Independent horror films, indeed, independent filmmaking in general, is an area of ongoing interest for me. In my explorations of this art form, Mike Nelson of Random Creatureface, an indie horror filmmaker, discussed his work with me recently.
TheoFantastique: Mike, thanks again for stopping by to talk about your work. I like to begin on a personal note whenever possible. How did you get involved with film as a director of horror films?
Mike Nelson: Seriously- As far back as I can remember. If I remember correctly, the first three stories I ever wrote were Wolfman, Dracula, and the Mummy. Yes, those were the titles and I wrote them in kindergarten; including pictures with blood and all. And of course before then I drew several monster pictures, pirate pictures, and gun and knife pictures that it would be funny to think that I wouldn’t be making horror films at this point in my life. The trend never really stopped and the stories kept getting weirder and weirder and a littler gorier each time. It also helps that I was obsessed with watching movies (and still am), especially black and white monster flicks, Indiana Jones, American Graffiti and The Monster Squad. The violence ensued in elementary school where I started making stop motion robot destruction films in my moms living room to high school, where I made several action/horror/comedy/thriller type movies with lots of guns and too many people dying. Not the type of films you make and show to your church youth group (which I did and the outcome wasn’t pretty). Which led me to the Minneapolis College of Art and Design where I studied film for 4 years and made action films or horror/thrillers (and a documentary about a machine gun). So as you can see, it all works out. I then went on to form Random Creatureface Films with two friends, Ben Trandem and Lance Hendrickson and together along with an amazing cast and crew made our first feature film Summer School. A horror film none the less, which after 2 years has finally been put out on DVD independently. I continue writing and making shorts with horror or action or post apocalyptic stories, or twisted thrillers that only a mother couldn’t love. I am currently writing 4 stories to be made into feature screenplays, 2 action films, a dark revenge thriller and a “dramedy” to lighten things up a little. I am keeping busy.
TheoFantastique: Is your work as an independent filmmaker a personal choice or one of necessity given the difficulties of working through mainstream film studios? If your choice, why is this your preference?
Mike Nelson: I’d say both. I’ve heard too many horror stories from people who finally broke into the studio system and had their visions destroyed by over zealous suits with MBA’s. Yet I think at the end of most independent filmmakers tunnels they see a glimpse of hope that one day they will get a break that will land them a chance to truly prove themselves to the studios and make the films they have always dreamed of. I think that its almost necessary to dream that way. Its like fuel. I do think that if you decide to make going after a studio gig your life’s goal you are also ready and willing to give up some control at some point in time. That’s just the way it works. As for me, it would be amazing if I could stay indie and make my hyper-violent, all practical post-apocalyptic odyssey someday with backers and people who just plain believe in my filmmaking and storytelling. Hey, if a studio wants to buy it, even better! This isn’t 1972. BBS doesn’t exist anymore and Fox isn’t just letting any film school kid with a story about galactic battles and warriors swinging neon light tubes at each other in to talk to a head exec. But as an indie filmmaker I will try my hardest to tell great stories with keen direction, and cool cinematography and try to get noticed; hopefully by someone who has clout in the industry. And as any indie filmmaker would say, “as long as I can entertain an audience and show my work to the world, I am happily doing my job and it is the best job in the world.” On that note, thank goodness for the Internet! An indie filmmaker’s best friend.
TheoFantastique: With very few notable exceptions, some of the more creative work in horror films is coming through indie filmmaking. Why do you think this is?
Mike Nelson: I have found that indie filmmakers are more interested in telling good stories or shocking people with visual imagery or innovation more so than catering to what mainstream folk want. A lot of indie filmmakers want to tell a story that they’d want to see at a cineplex or on DVD. It’s obvious to me that many people are growing tired of the horror films (and films in general) that are being pumped out every weekend. The mainstream moviegoer knows that something needs to change but they don’t necessarily know what. And even that notion is changing. Moviegoers are getting smarter and they are looking for something more challenging. Indie films open a door to a whole other world of stories, some that studios wouldn’t touch even if they were forced to at gun point. I think more creative work is coming from the indie realm because there is nobody saying “you can’t” which opens the door to so many possibilities. On the other hand it also opens the door to a lot of crap. Yes, there is a lot of indie crap as well and I know that there is just as much crap as there is good stuff. But the fact that filmmakers are doing things that wouldn’t be done otherwise I feel improves films and can make them better overall.
TheoFantastique: You have put together Random Creatureface Films. Can you share a little about what this organization and its work is all about?
Mike Nelson: Ben Trandem and Lance Hendrickson and I started RCF in 2005 with the idea that we wanted to create a film company with a horror flavor that made quality films. We also saw it as a way to bring filmmakers together and their visions to life. Lance, Ben, and I make up a well oiled machine: Lance being the producer and business man; Ben being skilled in several facets of post-production, practical effects, writing and directing, and web stuff; and myself being a director, cinematographer, story writer/conceptor and sound designer. Together we make up a self-sufficient unit employing the skills to make the films we want. But our strength solidifies by connecting and working with other filmmakers and collaborating to make the best possible work. Yet we don’t stop at horror. We recently produced and shot an R&B music video with an up-incoming director which will get national air play on cable come this fall. Lance wants to do a historical drama, Ben wants to pursue some comedy and I really want to pursue action films. In all we just love film and want to make some damn good movies. Ben and I are always trying to keep people updated with our projects on www.randomcreatureface.com as well as review the films we watch, so check us out.
TheoFantastique: Mike, thanks again for taking some time to discuss these things. One of my fantasy careers would have been to be a horror, sci fi and fantasy film director or special effects wizard, so I’ll try to live vicariously through the indie horror work of yourself and others. Thanks again.