Congrats on all of the success of Melon Head on the festival circuit, sir! It played great at this past year's festival and it caught me reflecting about your filmmaking career as a whole. From your visionary student film, Rose Colored Glasses, back during your undergrad years at GVSU all the way up to now. How and why did you develop Melon Head?
First of all, thanks a lot for the kind words about Melon Head. October was very exciting month as we had the opportunity to be a part of 10 different festivals around the world. With the number of variables that determine how a film does on the circuit, I’m just grateful to see that the film has been received so well, and am looking forward to seeing how the film does throughout the upcoming months.
Melon Head was inspired by actual events that occurred many years ago, deep within a heavy wooded forest of Southwest Michigan…Well, maybe that’s only partially true. Haha!! In all seriousness, the short film’s story is very loosely based on the Urban Legend of “The Melon Heads”. A story I recall as a teenager that describes an area of woods where a group of cannibalistic children with swollen heads, known as “The Melon Heads” were rumored to live. In all reality, it was a place for teenagers to joy ride on a Friday night with the intent of scaring the daylights out of underclassman… But then again, maybe Melon Heads do exist?!
After I looked deeper into the urban legend, I discussed it with my collaborator, Zac Page. I was interested in experimenting with blending horror and absurd comedy, and felt that an urban legend as ridiculous as “The Melon Heads” would be a great foundation for a story with wacky characters, an absurd comedic scenario, and the opportunity to play around with cinematic technique and camera grammar often used in horror films.
Have you and Zac Page, (fellow Grand Rapids based screenwriter/director) worked together before Melon Head? I see you all are currently working on a project called Moths. Can you tell us something about it?
Zac Page and I met as students at Grand Valley State University. Although we worked together on a couple projects back then, our collaboration really took off when we developed his script, The Painter and the Wife, as one of my grad school films at Columbia University. That was a very rewarding experience for both of us, and since then we have worked nonstop, going from one project to the next. The current project that we are working on is my graduate thesis film for Columbia University, titled Moths.
Moths is a drama that takes place in the Midwest in the early 1940s. It is a about a 9-year-old girl named Samantha, who despite the judgment from her peers, decides to befriend a disfigured teen-aged boy named Frank. As a result of that relationship, Samantha learns a lesson about true friendship and has an experience that changes her life forever.
The script for Moths was inspired by a short story written by the author Chris Haven, a creative writing professor at GVSU. Zac Page initially adapted the material into a short screenplay that I read about 5 years ago, but was shelved due to a lack of time, funds, and the ability we knew we needed to complete the project. Approaching my graduate thesis work, we felt the time was right to start working on the project again, and I decided to workshop the script as a part of my thesis class at Columbia University. We have been working heavily on this project for about a year now and it is definitely the most challenging personal project to date. Right now we are crowd fundraising on Indiegogo.com to help raise the funds we need to make this film a reality.
In your Moths fundraising video, this short movie seems incredibly ambitious and has a great many moving parts to it. Honestly, I've come to expect no less from you and your team at this point but what are some of the biggest challenges you all have faced in making Moths?
We definitely have a number of challenges ahead on this project. First of all, the story takes place in the 1940s, and that adds a level of difficulty with regards to historical accuracy in the production design of locations, set dressing, picture vehicles, props, and wardrobe. We have a need for a rather involved visual effects process to help create the Cecropia Moths shown in the film. That alone will take a few months to complete. The actor playing the part of Frank will require a prosthetic makeup procedure, which involves a lot of prep work, and time on set each day to get right. In addition, we are bringing in actors from NYC, LA, and Chicago so there are some financial and logistical challenges there. And although we’re hoping for snow in this film, shooting in the first week of January in unpredictable Michigan weather always runs the risk of getting nasty. Most importantly, I believe there is richness to the characters and drama within this story that makes it a story worth telling. My personal goal is to exemplify those story and character details amongst the technical demands we face on this project.
With graduating from Columbia University soon, and with your work having a distinct 'Michigan' vibe to it, we're wondering if you plan on returning to make more movies here? Are you working on anything else right now outside of Moths?
Michigan is home to me and I am most definitely planning on returning to make movies. I had the opportunity to work on some of the feature films in the state a few years ago when the film tax incentive was really taking off and I hope to see more support from the state with regards to filmmaking in Michigan. Having worked on a number of projects in Michigan, I have developed a number of relationships with people over the years, and have discovered that there is an abundance of talented filmmakers, crew, and actors in the state. Not to mention there are a variety of backdrops and seasons, suitable for a multitude of stories. And from what I have experience, the community is supportive and interested in filmmaking. In addition to my thesis film, I’m currently in development on a feature length version of Melon Head which I am hoping to shoot back in Michigan after finshing up at Columbia. I am also polishing up two additional feature screenplays (a thriller and a road trip comedy) that are a part of my writing portfolio that I hope to start developing in the near future.
Any advice you have for fellow filmmakers and for those people looking to get into the trade?