INT: Michael Davis

The Arrow interviews Michael Davis

Having directed "Eight Days a Week", "100 Girls" and "100 Women" (he loves them females...I respect that), "Monster Man" is Michael Davis' first directorial genre effort. Although bathed in outrageous comedy, there was enough plasma, guts and human atrocities in this film for me to firmly call it a horror flick. I had the chance to break necks with the man behind the wheel of this mad ride and here's what went down. 

ARROW: Are you, by nature, a fan of the horror genre?

MD: Whenever I have seen good horror, I have loved it. I loved "Evil Dead 2"...I think it is one of the most cinematic films in history. I took my girlfriend, now my wife, to it on Valentine’s Day. This film led me to seek out some of the Hong Kong films like "Chinese Ghost Story". I am by nature more of a sci-fi and action fan. I grew up loving James Bond…In junior high, I wrote two James Bond novels for myself.

I guess I come to horror late because my parents wouldn’t let me watch it. I know most fans and filmmakers of the genre started on it as kids. The closest I got was buying those old Warren publications of Eerie and Creepy magazines…but I was interested in them for the illustration style (and the hot Vampirella like babes) , I thought the Marvel and DC comic book style was boring. Since I was into drawing, I thought there was a greater variety to the drawing styles in those mags than other places. Esteben Morato and his El Cid series I believe was the series I liked best. The guy who designed Johnny Qyest worked for Eerie. I convinced my mom to let me buy them because of my artistic  interest…not my interest in the zombies. But somewhere in my subconscious, this horror stuff must have stuck. Frankly, I probably didn’t read the stories but I did pour over the pictures.

Anyway, it must have helped…I went to art school at Parsons School of Design and majored in illustration. After film school, I became a storyboard artist and did such things as Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Ninja Turtles, Mighty Joe Young, Medicine Man…I had the most fun of any of the five features I’ve written and directed making "Monster Man". But, I can’t say I am in the same league with the Eli Roths of the world and say I grew up on horror films. But I'd love to make another horror film. It’s a great genre…and I love the cinematic potential of it.

ARROW: How did the inspiration for the "Monster Man" screenplay come about?

MD: The producers of my previous two films 100 GIRLS and 100 WOMEN make their movies through foreign presales. They had tested the market place with the title Monster Man, but they had no story. They felt it was a title that they could sell and asked me if I was interested in making a movie with that title. I thought it was an opportunity to work in a new genre. My last three films, EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, 100 GIRLS, and 100 WOMEN were all romantic comedies. So, I said sure.

They didn’t have much money and I also struggled with the title. I dreamed about making a  horror film like SHALLOW GRAVE or something like that but I kept coming back to the title. It had a very drive-in movie quality to it. I felt I had to come up with an idea that matched the title. It was also important to me that although I was working in a new genre that the new film had a continuity with my previous work.  After much head scratching, I stumbled upon the idea of a monster driving a monster truck. It made me smile. It seemed to fit the title. I had been a fan of the PS2 game Twisted Metal which had crazy vehicles creating mayhem. I was also a fan of Road Warrior and Duel so I felt like the idea was at least coming from someplace in my heart. I feel good movies are made when there is some honesty to your desire to make it not just fortune and glory. So, since I had these influences, the idea seemed honest to me and I went from there. My last movies had all taken place almost in a Rear Window-like single locations so the chance to do a road trip with space was also appealing. My last three films, also had male characters talking about girls and sex in a CLERKS inspired way.

So, I thought great. I can still continue my voice, I can have these guys talk about chicks and stuff in between being chased by a monster truck. My previous movies had focused on the romantic comedy elements but some of the best comedy came from the moments between the two buddies…this idea afforded me the chance to finally do a real buddy comedy. I also had started experimenting doing animations on my computer using iMovie. I made an animated trailer of the movie that my producers showed at Mifed. It was a hit and people started investing. I like that my drawing ability and animation skills can be used to show people exactly how I’m going to film the movie later.  It’s like taking storyboarding to the next level. I know guys like David Fincher and ILM have the computer generated animatic programs, but they leave me cold. There’s a certain emotion that only a drawing can create. I’ll put my animated storyboards up against their cold cgi junk any day. Anyway, I’m off on a tangent.  Lets say my animated mini film was a good sales tool to get the film going. It helped Lions Gate pick up the movie before we started shooting.

ARROW: Were your intentions with the film to both frighten and amuse the audience at the same time? Which emotion did you want to trigger first and foremost?

MD: I feel like there are two kinds of horror films: 1- the kind that make you laugh with disgust like Evil Dead or  2- scary, eerie films like The Ring and the Exorcist. In my opinion, to make an super scary film like The Exorcist (I was bored with the Ring) is that you have to maintain a consistent, creepy tone to keep the tension up, you can’t break it for one moment for comedy or you’ve blown it. You have to keep the hairs on the back of the audiences neck all the time, then you can get them. I don’t know if I can make a film like that. 

One because I can’t resist making people laugh and because I’m afraid to bore people. Those atmosphere type movies are risky, it’s hard to hold an audience in that suspended state. I also think it takes a lot of nifty camera work, lots of shots, cool production design, and lighting to create this mood.  This all takes time and money none of which I had.  I’m sure there are some low budge horror flicks that can pull this off but hey I decided to rely on my strengths and I like to laugh so I guess to answer your question I wanted to trigger laughs first. My goal was simple. I find in most horror films, the blood and attack scenes usually always work because they’re visceral even if done poorly.  Where some of these films aren’t as successful is the scenes between the horror set pieces suck. They’re usually boring. The  characters are uninteresting and we can’t wait for them to die.  My goal was to make the scenes between  the horror scenes fun and funny.  Hence, the buddy comedy stuff- the Velcro, the Rosebud dissertation, the comic wrestling, the hood ornament/pubic hair parallel if I can make that work, I felt the blood and guts stuff would work…I don’t know if my blood and guts stuff is scary to be honest with you.  I’ve seen light weights freak out at it, but the hard core fans…I don’t know…but I bet it’s hard to get any hard core fan to be freaked. I didn’t get scared once in Evil Dead 2 or Scream but I had fun. So, my philosophy was “hey, I’m not a master of horror and suspense but I’ll just have fun with it. If people are scared great…if they laugh…that’s just as good.”  I didn’t want my comedy to be spoofy or campy…Unless you have Bruce Campbell, that can get tiring. So, I consciously tried to get funny…get real performances from the actors. I think the actors have to believe they’re in the situation.  I think this helps the movie…

Although there are definite nods to many films like Jeepers Creepers, I didn’t want to spoof them spoofs are hard to maintain the energy and comedy. To tell you the truth, my main goal was just to try to make an entertaining movie in the genre.  I didn’t have much time or money. I didn’t want to paint myself into a corner and make a movie more ambitious than my budget.  Hence, I tried to create scenes that were fun and disgusting that didn’t require time and lots of money. Hence, the genesis of the road kill licking scene.  I was not attempting to reinvent the wheel, I was just trying to make it fun and also have a stamp on it. so fans of my romantic comedies would say…hey…that feels like a Michael Davis movie. So,  yeah,  I fell back on what I know best…laughs…but I hope there is some visceral thrill in seeing some guys head crushed by a vise…or a cool Monster Truck knocking the guys off the road…I like the idea of someone sandwiched between a corpse and the weight of a monster truck.  We’ve seen people with corpses, I just think it’s fun to see them mushed with one. My favorite bit in the whole film is the kid’s chronic bloody nose being the ‘trail of bread crumbs” that leads Fuck Face to the blade that stabs him. Although, I used comedy as a crutch, I hope I gave the audience enough blood and violence to satisfy their expectations of the genre.

ARROW: Did you find it hard to find the proper dosages between the laughs and the scares to make an overall balanced film?

MD: Every audience member is different. I always say someone can watch a Woody Allen movie and say that was boring cuz there’s nothing cinematic about it. Or someone can watch a John McTiernan movie and say the dialogue was flat. There’s no pleasing everyone. I guess I just put in stuff that delights me and hopefully others will like my choices.  As I said above, I don’t know if my film is scary, maybe there are too many laughs but that’s what I do my main goal was to have most of the laughs spring from the characters not from spoofing. All of Harley’s funny stuff comes from his testosterone fueled philosophy. I believe his character thinks about this stuff. Adam’s Velcro fetish is funny and establishes who he is…I believe somewhere out there in the world, someone has gotten a bloody nose while making out. So I put it in to make the romance scene just a little bit different than the other ones out there.  For me, there’s enough of a balance. If I had more money, I’d put in more scares. Give me a big budget and I’ll gladly take out laughs for scares.  I’ll create an Alien or something, with no money, I'll stick with what I know.

For me, the film is tonally consistent and works. That’s how I start. Hopefully it works for other people. To tell you the truth, I was scared shitless that I wouldn’t have time to pull off enough of the action, suspense stuff. You may notice the trick; I have two truck chases, I use several of the same angles for the meat of the two chases. I made the second one different by adding a curved section of the road and added the corpse in the backseat to create a visual difference but it was basically a two-for-one set up kind of filmmaking. The corpse in the backseat may have undercut the terror of the second chase by adding a gross, funny element but I couldn’t have afforded to do a completely different kind of chase. So the corpse element was a way to make the second chase different (even though they’re almost  the same from a camera set up perspective.) So, some of the comedy was born of necessity rather than a balancing act between comedy and horror. The scene where Adam “eats someone” is not original but it was cheap to do. I felt it was better to have something than nothing. Again, I was just trying to make something work with very little. So, I was flying by the seat of my pants, adding blood, adding comedy, going by my instincts, hoping like hell that the mix works. Hopefully, it does with the audience. I know I have a good time watching it, that’s as far as I can make it work.

ARROW: I particularly enjoyed the clever dialogue found in this picture. It had me on the floor! Were any of the characters based on yourself or people you know? If not, where did you find the inspiration for them?

MD: I can’t tell you when, how, or who but the girl doing Yoda while having sex actually happened to me…I had a Velcro wallet…and I liked the sound it made. I always wanted to make jump cut music out of the rip-rip-rip noise. This movie worked well for it. I keep a notebook with me so that when I hear something interesting I can write it down and use it later. For instance, I was buying a book and some girl commented on the color of my eyes. She went on to say she had “root beer colored eyes…” I loved it and wrote it down. I used it in the movie cuz I think there is some goofball poetry to it. I am insecure about writing dialogue. I don’t think I am good with it off the cuff but because I have a master list of these little gems, I forge forward knowing that I can refer to this list I have. If I listen, every day I find something to write in the book. I also collect odd ball philosophies and trivia. The Rosebud trivia is true. Fructose in semen is true. Thus, it’s easy to make comedy from it. The pubic hair parallel to hood ornament is just from my twisted mind…but hey…it’s right there in front of us all to make the comparison.

ARROW: So what’s your process as a screenwriter? Do you have any odd “rituals” that you do when you sit down and aim to create?

MD: Well, referring to my collection ideas is one way. I doodle a lot before I write. I used to be a storyboard artist…sometimes, I doodle the sequence before I write it. The match dissolve from the “guy in the vise’s” eye to the antenna mascot came from doodling. Once I liked the visual, it spawned the antenna ball’s appearance in other places in the movie. I like when the car is run off the road, and the kid first fixes the antenna ball before anything else cuz he’s so anal. The antenna ball hood ornament on the monster truck would never be there if I hadn’t doodled first. I also jot down a brainstorm list of everything the concept naturally calls for like a monster truck crushing the car— a obvious scene for horror,  the road leads to road kill…okay, now I need to do something fun with road kill…that leads to road kill tonguing. I won’t start writing until I know I have enough fun stuff. Once I have something I liked for every scene, then I write.

ARROW: Monster Man has its fair share of stunt set pieces, especially when it came to that monstrous Monster Truck. What would you say was the trickiest “stunt” scene to shoot?

MD: The truck chase was the hardest because there were so many layers of communication. I would be in the camera car in front of monitor. I’d give the AD a note to tell to drivers of the Monster Truck then he’d talk into the walki—by the time the command was given the framing was different, it was frustrating. Brother Fred’s make up took three hours and then I’d shoot for an hour and then he’d have to pee…uh, we won’t go into how that problem was solved.

ARROW: The gore in the film was fairly prominent. Was the MPAA easier on you since most of it was played for laughs or did you have to do lots of snipping to appease them?

MD: The MPAA was great. We didn’t have to make any changes. I guess it was the comedy. My editor, Kevin Ross, also has knows what they like and don’t like and cut the film to make sure we didn’t have problems. Funny, I make a gory film and I have no problems, but my cute little EIGHT DAYS A WEEK got an NC-17 the first time out. Go figure.

ARROW: What’s next on your plate, project-wise?

MD: This business is brutal. You’ve got to have a lot of things going for one thing to hit. I have an American “John Woo-like” action film called SHOOT ‘EM UP. I’ve actually planned all the action scenes by doing anime-like animation on my computer. I’ve got 17 minutes of animation which shows how all the action set pieces would be done. It looks like you’re watching the movie, shot and edited except it’s drawn. The script actually got recommend coverage at New Line but they didn’t bite cuz they spent all their money on "Lord of the Rings" at the time of submission. I am currently shopping SHOOT ‘EM UP.

I’ve also got a science fiction piece called XENOPHOBIA with Renee O’Connor (from Xena) attached going into the Sci-fi channel. We’ll see what they think. I’ve been approached by different people to do another horror film. If the money is there, I’d love to do another one There’s actually a kid’s picture that may happen with Miramax, that’s in the works. And I’m also writing a new action piece. Oh, I am also thinking of selling my blood and sperm cause the movie business is so tough. I’m serious. Hopefully, one of these things will break or I’ll be calling you for a job.

ARROW: I hear ya on the roughness of the biz, dude! Having said that, "Monster Man" begs for a sequel. If successful, would you be up to delivering it as a writer and director?

MD: Hell yeah! I got this idea, instead of a rural piece with Monster Trucks it will be the complete opposite. It will be urban and it will be about these little demons that drive mini-Coopers kind of like "The Italian Job" meets "Ghoulies" I don’t know…it’s a start.

I'd like to thank Michael for his time and for the horror delight that was "Monster Man". Keep popping those genre films out dude and we'll keep watching!

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