I was at BrianeHownd last week, largely to check out the new short by a film-maker who I think has a real future.
Mike Tack doesn't, at first glance, strike you as a horror director. When we first met at a Feast On Film night last year, this gentle, impeccably-suited gent in his late forties seemed a little out of place.
The film he showed, “The Domestic”, shot on an iPhone with a budget of about a fiver, was a hilarious and vicious horror short with a real sting in its tale. I was instantly intrigued, and we struck up a conversation.
His latest film, “One Careful Owner”, is a major step up. Shot on DSLR, and taking the very wise step of featuring everyone's favourite Leading Man, Clive Ashenden, Mike dialled down the humour and upped the brutality to show a stunned BraineHownd audience an uncompromising morality tale.
I caught up with Mike after the screening to chat about his life in film.
Rob: Let's start with a potted history, Mike. Who are you, where are you from, what have you been up to prior to starting your filmmaking career?
Mike: Ok, I live in St Albans and have done since I was 10. I'm currently working at a job that doesn't exactly fulfil all my creative ambitions… yes, I'm an accountant! Having said that I have always been described as an unconventional accountant. I am married to my wife Louise and have 2 stepsons, Kyle and Ryan. We also have 1 dog, 3 cats (I am a total cat lover and would chop up anyone who had the balls to harm them) 4 chickens plus a horse on a farmer's field. We also had 2 dynamite crabs but they now reside in Davey Jones' locker ha hah hah.
Rob: You're a slightly unusual figure as you're quite a bit older than the usual horror film crowd, especially at the short film level. What brought you into the game now?
Mike: Ah, quite a bit older as in 50 this year – thanks for that – but hey at least I have lasted that long! To understand why I now am “in the game” you need to go way back to 1972.
I have been into horror since I was 9 or 10. House of Hammer magazine was the mag which captivated me (the entire collection is in the loft) with all its comic strip Hammer film adaptations, reviews and black and white images of Suspiria, Squirm and Texas Chainsaw.
I suppose my psyche had been shaped from an early age by Hammer Films. I collected Monster Mags, bubblegum cards with Christopher Lee's bloodshot eyes searing from the card. My mother was particularly upset when I blu-tacked a massive pic of Christopher Lee's monster from The Curse of Frankenstein onto my bedroom door. I also collected horror books by Alan Frank, Kim Newman and loved discovering films I had never heard of. Throw into the mix BBC2 Late Night Horror Double Bills and the advent of the VHS player you can see I was doomed to be a horror addict.
I even collected colour sound 8mm movies and fondly remembering buying a 50ft reel trailer for Phantasm. Once, I hired a full length print of THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and screened it to the local kids on my projector in my living room charging a small fee to cover the hire costs. This was when the film could only be seen in London with a GLC certificate X. I wonder how many of them had a good nights sleep after that… I also have an evil sense of humour – I don't know which came first, my humour or the horror.
Ok, so back to August 2012. I had watched a short film at Frightfest which I thought was total shite. I came outside for a fag, ranted about how crap the film was, then said I know – I'll make my own short film (I sort of had an idea rolling around for a few years which became THE DOMESTIC), I'll do it on my iPhone because I don't know how to use any other type of camera and I'm skint.
So 2 weeks later with Kyle, my stepson, in tow with his Mac Mini and a microphone and me armed with a couple of gadgets for iphone, a 400w builders light and some blue rope, fake tongue, lidl skill knife, fake blood, cotton buds and the infamous PLASTIC SHEETS I was on location in Brookland, near Ashford in Kent at my mates house, torturing the shit out of him.
I mean, making a horror film.
Rob: Your films are great because they take quite mundane, everyday frustrations and twist them into something really rather impressively nasty. Is this a path you're going to explore further? If so, any hints as to what we can expect?
Mike: I have seen a lot of other short horrors, and even though they have shitloads of great gore fx, pro makeup and buckets of claret going everywhere, the stories themselves are still a bit soft. I feel that they lack balls and I think that it's the mundane situations we all experience everyday that I want to explore.
I also want the audience to feel something. After all a horror film needs to be horrific not “hey look at that brilliant CGI blood creature effect that has no place in reality…”. I purposefully think up “button presser” moments of violence which if handled with a good setup will freak the audience out. In ONE CAREFUL OWNER I knew before I shot a single frame of film how the pacing was going to work. I wanted the audience to feel like they are there as an unwilling witness and that the only way they can escape (unlike the victim) is to go running out of the cinema.
I suppose I get a lot of satisfaction from manipulating the emotions of the audience and am over the moon if I can actually impact on their feelings just through them watching my film. I am a musician and the same applies – if your music affects someone to the degree that one note can send a shiver down someone's spine… to me that's amazing.
My next project TURN OF THE TIDE will be a bit different as it's mainly a chase film similar in tone with North By Northwest. But again it's taking an everyday situation and turning it on its head. After that I have another screenplay I have written called THE VIEWING which will be my take on a more supernatural jump scare type of film. So I am moving away from the torture porn type of film or “oh shit look at all those plastic sheets on the wall” feel. After that I will be looking to do a feature which I have already started writing called EXECUTIONERS which will be a film noir futuristic mash up of everything I've done to date.
Rob: Tell us a little bit about your filmmaking influences and heroes. If you could meet and get tips from one filmmaker, who would it be and why?
Mike: I think that Alfred Hitchcock is probably the filmmaker who I would like to get tips from as I adore his films and his craft. He is the one I have studied most closely whilst watching his films. I also like early John Carpenter stuff, and of course George A Romero. I also love Terence Fisher's work on the Hammer Films, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola and two of my faves Brian DePalma & Dario Argento (early stuff as his output since Sleepless is absolute shite). I don't know if my own style even exists yet so I don't know if they have influenced me.
Rob: Tell us a bit about the Mike Tack method of making movies. What one thing would make your life as a filmmaker easier (we can take “more money” as a given, I think)?
Mike: Early on I realised that you need a great story. No point going to all that effort if the story is shit. So first I get an idea, brainstorm a screenplay out on my computer – re-draft 3 times or so, tightening the script and mentally taking note of how I see it in my head, as if it's already made. Then I work out locations, props needed, wardrobe and also what gore fx gags will be needed and how the hell are we going to do them on no budget.
I have built up a small group of reliable enthusiastic actors and crew who I then alert and confirm their involvement. Once the shoot has been done and my bank account is lighter by a few hundred quid to cover food, travel, wardrobe and so on, I edit and grade the film on my Mac and Kyle gets the soundtrack sorted. Kyle, Louise and I always add our own thoughts at each stage to each other's work so it's a really collabarative process and good family fun too!
The thing to make my life as a filmmaker easier would be to have no submission fees and online links to screeners when submitting to festivals. I have blown over £240 on submission fees to give my film to someone else to show at their festival they are charging other people money to attend! We all want our work shown at a cinema with a big audience. It's just a shame I have had to spend the entire budget of the film again on asking if someone can screen it – and the real kick in the bollocks is that they may not even show it! How twisted an arrangement is that? Rant over….for now!
Rob: I thought One Careful Owner was a great, sharp piece of horror, and I was honoured to be one of the first to view it. What are your plans for it over this festival season?
Mike: Well, Rob, I'm glad you liked it! I have just spent my last £27 submission fee so I will only be putting ONE CAREFUL OWNER into festivals that have free submission. We've had a great 8/10 review from review site UK HORROR SCENE (read it here) and American site INDIE HORROR FILMS (read that one here). After the great reception at the test screening you attended I have high hopes that it ticks all the boxes – at least on the horror festival circuit.
I also think the film “works” and tells a big story in only 11 mins. I also love that it may be a bit strong for some people so I am hoping for a bit of notoriety – it's all good press!
The film has already been officially selected for Horror-On-Sea for Jan 2014 and I have a planned festival run up to July 2014. As a family we love going to watch my film play to an unsuspecting audience and meeting other filmmakers – it's a great excuse to go out as we don't generally do that enough. So the filmmaking is a big positive in my family life too as well as the obsession it has now turned into.
Rob: Finally, what are your plans for the future? What can we expect from Apocalyptic Conservatory Studios in the second half of this year and into 2014?
Mike: I hope to get my own DSLR camera for £500 ish and some basic slider and hand held DIY stuff made – I'm on a no budget here!
The rest of this year will be taken up with TURN OF THE TIDE which will be filmed at a number of different locations. Some of those are 100 miles from where I live so that's a first. I even did a location scout taking pics of possible places to film – see how everything is changing all the time – the scope of each successive project seems to grow and grow as I get bigger ideas. Having said that lack of money is not going to stop me. I will find a way even if it means getting arrested! I also will be using green screen fx for specific gore fx I have in my head so I will be doing a lot of self tuition in Adobe After Effects – YouTube has a lot of great tutorials.
I will also continue writing my feature length screenplay EXECUTIONERS when I can, although that project is firmly in the “watch this space” category.
I will be waiting to hear which festivals want ONE CAREFUL OWNER. Frightfest have got the first dibs on the World Premiere so fingers crossed on that one.
I am also waiting to hear about two Frightfest “turn your bloody phone off” idents entries I filmed in May/June and if our SIX FEET UNDER 3min entry to the SHORT CUTS FROM HELL competition is to be one of the final 6 selected.
As for 2014, hopefully I can start submitting TURN OF THE TIDE for the festival circuit and film THE VIEWING for 2015 submission. Then it will be feature film planning/financing etc all the way – unless of course there are some other short film competitions which if I have the time I will go for.
There you have it. A writer/director that's gnawing at the bit to get his films made and seen, regardless of budget, with a focus on the right story and doing his darnedest to freak out an audience. Mike Tack, you're our kind of film-maker. Excuses And Half Truths salutes you!
Watch out for One Careful Owner at festivals this summer, or take your own trip into Mike Tack's dark imagination at his website.