Master of Puppets: An Interview With Dustin Mills

Master of Puppets: An Interview With Dustin Mills

5362_10151508577284490_852689648_nHello again Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! Bill here again, having sat down (so to speak) with Dustin Mills, an exciting indie filmmaker from, like everything good in horror, Ohio (most of the Blood Sprayer staff is composed of Ohioans – there’s your trivia for the day).  Dustin makes films at a breakneck speed on budgets comparable to what Tarantino spends on shoe catalogs for his trailer during a film shoot, and has churned out some of the most unique, fun and enjoyable movies I’ve seen in ages – films like THE PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE, NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES, BATH SALT ZOMBIES and EASTER CASKET.  As you can tell, we love Dustin’s work here at the Blood Sprayer and were very excited when he agreed to be interviewed.

First of all, let me say thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. We’re big fans of your films here, and are excited to meet the man behind the movies. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am a grand purveyor of cinematic nightmares driven by the essence of midnight and thirst can only be slaked by the sweet liquid souls of the innocent. Or more simply, I am a dude from Ohio who likes making weird movies.

Where does your horror heart come from? How did you become a horror fan?

I’m not a horror fan really. I just recently realized that. I just like movies regardless of genre. I am a movie fan. I like anything as long as its good. I do however have a great fondness for monsters and special fx. That is probably why I make horror films and why I am drawn to them. I really like dark fantasy or horror fantasy more than straight horror films. I am a sucker for imagination.

puppet_monster_massacre_poster_by_dustin85-d3415sqYour first film is PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE. What made you decide to make a puppet horror film?

It seemed like a novel idea. There aren’t many adult puppet films besides Meet The Feebles and Let My Puppets Come. It was something I wanted to see, so I made it.

ZOMBIE A-HOLE, your second film, has been described as “PLANET TERROR meets SIN CITY meets THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY.” Were there any challenges in making this film that you weren’t expecting? How did making ZOMBIE A-HOLE compare to making PUPPET MONSTER MASSACRE?

Brandon Salkil had an emergency appendectomy while we were filming and that set us back a bit because he is in nearly every scene. I also had hired a certain Face/Off contestant to deliver some special fx props. I paid him up front and he delivered the fx… after the film had wrapped. We managed, but it was incredibly irritating, and I will never work with that guy again. The experience was completely different from PMM, but ultimately it was much easier. PMM almost killed me I think.

NIGHT OF THE TENTACLES feels like an extended love-letter to the works of Frank Henenlotter, from the lighting to the cultured voice of the creature in the box. What, to you, is the strongest appeal of Henenlotter’s work?

I think the man is fearless for one thing, and that is an admirable trait. Basket Case was also the first indie horror film I ever watched. I had never seen anything like it. It sort of blew my hair back a bit. Mr. Henenlotter is just remarkably creative and weird. I dig it.

What is your process like for designing monsters like Satan or the Heart?

It really just depends on what I am doing and what I have available to me. I drew some pictures of Satan before I started. I wanted him to look more alien than demons normally do. I like the idea that demons could be old gods of possible alien origin. The heart was drawn by Jackie McKown who plays Delilah in the film. I just tried my best to build something similar to her sketches. Everyone makes fun of that monster, which is alright because it does look pretty silly. The movie was just made for $1500 and most of that went to the actors, so I did the best with what I had.

BATH SALT ZOMBIES is not only a timely film in its coverage of bath salts-driven-face-eating, but it also is a fantastic example of classic salesmanship in your inclusion of a baggy of bath salts with copies of the DVD sold at conventions. Has this promotional tactic worked for you? Are we seeing the birth of a new William Castle?

Actually that was put together by Matt from Forbidden Planet in NY. They did the VHS release and had a screening of the film in the store. I can’t take credit for that. I would do way more stuff like that if I could afford it, though.

EASTER CASKET is your newest feature-length release. Why do you think Easter has been so underrepresented in terms of holiday horror?

There are a few Easter horror films I think. There is actually a really good one called Easter Bunny Kill Kill. What I hadn’t seen yet was a film where the actual Easter Bunny himself was the killer. That’s what I set out to do.

You’ve got a film called THE BALLAD OF SKINLESS PETE in the works. What can you tell us about what to expect 59407_257541514368612_459365457_nfrom this film?

It’s darker than all my other films. Expect slime, gore, melting, tentacles, vomiting, pissing, violence, and a touch of black humor. It’s a bit like The Fly meets Re-Animator.

You’ve got a film coming out soon called KILL THAT BITCH that you made for under $1000. What’s it like to work with a budget like that?

Honestly that’s usually what my budgets are. Zombie A-Hole and Tentacles had similar budgets. Skinless Pete is the same. It just is what it is. I don’t mind it. I am used to it. It creates challenges of course, but having lots of money won’t make things any easier. Also in my line of work having a larger budget would just mean I would lose more money on the film.

You not only direct, you also write, edit, produce and do your own special effects. Is any one step of the filmmaking process more emotionally rewarding to you than the others? What aspect of filmmaking do you enjoy the most?

Not really. I love it all. It’s all difficult, but it’s my favorite thing to do. I think the only part I dislike is sound editing and recording. I do wish I could hand that off to someone else.

What’s the secret to making really good fake blood?

Its pretty simple really. Most of the time I use corn syrup with a lot of red food coloring and a couple drops of blue food coloring. Lately I have been using clear school glue and blood powder from Monster Makers. It isn’t edible, but it looks great and it dries glossy.

Like John Waters or Russ Meyer, it seems like you’ve attracted a circle of “regulars” who appear in your films. Were you friends with them before becoming a filmmaker or did you meet them through making movies?

It’s both. Some of them have been my friends for years and some of them are new friends I have met at shows or who contact me online. Bottom line: it is very difficult to find dependable people. When I find a person I can count on, I tend to keep asking them back.

What kind of technical equipment – cameras, editing software, etc. – do you use? Your films look like they were made on much higher budgets then they were.

Since Zombie A-Hole I have used a Canon 60D. We shot PMM on a Canon Vixia HV40. We occasionally use a GOPRO for POV shots and underwater shots or just anything that is too dangerous for the main camera. I use Adobe produces to edit and do my visual fx. I don’t know that I do anything special. I just take pride in the way my movies look. Its important to me. The focus, the color, the lighting, the shadows. I don’t think there is any reason for a low budget movie to look like shit. I encourage people to learn their craft, learn how to use your lenses, learn your basic lighting setups, learn how color temperature works, and really think about the way things should look. You can’t always spend a lot of time on that stuff on set, but if you practice and plan beforehand you can get some great results quickly. The worst thing you can do is not adjust your white balance and just trust your auto-focus. It takes work, but once you have your equipment its free to get great looks.

Any words of advice or inspiration for aspiring filmmakers out there who maybe want to make films, but aren’t sure they have what it takes?

I would just encourage them to do it. There is no better way to learn than to try. In this day and age, though, it may be better if you suck at it. I guarantee you that guy who made Birdemic makes a shit load more money than I do or any of my filmmaking friends. So even if you suck, people might like it. Just stop being a bitch about it and make something happen. Ignore everything you think you know, ignore what people tell you, ignore that voice in your head telling you to be afraid, and just make a movie. Why the fuck not?


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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

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