Collaboration Is Paramount: Mickey Reece (And Friends) On Climate Of The Hunter
If indie auteur Mickey Reece isn’t on your radar, you need to put him there. In only 11 years, this Oklahoman writer/director has cranked out an astonishing 27 films, each a self-professed comedy that sticks its hands into various genres and shoots for the stars, often times producing the results you wouldn’t believe on a shoestring budget.
His latest film, Climate of the Hunter, is an endearingly ambitious 70s throwback full of comedic melodrama and vampires, which put us under its spell at this year’s Fantastic Fest. We had the great pleasure of sitting down with Reece, along with his director of photography Sam Calvin, production designer Kaitlyn Shelby, and actress Danielle Evon Ploeger, to discuss the film. We talk about collaboration, capturing that 70s feel, vampires, #MeToo, and much much more.
This is your 27th feature, which is incredible. How does it feel to have another notch on the ole belt?
Mickey Reece: Well, it’s always super stressful and nervous leading up [to the premiere], but now that that’s over, we can just chill and goof around and talk about shitty tattoos. Yesterday, I wasn’t this cool at all, but now I’m chill. I’m actually looking forward to watching it at the next screening. I didn’t even watch it [at the premiere]; I wanted to give up my seat to someone else, you know, since it’s a smaller theater.
What was the audience response to the film?
Mickey Reece: I wasn’t in the theater, so I don’t know when people laughed, but they said people laughed.
Danielle Evon Ploeger: People laughed a lot. There were a couple people who burst out laughing, and it gave other people permission to laugh at it.
Mickey Reece: Yeah, that’s always the thing, too. We’re always making a comedy, but you don’t really know it because it’s disguised as something more complex, but ultimately, we’re like, ‘And the joke hits…there!’
On the surface, Climate of the Hunter looks like a straight-up adult melodrama, but you toss one important thing into the mix: a vampire potentiality. What excited you about tossing in that element?
Mickey Reece: It was all for that Christopher Lee shot where he [bites down on Danielle’s neck]. It was all to just make my own version of a vampire movie essentially, but the only thing I know how to do real well is have people talking to each other. So it was like, how are we gonna incorporate this where we’re still doing something that’s interesting, but where we can throw a vampire in. The vampire imagery was really fun to deal with, like the Nosferatu and all that.
I know a lot of your ideas start with the characters, so how do you dream up these three central characters and the basic idea for the film?
Mickey Reece: I’ve always done it based on what resources we have, and I knew we had these cabins, so I was like, “What are we gonna do with these cabins?” I knew I wanted to use Mary [Buss] because she’s like my De Niro, and I wanted to play with the Bergman-like blocking that I did with Strike, [Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart], but not as prominent in the blocking so much. I really wanted to incorporate that with the two sisters. I don’t know, you just take what you got, and you take who you have, and you just kinda work with it subconsciously, and it writes itself.
That’s one of the things I admire about you and your films; how you work within your own limitations, instead of writing something really big and then trying to get it made.
Mickey Reece: Yeah, every time I’m setting out to make a movie, it’s to make the movie. It’s not to write a script to see if we can get funding. We were gonna make this movie regardless of if Divide/Conquer and Vision Chaos signed onto it, which we were lucky that they did — that was amazing — but we were already processing it anyway to make it happen. It probably would have been a much worse movie, and we would have shot it in a week or something because that’s all we could afford, but we would’ve made something similar. Luckily, we got a little more money than we’re used to having and some cool resources and it just worked out.
This was the first time you worked with a production designer. What was the collaboration process like between you two?
Kaitlyn Shelby: Mickey was like, “I kinda want it to be in the 70s, but I don’t know [if it’s possible] with the money and stuff.” I was like, “Let’s just see what we can do.” I worked with [Sam Calvin] a lot to have our small budget be really extended in the best possible way. All the candles, all the fabrics, and everything were chosen to highlight our budget. Mickey gave me a lot of creative freedom. He just wanted it to be 70s, and he showed me a few films that were inspiration for him. From there, I just kinda pitched him a color palette and a style, with like the candles and stuff. The food was really the big kicker. He writes movies that have so many dinner scenes, and I was like, “I really wanna go hard into this 70s dinner party thing.” And he was like, “Let’s do it!” And it was awesome. That was my favorite.
Mickey Reece: [Kaitlyn] also narrated the food. That came about because she would announce the food [before each scene], and it just sounded like it was coming out of a little baby’s voice. And I was like, we’re gonna an establishing shot before each meal, and you have to narrate and tell what it is. That wasn’t in the script. So, then we had that little segue too when she starts narrating Wesley’s thoughts like a little storybook just because I liked her little baby voice.
Kaitlyn Shelby: I repeated it so many times though because it’s such weird food. Like the sandwich cakes in the first dinner is layers of white bread with canned meat mixed with mayonnaise and covered in cream cheese mixed with sour cream. It’s as gross as it gets pretty much. The actors were preparing to have to eat this really nasty shit that I was making for them unfortunately. I would literally put it out for them and be like, “I’m so sorry. I love you guys.”
Mickey Reece: One of the producers had to leave when we did the lobster dinner. He was like, “I can’t do this. There’s shellfish in the air and this is disgusting.”
Were you able to capture a lot of that 70s feel in camera with the lighting and production or was it a mix of in camera and post production?
Sam Calvin: So, I’d say it’s about an 80/20 split. I’d say about 80% of it was done on set with the lightning, the lensing, and the filtration, and the other 20% was in the color and the added film grain texture to it. The post portion was pretty significant. I don’t know how noticeable it is everybody, but every once in a while they add these pops to it that are amazing and really add to it. We didn’t do things the way they did in the 70s; we just did things to make it feel old, like it had been in a film canister sitting around for a long time. That’s, I think, the best, most appropriate way to make it look old, instead of saying, “We should make it look like it was shot in the 70s.” Well, I can’t. The speed of the camera and the speed of everything is different now, you can’t just shoot it the same way [they did back then], so you have to make it look like it’s old and nasty and been sitting around for a long time.
There’s a 70s feel to the way the camera moves, with a lot of locked down shots full of pans and zooms. Was that a rule you had set up initially or was that more of a discovery process?
Sam Calvin: Yes, it was very much a discovery process.
Mickey Reece: We definitely knew what the style was, and what the blocking was gonna be and how it would play into it, but I didn’t know [we were gonna use it as much as we did]. When we got there the first day and started zooming, it was like, “ou, let’s play with this a little more.”
Sam Calvin: We had like a half day our first day, and at the end of the shoot, Mickey told me and the first AC/electrician/grip, “You guys went a little crazy with that zoom lens. We’re maybe not gonna zoom so much.” And then by the time we finished the movie, we zoomed in every shot, so it was a learned process.
Mickey Reece: And the coolest thing about that is how you can combine shots, so you can work quicker that way. I’m so used to shooting on a DSL where in the middle of shooting I’ll zoom in, and I just know I’ll cut here, and I’ll have two shots right there where I’d normally have one. I don’t even wanna work without a zoom lens anymore after that.
Danielle, you play Ginger Gilmartin’s daughter estranged daughter, Rose. What was your process like for that character?
Danielle Evon Ploeger: I feel infinitely comfortable with all three of these people here, so that was really nice to have that safety there, but then I honestly knew I was going to be there for such a short amount of time that I decided that I was going to just be the way that I was going to be with those characters with those people. So with Ben Hall, we immediately hit it off and started talking, and we had a great first evening and conversation. With Ginger and I, we had really great conversations, and then there was a time where we just cut off and just started being who those characters were to each other. I think that lead to better performances from both of us, and I’m super grateful for her for being down to do that and play and understand that everyone’s safe and we’re all in a make-believe world. So I feel like I didn’t really integrate because my character didn’t really integrate into a lot of it, so I felt like that was the more appropriate way to approach it.
Mickey, you’ve been going for 11 years now, often making 2-3 films a year. What’s the biggest or most important thing you’ve learned about filmmaking and its process through the movies?
Mickey Reece: I’ve learned that collaboration is paramount. That sounds good, right?
Danielle Evon Ploeger: Collaboration is paramount is a great sound bite.
I might be reaching a bit, but I felt like there was some #MeToo things going on with the narrative. Was that intentional?
Mickey Reece: I will say this, there was a line, “Not all men.” When Ginger says, “All men are assholes, Wesley. I thought you’d know that.” And he says, “Not all men.” That was written in there, and I didn’t think anything of it whatsoever. I didn’t have any agenda at all, or any thought into it other than this is what this guy would say. Someone said that the scene ran a little long, so I cut some stuff down on it, and then one of our producers said, “Hey, you cut that not all men line.” And I was like, “I don’t even know what you’re talking about.” And they said, “Yeah, [Ben Hall] says, ‘Not all men,’ and you cut it.” And I was like, “Well, I was just trying to trim down the scene.” And they told me, “Well, you gotta put that one in there because when that movie comes out all the press is gonna be talking about that ‘Not all Men’ line.” And here we are… [laughs] But it was written by two men, you know. We weren’t sitting there going, “How can we capitalize on this #MeToo movement?” We were thinking nothing of it. It’s just obvious to us; these are the character, this is the place, boom, this is what they say. We don’t really give much thought to it. It’s just what comes out with our shared brains.
I know that Climate of the Hunter just premiered, but you generally have another one in the chamber. Do you have another project in the works, and if so, what can you tell us about it?
Mickey Reece: Let me think about what I can say about…
Sam Calvin: Nothing!
Mickey Reece: I can say something about it.
Danielle Evon Ploeger: I mean, it’s your movie.
Mickey Reece: It’s under wraps currently, but it’s set in a convent and there’s a bunch of nuns.
What do you think? Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and as always, remember to viddy well!