Whedonopolis: When and how did you decide that you wanted to become a movie director?
Michael Winnick: I was the little kid running around with the Super 8 camera when I was really young.
I forced my parents to buy it for me, and then I’d go get all the kids in the neighborhood to be in my little movies. They’d all be really excited about making the movie for about an hour, and then they’d get tired and go off to play elsewhere, so I ended up doing a lot of animated shorts, as a youngster and then a teenager, that went on to a lot of festivals and earned a bunch of awards. I did a lot of Claymation movies…
W: Oh, cool! Like “Wallace & Grommit”?
MW: Yeah, kinda, but way before the technology was available. This is when Claymation meant really Claymation; you had clay and you’d make pipe cleaner skeletons, etc. So yeah, I’ve been wanting to do this since I was a little kid, and when I was 3 y.o., my parents tell me I was writing little picture stories? I couldn’t write language, but I could write pictures, and I’d go around the neighborhood and sell my little stories. I also went to USC Film School, so…
W: What’s your favorite genre? Because I did some research, and IMDb lists a film as your first that I’m not sure it is…
MW: It’s probably “Deuces.”
W: Right, and they list it as a sci-fi film?
MW: It’s a sci-fi thriller, yes. Obviously I love movies, so I love all genres, but I gravitate towards thriller and action and sci-fi. It seems to be my—it’s mostly what I watch. I also do comedy, but really this is my love.
W: It seems like there was a six-year gap between “Deuces” and “Shadow Puppets…”
MW: There isn’t, but IMDb probably says there is. I work also as a writer; I do a lot of what’s called “script doctoring,” which is usually after a project goes into production, sometimes they bring me in to fix up plots or dialogues, stuff like that. It keeps me busy a lot, as well. I also had a few projects in the realm of independent films; movies that are in development and then they’re shooting and then they run out of money, so I probably had two of those in the span of time between “Deuces” and “Shadow Puppets.” The gap is also wrong, because I produced a family thriller called “Hunting of Man…” which was in 2003-2004.
W: I see. I was just looking at the credits for director only.
MW: Oh, okay.
W: You mentioned you lean towards sci-fi and horror in your genres, and when I was going over the cast list for “Shadow Puppets,” I noticed the actors come from both. Did you make a conscious choice to go after these people, or was it more fate?
MW: I’d say both because James (Marsters) and Tony (Todd)—actually all three of them, James, Tony and Jolene (Blalock) just came after the project. They all read the script, or their managers read the script, and they all said, “This is really cool!” So they actually were brought to us. Simultaneously, we were thinking it’d be good to have people from all these genres involved—“This could really work,” but it almost came after the fact that we started realizing, “Hey, this could be something pretty neat that could help get the word out on he movie.” James is just a wonderful actor, and we had a meeting right after he’d just read the script and we hit it off instantly. That was really good, and so all it was was working out a schedule with him. Tony is—Tony is— Tony walks into the room and you’re just like, “How can you not go with Tony Todd?”
W: And how’s working with Jolene?
MW: Jolene really gets into her roles. Actually, at the time, I’d only seen a few episodes of “Star Trek: Enterprise,” so I wasn’t familiar with her work there, which she was really thrilled with, that I wasn’t really seeing her as a Vulcan that I’d have to change into another role. So really, she was very excited about that, and from our first meeting, she just came in, she understood the script, she understood the character, and knew what she wanted to do with it. She does a great job in this film, all three of them do, but she’s great. You won’t get T’Pol! (laughs all around)
W: Where did you get the inspiration for “Shadow Puppets”?
MW: When I was a little kid, my bedroom was on the second story of a house and there was a parking structure across the way. At night, whenever the cars would go up or down that ramp, the headlights would come in through the blinds and they’d make all the shadows start circling the bed. It’d get really creepy at night, especially as the shadows would start joining each other and separating. Needless to say, that image stayed with me for quite a while, and it was a good jumping off point for the movie. The film also has an element of memory and identity and we’re playing around with that, too. There was a “Time” magazine article that they’ve actually invented a pill that’s awaiting FDA approval that suppresses bad memories. I thought that was kinda creepy in its own way, so I wondered about taking that to the next level. So, it’s those two things.
W: Okay. How did you guys manage to get the limited run in the theater? How’d that come about?
MW: Thanks to the fan support. We knew we had to play it somewhere! It’s a small film, and usually for these types of films, what’s called “print & advertising” would be more expensive than the movie itself, so distributors are reluctant to release, but we had great fan support—
W: The Boxer Campaign?
MW: The Boxer Campaign really helped; it made them realize there was something going on here. Then the Internet chatter has been really good, and we also played like 10 minutes of the film at the James Marsters’ Queen Mary convention last year, and that seemed to go over really well; the fans really talked about that. It was all very helpful and then the different theater owners saw the film and went, “This is really cool; let’s see if people will come out to this.” They say advanced ticket sales are going really well!
W: We’ve had ours for about three weeks now!
MW: They’re saying that, for a small movie, it is very rare to have advanced ticket sales at all, and then preorder sales on Amazon have also been extremely positive. It hasn’t been widely announced yet that it’s up for preorder. There’s another site that takes advanced preorders that I’m blanking on now, but it’s all been extremely positive.
W: Ah, the power of fandom! See how it works?
MW: Hey, yeah! I’m not complaining! And then James and Tony have just been going out and promoting the movie every chance they can. They really like the film so…
t! Do you have any funny stories from the shooting, or the whole process that you’d like to share with us?
MW: Let’s see, from the shooting… There are plenty, but my favorite is… We were shooting in the bowels of L.A. There were all these underground tunnels, my guess is from rum-running, in Downtown L.A. and originally we were going to shoot in them, but most of those had been recently sealed up, like in the past couple years. We found the remnants of some of them, and ended up shooting in these abandoned tunnels that were part of something bigger in the early 20th century. It was really creepy down there! We also shot in an abandoned mental facility in Boyle Heights, where they shot parts of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” We shot under those levels, in an area that’s been closed off and such and it’s actually where you meet the Tony Todd character in the film for the first time. Whether you believe in this stuff or not, it just gave you the willies, the whole place in general, and Tony just summed it up the best; having Tony say, “Wow, there’s something just wrong about this place here.” (laughs all around) 6’6” Tony Todd saying, “Hey, let’s just all walk together under there!” It’s an extremely ambitious film for the budget that we had, with only 18 days to shoot (which is about half the time you should have), with the cast and everybody else really on board.
W: Is there a lot of special effects?
MW: There’s a good amount as the film progresses; hopefully you won’t notice some of them are effects, if they were done well enough. We manipulated practically every shadow in that film, to make them look even cooler, and thankfully I also had a great cinematographer, my D.P. Jon Hale, who took what we were doing and made it come alive. Also, as you’re watching the film, you’ll notice that practically all thrillers and horror films are done with this blue light, this cool, blue feel? We did the exact opposite; we went with this sort of warm orange that makes everything just feel off, and it makes you say, “Why is this color scheme here?” Again, it’s things like that. We were just trying to mix it up, because genre films, on the surface level, they’ll be entertaining, they’re creepy, there’s a creature, so to say, there’s attractive women, but actually, under the surface, we are trying to do something a little different. Every character is not exactly who you think they are; all the stereotypes are there, but they’re really just the opposite – not to give too much away of the film- but I tried to go with that a lot. There’s a big thing on what identity is, and psychology and trick of the human mind, if you’re looking at it from that point of view. If you’re looking at it from there, you can get a little bit more out of it; or on the surface, it’s a cool, entertaining, creepy horror film.
W: Cool! When is the DVD release date?
MW: They’re telling me it’s July 24th. It’s gonna go pretty wide; they’re telling me Wal-Mart, and Blockbuster and Netflix, and as we mentioned before. Amazon.com.
W: Are you already working on your next project? If not, do you know what your next project is gonna be?
MW: Yes, there are actually a few projects I’m up for next. One is a horror film, which can be described as the movie “Scream” at a wedding. It’s actually a very fun project! Another one is a crime thriller, and the last one is a much larger political thriller, with a much bigger budget, so we’ll see. Right now, all three of them have been told to me as a “Yes!” which means, in this business, one should happen. (laughs all around) So we’ll see.
W: Is there gonna be anything special happening during the theatrical run here in L.A.? Unless you don’t wanna say…
MW: No, I can tell you. After the 7PM show of that first Friday, June 22nd, I’m doing a Q&A session. That’ll be our sort of official… not premiere, but we’ll have a lot of friendly people there. I’m not sure who will show up, so… And then, on the DVD, we have an EPK with interviews with James, Tony, Jolene and myself; some behind the scenes footage and stuff. I also did a commentary track with my cinematographer, talking in detail about some of the stuff we were discussing earlier here, interesting stories and whatever came to mind during that, and the trailer.
W: Awesome! We got to the end of the interview, which means it’s time for Pivot’s Questionnaire, as seen at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” You ready?
MW: Oh, boy!
W: What's your favorite word?
MW: Favorite word would be… “wacky.”
W: What's your least favorite word?
W: What's your favorite sound?
MW: A kiss.
W: What's your least favorite sound?
MW: Nails on a chalkboard.
W: What turns you on?
W: What turns you off?
MW: Unwillingness to try something.
W: What's your favorite curse word?
MW: Favorite curse word… let’s go with “damn!”
W: What profession other than yours would you ever like to attempt?
MW: I can’t imagine doing anything else, but in an alternative life, I’d have been a psychologist or a D.A.
W: What profession other than yours would you never like to attempt?
MW: Never? Oh, getting a real job! 9 to 5, I can’t imagine that!
W: And finally, if Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
MW: “You did well.”
W: Awesome! Thank you very much.
Well, you read what Michael had to say. Now go and support the film two ways:
1. If you’re in the L.A. area, go see it in the theater by ordering your tickets here. We’ll be there for the Q&A and will bring you an exclusive report of how everything went.
2. If you're not in the L.A area, you can pre-order the DVD by clicking on the little picture below. (Even if you’re in the L.A. area, you can pre-order it, too!)