Interview: Jim Mickle, Director of STAKE LAND

PDFPrintE-mail Written by Cleaver Patterson Friday, 17 June 2011


STARBURST puts 'Stake Land' Writer / Director Jim Mickle in the hot seat.

STARBURST: You were the co-writer of 'Stake Land' as well as director. Which​ role do you prefer?

Jim: Directing comes more easily so I'm much happier letting Nick do the heavy lifting on the script while I sink my teeth into the direction. I also really love editing since it can be a combination of writing and directing.

STARBURST: Is the finished film as you visualised it when you were writing the story?

Jim: I think it came out better then I pictured it. But also the entire process is constantly evolving in your head and you're always having to make adjustments for reality, casting, scheduling, etc. So I don't think it ever had one concrete vision in our heads. It was always drafts of what it could be and then the fun is opening up to collaboration to bring all of that to life.

STARBURST: Does having written the film, make it easier for you as a director to bring  ​the work alive on the screen?

Jim: Definitely. You have to know everything on the page backwards and forward. And having gone through so many drafts, it's really important to know what worked and why, and how certain decisions shape the overall piece. All of that comes into question on set, so the knowledge of the script has to be almost instinctual.

STARBURST: You seem drawn to horror as a subject. What do you like about the​ genre?

Jim: I love the flexibility and the intensity of it all. Horror can be about escapist fun and it can be scary and disturbing. But it can also be used to critique larger themes in a way that can feel heavy handed in other genres. And it's a great place to experiment. Genre audiences are the sharpest fans around so you really have to mix up techniques to leave an impression, and the fans encourage different looks, different styles, different sounds. With such high drama, it's possible to create real emotional roller coasters without making a Meryl Streep movie.

STARBURST: Is there a place for gritty, in your face horror like 'Stake Land', amongst ​the plethora of stalk and slash teenage horror still so popular with ​mainstream Hollywood?

Jim: Absolutely. The audiences are there and they're hungry for alternatives. It's sad that the US 'Stake Land' release was so anaemic, because from everything else I've seen, people flock to it when given the chance to find it. But when we open on 1 screen in the states and 'Priest' opens on 3,000, there's something wrong with the system. The audiences have much better taste than distributors give them credit for.

STARBURST: In relation to the previous question, who would you see as your target​audience with 'Stake Land'?

Jim: People looking for a good old-fashioned story and good characters, whether they are genre fans or not.

STARBURST: What drew you and Nick Dimici to vampires as a basis for a story?

Jim: At the time there were no vampire movies around , so our goal was to try and make them popular again, and this time make them scary. While we were shooting, the 'Twilight' movies came out and all of a sudden vampires are the new zombies. I think we liked they're flexibility. It can be 'Stake Land' or 'Near Dark', or it can be 'Let the Right One In'.

STARBURST: Vampires are a genre which has been done so many times before. What do you think you have brought it with 'Stake Land' that's new and ​fresh?

Jim: We just tried to make them scary again, and to erase the current trends of making them sexy, vulnerable creatures, longing for love. They also were interestingly symbolic figures in a story about the end of a nation.

STARBURST: A number of the cast, Danielle Harris ('Halloween'), Nick Damici ('Mulberry Street'), and crew, Executive​ Producer Larry Fessenden ('The Last Winter'), are horror regulars. Was ​this influential in their involvement in 'Stake Land'?

Jim: Only in that those are the kinds of stories we love and gravitate towards. Nick and Larry were already friends, so that happened very organically. Danielle I was a fan of, but not from the Halloween films. I grew up on her TV shows and kids movies and later some of the action stuff, so that was more of a coincidence. But we all adore the genre.

STARBURST: What was working with Kelly McGillis (some might say she's a​ Hollywood legend) like? How did you get her on board?

Jim: She's an amazing person with an amazing outlook on acting and life. So it was an education in a lot of ways and her confidence in herself and what she does is infectious. In that case, we just sent her the script and she responded immediately. In some ways it was the easiest casting we did. It must have been meant to happen.

STARBURST: You've come up with a new way of getting rid of vampires. How did that ​come about?

Jim: That was all Nick. We wanted to shake up the mythology and he had a whole notebook filled with that kind of stuff.

STARBURST: Having seen the film, the locations (forests, deserted back roads etc.)​ are almost like characters themselves. How influential was the ​environment in which the story takes place?

Jim: Very. We shot on my dad's farm where I grew up in Pennsylvania, so we were constantly writing for places and things we knew we had close by. In the second half, we moved to the Catskill mountains, where we knew we had the old bus, and cliffs, and rivers. We wanted to make a film about Americana and not about an apocalypse.

STARBURST: Martin and Mister are fundamentally loners, even slightly introverted​characters.  As a result the audience may find it difficult to sympathise ​with their plight, as you don't really get to know much about their past ​etc. Would you agree with this?

Jim: I agree that they're introverted and there's not much about their past, but I disagree that that makes it more difficult to relate to characters. That was all very intentional. There is way too much talking and exposition in films nowadays, and no one respects the audience enough to let them draw their own conclusions or read into what is unsaid. Silence is incredibly underrated.

STARBURST: If audiences were to come away from 'Stake Land' with one thing, what ​would you hope that would be?

Jim: A new appreciation for horror films.

STARBURST: What have you lined up for the future. More horror? More ​collaborations with Nick Damici?

Jim:  Nick and I adapted a book by Joe Lansdale called 'Cold In July'. Financing just came through so we're hoping to shoot that this year. It's not straight up horror, more of a southern-fried, violent thriller.

‘Stake Land’ is out in UK cinemas from today, and is reviewed here.

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+1 #2 jim 2011-06-17 19:46
Really great interview, love insights like this.
P.S. The interview is not with me!!!!
+2 #1 Rachel Collins Barrett 2011-06-17 19:04
interesting interview! i will have to check this out

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