Mike T. Lyddon is a man with many credits to his name and has shown in his films his love for true independent films. We got a chance to interview the man about his influences, what its really like to be an independent filmmaker and much more.
How did you first get into the film business?
After tinkering around with short super 8 films in 1980’s California, I moved to New Orleans and started painting houses for a living. I met up with another aspiring filmmaker, Jeff Turick, and we made a few shorts which got attention and won some awards. We ended up making what would be my first feature film endeavor, CUT UP (1994). We had immediate response from distributors and the film ended up grossing about 140,000 dollars in foreign sales, pretty good for a low budget indie flick that cost 28K. It was also named the best independent feature by Shot in LA magazine that year.
Right after that, I collaborated with New Orleans artists Will Frank and Karl DeMolay and we made Zombie! Vs. Mardi Gras, a 5,000 dollar horror comedy shot on super 8 black and white. It got a lot of press including reviews in the New York Times, TV Guide, Christian Science Monitor and the infamous review from The Amazing World of Cult Movies (http://www.soundandvision.com/content/best-and-worst-cult-movies-all-time-exposed#2dhBISik27Trxb3l.97) which described the film as follows:
“This dreadful dungheap may be the worst piece of garbage I have ever seen. The film appears to have been pieced together out of loose ends of home movies shot on a cheesy black-and-white camera. It’s an incoherent, senseless mess which does for independent cinema what the dodo did for birds. I seriously considered retiring from film criticism after viewing it because I couldn’t think of any adjectives obscene enough to adequately describe it.“
One of my favorite reviews for any of my films. If you can provoke such a response from a film critic, you know you’re doing something right lol!
Who or what has been your biggest influence?
Hard to peg just one, but Carpenter, Polanski, Corman, Kaufman and Argento are some of my favorites. Lesser known artists like Steven Sayadian (Dr. Caligari, Cafe Flesh, Night Dreams) and Erle Kenton (Island of Lost Souls) were also great influences.
Your feature film debut was with the thriller CUT UP! which has an almost Giallo feel to it with the lighting that is reminiscient of Dario Argento movies. Was this your intention going into the film?
Turick and I appreciated Dario Argento’s artistry in filmmaking so we decided to do this kind of Noir – Giallo murder mystery. Argento is a visual master and we strove to bring a touch of that lush look to CUT UP. Phil Beard (Sex, Lies and Video Tape) was the lighting designer, and his amazing work in the cemetery and Piaza d’ Italia scenes are superb. We also combined the cut up method of writing made famous by Tristan Tzara, William Burroughs et al wherein you take something written, cut it up and reassemble it in random order to create a new meaning with the words.
In addition, we utilized the dream machine, a device which allows you to experience dream-like imagery in a waking state of consciousness. In the film, the killer is cutting up the bodies of his victims and reassembling them in a random manner on their torsos. A cut up message is written in the victim’s blood at every crime scene and the detectives are trying to figure out what they really mean. It’s a good little mystery and you can check it out on Amazon VOD.
You followed CUT UP with the horror comedy ZOMBIE! VS MARDI GRAS. This had a release on VHS but hasn’t had a DVD release. Will it ever see the light of day on DVD or Blu-Ray?
It did have a limited DVD release in 2006, but I am not connected with the distribution of the film and I can’t tell you about a further DVD release. That being said, you never know…
HORROR ANTHOLOGY MOVIE VOLUME 1 saw you doing alot of work with a series of shorts. Which was your favourite to work on and would we see any of the stories (The Cordyceps Principle…hint hint) being made into feature length movies?
The Cordyceps Principle is one of my favorites as well, and I made it only because I thought one of the other filmmakers wasn’t going to come through with their film. At the last minute they forked their movie over, but I’d already shot Cordyceps and thus we ended up with a 118 minute anthology feature. Eventually I’m going to convert Cordyceps into a short story and see if I can sell it, and take it from there. I enjoy taking bizarre science related stories and tweaking them into a fictional premise. I thought Barry Levinson’s “The Bay” was a brilliant way of taking hard science and pushing it to the next level. Of all sub-genres, science fiction – horror is probably my favorite. And a bit of comedy. Definitely a bit of comedy.
You have garnered wide success with your most recent film FIRST MAN ON MARS. The sfx are great and harken back to the 1970s, 1980s style of films. What are your favourite films from this time period?
Thank you. We enjoyed doing the practical and make up effects and Don Dohler’s Cinemagic magazine came in handy once again. After all these years I still reference Cinemagic for a variety of effects tips. I am told the film is selling very well on Amazon VOD and will be on Google Play by the end of March.
First A.C. Jon Claude Harris got the movie into the Loup Garou Sci-Fi Horror Film Festival in New Orleans last October. Incredibly enough, Zombie! Vs. Mardi Gras and a short film from Horror Anthology Vol. 1 which I produced were also featured at the festival, so it turned into this sort of retrospective spanning from 1994 to 2016. Unfortunately I was in the wilds of Cusco that weekend scouting locations for another movie, but it was quite a kick to know that I left a small yet enduring b-movie legacy in the Big Easy.
Favorite films from the 70’s – 80’s in no particular order are The Exorcist, Return of the Living Dead, Dr. Caligari (1989), Idaho Transfer, Blow Up, The Thing, Alien, A Boy and his Dog, The Andromeda Strain, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Phantom of the Paradise, Suspiria, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver, Toxic Avenger, Chinatown, The Last Picture Show, Black Christmas, Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things, Phase IV, Dark Star, The Incredible Melting Man (natch!)
What is your favourite area to work on a film as your credits are varied from writer, producer, director right through to doing music?
On the pre-production end I enjoy writing the scripts. During production I like directing, camera and special make up effects, although it can get a bit hectic. In post I like the visual editing and finding and/or recording music. First Man on Mars was a bit of a mix with some original tracks and royalty free recordings which I thought worked out quite well.
What advice (if any) would you to any aspiring filmmakers?
If you’re making a no-budget film for commercial release, always consider using legal stock footage and pre-recorded music where needed. You will save time and money in the long run and save yourself from a lot of headaches. That being said, if you know some talented musicians and can make some decent, cost effective recordings, do it! I always use a mix of original and stock in my films and I like the work flow.
Also, don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. If you’re budget won’t allow for shooting on film or higher quality video, use what you have. People are shooting films with smart phones and super 8. It’s not nearly as important shooting on 6K as it is writing an interesting, engaging script. The script is the most important aspect of a film. If you don’t have an effective story, all of the sparkly effects in the world won’t save your movie.
And finally, avoid the high concept
bandwagon. Blair Witch Project was a
great found footage film and Night of the Living Dead is probably the best
zombie movie ever made, but we don’t need a billion more regurgitations of the
same shit. Find something different and
don’t worry about being commercial. If
you have an original story to tell, tell it. People will find your film and you will have an audience.
Do you have any future projects lined up you could tell us about?
I have a film on the boards for 2019 called Hellpaca, but I’m taking this year off to tend to other things and wrap up some miscellaneous projects I’ve been tinkering with. I have another script I’ve been working on with a fellow writer so we’re going to shop that around this year as well.
Interview by Peter ‘Witchfinder‘ Hopkins
Check out our review of FIRST MAN ON MARS (2016) by clicking HERE.