Raping Through the Years with Michael Todd Schneider - August 2009
Interview by: Ronny
with help from: Amelie and Preston
When most people think of Michael Todd Schneider, or "Maggot", they think of his portrayal of the serial killer and overall sadistic character from the instant cult classic "August Underground's Mordum". When I think of him, I think of a independent filmmaker of explosive proportions who's been involved in more films than people would think, and someone who puts more love and time into filmmaking than what could be considered healthy. The ten films I've posted above is only a part of the things he has done, both in his company Maggot Films and for other movies. He's worked on such movies as "Bigfoot at Holler Creek Canyon", "Return in Red", Two Front Teeth" and G. Cameron Romero's (yes, the son of George A. Romero) movie "The Screening". Excellent director, special effects artist, cinematographer, actor, and for us at Film Bizarro; friend. I got in contact with Michael a while before our website got launched. He always believed in our site and he is still staying with us, something that has made Maggot Films the closest thing we have to a sister company (this also explains the extra promoting we do for them).
Now, finally after over a year, we've gotten a fantastic interview with the man. We did this a short while back because we've waiting for the right time to post it. We sincerely hope you will enjoy it and that you'll seek out his creations after the read.
You are currently working on three films, one which you started more recently, called "Our Devil's Night". What can you say about it?
It's a dirty little confrontational thing, and is Maggot Films main half of the anthology "DOUBLE DOSE OF TERROR!!" A collaboration with Tyler Tharpe("Freak", "Return in Red"). It stars Nikki McIntyre, Ben Tatar, Justin Alvarez, with Jerimiah Skertich, Meghann Recklies, Wallace J. Brown III and April Radzanowski.
How are things going with the three coming films, "Our Devil's Night", "...And Then I Helped" and "Let's Make... A Horror Movie"?
Principal photography has wrapped on all three and they’re each cut. We’re now completing a few pickups, finishing the soundtracks and color correcting/mixing them. Each will be completed around late Fall. One by one…by one…by one…
What can we expect from them, and what are they about?
" ...And Then I Helped" is set in 1976 and is designed to look as if it was made then as well. It's a story full of mystery revolving around brutal murders and strange things going on just behind closed doors. It stars Ben Tatar, Nikki McIntyre, Justin Alvarez, Jerry Summers and myself. The story was written by Max Almeida, Nikki McIntyre and I. It includes special makeup FX from Benzidream FX Studios, Maggot Films as well as some wild FX from Shawn Collins and Nick Mears.
"Our Devil's Night" is about a family that take great pleasure in challenging those around them and pushing boundaries. The spirit of Halloween plays a large part of the atmosphere, so we get to follow them as they enjoy the holiday festivities as they see fit.
"Let's Make… a Horror Movie" is about a group of filmmakers trying to realize the creation of their “big” film. Unfortunately for them, many real horrors await. It blurs the line between veracity and fiction, pulling you along an emotional journey of dreams. It also features the same key actors amongst many many others...
Is there something that separates these films from each other completely, or something that perhaps even connects them?
...And Then I Helped" is THE movie "they" are trying to make in "Let's Make… a Horror Movie". The key characters are watching the "..Horror Movie" in "Our Devil's Night"… They all compliment one another and what one doesn't offer the other does. " ...And Then I Helped" and "Let's Make… a Horror Movie" are going to make a really great double feature, kind of a fun grindhouse type of thing. While you watch the "...Horror Movie", it builds an interest in "...Helped" and you wonder what this film would be like, if they actually made that movie.
We're creating a world, something I've always been fond of with other filmmakers. When you go in, you have some cross hatching and ideas reworked. Bled into familiar but mind bending schemes...it makes for a groovy adventure.
I couldn't agree more. Even the real small things like Troma films being set in Tromaville are fun.
Hell yeah. It amplifies the escape that film offers. Not something that necessarily locks you into a series of films, but something that enters you into a key world...as you say, like Troma films. They're in Tromaville, yet you don't know the story itself, but some things will be familiar like locations, faces, themes, etc. Stephen King is another great example of that, visiting Castle Rock can be like traveling back home when you‘ve lived a long ways away for years.
Do you have any idea about the runtime on these projects yet?
Currently "Let's Make… a Horror Movie" is 94 minutes. "...And Then I Helped" is 81 minutes. "DOUBLE DOSE OF TERROR!!" is 75 minutes.
Are they expected to get a real release?
Yes sir, that's the plan, we'll be doing the rounds and looking for the best home.
(Click picture for trailer)
Do you have a "dream distributor", a company you'd really like to get a film released by?
Not really. There's surely ones that I respect and generally enjoy their releases. Once these films are wrapped I'm sure there will be a dream distributor. They’ll be keeping my hopes up all night, but until I'm on to that next step...the current dream is seeing these films through to the end.
Both "...And Then I Helped" and "Let's Make... A Horror Movie" were up for being part of yours and Tyler Tharpe's horror anthology "Double Dose of Terror" at one point, but now "Our Devil's Night" has taken that spot. Why the changes and is this decision final?
It is final. Making more than one film at a time is nothing I'd ever want to undertake but it's been necessary. The anthology originally began with three key directors, the other was Alan Rowe Kelly. We were all in separate states and hit the ground running. It just kept ending with enormously ambitious results. Now Alan has two features in the can ("The Bloodshed", "Gallery of Fear"), Tyler's original script is now a feature of its own ("Crack-Then Split") and we wound up with two separate feature films as well ("…And Then I Helped" & "Let‘s Make …a Horror Movie"). At the end of the day, Tyler and I decided to make our entries with the same working conditions...an easy solution, but the original energy spawned a lot of films that none of us would've seen possible in the beginning. I wouldn't take it back for anything. Hence the creation of "Our Devil’s Night".
So now, when you see "DOUBLE DOSE..." it's more like seeing an episode of "Masters of Horror", all directors work with the same conditions, so you're going in knowing that you get to taste what they did with their paint.
Although, the ironic thing is that conditions for our shoot cut the shooting time in half. We fought against some really ridiculous scenarios and just wouldn't accept defeat. The conditions were so absurd, it turned out to be a great time. Real life doesn’t want you to make art, every corner offers another disaster or random interruption. When you’ve been there enough times, that part of the process can actually be very entertaining and even devastating at times, but never boring.
There was actually a Masters of Horror-ish thing that was gonna be made by Nick Palumbo ("Murder-Set-Pieces", now a crazy man trying to sell his films' rights and sites on Ebay) and Ryan Nicholson ("Live Feed", "Gutterballs"), called "Fearmongers" or something like that, that would be a more extreme version of "MoH". I was looking forward to that, but since it never happened maybe "Double Dose.." will make up for that, except in a "more Creepshow"-ish way?
Potentially, since it very easily could become a series of its own. Giving the directors the same working conditions and tying two or three stories together. It's smaller in scale than an entire series, though each remains a feature which isn't small in scale by any means...
There were a lot of great directors tied to the "Fearmongers" series, I was sorry to see it fade too.
Making a movie is always a hard process, but which one of these has been the most challenging for you as a filmmaker and what specific part of making it?
Each film contains it’s own, in the moment they’re equally difficult. I always put everything I can muster into making the best of the moment. Making independent films can be very disheartening, not being able to do something you’ve dreamed up. Maybe you can’t make something as big as you’d wanted. These are everyday challenges, my obsession is pulling off something that won’t ever cheat that big idea. Though you can’t pull it off budgetary, there’s always a way of realizing what that ‘thing’ contained. If you’re creative enough, that ‘thing’ could wind up better than what it started as.
I know a lot of the bizarre things in "August Underground's Mordum" came straight from your mind. Are we to expect that kind of sickness or something totally different from these?
I think if you're familiar with my brain, you'll recognize the themes and approach. Thematically, all I've ever done has been an enormous pyramid. Everything interlocks into one enormous puzzle. Without one there can't be the other...
...So...I suppose...it's a "yes"..but not one that you can lock a finger on.
With your new films coming, this could really be considered a comeback. Do you think it will take time before people stop thinking of you as Mordum's Maggot?
I always think it’s weird when people try to be forgotten for something they're known for. Most people live their whole lives hoping to be remembered for something. I’m simply an artist trying to create what I want to create. You can’t make art predicting what will be thought of it, or else it’ll be a lie. I’m not trying to be forgotten for things of the past
I’ve done, they’re all part of me. I’m also not trying to be remembered for films I’m making. You have to make art for the sake of making it. We’re all not able to predict the future, we just have to take it one beat at a time. If you’re lucky to touch a nerve with your art, that can be an exciting reward. Time tells all fates.
I'm guessing they will be seeing something more.. humane, in your new characters?
Overall...yes the "newer" characters are more humane. It'd be failure to try and out think that character in excess, but all the roles always hold something odd. I suppose I'm drawn to strange characters, with deeply routed troubles.
"August Underground's Mordum" really became a huge success in the underground world. Has there been a point where you felt like a star because of it?
Not even if you are in a pile of people who's seen the film and likes it?
No, that always feels like a strange dream. Since I left Toetag Pictures and they’ve had the pleasure of the films success, I feel like an outsider looking in. It’s nice meeting people who enjoy the film, but that’s never felt very glamorous by any means.
How often do you stumble upon a fan, who haven’t personally contacted you? Like on the streets or conventions?
Conventions always hold interesting moments...a wonderful awkward meeting...
While we're on the subject of "Mordum". There is a version of it called "Maggot's Cut", but contrary to popular belief, it's not your cut, but just a name for the version. So for those who don't know, what exactly was Maggot's Cut?
It was what the collective Toetag crew of the time could agree on. I tried to satisfy all involved while remaining true to the films vision. It’s the closest cut to me that anyone has seen, but it’s certainly not the cut I personally would’ve cut.
If you actually had your own cut with full control, what would it be like? Anything specific you would add or remove?
Overall, it would've just been more true to itself. Not as safe.
I've heard you always wanted to make a snuff-ish kind of film, even before you saw the first "August Underground". Is this something you could imagine doing now? What would you do to separate it from "Mordum"?
Faux snuff films to me are the ultimate horror film, it breaks the boundary of cinematic safety. Originally, I considered making my first feature "My Crepitus" a snuff film. I realized it best to wait, since this film started as an art school project. I wanted to execute what I’d learned in class, inject films traditional rules into my system and twist them along the way. One scene in the film was shot much like a snuff film, that taste yearned for further exploring when the moon aligned…
If I had the chance to do a "faux snuff" film now, it'd be an attempt at realizing something as true to its vision as possible. Anything could happen, there’d be no rules.
There is a film that just recently came out from Unearthed Films called "Two Front Teeth". I looked around on IMDb.com and I found your name on there. You are credited under "Special Effects Technician" along with your girlfriend Nikki McIntyre. Could you tell us something about it?
It's a wacky film staged around Christmas. Evil elves, good and bad Santa's using Kung Fu against one another, ninja nuns. An odd balance of dry humor and an over the top story. We were one of three FX teams, our main purpose was supplying gore gags.
What other movies have you worked on, that weren't Maggot Films or Toetag Pictures?
The Screening, Chrome Baby, The Kranny, The Neighbor Guy, The Wickeds, Return in Red, Gallery of Fear, Bigfoot at Holler Creek Canyon, Two Front Teeth, House of Honcho, Multo, The Bar is a Beautiful Place, Warrior, Pale, Scarlet Rain...
Your first film, "My Crepitus", got re-cut a while back and is now titled "I Never Left The White Room". Why and what's new?
It was my first official feature, started while in art school and finished after graduating. Only having access to the school's linear editing decks, I was limited to one week to edit the entire feature, so it was always a sore spot. An opportunity came up in 2007 and I was able to realize the films original intentions. Edit the film as I'd wanted. It was something I always needed to do, to complete that original vision. No feature edited in one week can appease what you’re trying to do. Editing is vital to making or breaking a film.
I've seen your early award-winning movie "A Tribute To Sanity", and it's a very unique film. Could you explain what this film is about, and what was your inspiration?
It's an internal journey of one man’s descent into his own mind. Things he may have done or witnessed are fogged by his obsessive consumption of alcohol and pills. He's on the verge of losing his love and is wavering between realities fine line. The film was inspired by my own position in life at the time, an uncertainty of where I was going. I was back home after art school, having finished "My Crepitus" and now more confused as ever about my future. Originally the plan was to pursue a career in special makeup effects, but after "My Crepitus" everything was unclear. "Sanity" was the film that was going to decide my future, as is the theme in the film. Obviously my path has been chosen, otherwise I'd be in LA making monsters...
You obviously have made a lot of visually extreme films. What movies would you say are your biggest inspirations and influences here?
There’s a lot of great films, it’s where you get the bug. If it weren’t for the wonderful world of cinema, many of us would be in rotting little corners painting, writing or carving pictures into our skin. I’m more inspired by artists than any one film. Those who consistently realize their visions and don’t waver about making random things trying to please a demographic. Artists like David Lynch, Andrzej Zulawski, Joe Coleman, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Douglas Buck, Tom Green, Gaspar Noe, Roger Karmanik, Darren Aronofsky, Jack Nance, David Cronenberg, Jim Van Bebber, Dax Riggs, H.R. Giger, Crispin Glover, Clive Barker, Nacho Cerda, Rob Zombie, etc.
Of course, like anyone who loves the horror genre I’m a huge fan of the classics. Both from the Universal heyday and beyond. As a kid the George Romero and Tom Savini team were enormously inspiring. They were cranking out amazing stuff and it wasn’t in Hollywood, it was two hours away in Pittsburgh. The fact that they were so nearby made the dream of working in cinema a possibility. "Godzilla" was god, "MacGyver" was a craftsman of all, monster movies ruled (especially "he Thing", "The Blob", "An American Werewolf in London", "The Howling", "Pumpkinhead", etc.), slasher films were addictive ("Friday the 13th", "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street"), and of course Texas Chainsaw Massacre grows on you like a leach…constantly reminding you how minimalism can be so affective.
The films of the 70’s and 80’s remain my all around favorite genre films. It was a time when films were hand crafted, in camera without the addition of CGI fancy dancy crap. For me the traditional animation techniques were fun and completely unlike the bad taste that CGI leaves. That remains my favorite period of reference. Italian cinema (fine chaps such as Michele Soavi, Umberto Lenzi, Ruggero Deodato, Dario Argento, Lamberto Bava, Lucio Fulci). David Hess is a role model in his indirect "trilogy"; "Last House on the Left", "House on the Edge of the Park" and "Hitch-Hike". House hold names were in my mind as a kid, the FX stars from Fangoria magazine (long live their spin off mags "Toxic Horror" and " Gorezone"). Guys like Stan Winston, Rick Baker, Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, Robert Kurtzman, Steve Johnson, John Vulich, Chris Walas, Jerry Gergeley, Everett Burrel, Dick Smith, John Carl Buechler, Kevin Yagher, Tony Gardner, etc.
Tell me about Life-O-Vision?
With due time.
Original Maggot Films Demo
Maggot Films Teaser
There is a lot of history to go through about you, but before I go to some of the standard questions I want you to explain something I personally already know, but the readers may not; what was "Maggot Corner"?
"Maggot Corner" was an exciting series for the now defunct CD-ROM magazine "The Meat Socket". I miss those guys terribly, they were on to something spectacular. Surprisingly, it was beyond it’s time. If they’d had more support, it could’ve been huge. In their premiere issue, we were lucky enough to launch Maggot Films . It included the "Opening the Mind" promotional short film along with a load of other film clips. Once we hit it off so well, each issue contained something of a collaboration. We did a video introduction for the second issue, then we started a short film series. Unfortunately, we were only able to shoot two episodes before the mag went under. The concept of each episode reflected the theme of that issue. The first was about cannibalism and the second was "pornography hurts". We had a lot of fun making those and once I get an opportunity to breath I’d like to continue the series. It’d screen on the Maggot Films' site and on Digital02.com for sure, a groovy site our good friend Benzy is behind.
|Okay, now I have a few short and standard questions. First off is...
...Was there ever a particular moment where you just knew this is what you wanted to do?
From kindergarten on, I carried Tom Savini’s book "Bizarro" (now known as "Grand Illusions") at all times. For me it was like the bible, it was a learn by example guide to the art of special makeup effects. Tom is multifaceted and always said, “the more you do the more you get to do.” He was not only an effects artist, but an actor, director and stuntman amongst other things. My main dream was to be a monster maker. It was always natural to be a part of the entire filmmaking process. Not until I started learning more of the proper method of making a film did I realize my approach was a bit intensive.
Though, I think that’s where my strength is. You can’t deny your calling, even when you fight it. Sometimes you have to suck it up and let fate tug you along. It’s easy to deceive your dreams, we’re flooded with so many roads. It’s all a matter of clearing your focus and remaining true to your gut. Only then will your happiness surface.
Who's your favorite director, and which of his movies do you like the best?
It always falls back to David Lynch. I love all of his work, but "Blue Velvet", "Eraserhead", "Wild at Heart", "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me", "Mulhulland Drive", "Lost Highway", and "Inland Empire" are equally my favorites. "Inland Empire" is very much an inspiration because of Lynch letting go and experimenting with DV. It’s intimate and he’s gotten in there in more ways than he has since "Eraserhead". He shot alot of it, edited it, did a lot of the score, etc. The fact that he was traveling an uncertain journey while making it is so consuming in the films pleasure.
Your top ten favorite films of all time?
Aside from Lynch’s films and the obvious favorites of any horror fan (although some will still be included); Dead Ringers, Crash, Videodrome, Naked Lunch, Possession, The Holy Mountain, Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetary Man, Requiem for a Dream, A Clockwork Orange, Dawn/Day of the Dead, Creepshow, Deliverance, Demons, Cannibal Holocaust, Don’t Look Now, Suspiria, Irreversible, Bad Boy Bubby, Cutting Moments, Aftermath, The Manson Family, etc.
So many groovy films, it’s impossible to pick just ten...
Five really bad movies that everyone seems to like?
I feel too much for any film, no matter how bad. Even as bad as a film can be, I’ll focus on some sort of strength. The process is so involving that even the worst film has something going for it. I get very stressed when I do see a bad film, I feel horrible for those involved. Not because the films bad, but the work that it entails surfaces more…the process is all I can see, until whatever the films strength is, is visible. What those bad films are, rather not say…as is the case with your question, alot of the bad ones do tend to be popular.
Can you name some films from the 00's that have really impressed you?
Surprisingly " 8MM2" is amazing, namely because it’s not a sequel at all. It was merely the studios attempt at banking in on something they had the rights to. It was originally titled: "Sex and Violence" and later: "Velvet Side of Hell" (great titles right?)...
I’m a big fan of Rob Zombies films, all three of ‘em so far. And of course there‘s a slew of other films by the artists mentioned earlier as well as a lot of other films. But there’s been a slew of good stuff especially since "House of a 1000 Corpses" was released. It really started a boom of fun studio horror that hasn’t been as consistent since the 80’s, although a lot of the fun is spoiled, at least for me with the acceleration of CGI. It drives me crazy, ruins a lot of the craftsmanship. I appreciate the art itself, but I like watching films sculpted from the ground up. It’s more like appreciating a good painting. Once you generate a world on your computer, anything goes. I respect the art it entails, but I hate what it does to a film. There’s no more magic going on. The filmmakers are able to lazy it up, “we’ll put a rat in there in post”. That damned rat will move around exactly as they see it in their head, there’s no magic accident that the live rat did that was far removed from the simplicity of ones original idea. The creativity of the film making process is becoming more detached for a lot of cinema. It’s about as big as you can make it, instead of getting in there and feeling out the intimacy.
This is not to say I hate films with CGI, many of them are very good (some remain favorites, but I‘ll admit I do cringe during the CGI parts). But a chunk of what I love about them is spoiled and turned grey. Luckily, I’m not alone. We’re finally seeing some old fashioned film making again. A lot of fan’s who’ve been able to take the helm have been taking us back in time. Fun films like "Hatchet", going back to basics with John Carl Buechler’s kick ass special makeup FX. More recently, Darren Aronofsky went back to his roots with "The Wrestler". Now that’s powerful filmmaking with no need of high glam computer technology. If there is any, at least it doesn’t smear itself down your throat.
If you could get any actor in the world for a film of yours, who would you pick and why?
It’s tricky business to point out any one actor, at the moment I’m working with the actors I want to work with for the films I’m making. They’re perfect for the parts they’re playing, nobody could beat them. Especially Nikki McIntyre, not saying that because she's my girlfriend. When these films are released, she has a hell of a career ahead of her. She has an incredible depth and can pull anything off as soon as the camera is rolling. You’d think she was a seasoned veteran, soon enough she will be
known as one. The same can be said of Ben Tatar, I’ve been working with him since " A Tribute to Sanity". The difference is that he brings a lifetime of wisdom to the table, he’s 79 years old and has been acting since he was a kid. He even owned his own dubbing studio in Madrid, Spain (Ameropa Studios) and directed the English dubbing of classics like "The Blood Spattered Bride", "Murder in a Blue World" (a.k.a. "Clockwork Terror"), "Horror Rises from the Tomb", etc. Of course, Justin Alvarez needs mention as well. He’s another star to be, an all consumed method actor at heart. He’s been in LA doing the acting rounds, appearing on TV, various Indies and grounding himself a name. Everyone else involved is also extremely impressive, I couldn’t be happier with the actors I’ve had the privilege of working with.
Once I’m on to another film though, I’d love to work with everyone I could. As far as "name" actors are concerned... Crispin Glover would be a really great thing, he’s super creative and giving. He’d be on the list for sure. That I want to work with him goes beyond as simply an actor, he’s also a filmmaker and I’d love to explore that level as well. Another actor/performer I’d be interested in working with is Tom Green. I’d be anxious to see what surprises could be discovered, he’s been singled into a rut. Stereotyped into one thing, but few see his true potential. But to single out one person entirely, it all depends on the film, the part and what it needs. I couldn’t cast someone because of who they are, unless it works. Mostly, it’d come down to what images we could crack, allowing someone to break their public image and do something new.
And if you could get any actor literally killed on tape, who and why?
Grotesque fantasies are one thing, but wishing the real deal on anyone would be just plain tasteless...
Alright, that's about it. Just one last thing: How many times have you had maggots in your mouth?
Hmmm…only a handful of times.
Got anything to say to the people who are reading this?
Worship our media… worship our media… worship our media… Amen!
Thank you for taking some time off from your busy schedule to answer the questions.
Thank you Dr. Ronny!
Be sure to check out all of Michael Todd Schneider's stuff on MaggotFilms.com.
And if you are hip enough to have Myspace, check their Myspace.
And be sure to check our reviews for
August Underground's Mordum
August Underground's Mordum (Maggot's Cut)
A Tribute To Sanity
I Never Left The White Room