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SXSW '09 Interview: "ExTerminators" Producer Jay Michaelson

by William Goss

The "ExTerminators" Pitch: "A black comedy centering on Alex (Heather Graham), a lonely accountant whose one act of rage results in her being sentenced to court ordered therapy. There she meets Stella (Jennifer Coolidge), the owner of a small extermination business who uses her car as a weapon; and Nikki (Amber Heard), a dental technician with the face of an angel and the mind of a sociopath. Together these women will form their own 'silent revolution', wrecking havoc on the men of Texas."

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Women in rage therapy need to be watched, closely…

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience?
First film and first fest. Already amazed at what goes into a festival!

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?
Fighter pilot.

Not including your backyard and your dad's Handycam, how did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?
Because of my equestrian background I booked a three month stint as a stand-in and stunt man on the western “Dead Mans Walk” in West Texas.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"
Not different, I just can’t wait for everyone to see it! Especially on the big screen!

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Clowns and puppets freaked me out when I was little! So I’m not familiar with the Muppet characters.

During production, did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
During production I was just trying to stay alive and figure out how in the hell we were going to pay for everything we needed and how in the world we were ever going to meet this schedule…

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
Suzanne Weinert wrote a great script that a friend of mine sent to me. Suzanne had already attached a great director to the film, John Inwood from “Scrubs”, and John brought the possibility of Heather Graham starring. So it was a no-brainer that I partner up with Suzanne to get her script financed. An amazing company UTV Motion Pictures (“The Happening”, “I Think I Love My Wife”, ”The Namesake” are a few of their many great films) came aboard fairly quickly. And that was the end of the“smooth sailing.”

From then on I found a new admiration for the public disdain of lawyers and their lingo! (Except for my own, he’s the smartest guy in the world!) I was continually amazed at the disorganization of some really big companies we had to deal with and was flabbergasted at the process of clearing the name “ExTerminators”, among many many other events and scenarios that were mind boggling to a first time producer. Attaching cast and matching cast schedules proved to be an arduous task as well and almost shut us down several times. The roller coaster ride of “we are making a movie!!! Are we making a movie?” gave me knew wrinkles that I am too young for. From the moment we were green lit there was so much to do I never had that celebratory moment of realization that this is a dream coming to fruition. The up-side of being that busy is you don’t have time to focus on this being your one big shot and don’t screw it up!

We shot a 35 day shoot in a grueling 24 days with one heavy stunt day. The big stunt day was the last day of principle photography. The guys finally got their day to play! We were like giggly little school girls that day. It did get tense though as we were shooting our big car going over the cliff scene. We could only afford to buy one junker car so we literally only had one shot at it.

The trials and tribulations of this shoot were met head-on by the extremely talented and positive crew. There’s not a better group out there and they all deserve to go a long way in this business.

Post Production took place at PostWorks in New York. My partner Suzanne, who is from New York, must have been sick of me at the time because she told me that an apartment I had found is in a good part of the city… During the first night, there was allot of gun fire and sirens all night long. Next morning, as I stepped out of my front door, I had to step over several puddles of blood with latex gloves in the middle of them. (I assume the latex gloves were from paramedics driving around picking up bodies all night.) Other than that, and our 12 week schedule turning into 25, post production went smooth! For the record, I absolutely fell in love with NY!

Now the work load is geared towards media, press kits, posters, trailers, festivals, taxes and, “where in the world did we leave our sanity?”

This being said, from a producers perspective, I believe we are problem solvers and deal makers in an overwhelming and never-ending task. I loved every second of the mayhem and I am chomping at the bit to do it all over again.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Pick a script with two dudes in a car; women take forever to get ready! Tim Blake Nelson told me I was crazy for making a movie with this many women in it, and that never really sunk in until we were facing days with four hours of hair and makeup. No, all kidding aside, being able to adapt to any situation, no matter how tough, is the key to making an over whelming task such as this a success.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
Anything dark and dramatic always gets my juices flowing.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
No, we had a really unique film and I wanted our talented group to put our own stamp on it. (Never mind not having the time to get out and see a flick.)

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?
I would talk them into letting me make something different that would become a classic in itself.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big time. And why, of course.
All three of our leading ladies are great and have all the potential in the world.

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...
...a penny-less wannabe rock star or a break dance artist in Union Square.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with?
Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, I think that is enough sacrificial dogs for now.

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!"?
I make my bed every morning! Maybe when I have more answers than questions and my movies are leading the box office for weeks on end, but even then I’m still not sure.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
When the reviews are good they are extremely critical to the success of a film, especially a small film. When the reviews are bad I say “who needs em!”

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?
As a director, I would tell the producers to fix it! As a producer, I would negotiate trimming the scene to fit the parameters.

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?
I think if a director writes and produces the film, or is an integral part of making the film a reality, then it could be warranted. However, I can see where it might be a slap in the face to some writers, producers, cinematographers, etc…

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?
It’s an entertaining joy ride with our three leads playing characters they have never played before. If you want to think a little, laugh a lot and see a group of good, sexy women go bad, “ExTerminators” is for you.


Jay Michaelson and John Inwood's ExTerminators will play as part of the 2009 South By Southwest's "Lone Star States" slate. For more information, click here or visit the official website.

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2692
originally posted: 03/05/09 14:51:30
last updated: 03/05/09 16:15:25
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