Friday, December 8, 2017

The Gal's 2017 Halloween Frivolities Day 47: Among the Stacks with Mike Lombardo Part 2


The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Hi again, Mike.  Welcome back for part two of our two-part interview.  Now we really get into the heart of things and find out more about you and filmmaking.  You are actually the FIRST filmmaker that I have interviewed, and I originally got the idea during Scares That Care earlier this year, so thank you, again, for agreeing to sit down with me.
            Tell us about yourself and your latest project.

Mike Lombardo:
Howdy, my name is Mike Lombardo and I am a writer/director/FX artist who runs Reel Splatter Productions, a small indie film troupe based in Lancaster, PA. 
            My first feature length film, I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday, just hit the film festival circuit in late October. Its best described as Miracle on 34th Street meets The Road. It was based on a short story I wrote (of the same name) that appeared in the bizarro Christmas anthology, A Very StrangeHouse Christmas. White Doomsday is the story of a mother and her 7 year old son living in a bomb shelter after an unnamed apocalypse. With food and hope steadily dwindling, the mother is forced to make difficult choices that will lead her to discover just how far she would go for her child and what lurks outside the safety of the shelter.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What made you pursue filmmaking?

Mike Lombardo:
I was always fascinated with horror movies as a kid and I was obsessed with making things, weird little props or writing stories, building haunted house sets, etc., so filmmaking was a natural progression as it incorporates all of these creative elements into one glorious hell.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking was not just a hobby, but that it would be your life and your living?

Mike Lombardo:
Since I was in elementary school, I always wanted to be a “Horror movie maker”. I grew up making little movies with my VHS camera and teaching myself FX, so I don’t think it really surprised anyone when I eventually dedicated my life to it. As time went on and I began to get really serious with the equipment and FX stuff, things started to change for me. We started getting into film festivals and built a fan base for the weirdo short films and I realized that it was totally doable to make a living at this, just like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson who started out the same way in their own small hometowns before me.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What was THE movie, the one you knew you wanted to be a part of, the one that hooked you and never let go?

Mike Lombardo:
I can't really say there was ONE movie, but Hellraiser, C.H.U.D., Dawn of The Dead (the original of course), Evil Dead, Dead Alive, and Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 were huge ones for me. I would sit around with my fake body parts (I begged my mom to buy them for me from the Halloween store every year and one amazing Christmas morning, opened a box full of dismembered corpse parts) around and reenact scenes from C.H.U.D. in my living room. I saw a behind the scenes special on the movie Death Becomes Her on TV one night and it solidified my desire to be an FX artist.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
How did you break into the business?

Mike Lombardo:
I don't think I can say that I ever “broke into the business”, more just kept doing my own thing and eventually people started noticing it and became fans. I think when it comes to indie film; you just do it yourself and hope to find an audience. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What is your philosophy in life that influences your creative work?

Mike Lombardo:
I guess you could say that, over the years, the creative philosophy I’ve developed is that pain is the truest muse. I liken making a film and showing an audience to standing on a stage, tearing your stomach open and letting strangers see your guts. Filmmakers and artists are a strange sort of exhibitionist masochists. My other firm philosophy is that you never fucking stop. It doesn’t matter how miserable it becomes, you tough through it if you believe in the project. Filmmaking is absolute hell and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, but if you stick it out and emerge on the other side, it’s the most amazing feeling in the world and is totally worth it. By the time you hear the applause of an audience at your premiere; you will have forgotten how awful the experience of making it was and will be planning the next one.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What makes a film great for you?  Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?

Mike Lombardo:
What I look for in a movie is nothing that I can quantify. I love so many movies for so many random reasons that are seemingly unconnected. I think you can feel when someone really put their heat and soul into a movie so seeing that passion on screen always gets me. Good writing is a must as well. I love practical fx work and humor too so those are always big pluses for me too.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
When you get angry at a movie, what sets you off?  Are there common qualities in cinema today that you dislike?  Is there something you try to subvert or avoid or rebel against in your work?

Mike Lombardo:
Oh boy, that's a dangerous question. I’ll just mention a couple things I cannot stand in current movies: hyperactive jittery camera work ala the Dark Knight and Jason Bourne movies. A fight scene is exciting to me when I can see what the fuck is happening and get a sense of the danger and also the choreography that went into it. Seeing a blur of choppy frame rate punctuated by an occasional grunt and loud smack to clue me in that someone got hit doesn’t do anything for me. Another huge turnoff for me is shitty PG-13 ghost movies tropes. Check out the opening scene of my short film, Long Pig and you’ll see exactly how I feel about that shit. Things crossing the camera from out of frame accompanied by a loud noise is not scary, its lazy fucking filmmaking. You want to scare me? Write a decent story, draw me in with atmosphere, and then show me a disturbing visual to tie it all together. Being unsettling is infinitely more effective than being loud.
            I actively subvert horror tropes all the time in the short films I’ve done, Long Pig in particular. With White Doomsday I wanted to go in an almost anti-cinematic style. Everything is told is real time, with no flashy editing or visuals, just very long takes and a lot of raw emotion. I wanted the movie to feel almost like you were watching a fish aquarium with people in it. There’s no swelling score to tell you how to feel, no bloated climaxes or stylized action scenes. I wanted it to feel as naturalistic as possible.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What films have been the most inspiring or influential to you and why?

Mike Lombardo:
There are hundreds of movies that influenced me in little and huge ways over the years. Aside from the ones I mentioned above, I’ve been ridiculously inspired by David Cronenberg’s films like The Fly, Videodrome, and Dead Ringers. Charlie Kaufman is another amazing filmmaker whose work, like Synechode, New York and Adaptation, struck me so hard I was paranoid that he was living in my skull. Some of my earliest influences were Troma movies from Lloyd Kaufman, they taught me so much about low budget filmmaking that I can’t even describe the enormity of their impact on me. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
We get noticed because of our successes - but we create them on the back of our failures.  We learn best from the experiences where it doesn't work.  What failures (of your own) have you been able to learn from?  How did they change you and your process?

Mike Lombardo:
I can't say that I would consider anything I've done a failure, and before I get burned at the stake for being a pretentious douchebag, let me explain. In indie film, you don’t have the luxury of failing. If something goes wrong (which is ALWAYS does), you have to figure out how to make it work on the fly with what you have available to you at the moment. The advice I always give to aspiring filmmakers and FX artists is “Be MacGyver.” Sometimes this means making a boom pole out of a broomstick and duct tape, sometimes it means using your camera guys hands to double the actor’s in a close-up because they had to leave early. Sometimes that means rewriting the end of your movie on set during the shoot because your fx didn’t work the way you wanted. A lot of the time I’ve found that these on the fly changes actually yield a better end result and force you to think in completely different ways than you would normally. It’s one of the reasons I don’t like to storyboard or too heavily follow the script I wrote sometimes. If something cool happens on the fly, roll with it, improv, you never know what you can get. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
When do you know a script is ready to shoot, and what is your process in getting it there?

Mike Lombardo:
I just know when it's ready. I brainstorm ideas and write script notes sometimes for years for a single project before I ever sit down to write it, so when I do, it’s usually pretty mapped out in my head. I also change things on set a lot, so I never use a script as a set in stone law, but more of a solid guideline. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
I remember watching an episode of Columbo (Murder with Too Many Notes) many years ago where he was investigating a Hollywood film composer for murder.  The character was Findlay Crawford, played by one of my favorite actors, Billy Connolly.  In the show, Findlay takes some time to show Columbo the importance of the background score in movies, and goes so far as to conduct his symphony to play the themes from Jaws and Psycho to show him the effect that the music had on people, and how it would be different if you changed the music to something like a lullaby.
            How important do you think the background score is in engaging the audience?

Mike Lombardo:
The score is super important depending on the type of film you are making and what type of mood you want to achieve, but I find myself preferring minimal score in my own work. I really don’t like wall to wall full on orchestral scores that tell the audience to feel a certain way. I think music can be used to enhance a mood, not instruct it. We use very little actual music in White Doomsday, I wanted long periods of silence with just background ambience to pull the viewer into the world we wanted to create. Music can make sadness into a beautiful thing which in turn makes it easier for an audience to process, but I wanted everything to feel raw and in the moment so we actually did the opposite of what a normal movie would do and cut the score OUT of those types of scenes. It ended up making those moments more devastating and harder hitting in my opinion.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you do original work or adaptations?  If adaptations, what's it like adjusting something?  Which book would you love to make a film of one day?

Mike Lombardo:
I do original work mostly, though I have helped adapt a few things. There are some awesome books I would love to adapt and I’m fortunate enough to have a couple of them in the talks right now, but I can’t really say too much about that. 
            One book I would absolutely love to adapt though is The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare. I would film that fucker TOMORROW if we had the resources, but who knows what the future holds?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Film, perhaps more so than any other popular art form, is the compromise between art and commerce.  How has your art been shaped by both the money you had or not had?  Do you create with your budget limitations in mind?  What do you do to stay under budget?

Mike Lombardo:
I always always always write to budget. You have to when you’re making an indie film. I find oftentimes having to figure out creative workarounds for things because we don’t have any money leads to cooler stuff and it’s definitely the most satisfying part of making a movie for me personally. Everyone who works on the flicks is doing it because they love it and believe in the project, not to make money. Having a cast and crew who are willing to work for cheap/free is the reason we are able to pull off what we did in White Doomsday with so little money. The dream, as we move forward is to be able to raise a large enough budget that everyone can take a month off of their day job so we can just shoot through like a normal movie instead of shooting on weekends for 2 years, haha. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What guides your artistic vision?  Are you more concerned with what the audience might want, a need you see in society, or your own personal thoughts?  Do you create in the hopes of finding minds that will understand your work for what it is?

Mike Lombardo:
I use movies to dissect my own head. Even when I’m doing something gross or funny, there’s almost always a much darker undercurrent of self-analysis going on. I made White Doomsday to deal with the feelings of helplessness and depression when my mom was hospitalized for 8 months with kidney failure. I lost my father and several friends in that same stretch of time and it had a huge psychological impact on me and that short story and movie was the result. The next feature length movie I’m writing is about how the compulsion to be creative can hijack your life and destroy your relationships. I’d like to sit here and say that I’m not concerned with potential audience reaction when I’m working on stuff, but that would be a lie. I want to entertain people at the end of the day, and hopefully I’ve accomplished that while still digging into my own skull.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What role has film festivals played in your life so far?  Why are they necessary?  How do you get the most out of them?

Mike Lombardo:
Film festivals have been a HUGE part of my filmmaking career. Being able to sit with an audience and see the reactions in real time is invaluable, as well as incredibly fun. I’ve met and networked with so many other filmmakers and artists at festivals and that has definitely impacted my career and my own films a great deal. For example, we just world premiere White Doomsday at Nightmares Film Festival in Ohio, and it was fucking life changing. The support and the people we met were just incredible.  Festivals can also be tiring and not all of them are worth it, but you have to ask yourself what you are trying to get out of screening at one. Are you trying to sell your movie? Are you trying to build an audience? Do you just want to see it on a big screen? There are festivals for all of things so doing your research and deciding what’s best for your film is super important. 

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
If there is one (or more) thing you think would make the film industry better, what would it be?

Mike Lombardo:
I think the film festival would be better if it stopped obsessing over bloated budgeted super hero movies and 15 entry franchises and started taking chances on smaller indie films. People have been conditioned to not think it’s a “real movie” if it didn’t cost 50 million to make and stars Tom Cruise. There are so many amazing stories being told that people will never give a second glance at because it doesn’t have Marvel or Michael Bay on the poster and that’s very frustrating.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Did you go to film school?  Do you think there is an advantage to school over going it on your own?

Mike Lombardo:
I did not go to film school. There are definitely advantages to it if you can afford it, but with today’s technology and the internet I don’t think it’s necessary. You can learn everything you need to get started making your own film at the bookstore or YouTube. Digital technology has made the gear super accessible and after that it’s just a matter of practicing and honing your craft. School won’t make you a good filmmaker, experience will. Go to Wal-Mart and grab an HD camcorder, write a script, grab your friends and start shooting something. It might turn out like shit, but you’ll learn what and what not to do for the next one. Film school is the same thing, except they’ll charge $50,000 and shove a bunch of film theory down your throat, telling you that there’s a “right way” to make a movie. Filmmaking is art, and there’s no right way to make art. There’s a lot of tech knowledge and there are certain rules that you should learn before you try to break them, but you can learn all of that from watching movies and looking at the behind the scenes on dvds and blu rays. That’s the most important thing to do: watch movies.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What's the funniest faux pas you've seen (i.e. someone sending a script with glitter in the envelope or something)?

Mike Lombardo:
The only major faux pas I’ve seen wasn’t a funny one. There was a guy who will remain nameless who tried to hire me to do FX for his movie. He insisted that we were going to actually hurt the actors to get a more realistic reaction and at one point decided that for a suicide scene he was going to really hang himself for a few seconds to make it look more real. I kindly informed that I would have no part in that insanity and that the point of hiring an FX artist was to make things realistic without harming the actors. I heard later that when he tried to hang himself for the shot he panicked and had them pull him down immediately, and it looked like shit on top of it. The moral of the story is: movies are for pretend. The safety of your cast and crew is more infinitely important than something looking cool.

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to have a life creating film?

Mike Lombardo:
Everything is available to everyone now, break down your script, find a crew and shoot the fucker! No one will care about your movie as much as you do, so why not be the one to make it?

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Where can we find you?

Mike Lombardo:

The Gal in the Blue Mask:
Do you have any closing words for your fans or anything you'd like to say that we didn't get to cover in this interview?

Mike Lombardo:
I just want to thank everyone who has helped support this madness, you guys and gals are the reason any of it is possible and I love you all. Also, please support indie film when you can. It can be as simple as sending them a message telling them what you thought about their film, writing a quick review on IMDB or Facebook, buying a dvd from a filmmaker at a convention or even just sharing a post from them on your social media. Every little bit helps and your words of encouragement can make the difference between someone pushing ahead into the uphill battle of making a film or giving up. 


About the author:
Mike Lombardo is a writer/director/FX artist who runs Reel Splatter Productions, a small independent film trouble based in Lancaster, PA. In addition to filmmaking and FX, he occasionally writes short fiction which can be found in several anthologies.  He is a co-host on The Horror Show with Brian Keene podcast and along with artist Chris Enterline, he is the co-creator of Hellraiser-themed web-comic Cenobun.
            He is responsible for judging and hosting the Horror Night section of the Lancaster International Film Festival, served as a judge for the Scares That Care Film Festival, and serves as a member of the jury for the 2017 Splatterpunk Awards.
            He recently completed his first feature length film, I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday, a post apocalyptic Christmas movie best described as "The Road meets Miracle on 34th Street," and began premiering it on the film festival circuit during the fall of this year.


About the movie:

A mother and her eight year old son struggle to survive in a bomb shelter after an unnamed apocalypse. [IMDB]

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