Indie features come and go with the weather. They’ll always exist, in abundance. They’ll always range from micro budget to respectably-funded. There will always be good ones, and there will always be bad ones. It’s the nature of the game, and when you’re constantly watching an extreme assortment of independent productions, you find yourself in a state constant question. What kind of a movie am I getting this time?
We all want a keeper.
Mike Davis’ President Wolfman is one of those rare surprises. It’s not that quality indies are uncommon – they aren’t – it’s that indies as creative and against the grain as President Wolfman are true rarities. This flick is flat out ludicrous, in a pleasantly charming way. It’s witty and sharp and it’ll keep you on your toes, laughing and engaged for about an hour and a half.
Speaking with Mike Davis, that’s no surprise. Mike’s an interesting guy with some really stimulating insight. And he’s got some really intriguing things to say about President Wolfman, from production to crowd funding. Check out our Q&A with the surging filmmaker.
Addicted to Horror Movies: If I recall, President Wolfman was a kickstarter project wasn’t it? Are you a big proponent of crowd funded films?
Mike Davis: Absolutely! Crowd funding is still in its early stages, but any system that connects the filmmaker directly to their audience is great.
ATHM: Do you see more ambitious filmmakers turning to the fans to help see their movies made, and if so, do you think that has a lot to do with creative freedom?
MD: People gave Zach Braff a hard time for cashing in on the crowd funding trend, but my feeling is he utilized the system as it’s supposed to work: he’s got fans, they want to see his movie— why not cut out the middle man?
ATHM: How did you come up with the idea to tell a new tale utilizing public domain footage?
MD: It was born out of necessity. I wanted to make a movie and couldn’t raise the cash, so in the spirit of my heroes of low budget cinema like Roger Corman, Herschell Gordon Lewis, John Waters and Russ Meyer, I wracked my brain to come up with some innovative technique to make the kind of film I wanted to for very little. I’d been collecting this weird old footage for years, making some short films using it, but always wondered if I could pull of a full length feature. Once I found the right footage, I was ready to try.
ATHM: Can you explain the kind of process that goes into finding and selecting the right footage to tell the story you aim to tell?
MD: If you’re making a full length feature, you need consistent characters. It’s almost impossible to find enough footage of the same actor by stringing together a bunch of odds and ends, so you really need to start with a pre-existing feature film that’s in the public domain and available to use. Then you cannibalize it.
ATHM: Do you write the story, then assemble the footage, or do you approach it in somewhat lenient fashion and allow the story and the visuals to play off of each other, and kind of build as you go?
MD: I can’t write anything I don’t have visuals for, so I arrange all of the footage first into what I call a “rough cut,” which is really a silent version of the movie. Then I get to work on the screenplay. It’s cool, because the footage actually guides the story and takes it to weird places I never would if I were crafting words on a blank page.
ATHM: What is the primary movie that you used in this process? The flick that features Dean Stockwell? I was going crazy trying to figure out if that’s something I’ve ever seen, or not.
MD: The Werewolf of Washington from 1973. I think it’s about a White House press secretary who is sent to Eastern Europe and gets bitten by a werewolf. I’ve never actually watched it all the way through with sound, because I was only interested in mining its footage. I saw a guy in a suit, the werewolf, the Capital Building…I was good to go! Of course I appreciate the film, but I’ve heard mixed things. Part of my recycling ethos is to repurpose the source footage into something hopefully more entertaining than its previous incarnation.
ATHM: When you’re assembling a picture like this, the voice work is absolutely crucial. And you nailed it. The humor is off the charts and the timing is great. How difficult is it to do a major portion of assembly in a sound booth rather than on set?
MD: It’s one of the funnest parts of the process. The actors never see the footage or even what their characters look like, or voice along with it to get the synching right. They just go off and I adjust the footage later to their performance.
ATHM: In your opinion, how important are the details of this story? I was surprised, but pleasantly surprised to see that the story almost feels like background, or support for a great comedic assault.
MD: It’s important that the story hold together and I try to follow the traditional rules of screenwriting structure. Then I throw in as many jokes as I can, like every single line, because if one fails to work for somebody, I want to get to one that will as quickly as possible.
ATHM: President Wolfman is earning some praise, and it seems more fans are discussing it each day that passes. Tell me how it feels to use a very unorthodox approach, which in truth is somewhat risky, and see it pay off with viewers?
MD: People really appreciate when something is trying to do be different, even if it’s not their sensibility. My motivation is to inspire other filmmakers to use these techniques to make their own recycled ‘green movies.’ It’s truly a passion for me, and fans respond to passion.
ATHM: You leave the door open to a possible sequel to this picture, but I’d imagine that could be a very, very challenging task given the style of the film. What is the likelihood we actually see a President Wolfman 2 somewhere down the line?
MD: It would have to be live action using real actors, totally betraying the green movie ethic, have a heavy handed script and shot like a “Saw” movie. I’d be fired from the production, then sue to get my name removed from the credits. The movie would flop, leaving my career in ruins. That would be funny.
ATHM: I know you directed a flick called Sex Galaxy a few years back. Did you use the same approach with that picture?
MD: Yes. That was the experiment to see if the technique was even feasible. I had no idea if anyone would tolerate a movie with grainy, faded footage and bad dubbing and bizarre cutaways. But it worked well enough for me to continue on.
ATHM: Do you see yourself sticking to this atypical style of filmmaking (which I love, for the record!), or will we see something a bit more… standard down the line?
MD: I have a new ‘green movie’ in the works that I’m very excited about. It’s going to be bigger, better and more outrageous then the last two combined!
ATHM: Before you go let me completely change directions and ask you to give me your three favorite films of all time.
MD: Faster Pussycat Kill Kill!, Planet of the Apes, Citizen Kane
ATHM: Thanks for the time, Mike!
MD: Thanks for digging the film. I made it for weirdoes like us!