Friday, November 4, 2016

DOG EAT DOG Paul Schrader, Matthew Wilder Premiere Interviews

                                     Paul Schrader being interviewed by Robert Mitchell

                                              Screenwriter Matthew Wilder interview

Dog Eat Dog the new film by Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver, Rolling Thunder, Raging Bull) had it's North American premiere at the 2016 Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. Robert Mitchell was at the premiere and spoke with Mr. Schrader and screenwriter Matthew Wilder who adapted Edward Bunker's book for the screen. Here are those interviews.

Monday, October 31, 2016


                                                    Interviewing Vengeful Spirit Sadako

                                               Interviewing Vengeful Spirit Kayako

Robert Aaron Mitchell was on the red carpet at the closing night of the 2016 Midnight Madness programme for the film Sadako vs Kayako and somehow communicated with the vengeful spirits who arrived for the premiere. Here is those interviews!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

FROM THE ARCHIVES: Jason Blum & Steven Schneider Insidious Interview

This the forth in the ongoing series, Meeting the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010.
By Robert Aaron Mitchell

                                                                    Jason Blum 

                                                                     Steven Schneider

When the news broke that the producing team behind the hugely successful Paranormal Activity and the writing and directing team of hugely influential genre film Saw were teaming up to work on Insidious there was obvious excitement from the horror community. These heavyweights of genre cinema decided their partnership together would be best suited outside of the studio system in order to best help James Wan bring his vision to the big screen.

Let me introduce you to Jason Blum and Steven Schneider, part of the producing team behind Insidious.

Jason Blum opened Blumhouse Productions in the fall of 2000. Throughout his career, he has cultivated a reputation as a tireless advocate of independent film, and as a skilled producer adept at securing compelling new material and cutting-edge talent and forging deep relationships with studio executives, agents, writers, directors and actors. Since opening his own company, Blum has produced six feature films that demonstrate his unique taste and creative sensibilities. With keen business savvy, and a sharp eye for art house fare, he is constantly striving to expand the Blumhouse Productions slate of films.

Could you talk about how and why you formed your production company Blumhouse Productions?

Jason Blum WHY -I loved making movies and one of my dreams in life was always to have a single purpose company that does just that. HOW- I spent the first ten years of my career working for people who were very successful and I used that time to learn as much as I could always keeping in mind that eventually I wanted to work for myself.

Looking at your filmography you have recently become a producer in the past couple of years, how did you become a producer? What attracted you to the job?

Steven Schneider I grew up in New York City reading comic books and watching horror movies. After ten years (!) of grad school working on various degrees in philosophy and film theory, I found myself missing pop culture more and more. So I started writing and editing books on genre cinema - in particular horror movies from around the world. But to that point I'd still never thought about transitioning into film production once. Then, in 2002, Roy Lee (producer of The Ring, The Grudge, The Departed, etc.) reached out to me because he'd seen some of my books and wanted to know if I had any ideas for horror remakes. After this initial phone call, things immediately started clicking into place. My long-term girlfriend had already begun a successful acting career, and I just wasn't feeling excited about my dissertation work anymore. So later that year, Katheryn and I made the move to Hollywood, and I've been producing full-time ever since.

I've read that you are a strong advocate for independent film. What draws you to producing projects outside of the studio system?

Jason Blum I like making movies for studios and independently equally as much but the two jobs are entirely different. Making studio movies the Producer for the most part answers to the studio first and goes from there. Independent movies allow the producer only to help the director realize his vision without any other factors. Both are fun complicated jobs.

What attracted you to producing Insidious? How difficult was the financing of the project?

Steven Schneider On the heels of Paranormal Activity's success last year, my partners on that movie (Jason Blum and Oren Peli) and I entered into a slate deal with Alliance Films. (The head of Alliance, Charles Layton, had previously worked with Jason at Miramax for years, so they already had a good relationship.) The basic idea of the Alliance "Haunted Movies" slate is to make a number of very scary horror movies on very low budgets; and to work with amazing filmmakers who are excited to trade bells & whistles for creative freedom. As for Insidious, James Wan and I sat down after Paranormal came out, and as soon as he pitched me the idea, I was in. Loved the concept, loved James' vision for it, and couldn't wait to get started. Fortunately Jason and Oren agreed, and Alliance was totally supportive. Insidious is the first Haunted Movies production, and the Paranormal Activity-Saw combination is lethal!

What for you are some of the keys to making a package to present to investors and/studio executives?

Jason Blum There are only 4: Script Director Cast Budget If your budget is low enough and you script, cast, actors are compelling even now there is money out there to make your movies.

What unique challenges did you face in bringing Insidious to the screen?

Steven Schneider I think everyone involved would agree that the biggest challenge with Insidious was just making sure we could help enable James and Leigh (Whannell) achieve their amazing, ambitious vision for the movie given the relatively miniscule (by Hollywood standards) budget. But with the help of an incredible, passionate crew of true professionals - including Albert Cho, Aaron Sims, John Leonetti, Jeanette Brill, Rick Osako, Annie McCarthy, Jennifer and Tom Spence, Kristin Burke, and all of our wonderful actors (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye and many others) - we were fortunately able to achieve it. At least we think we have - you tell us after the premiere!

Originally appeared 09/12/10 Midnight Madness Blog

Monday, October 17, 2016


On Tuesday September 13, 2016 Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary RATS premiered at the Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Robert was on the red carpet and spoke with Morgan about the film which Mr. Spurlock has described as a "horror documentary" Robert also spoke exterminator Ed Sheehan who has been in pest control for over fifty years. Here are those interviews. It was RATASTIC!


Monday, October 10, 2016

HEADSHOT: World Premiere Interviews with Directors Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto

                          Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboel interviewed by Robert A. Mitchell

Headshot the new film from Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto aka The "Mo" Brothers premiered Setember 9th, 2016 at the midnight madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. Robert was at the premiere and spoke with Kimo and Timo about their latest film.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

FREE FIRE World Premiere Interview with Sharlto Copley

Ben Wheatley's latest film Free Fire was the opening night film at 2016 Midnight Madness programme at the Toronto International Film Festival. Sharlto Copley spoke with Robert on the red carpet about the character "Vernon" and his subsequent return to Midnight Madness. Sharlto was at the 2015 edition for Hardcore Henry.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

MEMORY BOX: Interview with Director Writer Audrey Ewell

                                      Audrey Ewell                                  Aaron Aites

Memory Box is the third film directed and produced by the life and filmmaking partnership of Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites. (Until The Light Takes Us, 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film). In April Aaron passed away after a battle with cancer.

It was the most unbelievable privilege to share my life and work with Aaron for over 15 years. He never looked away from the darkness, but illuminated it so the rest of us could find our way a little more easily. Aaron’s passion for great and often obscure music, film, and art was contagious, and the world is a better place for his having been with us. Though he had much more to offer, he continues to shine a light in the darkness through his tremendous legacy of music, films, and the love he left behind.” -- Audrey Ewell.

I recently spoke with Audrey about her and Aaron's film Memory Box which recently premiered at Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.

Where did the idea for Memory Box come from?

I get a lot of ideas when I'm just about to fall asleep. Not ideas, really, more like images. I had this image of a woman smoking a cigarette outside of a factory. And then she's joined by a co-worker. And then of a man in his apartment, kitchen actually, at his computer. And from there I sort of imagined how they were linked, and I had this whole idea around this facility where actors would recreate memories or fantasies, and the sorts of weird interactions they might have with the customers. And what sort of rules there would be.
What themes did you want to explore in the film?

There's a lot in there around the way relationships are negotiated, and the difficulty in being honest, with yourself and with others. I also wanted to look at a relationship where traditional gender roles might be inverted, and how that might add difficulty. We're so inundated with cultural tropes, and they make it harder to be honest about what we want, as individuals. For both men and women. Especially when sex is involved, because it's so personal and there's shame and all these other weird identity things around sex that make it hard to be honest about.

I really liked the visual atheistic of the film. How did you come to find the visual language of the piece?

We wanted it to have a slightly futuristic feeling, which we got with Eric Lin's impeccable cinematography and our locations and design, but then at the same time I wanted to reference traditional norms, so we did that a bit with our costuming. I didn't want it to feel "costumey" though, so we tried to keep it quite subtle. I gave our costume designer, Evren Catlin, reference images that were based on 70's Italian fashion.

Part of that, honestly, was just my own nod to director Michelangelo Antonioni. You can't make films like him anymore, they don't ever work when people try, and it wasn't our intention to try. But there are actually little nods all over the film like that, to directors who have influenced Aaron and me. Just as Isabelle is inundated by all these images of mediated female sexuality, we've also been influenced by the images and the films and media we've seen. So the film is literally peppered with references and nods to filmmakers we love. Which, probably, no one will pick up on, and that's 100% fine and expected. There was just this aspect of where we finally got to make a narrative - which we'd been wanting to do for years - so it felt right to pay subtle homage to the filmmakers who had fostered that love of film in us.

Memory Box was originally envisioned as a feature length narrative film. How difficult was it to tell this story in the even more concise structure of a short film?

The short came first, it was envisioned as a proof-of-concept for a feature that we hadn't written yet, and then we were working on the feature afterward. The idea was to introduce the world, concept, characters and conflict, and see if there was interest in making a feature that expanded on all of it. There was, but then life and death had other plans.

Making the documentaries Until The Light Takes Us and 99%: The Occupy Wall Street Collaborative Film how did those experiences prepare you to tell a narrative story?

I think having something like 500 movies in our library prepared us for that more than anything. But filmmaking in any form does teach you some of the nuts and bolts of how to work with cast/subjects and crew, etc. 99% was a crazy project where we were flying by the seat of our pants and trying to wrangle and stay on top of a project with 100 filmmakers all over the country, so that was just about putting in the hours, about 100 hours a week for almost a year. That film was about endurance. Until The Light Takes Us was a very crafted film, where we did really extensive research and went in with a 50 page treatment, and then made that film. So while it wasn't scripted, there was a story - really a theme - that we wanted to explore through juxtaposition of two timelines, and that was a very constructed film.
In this film you work with Mackenzie Davis, Louis Cancelmi and Shane Carruth what did they bring to this story?

Just: work with smart people. When you choose smart collaborators, every single one of them will bring something. They were all delightful to work with. Though it was interesting when we had a pair who didn't work in the same way, i.e. one might like to rehearse where the other doesn't. This was our first film as narrative directors, so it was a tremendous learning experience.
What do you wish audiences to take away from the film?

I hope they're intrigued by the world, characters and ideas. And I hope the end is interesting and maybe challenges their expectations a little bit. It's also a film that reveals more on repeat viewings, so I hope they'll like it enough to want to watch it 2 or 3 times. I've been told by a lot of people that they catch a lot more with each viewing.

But Since Aaron died, I do not intend to make this feature version any longer. I'm working on another film now, one that he felt really strongly about making, and one that isn't so emotionally impossible for me. So Memory Box stands as a testament to his enormous potential and talent, and to our partnership, which should have been allowed to go on. But wasn't. This film isn't about us as a couple, but every relationship is hard. Ours was as well. But we loved each other, and loved working together. And I'm not going to make that feature without him. So I just hope audiences appreciate it as a window into this world, that now exists, and which they can build on as much or as little as they choose.
 If you wish to help with the costs of the release of this film you can visit the fundraising page HERE

Friday, September 30, 2016

FREE FIRE World Premiere Interview with Babou Ceesay

The 2016 Midnight Madness opening night film was the world premiere of Free Fire. The new film from Ben Wheatley. Robert was on the red carpet and spoke with actor Babou Ceesay about the film.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

THE FINAL GIRLS Premiere Interviews with Malin Akerman , Todd Strauss-Schulson & Taissa Farmiga

The closing film of Midnight Madness 2015 was the horror/comedy THE FINAL GIRLS. Robert spoke with Malin Ackerman, director Todd Strauss-Schulson and Taissa Farmiga about the film. Here is that video:

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: Interview with Larry Fessenden

Let me introduce you to legendary N.Y. producer Larry Fessenden, producer of Stake Land

Larry Fessenden may not be a name you instantly recognize but the name is one that has probably been involved in some of your favorite films. At this year's Midnight Madness alone Mr. Fessenden's reach is felt, from Ron Perlman that has worked numerous times with Mr Fessenden, from The Last Winter which was written and directed by Larry as well as I Sell The Dead which Mr. Fessenden not only produced with his company Glass Eye Pix but also acted in. If you were looking really close during Brad Anderson's Vanishing on 7th St, there was Larry on the big screen again, which brings me to Stake Land. Stake Land was also produced by Glass Eye Pix. He has over forty acting credits, has produced 35 films and has numerous directing credits for feature films, shorts and documentaries. In short. Mr. Fessenden is not only a remarkable talent but is truly a tireless advocate for independent cinema.

As others are talking about recession and economic downturns you and Glass Eye Pix seems to be thriving in the film world, how do you equate your success in remaining in business and producing quality work?

We were very fortunate to have had financial support throughout the recession of Dark Sky Films. The association began with Ti West’s THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL and that lead us to strike a deal to produce three more movies over the course of 18 months: BITTER FEAST, STAKE LAND and HYPOTHERMIA. And that was followed by another Ti West film, THE INNKEEPERS. So we’ve had a very good run of it with Dark Sky. In the 2000’s Glass Eye Pix invested in the careers of several filmmakers including Ti West, Graham Reznick, James McKenney, and Glenn McQuaid, as well as Kelly Reichardt and Ilya Chaiken, and the consistent model was to make films of artistic integrity at a very low budget. During more lucrative times we could get reimbursed for our efforts. It is our hope that in these lean years our model of frugality and originality will be attractive to new investors. It is important not to discount the sheer talent we have tapped in to. And I believe there is a tone throughout all the films from Glass Eye Pix that stands in marked contrast to the mainstream or even “indie” output and that is our brand.

How difficult was it to find the money to produce Stake Land? What challenges did you face that were unique to this film?

Stake Land was the most solid pitch we had for our slate of three movies with Dark Sky Films; it had the elements that looked good on paper: vampires, the post apocalyptic setting, and the director Jim Mickle had made a successful first film but still was hungry enough to go from no budget to low budget with gusto and conviction. So the film was financed easily, as part of an overall slate. The challenges were many from there. First, the script had to be reworked over several months to shape it into the feature it’s become, and then the epic scope of the story had to be fit into the budget. We determined to split the shoot into two parts, so we could experience on film the change in seasons. This was a gamble that paid off, but one that can stress a budget and crew and spook most financiers. As with all our films, we choose to emphasize post production: sound design, music, graphics, visual effects, the color correct and mix, all are an essential part of the experience we want to deliver, and again, the challenge is to strategize to get the most out of what is left of the budget after a grueling shoot. By using the same team of people in post-production on several films, we have been able to get a lot of bang for the buck.

What is something that you have learned as a producer that you wish you knew when you started out with your first feature Habit?

There is no one thing that has changed since I made HABIT in 1994. With HABIT, I established many of the principals that I still employ: A small crew (there were seven of us on HABIT), an open schedule (we shot over 45 days), and a long post-production emphasizing sound design and a rich, live score, all driven by a resourceful, single-minded auteur (which was me at the time). With HABIT, I endured a tsunami of festival and distribution rejections and so I released the film myself, compelling me to learn about marketing and exhibition. That experience taught me that there are no answers in show biz, there is only conviction. I have applied that to film after film with various degrees of success since, and it has helped several careers get started through Glass Eye Pix. Another thing I have learned since HABIT is I need my own producer to take care of the nuts and bolts of production. I may have a philosophical overview that drives the ship, but it was HABIT’s producer Dayton Taylor that got the film made, Jeff Levy-Hinte who got my subsequent films made, and now Peter Phok and Brent Kunkle have been instrumental in getting a slew of new pictures made. Collaboration in film at every level is essential.

Originally Appeared 9/17/10 Midnight Madness Blog

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


“It took all the time in the world, six books that didn’t get published, over seventeen years, before I got published. I believe in perseverance above everything. Perseverance overcomes intelligence, overcomes luck, overcomes everything. Perseverance wins.” -- Edward Bunker From The Good, The Bad, And The Bunker

Grifter. Father. Armed Robber. Writer. Short Con Operator. Actor. Convict. Screenwriter. Career Criminal. Redemption To quote the Kris Kristofferson song The Pilgrim; Chapter 33 He's a poet he's a picker he's a prophet he's a pusher. He's a pilgrim and a preacher and a problem when he's stoned. He's a walkin' contradiction partly truth and partly fiction. Taking every wrong direction on his lonely way back home.”

For my money Edward “Eddie” Bunker is one of the greatest American crime novelists ever. His art is one of the truest examples of the old adage, “write what you know”. His works of literature span five novels No Beast So Fierce (1973). James Ellroy had this to say about Bunker’s debut novel,  “The most gritty and realistic novel about armed robbery.” The Animal Factory (1977) Little Boy Blue (1981) Stark (2006) and Dog Eat Dog (1995) which is now a film Directed By Paul Schrader and Starring Nicholas Cage and Willem Dafoe and premiering at Midnight Madness this year. There is also a short story collection Death Row Breakout and Other Stories which was posthumously published in 2010. As well as an autobiography Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade (1999) issued in the United States as Education of a Felon (2000)

Well before Eddie Bunker was a writer he was a hardened criminal. He was a short con operator who specialized in cons “The Match”, “The Strap”, and “Laying The Note”. Bunker was a drug dealer and an armed robber.  He was once shot in a liquor store robbery attempt. He also dabbled in extortion and forgery. “Do the crime, do the time.” And Eddie served his. Eddie Bunker had the distinction in 1951 to be the youngest inmate of San Quentin prison. In one of Bunker's brief sojourns on “the outside” he befriended Louis Wallis who was the wife of Hal Wallis producer of Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon. It was during this four and a half year bid that Bunker would discover books and begin to write. While in San Quentin the prisoner in the cell beside him Caryl Chessman was sentenced to death row. Chessman had written a book entitled Cell 2455 Death Row about his experience awaiting execution and a first chapter excerpt appeared in Argosy, a pulp magazine. Eddie Bunker was doing a stretch in solitary confinement, "The Hole", where you were not allowed to read anything except the bible. Chessman gave the Argosy pulp to Bunker to read and it was here Eddie had an epiphany, “It blew my mind that a convict, much less one on death row (could write a book) and that night all of a sudden it just came to me, “If he can do it, why can’t I do it. I’m not facing the death penalty. I have all the time in the world.” Louis Wallis sent him a Royal portable typewriter and a subscription to the New York Times Sunday edition and Book Review. He sold his blood to pay for postage to submit his manuscripts to dozens of magazines and publishers. During a sentence in Folsom prison he would meet and befriend Danny Trejo. The two would become friends who would later act together in films. By the time Eddie Bunker's time was all said and done Eddie would spend eighteen years of his life incarcerated. Upon his release in 1975 he finally went straight and never looked back. He began to pursue writing and acting full time.

In 1978 the adapted screenplay of his novel No Beast So Fierce was released as Straight Time. The film directed by Ulu Grosband would star Dustin Hoffman in the lead role; the film would also mark Mr. Bunker’s first screen credit playing the character “Mickey”. Many years later a young director would study this film at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute for Filmmakers. That director’s name, Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino would cast Eddie Bunker in the role “Mr. Blue” in Reservoir Dogs. 1980 would see Bunker playing the character “Chadwell” in Walter Hill’s The Long Riders It was in 1985 that Eddie would act in the film Runaway Train. Mr. Bunker was also one of the co-writers of the Runaway Train screenplay. The film would see three Oscar nominations. Best actor Jon Voight. Best actor in a supporting role, Eric Roberts and best film editing, Henry Richardson. Not bad for a Canon film that was produced by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus.  All and all he would have close to thirty screen credits. Some of his notable appearances include parts in Running Man, Miracle Mile and Tango & Cash to name a few. It is said that Jon Voight’s character in Michael Mann’s Heat was modeled after Eddie.

The novels and screenplays of Mr. Bunker are raw, visceral experiences made even more poignant by the fact that he lived it. He confronts pain, rage, race and frustration exactly how you think he would. Head on. The arc of Edward Bunker’s life is a true testament of redemption and rehabilitation. Mr. Bunker would pass away on July 19, 2005 at the age of seventy-one from complications due to surgery. His books live on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday, July 11, 2016

SPL 2: A Time For Consequences. World Premiere Interviews with Soi Cheang & Paco Wong

On September 17, 2015 SPL 2: A Time For Consequences had it's world premiere at the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and spoke with director Soi Cheang and producer Paco Wong. Here are the interviews.

Robert A. Mitchell speaks with Producer Paco Wong

Sharing a laugh with film director Soi Cheang

All photos by Mike Scott

Thursday, June 30, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: Interview With Keith Calder. Bunraku, You're Next, Anomalisa, The Guest, The Wackness

This is the third installment in the ongoing series Meet the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010.

Let me introduce you to Keith Calder. Mr. Calder arrived on the film scene as an executive producer for the Midnight Madness film All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. In subsequent years he has also produced such films as Battle For Terra and The Wackness and is executive producing Walter Hill's next film St. Vincent. Bunraku marks Mr. Calder's return to the Midnight Madness program.

It has been five years since you produced All The Boys Loved Mandy Lane. What changes have you seen in the business side of the film industry in those five years?

In all honesty, it's hard for me to separate my own personal experience from the overall business. When we shot ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE, I was a year out of film school. I thought I knew how to make movies, and I thought I knew how the film business worked. Here I am five years later, and I realize that I'm only just starting to learn how to make movies and how the film business works. It's hard for me to tell how much the film business has changed, and how much of the perceived "change" is just me understanding the film business better. But with my current understanding of the film business, I'll try to answer as best I can. The biggest change I've seen in the film business over the last five years is that it's now easier to get talented people to want to work on your independent film, but it's harder to sell your finished film.

Bunraku was financed outside the studio system yet attracted top name talent,. How did so many name actors sign onto the project?

We had a pretty hefty package of material that we presented to actors when we approached them to be in BUNRAKU. We had the screenplay, and a DVD of concept art, previz, and style clips. On top of that, Guy Moshe is obviously a talented and compelling director and the actors were drawn to the idea of working with him on the film. I think that a lot of the actors were taking a big risk coming a board an independent film like this, but their doubts were answered after a couple days working with Guy, the rest of the cast, and our incredible crew.

There is always pressure for a film to perform well in the box office and I'm sure this pressure has increased ten-fold in recent years. Does this pressure ever affect the vision of a film? Is there ever a temptation to make a film more mainstream and more accessible?

The short answer is easy: Yes, there is always a temptation to make a film more mainstream and more accessible.

The long answer is more complicated. With every film I produce, I try to make a classic of the genre. It may sound egotistical to say that, but I think there's no other way to be successful in this business. You aim for greatness, so if you fall short you still have a good film. If you aim for "good-enough", you'll end up landing at "piece-of-crap". So with a big independent film like BUNRAKU we took on a huge risk, but we only did so because we believed it had the potential to be a classic of the genre. It's too soon to say if we landed close to our mark, but when your goals are that lofty you start to worry less about "accessible" and "mainstream". "Accessible" and "mainstream" are really sub-goals of "awesome" and "great". If it's great enough, then it becomes accessible. If it's awesome enough, then it becomes mainstream. So yes, I always try to make my films mainstream and accessible, just not by dumbing them down or sacrificing the craft.

This interview first appeared 09/10/10 on the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: An Interview with Ted Hope

Midnight Madness Producers Part 2: Ted Hope - SUPER

This is the second in an ongoing series, Meet The Producers Of Midnight Madness 2010.

Let me introduce you to Ted Hope. He is a producer that has many years of experience in the film industry and he is very generous with the vast knowledge he has acquired throughout his career.

In the late 1980s, American independent film burst on the scene with the promise of new visions, new stories, and new approaches. Ted Hope was among the first producers to emerge from the pack and one of the few today consistently delivering vital and exciting new work. With partner Anne Carey, Hope is the co-founder of New York production company This is That. In six years, This is That has produced seventeen features. A survey of Hope’s work, numbering over fifty films, includes many highlights and breakthroughs of the last two decades. Ted’s films have received numerous awards, including three Academy Award Best Screenplay nominations. He is currently the head of motion pictures for Amazon Studios.

You recently wrote that there are two determining factors on how your films are made: superior quality of the material, and the willingness of the collaborators to make great sacrifices. In regards to Super, could you talk about some of the sacrifices you and your team made to realize the film?

Super was a wonderful example of team work. We communicated our limitations to everyone before they signed on, and with only one exception, everyone recognizes that we were in it together. Indie filmmaking is a demonstration on the interconnectedness of all things. If you go over on the wardrobe budget, it means you can't license the music you want at the end of the day. The cast and crew got this. No one had anything beyond the essentials. We were lean and mean, a rapid Super shooting machine. It was always about the movie and not the perks. The crew had the best housing -- and Miranda, James, and I had the worst.

This isn't the kind of movie that gets made every day and every one indicated that they knew it was a privilege to be part of it. Yet, you can't ask people to do their best work and truly give their all, if such an example of commitment wasn't embraced from the top down. James Gunn's enthusiasm, passion, and preparedness was infectious. He was first to arrive and knew what he wanted. He made his process transparent and was the first to enforce the necessity to move fast. The team organized so well around him that we never had to sacrifice quality.

We have seen most of the studio "independents" fall by the wayside recently. It seems to me the film business is becoming huge studio productions and small DIY films. What is your take on the current state of the film-making business? Do you foresee anyone stepping in to replace medium budgeted productions?

It's true that the middle ground has vanished. I feel fortunate to have been able to work at a time and at a pace that I have been able to establish a track record of quality films produced at limited budgets that deliver profitable results. It is going to be really difficult to create challenging work unless it embraces minimal budgets or utilizes audience appealing genres. It is really surprising to me that there are not more companies committed to the space that once was occupied by the likes of New Line & Dimension.

With the polarities of content and budget prominent in the industry today, actors are struggling to find roles that allow them to truly create unique characters in unique situations. It is the best time to cast challenging material that I have ever experienced. Good actors need good work. I have been really impressed with the quality of actor-centric genre films from all over the globe this past year, from MOON to HOUSE OF THE DEVIL to THE SQUARE to THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED to THE PROPHET to ANIMAL KINGDOM. These are awesome films with real audience appeal, albeit not at the largest numbers but at defined, easy to reach, internationally appealing strands. There is good business to be done, and new technologies to deliver it. Once folks on all sides realize where we really are right now, audiences are going to experience a golden age of great work.

You have also written that "being a film producer requires abandoning the concept that you work for a living." Could you elaborate on this?

I was very fortunate to start producing when I did in the late '80s. The business had changed and the mainstream infrastructure failed to acknowledge it for almost a decade. I benefited for fifteen years by that oversight. The film business has changed again, but our methods, models, and work still is based on practices of many years ago. We are not living and working in the present. Our work currently is not able to extract it's full value from utilizing the current practices and platforms.

Because film is currently a capital intensive growth-focused industry, we will forever be experiencing boom and bust cycles, and the tragedies that come with it. Those that have the capital generally establish footholds and gates that allow to maximize earnings from the labor and art of others -- they take the risk and reap the benefits as a result, or at least that's the structure of the world we work in. Creators and artists are first concerned with getting their work made; this desire makes them vulnerable and they are exploited.

Early on, I was asked whether I was a filmmaker or a businessman. I thought I could be both, but when you care first and foremost about your film, you are willing to make great sacrifices to get your movie made. I work to get my movies made -- and still can earn a living doing that. IMHO, movies are too hard to make well to make anything other than what you care about. Once you reveal you care, you are open to being exploited, even by your partners. Even if I am not being fairly compensated, I am still happy to be able to support myself and all the others I employ, by working at creating movies I am passionate about. I would shoot myself if I had to create the crap that is generally passed off as entertainment these days, but you can earn a living producing it! At least, I still have that choice!

This Interview first appeared 09/08/10 on the TIFF Midnight Madness Blog

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

MEET THE PRODUCERS: Interview With Peter Block John Carpenter's The Ward

Midnight Madness Producers Part 1: Peter Block - JOHN CARPENTER'S THE WARD

This is the first in an ongoing series, Meeting The Producers Of Midnight Madness 2010.

Don't let the big name talent fool you, the ten films that make up this year's Midnight Madness program have all been made outside of the traditional Hollywood studio system. These ten independent features have all faced their own challenges and the standard ones of not enough time and not enough money. I recently had the opportunity to pose questions to the producers of the films so please follow me as we Meet the Producers of Midnight Madness 2010. Let me introduce you to Peter Block.

Mr. Block, formerly was President of acquisitions and co-productions of Lionsgate. In 2008 he formed A Bigger Boat productions in order to produce and distribute genre films and television.

What did you learn from being the President of Acquisitions & Co-Productions at Lionsgate that informed your decision to form your own production company A Bigger Boat in 2008?

What I had learned in my time at Lionsgate, and as far back as the early '90s when I found that a company could actually exist on a slate of straight to video horror titles, and sometimes you discovered fantastic new directors, such as Guillermo del Toro, "Cronos" and Peter Jackson "Dead Alive". I also learned that the horror audience was vibrant, dedicated and social. Whether the films were good or bad, was often not nearly as important as whether there was a great death scene, or even a really bad line-reading. The audience showed up again and again and shared their experiences with one another.

By 2008, I had spent the better part of a decade at Lionsgate, and had been able to chart its course into the genre world from the arthouse circuit; I can still recall the great conversation when we were able to convince Chairman Jon Feltheimer that (a) "House Of 1000 Corpses" really was an arthouse movie (perhaps one for an outhouse crowd), and (b) that he should never watch it. So began a great trajectory beginning with "Cabin Fever", right here at TIFF, which allowed us to not only play in the genre sandbox, but to dig deep for hidden gems that other studios wouldn't touch, like "Devil's Rejects", "Hard Candy" and "The Descent". After spending time finding and producing commercial (Saw, Crank, Open Water) and critical (Crash, Girl With A Pearl Earring, Fido) successes for the company, I had a chance to fully delve into the indie producing world, while at the same time further exploring some of my genre sensibilities. There were stories I was still interested in telling, and directors (like genre-fave Adam Green, new-comers like Mark Tonderai and the legendary John Carpenter) that I wanted to work with. Plus, in A Bigger Boat, I already had a great company name picked out and, with the help of my pal Tim Williams, a fun animated logo...

The Ward was made outside of the studio system, what were some of the unique challenges this presented?

The Ward was made outside of the studio system for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we (my partners at Echo Lake Productions, and I) wanted to entice John Carpenter to direct the movie, and we knew John was partial to his independence (we found out later that that sentiment extended to "from producers" as well!). Secondly, the industry was changing. Studios were less interested in lower budgeted genre fare, in favor of tent-pole releases with name stars to drive ticket sales, and with it corporate earnings and stock prices. Along those same lines, most studios are more interested in keeping cost commitments as low as possible, preferring to explore co-production ventures, off-balance sheet financing, and pursuing post-production acquisitions over pre-production financial commitments.

So, while no studio came aboard before we made The Ward, it did open up some possibilities elsewhere. Many foreign territories have distributors with output deals with different Hollywood studios, and their offerings reflect largely what the studio feeds them. So your film doesn't always end up with the right distributor overseas, but rather the one with whom the studio has a pre-existing relationship. We got to approach each territory separately, and our foreign sales partner --- Glen Basner's FilmNation --- did a masterful job setting us up with enough pre-sales overseas --- to distributors excited at the prospect of a new John Carpenter film --- that we were able to finance the movie, albeit with less than John or we hoped. And so began the search for where to shoot, a decision complicated by the ever-changing exchange rate of the U.S. Dollar. So initial explorations of Toronto and Winnipeg eventually gave way to a terrific team in Spokane Washington, which had an unknown production team but a great tax rebate program. But in then end, it all comes down to not the elements you don't have, but the quality of the ones you do, and we have a great story, a camera-friendly and talented cast, and a director who knows a thing or two about the art of the scare. I'd say we're doing ok.

I recently spoke with David Cronenberg and he said that in today's climate your past track record does not matter anymore. Each film has to be tackled as though it was your first project. You yourself have an impressive track record, how are you finding the business of raising money for a project?

I think David's right in some regards, but let's not forget: he's David Cronenberg, and he's done some of his most outstanding work lately with "Eastern Promises" and "History Of Violence". So I could disagree and say his body of work makes him ever-relevant, and at the same time his recent work is so strong that anyone would love to have the opportunity to be involved with a new project. But overall he's correct and it's as much a function of the "what have you done for me lately?" mentality as it is a matter that studio needs (and studio personnel) are ever-changing, coupled with the collapsing of industry windows and revenue streams.

Moreover, movie years are like dog years: by the time your movie gets made, released and finds it's way to a studio (non)profit statement, another 600 films have come and gone through theaters, to say nothing of those that bypass theatrical altogether. By the time you want to make a follow-up to your movie, the first one has been released and critiqued, amortized and analyzed, and most likely already replicated enough times so that's it's either deemed a classic or already forgotten. And all of that is further enhanced by the fact that everyone's always looking for a reason to say "no"; rarely does anyone get fired for not green-lighting a project, but the corollary isn't always true. So you've got to make sure your successes are recent enough to stay relevant in an ever-changing marketplace, and you've got to have a package that demands a "yes" when both economics and job preservation dictate otherwise. In other words, I'm no longer the guy responsible for "Saw" or "Open Water" or "The Descent"; I'm just the guy who this year made "Frozen" and The Ward and released "The Disappearance Of Alice Creed". And I'm hoping I can still get the director of "Scanners" on the phone.

 This Interview first appeared 09/07/10 at the Tiff Midnight Madness Blog

Monday, June 27, 2016

SOUTHBOUND: World Premiere Interviews with Brad Miska Roxanne Benjamin, Patrick Horvath

                                                Brad Miska speaks with Robert A. Mitchell

Southbound received it's world premiere at the 2015 Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is a horror anthology. Five interlocking tales of terror follow the fates of a group of weary travelers who confront their worst nightmares - and darkest secrets - over one long night on a desolate stretch of desert highway. Robert A. Mitchell was on the red carpet and spoke with Director/Writers Roxanne Benjamin and Patrick Horvath as well as producer Brad Miska.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL MIDNIGHT MADNESS 2015: Robert A. Mitchell's Adventures [A Photo Gallery]

Here is a photo gallery of Robert A. Mitchell at the 2015 edition of the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival.

                                         Robert A. Mitchell interviews Patrick Stewart
                                                (Photo By: Sarah Dillard Mitchell)

                                              Takashi Miike talks to Robert A. Mitchell

                                         Malin Akerman talks with Robert A. Mitchell

                               Hanging with Legendary Cinematographer Dean Cundey

                                                Interviewing Baskin actor Gorkem Kasal

                                   Meeting director Pou-Soi Cheang at SPL 2 Premiere
                                                          (Photo By: Mike Scott)

                                                Sharing a laugh with Pou-Soi Cheang
                                                           (Photo By: Mike Scott)

                                 Speaking with producer Paco Wong at the SPL 2 Premiere
                                                            (Photo By: Mike Scott)

                                Interviewing Producer Brad Miska at Southbound Premiere

                           Talking to actor Luke Baines at The Girl in the Photographs Premiere

                                    Interviewing Midnight Madness Master Takashi Miike
                                                          (Photo By: Ian Goring)