Is it a bird, is it a plane? No. It’s another pseudo B –movie parody flaunting giant animals… While classic B – movies were the bread and butter of my adolescence, production companies such as The Asylum have contributed to a dire culture of cult consumption sustained by trashy cover art, witty animal puns and viral videos.
Insectula is another notch on the bedpost, which in the footsteps of Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993), serves as a love – letter to Roger Corman’s sensationalism and the magic era of ‘drive in’ movies. As opposed to the poor production values and frustrating editing of most modern ‘creature features’, Insectula is a fun nostalgic throwback to the shockers of the 1950s, featuring heroic jawed protagonists of American independence, socio – political metaphors and perpetual exclamation marks at every turn.
At Bram Stoker International Film Festival 2014, Flickfeast were lucky enough to pick the brains of writer / director Michael Peterson and producer Danielle Cezanne at the world premiere of Insectula, revealing the scope and scale talented indie filmmakers can create on micro budgets. While the film was screened in a rough version that admittedly needs tweaking, the American filmmakers revealed an engaging passion for their work, chatting cult audiences, the tapestry of modern B – movies and their ambitious plans for a sequel.
Flickfeast: How did the project originate and how did you develop it?
Micheal Peterson: I was waiting for the right camera to come out that had cinema quality and was affordable and the Canon 7D came out in 2010 just before we started which fit the bill. We started shooting July 2010 as I just got this camera and played with it. The problem is that we were shooting in Minnesota for a lot of the outdoor scenes so we had to wait till summer. We shot the main stuff over 2 years and there was about 2 years of VFX.
Danielle Cezanne: The issue is aswell that we both have full time jobs too and it’s Minnesota too, plus getting enough money to keep the project going was an issue.
MP: Plus it was just me doing all the practical and digital VFX and with the shooting we would only shoot scenes when we had enough money to shoot. My original plan was to get some financing but the environment is really pitiful for that now with the recession and the change in Hollywood such as the distribution situation. It is in flux right now and a lot of sales agents are having problems and don’t have the money they used to. We heard a lot from sales agents that if we had talked to them a year ago they could have done it . We didn’t intend to do the whole film ourselves but it ended up that way unfortunately.
FF: In regards to the title, how did you come up with the name Insectula?
MP: I was originally going to call it Insectus but the domain name was already taken so I just came up with a list of other names and Insectula was one of them.
DC: It came to him in a dream
MP: Yes that happened and part of the script that we modified had a character saying ‘a combination of insect and the Latin ‘Cula’ meaning bloodsucker’ which it doesn’t. I like to put in false facts if I can.
FF: I am under the impression with DVD distribution that creature features have changed from straight genre flicks to self-referential comedies, with Asylum films and ‘mega sharks and giant Octopi’ dominating a section of the cult market. With Insectula were you trying to play into this type of market sphere?
MP: I was trying to through in as much stuff as possible and If I had adhered to the giant Insect thing I didn’t know that it could be engaging for 90 minutes. I was trying to throw in other things and references that would make it funnier to watch than to try to do a straight B feature that was really serious. I don’t know that you could do that and maintain the interest of the audiences without big bucks involved. Maybe Godzilla can do that with the money involved but with indie it’s another story.
FF: I suppose with Insectula you do offer a creature feature, aesthetic homage and even a parody of the styles of acting from 1950s, which Joe Dante did with his film within a film ‘Mant’ in Matinee (1993).
MP: We used real actors and sometimes we used family and friends so there wasn’t a lot of serious dialogue, I tried to pare down the dialogue and show things visually as much as possible. With the creature Insectula hogging most of the limelight we didn’t have room for Academy Award winning actors … However, a lot of friends and family thankfully stepped in and supported the project throughout which was greatly appreciated.
FF: To what extent was Insectula a homage to B – movies?
MP: Yes it’s a homage to the movies I grew up with such as the creature features, Amicus, Hammer, AIP films.
DC: There is some Hitchcock in there too…
MP: There are a lot of references but basically when I was grading this film I would always have Hammer films playing in the monitor next to it. To try and emulate some of the colours we came up with a colour grading system that took the Technicolor algorithm for Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004) and modified that with some other tools. I was trying to emulate the Eastman colour stocks of the late 1950s and early 60s.
FF: Were there any difficulties in conceptualising and developing the visual effects for Insectula?
MP: I only started with this film, I had a background in practical effects as I went to art school but I went before the wave of computers. I ramped up from the beginning of this one and learned what I had to learn as I didn’t know 3D animation. I had to learn as quickly as I could and I was trying to find someone who might do it for cheap or for free.
FF: What visual effects shot are you most proud of in Insectula?
MP: I think the ones I appreciate the most are the ones that you don’t notice. There are visual effects in 500 shots in Insectula so there are a lot people don’t notice. As far as the apparent visual effects, hmm. The funny thing is that it is an evolution of my learning the visual effects. It’s the first time I ever did 3D animation and you can see me getting better. I don’t know as it’s hard to decide but there are some real complex ones so I guess those ones are always good.
FF: Any funny stories from the set at all as it looked like the cast were having a real hoot?
DC: I liked when we were doing ‘ the axe scene’ and I was on the ground photographing those guys and they are carrying the dummy and the axe and you see a shadow and I was wondering if anyone was going to call the police. It was a horrible thing that looked like we were carrying a dead body and it was a shadow projected from the tallest building and highest skyline.
MP: A lot of the film was improvised I mean we had a script but we didn’t really adhere to it that much and that was the kind of the beauty and advantages of the no money situation. I tried to put in as many little fun jokes and references as I could.
FF: Speaking of references, my favorite was perhaps the overarching heroic leap from Reign of Fire (2002), was that intentional?
MP: Yes! The actor called up and said he would like to do something like Reign of Fire.
DC: I had seen it on TV and observed Matthew Mcconaughey jumping through air with an axe but it just looked like he was standing there, so we thought we could replicate that.
MP: A friend also had a location so we decided to do it there but to be honest a lot of the scenes were dependent on finding locations. We would sometimes get the nice looking visual location first and then I would have to write a scene around it. That is what bothers me most about indie films is that the locations and the sets are really difficult to watch as they are dull and not interesting visually.
DC: What didn’t translate well for me is that we shot scenes in that antique house but to us as Americans an old house is 150 years old. To English audiences it is not such a big deal but to Americans the mise en scene contains a lot of real history. Then again when we come to Whitby we have those exact lace curtains from our antique house in our hotel room.
FF: Having explored the city in your time at Bram Stoker International Film Festival, would you ever like to shoot a film in Whitby in future?
MP: I would love to or perhaps in Edinburgh. Any normal pictures I shoot in these places look like movies stills. Plus I love old things such as antique phones and all that crap.
FF: What is your hope for the film after Bram Stoker International? Do you have anything else lined up at the moment?
MP: We don’t as we rushed Insectula and the sound is not quite there yet. We need to go back and do a 5.1 mix and some sound design stuff. The composer is from the UK and he did a great job but we still have to work with some other elements. We are kind figuring out the distributing sphere and we might end up self-distributing on VOD for a while and see how big the audience is and then maybe look for a distributor after that. We just need to find the audience and we have had a really good reaction online on the Horror Nymph site where we got 830,000 hits and another 250,000 on youtube.
FF: What films are you looking to make in future … perhaps an Insectula sequel?
MP: The part after the credits is that as the character Kemplar is still alive and is in a tank and that Banning his arch nemesis has got him. It is going to be Banning building him into a robot and there is going to be a conflict between the two of them
DC: similar to the style of Invasion from the Planet of the Monsters there are going to be more monsters coming and Kemplar is going to build himself into a bigger robot and then align himself with the monsters against earth. I really wantto make a Dracula movie afterwards too.
MP: I would really like to make a serious take at a Hammer film too as I am a huge fan of those.
Insectula will be released on multi VOD platforms in 2015
For more information check out www.insectula.com