VIFF 2016 Interview: SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS director Michael Reich
By Jason Whyte
Posted 10/07/16 14:19:36
"SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS is a movie about dogs. It's a love letter to dogs really. I'm not too into cats to be honest. The movie is also a love story. But not between dogs and cats. Between people. And then it's a horror movie too. It's kind of hard to explain. You should just go see it." Director Michael Reich on SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS which screens at VIFF 2016!
I am happy to welcome you to VIFF this year. Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?
Thank you. I am thrilled to be at VIFF. I love Vancouver. I will be here for both screenings. The last time I was here was the day Michael Jackson died. I was very sad but I was very happy to be in Vancouver. It's a beautiful city. I hope nobody famous dies when I am there this time.
You and me both. So tell me a little bit more about yourself?
My name is Michael and I live in Hollywood. But not the nice part of Hollywood. The kinda crappy part. There's a lot of celebrity impersonators and Scientologists in my area. I directed a bunch of music videos for bands like My Chemical Romance, The Shins, Bad Religion and Ryan Adams. I currently work as a Technical Director for Broadcasts on a variety of events ranging from SpaceX rocket launches to Kanye West concerts. But before that I was a dog groomer. A decade ago, while I was still working with dogs, I started documenting the Los Angeles underground punk scene with an experimental video based website called Videothing.com. I went on to tour the world with various bands making videothings for them and was voted one of the world's "10 Coolest Websites" by MTV South Africa in 2008. I forgot to pay the yearly fee at godaddy and lost the domain name a few years ago. So I don't do videothing anymore. But yeah. That's my bio.
How did this movie come together from your perspective?
I used to be a dog groomer in Hollywood. A lot of celebrity dogs would come in. Like Jake Gyllenhall's German Shepard, Atticus. He was cool. And George Carlin's cocker spaniels, Gertie and Goofy. They were very funny just like George Carlin. They were very old and dirty and would always hump each other. The movie came from all that I guess.
While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going?
When I was working on SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS what kept me going was knowing that I was making a movie. I love movies so much and I have always wanted to make one. But it's real hard to make a movie. And I have been trying to make one for so long. So the main drive was to not fuck it up. Also I listened to the audio book version of David Lynch's CATCHING THE BIG FISH every night as I fell asleep. David Lynch reads it and there is lots of wind blowing sounds so it is inspiring and soothing. Definitely could not have gotten through the hectic production days without that.
What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you over-come it?
We shot a scene that involved a burning cat carrier. I decided to shoot it in my front yard that has very low hanging flammable trees. And I did not think to have a fire extinguisher standing by. I doused the cat carrier with model cement and set it on fire and it looked awesome. But I guess you are not supposed to put those kind of fires out with water. When I sprayed it with a hose, the flames erupted. Then the low hanging trees caught on fire. Then the roof of my house. I didn't know what to do and just stood watching everything burn. I completely froze up. Luckily my neighbors were having a Halloween party next door. They saw the flames and rushed over dressed as wizards and bumble bees. They helped me smolder the fire by throwing dirt on it. My house and livelihood were saved. Wizards and bees are so awesome.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought you had something?
There was a scene we shot with an old man in underpants reuniting with a dog. The dog was supposed to lick his face cause he was so happy. But the dog didn't really vibe too well with the old man. So we were going to put peanut butter all over the guys face to have the dog lick it off. Cause dogs love peanut butter. Makes sense right? But then just as we were about to smother him in Extra Chunky Skippy, he told us that he was very allergic to peanuts and his throat would close up and he would break into hives if he even got too close to one. That would have been a total bummer. So instead we rubbed margarine all over his face and the dog loved it. So much dog licking. Tongues and slobber everywhere. It was obscene. It was beautiful. We wound up cutting it, but at the moment I really thought we had something special. And it was cool that we avoided sending that old man in underpants into anaphylactic shock. That would have sucked. Totally would have killed the vibe on set.
For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film and how you created the look of SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS.
The technical aspect of this film is kind of a mess but in a good way. We shot in 4k on RED and with amazing lenses and beautiful lighting. Then after we locked a cut I outputted the movie to DVD and dubbed it onto a VHS tape. Then I outputted that VHS tape to MiniDV and messed with some weird analog circuit bending equipment in the transition. Then I digitized that MiniDV tape and boom, that's the movie. Now it kind of feels like an episode of the Red Shoe Diaries that you taped off of cable in the 90s and hid from your mom in a cabinet in the basement and it got all warped from the humidity.
That is probably the best tech explanation I have ever heard! Now, what are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie to audiences at VIFF?
It's fun to see where people laugh or don't laugh. Sometimes when the movie plays it's a comedy. And other times it's a tragedy. It's fun to figure out which one it is going to be at each screening. In Germany they didn't really laugh at all but they fuckin' loved it. I think Vancouver will find it funny.
Where is this movie going to show next?
Next up CATS is playing at this really rad fest called Cucaloros in North Carolina. It's in Wilmington which is the same place they shot Blue Velvet so everything has a very Frank Booth feel to it. Then the next day it will play at Ithica Fantastik which has a great lineup of movies and is run by a lovely group of people so I'm real excited for that screening too. Then in December it screens in Australia and we have a few festivals already lined up for next year too.
If you could show your movie in any theater in the world, which one would you choose and why?
My dream theater to screen in would be at El Capitan. It was built in the 20s by Sid Graumann who designed the Chinese and Egyptian theaters and it's right on Hollywood Blvd in the middle of everything. Fucking CITIZEN KANE premiered there. Now it's run by Disney so only Disney movies play there but I love Disney movies so it works out perfectly. I always see the new Pixar movies there when they come out and the theater is just so classic and beautiful. It is a true movie palace and one of the few existing in their original form. It has one of the best projectors in the world and there's a balcony and the sound is amazing. There is an organ player that plays before each showing and sometimes they even have laser light shows to the score of the movie that's going to play. I would love if my lo-fi punk rock VHS movie was played there. Maybe it could screen before a showing of FINDING DORY or something. That would be a great double feature. I hope they would do a laser light show too.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?
That's what watching movies on Netflix is for. You can't talk or text in a theater! Unless it is really empty. Then you have a little leeway. Or if the movie is REALLY bad. I texted during BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE the whole time. That movie was terrible and long and fucking boring. I texted to avoid falling asleep.
There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on efilmcritic.com. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?
To aspiring filmmakers I would give them this nugget of wisdom: do NOT work with cats. They are very poorly trained and hard to work with and very expensive. The cat was probably the best paid actor on set.
And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?
AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON or JACOB'S LADDER are probably my favourite movies ever. I also really love UP. That movie is so brilliant and inspiring. Plus I just really dig the idea of a talking dog. Movies should have more of that in general. Everybody loves a talking dog. A talking cat though? That sounds terrifying.
Find out more about SHE'S ALLERGIC TO CATS by visiting the official website!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 29th to October 14th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.viff.org.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte