-- By Brett Stillo
The Earth is once again under attack from giant mutated arachnids, deformed subhuman creatures beneath the surface of the earth, and alien life forms from beyond space…all of whom are under control of a gentleman from Minnesota. Christopher R. Mihm is a prolific filmmaker (he's made ten feature films in ten years) with a singular vision. In this digital, high definition, hyper-streaming world, Mihm is dedicated to recreating the black and white, mutated, atomic terror of 1950’s sci-fi monster movies with a series of wild and wonderful tributes to B-Movie thrillers all linked together by a strange rift in space and time called “The Mihmverse.” Thanks to Mihm, the horror double feature is alive and well, and the Drive-In is still open for business.
Mihm will be at the Balboa Theatre in San Francisco on Wednesday, April 20th at 7:00pm, showing a double-fisted double-feature of his work with The Giant Spider and The Wall People. The Amoeblog recently caught up with Mihm in his secret underground laboratory somewhere in a strange realm beyond our imagination called Minnesota.
Amoeblog: Where does your love of movies come from?
CM: Growing up, going to the movies was a big thing in my family. My folks--and particularly my dad--treated movies like some people do sports. There was even a drive-in near our house that we'd hit almost every weekend when it was warm (being in Minnesota, you don't waste opportunities to be outside when it's not blisteringly cold).
Amoeblog: When did you start making movies? Were you that kid in the neighborhood making movies in the backyard with the family video camera?
CM: I never was that kid with the video camera but I REALLY wanted to be. I have a specific memory of one of my aunts bringing an old VHS video camera over to our house and letting me use it...and yes, I went nuts and filmed everything for that three hour span I had access to it!
The closest I got to learning anything film-related was when I was going to college for audio engineering. There were a handful of audio for video classes that were my absolute favorite and I excelled in them. Not so much in the other stuff but, my instructors made a point to encourage me to follow THAT avenue. Otherwise, outside of helping out at a public access television station in the mid '90s, I really have no formal training.
The Monster of Phantom Lake was my first real anything, really. I had helped out on some public access programs but nothing of the caliber of a feature.
Amoeblog: What was it like shooting your first film, The Monster of Phantom Lake?
CM:The first film took about two months to shoot (working mostly nights and weekends) and an additional three months to edit. It was the fastest film I ever made but, I really had little idea what I was doing. I'm much more meticulous now. I shot my first six features on a Panasonic DVX100A and upgraded to the HD version, the Panasonic HMC150, for the subsequent films.
Amoeblog: What are some of your favorite 1950’s horror and sci-fi movies?
CM: My top '50s sci-fi/horror films include Creature From The Black Lagoon (it's the best and most perfect example of a black-and-white monster movie, hands down), This Island Earth (a sci-fi epic that epitomizes 1950's science fiction), and Them! (Giant ants, amazingly effective filmmaking, and the inspiration for many films that followed. How can you NOT see its influence on films like Alien?).
Amoeblog: Good point! Are there any filmmakers from that era that influenced your work?
CM: I draw a lot of inspiration from Bert I. Gordon and Roger Corman. Bert I. Gordon was just a random guy from the Midwest (much like I am) and he pioneered a lot of cool special effects techniques. He had his own style and "flavor" to his films and I identify with that very much. Roger Corman was (and still is) a filmmaking beast! He's incredibly prolific. As someone who has tried to put out a feature a year, I admire that greatly.
Amoeblog: Your films have a lot of special effects, but you stay away from CGI. Is there ever a time when you go the digital route, or do you try to stay as faithful as possible with old-school, practical effects?
CM: We try very hard to use classic, retro practical effects whenever we can. We use models a lot. There's never been a CGI creature or ship or anything in any of my films. The tarantula in The Giant Spider is the family pet! However, because I edit digitally, I also composite everything digitally, which is pretty well unavoidable. I do strive for authenticity whenever possible! There are always techniques we haven't tried, like forced perspective, that we plan to at some point.
Amoeblog: You’re making “retro” films with modern technology. Can you describe some of the equipment you use to make your films?
CM: When I got into filmmaking in 2005, the technology wasn't too far removed from where it is now...at least for my purposes. HD really wasn't a thing yet so I went with the easiest to learn, best-quality-I-could-afford option, the DVX. As the years have gone by, a lot of the changes have been incremental. You can get affordable cameras, computers, and editing software that easily handles 4K resolutions (which are more cinematic by virtue of the resolution being closer to film than standard definition video will ever be). I am a "PC guy" so I edit using Sony Vegas Pro, which has only gotten better with each upgrade. All things considered, it's never been easier to make a movie on a tiny budget than it is right now.
Amoeblog: Can you describe the creative process that’s enabled you to make ten movies in ten years?
CM: I usually start writing a script a week or two after the premiere of whatever film I just released. All of my films are linked in a shared universe and have been since the beginning. You can jump in on any of them and not be lost, BUT if you see them all you'll see the threads that connect them. The writing takes four to six weeks, usually. Then, pre-production starts and we're shooting within a couple months. The shoot takes three to four months. Because my budgets are so small no one really ever gets paid, we always have to shoot around people's work schedules so it's often weekends. But that allows me to edit what we get during the week so as to keep the production always moving forward. Once we finish shooting, I'm usually done editing it within a month or two. Then it's art, disc authoring, and premiere...then it starts ALL OVER AGAIN.
Amoeblog: What’s the size of your crew for these productions?
CM: My crews tend to be VERY small. Often it's just me behind the camera and one or two people helping out in specific jobs like supervising the script or helping get an actor into and out of the monster costume. We keep them small on purpose. Partially, we don't need huge numbers of people. Our shoots are small and intimate, as a result.
Amoeblog: And how about your cast?
CM: In the beginning I held several auditions. From those auditions I met a lot of cool people who, once I
|Weresquito: Nazi Hunter|
finally got them in something, if we got along and they understand what I'm going for, I tend to recast them. I'll usually write roles with specific actors in mind. It makes it feel more like a small community theater troupe, which I enjoy A LOT. I think it helps the speed at which I put out films, too. The actors know generally what I'm going for and how my process works. It makes for a shorthand that keeps things moving at a tight clip.
Amoeblog: Among the films you’ve made, do you have a favorite?
CM: I love all my films but in different ways. The Monster of Phantom Lake being my first will always have a special place in my heart, if only because it started this whole crazy thing. The Giant Spider turned out closest to my original vision, so that makes it special to me. Danny Johnson Saves the World starred all my kids so it's extra special for being the "family movie." So...no, I don't have a specific favorite, but I do love each one for different reasons.
Amoeblog: What’s in store for the future?
CM: I am currently knee-deep on production of my latest film, Weresquito: Nazi Hunter. This one is a little darker than anything I've made before and it's turning out GREAT. It's linked in with all my other films in a very special way I can't reveal so as not to ruin the surprise. If everything goes just right, we'll be premiering the film at the end of September. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my films are 100% crowdfunded directly from my website AND if anyone out there reading this wants to see their name in the credits and receive a copy of the finished film, they should go to www.weresquito.com and join us!
Don't forget to catch The Giant Spider and The Wall People with director Christopher R. Mihm in attendance at the Balboa Theatre on Wednseday, April 20th at 7:00pm. Tickets HERE.