Sunday, October 9, 2011

Exclusive Interview: Director Mel House Talks Psychic Experiment, His Influences And More

Mel House is a Houston, Texas based director who is a fanboy's director. He knows what we want in a film and is delivering the product. The cool director took some time to answer some questions recently as we talk heavily about his upcoming Lionsgate release Psychic Experiment that we can all check out in December, I know I will. 

He also talks about his love for the Nightmare on Elm Street films and the influences they had on him.The director also gives some really good advice for aspiring actors and filmmakers who should all take notice!  Check out my latest Versus with director Mel House.

Alien Bee- First off, tell me how you got into filmmaking.
Mel House- Basically the moment that sealed it for me was witnessing Glen’s death in A Nightmare On Elm Street.  When Johnny Depp got sucked into that bed and all the blood shot out, I was like “I want to do THAT”. I knew it was all make believe, and Nightmare really struck a certain chord in me.  I was 7 years old when I saw that movie in the theatre, and it pretty much put me on the course.  I’d already been reading Stephen King books voraciously (I know this sounds weird, but there were at least 4 other kids in my elementary school that did the same thing – no one ever said anything about it…I guess they were just glad we were recreationally reading at all).  I even vividly remember doing a book report on Christine in 3rd grade – but Nightmare was the catalyst for me to sort of turn my gaze toward film stuff.  I actually started out in college as an Aerospace Engineering major with a minor in film, but I soon discovered that the film thing was where my heart really was, so I changed my major and never looked back. Since then, I’ve studied film at two colleges, participated in several intensive workshops, worked at a public access station, worked on a ton of film sets (both big and small), made several music videos, short films and four feature-length movies, so I guess I made the right choice.
Alien Bee- Who were your influences?
Mel House- Well, as you can guess from the above, the Nightmare series was pretty integral to my gestation as a filmmaker.  A lot of guys my age say that Star Wars is what made them want to make movies….well, Nightmare is my Star Wars.  The first movie is my favorite, of course, but the series as a whole was HUGELY influential on me, especially the Warriors/Master/Child trilogy. I see traces of those films leak out subconsciously into the stuff I’m doing all the time.  
Beyond that, my favorite directors are Cronenberg, Hitchcock, Guillermo Del Toro, Danny Boyle, Park Chan-Wook, Peter Jackson, Jean Pierre Jeunet…actually ALL of the Alien series directors.  I hold those first four movies in pretty high regard (just below the NOES films) – each for different reasons of course.  Streets of Fire, From Beyond, and Night of the Creeps are all films that resonate deeply with me as well.  
And of course, Stephen King really marked my psyche big time.  I would love to one day be considered even one-third the writer he is.  Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series and most of Alan Moore’s comic work are also pretty influential for me.  Chris Claremont’s initial X-Men run as well.  I’m a pretty big dork, as you can probably gather.
Alien Bee- Psychic Experiment is making the rounds on the net right now with that awesome trailer that was just released. Tell our readers a little about the movie and when it will release.
Mel House- What a long strange trip it’s been for this project.  I started writing what was until recently called Walking Distance when I was still in college.  Back then, it was going to be my “revisionist zombie epic”. This was, of course, before Shaun, Land, and 28 Days Later.  Zombies hadn’t been done in a while, so I was into that idea…then they came back in a BIG way, and by the time I revisited the script, I felt the zombie thing had become pretty played out again.  So I had to retool it, but I wanted to retain the basic conceit of the small community, the characters with intertwining arcs, etc.  Finally I stumbled on a new “hook” (which unfortunately the new title gives away, but it’s no big deal) and that opened up huge new doors for me with the script.  I was kinda playing in the Nightmare sandbox then…and you can imagine how happy that made me.  Except I didn’t have a giant nightmare-spawned phallus worm.  Or did we? It’s all a blur.  
At any rate, the movie focuses on this small enclave community that’s actually kind of a living test tube for this…bum bum bum…PSYCHIC EXPERIMENT that’s going on.  Most of the townsfolk are unknowing guinea pigs, but there are a few folks that know what’s going on and want to either help the folks out…or make everything worse.  Wackiness ensues.  Also – we have killer dolls with boners. Not kidding.  
Psychic Experiment is distributed by Lionsgate and hits DVD, VOD, and digital download on December 6, 2011.
Alien Bee- You have a great cast in Psychic Experiment including several genre vets! Do you ever have any fan boy moments with any of the legends you work with?
Mel House- Yes and no.  Usually when I “fan out”, it’s not when they’re around.  When we’re on set shooting, things are so hectic and crazy that I don’t really have time to dwell on the fact that Adrienne killed Mrs. Voorhees or that Reggie went after the Tall Man on four different occasions.  Occasionally, it would hit me though - like when Reggie did some impromptu “stunt driving” one night (I think he thought he was behind the wheel of the Hemi ‘Cuda again), or when Adrienne would turn or say something a certain way and I’d be like, “dude…that’s totally Alice”.  Speaking of “Alice” – I had a pretty hard time not flipping out when Lisa Wilcox was here shooting Imago with us.  For the obvious reasons (killing Freddy twice)…plus she’s still super gorgeous and talented.  But you know, all these people – Lisa, Debbie, Reggie, Adrienne, Glenn, Kathy Lamkin, Katie Featherston – they are all SO super cool that we quickly became friendly with one another, and from then on it’s more like hanging out and making art with your buddies than some weird fan-worship thing.  At least until I go home and pull out my old Fangorias.  
Funny story: during a few portions of Walking Distance/Psychic Experiment ‘s production we were shooting at my warehouse, which was just down the street from my ACTUAL house (walking distance from it, in fact, ha ha). As such, we would take our lunch breaks at my house, and everyone would crowd around the TV and watch whatever was on Chiller that night while we ate.  While Adrienne was there, we popped on the TV and Phantasm II was on.  Then when Reggie was there, we popped on the TV and Friday the 13th was on.  Really weird.  I also thought I had done a pretty good job of “denerdifying” our house (just in case someone would get weirded out by us having toys of them lying around)…but on the night that Adrienne was watching Phantasm, I realized that she was sitting right next to a bookshelf upon which rested an action figure depiction of her in the canoe at the end of Friday.  She didn’t call me on it, thankfully.  J  
But…if my next movie comes together the way I’d like – there may be some serious fanning out for me.  Actually, we haven’t shot anything for the picture yet, but I’ve already fanned out just talking to this person about being part of my next project.  I can only imagine the levels of dorkitude that I will rise to (sink to?) on set if it all happens according to plan.
Alien Bee- I have a crush on Debbie Rochon, I'm just saying.  You don't have to tell her, she knows!

Mel House- Don’t we all?  I think even my wife does.  Debbie is awesome, and SO damn underrated as a performer.  I’ll use her in anything I do from here on out.

Alien Bee- Why the name change? Walking Distance to Psychic Experiment
Mel House- Lionsgate wanted something a little more marketable and a little less amorphous, I guess.  What’s interesting is that over the course of editing down to what became the final version of the picture, we gradually lost more and more of the references that justified the title.  Initially, the idea was that all this was happening in a walkable, gated community where everyone was in close proximity to one another.  As we went along, a lot of those scenes or establishing shots hit the cutting room floor – without really affecting the overall thrust of the plot.  So it became apparent that it wasn’t an element that really needed pushing to make all this work.  This was happening at the same time that the PTB decided they wanted a new name, so…it all kind of worked itself out.  They actually picked Psychic Experiment from a list of new titles that my producing partner (James Lamarr) and I came up with ourselves.  So it was still kind of our choice.  And it was easily the best one on the list.  I might recycle some of the other ones later, however. So be on the lookout for PSY-KILL (assuming the GoBots people don’t sue me first).
Alien Bee- You do a little bit of everything when it comes to making a movie! Acting, writing, directing and everything in between. What's your favorite?
Mel House- Either writing or directing…and most recently, probably the latter.  I think I’m “growing into my skin” in that regard (so to speak).  I enjoy editing and scoring stuff as well…but I only get onscreen when I have to (i.e. when we’ve run out of people to cast).  I’m no actor – I respect what those people do WAY too much to just think I can hang with what they have going on and what they bring to the table.  Usually if I’m onscreen I’m playing some version of myself or a total jackass moron.  That last statement may be somewhat redundant.
Alien Bee- What's up next for you?
Mel House- Well, the project I hinted at earlier is called Soon, A Light On.  We’re probably going to shoot that one early next year in New Orleans.  It’s a ghost/possession/vodou picture with more of a classical tone than my previous films – it’s more like Ghost Story, or The Changeling than say…From Beyond.  We’re slowly getting it all together, and I can’t really say ANYTHING about it just yet – but let’s just say that the blood of my influences runs deep in the veins of this project.  In fact I’d say that it’s shaping up to be quite Nightmare-ish.  Cough cough
In the meantime, we’re finishing up Imago, the film I mentioned earlier which I co-wrote and produced for my friend Chris Warren to direct.  That’s the one with Lisa Wilcox, and Debbie is back as well – so, considering your crush, it sounds like you’re in for that one too. J  Closet Space, my previous directorial effort, is actually going to start airing on television later this year and through next fall, so that’s pretty neat.  And finally, we’ve been in production on a comedic web series titled Placeholders for a few weeks now – it’s turning out to be pretty damn fun and funny.  With that one, I’m basically taking all the rage I’ve built up over the past decade in this business, thinly veiling it in comedy (sometimes not veiling it at all), and putting it out there.  Can’t wait to get the first few episodes up.  And guess who’s in it?  So I know we can count on you to watch that one, too.
Alien Bee- Do you have website or Twitter where people can find you on the net?
Mel house- Website: Twitter: @upstartfilm
Alien Bee- Any advice for aspiring filmmakers, actors, actresses trying to get their names out there?
Mel House- Pay your dues.  Learn the craft.  The advent of digital filmmaking has been both the best and worst thing to happen to the industry.  Realize that the short you shot in your backyard with shop lights probably isn’t Citizen Kane, it probably won’t get distributed, and the fact that all your friends are jerking you off about it probably doesn’t really matter all that much…unless you just want to keep making movies for you and your friends to circle jerk over.  Keep at it, keep learning from your mistakes (subtopic: first realize that you ARE in fact, MAKING mistakes), and try to pay attention to people that are the “real deal” that are doing for a living what you want to do.  I do not believe, for one second, that someone can just wake up one day and instantly decide that they are a fully-formed actress, director, or writer any more than I could wake up tomorrow and decide to be (and solicit work as) a civil engineer.  Or an astronaut.  Or a ninja.  For some reason the “arts” project the stigma that they are easy to master and take little effort or sweat equity.  
Also, there’s usually no way in hell someone is going to give an unknown, untried person a million bucks to make a movie.  So stop trying that approach.  And if you insist on barking up that tree -  maybe change your “director’s fee” line item to something less than ½ of that 1M budget.

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