By RACHEL REEVES
Mickey Reece is a fascinating filmmaker. For more than a decade, the Oklahoma-based creative has been producing a wealth of content on his own terms. Uniquely and unequivocally stamped with Reece’s special brand and style, each film stands as a testament to his passion and evolving vision for what indie filmmaking can achieve. One of Reece’s more recent cinematic endeavors to make waves on the film festival circuit is his ’70s drenched vampiric delight, CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER. In celebration of the film’s limited theatrical run and January 12th release on VOD, we caught up with Reece and chatted all about the film, his advice for new filmmakers, and what’s coming up next for him. You can check out our Fantasia ‘20 review of the film, here.
Let’s talk about the film’s incredible cast. What was the casting process like? How did these actors impact the characters?
So first I was presented with the location. Then I wrote the script. And I wrote the script knowing I wanted to use Ben Hall, Mary Buss and Ginger Gilmartin even though I didn’t really know Ginger. I had worked with Ben and Mary before and even though I still had to actually meet Ginger, I was planning on working with her. It’s a small community so we already knew who each other were even though we hadn’t really hung out or worked together or anything. This was pre-COVID when you could actually go grab a drink somewhere so I met up with Ginger, talked to her and said “I figured we should meet because I’m writing a role for you.” (Laughs) The next time we hung out we went to the museum and watched Cries and Whispers. We became buddies. Then we went out to the location for two weeks and shot a movie together. All of us. The movie was written around them. Both the location and the actors.
The film plays with the classic trope of the ‘unhinged woman’ and has a vagueness that surrounds Wesley’s identity and Alma’s headspace. Was this murkiness always the intention while you were writing the script with John? Or was it more of an organic development that happened during the filming and editing process?
I think it’s a matter of when we were writing the script, we talked about all these themes we wanted to incorporate into the movie. But it wasn’t fitting for us to really spell out those themes. For instance, one of the strange things in the first dinner scene, Wesley talked a lot about Sao Paulo where he had spent some time. He even does this big poem in Portugese. So that’s why the chapters are in Portugese. But when you watch the movie, we cut a lot of that scene out which kind of leaves you wondering, “Why are the chapters in Portugese?” He ends up just talking about it in such a roundabout way where you have to actually listen.
All the answers are there. You just have to listen to the words. It’s an adult film. Like a Robert Altman movie, you have to pay attention. Of course I wrote it and I’ve been sitting with it for years now so there’s no unanswered questions to me, but I understand we didn’t really spell anything out. But it was more about themes and capitalizing on them. Touching on them but not necessarily describing them. It just didn’t fit this type of movie to labor the point. And also, don’t think for one second that this film was easy to finance. Trying to get money from people while they were reading that script? You think it’s confusing now? (Laughs)
I couldn’t help but notice the film shares its title with Scott Walker’s album from 1984. Is there a connection there? Are you a fan of Walker’s music?
I’m definitely a fan. I actually have a Scott Walker tattoo. But for the movie, I actually just liked the title and I thought it was fitting. It had nothing to do with the album. When we applied for the Oklahoma film and music rebate, they asked questions and wanted details about the movie to put in a press release. Well, I didn’t really have any details about the movie that I wanted to share so I said it was a visual representation of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s album Psychocandy. I think that album was just on and playing so I was like, “Sure. Let’s say this.” Obviously that was when we were still filming it in early 2019. So, there were a few early reviews that would come out and talk about ‘I guess this is about Psychocandy but I don’t really get it.” But it was really just something I said because I didn’t want to reveal anything. Oh, but this is really interesting too—the temp scores that I edited with were of course, Daughters of Darkness and The Childhood of a Leader which was scored by Scott Walker.
While we’re on the subject of music, you once again turned to Nicholas Poss to score CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER. What is it about Nick that keeps you coming back and what were your initial conversations like regarding the film’s musical direction?
We had all kinds of ideas. We always have so many ideas and then the execution always ends up completely different. His score for Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart, the film we did before this one, is so good. Basically, he did a score for me for a really shitty movie I made in 2013 called Judges Creed. Worst movie I ever made. It’s literally a pile of garbage. But he did the score for it and he did it for free. I told him we didn’t have any money but if he wanted to do it he could and he said “OK.” And he turned in an awesome score! This really awesome score for this just terrible movie. So then we didn’t really talk for a few years. I was embarrassed and he knew it was a shitty movie. Then when I made the Elvis movie, Mickey Reece’s Alien, he was like, “You gotta let me score this!” And I was like, “Alright. I definitely owe you one.” (Laughs) So ever since then he’s scored every one of them. It’s one of my favorite partnerships of the people I work with. We really get along and speak the same language.
The film is set in the ’70s, but the look goes much deeper than just wardrobe and set dressing. Can you tell us about some of the filmmaking techniques you used to achieve this overall effect?
We rented a lens from the ’70s and we shot on an ARRI ALEXA Mini. Obviously we would have loved to have shot it on 16mm or something but that’s just so foreign to us. But we got the Mini and the lens and all the star filters and things they used in the 70s. Shot it in a 4:3 aspect ratio and then added grain in post. We did all we could to emulate the style. A lot of people compare it to a Hammer film look, but I’ve never even seen a Hammer film. I mean, I know what they are and know what they look like so it’s not that foreign to me, but I’ve never actually seen one.
Sam Calvin was the cinematographer and Kaitlyn Shelby was the Production Designer, so as far as I’m concerned it was basically like, “This is what I want it to look like. Let’s get all these elements in order to make it look like that.” And then we get there and I block it. That being said though, we probably had like five lights that we brought with us. It’s very stylized so it seems like everything is being underlit as a choice because we made it work that way, but really a lot of the times when those scenes are really dark it’s because those are the only lights we had.
I definitely want to talk about the dinner scenes in this film because there’s a lot of them and they are incredible. What was it like filming these intimate scenes? Do you have a favorite?
The Percy dinner scene was very complicated. It was like, 14 set-ups and 40 shots. I remember getting in there with the actors and going over it and was like, “Oh shit. What have I done?” But we figured out a way to block it and that was the more complex one. The rest of them were pretty easy because the first one was that aimless pan just going back and forth with all three of them. And the third one is like Buffalo ‘66 where it’s all just stationary and they’re all just centered in the middle of the frame. We shot the scene over and over again from all four angles.
While we’re on the topic of the dinners, we can’t not mention the food. Was it always part of the plan to have such a focus on the meals? And where the hell did you find those recipes?
All I said to Kaitlyn was, “Alright. When they’re eating food, let’s make sure they’re eating something really disgusting every time. Like, big ridiculous Beetlejuice meals.” Then she’d show me pictures but I’d be busy and end up just being like, “Yeah yeah, that looks great.” But then we got there on the day and she had these meals. So I had to do a presentation shot because these meals were too cool to not do a presentation shot. But it was never intended. And also, Kaitlyn has this kind of soft, high voice so we also had her do the voiceovers to say what all the meals actually were.
You’ve made a lot of indie movies and you’ve made them your own way. What advice would you give to someone working on their first feature film?
Lemme see here. I think a lot of people get hung up on the technicalities of making a movie. Like, they need this and this or what’s the point? But the reason you should be making a movie is for expression. It’s supposed to be an art form. It keeps getting turned into something else at every turn, but it’s supposed to be an art form. You don’t just pick up the guitar and are awesome as soon as you pick it up. You have to practice and you have to learn. That’s kind of how I did it. I treated every film like it was a sketchbook. I made some terrible movies! Whenever you read articles about me and they’re like, “It’s his 27th feature film!” Yeah, well most of them fucking sucked. You know what I mean? And I think people are afraid to fail with films.
Also, the secret to my success is that you make a movie that no one has ever seen before and then they don’t have anything to compare it to. Why would you make a movie that emulates another expensive ass movie? Why would you try to make a superhero movie with $100k or $50k or whatever you’re starting out with. Even $5k. Why don’t you take that same $5k and make something no one has ever seen before? That’s my advice.
I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about the unsung hero of CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER, Otis the dog. What was it like working Otis? Any chance that he’s your dog?
He’s not my dog. I actually have a Corgi named Foot Foot which is named after the cat in Gummo. That dog belongs to our Costume Designer, Jack Odell. And her name is actually Chicken Little and she’s a girl. But it’s Otis in the film. Originally it was supposed to be a big black Doberman, but then Jack was like, “Well. Chicken Little’s a pretty good dog.” (Laughs) This little half squat of a dog. I did everything that I would normally do with an actor. I did it all with Chicken Little. She even stayed at my house for like a solid month. She also stayed with us the entire two weeks we were down filming at the cabin and she was an amazing dog. You know that scene where she comes down and talks? She got it on the first take. Honestly, the very first take the camera fucked up and it was a little out of focus, but she did it perfect the second time too. That’s how fucking amazing that dog was.
What’s next for you?
I’ve got a movie in the can called Agnes and it’ll be out in 2021. Well, it’ll start doing festival runs in 2021. I don’t know when it will actually come out. CLIMATE premiered in September of 2019 but is just now coming out in 2021. Movies just take forever to fucking come out. In February I’m going to shoot a movie called Country Gold. It’s about George Jones who invites Garth Brooks out on the town in Nashville the night before he has to be cryogenically frozen in 1994. And it’s in black in white so it’ll look like Nebraska or The Last Picture Show. I’m excited about it. I’m also writing a biopic about the guy from Heaven’s Gate, Marshall Applewhite.
CLIMATE OF THE HUNTER is now screening in select theaters and will be available on VOD January 12th.