Many times, interview stories will begin with the occupation of the interviewee, such as “columnist, Rene’ Thurston.” In the case of this interview subject, however, you’d need an entire paragraph and a bucket-load of commas to encompass the entirety of what James Felix McKenney has had his hands on in the entertainment industry. Writer, producer, director of films and music videos, special effects artist, comic book author, stagehand, doorman and editor are just a few of the many jobs on his extensive resume, not to mention a real walking encyclopedia of 60’s and 70’s mainstream and underground horror.
While the world is filled with would-be filmmakers, very few actually get their ideas past the script stage. After aligning himself with more than one feature film project that failed at various stages, James Felix McKenney decided that sometimes, if you want something done, you have to do it yourself.
With $8,000 of his own money, earned working at the Census Bureau (add that to the list of employment hats), McKenney shot his first feature film, a tongue-in-cheek horror gem, “Cannibalistic, ” and with that, his film company, Monsterpants, was born.
With good friends, determination and sheer force of will to get his scripts produced, this ambitious filmmaker has proven that anyone, with enough hard work, sacrifice and ingenuity, can get their films out of their head and onto the screen. He has also proven that the old adage, “it can’t hurt to ask” can end up getting you more than you imagined.
Since those humble beginnings, James has now written, directed and produced five of his own films, including ” Satan Hates You ” and ” Hypothermia, ” and is in pre-production on a sixth, ” The Girl from Mars, ” which is slated to begin shooting in the next few weeks. The new film stars the lovely Pauley Perrette, who plays criminologist Abby Sciuto on the popular CBS series, ” NCIS. “
Jim took time out from pre-production duties to answer some questions about his filmmaking experiences. From his first film to now, the interview is a real Low Budget Film 101 that all aspiring filmmakers should read.
RHT: So Jim, I mentioned that you’ve worked in theater, comic books, music videos and a host of other mediums. Was moving making the dream goal, or did that one fall in your lap?
JFM: I think making films was always where I wanted to end up, but I’ve always been content doing whatever I’m doing at the time as long as it’s making me happy creatively and allows me to tell a story. I probably would have skipped the theater and comic book stuff in the early days if the financial expense of making films didn’t make it seem so out of reach.
If I had been born into a wealthy family or maybe 10 or 15 years later when the current digital technology made everything so affordable, I probably would have gotten a much earlier start. But all of that experience in other areas did pay off because that’s where I learned a lot of the skills I use when making our films.
RHT: Was there one horror film in your life that made you say, “oh yeah, what’s what I want to do?”
JFM: It was a variety of influences, really. My parents took me to see ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN at an outdoor park when I was about four years old, and I became obsessed with monsters, the Frankenstein monster in particular. As I got a little older, I got to be more and more of a fan of the old Universal and Hammer horror films that were showing on TV and started creating my own monster makeup using stuff I’d buy at the local department store at Halloween time. Then there was the first STAR WARS craze, and I was absolutely fascinated with all of the material that was out at the time about the making of the film. Shortly after that, I became an obsessive “Doctor Who” fan and was ordering all sorts of books and magazines from England about the making of the series.Some of my favorite films at the time were THE BIRDS, THE REVENGE OF THE CREATURE and DRACULA: PRINCE OF DARKNESS, THE WICKER MAN and THE OMEN, but it was less about the horror specifically and more about the monster costumes, special effects and the process as a whole that sparked my imagination.
All throughout my childhood, I was always telling stories by drawing comic strips, putting on plays and making films using expired film (it was cheaper!) and my dad’s 8mm camera. So when it came time to decide what I was going to do with my life, I realized that I had a real interest in film and TV production and that perhaps that was the field I should try to get into.
RHT: Having worn the hats for a thousand jobs (or so it seems), was it out of a desire for career enhancement, necessity due to budget or other reasons? Do you feel it’s really important for filmmakers to assume all these roles at one time or another to be successful?
JFM: Part of it is out of necessity, certainly the producing, promotional tasks, and sometimes the editing, which I don’t quite enjoy as much as the other parts of the process. But I love all of the production design, effects and art department stuff. I’m just as happy painting a set as I am directing. It’s all about being creative and making things.
There is a part of me that feels that if you are a filmmaker, you have to get your hands dirty and really be an artist. Otherwise, you’re just an administrator or supervisor. Which is fine, if that’s the sort of director that you want to be. I’ve been that guy on one or two directing jobs I’ve had, simply because I wasn’t inspired or excited by the production.
So while I don’t think being involved in all aspects is a requirement for a filmmaker, it certainly helps to be able to understand as many parts of the process as possible, and I believe it makes for a more artistically rewarding experience.
RHT: Did you go to film school – or if not, do you wish you had?
JFM: I didn’t. I took one film class in college while I studied writing, acting and at one point, cartooning, but that was it. There definitely would have been some benefit for me to have gone at least one year to film school, just to get some of the technical basics that I’m still lacking even today. It seems that most of the people I know in the business went to film school at one point, but very few of them actually graduated. They learned what they needed to to get their feet wet and then stopped wasting time in class and got to work! I firmly believe that experience is the best teacher.
RHT: You’ve said that you worked on a film or two that fell flat before making it into production, which then prompted you to go it on your own with your first film, ” Cannibalistic. ” What happened with those projects that caused them to fail, and what do you feel ultimately led to the successful completion of that first project?
JFM: When I was living in Los Angeles in the late 1990’s, I was focused on screenwriting and had three scripts optioned; a super hero / espionage action film, a horror movie and a big budget action / road movie that I co-wrote with Richard Kaponas. In every case, I was very excited and thought “this is the one,” and then eventually, the project fell apart after months of waiting. It wasn’t anybody’s fault or anything, it’s just the nature of the game. In every case, the producers either lost the financing that they had because of some unforeseen economic crisis, or they just were unable to raise the money before the option on the script ran out. That’s showbiz.
After going through this more than once, I just decided that rather than waiting for somebody else to make it happen, I should just do what I always did with the comic books or whatever and just do it myself. By then it was 1999, and digital technology had finally made things affordable, so I got to work and we shot CANNIBALLISTIC! in 2000.
That film worked because I didn’t try to make a fake Hollywood-style production. I called on the people who I had done underground theater with in Boston in the early 90’s, and we made the movie the same way we used to put on shows in loft spaces and bars. Everybody pitched in and did a little bit of everything. Luckily, our old theater director, David Hale, was making music videos and documentaries at the time, so his newfound expertise and access to equipment really came in handy.
RHT: Do you feel your extensive resume and contacts you had made up to that point were integral to the success, or can a filmmaker start from scratch and still get the job done?
JFM: It helped, certainly, in the case of a movie like SATAN HATES YOU where it was a fairly large production with a lot of actors and locations which we managed to pull off for very little money. But really nowadays, there’s nothing holding anyone back. You can shoot a feature using your phone, edit it on a laptop and distribute it via the web for very little time and a lot of hard work if you’re creative enough. Anybody can accomplish anything if they just don’t screw around procrastinating and get to work!
RHT: Was the script/story choice of ” Cannibalistic ” made due to the budget or in spite of it? ( ” Cannibalistic ” is the story of a young man who is forced to eat his traveling companion when they become stranded. The character is rescued but has developed a taste for human flesh. He attempts to move to the middle of nowhere and become a vegetarian, but people just seem to keep stopping by… )
JFM: It was completely dictated by the budget. That’s the benefit of being the director, editor and most importantly the producer — when I’m writing, I’m counting every penny, thinking about what resources we can get for free and where we can cheat things in the edit to save money. That’s the most basic lesson that we all learn in low-budget filmmaking: You write for your budget. Being a producer on your project is key because you can write something that you know in your head exactly how to pull it off when shooting and later cutting the scene; however, if your producers don’t understand the low-budget process or can’t get their head around doing things outside of the “industry way,” then you’re going to have problems and the production will go over budget, or you won’t get what you need to make your movie work.
RHT: What was the experience like making that first film, ” Canniballistic, ” and what was it about, for those who haven’t been lucky enough to see it? Did you have any experience in movie making at that point, and what did you learn about making a film on an $8,000 budget!?
JFM: I had no filmmaking experience outside of the crappy little 8mm movies I made in my backyard and in college, appearing as an actor in a few student and independent films and working as a grip on some music videos. Although when I first moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I did a lot of extra work on movies and TV shows, mainly so I could be on sets and watch how things were done. I was lucky enough to spend several weeks working on a TV movie called GEORGE WALLACE starring Gary Sinise and Angelina Jolie which was directed by the great John Frankenheimer. I always like to say that I learned how to direct by just watching him. That was a really valuable experience for me.
CANNIBALLISTIC! is a very bloody black comedy/horror film starring Don Wood, who has appeared in every film we’ve done so far. It’s the story of a guy who found himself trapped in the woods after a car accident where he was forced to eat his deceased companion in order to survive. A year or so later, he moves back to his old family home to escape his newfound craving for human flesh, but his annoying neighbors won’t leave him alone — and he ends up going Canniballistic!
It was a blast making that movie. It was the first one I’d done, so every moment was an adventure accompanied by a feeling of accomplishment. We shot it in Maine at my parent’s place when the autumn leaves were in their full glory, and the weather was very co-operative. The days were long, and at times we were all exhausted, but it was one of the most enjoyable shoots I’ve ever been on.
The film was all made using common sense — what do I need and how can I get it cheaply? I was using all of my own money, which is the best incentive to keep costs down. You show me a producer or director who can’t stay on budget and I guarantee that person has never had to work with his or her own cash on the line.
RHT: You said in another interview it took you a year to edit ” Cannibalistic. ” Had you ever edited before, and how has your process changed, or stayed the same, in the other films you’ve edited? Should directors really edit their own films or at least be present?
JFM: It took a year because I wasn’t editing full-time. I moved from Los Angeles to New York City immediately after we wrapped. So while I was editing I was also working construction in order to support myself as I had just spent every penny I had on the movie. I was also exploring a new city, making new friends and finding an apartment, while shopping the movie around to distributors and doing everything I could to promote it. So if you take all of these distractions out of the equation, I probably could have finished post-production in three months or so.
I had never edited anything in my life! I was learning as I went, and I had no idea what I was doing. It’s a miracle that the movie makes any sense at all, let alone all of the great reviews that the film received when it was finally started making the rounds in 2002.
I cut my own films because it’s cheaper, easier and (sometimes) faster. If I could have a real, professional editor on all of my movies, I would. Cutting a movie is its own art and I would never pretend to know better than somebody who does only that full time. I also don’t think that my work is so precious that I can’t trust other people with it.
Having that other objective, yet informed, opinion can be an amazing thing which can protect a filmmaker from his or her own blindness to things that may not be working in a film. The trick is finding the right editor. Like any other field, there are just as many, if not more, bad ones out there as there are great ones.
RHT: How did you end up going to work for Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix?
JFM: David Leslie, aka “The Impact Addict”, a performance artist and frequent collaborator of Larry was looking for some help on a project they were working on, and so they put an ad out looking for someone with filmmaking, graphic design, web and desktop publishing skills. I got the job and ended up working for Glass Eye Pix for eight years and making four films of my own with the company.
RHT: ” The Off Season ” was your next film and the first for Glass Eye Pix’s Scareflix series. How did that series come about, and how did working on that second film differ from the first?
JFM: I had been working for Larry for about six months before I let him see CANNIBALLISTIC!, mainly because I was worried that if he thought it was garbage, he’d have second thoughts about my talents, and I’d be out of a job! Turns out, he really loved the movie, gave me a raise and told me that he wanted to see what I could do with a little more money.
Larry’s films are more of a sort of “art-horror” genre, and I think he had, for sometime, wanted to produce some B-movies that he himself wanted to see but wasn’t inclined to make on his own. I had the script for THE OFF SEASON already, he gave me the money and that was the start of ScareFlix.
I always say that CANNIBALLISTIC! is how I learned to make movies and THE OFF SEASON was how I learned NOT to make them. My first mistake was using a script that I had written in early 1997. That was a time when horror movies had been out of style for some time, so the screenplay revisited a lot of the old cliches that audiences might have expected but had forgotten about. Producing that same script in 2003 and releasing the movie in 2005, well into the latest horror boom, made the premise seem tired and dated.
We also had some crew and scheduling issues that I’d rather not get into because it’s easy to throw around blame, and ultimately, the blame falls on my shoulders. Things went so well on CANNIBALLISTIC! that with this film, where we had a bit more money, fewer locations and fewer special effects, I just took it for granted that the shoot would be a breeze. I was wrong. We fell way behind schedule, and I ended up cutting 22 scenes from the movie as we were shooting. We went one day over schedule on the shoot, which has NEVER happened before or since on any film I’ve directed.
In the end, it’s the least favorite of our movies, which is a shame because I think that there are some really amazing performances in there from our actors. Perhaps the best thing to come out of that production was that it began our relationship with the delightful and always professional Angus Scrimm and another ScareFlix regular Brenda Cooney.
The film was released on DVD by Lionsgate who put an illustration on the cover of a graveyard with a zombie hand reaching out from under the earth — none of this imagery appears in or has anything to do with the film. It did amazingly well for them sales-wise, but people who bought or rented it expecting some kind of living dead film and got our subtle little ghost story felt cheated, and we got some really terrible reviews, not to mention hate mail. It really hurt my reputation as a filmmaker for a couple of years until my next film, AUTOMATONS, was released to much more positive reviews.
RHT: The Scareflix series is touted as “a slate of ultra low budget films designed to exploit hungry new talent and inspire resourceful filmmakers to produce quality work through seat-of-the-pants ingenuity.” So how does a filmmaker get considered for Scareflix, and how do the Scareflix films differ from regular Glass Eye Pix offerings and The Dark Sky Films flicks?
JFM: I think they differ because they aren’t Larry’s own films that he’s made, nor are they the sort of art/indie films that he’s often been a producer on.
I don’t work directly for the company anymore, so I don’t know whether or not Glass Eye Pix is producing any more ScareFlix, but in the past, it always happened rather organically. Ti West was Larry’s intern at one point, and that’s how he ended making THE ROOST, TRIGGER MAN, etc. Graham Reznick was the sound designer on several ScareFlix before he made I CAN SEE YOU and Glenn McQuaid (I SELL THE DEAD) started doing titles and FX on the films after he was introduced to us all at the wrap party for THE OFF SEASON by Brenda Cooney who played the ghost in that film.
James is currently in post-production on ” Hypothermia, ” starring Michael Rooker (most recently seen as Merle in the AMC hit The Walking Dead). The film was shot in upstate New York in the winter of 2010, when a record-making amount of snow dumped on their pristine, iced-over lake that they had been shooting on for weeks. Trucks, snowplows and crew members with brooms worked to get it back to the clear, shiny ice they had shot on previously to protect continuity, given that the film is supposed to take place in just one day. Ah, the joys of low-budget filmmaking and stories set in the dead of winter.
RHT: So tell us about ” Hypothermia ” and getting to work with Michael Rooker? (check out the slideshow at left for photos from the film)
JFM: HYPOTHERMIA is an old-fashioned monster movie that’s best described as “THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON on ice!” It’s easily the most straightforward, mainstream movie that I’ve directed.
Rooker is every bit the character that you’d expect him to be. He’s got an insane amount of energy and never sits still. He loves the intense, emotional scenes and really throws himself into them. And he’s incredibly physical, which was a huge asset while making this movie out on the frozen lake for very little money.
The night before I was heading to the location in upstate New York, I was talking to Mike on the phone when he asked me, “So this part where I fall in the water, is there some kind of studio up there with an indoor pool that we’re doing this in? How are you making the ice indoors?” I was in shock, because the producer who was in charge of casting had never told him that he was expected to put on a wet suit and go into the actual freezing water out on the lake! That should have been the FIRST thing communicated to a 55-year old actor when offering him the part, but it didn’t happen. I profusely apologized to Rooker and told him what the plan was. This was three days before we were to start shooting and I thought, “This is it. He’s going to bail on us.” Mike was quiet for a few moments while he digested what I had told him and then responded “Ah, what the hell? It’s just a little water.” Amazing! Not many actors would be that easy-going about something like that.
When the day came to do the stunt, he did it several times! He was super into it and the scene looks fantastic in the finished film.
RHT: You’ve managed to cast some of the real cult icons of the horror genre, including the fantastic Angus Scrimm ( ” Phantasm ” ), Debbie Rochon (see IMDB for her 194 films!), Michael Berryman ( ” The Hills Have Eyes ” ) and Reggie Bannister ( ” Phantasm ” ). What was the process in getting these actors in your films, and had Angus and Reggie seen each other since ” Phantasm? ” (they appear together in McKenney’s ” Satan Hates You ” ).
JFM: If there’s a part in the film that isn’t a perfect fit for one of our regular or local actors, I just start looking for people whose work I am a fan of. When we were doing THE OFF SEASON, it turned out that Angus was going to be on the East Coast for a convention, so we figured it wouldn’t hurt to see if he’d be up to working with us while he was in the area. Tony Timpone from Fangoria (possibly the nicest man in the world) put us in touch with Angus’ agent. Angus had never been to Maine before where we were filming, so he took the role once we negotiated his salary and agreed to get him a lobster dinner. We’ve been friends ever since.
I was acquainted with Debbie from the NYC horror scene and her work for ” Fangoria. ” She’s awesome. A real professional. Michael Berryman we got through his agent, and he was a lot of fun. A super-smart guy with a great sense of humor.
Reggie I got to know through Angus. They have been friends for decades and see each other fairly regularly, I believe. He’s another amazing guy. Just so laid back, but really attentive to his work.
RHT: So Jim, your film “Satan Hates You” has more than a little “wink wink” to the Christian scare films of the 70’s and 80’s (Christian scare films were over-the-top, badly acted attempts at scaring youth into doing the “right thing” and avoiding sin with cheesy-special-effects laden subject matter like abortion and drugs). What about those films inspired you to make that movie?
JFM: I love all sorts of low-budget films made outside of New York or Hollywood — exploitation films from Florida, traffic safety films from Ohio or whatever. You just get such a unique, unpolished and honest point of view from these little low budget productions without the sort of jaded “professionalism” of the “big city”. Some of the Christian films are really well-made and scary like “A THIEF IN THE NIGHT” or the short film “STALKED,” while others are just so amateurish and bizarre, like “THE BURNING HELL” or “IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU, WHAT WILL HORSES DO?” that you can’t help but love them.
Along with the Christian comic tracts of Jack Chick, I was really inspired by these movies, but I didn’t want to make an imitation of one, because the originals already exist, nor did I want to parody them. I just wanted to make our own version, and I’ve been thrilled at how well it have been received.
RHT: Many of your scripts seem to pay homage to films of the past in one way or another, and we’ve discussed our love of 70’s and 80’s horror. What are your feelings on modern-day films, like the ” Saw ” series, and especially the use (and perhaps overuse) of CGI special effects? Would you prefer a return to the Stan Winston days of hands-on SFX?
JFM: I’d say I’m probably more of a 60’s and 70’s guy, so I’m a full decade behind you!
I don’t see a ton of modern day horror films. I liked the first SAW movie and I think I may have made it up to SAW 3 or 4, but I lost interest even before that. I’m kind of a sucker for the “found footage” kind of films like BLAIR WITCH, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and the last few minutes of REC, because they have (or simulate) the kind of rawness that I appreciate. But I understand how they don’t work for everybody because of the slow pacing and the fact that it’s hard for a movie that is made for so little money to live up to the expectations of modern audiences, especially when there is so much hype surrounding them.
CGI is fine when used properly, although I think they work better in sci-fi or fantasy films rather than a horror movie that’s set in the real world. I prefer hand-made FX, and we use them in all of our films because I feel that somebody needs to keep that tradition alive, and they are just so much more fun to work with.
RHT: What are some tips and tricks on getting the most out of special effects on a low budget?
JFM: Lots and lots of blood! You can hide any flaws in an effect with tons of the red stuff.
Also, don’t feel that you need to show too much for too long. Keep the mystery, keep things in the shadows. With AUTOMATONS we got away with tons of stuff we normally couldn’t have because we were working in black & white with a seriously degraded image.
RHT: Do you enjoy the “seat-of-your-pants” method that comes with ultra-low and low budget filmmaking, or would you like to work with a gazillion dollar budget?
JFM: I prefer the no-nonsense, low budget way of working. I don’t mind making compromises because there isn’t enough money. That just inspires you to come up with more creative solutions. I’ll take that any day over making compromises because some idiot producer or executive just doesn’t “get it.”
I’d like to find a happy medium where we have as much creative control as possible while having enough money to buy the time to get things right. By that I mean always getting all of the coverage we need and the freedom to do more that two or three takes of every shot. We hope to hit this magical combination with our next film, THE GIRL FROM MARS.
RHT: How hard is it to get distribution and financing for low-budget horror these days, and what’s your advice to struggling filmmakers?
JFM: It’s very hard. I’ve been very fortunate to have been able to make all of these movies and get them released. The thing that is really crushing is that for every hour I spend actually making a film, I spend 30 or more trying to raise money, get it into festivals, find distribution, etc. I’m a filmmaker, not a businessman, so this is the one aspect of the job I really can’t stand, but what can you do? That’s the way it is.
Sadly, I don’t have a lot of advice. I haven’t done it yet, but raising money through something like Kickstarter seems like a better bet at the moment than the old traditional sources.
As for distribution, it’s tough out there right now. It’s easy to get your film seen, but extremely difficult to make your money back doing so. Most indie film folks who get their movies released through a distributor still end up losing their shirt. The downside to the digital filmmaking revolution is that there are just so many movies out there now that distributors aren’t paying even close to what they were ten years ago.
RHT: What do you think of the use of YouTube as a device for marketing and financing, such as shooting teaser trailers? What about other social networking sites?
JFM: I’m the wrong person to ask because I’ve been lucky enough to be so busy that I’ve never had the time to explore all of the possibilities that these sites have to offer.
Although our company MonsterPants has a presence on Facebook, and we have a Twitter account for our upcoming film THE GIRL FROM MARS @marsgirlmovie — both of which are maintained by my producing partner Lisa Wisely — I don’t personally use any social networking sites.
People ask me all the time how I’m able to juggle so many projects and how I can write a full-length screenplay in five days and the answer is right there — I don’t let myself get distracted. I don’t use Twitter or Facebook, I don’t spend my time in forums chatting with other film people or reading blogs on what others are doing. I’m a writer and filmmaker first and foremost, so I need to spend my time actually doing those things, not talking online about doing them.
Now when you’re movie is finished, and you need to promote it, that’s a different matter. There’s no such thing as a bad way to let people know about your film. Just keep in mind how much time it takes to make your Facebook and Twitter campaign interesting and successful. But if you’re just a one or two-person operation and there’s still work to be done, I think it’s best to keep the distractions and excuses for procrastination to a minimum.
RHT: So for a question on today’s films, what are you thoughts on all the remakes permeating the cinema these days, and are there any films you’d like to remake?
JFM: Going back to almost the beginning of narrative cinema, there have always been remakes. But they were usually motivated by some advancement of technology; remaking a silent movie when sound came along or re-doing an old black and white film for an audience accustomed to watching things in color.
In the case of something like John Carpenter’s THE THING or Cronenberg’s THE FLY, aside from the black & white/color thing, the remake was completely justified because the original films were made during a time when the pacing was much slower, and the acting style was less naturalistic than what audiences in the 1980’s were used to.
But now that Hollywood is re-making films from the 1970’s and 80’s where the sensibility is the same as any good contemporary movie, and you can watch the originals on home video at anytime, it’s just cashing in on a brand without any regard to artistic merit whatsoever. These sorts of remakes don’t really interest me. As a rule, most of my favorite movies were made before 1983 anyway, so I don’t feel any need to see what the dumbed-down 21st century version of a 1970’s classic is going to be like.
I generally just want to make films based on my own original stories, but I do have two movies in mind that I would be interested in re-making if somebody came along with an offer and the money to make it happen. They are both horror films, one is an old MGM title and the other is an American International cheapie that doesn’t quite live up to the promise made by its title and poster. They aren’t exactly “dream projects,” but if the opportunity came up, they could be fun to do.
RHT: Tell usabout the latest project you’re about to start shooting, “The Girl from Mars! “
JFM: THE GIRL FROM MARS is a science fiction/romance about a guy who meets the girl of his dreams, who claims to be from another planet. I wrote the film specifically for actress Pauley Perrett,e and we were thrilled when she told us how much she loved the script.
I had written a story for her about a year earlier. It was a very dark and gory horror film in the vein of early Clive Barker stories with some Lovecraftian elements. But it was so grim, it just didn’t seem right for Pauley. The free-spirited and generous gal she plays in MARS celebrates what makes Pauley so special, and I think that’s going to make the movie a lot of fun for audiences.
The film is also a nice little breather for me after making HYPOTHERMIA as it’s all character and dialog-driven, so the effects aren’t dominating the production. I’ll be back to gore and monsters and robots soon enough though!
RHT : Pauley Perrette and Max Brooks (author of the bestseller ” World War Z ” and son of legendary director, Mel Brooks) both had cameos in ” Satan Hates You ” and both will appear in ” The Girl From Mars. ” How did you meet them and convince them to be in your films!?
JFM: Pauley is an old friend of my producing partner, Lisa Wisely. We both met her through Pauley’s best friend, Darren Greenblatt, who has been a huge help in getting THE GIRL FROM MARS off the ground. She loved the script, and we were in business!
Max is an old friend of mine who I met when he started dating his wife, Michelle Kholos, who I went to college with. He and I hit it off right away because we’re both big nerds who can spend hours talking about zombies, Bigfoot, Star Trek and King Kong.
He’s been amazing as far a promoting my films during interviews and appearances where he’s supposed to be talking about his own work! He’s gone above and beyond in that regard. It was because of this level of support that he’s given me that I figured I’d ask him to do a couple of cameos in our films, and he’s been very generous with his time.
RHT: So the biggest question of all, for any struggling or first-time filmmakers out there: Are you actually doing this for a living? As in, have you progressed to the point of making enough money as a filmmaker to sustain you?
JFM: I was a full-time employee of Glass Eye Pix for eight years, so thanks to Larry’s generosity, I was able to support myself working on my, and other people’s, films. Since deciding to strike out on my own last October, I’ve been getting by doing some little freelance writing, directing and editing gigs along with some graphic design work while we wait for the money to come in for the next feature. Operating at these lower budget levels certainly doesn’t mean champagne and caviar, but it can be enough to get by on as long as you’re able to keep working.
R HT: So what’s in the pipeline for James Felix McKenney?
JFM: Filming on THE GIRL FROM MARS is right around the corner. We just need to confirm a few things before we lock in our start date and then we can get to work.
After that, we’ve got seven projects in various stages of development: There’s a dark fantasy film in the “Twilight Zone” tradition called WORLD’S FAIR that I was gearing up to make when the offer to do HYPOTHERMIA came along. Then we have another rural monster movie that Max Brooks prodded me into writing (no, it’s not a zombie movie!). We have a couple of other horror movies lined up as well as two science fiction movies and some other “mystery” projects.
Even I don’t know which one will end up going into production first. It’s always the same story, it all comes down to raising the money. Even low budget films cost something to make!
To see one of James’ films from start to finish, check out his Glass Eye Pix films “Automatons” in its entirety at New York’s Public Television station WNET Reel 13.
View trailers and learn more about James’ other films at the Monsterpants official website