[text transcribed from an audio interview]
DS: This DSI is with a filmmaker who, according to his IMDB page, has only one feature length film to his credit, but has two more in various stages of production. His name is Matthew J. Pellowski, and the film he completed, Eyes Of The Mothman, is a film I reviewed, after my wife came across it on Netflix. I thought it the best documentary film of its kind, on unexplained phenomena, that I’d ever see, fore its eschewing of absurd claims and melodrama, and its focus on history and journalistic technique. I will turn to that film, in depth, later in this interview, but let me suffice to say that I enjoy interviews with lesser known people in their fields, those on the way up, because most have not yet been Hollywoodized by fame and fortune. My interview with John Grabowska, another documentarian, is a good example. Also, I enjoy interviews on offbeat subjects and people, such as Brad Steiger, a well known psi investigator. Hopefully, this interview will have qualities of both those earlier interviews. So, let me ask you, Matt, to tell readers a bit of your life and career: who you are, what you’ve done in your life, what your goals are (and if you feel you’ve achieved them), and also your place in the film world.
MP: Well, I grew up in New Jersey and I played sports through community college where I also started to study film. I then went on to a film school in Manhattan called The School of Visual Arts. I started out as an illustrator- a comic book illustrator and then I got into film, and after film school, I started working for Conan O’Brien. I worked on a lot of reality shows and network television shows. I was working on shows like The Apprentice, Lost, Inside Edition, NBC Sports and etc. I started to organize my own production company and it was never really my goal to stay working in television or to stay working for another company, it was always my goal to form my own company and then eventually kind of do what Robert Rodriguez had done in film, which was to establish himself in the entertainment field and then eventually become a self-sufficient director and producer. I wanted to have the ability to develop my own original content, and not have to rely on outsourcing much. I have pretty much achieved that goal where I run my company in Manhattan, which is called Red Line Sudios. The Mothman was one of the first feature documentaries that we did through my company.
Let me return to your page on IMDB and speak a bit of your career, early on,
then get into the biographical stuff, the film I reviewed, and other things. You
seem to have been involved in all sorts of areas in filmmaking, before moving on
to producing and directing. Do you think this background has aided your career
in film? How?
MP: I think so because I’ve done a lot of different things, I’ve done a pretty broad variety of work, I’ve done commercials, music videos, television shows, narrative features, and when you do all of those things, you learn a lot of different skills and you have a lot of different understandings. The way you would produce a TV show is very different from how you would produce a film, and the way you would direct a narrative film is very different from how you do a documentary, so I think having that general knowledge of a lot of different fields in film and TV, it definitely allows you to bring something different to a project. In the documentary that we’re talking about, I tried to incorporate a lot of different facets of those different studies to one film. I like to take risks as a filmmaker. I think a lot of documentaries right off the bat think there has to be a voiceover that starts with, “In 1978, this is what happened…” and it has become very boring, and I like to try different things. So in The Mothman documentary, there are some traditional documentary elements but I also tried to weave some narrative elements, some more interesting recreation moments, also the film opens in a subtextual way too. So I did try to incorporate a lot of those different backgrounds into this film and I do try to do that with a lot of my work.
Of some of the early, short films in your canon, which stick out most in memory,
for good or ill, and why?
MP: It’s hard to say, when you work as a director, you constantly learn. Any director, even if you talk to Clint Eastwood, or Terry Gilliam, people that are very well known, very big directors, they will tell you that they are learning everyday, and any smart director knows that you never fully 100% have the craft understood. Things evolve, technology changes, so you have to constantly change with your tools that you are using to make film with, so it’s hard to really pinpoint, “I made this mistake and I learned from it,” you’re constantly making mistakes and you’re constantly learning from them. I would say that by the time I made The Mothman, I had been working in film for 8-10 years, so it had been a good decade of work to where, by that time, I felt I knew what I was doing. The Mothman was my first feature documentary and it has some flaws depending on what kind of audience member you are. We made the film for die-hard paranormal fans who would appreciate the lengths we went to leave no stone unturned, but for those just wanting a spooky story, I think they were disappointed in the more historical aspects of the film. It was our goal to be journalistically fact driven, not to scare people. Even in that situation you can see how there can be a learning experience when it comes to your audience understanding the purpose behind your work.
On this webpage
Matthew J. Pellowski is an accredited, award winning, writer, director, and producer. Starting in the field of graphic design and illustration, Matthew first began working as a cartoonist at the early age of 17 when he was hired to illustrate a line of children’s books for Bantam Double Day Dell publishing in New York City. Originally from central New Jersey, he majored in illustration at Raritan Valley Community College and became a nationally ranked, scholar athlete award recipient for basketball. Matthew then left RVCC and attended the prestigious School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where he received a BA in Screenwriting.
After graduating, Matthew worked on numerous television programs including: Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Lost, ESPN Sidelines, The Liza Minnelli show, The Apprentice, John Leguizamo’s Sexaholic, NBC’s Sports Desk and Inside Edition. He later incorporated his original love of illustration with his new found success in film and video when he worked as a storyboard artist for Spike Lee’s Drop Squad Productions, was hired as a cartoonist for The Cosby Show, and acted as the original lead illustrator for the television programs Generation Jets, Win Big Today, and The Noteables.
His career has been well rounded, from working as a floor manager for Motley Crue, acting as a journalist and writer for humor and paranormal based periodicals that include Mad Magazine, Cracked, UFO Magazine, The Paranormal News and Paranoia Magazine, to directing programs that have appeared in 86 different countries. He has worked as an illustrator, cartoonist, storyboard artist, field producer, segment producer, senior producer, journalist, cameraman, ghost writer, script doctor, magazine columnist, editor, writer, director, and producer in the fields of film, television, publishing, fashion, and internet media.
As a producer and director, he has worked on numerous promotional broadcasts and productions for such artists and companies as Jennifer Lopez, Ron Howard, Cedric the Entertainer, AZN television broadcasting, Warner Brothers, Trident, J. Walter Thompson Marketing, Prada Inc., Will Smith’s “Hitch,” H&M, ESPN, Harrah’s Commercials, Seinfeld, and CNN. After working steadily in television for 5 years, Matthew later went on to help form the independent film production company, Red Line Studios. Now it its 10th year of existence, he has overseen the full production of numerous independent feature films, best selling direct to video productions, television programs, documentaries, music videos and more…
So, were you originally a visual artist who turned to words, or did both
coexist? I am of the opinion that ‘pure cinema’ is a chimera, and that film
is more of an extension of literature with pictures- i.e.- ‘cinemature’-
than it is moving photographs with words appended. That is, I agree with the old
maxim, I believe from director John Huston, ‘all
good films start with a good script.’
What are your thoughts on this?
MP: I 100% believe that. My degree from film school was actually in screenwriting, and I am a huge stickler for even correct format. Owning the company I have now, a lot of people send us scripts and want us to consider making them, and so I read a lot of scripts, and it all starts with the screenplay. And one huge misconception that always happens is people think, “Well, if I have a great idea, then that is all I need. I don’t need to write this in correct format, I don’t need to know the craft of screenwriting—as long as I have a good idea, that is all that matters.” And that is 100% inaccurate—because every script that I read, the first thing that I judge on, is how it looks and if it is in the correct format, because it’s my opinion that if you’re a good writer, you have enough respect for what you are writing and who is going to read it, to understand how screenplays should look. And it’s not even really being a stickler for something for no reason, but if you understand how a film gets made, especially as a writer, you understand that after you write your script, there is going to be stages that follow it, that people who are looking at your script breaking it down, there are certain things that should be in your script that allow the next people to do their job to make their life easier. I just read a script the other day, it was OK, someone had submitted something to us, but there was no what is called slug lines. Every script has slug line where it shows you the interior, the exterior, the day, the night, where you are, and if you don’t have those elements in your script, when you go to organize shooting a film, you have no idea how many locations you have, in terms of when you go to shoot a film, you want to organize it to be as cost-effective as possible, so time is always money. So you want to know how many interiors you have, exteriors, how many shots at night, day. So scripts to me are the important in a number of ways, from a creative standpoint-- where you have to have a great story and have it evolve into a great film, but it also has to be in correct format. That is deeply important too.
What did you do on most of the television shows you worked on- stage manager or
MP: When I first started out, I did a lot of different things, I worked as a camera operator, I worked as an editor, I worked as an assistant editor, I worked a lot in post-production. A lot of the reality shows I worked on early on, was a lot in the post-production end, the editorial, sometimes it was in the production end—assistant camera, or camera operator. I also worked as a storyboard artist for some time, but that is mostly what it was, and eventually it evolved into producing and directing, and pretty much for the last seven years, it has been working as a producer, director and writer.
I’ll touch upon the paranormal more when we discuss Eyes Of The Mothman,
but it seems you have just bobbed around from project to project. Now that you
are at Red Line Studios do you feel
you can focus more on a filmic career? What is your goal then? Since it is an
independent, small company, do you want to continue with documentaries, or are
you yearning to ‘go Hollywood,’ or be an indy filmmaker ala John Cassavetes,
or an ‘artsy’ director ala Federico Fellini or Ingmar Bergman? And, if the
latter- the Cassavetes/Bergman vein- do you also yearn for fictive drama films
that appeal to adults (in the mature, not porno, sense)? Why do you think there
are so few films like that out there? I think there is a HUGE market that is
underserved. The elderly are growing and are more affluent than teenagers, and
more likely to look for films that play in theaters than Netflix. Ideas? Tell me
more about Red Line Studios- both what you do there, and what other people and
projects are in the works.
MP: The main reason I started Red Line was to have creative control. I was working as a writer right out of school and what I didn’t like about working as a freelance writer was that you can write something that someone else can change, and once they purchase that script or purchase some of your work and they can do whatever they want with it, and it was always my goal to be able to write, direct and produce and retain creative control. Again, what Robert Rodriguez has done as a filmmaker. So I started my company for the most part to have control and to make projects, eventually build up enough work history doing other people’s films and shows, and things like that, that I could then raise money for projects that we want to develop and create here. That’s pretty much where we’re at now. We’re doing a three million dollar narrative film next summer, as well as the feature documentary that you mentioned, those are in-house projects of ours, and the company has grown pretty big—we started out as a smaller company in Brooklyn 10 years ago and now we have a two floor facility on Broadway in Manhattan. We have an entire post-production wing and we have soundstage studio, vocal booths. The Mothman was a pretty small project, but we also do several million dollar narrative films. A lot of companies that film in New York that are filming international films will use our company for their New York filming, and outside of the work that we do that is completely in-house, on a regular basis, we are doing fairly large commercials, we do Seinfeld commercials, we’ve done commercials for Harrah’s Casinos…so we do a lot of high end commercial work, when we’re not doing smaller projects like The Mothman. It’s a business, ad-agencies hire us, other film companies hire us, we do animation, and we are pretty much a one-stop-shop production. It’s what I do for a living—there are a lot of filmmakers that have a day job and then they do film on the side as a hobby, but basically, working as producer and director is my full-time job. To me instead of working for a production company, I work for my own company. I have about a staff 15 regular employees and then about 50 fulltime freelancers as well, depending on what we are shooting, if we are shooting a feature for somebody, we need a large crew, if we’re doing a smaller commercial or something for fashion or runway or red carpet, then we don’t need as many crew members, so usually the project that comes in determines how much staff that we need, but it is a decent sized studio. There are other producers, directors of photography, editors, and a core staff and then we have the fulltime freelance staff, so it has grown pretty big. We just expanded and took over another floor and we’re a two floor operation in lower Manhattan. What I usually do is direct a film that someone else will produce through my company but I also work a lot as a producer and there are certain projects that I have no interest in directing, that I did produce and then other projects that are of interest to me as a director, so I usually take on that role and someone else produces it, so the film I mentioned for next summer is one I am directing, but I also am producing another feature through our company too, where I won’t be the director. I go back and forth—I get bored very easily, so I don’t like to do the same thing for very long. I like to switch it up a bit.
Back to the IMDB page, it states you are now finishing up a documentary of a
bluegrass musician named Dave Evans. That seems quite a departure from the
Mothman. What things about this person drew you to his needing a film?
MP: That’s an interesting story, so it’s kind of a cause and effect thing. The way I got interested in the Mothman is I’ve always been interested in the paranormal—I used to write for a number of paranormal magazines, and I actually saw The Mothman Prophecies in the theatre and just walked in kind of blindly and didn’t know what the movie was, and then somehow in all of my years of independent research on the paranormal, I always missed the story of the Mothman. So I kind of got turned on to the myth through that movie, I read the book and made the documentary. When I was finishing the documentary I wanted to try to find a song for my end credits that was related to West Virginia. I had looked around, we were going to use another song by Hazel Dickens and that didn’t work out because of licensing problems, and then I found the song called “West Virginia” by Dave Evans, so the song in the end credit is by Dave Evans. That process introduced me to his music and I got to know him a little bit and we got to talking, and a lot of times what happens you find a project, but then a lot of times a project finds you and that was kind of the case with Dave Evans, where it was coincidental and a chain of events that led to his story, and in talking to him, I realized there was a great story to be told there. So that is kind of how that project came about, just through Mothman and licensing his song introduced me to him, and made me realize that should be another documentary that should be told.
Let me interject for a moment, and ask about something that I’ve noted about
many documentaries, and, since my wife and I got Netflix at the start of 2011,
I’ve watched many docs- from PBS sorts to indy docs, and while there are a
goodly number of quality, there are far too many docs I call vanity
documentaries; i.e.- films made by people about their families or
friends, documenting rather pedestrian things about people whose lives are
simply not that interesting. I mean, suicide or child abuse or alcoholism are
too common to generate much interest. I subscribe to the notion that the
personal can be art, but only if the person is immanently important, notable, or
interesting, and/or if the filmmaker or artists can render that person
important, notable, or interesting via their art. Failing that, such ‘art’
recalls to me the bad books published by vanity presses; hence the
term for doc films in this vein. Have you noticed this trend? If so, will you
avoid it? Clearly, Mothman was a subject that you really broadened and deepened
beyond the hardcore ‘fringe element.’ How is the tale and film of Dave Evans
going to do the same for him and his music? Of what import is he in his genre?
MP: I understand what you’re saying, and I think what you’re touching on is that those other documentaries, sometimes it’s not even the fact of the subject matter, that it’s a documentary on someone’s uncle or something. I think what a lot of times happens, I find it frustrating as a filmmaker, that I see there are a lot of documentary filmmakers, even at the very high end of that genre of filmmaking, you know, well-known documentarians, that use the documentary format as an excuse to not really do their due diligence as a filmmaker. A lot of documentaries will say, “Well, there’s not a lot of money in documentaries, so when we film this interview, we can’t use professional lighting, or we can’t do—it gets as kind of a scapegoat and a crutch a lot of time. “Well, it is a documentary, we don’t have to make this look that good, it’s all about the subject.” Kind of what I was saying earlier about the screenplay, a lot of documentary filmmakers will say it doesn’t have to look good, it doesn’t have to sound good, it’s all about the subject. You know, I understand that to a degree, but I also think that plays into the other things that I have done, where I have done a lot of different things where the production value is extremely important. If you’re going to do a film, if you’re going to do a TV show, there are certain standards and guidelines that are expected by a network for you to have your product look a certain way, and some will say that is not art, that is commercialism and things like that, but I disagree. I think when a film looks a certain way, you say, that looks like a professional film, and that has always been extremely important to me as a filmmaker to have my work look like a professional and not like an amateur’s. And what I think what you’re talking about is a big problem with documentaries where it gets lost in the fact that it is all about the subject, and it is a huge, important factor, but there is no reason why you can’t take 20 minutes to light an interview and still have it be the same great organic interview with that person, but have it look professional. That was one thing that we really wanted to do with The Mothman, we really wanted it to look like a high-end film in terms of the interviews, in terms of the recreations—the re-creations are minimal—there aren’t a 1000 re-creation actors running all over, but the scenes that we shot were lit professionally, they look like they had a professional director of photography, all of the sound for The Mothman was done in a professional sound studio, just like you would do for a narrative film, but almost every sound effect used in The Mothman was fake. Almost no sound in that film was actual sound effects. And some might argue that takes away from the authenticity of it, but at the end of the day, you’re trying to create an experience for the viewer, and just because you’re dealing with factual subjects and historical background, you can still do justice and give credibility to a documentary but have it look good. So that is one of my goals, I am kind of new to the documentary world—most of my work has been in narrative, but one thing I look to bring to the documentary world is that level of professionalism, production value, that you can make a documentary still on a budget but have it look like a professional film. So I plan on doing that with the next project too, The Dave Evans Bluegrass documentary, but each project is different, but even in that one, we plan on integrating—it’s a lot about music, violence, it’s about political scandal, so we will try to take the same approach in having it look like a well produced film because I do feel that people who don’t like documentaries, I think that is one of the reasons they don’t like them—they click on a documentary and they see that hazy, amateur film shooting my uncle about his life story, and they immediately think, ‘boring,’ but if looks high end, they will keep it on. So I think as a documentary filmmaker, you open yourself up to most audiences that might not watch your film, if it looks a certain way, sounds a certain way and is up to a certain level of expectation of technical quality that is expected these days, especially with HDTV, LCD, widescreen TV, people want to see things that look a certain way. So I think that is important.
The latest film that is in your sites seems to be a comedy titled Dogs In
Pocketbooks, and is a fictive film. Joan Collins seems to be the most
notable name associated with it, so it seems like an indy film. Are you looking
to head mainly in to feature films- following the path of David Gordon Green, or
do you plan on doing the Werner Herzog thing- doing whatever sorts of films you
can and want to do at the time? If the former, I hope your films retain quality
first because Green, after being lauded as a wunderkind director, with quality
films like his debut, George
Washington, has progressively gotten more and more Lowest Common
Denominator, with childish action and comedy films. As mentioned, there is a
market for mature and smart art.
MP: Dogs In Pocketbooks is a different project. That’s a project that my company has been hired to produce and direct. So basically when I am not developing my own in-house things and making them, I will just get hired for other projects and that is one I have been hired for. The fiction film I have worked on is called The Dead Rising. It is in kind of in the George Romero vein. The best way to describe it is it is Red Dawn meets Dawn of the Dead. It’s a bit of Goonies, The Breakfast Club, what we’re trying to make a zombie film that is not so dark and cryptic but a little but more Spielberg style, a little more light-hearted, a little more poppy, and it’s kind of a throwback movie and kind of a nostalgic type of film. Coming of age type of thing—we’re mixing a lot of genres but it’s very poppy, comic book type style film. We’re thinking of putting Bruce Campbell in as a character. There’s a lot of characters in that same vein that we are talking to, I can’t go over a lot of them because we’re still kind of going back and forth, but a lot of actors that we’re trying to go for. To be honest, there’s a lot of filmmakers that will say big budget is selling out but the thing is, my goal is to be a working filmmaker, so I’m not going to lie, there’s projects that I do just for the money. But I’d rather be paid to direct a film that I am still going to give 100% and give the best I can, but I’m not always going to be in love with the script—I still have to make a living, I still have to live as a person, and as an artist, I’d much rather be making money in my field than say, working at Starbucks and on the side I make films that I only care about. I do projects like that now, and even some of the projects that I am developing for my own in-house things, not every single one of them is with the intention to be an art film. I develop projects that are strictly based on commercial value, I’ve always tried to find a nice balance between the business and art of film—I think a lot of filmmakers get caught up in the art of it, where it also is a business. You have to have a good balance of both if you want to be working in this and doing this. In the future, I have scripts that are very important to me from an artistic standpoint that I want to make. As an example, I have 2 scripts that I would love to shoot. One is more commercial, and the other is way more Impressionistic, interpretary, to where people are either going to love it or hate it, get it or not get it, but films like that, when you’re still trying to establish yourself, are risky. If you’re M. Night Shyamalan and you can make ten bad films after you’ve made one good one, and people will still give you funding for your next film. But if you’re not established at that level yet, I feel you have to do the more commercial route first to establish a name and then you can do a lot more of the riskier, artistic films. Again, I sort of balance it out, and there are projects I do just for the love of it, just for the labor of love, and projects I do just for the commercial sensibilities. The next documentary—the Dave Evans documentary, that’s a pretty niche film, it’s not going to have a wide audience, but I am intrigued by the man’s story to where on a personal level, like I want to make that film regardless of how commercially successful it is going to be. But The Dead Rising—that is definitely more commercial, and it has artistic elements for sure—nothing I can ever do as an artist is ever going to ever going to be without a subtext or meaning because that is just how I am, and definitely more projects are heavily based in commercialism and some are more based in the art of it.
DS: Let me now turn more basic. How do you define your job, as a documentarian or filmmaker?
MP: In terms of specifically to the documentary world, The Mothman was my first feature documentary in that vein, most of my work before that was TV, commercial and narrative film. I have done other docu-reality type things for TV that were similar to documentaries and some were paranormal based, but The Mothman was my first, full-fledged documentary that would be in that category, and the Bluegrass one will be my second.
DS: Did you have
any heroes in filmmaking or screenwriting (or any other form of writing) as you
grew up? If so, who and why? And how did you gravitate to the more journalistic
pursuit of documentaries?
MP: To answer the journalistic part first, you know, a lot of the reality shows I worked on, even though reality shows have gotten to be ridiculous these days where they are a lot of trash—the basic elements when that genre first was emerging years ago with the MTV show The Real World, and The Osbournes, all of those are still rooted in the same kind of basic journalistic filmmaking to a degree where you’re documenting an event and interviewing, and you’re telling a story through other people’s words, so I did a lot of that type of production when I just started working in TV, so I took a lot of those elements and brought them to The Mothman project because even though I’d not made a documentary before that, I felt that those principles would be the same in a documentary, so I’ve never worked as a journalist—I’ve worked as a writer for magazines and things like that, but I think also I am a very detailed oriented person, so I knew when I wanted to tackle The Mothman subject, it had already been done in a more narrative way, and already been done as the 30 minute special on TV, spooky monster from outer space, but when I read the book and did more research, I had found that there has been a ton of historical information that had never been addressed—things that were related to prominent historical facts that happened in this town throughout history that were undeniable—they weren’t folklore, they weren’t myths, they were historical facts. So I think it was just more also along the lines of the approach of me wanting to breathe new life into the subject from a more grounded, earthy, precise kind of manner. Everyone does the big foot in the woods, what could it have been? It’s the easiest, it’s the most compelling in terms of appealing to an audience who doesn’t really want to take the time to look at it. But again, for me, it was a combination of just understanding of when I read the material, it seemed like wow, this is what is interesting to me, that there are tons of facts that get overlooked—that to me made it more interesting, instead of the monster in the woods type of thing. So that’s why I took that approach. And in terms of heroes in film, there is pretty much only one person—of course I love Scorsese, I love Francis Ford Coppola, but I don’t really follow them, there has only been one filmmaker that I have ever followed that has really made an impact on my career and work and that is Terrence Malick. Some people will be familiar with his work and others won’t—he’s been a little more prolific in the last couple of years as a filmmaker; The Thin Red Line, Days Of Heaven, Badlands, most recently he did The Tree Of Life, and The New World, but for me, that is the best filmmaker that I’ve ever seen in my entire life, producer, writer, director—I’ve never seen someone take something from a page and put it to a screen in the way he does. I am completely mystified constantly by his work, so I would say he would be the one person.
did you think of The Tree Of Life?
MP: The Tree of Life was a 30-year project as far as I understand for Mr. Malick. It’s weird to say this, but I know for myself, I make films for me, it’s therapeutic, if audience members end up liking them that is great, but I don’t make films for other people, I make them for me. I can’t speak for him, but sometimes when I watch a Malick film I tend to feel maybe there is some of that going on. It’s true art on film, and any great artist will tell you they make art express their selves, explore an important concept to them, Malick is an artist, not an entertainer. I found the Tree of Life to be a masterpiece. It’s the most complicatedly simply film I have ever seen and it will go over most viewers heads. You have essentially the birth and death of one individual and you have the birth and death of the universe, and that parallel is interesting because you would have to ask yourself, is he suggesting that the birth and death of the universe is as insignificant as the common person or is the common person’s birth and death just as significant as the birth and death of the universe as we know it. To me, it is the ultimate piece of art—same thing when you go to a museum and you see a great piece of art, you can interpret it, you can talk about it, you can try to understand what the artist is trying to say, but you might not know for sure, but there is at least enough work there that you can make an interpretation as opposed to more pop art where it is a single word on a white canvas and there’s not much interpretation to that, it is what it is, and you know you know what it is. I’ve always gravitated towards the more interpretary type of art in all types of mediums. So I can go on forever about Terrence Malick, trust me. His work has affected me as a person and as an artist like no other.
DS: When and
where were you born? What were some of the major, or defining, issues during
your youth, insofar as they affected your career path? Were you politically,
socially, or artistically active when young? What films or television shows had
an effect on you?
MP: I was born in New Jersey in 1979, my father was a writer, he wrote for stand up comedians, he worked in entertainment, that’s pretty much where I got the artistic side from. My mother is a very hard working person, so I kind of get my hustle and diligence from her, so I kind of have become known as a very hard working producer/director and I take both of that from my mom and my dad, I played sports my whole life, so I think that surrounded me with a lot of discipline that I brought into the arts, and there are not a whole lot of people who are into the arts who also play sports, so that was a strange dynamic, so growing up I was always friends with a lot of different kinds of people to where I was well diversified. And so it made me a well-rounded person, I’ve always been good at communicating with people, so all of those things made for a good producer/director, in terms of what to expect—to be a leader, to be able to communicate with a lot of people, to remain calm under difficult situations, so I think a lot of my upbringing in that respect is what led me down this path. My older brother was an actor—when I was 15 he passed away in a car accident and that changed my life very much to where it gave me a lot of drive honestly. I think when an incident like that happens, you can either use it as an excuse to do worse with your life, or you can use it as a driving force to try to do a lot with your life and I did the latter—I used those kind of unfortunate incidents as a driving force to really try to accomplish a great deal of things in my life, so I tried to take a negative and turn it into a positive, but in that respect also, years after that, I walked into a theatre and saw The Thin Red Line, I’d never seen any of his work before, but that experience blew me away as a filmmaker and it also touched on many of the levels of personal things I had gone through when my brother passed away—there were a lot of things that were in The Thin Red Line that were personal to me and I appreciated the fact that a filmmaker could connect to an audience member in that way, so that was a huge moment for me as an artist. Before that, I really was trying to be an illustrator, a cartoonist or a storyboard artist but that experience made me want to do the same for somebody else—I really wanted to, I recognized the power of film, of how when you get right in your film like an emotion or feeling, you can really influence and affect a viewer, so that collection of things is kind of how I ended up where I am today.
DS: Could we assume that The Thin Red Line was the touchtone film for you?
MP: Yes, for sure. Without a doubt, that was a life changing experience for me as an artist—to be introduced into that type of filmmaking, for sure.
sources say you live in Brooklyn, New York? If you are not a native, how was the
adjustment? I grew up in New York City, but left in 1991. How long have you
lived there, and what advantages and disadvantages does the location present for
your company and work?
MP: My company is based in Manhattan and I live in Brooklyn—I live about 25 minute car ride from my house to my office, really New York City is great, but I have a love/hate relationship with New York City—it is extremely difficult to live here, it can try your patience, there are a lot of people—I pretty much grew up on a farm in New Jersey, so I am used to space and animals and trees, and I’ve been living in New York for over a decade now, but I still consider myself a country person—the main reason I am living here, is for my work. When you work in film and TV, you either live in NYC or Los Angeles, really anything else is a compromise—that’s just where the people who work in this field live, so I’ve chosen New York because I am an East Coast person, I do feel like the East Coast suits me better too, it’s more gritty, it’s more hard, challenging, fast-paced and that kind of fits my lifestyle. I’d like to eventually move back to the country at some point, but I live here now, I live in a very nice part of Brooklyn, I live in a house, a lot of people when they think Brooklyn they think urban, but I have a pretty nice setup where I do have good piece of mind for living in NYC, but eventually I will probably leave. I’m not sure, when you have a business that kind of grounds you to it, and it’s hard to move because you have something keeping you here—you have something you’ve established and put together and is doing well and is successful, so that kind of grounds you in a location too. I always say I’m going to leave NY but I don’t know how real that is.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Who were your childhood heroes
(outside of film) and why? Where did you go to high school, and to what college?
MP: I went to Hillsborough High School in New Jersey, I left in 1997 to go to community college—I went to Raritan Valley Community College in New Jersey where I played baseball and basketball, and I was an illustration major and then I left before getting my degree there, a couple credits shy of my degree, because I got accepted to the School of Visual Arts, which is a film school in Manhattan, basically a lot of people in this area, you either go to NYU or you go to SVA and I went to SVA mostly because a lot of filmmakers from New Jersey had gone there—Brian Singer, the director of The Usual Suspects and X-Men grew up not far from where I grew up he had gone to SVA and things like that, so some of those things have influenced my decision because I like those young filmmakers at the time, so I did that and then in terms of other influences, I played sports all through college too, so I’ve always had that kind of balance between sports and art, so my parents were a huge influence on me and the only other person I can really think of is David Letterman. I’m not really one to follow people or to have a hero or be into someone too much, it’s not my kind of style, but I remember being in middle school and we had to write a paper on the most important Americans that you thought were prominent in society and I remember kind of joking at the time doing a paper on David Letterman being a hero, he was just someone I admired as an entertainer and thought was funny and eventually I didn’t work for him, I almost did when I got out of film school but I actually went to work for Conan O’Brien instead.
DS: Your bio
says you played college basketball and were a Top Ten rebounder. What college
did you play for? Did you originally want to pursue a career in the NBA? I knew
early on I had no sports talent, as I grew up wanting to play centerfield for
the Yankees or point guard for the Knicks, but the only year I tried out for my
high school basketball team I was the 26th cut out of I believe 81
tryouts, so while I bested over 50 other kids, I fell a good 15 slots shy of
even being a benchwarmer. Was there ever a moment when you realized sports was
not your ticket to prosperity? If so, how long did it take you to adjust to film
work? Or was sports always just an avocation?
MP: Well, in high school I was always a better baseball player than I was basketball, and then when I went to Raritan Valley I didn’t get along with my baseball coach at all, we pretty much hated each other and I really excelled in basketball. I had a great basketball coach and I did really well and I basically accelerated my abilities at that level. I was always just an OK basketball player in high school, but I think what happens is you hold back as an athlete—it’s a difficult situation when you are young and you’re playing in front of a lot of people, there is a lot of pressure, there are a lot of eyes on you and I think most of my abilities as an athlete when I was younger were affected by the nervousness of the stage that you’re on, but by the time I hit college, I had learned how to remove myself from that situation, and I really excelled at basketball—I did very well my first season. It was also due to my coach, as well, to actually have a coach who took time to look at you as an individual, see what your skills were and how to make them better, so in high school I would have coaches that wouldn’t take any personal time. If there was an athlete that was great, they basically would focus attention on who had given talents, but anyone with potential was avoided because that would have been too much work to make them better and actually do their job. College was the first time I had that experience with a real coach and that really excelled my play as a basketball player. I never thought I would go on to play after that—I did have a couple of opportunities to go on to other colleges to play basketball after that season, I knew that I wanted to pursue film and I am 6’4” and I was a good power forward, but to be a power forward beyond that level, long term, even in an ideal situation like, you look at the NBA, there is no way my size would ever fit my position at that level, so to me it didn’t make sense to stay with that. It just meant I was going to play basketball at another school for 4 years, it might be great to get some financial support because of that, but then at the end of 4 years I’m only going to study film anyway, so to me it seemed like a 4 year waiting period to do what I already knew I was going to do anyway, so I just decided to stop playing sports and pursue film 100%. I also had enough respect for both sports and film, that I felt that if you’re going to do one of those as a career, you really can’t pursue both, they’re really a difficult career path, that if you choose one, you really have to dedicate your life to it, so I picked film. I did love baseball but my experiences with my coach in college is really what brought my baseball career to a halt—I do actually feel I was a good enough baseball player that if I pursued that seriously, that I could have at least moved onto the minor leagues, at least I do feel that I was good enough in that respect, but it just didn’t work out. But what is cool last year I just worked, I was really lucky to be hired by a major league baseball to be able to work for them for a season of work—producing and editing videos for them. I got to go to the World Series—I was at every game of the World Series last year, and as a sports lover and a filmmaker, it was a great culmination of two things I love and that was an amazing experience.
DS: Are you
married? What does your wife do? And how did you meet? Is she a critic, writer,
MP: I am married, my wife is a costume designer and also a makeup artist, she also sometimes works as line producer but she works in film and TV and we’ve been together a long time—we met in film school, we also have a daughter named Skyeler who is about 7 months old, so we have a newborn baby, and so my family life is great.
What sort of child were you- a
loner or center of attention? Did you get good grades? Were you a mama’s boy
or a rebel?
MP: I evolved into different categories. When I was very young, I was very shy and I was quiet, and honestly my goal was to become a farmer. I grew up on a farm, I really liked being part of earth and working with my hands and in that respect, my grandmother owned a farm, so I spent a lot of time on her farm when I was growing up. But I was quiet, shy, in my younger years. High school I got to be outgoing, I played a lot of sports, so that helped me to be more in the public eye, but I was quiet—I was friends with a lot of different people, I would always be friends with delinquents, a jock here a nerd there, and none of my friends would really be friends with each other, and they would just wonder how they were all friends with the same person, it didn’t make any sense. So once I left high school, I became more outgoing, and a lot more comfortable and I think a lot of the success I had as a writer early on and as a filmmaker, you realize if you want to be a filmmaker and director you can’t be shy. You can’t be introverted—you have to be outgoing and talk to people, so for me it was a gradual change that was necessary as a person who wanted to work in the film that I wanted to do. A lot of the success I had is I believe through the personality that I’ve evolved into as a person.
What of your parents? What were their professions? Did they encourage your
MP: My father was a writer, a professional athlete and my mother was hardworking as well, so both of them influenced me, my father encouraged me to do difficult things, to pursue the arts and my mother taught me a lot of things just by doing, if I look at my mother, she’s worked hard her whole life, she’s a very dedicated person, she never complained, things roll off her shoulders, so a lot of those very important qualities came from my parents, I have a younger brother and a younger sister and as I mentioned earlier, an older brother who was an actor passed away when I was 15.
DS: In your youth, did you have adults or teachers who recognized that you were brighter than most other kids (as great artists are) and encourage you? Or did they not notice anything at all? Was their a Prime Moment, or a First Person who said to someone, ‘Hey, this kid has something.’?
MP: To be honest, It’s unfortunate to say, but it’s actually a bit of the opposite. When I was in high school, I was into the arts and I was always more into the cartoon aspect—I would draw cartoons, comic book style things and that stuff is very popular now, but at the time, when I was in high school, it wasn’t as common, or it wasn’t so prominent. So when I was going through high school, a lot of my art teachers actually they pretty much hated me, because if you weren’t doing fine arts, it wasn’t real art. So I was always the kid that was doing cartoons, and you’re never going to make a career out of drawing cartoons, it was always the students who were doing fine arts and painting that garnered more respect as artists. But I always knew back then, when I was a student, and I am the kind of person where I definitely take adversity and I recycle it and use it as a drive, I have always been good at doing that—taking negativity and really turning it into a driving force, and I think it can really inspire you to do that. In high school, there was some of that that made me want to be successful as a cartoonist at the time because I never liked being told what to do, and I don’t like someone saying well you’re never going to do this or that, so for me it just propelled me further to do better things there is nothing I enjoy more than to make someone eat their words. When I was in college, when I was in community college, Raritan Valley was a great time for me as a student, there were a lot of great art teachers there and I had a few film teachers there that encouraged me. There was a woman whose name was Debra Roan and she was a young filmmaker, teacher at the community college and she really did encourage me at that time to pursue film, because at the time at the school there, film was not a very sought after or studied thing and by the time I was in my second year, I was shooting feature films with the equipment they had there and making full use of it, so a part of it was I was one of the few students who was really showing an interest, so they encouraged me to continue that.
DS: Why do so many political fictional films suck? Is it the same reason as any other political art, because they are so shallow, and use noxious ideas like, ‘all art is political,’ or ‘art is truth.’ These nostra are as meaningful and meaningless as stating that ‘all art is about poodles,’ for anything can be parallaxed against any other single thing. If the art does not explicitly reference poodles, as example, this manifests the artist’s aversion to talking about poodliness. No?
MP: I do find it a difficult subject to address concretely, I think no matter what you are dealing with, you are always going to have elements of everything--no film is not going to be opinionated. A lot of times they will say, ‘Well this documentary is clearly swayed this way or the filmmaker clearly wanted you to think this.’ There is no way to avoid that because it’s just a Catch 22, so every piece of work I think is going to have some kind of agenda or meaning. Honestly, if it is a good piece of work, it is going to have some kind of point to it, unless it is completely frivolous, the fast and the furious type thing where there is absolutely zero intelligence in the work, I think you are always going to have some kind of voice, interpretation, meaning and I think in terms of a stance on something, even if you try to avoid it, you are still going to end up having it in your work to a degree. There is a lot of scandals and political scandals and he-said/she-said myths, folklore and legends and there is no way I am going to avoid telling somewhat my version of what the story is—it’s going to be, there is no way to tell any story with 100% true justice because you are dealing with interviews, recollections and even facts are dismissible because they were generated by a person who could have screwed it up.
DS: To end with
history, I’ve often argued vociferously against the notion that ‘art
is truth,’ but journalism, science, and history are or should be
about the search for truth. Do you agree? If so, what truths have you
encountered in researching your films that debunked some well held fallacies you
had? What was it like to have to let go of your presuppositions?
MP: The thing is, if you look at film in general—that is, the reality of working in it as opposed to the perception, it is drastically different. At my company, we have interns all the time that come in and they are like, ‘wow, I am going to be working with Brad Pitt and it is going to be great,’ but a lot of what people don’t realize is that film is a lifestyle, it is a major commitment of your time and life, and unless you are Nick Cage’s cousin, you’re not going to get an easy, free ride. There are a million people trying to do this and fighting for what you want to do—the same job, there is a lot of competition and a lot of blood, sweat and tears that have to go into this and there is a lot of bullshit too. I know filmmakers that are great filmmakers that are not doing well and I know filmmakers that are terrible but their cousin’s uncle’s friend works at CBS and their career is accelerating better than other people who may deserve it from a creative standpoint. So there is a lot of stuff that you have to go through as a filmmaker, a lot of rejection that is not even based on, you know, eventually as a filmmaker you start to understand when you come into your own, you know if what you are doing is good or not and you know if something you’ve just produced, if you have done a good job, was it done well? You know good and bad at some point, so eventually you lose the idea—you hit a point where you know what you are doing and you are confident and I know what I am doing. There is a system to it, just like anything, there is a system to how to do something well but even when you hit that point, it doesn’t mean that you will experience success because there are still a lot of variables at play. Being a good filmmaker and knowing all the principles of film doesn’t mean you hit that point where things go great, you still have to deal with a lot of bullshit where again, it’s a lot of who you know and not what you know. So there is that, and in terms of The Mothman, there were some experiences where what I thought going in was very different, everyone, and people will get annoyed at this, but everyone in the world that is obsessed with the Mothman looks at John Keel, the writer of The Mothman Prophecies as the ultimate undeniable, unquestionable, authoritarian on the subject. I purposely tried to avoid incorporating John Keel into my film—I didn’t interview him or cite a lot of his work. I technically used some of his book as a resource guide because there is not much available, but even if you look at his work under a microscope, there are discrepancies. One glaring one that stood out for me was there was one of the first eye witnesses to the event, his name was Merle Partridge and in the book, it is a completely wrong name, it is written down by John Keel, as being Noel Partridge or something like that, and it’s a small, insignificant detail, but to me, there is significance in the insignificance of it, that how can you be a journalist that scrutinizes get someone’s name wrong? To me, that is important because then you start to ask, if you can’t get the first witnesses name right, what else is skewed or wrong? So it definitely was a little disappointing, I started looking at John Keel’s work and there were some discrepancies of facts and things like that. I think he was a very good journalist, I think he did a great job and it’s a great book, but certain things like that are important. Another quick example, I remember when I first went out to West Virginia there is kind of a 50/50 divide. There are people who take the legend very seriously and very true and others that won’t give it 2 seconds of attention and they think they it is a joke. So there are lot of people in that vein that will say, ‘you realize the Mothman was just my friend’s cousin in a costume scaring people on the road and there was nothing more to it?’ So that kind of deflates you right away, and you say, ‘Fuck, I hope I didn’t just come out here to do a serious documentary on a hoax.’ But then when you start to realize that you talk to 20 people and they say, ‘oh yeah, the Mothman was my uncle’s cousin’s friend’ and the other person says, ‘no it was my dad,’ so you start to see that everyone has their own variation of the story and it doesn’t make it true. And it all kind of blends into folklore and myth that it doesn’t make it true, so you kind of get reinspired when you have 5 people tell you the same thing but a variation—my uncle, brother friend…. so it honestly wasn’t all of them and so you start to realize that there are inconsistencies and false information even though it is being reported to you as what they think is real.
DS: Yet, despite
my above claim, documentaries seem the perfect place for political filmmaking,
such as Errol Morris’s great The
Fog Of War. Do you agree?
MP: Yes, I think it all depends on power and control—if you are doing a big-budget Hollywood film and you have an agenda to work into it, it can be done. I have seen it before, so I guess it is more commonplace in documentary given the nature of the genre.
mentioned Morris, I guess I need to mention the other great financially
successful documentary maker of our time, Michael Moore. What is your take on
him? My opinion is that he is a brilliant technician, but he wastes his time
pandering to the liberal choir rather than, like Morris, seeking out a broader
audience. Thus, I think time will consign his work to a ghetto, like that of
Leni Riefenstahl, whereas Morris will be seen as one of the greats in
documentaries. Agree or not, and why?
MP: Whenever I am going to judge anything, I try to do so using my personal experience with it and if I give an opinion on that, it will only be based on my interpretation of watching one of their films. Not being present during the making of their films or what they decided to leave on the cutting room floor, I will never know and I don’t know. So I’ve had people call and email me be annoyed with this or that with The Mothman and say I have an agenda. And I have had people say, ‘clearly your documentary is on a stint from a historical perspective that the government doesn’t want people to know that it was a monster from outer space.’ I’ve had people email me and harass me that I am working for a government agency because they have interpreted my stint on how I have decided to tell the story of the Mothman. And with that in mind, if I am going to judge, even someone like Michael Moore, where clearly his work seems to be on the propaganda side, but I can’t say for sure, because I was not a part of making that film. I have known people that have worked for him and worked with him and not being a part of that it is hard to form an opinion on that because I have had people do that to me as a filmmaker and it is entirely based on nothing, it is based on assumption and they are looking at the end product but not knowing the process. So it is hard to really comment on that comfortably.
DS: What other
documentarians do you think are above the run of the mill? Above the vanity doc
level I described earlier? Why?
MP: To be honest, it sounds bad to say, most of my day to day work is in narrative film and TV commercials so I am not that immersed into the world of documentary. I know that if you are a documentary filmmaker they don’t do other things, they are strictly in that field but I am all over the place. I enjoy documentary, but even as a viewer, I don’t really go out and find documentaries. Most of those I find are films that find me, there are things on Netflix and you have no idea about it, and that’s one of the great things about documentary that you have no preconceived notions because most of them you haven’t heard much or they are not as advertised, and I think that is a great thing about the subject. So I am not that familiar with the people working in the documentary field or those who are emerging, though I could say the last documentary I saw that I thought was great and that stuck with me was The Wild Wonderful Whites of West Virginia and Exit Through the Gift Shop.
DS: As a coda to this arc, what of your views on politics? How, if in any way, do they affect your films? Are you politically active, and what are your thoughts on the world today- the ongoing wars, the economic woes, etc.? Do you fear such things will put an expiration date on your work?
MP: I try to avoid putting anything political into my films. I am not very, I’m not going to say I don’t have an interest in politics, I just don’t have an interest in them to the way they are outlined in present times. I have an interest in terms of politics are what shape the country, they are what makes the country what it is. I have very strong points on the generality of certain topics, but what I don’t like about politics, just to put it into a basic view--is if you’re a Republican, these are your views and if you’re a Democrat these are your views. I don’t like the fact that if I am a Democrat and I have certain views that coincide with being a Republican, it’s a very black and white, politics. And I don’t like anything that is very black and white, I think nothing is black and white—there is a lot of gray. I don’t get into the heavy formality of politics, I am opinionated and I have a strong opinion on things, but it is more of a case by case basis to where I don’t like interweaving it with the typical kind of way politics play out. So I don’t really incorporate politics into my films and I don’t really actively get involved in politics in the traditional sense. I like thinking of myself as an individual with points of view whether they fall into one side of politics or another, I don’t care.
DS: Before we
get on to more specific areas, have you any ideas on what is the cause of the
lack of introspection in modern American society- from Hollywood films,
television shows, book publishers, etc.? Is American or Western culture simply
as shallow as man of its detractors claim? In the arts, Political Correctness
and Postmodernism have certainly aided in the ‘dumbing down’ of culture.
What are your thoughts on those two ills- PC and PoMo?
MP: I think there are a lot of problems in society and in the world right now on so many levels and so many fronts that it just seems like nothing has preserved its integrity anymore. Everything on TV and film, in terms of censorship—as in, what flies these days as opposed to what was acceptable years ago, I do feel like it becomes less and less regulated and you do find there is a lot more sex and violence and profanity that works its way into film and TV to where it is unavoidable. If you look at the younger generations coming up today and it sounds like I am old man complaining, but just look at the accessibility with cell phones and the Internet. I remember when I was a kid the last thing I ever wanted to do was grow up. I was completely content with playing on my bike on a dirt track or playing outside in the dirt. Today, kids grow up when they are 10 years old, they have cell phones, they wear too much makeup, they don’t do things that kids do anymore. I think that a lot of that stuff just as whole and in general can be related to the way society has moved in so many ways in terms of technology, media, social media and a lot of people will say these are great times for acceptability and connectivity and social media and things like that, but you have to really look at what are the effects they are actually having on our society as a whole. And I think when you look at it, it’s not having that much of a positive effect. I think you look at a lot more violence, no accountability anymore, so I think there are a lot of negativities that come out of the positives that come out of some of the innovations that go on today. It’s difficult to talk about.
DS: Let me now
turn to specific queries on the film of yours I saw and reviewed: Eyes Of
the Mothman. When I queried you about my review, you stated that I was
the only critic that seemed to get certain features and points of the doc that
most viewers and critics missed. What specifically, were things that were missed
in the critical reception and feedback you got? Do you think most of them were
legitimate, or not? Why?
MP: I think on the whole there was a good 50% of critics that missed the point of what the film was about, which is understandable, the film is very long—the version on Netflix is a 2.5 hour extended edition version, there is also a 1 hour version of the film that is available, so most who have reviewed it or seen it are looking at the director’s extended edition, which is very exhaustively long. But I didn’t make a 2.5 hour film without knowing it, so I was aware of what we made. We made that version of the film for the hardcore fans of the paranormal that would have appreciated an exhausted look at one of the paranormal events that have happened. So it was always our goal to be the most detail oriented film on the subject. We wanted the case closed, not solved, but case closed. We’re not providing an answer to what this thing was, but we wanted to explore every possibility that was within reason. There were some we avoided that were ridiculous and they just brought discredit to the film, so there were angles we avoided that some had on the subject, so in terms of some of the reviews that were not positive. What I mentioned earlier, I love films that have subtext and then have meaning so even though you are making a documentary, I don’t think there’s any reason you can’t have subtext. So I think a lot of the creative decisions we did to try to incorporate those ideas into the film were often misinterpreted or not understood by some critics. I remember one person saying, ‘I don’t get what is with all of these quotes before each section, what do these quotes have to do with the film?’ Every quote that is in the film has some kind of correlation to eyes or the understanding of perception. A big part of the interpretation to the film is perception. You watch the film and most of these stories are handed down generation to generation of eye witnesses there. So a lot of what you are dealing with is perception—is it fact or interpretation? So each quote that starts each section is some kind of call or reference to eyes or perception so I always find it amazing that some people don’t understand this or don’t find it obvious. When I watch a film it is obvious what the director is trying to say or why something is in a film. Even if I don’t like it, I can understand what someone was trying to do. A lot of people who have seen this film, it’s not that they don’t like it because they understand it, there are certain things they won’t agree to, but they don’t understand why they are in the film. That can be frustrating, where your work isn’t being understood let alone critiqued. Some reviews I have read from “journalists”—they actually said, ‘It’s a good film but you never actually see the Mothman.’ And my question is like, did you actually think I was going to film a supernatural creature and put it in my movie? There were some reviews that implied I should have filmed real men in black or real Mothmen, are these people out of their mind? It’s like watching a Bigfoot documentary and saying they didn’t interview Bigfoot. Are you kidding?
DS: The film’s
narrator was excellent: Richard Pait. He seems to be mostly a stage actor, with
little credit elsewhere. How did you find him? As a kid I grew up watching shows
by NFL Films, wherein announcer John Facenda was said to have the VOICE OF GOD
needed to pontificate on a specific play being crucial to a particular game,
team, or season. In that regard, Pait’s voice and reading evoke genuineness,
empathy, yet also authority. In such a situation, how much do you direct a voice
actor? Do you say, ‘a bit more whimsy there,’ ‘be
sad, Richard,’ or, ‘here I need you to sound foreboding’?
MP: I met Richard Pait on another film—he is a traditional actor and he was in a film that I was a producer on about a year before I did The Mothman, and he was in a scene that actually ended up getting cut out of the film, but I remember watching the monitors while he was doing his scene, I was thinking how I would need a narrator for my film and I remembered thinking this guy could work out. He had a good voice and had done some narration in the past, but what I was looking for was a voice that would give one voice to the community, so I didn’t want it to be too cliché southern drawl, so at the same time, I didn’t want Morgan Freeman narrating where it was like great—that’s Morgan Freeman but what does he have to do with these people? I wanted a voice that would give a unification to the down to earth kind of people that are from that region. So Richard had that kind of voice, a good voice I thought would work well. But those were the intentions behind that, and I think he did a great job. When we came to the narration I think it took about a week to do the whole film. This film was a little strange in that most documentary filmmakers film their topic and then figure out how to make it work later—I probably just coming from a traditional background, I had a script to a degree—nothing was fake, but it was an outline of what I wanted to put in my film from a narrative standpoint. What I didn’t know was what I would get out of my interview subjects. So had an outline, and thinking that if I didn’t get it with interviews then I would supplement it with voice over. I always try in the film to have it be told through the eyewitnesses and through the people on camera, so the idea was to have the predominant voice in the film be the people that were in it and supplementary voice of information be the narrator. I didn’t want it to be heavily relied upon for the narration and then supplemented with interview, I wanted the film to be led by interview and then supplemented by voiceover. So that was the goal and I think we achieved that, I think Richard did a great job.
DS: Before I continue, let me just back up and ask how you got interested in the Mothman, in the first place? Clearly you have an interest in the unexplained. Was it reading John Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies? Did you grow up reading paranormal magazines and books? Do you ever plan a film, fictive or documentary, on such interesting people, things, and events as Betty and Barney Hill, the Cottingley fairies and Arthur Conan Doyle, the 1917 Our Lady Of Fatima event, contactees like George Adamski or Billy Meier, notable frauds like Ivan Marx, the Dover Demon, Spring Heeled Jack, or the like. If so, what ones interest you? If not, what sets the Mothman apart from say, sasquatches or lake monsters?
MP: The reason I chose Mothman is because I was always interested in the paranormal and I had a lot of paranormal experiences growing up so I became intrigued by it. I have always done tons of independent research on ghosts. UFOs were always the biggest draw for me—there is something about the sky and seeing unidentified objects in the sky that is the most intriguing because as human beings, there is still a lot about the universe that we don’t know—the biggest unknown is what lies in deep space or what is beyond our galaxy. Those are one of the last things of intrigue. As a human living on earth, I don’t know how anyone can look up at the sky and not wonder what is out there, what the meaning of all this is, wondering what your purpose or placement is in the grand scheme of things is, so for me, I have always been drawn to unidentified things in the sky as an extension to what could possibly be out there. So when I…I was living in NYC at the time and I was supposed to go to a movie and we missed the movie, so as a plan B we walked into see The Mothman Prophecies and I had no idea what the film was about and for some reason, even though I had been researching these things for years, that story and those incidents had never come to me. I had never come across that story. So after I saw the narrative film, which I did enjoy very much—there were a lot of people who did not enjoy that film, but I thought it was well done. And once I realized it was based on a book, I read the book and I thought the book was very good too and of all the information I read, it seemed that this would make for a great documentary. Even though I enjoyed the narrative, what really appealed to me in the book was the exhaustive amount of facts and things that were still out there. I did a lot of research out of Keel’s book too and it just seemed like there was a ton of facts that could not be explored in the genre of a narrative film. When you’re making a narrative film, even if it is independent, commercial or Hollywood, you still have obligations to tell a story and to entertain people. So there are a lot of things that didn’t make The Mothman Prophecies narrative film that I thought would be better well addressed in the documentary form.
DS: While I
think there are unexplained things, to current science, I don’t think anything
is immanently unexplainable. That which is evidences our ignorance, not magic.
But belief in the unexplained is a powerful thing, which is why I think,
historically, a magazine like Fate will be of more and lasting cultural import
than Newsweek or Time, which simply recapitulate the obvious stories, rarely
stating anything of depth. Do you agree? Why or why not?
MP: I do think it comes down to interpretation and perception. There is a saying that smart people acknowledge that we know nothing and dumb people think they know everything. And even though human beings are very intelligent, I don’t understand how anyone can look out at the universe and say unequivocally without a doubt there is no life elsewhere. It’s absurd and ignorant. I think when you understand how big the universe is, the probability for life elsewhere is greater than not. So that is an extension of not just things of that matter but life after death, spirits, I don’t know, I just feel to 100% believe in anything, to me I have felt is stupid because everything is subject to interpretation and I think that the things that happen like The Mothman, Roswell, and if you’re not there you never know what the truth was, and as facts come out and things emerge, some of these stories do get closed where years later facts come out and years later and you understand it. But I think if you just look to the history from the Egyptians to other ancient cultures, there have always been some acknowledgement or understanding of things that we don’t 100% perceive. Things that have been documented but not in an exact way of what they are or what their purpose is, and I think today lights in the sky, UFOs, it is the same misinterpretation or not a clear understanding of what they are. And if you look at ancient hieroglyphics represented as gods or ancient Greece and the belief structure there—gods and deities and things like that, I think all of these things are just dependant on the time and place and explanations for things that we can’t explain based upon what we do know now, given the time and place. I think they are all related and correlated and I think the name that we give them, or the label we put on them just caters or fits to what we know at the present time of our existence.
DS: Back to Eyes Of The Mothman. The film is told in 8 parts. The first two parts set the film apart and above other films on psi phenomena by tracing a local Indian legend as well as environmental damage that mutated local wildlife. Both give elements to the tale that those more psi-minded folks overlook. What import do you think Chief Cornstalk and the TNT igloos of the McClintic Preserve have on the Mothman mythos? And given the later information you present, what is your personal view on the legend? Is the Mothman simply the most appealing legend many minds can cobble together to explain a raft of things that otherwise seem jumbled?
MP: It kind of goes to talking earlier about the criticisms of the film, and there are a lot of people who will say, ‘hey, I went to watch this movie on Mothman and I learned a history lesson or Native American battle and the TNT plant. What does that have to do with the Mothman?, and that drives me crazy too as a filmmaker why do people think I would put these things in the film for no reason whatsoever? It’s your job as a viewer to understand the connection between these things. I think what a lot of people get confused about, is that the Mothman is the, entertainment-wise, the most attractive element to the story because it’s what makes it the most unique. This story involves poltergeists, ghosts, UFOs, Men in Black, mysterious creatures, a lot of things you find in paranormal incidents, but the one thing that makes it standout is this flying person with wings and red eyes. That really makes the story unique, so I think that is what most people identify with as far as what the Mothman story is, but I think there is a lot of people who don’t take the time to look at the story to understand that. The story of Mothman is not just about a flying creature that was seen, it is about a government cover up, an Indian curse, a chemical spill, and all of these are Mothman because no one to this day, they haven’t caught the thing and no one knows what it was for sure, so I think what you have to do is look at all of the possibilities of what the origin could have been. In the film we address the most popular and most credible theories of what this thing’s origin could have been—where it came from and what it was, not just to stick with the most exciting, easy thing because everyone always wants to say it is a monster from outer space. There is no evidence or proof of that but they like to say that, so we try to basically present each theory with as much information we were able to gather on the credibility of that being the source of its origin. You have an ancient Indian curse that and again, even someone like myself who has looked at the subject in detail, I can’t sit here and say without a doubt the Mothman was a representation of the curse. I don’t even think that is the important thing to do—I think more so what I was trying to do as a filmmaker was to just show people that it’s not just a silly just a folklore legend, it’s not just these people coming up with an idea of a flying person and that’s where it starts and ends. I think what I was trying to do was just to suggest maybe none of this is connected but there are so many things that have happened and so many pieces that fit together, at one point does it become a coincidence? If you got 15 different stories throughout decades in time that have a correlation, at what point do you say this is credible and not coincidence? So all of these stories as a collective tell the story of Mothman. Curses, witchcraft and things like that—I’m not saying I don’t believe in them, but do I think the Mothman was a manifestation of an ancient Indian curse? Probably not. Do I think the area has been affected by some of the negativity of the things revolving around what people attribute back to the curse? I do. I do think when bad things happen in a certain area, I do think that a certain level of a weight stays there, so again, a lot of people look at it very black and white—the Indian curse can’t be real because there is no way the Mothman was an extension of that, or just because that is ridiculous there cannot be a curse. For me, I would argue how are they connected, why do you have to attribute them together? Why can there not be some kind of negative energy left off the incident that people talk about this curse but why did that have to be related to Mothman? They could be separate things and they could not be—that is the whole point to the documentary is to present the facts and then let people make their own conclusion if they are a cause and effect of each other, so there is no denying if these things happened, it’s just whether or not they are connected.
DS: Sections 4,
5, and 6 deal with the more far out aspects of the film, even more so than the
Mothman itself. Essentially we find out about UFO sightings concurrent with
Mothman, the appearance of Men In Black (before they got cartoony due to the
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones films), and the Indrid Cold digression. I felt
these were the least interesting (albeit needed) parts of the film since they
were the most generic aspects of the actual mythos. What is your view on these
three aspects, as things unto themselves, and as they relate to the Mothman?
MP: I remember in the late 90s, early 2000, Men in Black was not mainstream, UFOs were not mainstream and I remember being interested in this stuff before it became socially relevant or in pop culture. Ever since the Millennium, these things have become embedded in pop culture, so you have the Men in Black and silly UFO cases which kind of dumbed it down and made it more passé where people don’t hold it as something individual or interesting because there have been so many reports of them. In looking at the Mothman, what gives it identity is the Mothman story itself and the curse itself and I would argue too, the Indrid Cold episode is generic in terms of the alien visits person type thing, but at the time that story out there was very specific and precise there was a lot of buzz going on about that individual and that case, so that was a very well publicized case that was taken very seriously by the US government at the time, the Air Force, that I would also say it is a definitive and specific incident and that one I do feel is not as well known as the Men in Black or UFOs but the reason they are in the film is, what I wanted to do was give a fair look to every subject, so I understood and knew that putting in the Men in Black and the UFO things might take away from some of the specific qualities of what some of the other sections had, but to try to be as neutral and fair as a documentarian as possible, I didn’t want to leave out the Men in Black or the UFOs because they were already well known in other areas of this field of study because they were a prominent part of this story and wasn’t a passing thing. The film doesn’t go into endless detail on these subjects, but the Men in Black and the UFO incidents honestly happened on a longer and more frequent period of time than the actual Mothman sightings itself. The UFO sightings went on for years—they were reported by credible people, police officers, so the UFO incidents there were honestly the most active and prominent thing that went on there before and after Mothman. You have the disaster of the bridge which is the most universally known there just because it was a disaster and a tragedy, but in terms of the unusual things that happened, the UFOs were probably the most frequent, and if you just focus on that, there have been tons of UFO documentaries and tons of things like that and you really…what I tried to do was use the Mothman as a means to garner people’s interest in the film and then hopefully educate them on the other things, where if you try to take UFOs or the Men and Black and use them as your story to draw people in, they’ve already seen and heard that before, and they might not be so inclined to look at the film as they would knowing it was about flying men.
DS: Part 7
returns to the film’s strengths- the real world that embraces the myth. We get
the collapse of the Silver Bridge, linking Point Pleasant with Ohio, on December
15th, 1967, where 46 people were killed, 9 severely injured, and 5
people rescued. The film seems to feel that this tragic ‘reality’ nipped the
psi stuff in the bud, and people tended to forget about the Mothman, save for a
few that saw the creature as an omen, thus naturally extending the mythos. Do
you think the bridge’s collapse gave the Mothman immortality, or do you think
it distracted from the prior memes?
MP: It is curious to wonder what would have happened if that bridge had not collapsed because in talking to a lot of the residents out there, the bridge was closure for what happened, it really kind of the end. I know there were UFO sightings that went on after the bridge and there were a few incidents here and there, and you have to ask yourself and wonder was the bridge a closure to these paranormal things or was it the fact that the people—going back to perception, that it was a wake up call or a very real thing to deal with that residents were focusing on to where maybe the paranormal things were as prominent but people were not paying attention to them anymore. There were very real things to be attended to. I think you never know but have to ask yourself is it one or the other? If the bridge was connected to the paranormal activity, it does seem that it was a culmination and a closure and if it wasn’t it still acted that way from a social standpoint from a mass hysteria standpoint, the people living there were not preoccupied anymore with what a lot of them would call silly or strange things, they were focused on losing friends and family, which was there was no doubt about what happened there.
Pleasant seems to revel in its Mothman mythos. Who were some of the ‘talking
heads’ the film employed? How eager were they to speak of the Mothman
and related stuff? Were most condescending or embarrassed by it? Did any believe
in it, or did most just put it in the cultural context of ‘well, you know how
wacky the 60s were’?
MP: This story happened, by the time we shot this, a lot of the people who were heavily involved no longer lived in the area. This region of the country, a lot of people who are from these parts of the US, they are not people that are online everyday, they are not easily found, so it was not easy to find interviews and subjects to talk to. There is a core group of people who still live in the heart of the town that were easy to find. One was an author and another works for a tourism center and people who grew up in the community, that were witness to the events as children that we were able to interview. What I am proud of in the film is that we have a couple people in there, we have 2 guys from the Army Core of Engineers, we have the former publisher of the newspaper, some professors, some college professors, we have some people in the film that you would not expect to see in a paranormal documentary. We have some credible, educated people talking about some pretty far out things, and I am proud of that, that it is not just full of eyewitnesses who say they saw this fifty years ago. We have eyewitnesses who were hard to come by and there were several eyewitnesses we spoke to who were not in the film and some of them—there was a good handful that would not talk to us on camera because they were still afraid for their lives and still very emotionally affected by witnessing this thing, I remember one woman that I was trying to convince that it would be a good contribution to the film to have her be a part of it, but as soon as we started talking about the subject she started crying. So there’s a lot of people that did not end up in the film that we met as people, as individuals and just out of respect for them, we really didn’t force the issue, again, there is a high journalistic approach taken, but at the same time, I am a very down to earth, respectful person and I am not going to force anyone to be in my film that didn’t want to be in the film, and to be honest there were a couple of people who were prominent eyewitnesses that have been on other programs that you will see about the Mothman that would not be in our film unless we paid them a large amount of money and my interpretation of that was that anyone I feel is credible, is not going to want to be compensated for telling their stories, again, we paid some of these people as a courtesy—we would take them out to lunch or pay for their travel, anything within reason. This was not a big film—this was a small film and some of the people who were “eyewitnesses” that have been in the other documentaries that you will see out there I chose not to put them in the film because I didn’t like their approach of being involved with our project. For them, it was more monetary and I was looking for people who wanted to tell their story and really contribute something authentic. Some of the other people that we talked to that you will see in the film, they speak for themselves—you get a sense of who they are, they are mostly people from that region that experienced these things that have first hand accounts or second hand accounts, but they are the narrator for the film. For me, this film was the voice of this community and I wanted to encapsulate that in this collection of interviews that you will see in the movie.
DS: I earlier mentioned the John Keel book, The Mothman Prophecies. While a good, solid read, in regards to your film, I wrote:
….this film is far more detailed and comprehensive, and roundly debunks some of the longstanding claims made in Keel’s book, as Keel was seemingly hoaxed on multiple occasions, and his book riddled with other inconsistencies. This film will likely become the definitive resource on the Mothman legend for the foreseeable future, for it does not condescend, claim to know what was real and what was not, and has no agenda- political, spiritual, philosophic, nor otherwise: it does not push the psi aspects of the legendry, nor does it ignore them. This is, easily, the finest piece of journalism I have ever read or seen, as it pertains to things deemed paranormal, for it eschews the classic Von Danikenism of earlier psi documentaries, and focuses on history, people, and how they were affected by the oddities, rather than just focusing on the oddities. In this way, Eyes Of The Mothman is not only a great documentary film, but an innovative one.
What are some of the differences between
claims made in Keel’s book and your film? To what extent did you feel Keel’s
work was flawed? Was he taken in by hoaxers? Did you get hoaxers who tried to
dupe you? How could you tell? What wrong avenues did you possibly pursue? What
things in the film would you change, with hindsight? What is your overall level
of satisfaction with it as a) a piece of journalism, and b) a filmic piece of
To talk about Keel, I do feel that based on what I know now and those I met
there, I do find myself to be a very good judge of character, I feel like when I
meet someone in the first brief seconds of meeting them, 99% of the time I know
if I am dealing with someone who is lying or telling the truth. When I first
moved to Manhattan, I used to work as a bouncer for a lot of venues and clubs
here, and when you work as a bouncer people lie to you all night and all day, so
you become a very good judge of character and a judge of people. So I will say
that from the information that I was given when I was out there about John Keel,
a lot of the adults that I spoke to now were children back then that had
interacted with them and I can almost with a certainty say I know there were
certain incidents of some hoaxes or some of them messing with him. You can learn
a lot about John Keel by going to that part of West Virginia, and people will
tell you a lot of stories, he had a very big impact out there. There were people
that questioned some of his methods, I enjoyed his book because I found it to be
very personable, I did find it to be more of a memoir, and I appreciated
that—it was journalistic but there is going to be mistakes. No journalist,
writer or documentarian is going to be perfect, you’re always going to make
mistakes and get things wrong, even when you study something at an exhaustive
level, you still forget. People ask me all the time about the Mothman and they
want to know and I get things wrong recollecting—even my own film, because I
have since moved on to other projects, other things and your mind just doesn’t
retain all that information perfectly, so you are always going to have flaws in
anything that you have worked on. So I think he did a very good job, I think
there were some mistakes in there, I come across a few mistakes that bothered me
as a journalist because I thought that at the time he would have double and
triple checked himself and some of the mistakes could have been avoided. I do
think there were some hoaxing going on and in terms of my film, I can
confidently say that I know almost to a certainly that the people I spoke to
were genuine, telling me their story as honest as they knew it. Just in terms of
my own ability to judge character, I don’t think that any of them were
embellishing their stories, I think what they were telling me they believe to be
true because any of the people we prescreened for interviews that we felt were
not being true, we left them on the cutting room floor and honestly some of them
are prominent people who have been in a lot of the other documentaries, and just
because they have been in the folklore and history of this thing, to me, that
was not good enough to put them in the film. If I didn’t get a good assessment
of them, I wasn’t going to put them in the film because I wanted it to be
credible and do it justice, and I can say that the people that are in the movie
are hands down credible, telling the story that they believe to be true.
Let me speak of editing. How much footage do you shoot just to edit Eyes
Of The Mothman down to its length- in terms of hours and minutes?
It’s been a long time, but I want to say it was close to 100 hours.
Do you have the same sorts of criteria for what sort of material stays and goes
in each film, or does that vary per film, subject matter, and even per section
of a film?
MP: When I went to do this film I had it extremely well organized. I did not approach this film in the way of just shooting a bunch of stuff and then just find what you want to keep later, I would say I didn’t leave much on the cutting room floor for reasons of being incorrect or wrong, I did exhaustive interviews, I did 3 hour interviews with most of the people there, and some of it was just to get information to help tell the story and some of it was for the on camera contribution to the film but none of it was left on the cutting room floor for any kind of discrepancy or flaw or anything like that. The recreations that were shot, I can’t think of many recreations that didn’t make it into the film, so I had this pretty well organized, I knew what I was going shoot was going to end up where, so most of what got left on the cutting room floor was just interviews that were excessive. If it was an interview about the Silver Bridge, and if 10 people spoke about the Silver Bridge, even though there is a lot of reiteration in the film, there are a lot of elements of people’s interview that I didn’t need to put in there because someone else had already said what was important. Although at times I did repeat information to prove a point and to purposely be redundant, some viewers mistook that as en editing flaw, but it was intentional. The more you hear something the more it becomes fact in a small town, and I was trying to get that point across by repeating information in the film.
DS: Let me ask a
few queries that I ask almost all my interviewees; because this is a series, and
the parallax of replies is of interest to me and my readers. I started
this interview series to combat the aforementioned dumbing down of culture and
discourse- what I call deliteracy, both in the media, and online,
where blogs and websites refuse to post paragraphs with more than three
sentences in it, or refuse to post anything over a thousand words long. Old tv
show hosts like Phil Donahue, Dick Cavett, David Susskind, Tom Snyder, even Bill
Buckley- love him or hate him, have gone the way of the dinosaur. Intellect has
been killed by emotionalism, simply because the latter is far easier to claim
without dialectic. Only Charlie
Rose, as a big name interviewer, is left on PBS, but near midnight. Let me
ask, what do you think has happened to real discussion in America- not only in
public- political or elsewise, but just person to person? And, even in a small
way, do you think films like yours help to counteract such willful ignorance?
MP: I hope that a film like ours could have a positive influence on a younger generation—if you affect 1 out of every 5 or 10 or 100 people, seeing that it is a journalistic look, today everything is about time, no one wants to invest any time in anything, they want the quick 10 minute story of Mothman that they can stream on the I-pad, they don’t care about facts, they just want to be entertained. So hopefully we reached even a few people from the younger generation with a film like ours who understands that it is OK to commit an amount of time into something that is investigative or journalistic, and then it is a success if you’re positively influencing those generations. Personally, I absolutely cannot stand the way things are going in society and in terms of what we are talking about, communication. And honestly, I see it every single day—I have 20-30 year old individuals who come to my company as interns and 90% of being a producer is being able to communicate—it’s about problem solving, it’s about getting some things done. If someone wants to film with a helicopter over the Brooklyn Bridge, I need to call and set that up and that is a specific thing that these days is not easy. So you have to be able to communicate with people on the phone, and the person on the other line has to be able to assess that you are a professional, that you are not an idiot or nutcase and the younger generations of today, anytime I ask any of our younger interns to do anything, they avoid the phone like the plague. They ask if they can email or text them, it’s come to the point where people think that texting is a form of professional communication. It’s ridiculous. I even have companies that hire me as a company that will not communicate by phone but only by text, and I just refuse to do it because you’re setting yourself up for failure—a text can be lost, a text can be misinterpreted, and email can get lost, and email can not be confirmed. I like old fashioned speaking face to face or over the phone. People can get an assessment of who you are, how professional or non-professional you are, and it’s what gets things done the quickest. I do see it as a humongous problem in so many areas of life emerging forward of this younger generation having zero ability to communicate with one another, verbally, face to face or on the phone. They only communicate through text or social media or emailing and I don’t understand how businesses of the future are going to use that as a method of communication—I can’t see how businesses or industries of the future that will be run by these people, will be successful or sufficient at all. Every day in my office, I see interns making major mistakes because they are socially afraid to speak to someone. It’s amazing.
DS: I also believe that artists are fundamentally different, intellectually, than non-artists, and that the truly great artists are even more greatly different. Let me quote from an essay I did on Harold Bloom, the reactionary critic who champions the Western Canon against Multiculturalism: ‘….the human mind has 3 types of intellect. #1 is the Functionary- all of us have it- it is the basic intelligence that IQ tests purport to measure, & it operates on a fairly simple add & subtract basis. #2 is the Creationary- only about 1% of the population has it in any measurable quantity- artists, discoverers, leaders & scientists have this. It is the ability to see beyond the Functionary, & also to see more deeply- especially where pattern recognition is concerned. And also to be able to lead observers with their art. Think of it as Functionary2 . #3 is the Visionary- perhaps only 1% of the Creationary have this in measurable amounts- or 1 in 10,000 people. These are the GREAT artists, etc. It is the ability to see farther than the Creationary, not only see patterns but to make good predictive & productive use of them, to help with creative leaps of illogic (Keats’ Negative Capability), & also not just lead an observer, but impose will on an observer with their art. Think of it as Creationary2 , or Functionary3.’ What are your thoughts on this concept of mine? Have you discerned any differences between non-artists and artists, or average artists and the greats? And, if you are copacetic with such a system, where on the scale would you place yourself? And do you think disciplines like teaching or criticism are 180° from creativity?
MP: I probably would put myself between the creative and visionary type of category that you are saying, I’ve always been the kind of person who is big picture and long term thinking person, I am very good at problem solving. I have a vision about anything—we’re about to remodel our office and to me in my head I can see the transformation. There are a lot of people who can’t see the transformation until it is put right in front of them. It happens all the time, when I work as an editor on other people’s films I know I can’t show them something until I know it is the exact way I need to show them, where if I say picture this darker or louder, it is impossible for them to picture anything other than what is tangible and what is in front of them. I do find that most of the mass populous is like that, that they need a tangible, definitive thing in front of them to have an opinion on it. They won’t be able to see beyond or have that long term, big picture kind of thinking, and I think part of that has to do with who you are as a person as far as your goals and beliefs and the way you are. There are some people who don’t take risks and have no hope for grand things—they are completely happy with being in the mundane. I think it definitely is an individual case by case type of thing, but I have always been the kind of person where I can have book smarts and I am good at book smarts if I apply myself to it, but I heavily believe on the street smarts, I think there is a lot that you can learn as a human by observation. When I go anywhere and do anything I am constantly thinking and absorbing and constantly having ideas, I am almost never at rest. I am not the kind of person who will sit around and watch TV and zone out and do nothing. I am always creating, thinking, whether it is creatively in the arts or practically in the house or home or I have always been interested in carpentry and construction, I’ve built sets for the work I have done, so I like problem solving on so many levels in business, in arts, so that is what would apply to me, and those are the kinds of people I usually gravitate towards but to be honest, they are few and far between, there are not a whole lot of people that you run into that you feel you are on the same level with you to a degree; not to sound egotistical.
DS: Do you believe in The Muse? Divine Inspiration? I find that many artists use the idea of a Muse or Divine Inspiration as a crutch for times when their productivity is fallow. I call this the Divine Inspiration Fallacy. Any opinions?
MP: In terms of religion, I am more spiritual than I am a formal, religious type person, I think everyone has their own relationship and connection to God or whatever they believe in, but to me personally, what I like about spirituality, I don’t believe there has to be a formality to it. If you believe in a higher power, you can have your own personal connection to it any way you choose and I enjoy the relationships I have with my belief system. I do believe in destiny and I do think there is a combination, I believe there are certain things that are meant to be, and I believe in fate and destiny, I believe that you partially make your own fate, and partially somewhat determined and a path that you can adhere to or fight, I’ve seen in my own life there are certain things I have tried to not have happen and they still happen for the better or worse, so that has made me realize there is more to it than people think. I really enjoy and like the exploration of the subject of destiny and fate and purpose, but I do think a lot of it is on the shoulders of the individual. If you choose to do nothing with your life, then that is your choice, I think everyone has the potential to do something great or something special but it requires effort and that decision in yourself to find what that is for you and to pursue it. So I believe down the middle, a bit of both, I do believe there is a destiny laid out for you but I also believe you make your own luck, if you sit at home waiting for a big, giant check to come to your front door, it will never happen, but if you put yourself in situations and you are proactive, you put yourself in positions to be beneficial situations where opportunities emerge. No opportunity emerges if you do nothing about it, if you do something, you might not get anything out of it, but you will never get an opportunity by doing nothing.
DS: A few years back I co-hosted an Internet radio show called Omniversica. On one show we spoke with a poet named Fred Glaysher, who- in arguing with my co-host Art Durkee, claimed that, in art, change does not come until some giant- or great artist, comes along, and buries the rest of the wannabes. It’s akin to Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions. Agree or not? And name some film giants you feel who’ve buried past tropes or styles with their canon.
MP: I think on the whole, if you look at a mass-influence, Malick is a very well-respected director and he is very successful but what is amazing is that even in my field and career I come across professional filmmakers all the time who are not even familiar with his work, so he has kind of flown under the radar, in that sense. The people that have responded to him and his work, generally when you talk to them they have been moved or influenced in some degree with the different approach he has taken within cinema. I would say that if he has created a movement or complete change, I don’t think there is enough of a following or a mass change because of his work, mostly because it is extremely non-commercial and mostly what you find in film and TV is the commercial end of it. So I do think that if you look at filmmakers like Scorsese, Coppola, or Tarantino, they would fit along the mold that for better or for worse changed certain elements of film and what people respond to when it comes to creativity or even just things like tolerance of violence. You look at Tarrantino who is known for violence and you can argue that now what was once shocking in his film is now just another dumbed down level of violence. It doesn’t have the shock value anymore because it’s no longer individual or specific to have a level of violence of that nature. So those guys have had an effect and there are not a whole lot of younger filmmakers that are making an effect for the next generation, there are not a lot that comes to mind. Maybe Darin Aronofsky as someone who a lot of people respond to, but there are not a whole lot.
DS: A few less
intense queries. That old chestnut- name a few folk from history you’d like to
break bread with, and why?
MP: Of course, Terrence Malick, I would love to pick his brain for a while. Of course David Letterman—my answers are not going to be as educationally profound as possibly some other people. I’d love to see Teddy Roosevelt, throw in a babe so Marilyn Monroe, and someone that no one likes, like Hitler or something just for shit kicks and giggles.
DS: At this
point in your life, have you accomplished the things you wanted to do? If not,
what failures gnaw at you the most? Which of those failures do you think you can
MP: I have accomplished…I remember at some point in my career where I felt content, this was horrible, I never felt content ever and at some point I basically had a good year and made a lot of projects and was pretty successful financially at making those films so I have over accomplished what I set out to already. I am still going and doing things I still have goals, but I have been a published writer, illustrator, played sports, worked on major TV shows, I have worked for major filmmakers and made films of my own, I run a successful company in one of the most difficult cities in the world, I have done a lot of things I have set out to do. I am pretty happy with where I am, I have a family that I am extremely happy with. And in terms of failure, I am not going to say I haven’t failed at anything, but most things I have put my mind to I have accomplished. There is not a whole lot of things I ultimately left and said wow, that didn’t go well. I really failed and let myself down. You have small failures here and there where maybe a project isn’t as successful as you want it to be, but after a while you start to understand that you can’t let those things surprise you because in film and TV you can have a project in your hands that you think is absolutely terrible and you make it and it gets well received by the masses and everybody loves it. You can have a project that you love and doesn’t do well, you have to learn to not take it personally, when you make films you do make them for yourself and also an audience and sometimes they don’t correspond with the success for yourself and how people perceive them but you learn to kind of separate the personal and emotional attachment and just understand it is just part of the world that you’re dealing with. I wish I had the ability to continue play baseball, I do think I could have played professionally and being able to work for a major league baseball last year and be in the environment of that world was great, I can picture that sticking with baseball would have also worked out for me. But that wasn’t a failure, more of a decision. As you start to get older you learn you can’t do everything in life and that you have to choose a path to go down instead of trying to choose too many where you spread yourself too thin.
Let me close by asking what is in store, in the next year or two, in terms of
MP: Dead Rising a narrative film, the Dave Evans story and aside from that, I have a few films that have come into my company that I will be doing some for creative reasons and other for business reasons. As a company we are looking to develop more programming for TV, when we were first started out we were doing more TV development and we are going to try to return to a bit of that in the next year or 2. But what we would like to do is start to do more docu-reality shows for A&E, Discovery, History Channel. One of our company’s plans for this year is to reestablish the relationships with those networks, develop content for them. We do feel that a lot of what is out there now is not the most compelling and we feel we can being something to the table in the world of TV too.
DS: Thanks for
doing this interview, Matthew Pellowski, and let me allow you a closing
statement, on whatever you like.
MP: I still have a
lot of things I plan to do and want to do in my career and when I am done I
would like to have a collection of work that has meaning, significance,
longevity, that will inspire other people and educate them or do something in a
positive way. Film can kind of immortalize you as a person, if you make
something or write something, for the most part it lasts forever, so it’s a
nice way to have a legacy of your time spent here on earth and I just hope my
work continues to get better, continues to…constantly upping my level of
expectations, I like to challenge myself. Narratively, creatively, technically,
so that is what I hope to continue to do.
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