From the early days of short film Underdogs in 2002 Film Maker Jim Mickle has worked his way up the directorial duties from years of experience working behind the scenes in various departments. It was in 2006 with the release of MULBERRY STREET he made a name for himself as a director to watch out for, and it was also these movie he met Nick Damici who they’ve co worked together in front and behid the screen. The pair are together again with their latest flick STAKE LAND where Mickle is directing and Damici writing as well as playing one of the movies main parts Mister, recently Jim Mickle spoke to us about Stake Land.
Stake Land is your second collaboration with co-writer and actor Nick Damici, with whom you co-wrote the acclaimed rat-zombie film Mullberry Street. How and why did you and Nick ultimately decide to collaborate for the second time on Stake Land?
Nick and I have been friends for almost 10 years, and there’s a certain creative energy that kicks in once we dig into an idea and get rolling. It’s creates a synergy that really defines both films and their personalities. As a writer he has an amazing way with giving things a heavy, iconic feel, but always with a heart. The fact that we’re from two different generations, means there’s decades of influences that get stirred into these stories. As an actor he’s a lot of fun to work with because he gets so involved. For Stake Land he made his own costume, carved his own weapons, and slept in a tent for the whole shoot. A lot of creating the Mister character for me was just observing how he was off the set. It’s a wonderful experience to make films with friends.
Stake Land marks Kelly McGillis’ return to the big screen after almost a decade and also a significant feature film role for Connor Paolo. Can you talk a little bit about your decision to cast Kelly and Connor and their subsequent contributions to the film.
Kelly McGillis was great. We had limited time to cast that part, and I remember thinking she was too much of a longshot, and had no reason to return to the bigscreen on an independent horror film. Fortunately she follows her own beats and instincts and doesn’t seem concerned with doing what others expect. Once she joined the film, we knew we were doing something special.
The casting director Sig de Miguel lobbied endlessly to make Connor Paolo “Martin”. I was lucky to find out that the reality is Connor is one of the most gifted actors of his generation. On top of that he adds a focus and dedication that can be startling at times. Many of the best moments in the film came from his ideas and his insane knowledge of his own character arc, and when someone like that is the lead, it makes the director’s job a lot easier. I wanted to follow these characters like we had stumbled across them in the wild and decided to do a travelogue with them, so through spending a lot of time together, Nick and Connor became Mister and Martin before we even shot.
The film obviously owes a lot to the vampire and zombie movie genres as well as apocalyptic movies but there is also a lot of similarities between Stake Land and classical westerns. Was it a conscious decision to make a film that looks and feels like a western?
Very much so. Nick and I adore the western genre, and part of Stake Land comes from the fact that it’s difficult to pull off a pure western these days. We obviously are fans of apocalyptic stories, and found that the two genres fit and complement each other quite well. The idea was to play the future not as a high tech sci-fi vision, but as a look back to the depression and even to the pioneer days as the landscape gets bleaker and more unforgiving. From the cinematography and production design to the costumes, we tried to imagine the film as a depression era world.
Mulberry Street and Stake Land are both cautionary fables in their own ways, and the apocalyptic setting allows for social commentary without being too literal. With multiple wars, economic disasters, and environmental catastrophes happening all the time, it’s hard to ignore it all when you tell a story these days.
Over the last couple of years, the popularity of the vampire genre has exploded throughout film, television, and the literary world. How do you think Stake Land fits into the vampire genre landscape?
By not really being a vampire movie. From day one, our priority was the characters and what they meant to each other. By that thinking, the vampires became another obstacle in a world that had turned cold and brutal. Though they’re nasty and feral creatures, we also tried to treat them like victims in some way. We liked the idea that the fear of these things could be used to control and manipulate. They’re more like terrorists than anything else. Every saturated sub-genre needs a kick in the balls at times, and I hope Stake Land serves to do that.
I hope people walk away surprised and refreshed and with a little more faith in the genre.
Is there any interesting or noteworthy footage that was left out of the film? How long was the shoot? Any other interesting production or post-production technical things of note?
The script had very little dialogue in it to start. Originally each of the main characters had a moment to tell their story, and we wound up cutting all or most of those moments out. When talented actors inhabit a role, it’s amazing to see how much they can express without dialogue or backstories, and in most cases it was more effective to feel who the character was instead of hearing it firsthand. Nick and I are allergic to exposition so I tried to leave in just enough, and let the rest come out in their quiet moments. The only cuts to the film were to try and say more with less.
We shot for 27 days. The shoot was spread out during the summer and winter time to maintain the passing time and landscapes of the story. Early on we did a weekend camera test and were able to use the footage to cut a pre-production teaser. Some of that footage was then cut into the film, so the end result is over a year of footage and seasons cut into the film. We shot on the RED camera and I cut the film on Final Cut Pro and pulled off the visual effects in Adobe After FX, both readily available commercial software.
And finally, who are some of your filmmaking influences?
John Carpenter movies meant a lot to me growing up. To be in the same program with his film this year is kind of mind-blowing. I grew up obsessed with David Lynch, Dario Argento, and Sam Raimi. With Mulberry Street and Stake Land, I enjoy looking at non genre films for reference and inspiration, anywhere from Jane Campion to Terrence Malick. I love when films can mix up genres and sub-genres and experiment with expectations. There’s a Finnish film called “Sauna” that played here 2 years ago and that kind of floored me. No idea what it was about, but when it was over I wanted to watch it again.
STAKE LAND is in UK& Irish Cinemas Now