Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Motivational Growth Q&A With Don Thacker Pt. 2

Here's the second and final half of my Q&A with Don Thacker of (soon-to-be wild, uncontrollable, mouth-frothing) Motivational Growth fame. This will be wrapping up my coverage of this movie for now... but I want to recommend that everyone keep their eyes peeled for this film in the future.

I'd like to thank Don Thacker for approaching me, letting me get a look at Motivational Growth, and for taking the time to answer my questions about the film. Again, I've talked about the movie... here and here. And the first part of the Q&A can be found here.

Let me say once more: what follows is pretty much (save for a few grammatical or spelling errors) an unedited version of our Q&A. I've added a few little observations of my own to the mix, after receiving Don's e-mail, but I've placed these in parentheses. I should also point out that ALL of the images in this post, and the other posts I link to above are NOT MY IMAGES. They are all images belonging to Imagos Films or Don Thacker, that I've culled from the internet.

Here are my last 5 (or so) questions with this man:

Yes ladies of the internet, that was the sound
of all your panties hitting the floor simultaneously. 
Let's get this thing started. 

6.       I loved The Mold. Its appearance, its attitude, everything.

Thanks! That's huge. He's our shark. Our Jaws. If he doesn't sell by the end of the film, it was a waste of our time.

I don't think it was a waste of our time at all.

How did Jeffrey Combs get involved with a project where he would be voicing a crusty growth of bathroom fungus who only seems to speak in tough-guy hyperboles? 

Jeff was our first choice. We had a fallback position, but he was the man. There's a bit at the end of the film that I wrote in Jeff's voice. I am a massive Jeff Combs fan. (As am I -G.G.)

Once we got the script to him he read it on a plane to a festival, I think, and called me immediately  He told me he loved it and he was in. After that it was up to the money people to work it all out. Jeff an I spent the following weeks just talking about who The Mold was, and working out his center.

Ladies of the internet... you know the drill. 

One thing I thought was pretty solid was that Jeff wanted to do the script entirely as written. I think there's, like, a single ad-lib in the whole picture. The rest is word for word from the page.

30% of that slang is real. I made the rest up. I characterized The Mold as the father of a greaser from a late 50s hot-rod grease-monkey film. You know those guys with the greased Pompadour and the pack of Strikes rolled up in their sleeve? Super misogynistic muscle car dudes. The Mold is what I imagine one of their dads is like. The mess of a guy who can turn a sweet little kid with a bb-gun into a selfish raging ass-hat.
Jeff just ate it up. When we recorded him he'd do a take and be all super into it and right when he got to the end of the line he'd look over at me and crack this massive kid grin like he's just done the coolest thing ever. A number of times, he had.

It's thick stuff, The Mold's dialogue. Jeff makes it seem like it's totally natural. Not only the language, but that a 3' fungus is saying it.

Tell me more about working with a b-movie horror legend and how that effected the process of making Motivational Growth (if at all).

Jeff was a dream to work with. He'd been doing voices for Transformers Prime at the time, so he was totally prepared for vocal work. He came at it 100% and held nothing back. I pushed him in places as well.
It's an awesome actor who can step into a booth with some little indie director and just deliver for hour after hour. This guy's worked with Peter Jackson. This guy's headlined Stuart Gordon pictures. This guy's been on three different Star Trek franchises and has legions of fans at every con he goes to. He's in the booth nailing this esoteric fake-slang for some guy nobody's ever heard of. Just nailing it.

His facial expressions, some of the bigger "Combs" moments, were used by the puppeteers/creature effects team as a basis for performance as well. If you're a huge Jeffrey Combs fan, you can see some of his signature moves in The Mold. No small feat for an animatronic fungus I must say.

Mad props to Steve Tolin from Tolin FX on his amazing design/delivery.

We recorded Jeff first, edited his dialogue and delivered it to the creature team who practiced against the recordings. We piped his voice over loud speakers when we shot, so when The Mold speaks, The Mold is actually talking to Ian. The bathroom set is 4.5' off the ground. The creature team is under it controlling The Mold to video monitors with a feed from the set above them. If you're not looking down there, you're just seeing Adrian DiGiovanni talking to a living fungus with Jeff Combs's voice.

Jeff also influenced something totally unrelated to The Mold as well. He described the exact type and style of TV remote he remembered from growing up. For those console TVs, like Kent, the remotes were ultrasonic. They had little hammers that hit little metal bars inside - like really brittle bells - that would signal the TV to turn on or off or whatever at a frequency at the very upper range of human hearing. He said he used to jingle his keys at the TV while his dad was watching it to change channels or turn it off.

We spent ages finding the exact remote he described, and even more ages in sound design making a convincing (while technically inaccurate because it is audible) ring every time Ian clicks the remote. If you listen closely, it is never the same ring. Also, the ring changes with the darkness of Ian's situation.
All because of Jeff's remote story.

7.       The “Stay Tuned” style television sequences throughout the film seem sort of self-explanatory, what with the nature of Ian’s attachment to Kent (his T.V.). But there is a heavy use of video-game imagery, music, and actual 8-bit scenes featured in the film as well. Can you explain some of the reasoning behind this?

Technically, the game sequences are 16bit graphics. While the Vikingr99 SuperSystem (the MG world's invented game system) has an 8bit CPU, the graphical capabilities are 16bit (via coupled 8bit graphics processors.)

The film takes place in 1991. To some people that is crazy obvious. There are KMFDM posters in Ian's apartment. He mentions that Gene Rodenberry just died. He still uses a fax machine and plasma TVs are like something from the future. There's no "In the year 1991" title card in there, and no one ever says "because it's 1991"  at any point, but Leah is costumed pretty deeply in 1991 apparel and all of the junk in Ian's apartment (including his tape deck and Shreikback tapes) are pretty explicitly early 90s.

To me, the 90s was clouded in an 8-16bit haze. Not a day went by without some form of video game media. As such, Ian can't get away from it.

The Vikingr99 SuperSystem is a pretty bold ripoff of the Turbo Grafx 16.

The entire soundtrack for the film, save the cheesy TV show BGM, was created on NES and C64 hardware. As far as I know, MG is the only film that boasts that. An entire composed score in chiptunes. Real deal chiptunes, as well. Made/recorded on the hardware.

8.       Who do you see as your influences in developing your voice as a writer/director? What books/films/other media do you see yourself as having been weaned on as a creator?

I have to start with my mom. She trusted me with media as a kid. She trusted my little kid instincts. If I wanted to see something we'd talk it out. Something scary or a little hard for a kid. If I saw it and my little mind was broken we'd talk it out afterward. I wasn't watching Basic Instinct or anything - but I am sure I was allowed to see/experience stuff that most kids my age weren't trusted to be able to handle.

When I was super young, E.T. cracked my mind in half. When he looks at the screen and screams in that weird super-alien way, my little brain broke to pieces. I had nightmares forever. But that was a formative moment for me. If that was kept form me, I wouldn't be able to write something that scares me. I was trusted and supported. That's so essential.

The same goes for Alien. Terminator and Robocop - both super R movies - I was able to see with the provision that we talk any of the confusing stuff out. Before anyone starts accusing my mom of being irresponsible it has to be said that this was all informed decision making. This wasn't a videotape left on the TV at night or something. This was all managed.

My experience is that if you're a kid with a stable home scenario and you see Robocop, you see a movie about a robot guy and some bad guys and the robot guy saves the day. That's the takeaway. When you're 17 and you re-watch it you get the subtext and the corporate B-story and the really hideous gore and everything. When you're 22 and you watch it you start picking up on the satire and the dark comedy and the really multi-layered statements being made about everything from 80s mega-corporaiton culture to industrial design to Jesus Christ metaphors.

But when you're a kid, it's a robot guy. A super cool robot guy who looks real and saves the day and that is inspirational in ways that Saturday morning cartoons just can't deliver.

My mom also got me into Frank Herbert. Dune. Issac Asimov. Foundation. Books. Adult books. Thick thousand page books. Arthur C. Clark. The Martian Chronicles.

I'm also a huge nerd from the 80s. My ideal stories have some totally bonkers fantastical element. It doesn't need to be robots (thought robots effing RULE), but I'm not satisfied with a coming of age story about two kids who discover themselves against the backdrop of one sweltering summer in South Carolina. Unless one of them has a brother who's also a vampire, and the other one gets offered the command of a Gunstar to deploy the Death Blossom against the Ko-Dan armada under orders from General Xur.

It's just how I roll.

9.       If you could go back in time to your childhood and rescue one favorite item that you have no chance of simply buying on eBay now… what would it be?

I had this tape deck - the top loader kind with the handle that slid out of it. I took it everywhere. 

EVERYWHERE. I played the Knight Rider audio tapes in it under my pillow to listen to the adventures of KITT and Michael Knight while I went to sleep. I danced around the neighborhood singing AxelF. It was more than a tape deck. It was a spaceship that deployed tape shaped fighter craft if it was held upside down. It was a super cool dune skimmer from some alien planet if you popped the tape carriage up and pulled the battery pack off the back of it. It was, as Kent the TV would later be, my best friend for some time. I could always put the Beverly Hills Cop II tape in there if anything was messing up my little kid world and instantly be happy, even though I had no clue what George Michael was talking about in that one song I'd always skip until I started thinking about girls.

It's become a sort of myth to me, this tape deck. I'm sure I'd never recognize it if I saw it today. It would be too small, too light, the wrong color or just a plain old tape deck to my adult eyes - but I can close those eyes and be instantly transported to laying on the floor in my mom's townhouse making hyper-warp space jumps with nothing but that tape deck and a knockoff Star Battles tape from the library.

10.   What do you have coming up in the future? Any Spin-off plans for The Mold? Any other films in the pipeline, or is Motivational Growth still the center of your world right now?

The Mold is having his moment, with the rest of the Motivational Growth crew. The festival circuit is a long and arduous road wrought with success and peril. We took home the Best Feature trophy last month at the Boston Science Fiction Film Festival, for instance, but the film was also shown at 4am to a totally different crowd who just weren't interested in Ian and his crazy world, and were quite vocal about it. At this point we've racked up far more praise than dislike, but both are expected in a film like MG.

As for films in the pipeline: yes. We have films in the pipeline. For instance, we have Flexure, that film we made Motivational Growth in place of. It's a thriller about particle physicists who accidentally create a fissure in reality with a particle collider. My writer and I have spent a couple days a week for the better part of a year with scientists at Fermilab in Batavia Illinois locking a set of actual physics circumstances to hang the weirdness on. It's been quite a blast.

Otherwise, we've got an entire pitch deck. Hopefully there will be some interested eyes after MG shows at a few more fests. We're bristling with ideas and just need to find someone who wants to support them.

11.   I’m going to cheat and throw in an eleventh question here in the interest of… self… interest. What exactly prompted you to contact the Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks blog? How desperate are you to promote this film? Your blunt honesty is appreciated.

This question is framed in such a manner as to imply that it would be hard to be bluntly honest in answering. This is not the case.

I've got an alert system set up. When anyone mentions MG on the internet, to the degree that other people can freely view it, I get a notification. I set this up specifically to find people like you. You're my audience.
I don't know if you even like the film. I only know that you were initially interested in it and that you are someone whose interests intersect with my own at enough vectors to convince me that you'd watch the film honestly and your opinion would be one whose weight would carry with me. Again, you're my audience.
MG is a hard film if your vectors don't intersect with mine. It's a hard sell, honestly, to a lot of people. I am convinced, however, that it's an easy sell - an attractive piece - to even more people. People, for instance, who go kifing through Goodwill bins for epic geek finds.

I don't contact everyone. I don't base this interaction on fan-base or reach. I am laser targeting the type of people that I would like to go see Motivational Growth in a movie theater with, and asking them what they think of it. Because I honestly care.

In staying true to the "brutal honesty" request, it is my sincere hope that those who love it will talk about it and get the word out to other people who they feel would also love it. Less as marketing, however, than as honest sharing of something cool.

There's this story - true or not - that I overheard in LA. It's about the original Evil Dead. Some people hated it. Some people loved the living hell out of it. Those that loved it taped it. They brought it to friends' houses and their friends taped it. In a year's time there were these 4th and 5th generation shitty tapes of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead that people would play late at night whenever anyone had a get together. The film resonated so hard with enough people that the messed up VHS copies, with roll and squiggle and crappy audio, were what people were watching.

That's magic to me. That's amazing.

I'm not comparing MG to Evil Dead. This is me laying on the floor with my tape deck hoping that one day someone will like one of my stories enough to tell everyone about it. And wondering what the hell George Michael is talking about.

(Soooo.... that's all I've got folks! There's a bit after this that I am including because I've had people express some interest in how they could see the film, and I contacted Don again to see what he had to say about it. -G.G.)

I have people asking me how they can go about seeing your film.

F**king awesome.

How do people go about seeing your film at this point?

Right now it's festival only, or through someone like you.

You don't have a distributor yet do you?

Nope, which is why I'm not just letting everyone see the thing. Once I get distro, it will be out in the wild!

You guys must still be running the festival circuit shopping around?

Exactly right. The festival circuit is a marketing gig. Non filmmakers think it's some big altruistic art party where we all get together and talk about film, but the awful truth is that it's a business (the festival) trying to make money by selling tickets, and charging filmmakers entry fees, and a bunch of filmmakers glomming on hoping someone with the ability to do something about it is there to love on their film.
Oddly, I think most non filmmakers think that a theatrical release is also not a marketing cost. Like, you make a movie and it just goes to theaters via some form of "you made a movie" magic. This is also not the case. It costs an egregious amount of money to place a film in a theatrical release schedule, and even more to tell people that it's in the theaters. As much as actually MAKING the film. Sometimes more. It's all marketing.

It's going to be a while before this gets a release? Maybe?

The hope is no. But, if we're bad at it, and people like you shut up about the film, it could be up to a year if it is going to happen at all. If not - if we can get a huge pre-audience, it's a better case to a distributor. If we have people begging for the film, someone will be much more likely to want to buy it and resell it to those people.

I don't know the industry admittedly. These are all words that sound semi-right to me.

Pretty good. For a human.

Anything I can share with others about where to see M.G. in the future?

Well, right now the best thing to tell people is that they need to see this film or they will be forever broken and empty inside. And that they can see the film at the upcoming fests it's going to, and that's cool - but that the best way to get the film is to start a grass roots internet furor about the thing. That's my best opportunity for a legit sales pitch. Walk into a distro meeting and tell them I know of 3,000 people who will buy it today. 30,000 would be better. 300,000 and I'll get another film budget out of the gig :)

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