Friend of the site Mike Malloy, a talented director in his own right, had a hand in producing and acting in 2011’s THE SCARLET WORM; a dark, violent Peckinpah-ish take on the American western. It was through him that I was able to get in contact with director Michael Fredianelli (of Wild Dogs Productions), who has been astoundingly prolific in recent years; covering a huge swath of genres on extremely limited budgets. Michael took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss working with Euro-Western legends, filming action scenes on the cheap and the upcoming release of his 2009 film THE MINSTREL KILLER.
Sweetback (SB): Before we dig into THE SCARLET WORM, I just want to examine your background a bit. It seems like you’re a man of many talents – writing, directing, editing, and acting. Was the plan to always direct your own projects, or did you start Wild Dogs Productions as a way to take advantage of all of these skills?
Michael Fredianelli (MF): The original intent was to produce and direct only, and everything else just sort of happened. I initially had a difficult time finding people to help me on my first projects, so the writing, and especially the acting, was born out of necessity rather than desire. Over time, I gradually took a stronger interest in each department, but I try to collaborate more now with outside talent.
SB: What is the ethos behind Wild Dogs Productions? Since being founded in 2004 you’ve tackled a wide variety of genres. It seems like you’re always looking to stretch the boundaries of what is possible on a limited budget.
MF: With each film, there’s always that fun opportunity of doing something different with it, whether that’s in style or content or setting or whatever. I try to switch genres as much as possible to keep myself interested, and to keep learning. Nobody wants to watch the same movie over and over again, and no director wants to do that either. I also think challenging yourself to create something in a genre you don’t like can often yield something special and unexpected.
SB: Even with your experience, THE SCARLET WORM must have provided some unique challenges. Did David Lambert’s script come first, or was he aware that you were interested in tackling a Western?
MF: I had done a trio of Western shorts and I really wanted to tackle the genre as a feature. I contacted Lambert (with whom I worked on those shorts), and asked him to write an original script. I knew from the very beginning that our resources would be limited, and the one strict guideline I told him to follow was to write what we know we can film. There were a few locations and props we knew we’d be able to access, so the script was molded accordingly. The whole writing process took about a month with David sending me chunks of script at a time for suggestions.
SB: Talk a little about some of the formative westerns that have influenced you. With Michael Forest, Brett Halsey and Dan van Husen in cast, you have three actors with extensive euro-western experience. Were there any Spaghetti Westerns, or directors, in particular that helped dictate the style you wanted for the film?
MF: From scriptwriting through the final edit, the intention was to make a dramatic film in the style of 70s revisionist Westerns. With our cast, the Spaghetti comparison was inevitable, but in terms of acting, camerawork and storytelling, the influence was mainly traditional American-inspired movie making in the vein of something like Don Siegel. That said, there are intentional European touches such as the Castellari slow-motion and Leone long lens shots.
SB: Speaking of those actors, what was the process of getting them onboard with the project? They bring some surprising gravitas to their roles. Was there much of an intimidation factor for you or the actors knowing how much experience in the genre (and experience in general) that they had?
MF: For all the names we attached to the project, various people from the crew had worked with them before in one form or another, so it was easy to get the script to them.
Brett Halsey and van Husen especially thought it was good, so they were rather enthusiastic to be in the film. Once they were on set, you’re occasionally blindsided by that moment of realization that, “oh my God, this guy was in Godfather III, this guy worked with Herzog, this guy is the voice of Maurizio Merli,” etc.
SB: Did you have any reservations tackling a film with abortion as a notable element of the plot? Was there a concern that it might ostracize people on both sides of the issue?
MF: Not at all. The controversial subject matter was the driving force behind doing something unique with the genre. Our main concern was to not dwell on it or make a message out of it, but rather just present it as a plot point that can raise a moral dilemma to how the characters react.
SB: How the hell did you manage to shoot so many action scenes on an 11-day shooting schedule? The process must have been absolutely exhausting.
MF: The action scenes were shot on the fly with little to no preparation or storyboarding to give them a chaotic feel. I’m able to edit quickly in my head while directing, so it’s easy to move from set up to set up without any delay of trying to decide where to place the camera next. But yes, it is still exhausting, especially when you have 20 more pages of dialog to film immediately after, too.
SB: What’s the single biggest challenge in putting together a period film like THE SCARLET WORM? How important was it to you that the details of the time period were correct, or did that take a back-seat to the storytelling?
MF: The biggest challenge to doing any period film is finding usable locations. We constantly tried to keep every prop, set and wardrobe appropriate to the period, but it’s sometimes impossible. The story comes first and that’s what you’re mostly concentrating on at the time, so mistakes can appear and you don’t even realize it until you’re watching the dailies.
SB: Your earlier film THE MINSTREL KILLER recently got picked up for release by Whacked Movies. When can interested readers pick it up, and what should horror fans expect from the film?
MF: THE MINSTREL KILLER should be available later this year. It’s a police narrative meets rural slasher film set in the 1970s south. With lots of violence, action and a racial twist.
SB: You’ve been incredibly prolific over the last five years. What are you currently working on, and what should we expect to see in the future from Wild Dogs Productions?
MF: I’ve wrapped two features this year: I DIE ALONE, a Korean War film; and BLACK CAT WHISKEY, a prohibition film set during the Depression. I’m currently in production on a live-action/animation hybrid called DESERT MIRAGE.
SB: For those looking to keep up on your current or future work, what’s the best way to do so?
SB: And, finally, do you have any advice for young or inexperienced directors looking to tackle their first feature?
MF: Just make the movie with what you have. All you really need is a camera and editing software. It probably won’t be good, but you’re going to learn from your mistakes more than anything else. Experience and skills come from doing things, not sitting in a classroom or talking about it.
SB: Cheers, Michael. Looking forward to lots more work from yourself and Wild Dogs Productions.
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