Q&A: Mike Mendez on the Tricks of Making “TALES OF HALLOWEEN”Fearful Features,Home,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
There are gruesome and gigglesome treats throughout the anthology feature TALES OF HALLOWEEN, and some of the best are in the segment directed by Mike Mendez. Also a producer on the film, Mendez gave FANGORIA the details on how the film in general and his story in particular came together.
Arriving in theaters and on VOD and iTunes tomorrow from Epic Pictures, TALES OF HALLOWEEN brings together a slew of top terror talent both behind and in front of its cameras (see review here). The movie was the brainchild of Axelle Carolyn, who produced it with Mendez as well as Epic’s Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson, who had backed Mendez’s recent cult favorite BIG ASS SPIDER! For Mendez, whose Syfy flick LAVALANTULA (which he discussed here) hits DVD November 3 and who also has the crime/horror hybrid THE LAST HEIST (story here) awaiting release, TALES was a chance to work alongside a number of friends and colleagues on the Hollywood horror scene.
FANGORIA: How did you first get involved with TALES OF HALLOWEEN, both as a director and producer?
MIKE MENDEZ: Well, it all started at a friend’s birthday party. Axelle had come up with the idea a few days before, and was talking about how we should all make a movie together. My reaction was, “That would be a really fulfilling thing if we’re able to pull it off.” At first, I just wanted to direct a segment, but when we put the package together, and I realized the level of filmmakers we had, I felt we had enough ammo that I could get it funded.
So during a casual conversation I had with Shaked Berenson at Epic Pictures, I brought the project up to him as something we were thinking about, and he was like, “Let’s meet right away.” About three or four days later, we met at Jerry’s Deli with Patrick Ewald, also of Epic, and they pretty much said yes right then and there. Nothing had been written, nothing had been planned; it was just, “These are the filmmakers, it’s an anthology about Halloween, we want to do it as a modest thing, but we want to have creative control.” That was the pitch, and they were very interested.
FANG: As a producer, how much oversight did you have on what the other filmmakers were doing?
MENDEZ: Well, it was a give and take. Axelle was largely in charge of the quality control, but I certainly had her back and helped out whenever I could. It was a tricky proposition, because they were friends and we wanted to give them freedom, but what we would tell everyone was, “OK, you have freedom, but you’re not free to suck!” [Laughs] We needed to know that they were going to take it as seriously as we were. People would submit their ideas, and there was a bit of approval process. I’m not saying we would tell them, “No, you can’t do that,” but if we really questioned something and were like, “Look…” The good thing was, there was a group of us, and we wanted to be as fair as we could. If it was five us going, “No, this isn’t very good,” they had to be real and had to readdress things.
So we were very involved in the development and were there throughout the whole production, and heavily involved in post, because there was no post supervisor. Between the executive producers, Patrick and Shaked, and Axelle and myself, we did everything. So I definitely took on way more than I bargained for; that’s not a complaint, it’s just the way it wound up being.
FANG: Were there any filmmakers you approached for the movie who couldn’t do it?
MENDEZ: Yeah, there was some little tyke named James Wan who I’d heard good things about, who I hope is going to go places one day. But he was doing some student movie called FURIOUS 7 or something like that [laughs], so he unfortunately did not have the time to do it. We did ask a few people, I don’t know if I should mention who… I’ll just say this: Anyone we asked who had already done an anthology—and I now understand, having been through one—tended not to be interested, just because they felt it was too difficult. Every anthology had a different set of reasons why, but they all said, “Hell no, I don’t want to do another one.” Now, there have been many anthologies, and I don’t want to generalize, but there were certain ones in particular where we were very close to people who didn’t enjoy doing them. That helped define which filmmakers we were going to use, because we wanted anthology virgins, if you will.
The other thing was that we didn’t want to make it about, “Oh, that director has a film at Sundance, he’s really hot right now, let’s try to get him.” We wanted to work with our community of our friends, the people we spend Christmas with. It was about friendship and not about career heat, and it was great to get filmmakers—all very talented—at different levels. Some, like Neil Marshall, are established and currently working, and some perhaps have not had the opportunity, but we believe in them, like Ryan Schifrin or Dave Parker or Andrew Kasch. We felt, “Look, we’d love to put you guys in the spotlight with us and do this as a group.” The theory was that we would stand stronger together than we would individually, so let’s form a kind of Avengers of horror and just do it.
FANG: What is your individual segment about?
MENDEZ: Mine is called “Friday the 31st,” and it’s about what happens to mass killers on the scariest night of the year.
FANG: What can you tell us about the cast?
MENDEZ: Well, we encouraged everyone to include lots of cameos, but mine is not that. I went a different route, slightly; it does feature Nick Principe, who some people may know as ChromeSkull from the LAID TO REST movies, but he’s in a mask, so no one’s going to go, “Hey, it’s Nick Principe!” I decided to go for the other celebrated side of horror, which is hot chicks! I was like, “I need a 21-year-old ingenue who looks good in a slutty Halloween costume.” We did some casting, and I was lucky enough to get a wonderful actress named Amanda Moyer, and then I had a friend named Jennifer Wenger who plays her character…metamorphosized, I’ll leave it at that [laughs]. It’s a small cast; I’ll just say it’s three people and a friend.
FANG: This short has its origins in one of your feature projects…
MENDEZ: Yeah, it’s something Dave Parker and myself wrote, like, 18 years ago. It was the opening scene to a movie I’ve always wanted to do called DEAD STUFF, and I was never able to get it off the ground. When this opportunity presented itself, to do something we already had and had free rein to work with, I felt, “I’ll never have this opportunity again, and I’ve always wanted to see it come to life; I’m going to do the opening of DEAD STUFF.” My biggest disappointment with it is that it ends—I want it to keep going! But it was exciting for me, because I was revisiting my roots, but I’d had 18 years since then to hone my craft and skill. So this represents what I was thinking all that time ago, but with 18 years of experience to pull it off better, so that’s cool—it’s a little bit of the old me and the new me.
FANG: How was the experience of actually shooting it?
MENDEZ: Well, even though TALES was an opportunity to do what we wanted, it was a challenge: Can you pull off a quality eight-minute short in two days? In some certain cases there were three, because we knew they were elaborate and couldn’t be done in two. But it was stressful. When I make a feature, even if it’s 15 days or 18 days or whatever, there’s a part of me that goes, “OK, I didn’t make my day, but I can pick it up tomorrow.” There was no safety net on these; it was like, “You have two days; if you don’t get your short, well, shit, man, thanks for wasting our money!” We just had to do it, and we were very hard on ourselves; we wanted to do something special, and we felt the fans deserved something special. We didn’t want to phone it in; it was a clear call to arms at the beginning that we had to bring our A-game. We took it seriously, so that was the challenge: figuring out how we were going to do it in two days.
And for mine, which was so effects-heavy, I had to figure out certain tricks to do it. How I did it was, there’s a girl and a killer, and there were two separate units that had a set of each. That’s the only way we were able to do it in two days; if not, it would have been impossible. And you know certain things from experience; you know you have a makeup to do that’s going to take an hour and a half you’re going to lose and you can’t afford to lose that; how do we get rid of that hour and a half? Let’s get someone else to play it, and have that person set at the beginning of the day, so we don’t lose any time. Experience allows you kind of realize, “I can do that to save time.” And we did it; there were a few little pickups that I shot later, but they were very minor.
Pick up FANGORIA #344, now on sale, for a feature story on TALES’ Carolyn and Marshall.