Christopher R. Mihm of Saint Euphoria Pictures takes us on an adventure into his psyche
By Catherine Hansen, Minneapolis Indie Film Examiner
Minnesota production company Saint Euphoria Pictures (which spotlights 1950's science-fiction style films) is hot off the May 20th premiere of their fourth film "Terror from Beneath the Earth." Its creator Christopher R. Mihm took some time to answer key questions about his creations, his preference to live and work in Minnesota, and what lead him to his love of filmmaking:
What significant moment first triggered your desire to make your own films?
Honestly, for as long as I can remember, I've been a huge movie buff so I kind of always wanted to make my own films. Growing up in the early 80's and being in one of the first families in our neighborhood to have a vcr, there were so many great "movie experiences" (like seeing Ghostbusters or watching Star Wars at the drive-in) that basically created my love for movies. That and having a father that was a big fan of old movies helped. As for significant moments that actually pushed me into finally making my own films, there are three: the death of my father from cancer in 2000, the availability "explosion" of reasonably priced digital filmmaking technology, and my step-daughter's own cancer diagnosis in 2004. Basically, I'd been floating an idea of making my own movies for years but never had the opportunity, money or motivation. After my step-daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma, it threw my whole world out of whack. It painfully dawned on me that if a seemingly healthy, athletic young woman could be randomly stricken with a form of the disease that killed my father four years earlier, I (as an overweight going-on-30-year-old) could easily be next. It may be cliché, but that tangible sense of my own mortality made me realize that I had but a limited time on this earth and no real way to know exactly how long. Thus, I had to "seize the day" and follow through on all my goals and dreams. So, highly motivated to create at least one film before I died, I researched digital filmmaking technology, wrote a script called "The Monster of Phantom Lake," filmed it, edited it and released it. Since then, I've never wanted to stop!
Is there a particular reason that you make 1950's style movies?
I did the first one as a tribute to my late father who introduced me to them. He grew up watching them back in the 1950's at the local movie house in the small town he grew up in. When I was a kid he'd rent them and watch them, all the while telling stories of memories of seeing them when they first came out. After he died I re-watched a bunch of them and, in the process, developed a cathartic passion for them. When I finished "The Monster of Phantom Lake," I realized the genre gave me a freedom to do anything I could imagine without the hefty price tag. That and I just love them! Also, it gives me a unique signature to my filmmaking career. I always thought it'd be cool to make like 30 of them. Then, if people like one and do a little research, they'd realize I have a whole catalog! Lastly, it affords me a consistency in my work that helps build the "fan base." Besides, who else is crazy enough to do this consistently but me?!
How do you get your script ideas?
Since I only make 1950s style movies, a lot of the time my scripts start with a goofy, era-appropriate title like "Cave Women on Mars" or "Attack of the Moon Zombies." From there, I more or less "reverse-engineer" the plots. Sometimes I'll take my favorite characters from the films I've made and try to imagine them in new situations and just see what happens. Mostly though, I try to imagine new scenarios built around those classic films, throw in a monster or alien invasion, and just write stream-of-conscious style. Doesn't always work but often, it does!
What would you say is more important, working with people of great talent or people you enjoy being around?
Having done both, I'd say ideally you want to work with highly talented people who you also enjoy being around. But, if I had to choose one, I would prefer to work with people I enjoy being around. Again, I specialize in 1950's style "tribute films" that don't necessarily always need the best actors to fill parts. In fact, sometimes having bad actors can make my movies better! Either way, I think if I were to make a modern film, to ensure the highest quality, I'd probably want those with the greatest talent. For what I'm doing, I'd rather work with people I like being around simply because my sets tend to have a fun, free-flowing, "famliy" atmosphere that I think helps make what I do more authentic. Plus, my films are extremely low budget and many times, actors barely get paid (if at all) and having them enjoying themselves and feeling more like they're hanging out with friends makes things go a lot smoother. If they want to be there, not being paid the "big bucks" doesn't seem to matter quite so much!
Do you think you will ever want to move somewhere else in the future where there is a larger film industry?
Absolutely not. I am more than happy here. In fact, I made a conscious decision not long ago that I want to keep doing what I'm doing and do it here the way I want to do it. I don't want to be unduly influenced nor go somewhere like Hollywood and be another small cog in a very big machine. I'm happy here, I love Minnesota, I grew up here and I'm raising my children here. I like the place, I like the people, and I just don't think I ever want to leave. That and I feel like I've finally established myself as a little bit of a "someone" in the local film scene. I've been creating and releasing features for over four years now and there are few others out there that have done as much in as little time. And for that, I'm quite proud. I have a massive mailing list and an ever growing "cult fan base" that I intend on nurturing as long as possible. I don't think I need to go anywhere else to accomplish what I want to do. If anything, my definition of success is probably different than most. I feel like a success and I'm very happy and grateful for it. I've also developed quite a few contacts that have allowed my films to spread a bit wider, including screening every year at a drive-in in Wisconsin, appearing at genre conventions, and several film festivals.
What do you see for the future of Minnesota film?
With digital technology advancing at an ever-increasing rate, I don't see any real limit to what the local film scene can be, do or accomplish. This state is full of talented, artistic people with tons of potential. That and we have such beautifully cold winters it give writers a great excuse to hole up in their homes and write. I've met many other filmmakers, all with unique visions that beg to be realized. My only worry is that many great people tend to leave and end up languishing in obscurity in places like New York or California. Personally, I think the future for Minnesota film is quite bright as long as more people choose to stay here and help build the scene!
Can you describe one of your most favorite occasions while filming?
One of my favorite memories happened on one of the first nights of filming my first feature, "The Monster of Phantom Lake." We were out in the woods shooting an early scene in the movie and it was probably 2:00 in the morning. We were close to done for the night and I was setting up the camera for one of the last takes. Standing behind me was local actress Leigha Horton, who was talking to her co-star Josh Craig. Suddenly, we heard this crazy scurrying noise from deep within the woods...and it was coming right for us! We all turned to look and this huge raccoon came bounding out of the forest! Leigha yelped and jumped behind me as I picked up the tripod and brandished it like some cheap plastic trident, ready for battle (while simultaneously scared out of my mind). The thing came within five feet of us, realized we were there, and then did a full 90 degree turn and disappeared into the darkness. There was stunned silence before we all broke out in uncontrollable laughter. To this day, it's become a bit of a "big fish" story. The raccoon keeps getting bigger and closer!
What is your next project?
I am currently working on a 1950's style science fiction adventure film called "Destination: Outer Space." It follows the Captain Jackson character from my third film, "Cave Women on Mars," as he is unwittingly thrown across the galaxy and must find his way home. Based on a story developed by myself and the actor who plays Captain Jackson, Josh Craig, I personally think it's my best script to date. It's also quite ambitious in scope so I hope I can pull it off! The plan is to finish it in time to premiere in the spring of 2010.
What is your favorite movie?
That's a huge question. I don't really think I could nail it down to any one film, although the closest I'd get to an absolute favorite film would be "Ghostbusters." It's one of those movies I never get sick of watching. Plus, I put nods to it in every single one of my films, the newest one included! It's highly entertaining, still funny and doesn't fee dated even twenty-five years later!
For more information about Christopher R. Mihm, Saint Euphoria Pictures, or to order DVD's, please visit Chris's website at: www.sainteuphoria.com