Interview: Director Douglas Schulze Talks MIMESIS And Horror Remakes

douglas-schulze-interview

I recently reviewed Douglas Schulze‘s latest horror film Mimesis (check out the review), which follows a group of horror fans who take their love of the genre too far. Schulze’s film tackles a lot of issues, including cinematic violence and the biggest monster terrorizing the silver screen – the remake.

Where did the core idea of Mimesis come from?

The genesis for Mimesis came from the tired notion of the sequel. When you see Jason Voorhees in outer space it’s time to stop and say WTF? Remakes and sequels have really taken some of the excitement out of going to movies (at least for me). I thought to myself that there has to be a better way to pay homage to some of the great classics (than to remake or continue to sequelize them). So I sat down and asked myself how can I celebrate the past without harming it. And more importantly how can I evolve as a storyteller? The answer I came up was the basis for Mimesis. Instead of a tired remake or a boring sequel why not tell a story about people who emulate the original. Mimesis means’ the imitation of life in art. Why watch a horror film when you can live it?

How did you go about developing the script?

Once I’d settled on the concept for Mimesis (the idea of mimicking a classic horror film) I needed a horror film to “mimic”. There are vampires, werewolves, genetic mutations and then there are flesh eating zombies. Without question, for me, the idea of someone imitating a flesh eating zombie is actually far more disturbing than a flesh eating zombie. So that brought me to the grand daddy of all zombie films; Night of the Living Dead. I wrote a treatment for Mimesis with Night of the Living Dead as the film that would be “mimesised” I then brought in a writing partner to help develop the screenplay. With this first Mimesis I worked with co-writer Josh Wagner.

What are your thoughts on the current Hollywood craze of remakes?

I understand the idea of wanting to bring an old story to a new audience but the problem is that many of the stories aren’t very old. I mean they’re remaking Spider-Man already? But the new term is “rebooting” which is a kinder way of saying the studio doesn’t have faith in a Part 8 so they’d sooner remake the original. I mean why remake Straw Dogs? The Peckinpah film holds up very well. I’d sooner like to see the studios putting cash into restoring some of these film prints and negatives, then doing a re-release. I think a restored print of Straw Dogs would be great to see in the theatres. How can you top Dustin Hoffman’s performance or Peckinpah’s direction? I think I’ll stop going to the movies the day they decide to remake 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Hollywood would rather remake Carrie or The Shining because, they think that x number of people will go to see it out of curiosity; how does the remake stack up against the original. If you’re going to remake something at least go back a few decades. I think we’re about due for another Frankenstein, right?

Which directors have inspired you over your career?

Well I think that every filmmaker has been influenced by Kubrick. I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey when I was five and knew shortly after that that I wanted to make movies. Growing up I was a huge fan of the original Planet of the Apes franchise. I had the trading cards, Super 8mm movies and even a garbage can. I went to the drive-in and stayed awake for an all night Ape marathon- Ten hours of Apeage. John Carpenter was the first filmmaker that I started to try and emulate. He was hot when I was starting to make movies with a Super 8 camera. I really like his high concept stories; Escape from New York, Assault on Precinct 13. I’m still waiting for him to do a straight out western. Today I think that David Fincher is arguably one of the greats. I and many other filmmakers were influenced by Seven and Fight Club.

What is it about these directors that has captured your imagination?

Kubrick and Fincher are visualists. My guess is they’d both have been painters if they lived a century earlier. They both treat the camera frame as if it were a canvas and the way they use actors and lights is akin to the way Van Gough or Gauguin used paint and the brush.

You’ve made several horror movies, what made you fall in love with this genre?

Of all the genres, horror allows the filmmaker to push boundaries the most. Look at some of the visually stunning stuff Hitchcock did in Psycho that crazy cool shot of Martin Balsam falling down the stairs or the eye ball shot of Janet Leigh at the end of the infamous shower scene. No other genre is so welcoming in that regard. Look at every frame of Argento’s Suspiria. Horror is the one genre that really accommodates a visually minded storyteller. But I must admit that some of my favorite films aren’t horror films. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is among my all time top ten- visually stunning.

What challenges do you face when working in the low budget arena?

How much time do we have? Independent filmmaking, low budget filmmaking is perhaps the single most challenging art form in existence. It’s one big uphill battle from concept through to completion. And these days it’s only getting tougher. With technology changing the number of feature filmmakers has just about doubled in the past few years and the outlets for watching movies is shrinking. If you think it’s tough making a film try getting it sold. Don’t get me wrong, there is always a market for a good film. But sometimes distributors aren’t looking for a “good film”. Distributors often look to fill a niche. So you may have made a better horror film but the distributor might be looking for a zombie movie so they pass on your ghost story. Additionally, today, it’s not enough for the independent filmmaker to make the movie. Today you have to promote it on social media networks and at festivals and conventions. Today; moviemaking requires a larger commitment on the part of the filmmaker to ensure your film will reach it’s audience.

What sort of legal issues, if any, did you face when pulling Night of the Living Dead from the public domain?

It is true that the Night of the Living Dead is in the public domain as are countless other films. Because of the public domain status we are able to reference it freely in our film without the need for prior approval. That said we have credited the internet archive for the few seconds worth of clips we used. And there is a token credit at the end of the film mentioning that our film was inspired by the Romero film. Sadly there have been about a dozen unauthorized remakes of Night of the Living Dead because it is in public domain. Mimesis is a homage, nowhere close to a remake.

How did you go about breaking the story of the original film down and inserting your own plot?

Mimesis follows a group of horror fans who are invited to a party only to find themselves cast in this twisted game that mimics Night of the Living Dead. So the first draft of the story was written without any inspiration from Night of the Living Dead. Then after we felt we had a great story we went back and drew on the Romero film for inspiration. I kind of stepped into the head of a role player and asked, if I was going to mimesize this movie as a bad guy how would I want to “live” it. There would have to be a graveyard and a farmhouse as the main settings. And then you’d want to introduce props and other players to help steer the story in a certain direction. But at some point these characters would start to go off script.

We live in times of economic hardship; did you find it difficult in raising the money for an indie film?

Raising money is not easy and because of this one reason there are lots of talented filmmakers out there who will never be able to make a go of it. It took us over two years to raise the money to make our first feature film. We epitomized the term “starving artist” back then living on Ramen noodles and cheap beer. In fact there was a brief period of time inbetween films when I was living out of my car. Those were the days after HellMaster when we learned that all too difficult lesson that an indie filmmaker comes to learn and that is that distributors aren’t always fair to a filmmaker. But now that we have done a few films it’s become a bit easier for us to meet people who are connected to funding sources.

How do you go about getting a release for an independent feature? Is it just a matter of “putting the film under your arm” and hitting the festival circuit, or is it more difficult than that?

Sometimes you align with a producers rep who has connections to all the distributors who are buying indie films. Other times you might be contacted by a distributor who has heard of your film or caught it at a film festival. It’s important to get exposure for the film prior to approaching the distributor. The review of The Rain / Dark Fields in Collider was very helpful in bringing the film to the attention of several potential distributors.

Casting is such an issue, and you always seem to catch a genre legend, be it John Saxon in Hellmaster, David Caradine in The Rain (Dark Fields) or Sid Haig in Mimesis, is this a tip of the hat for fan purposes or is it a funding necessity?

Honestly these are actors I’ve respected for years,and when making each film I try to make sure we have a few dollars to afford one of these fine actors. And yes, I admit that there is a “box office” draw mentality when casting. So, I figure, if we’re going to get a name actor then I might as well look to those who I’ve admired since I was a kid. Obviously you want someone who fits the part. Saxon was perfect for HellMaster and I was a fan since childhood seeing him in Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee and then later in Wes Craven’s Nightmare on Elm Street. And then David Carradine from his days on Kung Fu. You kinda have to put aside the fan in you when you’re working with them. But it’s always a treat between takes to listen to all these wonderful stories.

With regards to casting, how do you then go about casting the rest of the characters?

Sometimes the name isn’t the first actor to be cast. I always try to cast the primary protagonist first. Being an independent filmmaker we often can’t afford to cast a seasoned name in the lead role so it’s even more important that you find a great up and coming actor for the lead. Then, from there, everything starts to fall into place.

In Mimesis Sid Haig’s Roger Corman-esqe producer’s movie posters are your own – does this mean that you agree with his character’s beliefs and opinions?

Yeah I admit that the words spoken by Sid in both the opening and conclusion harken to some of my own beliefs and feelings when it comes to violence in our world today. I find it tragically laughable how whenever some kid shoots up a classroom parents and conservatives rush to blame the violence in movies and video games. These parents who are quick to condemn violence in movies are the same parents who are never around for their kids.

What plans do you have in store for Mimesis 2?

Mimesis 2 is going to be very special. In fact Mimesis has been designed as a franchise. We’ve already filmed the intro scene (which is a backstory) and Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is in it. Everyone really likes the idea that obsessive horror fans are living out their favorite horror films. There are plenty of classic horror films in the public domain for us to “mimesize”. We’re currently talking with distributors and other funding entities. We really think we have a winning idea and more importantly we have our own studio here in Michigan.

How far along are you in the creative process for the film?

Creatively speaking we have the script for Mimesis 2 in place and are just now putting the finishing touches on our business plan. The next film to be given the Mimesis treatment is the classic German horror film; Nosferatu. I’m super excited as we’ve got an excellent script. I already have the cast in mind so we’re hoping to secure funding and be filming by the autumn. Right now, we’re on target.

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