Recently, No Majesty reviewed Lake Michigan Monster, a delightful throwback movie, part grindhouse, part Python mash-up. We were lucky enough to sit down with writer-director-producer-actor Ryland Brickson Cole Tews, a man of as many names as film credits to discuss the film, and his influences, along with his next insane project.
NM: First of all, how would you describe this film, because I’ve struggled to adequately describe it.
RBCT: Well it’s just, you know, in its purest form it’s a comedy, because it has a few funny moments. But also because it’s very existence is laughable, I think. Just because it’s just my family, and friend, and I got together and made this movie. But I would describe it as a spooky, creature feature comedy. Yes. Spooky, mystery, creature feature comedy fantasy.
NM: There is a very specific feel to the film, it’s very individual. What were your specific inspirations for it, the sort of films that you wanted it to feel like?
RBCT: I watched Guy Madden’s film Brand Upon the Brain a couple of times, and he kind of inspired me. Because he has that same kind of 16mm black-and-white look, like grainy, scratchy, high contrast, big shadows and stuff. I saw that movie and I said “You know, I don’t have a lot of money, but if he could make a feature look like this, and people clamour over it, and like it, why can’t I do that?” So that was the biggest inspiration. And in terms of making the film, you know, I love Evil Dead II, so you know, we always tried to dutch up the camera.
NM: One of the things that impressed me was the cinematography, and how it looked.
RBCT: Well thank you, because you know, we didn’t have any professional director of photography, it was just me and my friends, and we were conscious of – not only is this a cheap movie, but we were conscious that if someone had a single line of dialogue, let’s not just do a static single shot, and then a reverse static single shot, let’s dutch it up a little bit, or let’s swing the camera a little bit, let’s be creative, so we can kind of trick the audience, to keep their attention.
NM: There was a very Sam Raimi tone, not just to the film, but the way it was shot. It’s very Raimi-esque.
RBCT: Yeah, as I say, the two biggest inspirations were Guy Madden with Brand Upon the Brain and Sam Raimi. We love Sam Raimi, and if I hadn’t had those inspirations then the film would have had a very different feel to it.
NM: And to that, you write, you direct, you produce, and you star in it. Is there anything you didn’t do? Did you also provide the catering?
RBCT: Well yeah, of course. I would buy stuff for the cast and crew, the main thing was sparkling water, this passion fruit sparkling water. And then, yeah, carrying shit everywhere. The cast, everyone you see on screen, was always doing stuff. They were operating the camera, they were carrying shit down to the beach, carrying it back. They did their own make-up. They helped build the props, so we all have like six credits on the movie.
NM: With the cast, I just want to talk about names, because since seeing the film I have been walking around saying “Great thinking, Shaun Shaughnessy!” How did you come up with the names?
RBCT: Well… [breaks into Seafield voice] Shaun Shaughnessy! I don’t know where that name came from, there’s this line-man in the NFL who’s surname is like O’Shaughnessy, and for some reason that always stuck in my head. So I thought it would be silly if the first name was also in the last name, that would be silly, and it is. Nedge Pepsi, again, I think I’d heard the name Nedge on the radio, it was their last name. I thought that was an odd name that could be either male or female, it’s sort of ambiguous, and Nedge is sort of an ambiguous name, and what’s a silly last name. Pepsi! I was probably drinking a Pepsi at the time. And then when you say them with Seafield’s voice, it becomes silly, and funny.
NM: Was it particularly hard to make the film without people laughing? I was surprised by just how well everyone was able to keep a straight face, particularly Beulah Peters, you’re really close to her face saying something and I just know I’d end up laughing.
RBCT: Yeah, I mean, they’re all my friends who are in the movie and eventually they just became used to it. By the time you’re actually shooting takes, they’re just like “okay, let’s get through this”. It’s funny how they didn’t break character, especially, like you say Beulah. The one scene that we did twenty-five takes of, was at the end of the lighthouse scene with Ashcroft, when he’s painting. At the end of that scene and he says “hook your bait with this hook, and your monster’s as good as hooked” and I faint, and they catch me, and it pans around. That took like twenty-five takes, because my dad, Wayne, who plays Ashcroft could not get that damn line right. Like I know it’s not an easy line to say, but he was saying stuff like “hook your baby with this and your monster’s good”. He just kept saying different stuff, and we were laughing. I was like “Dad! It’s like nine words”.
NM: And crucial question, was it all your own beard, because you have a fairly decent beard now, but it’s not Sea Captain beard.
RBCT: Oh yeah, that was all my own beard, I lived with that beard for sixteen months.
NM: That sounds horrible, it just sounds uncomfortable.
RBCT: Oh it was, I had it through all the seasons. It started in Winter, then spring, summer, fall, back to Winter. It just got itchy, I didn’t look into how to maintain it, it was just constantly itchy, and gross.
NM: The film has a kind of throwback feel, does it come from a love of Drive-In movies?
RBCT: Well it was definitely Guy Madden, Sam Raimi and then sort of German Expressionist films, those big shadows, and then the humour which is kind of Monty Python inspired humour, that just so happens to have a monster in it. But it wasn’t ever like “we should do Creature from the Black Lagoon”, so it’s kind of funny that people have seen it as an inspiration.
NM: The beginning scene where your character is delivery a speech reminded me of the film Patton, and I thought, this is a strange way to start your monster movie by doing a George C. Scott movie, and then it moves to the classroom.
RBCT: That’s funny, I never even thought of the Patton thing, but I love that film and it’s totally how that movie starts, so again maybe I was subconsciously influenced by that.
NM: Are there any plans for what you’re going to do next, your next project, obviously things are starting to return to some form of normal.
RBCT: Yeah, well last winter we were shooting, and we’re doing interiors this winter, we’re doing a supernatural, no dialogue physical comedy set in Northern Wisconsin, during the height of America’s fur trade. And the name of the movie is… Hundreds of Beavers. The story is we’re shooting up in sub-zero temperatures, up in Wisconsin and it’s about this guy who has to become a fur-trapper just to survive. So it’s essentially, the funny Revenant. So yeah, that same kind of black-and-white style, a little more sophisticated this time, we have a little more money behind it, so we’ve shot the first twenty minutes or so, and we’re hoping to release next summer at festivals.
NM: Will there be a twenty minute sequence where you’re attacked relentlessly by a beaver?
RBCT: I can’t spoil anything, but there is a lot of Ryland on animal action in this film.
NM: Sold. And finally, given that cinemas are moving towards opening, do you think there’s been a change of attitude towards smaller, not difficult – but more out there films? Really that’s all we’ve been watching in terms of new releases, do you think there will be a place for them in the multiples alongside the tent-pole movies like Tenet?
RBCT: Yeah, I hope so, because the mainstream movies are, you know you have your Tenet but they also tend to pump out some crap too. So it would be nice, especially in these big multiplexes, the ones that have like eighteen screens, it’d be nice if you alot a couple to more genre fare. You know, you hear from people “oh I saw this weird kind of indie movie on TV or on Netflix last night, it was really weird and good”, and it’s like well okay let’s put them on the big screen, we have the space, we don’t have to put Star Wars on six screens every time. There’s absolutely room for that, there’s room for genre films, they’re such crowd pleasers, you want to see it with a lot of people it just plays better, when you see Lake Michigan Monster at a film festival, it’s such a good atmosphere, so there’s all this laughter, and people are just having a good time. And if theatres want to thrive again, they need to change the game plan a little bit to bring people in. You know, like The Rocky Horror Picture Show they show it all the time and it’s a huge deal. And people go to see The Room by Tommy Wiseau. So, I’d like to see it, let’s get some more B-Movies.
NM: Hopefully in time for your beaver-trapping farce.