Dustin Mills was the very first filmmaker we featured on DG back when we launched in August of 2011. We’ve been there through puppets and zombies; we’ve waded through gallons of blood and done our share of freeze frames on the ample booberage his films tend to have (yes, even the puppet booberage, it’s not nice to judge). With his latest film EASTER CASKET now looking for funding on Indiegogo, we thought it would be a good time to catch-up with our ol’friend.
DAILY GRINDHOUSE: So first things first; we are coming to the close of 2012. What are some of best films you had a chance to catch this year?
DUSTIN MILLS: I was so busy making movies that I didn’t get a chance to see as many new movies this year as I usually do, especially indie and cult films. I did sort of discover Mario Bava for the first time this year via Netflix and I am head over heels in love with that guy’s work. Here are some things I saw this year and loved.
Chronicle – Probably the best found footage film ever made, and one of the best movies about super powers I have ever seen. Brilliantly written and directed. I can’t wait to see what Josh Trank and Max Landis do next.
Cabin in the Woods – I know that people are divided on this flick, but it just puts a big ol smile on my face. I fucking love it.
The Avengers – This movie blew my face off. It makes the Batman movies look stupid in my opinion. Every other superhero flick needs to step up their game.
Looper – Just so fucking cool. Caught me off guard and told a really cool story.
Seven Psychopaths – This flick is brilliant and hilarious. I loved In Bruges, so I was really excited for this one. It didn’t disappoint.
Wreck-it Ralph – I can’t believe how much I ended up liking this movie. Its candy coated computer animated millennial porn.
So you were the first Featured Filmmaker on Dailygrindhouse.com. We apologize if this alienated you from your friends and family and left you with the smell of burnt popcorn and whiskey.
Hey… it was a fucking honor. You made a dorky kid from the boondocks feel like a real filmmaker. So, thank you.
Let’s talk a little about PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE. I think a lot young filmmaker think that if they can just get that one film under their belt that picks up some press they will be golden when it comes to being able to make more films. This isn’t the case though; even after PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE which received reviews in Fangoria, Videoscope, and on all kinds of websites, it didn’t really make funding easier.
Well, those young filmmakers are actually right if that movie they make is a game changer and gets the proper marketing and exposure. That is really fucking hard to do, though. PMM came out and had decent reviews for what it was. It picked up a very loyal fanbase, but investors and producers aren’t terribly interested in that. They want dividends, and that makes sense because they are businessmen. The Puppet Monster Massacre didn’t have numbers to show. If it had made millions then we would be having a very different conversation right now.
When I talk about that movie I am amazed at how many people have seen it, yet you didn’t make a lot of money on it due to the insane number of sites that offered it up as a bit-torrent. Can you talk a little about pirating and how it affects filmmakers like you working with little to no budget?
Yeah it’s a funny thing. I get emails all the time or people come up to me at conventions to tell me how much they love the movie and after a while it’s like “These numbers don’t add up!” There is no way that all of these people who love the movie actually bought a copy. All I will say about piracy is this: If you love something, support it. It’s as simple as that. If you abuse it, eventually it will go away.
What was the biggest thing you learned after that project wrapped (other than the fact that you were probably tired of sticking your hand up the ass of puppets all day every day)?
PMM is by far the most difficult film I have made, but it was more about taking the skills I already had and putting them to use. I honestly think I learned more about distribution than anything else. The learning experience came afterward. I learned how to talk to distributors, and I learned what the business had become. I was going off of knowledge I had gained from 10-15 year old books. Dov SS Simens Reel to Deal was my bible. I thought I was going to be able to sell Puppet Monster Massacre into perpetuity for $20k to $30k and then make more movies. It doesn’t work like that anymore. You’d have better luck squeezing a lump of coal into a diamond between your buttcheeks than getting a deal like that. It seemed reasonable at the time, but the market is flooded and movies are worth less now. It was an eye opener and it taught me how to negotiate a bit better in this climate and how to smell a rat. Let me tell you… there are some fucking rats out there.
I know you have an idea for PPM2 but you haven’t been able to get funding together. Are you going to take a swing at crowdfunding for that?
I tried crowdfunding a sequel. I even had a professional handling the marketing. It failed. I don’t think I’ll try again anytime soon. At this point if I ever make PMM2 it will be when the risk wouldn’t destroy me. To do it properly I need $10k-$15k and to wager that much on a film in my current financial state would be incredibly stupid. I can make movies that I like for $1000 and actually see a return on them. That’s just the way it goes unfortunately. Filmmaking is art, but it’s also business.
I know you’re a del Toro fan and it shows up in your work. You create these really rich atmospheres and characters that seem to have these extensive backstories. Why is that so important to your films? This is something you usually see on larger scale films, and even then it’s pretty rare.
Thank you. Yes I am a Del Toro fan… maybe obsessively. My copies of Hellboy and Hellboy 2 should have burst into flames at this point I have watched them so many times. I love the way he tells stories. He and I share a lot of artistic and aesthetic fetishes (creatures, mythology, dark magic, subterranean places, things in jars etc.). I was actually just talking to the producer of Easter Casket about this. As silly as the movie is, The Easter Bunny in that film has a very very detailed history. I combed through the bible and Babylonian mythology to create a monster that was as believable as possible. That sort of research and work is important to me because no matter how silly the film I am making is, it has to make sense to me. I have to establish rules and histories and mythologies or the whole thing falls apart in my eyes. Zombie A-Hole is a good example. It’s a silly B-Movie, but I had to create a universe and a set of rules that made sense to me. I think that’s just part of good storytelling. It’s the thing that can set your movie apart from every other zombie flick or slasher flick. Movies are a storytelling medium, and if you aren’t willing to take the time and build your world then why bother?
As a filmmaker, you really milk every ounce at your budget but the effects never look like they suffer as a result. In fact, I can think of some big-budget films that could have used your work. This is especially evident in Zombie A-Hole. There are a lot of practical effects in this film, but the winner is the zombie make-up. Can you talk a little about that?
I’m glad you like that zombie. I don’t get asked much about it. It actually wasn’t makeup at all. I bought a sampler kit of Dragon Skin silicone and some pigment, and Brandon Salkil, his wife Sherriah, and I made it by hand at my kitchen table. We took a mannequin head and slopped the different colors of silicone on in layers. They would help me keep it smooth and spread it around while I sculpted the features by hand and embedded the teeth. When we were done we pulled it off and Brandon was able to pull it over his head as a mask. It’s about 2 sizes too small for him so it sucks down really tight. It could move with his expressions and stuff. If I had to do it again I would sculpt it and make a mold and all of that, but for what it was it worked pretty well.
What kind of advice do you have for low-budget filmmakers trying to incorporate effects into their films?
I would just say “learn your craft”. Read books, watch videos, experiment. I would also suggest they learn design and color theory. Too often a relatively well made prosthetic, monster, or mask comes out looking lame because the person making it didn’t understand how to use color or the rules of symmetry and profile. I would also say ditch this “CG sucks” mentality. It doesn’t suck. You just have to use it correctly. Digital fx are a valuable tool, but you have to know how to use them. CG works best when it is mixed with practical fx. A good example in Zombie A-Hole is Selwyn aka the creature in the box. He was a real prop that I made (for free btw out of shit that was lying around) and his facial movements were all digital. The same people that will ride my ass for using digital blood in Zombie A-Hole will also say how awesome Selwyn is without realizing that he is mostly a digital effect.
How often do you have to scrap your effect ideas?
Not very often. I plan and research a lot. The only scrapped effect I can think of is in Puppet Monster Massacre we went through a couple different creatures before we landed on the final monster for the film.
Let’s talk EASTER CASKET; when did you come up with that idea?
It was a couple of months ago with my friend Josh Eal. It was essentially a marketing discussion. We came to the conclusion that having a recognizable element is very important. If you are too weird or too new you will alienate or confuse a lot of the audience. It makes for good art, but bad business. We had already decided to exploit a holiday, but we were trying to decide which one. A killer Easter Bunny was not only marketable, but also kind of in my storytelling wheelhouse. He’s a creature, I could make a puppet out of him, and his existence is very weird if you think about it. I was confident I could make a worthwhile film with an interesting story based around the Easter traditions and the Christian and pagan mythology behind it all. It would also give me an opportunity to riff on Catholicism. I will say that I am proud of the fact that I made it through the script without making a single altar boy joke. I’m not afraid to admit that making an Easter film was mostly a business decision, but I promise we have a really cool story and some very neat characters. It follows all of my filmmaking rules, and I am very excited to be making it.
One of the things I dig about your films is that on each one you can see your skillset increasing and the projects themselves feel larger and more ambitious as you move along. What did you learn on ZOMBIE A-HOLE that you hope to employ on EASTER CASKET?
The most valuable thing I learned on Zombie A-Hole is how to shoot quickly without sacrificing the quality of my cinematography. There are shots in Zombie A-Hole that I am really proud of and none of it was planned. It was pure guerilla filmmaking and psychotic resourcefulness. Because of the schedule on Easter Casket, I am going to shoot it the same way. This time around it ought to be even better looking though.
If you could bust out five films to show your cast and crew before this film begins production, what would they be and why?
The Guyver – So that they understand how awesome retractable armor and transforming heroes are.
And then Helldriver, Tokyo Gore Police, and Yakuza Weapon,– Just so they understand how awesome a totally insane off the wall movie can actually be. We don’t have the funds to make Easter Casket quite as insane as those movies, but I had them in mind as I was writing. I call them Kitchen Sink films, and I think the movies that Sushi Typhoon and similar Japanese companies have been putting out are the most creative flicks to be released in years.
Thankskilling 3 – Its a holiday themed psychotropic journey into thanksgiving hell. It does a good job of world building and it also feature a hand puppet antagonist.
When did you decide to turn to crowdfunding for this project?
I had a chunk of money from my producer going into it, but it seemed like it could only help the film to raise more funds via a pre-order system. That’s really what www.indiegogo.com/eastercasket is. You aren’t really donating; you are pre-ordering the film and getting different packages. The kicker is that the more pre-orders we get the better the film gets. Seemed like a novel way to do things.
How can we help get this film made?
You can help by pre-ordering at www.indiegogo.com/eastercasket or spreading the word. Remember… the more pre-orders we get the crazier the film gets. They should also like our page at www.facebook.com/eastercasket and visit www.eastercasket.com and subscribe to www.youtube.com/eastercasket to keep up to date and watch me whore myself out for that sweet sweet crowdfunding money.
What’s next after EASTER CASKET?
After Easter Casket we will finish up The Ballad of Skinless Pete and Kill That Bitch. Both are about 50% filmed. They are passion projects and I am funding them myself so they sort of had to go on hiatus when Bath Salt Zombies and Easter Casket came about. They will be released in 2013 though.
What’s your best advice to low-budget filmmakers?
Quit your bitching and make movies.
Dustin Mills Productions presents its strangest film to date. Featuring action, demons, bunnies, nudity, sex, violence, nuns, school girls, naughty priests, and an egg laying scene that must be seen to be believed! This is Easter Casket!”
Are you down to drop some cash or are you down to drop some cash? DG is behind this 100%. This kid is going to be big. I think he has already made a certified cult hit with PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE and he probably has his share of cult hits left in him but at some point he is going to get the chance to do a project with a sizable budget and you can have your “I supported him when…” moment. Do the right thing, click here and donate. Click the poster below to donate. Find a way, and donate. We need fucked up Easter Bunnies. We need EASTER CASKET. This won’t be the last time you hear about this flick on the site, just try and make sure the next time we talk about it you;ve already tossed some bills to the project.
Click here to hit the film’s website.
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