Quantcast Jim Mickle interview MULBERRY STEET

Jim Mickle!!!

Mulberry Street concerns the residents of a tenement building on the titular New York City street . It seems that one day rats start attacking people on the island of Manhattan , driving the attacked people mad and eventually turning them into rat like people whom attack others. The ensemble cast for the most part make up the occupants of an apartment building as they defend themselves and fight for each other against the rat-people lead by Clutch, a tough as nails ex boxer whose daughter is returning from Iraq and is somewhere on the island. The story starts off slow as it sets up all the characters but builds to a fever pitch as the siege of rat-infected-humans begins and ends with an oddly peaceful denouement, but only after the government moves in with flamethrowers.

This tiny claustrophobic micro budgeted feature is truly a sight to be seen. Where it treads on familiar ground and clearly has a multitude of influences ( Night of the Living Dead, 28 Days Later, and Rats to name but a few) the outcome is an original vision born of ingenuity and stripped down basic storytelling. Intelligent choices to use fast cuts at the appropriate moments and to not linger on the rat-people mixed with realistic lighting and great set-design (considering all the apartments were filmed on the same apartment) make Mulberry Street visually striking while strong acting and direction propel the story. Also worth noting is the location shooting as the entire film was shot in New York city and lends an authentically gritty feel to the viewing experience like a seventies Larry Cohen film. Keep an eye out for writer and lead actor Nick Damici (Clutch) and director Jim Mickle as I’m certain Mulberry Street will make many critics best of 2007 lists. - by Josh Gravel 11/07

Interview with Jim Mickle director of Mulberry Street

How did you get started in the film industry?

For my first several years in the industry (including film school) I worked as a storyboard artist on a variety of different things. I did a lot of independent feature films, and whatever commercial, music video, or short film would come down the pike. The time I spent working with directors and cinematographers during pre-production was more educational than any non hands-on training I had at that point.  But after September 11th, most of the lower budget film work dried up and I hadn't yet made the jump to huge studio films, so 95% of my work dried up just as I graduated NYU. After that I worked as a Production Assistant sporadically (Spider-Man 2 VFX unit!), until I jumped to the lighting department and from there I spent two or three years as a grip, working non-stop for a long time. The hours aren't really great if you're trying to do your own thing, and so I took an opportunity to work as an editor right before shooting " Mulberry Street ", and I still do that freelance before, during, and after the three year stretch of Mulberry. (I'm on break right now in fact)

What made you want to make horror movies?

I've never lost my boyhood obsession with horror movies, and I hope I never do. My tastes have changed, but I think the idea that the genre is the ultimate playground for make believe and movie magic keeps bringing me back, both as a director and as a fan. It's really the last popular genre that encourages and rewards for experimentation, and that kind of freedom is always interesting.

How did you and screenwriter/actor Nick Damici start working together?

We met on a student film in 2001 and hit it off right away. He was the lead actor and I was a grip, and after hanging out and brainstorming for a week, I think we both locked on to the idea that we had the same weird tastes and appreciation for absurdity. We spent the next four years churning stuff out, and even shot a promo trailer for one of his scripts in 2004. It was really a matter of pushing until all the pieces fell together and the right people got involved and opened the door to do "Mulberry".

The film overall has a very powerful cast, was the casting a collaborative effort between you and Nick? I assume that as an actor himself, he may have already had people in mind for the parts.

I can take credit for casting only a few actors in the film. I was lucky enough to date Kim Blair (who is amazing as Nick's daughter Casey) in college, and she was in the trailer we shot a few years later. So we knew she and Nick looked great on screen and had a really natural chemistry. The rest of the cast was made up of friends and colleagues of Nick and exec producer/actor Tim House. A lot of the smaller parts are neighborhood people or regulars at the bar who we roped into getting covered in blood.

Nick's 75 year old father played Frank (the bed-ridden WWII vet) and he'd never been on a movie set before. The same for a lot of people. The cast was locked pretty early, so the script was suited specifically for people once we had them in mind. There were no auditions; just a few meetings to make sure everyone got the attitude of the film. Mostly it was about surrounding everyone with a familiar environment and allowing them to feel comfortable and be themselves during every part of the story (the set up and the action).

What were some of the specific influences on the style and content of the story? What led you to a rodent invasion?

Visually, Ryan Samul (our kick ass cinematographer) and I looked at Jane Campion's " In the Cut" (which coincidentally co-stars Nick Damici). It has such a beautiful, timeless, and organic feel and paints New York in a kind of impressionistic wash of colors. We also played a lot with perspective in the film which is influenced mostly by  just living in Manhattan . Your view is always obstructed, and everything you see is through windows, trees, buildings, or from behind cars. We tried to keep the style loose and as if the camera was another person in the scene trying to get a peek at the action.
As for the story, obviously " Night of the Living Dead" for the "zombies" and the social themes. People will be referencing that film until the end of time for better or worse. We also followed " Ginger Snaps" a bit as it had a great dual thing going on in it. An awesome monster movie with the backdrop of a coming of age film, with these great natural characters trying to navigate puberty AND a werewolf curse. It really heightened the genre conventions in a unique and artistic way. Also "The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three" for creating a very real New York world loaded with timeless characters and settings, all serving as the backdrop for an entertaining heist movie.
The rodent invasion just seemed natural. We were looking for a twist on the zombie traditions, and since this was a New York movie and we needed a way for the virus to spread, it just sort of happened. And once we committed to it, it opened a lot of doors to symbolism about corruption, politics, social change and the end of the small town neighborhoods. Ironically that absurd twist is ultimately what led us to scale the movie back and rely more on the natural elements and the larger themes of the story.

Could you elaborate on the limitations of the shoot and location, and tell us how you think these limitations may have aided the final product?

The best thing about the movie is that we never had the option to take the easy (ie: expensive) way out. We had almost no money and just 3 weeks for principal photography. Fortunately this means everything on the screen is there for a reason. No needless action scenes or people doing stupid things, just so we could show off some special effects that we couldn't afford. I'm sure that will push some audience members away, but really it made us think every character and arc through from start to finish and forced the script to concentrate as much as it could on interesting relationships and the emotional aspects of the story.
I love over the top, FX extravaganzas, but I also love the simple movies that have patience and create believable characters that I care about. Our limitations in budget and schedule forced us to make the simple but effective kind. We couldn't rely entirely on stunts and FX. Our first decision was to make a movie that would be good even if we removed every horror genre element of it. I doubt that's done very often (if ever) at the studio level.

Discuss your choice to only show the rat people in quick flashes?

A few reasons. 1-The FX that Adam Morrow did on the rat creatures is really amazing for any budget, but ultimately it was creepier to keep them in shadows and silhouette. I hate when movies have a great build-up and then when it reveals the creature or the big effect, it just looks terrible and kind of cancels out all that's come before it. I felt that way at "Signs". This cool Hitchcockian take on an alien invasion and then it stops to focus on a wide shot in broad daylight of a kind of lame CG green guy swaying back and forth. All tension disappeared for me, when before that I was genuinely scared.
2-That's the way rats are always seen in real life. They scurry and you see them out of the corner of your eye, and you turn just in time to see a tail whip around the corner. The point of the action scenes was to feel immediate and put the audience in the middle of the shit, and it seemed like the most natural way to do that.
3-The aesthetic of the movie for the first half is based entirely on realism and subtlety. The transition to the roller-coaster B-movie ride of the second half is only aided by continuing that look and feel even as the fantasy elements take over. It felt wrong to take so much great acting and beautifully nuanced performances and then throw it all into a completely different cheesy B movie and see if they could get along. We decided to rely on the strength of the cast and leave things up to the imagination when possible.

How have you assessed the publics reaction to your film? Is it what you expected?

I had NO idea what to expect, but this has been an absolute dream come true! The first few screenings were tough to gauge and positive feedback was met with some disappointment and people who didn't seem to get it. But now (exactly one year later) after twelve great international film festivals, each showing gets better and better and the audience is more appreciative, leading right up to the theatrical run Nov. 9th. People like Mitch Davis at FanTasia, Adam Lopez at Toronto After Dark, Roel Hannen in Amsterdam (and everyone at Tribeca) all became huge champions of this film and people decided to give it a chance and came away really loving it and appreciating what we tried to do. Every month I have to pinch myself because the news and response gets better and better every time I think we've peaked.

I am very anxious to see your film at the After Dark Horror Fest this year as I have only seen it at Fantasia I¢m interested in seeing how it plays to a mainstream audience. I really appreciated the slow build and use of character in the version which played at Fantasia, did the distributors ask for any changes to the film for this release?

No, both Lions Gate and After Dark seem to have appreciated that right from the beginning. At first there was an overall sense from ALL distributors that it was too slow and spent too much time with the characters, but I think once audiences started to show their strong approval, they started to listen to the festival crowds.

What is next for you? I hear you and Nick Damici are already starting a new project?

Nick and I are back in his kitchen pounding away at ideas for the new film, an adaptation of Joe Lansdale's novel "Cold in July". It's an East Texas thriller set in 1989. A very twisted crime-noir that unfolds like a contemporary western. It should be very cool, and though the whole " Mulberry Street " team is back, it will be a very different movie.


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