much time and effort on these films.
Tell us about your next film, Destination: Outer Space. What's that going to be about and what can we expect from it? Got any ideas for a cool space monster?
"Destination: Outer Space" is a pseudo-sequel to "Cave Women on Mars," the science fiction film I released in 2008. "Cave Women on Mars" was a pretty self-contained film so I took the one character from it who returned to Earth and asked, "What happened to him after he got home?"
"Destination: Outer Space" follows the character of Captain Mike Jackson five years after the incidents in "Cave Women on Mars." Basically, he came home and everyone was so angry that the first Mars mission was pretty much a failure that they all took it out on him. He gets drummed out of the service, becomes estranged from his dad, his mom dies, his wife leaves him and he becomes a raging drunk. While his mom was on her deathbed, she had one wish in that she asked Captain Jackson's father (the Professor Jackson character from my '50s-era films) to find some way to reconcile with their son. Thus, the movie opens with a drunk Captain Jackson fishing in the now cleaned up Phantom Lake. The son of another familiar "Mihmiverse" character appears to inform the good Captain that he has been reinstated and tasked with test piloting Earth's first faster-than-light-speed rocket an offer he reluctantly accepts. Unfortunately, the test goes completely wrong and Captain Jackson ends up lost somewhere on the other side of the galaxy. In classic sci-fi tradition, he stumbles into this wild adventure where he meets up with beautiful alien (female) space pirates, robots, monsters, strange new worlds, new life and new civilizations, etc. etc. In essence, it has a touch of Flash Gordon and a bit of Buck Rogers mixed with Star Trek and Star Wars and all set against a 1950s B-movie backdrop.
As for space monsters, there will be multiple BUT there is one in particular that is going to be incredible if it works! Like I said previously, it's going to take that bulgy-eyed monster look I've become a known for and take it to its most ridiculous extreme. I CANNOT wait until everybody sees it!
This being my fifth movie, I wanted to do something a little "bigger." Usually my films use two or three locations and sets and this one quadruples that number. The story was conceived by myself and the actor who plays Captain Jackson (and Professor Jackson), Josh Craig. I wrote the script and naturally, will direct and edit. If all goes well, this should be my most ambitious project to date. Originally I had planned to do a stand alone, long-in-gestation Canoe Cops film entitled "The Canoe Cops Save The World." But, due to time constraints and scheduling conflicts, that one was put on hold until next year. I still plan to make it and hope it finally comes together!
Has production begun on Destination: Outer Space yet or is it still in the planning stages? When would you like to have it released?
Production of "Destination: Outer Space" is ongoing with our first day of principal photography taking place just a few days ago. This film is far more ambitious in scope than any of my previous so the shooting schedule is being spread out over the course of the year. Mainly because there are multiple planets the hero visits and each one is filming in the same location, albeit during a different season of the year! I am hoping to have it released around Memorial Day 2010.
You've had some problems with a distributor recently. Tell us what happened with that and how it ended up?
In 2006, I had screened "The Monster of Phantom Lake" as part of a series of indie film screenings at a small theater in Syracuse, New York and was met with moderate success. The guy who ran the screening was pretty well connected and knew another guy who was interested in "starting his own indie label" and had dreams (well, delusions) of creating the next Universal Studios. The dreamer guy had seen "The Monster of Phantom Lake" and absolutely fell in love with it. As a result, he wanted to distribute the film on DVD and was willing to sign a deal to distribute it plus the film I was working on at the time, "It Came From Another World!," and produce (and distribute) the next one, "Cave Women on Mars." The guy promised the world AND, strangely enough, lived and worked literally fifteen minutes from where I live. He wanted to hire me to run and help build this "studio" he wanted to create. At the time, the deal was so incredible I just couldn't pass it up. It was my chance to make film making my full time job with a GREAT paycheck who COULD pass it up!? So, I started working for the guy. Shortly thereafter, he hired four of my friends to help and we were off and running.
Things were good for a while. We had some money troubles but nothing too serious
until the real truth came out. This guy had NO MONEY and was up to his eyeballs in debt. A couple more pay periods went by and suddenly, no one was getting paid. There was no money to adequately advertise or sell the films. Instead, the company bounced around from one failed get-rich-quick scheme to the next, each one getting us further and further into debt. Finally, it got to the point that people were forced to quit or go into debt to stay working there.
See, my problem was this: the job was GREAT and it was amazing to work closely with my best friends and "make movies" for a living but there was NO MONEY there. The line "We have money coming in two weeks!" became a running gag around the office. Tempers started to flare, people started to sue and the films ended up languishing.
I personally felt trapped because if I left, who knew what would happen with my movies! Who would own them? Where would the rights end up without my input? Who and how much would I have to pay to get them back? There were so many people trying to take credit for my films, it just drove me crazy and I couldn't bear to leave simply because I wanted to retain some control over my movies. It dang near ruined my friendships in the process. Negative "group think" took over and people got nasty. Finally, I had enough and realizing just how far the ship had sunk, I left. I got a little loud and knowing so much about what really went on behind closed doors, I took every action I could think of including talking to lawyers, calling the cops, contacting the IRS and the Better Business Bureau -- you name it! Though I was owed tens of thousands of dollars, I didn't really care about the money. I had let it go months before and had found a way to dig myself out of the hole I was in without it. All I really wanted were the rights to the movies back.
Finally, after much haranguing and a very ugly "email flame war," I worked out a deal with the guy that gave him three months to turn things around and get me what I was owed OR he would relinquish all rights to my movies. Not surprisingly, three months came and went and, on January 1st, 2009, the rights to my three films were returned squarely to me.
Now, I know the story sounds pretty bad (and believe me, there were some REALLY UGLY parts I left out) but the guy who owned this company always had his heart in the right place. At no point did I ever feel like he was being malicious. He had (and I think still has) a dream that he really wanted to make a reality. It drove him to push and push and push as hard as he could. I know he tried his butt off to get people the money they were owed and he honestly believes he was doing everything he could BUT, in the end, he just didn't pull it off. Going back to the sinking ship metaphor, as soon as the water hit eye-level, there was nothing to stop the company (and everyone in it) from drowning. It's just a sad reality and I wish I would've been able to walk away sooner. But I didn't and, as a result, have learned a VERY important lesson: do it yourself. To date, almost everything I've been able to accomplish I've done without outside help. That's not to say my films are made in a vacuum they're most certainly not. BUT, I don't need any unconnected, outside people coming in and telling me what I should and shouldn't do with my films. As long as I believe in what I want to do and approach it the way that works best for me (and my movies), I can't go wrong. AND, if things DO go wrong, at least I know whom to blame!
In your opinion, do you think it would be better for the independent film maker to try for those distribution deals or to get a UPC code, do their own production runs and self distribute? I think there are probably good arguments to be made either way, but it seems like it's really hard for indie film makers to get any kind of a lucrative deal that pays them a reasonable amount for their work.
After my experiences, I've decided it's probably better to self-distribute IF YOU HAVE THE DRIVE TO DO IT. It's A LOT of work to put yourself out there day after day and hope you get noticed. Nothing I've done has come that easy. Since before I released my first film (in 2006!) I've spent literally two to three hours EVERY NIGHT doing SOMETHING to further push my films. The internet is an amazing tool. Take advantage of it! From social networking sites to online forums and groups, you can very inexpensively target those people most interested in what you're creating. When I did have a distribution deal I had a company taking 90% (NINETY) of all profits (after all production costs, of course) of every DVD sold. In addition, two agents split another 3%, leaving me with only 7% at the end of the day. My own blood, sweat and tears (and thousands of my own hours) went into making those films and to date, I have never seen a single penny from any of the DVDs sold while the rights were owned by that distribution company.
Since getting the rights back (and making another film), I keep 100% of everything! I've been able to recoup costs much more efficiently and I feel like I'm actually accomplishing something. At the distribution company I felt like I was working simply to make someone else rich. Why do that?! Who wants to do that? Be your own boss! SELF-DISTRIBUTE!
I always like to have fully replicated DVDs as they feel more "professional." They can be a little pricier and I usually have to buy at least 1000 of them to make it worthwhile. But, each one costs less than $2.00 to have made and I can turn around and sell them for $10 or $15 each and I keep everything! As long as I sell roughly 150, I've made that money back. 150 DVDs is not that many in the grand scheme of things, especially if you take the time to research who exactly would be most interested in owning your films. All it takes is time and perseverance. Give it all you can, believe in what you're selling and most importantly, make OTHERS believe in what you're selling and you'll do just fine.
Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers who are about to get started on making their first film? Any pitfalls they should watch out for that you've already been through?
First off, be realistic in your approach. If you want to emulate Hollywood but don't have the money to pull it off, it WILL NOT work out the way you hope. Basically, know your limitations and be willing to admit them and use them to your advantage whenever possible. Make sure your writing is up to snuff BEFORE you start shooting. I learned the hard way that simply making a movie without taking a good hard look at your script can lead to films that aren't as good as they should be. A little judicious editing during the writing process can save you a heck of a lot of time in the editing room (and grief in reviews). Learn to take criticism but don't let it dictate everything you do. Everyone out there has an opinion and no one person's opinion is really any more valid than anyone else's. That's not to say you shouldn't listen to positive CONSTRUCTIVE criticism (it's only there help) but don't be so bogged down by it that you become defiant. Be open to learning from your own mistakes AND, most importantly, have humility enough to admit that you can and will make mistakes. Lastly, don't give up. There have been many times when I've just wanted to walk away from it and take up golf. But I don't. Instead, I keep doing what I love and I make it work.
Oh, and never, ever sign the rights to your films away WITHOUT doing THOROUGH research on who and/or what you're signing those rights to. It WILL come back and bite you in the ass.
And one more thing: as a director, never ever compromise. Ultimately, it is your vision up on that screen and you will take any and all heat for it in the end. Thus, if you fail, fail on your own terms, not someone else's -- because you will be the one left holding the bag!
Do you have anything else you'd like to talk about before we wrap this up?
For as long as I've yammered on (and for as long as this interview has been), I think any more information would be considered overkill! Thanks for interviewing me and a very special thanks to all the fans that continue to support my films! I update my website (sainteuphoria.com) often so feel free to visit often and tell your friends! Ultimately, we as independent filmmakers succeed only by the support of people like you people willing to read an interview this long!