As exciting it is to see the mainstream trying to push the boundaries of filmmaking, it's even more so to see someone on the independent level trying to do something different with less than half the budget or resources. Dustin Mills is one such creator whose passion for not only the horror genre, but the overlapping principles inherit in filmmaking and fine arts have lead him to his latest project, The Puppet Monster Massacre.According to your personal website you're "an award winning Graphic Desiger, Videographer, and Photographer" in addition to being an illustrator. How did you cultivate such an extensive range of talents?
Inspired by a love for other puppet-themed horror films such as Meet the Feebles, Ghoulies and The Puppet Master series, Mills dream project has seemed to garner the attention of many in the online community thanks to his 5-minute preview that was released a few weeks back (see below). Mills was kind enough to take some time away from his directorial duties (not to mention editing and photography) to endure our strange inquisition of questions.
Well... I have no formal education. I don't have a degree of any sort. All my knowledge in these areas has either been gleaned from practicing them as hobbies or from actual work experience. I've been a graphic designer since I dropped out of BSU (Ball State University) in 2005. Luckily, when it comes to filmmaking having a working knowledge of design, photography, and illustration, are very helpful. They are all very complimentary. I've always felt like a filmmaker and I became a much better one when I also became a designer and photographer. Several of the key principles overlap such as composition, color, lenses and camera angles.
Have you always been a fan of the horror genre?
Most definitely. When I was young my mother was a big horror fan (she isn't really anymore), and when I was lucky she would let me watch horror films with her. I grew up watching a mixture of age appropriate stuff like Monster Squad, Gremlins, and Ghostbusters, and some films I probably shouldn't have seen so young like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Evil Dead, and The Toxic Avenger.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Mills.
You recently released a teaser for your latest film, The Puppet Monster Masacre. What's the concept behind that project?
I have always wanted to see horror expand into more interesting mediums. I love animated horror films (of which there are few) and the closest thing I have ever seen to a puppet horror film is Meet The Feebles. I think the desire to make this film stems from the very basis of why I want to make movies in the first place. My entire motivation for making films is that no one out there is making the sort of movies that I want to see. I can wander around a video store (or my Netflix queue) for hours before I realize that the movie I want to watch isn't there, because it doesn't exist. My filmmaking is very selfish really... if someone else likes my movie then thats great, but ultimately I am making this thing for myself. I make movies that I want to watch. In this case that movie is a throwback to the sort of 80's horror that I grew up with like Night of the Creeps, Monster Squad, and Creepshow with an all puppet cast.
A lot of people online have compared the teaser trailer to Peter Jackson's cult classic Meet the Feebles, though I felt it was more in line with an adult-oriented version of Rankin-Bass' Mad Monster Party. Did either of these films serve as an inspiration?
Sort of, but maybe not as much as you would think. I love Mad Monster Party. I find Meet The Feebles sort of difficult to watch, despite the fact that I dig it out of my collection and watch it at least once a year. Its such a nasty little film, but I would be lying if I said didn't draw some inspiration from it.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Mills.
You're shooting the film on an HV40, is there a certain advantage to using this type of camera?
The advantage is that I could afford that camera on my budget, and that it shoots HD 1080p 24 frames a second. I wanted the movie to look as professional as possible on my minimal budget. I think at the end of the day this thing will have cost about $3,000 to make, so I couldn't afford to shoot it on film or with a more expensive camera.
What other tools/programs are you using to bring the titular "puppet monster massacre" to life?
I'm lucky enough to have access to some very good editing and compositing programs as well as some wonderful stock footage from www.videocopilot.net. The entire film was shot on greenscreen, the puppets were then composited over a combination of photo collages, matte paintings, and 3d backgrounds.
Despite not having a clear marketing strategy, interest in your project online has seemed to continually increase. Why do you think this is and what role does social media play?
I think people are interested because the film has a degree of originality and it doesn't look nearly as cheap as it actually is. Social networking has been incredibly important. I've really only been spreading the word via Facebook, Youtube, and filmmaking forums, which fortunately are all free.
In the first five minutes alone we're introduced to a murderous penguin, a mad scientist, and a hideous mutated parasite. What further insanity can we expect from the finished film?
I don't want to give too much away, but you can expect gratuitous puppet nudity, objects/puppets getting blowed up real good, and a true massacre. The movie will live up to its title.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Mills. Pictured: Brandon Salkil(left), Dustin Mills (right)
Who are some of your collaborators on the film and how did you go about casting them?
Most of the cast are friends of mine, but I was fortunate enough to cast Bart Flynne and Steve Rimpici through www.voice123.com. They are both professional voice actors who have credits in TV and Video Games. I don't know why those wonderful bastards decided to help me out, but I am very thankful for it. Also, I need to give thanks to Brandon Salkil. He has been an incredible help throughout this process. I seriously could not have made the film without him. He provides a voice, but he is also my camera man. Besides all that he is a very talented filmmaker. Remember his name.
The main theme for the film, composed by Jared Kaelber, has a sort of hard-edged, Goblin inspired vibe to it. Were there any films in particular that this title sequence was modeled after?
None in particular. I just wanted an 80's vibe. I always knew that I wanted a memorable theme and title sequence. Jared is my girlfriend's brother in law and a very talented musician. He volunteered to help and I bombarded him with a million different songs to gain inspiration from. I sent him everything from horror movie theme songs to Lordi music videos. What resulted is a catchy theme that is everything I could have hoped for.
Photo courtesy of Dustin Mills.
What are some of your favorite puppet-themed horror movie(s)?
I love Gremlins and Ghoulies, as well as Stuart Gordon's Dolls. I have always been in love with the Child' Play films. My favorite of all favorites, though, is the Puppet Master series. OH MY GOD!!! I adore those films. Even when they are bad they are good. Charles Band... if you are somehow reading this: Please oh please let me work on a Puppet Master movie. I'll be a grip, or an extra, or I'll hold a boom mic or something!
What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
I was a very strange kid, so thats kind of a hard one. I remember after seeing A Nightmare on Elm Street for the first time I was sort of obsessed with it and I made my own Freddy Glove out of a winter glove and some toothpicks. I walked into the kitchen waving it around and singing the "1...2... Freddy's coming for you" song at my mom. I thought I was really clever, but I think I totally creeped the shit out of her. She made me take it off and told me "IT'S JUST A MOVIE!".