SXSW '07 Interview: "Mulberry Street" Director Jim Mickle
By Scott Weinberg
Posted 02/18/07 17:55:48
The "Mulberry Street" Pitch: Something is changing in this New York neighborhood. A virus is spreading. A rat attacks someone in the subway. Another victim is bit downtown. And slowly the community faces a big problem.
Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
Yes and it feels like Christmas. I've been to a handful of fests but mostly as a fan or tagging along with someone else's film. So far we've been to Stockholm with Mulberry Street which was great, and I had a short film in a handful of festivals, but SXSW is sure to be the highlight so far.
Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
Special FX artist.
Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
Going to NYU then getting work as a storyboard artist.
Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?"
It no longer feels like the little movie my friends and I made to impress our grandkids one day.
During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Maybe while the script was being written, but once production starts, you're in the line of fire until you wrap. And then it only gets a little bit easier after that. I tend to overthink things anyway, and so it's probably a blessing that when you're on set you don't really have time to eat, breath, or sleep, let alone think about what critics might think when it's all finished. I just assumed that if I liked what we were shooting, there's bound to be other weirdos that might like it too.
How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
Nick Damici (writer/actor) and I were friends and spent a lot of time pipe-dreaming about how great it would be to make a movie together. We tried to do a few things on our own, but they never took off. Along came another friend and talented actor, Tim House. He too was frustrated about the business, and so he offered to pitch in some financing and help get the ball rolling. Out of necessity, Nick rewrote a rural zombie script he had, and it became this urban rat-zombie script, because we knew we had access to New York locations and New York character actors. The rest was just a matter of sheer momentum and the production was rounded out by the enthusiasm and excitement that the film took on. We shot the whole thing in about 3 1/2 weeks, mostly all of it in Nick's one-bedroom apartment. The crew was small but very experienced and we pulled every favor we could come up with. I edited the film, did visual effects, and with the help of another guy, sound designed the crap out of it. A year later we had our world premiere in Stockholm, and now we start the spring of 2007 with so far 5 high-profile festivals.
If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
In the low budget feature world, directing is MUCH different than I ever expected. Your job is really to just divert one massive shitstorm after another and hope that the little problems don't become crippling disasters. If you happen to get some decent shots and good performances, it's icing on the cake. Do as much prep as you can before you get on set and hopefully it leads to quick decisions and good instincts.
What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
The people and films I like tend to evolve as time goes on. Originally it was Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, and the usual suspects for younger filmmakers doing horror stuff. Now? David Lynch, Robert Rodriguez, David Fincher, Kim Ji-Woon, Park Chan-wook, the Coen Brothers, Michael Haneke, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Larry Cohen, Larry Fessenden, anything shot by Darius Khondji. I'm on a seventies kick now, but nothing specific, just the era.
Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
Luckily I watched The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and then hoped to veer the movie into something beyond just B-movie zombie stuff.
What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Kang-ho Song (from The Host and Memories of Murder). But if they demand an American, then Carl from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
Nowadays remakes are like STDs, and if everyone just said "NO" in the first place, they wouldn't be popping up all over the place. If it wasn't for James Cameron, I would say that the same goes for sequels, but I guess there's more of a chance for creative success there. I would LOVE to try and take a stab at adapting Richard Matheson's I Am Legend,, but they're already busy fucking that one up for the third time now. Maybe if I get to stay in the business long enough someone will have the idea to just adapt that book and not try and change everything that makes it good in the first place. I hope the new one proves me wrong, though.
Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
Nick Damici is my first answer but he's already done a Jane Campion movie and an Oliver Stone movie, so in a way he's already hit the big time. After that Kim Blair seems like a no-brainer. She's committed, talented, and the camera loves everything she does. She has no bad angles on screen. Hard to believe she won't be kicking some serious acting butt very soon.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
Comic book artist, if they'd have me.
Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
It would have to be real small, real fluffy, and yap non-stop. Then maybe Sissy Spacek?
Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
That benchmark changes all the time. Shooting a movie was it. Then finishing it was it. Then screening it at SXSW was it. Who knows what else will happen.
Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
Like record companies, critics are still vital, but they probably do need to find a way to fit into the constantly evolving media marketplace. That's where on-line critics are probably on the right track. With so many ways to view or experience movies, TV, and music, I think the era of caring about what Roger Ebert thinks about a film needs to evolve with it.
You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Cut it from the movie but release the scene through the website as a teaser trailer and use it to promote the movie before it opens.
What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
It's bullshit unless your name is actually a selling point and/or the film world readily acknowledges your very rare and unique filmic vision OR if you're willing to sign a contract saying you never received help, advice or a good idea from anyone on the crew ever. Most of the time it's a slap in the face to every Production Assistant who ever risked their life to stop a crazed homeless guy from walking through a take. Only a very tiny handful of human beings actually deserve that title.
In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
"Rat zombies, dude... Rat Zombies."
Mulberry Street will play as part of South By Southwest's 'Round Midnight slate. Click here for the official Mulberry Street website. And check out BSide.com for even more info!