Interview by Jay Kay
A creator and leader in digital animation with truly legendary content companies that have impacted generations and help children to learn and love quality digital animated storytelling like “Disney” and “Nickelodeon”, a filmmaker and lifelong horror fan, we are honored to speak with Mike Gasaway about his latest project (http://www.gasmangroup.com)!
Thanks for taking some time out during this crucial period with your fan funding for the short film “Help Me First!” to answer some questions and gain awareness about your current Kickstarter for “Help Me First!” at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1271821223/help-me-first
Horror News Network: Mike, you are twenty year veteran within the digital animation field on a variety of platforms. You have worked on a very successful projects, series and for a landmark companies including “Disney” (Hercules and The Pirates of the Caribbean), “Nickelodeon” (The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius, Back at the Barnyard and Planet Sheen), “Naughty Dog, Inc” (Jax and Daxter) and more. They have given you a balance of leadership, technical and creative experience that has yielded success. What got you started in the field of animation and how much of this experience had an influence on your first horror feature “Help Me!” and now the short film prequel “Help Me First!?
Mike Gasaway: I originally went to school for architecture at the University of Cincinnati. It wasn’t until about 5 years into a 6-year program that I found animation and fell head over heels for it. I had no idea that being an animator was a profession, like people got paid for it. I knew Bugs Bunny wasn’t real but I didn’t understand that someone got paid to draw him. A bit naive, I know.
Over the years, I realized how much this idea of making a movie was so collaborative. It’s not just one person’s idea; it’s a bunch of people, throwing ideas off each other. In animation, it’s a very long process as well. Ideas grow through each stage of the production until it’s finally over.
What’s helped me in live action is learning the pre-production aspect. We nailed everything down in the early stages before production. I do the same thing in live action. I know exactly what I want. What shots I want; what coverage I want. I do a full 3d animatic, or version of the film, before we shoot.
Horror News Network: Talk about origins of these two film projects and the supernatural aspect in storytelling? How can you make supernatural effective and scary?
Mike Gasaway: It all started with a completely different film called The Attendant. After researching for 3 months and getting the outline done quickly, I wrote the script in about a month. After months of rewrites, I approached Tim League, of “Drafthouse Films”, to work on distribution. He said it would be a tough sell not because of my experience but that I didn’t have live action experience. It was going to be difficult to raise feature quality money right off the bat without a known star. He said horror would be a little easier entry, meaning that I didn’t need a star, just a good story.
He and I have an affinity to horror so that was a no-brainer for me. I always loved haunted houses and wanted to write something that would scare me. So I wrote Help Me as a feature. Once I had that done, it was MUCH more expensive than The Attendant so Tim and I discussed the idea of doing a short first. I didn’t want to do a shorter version of Help Me so I came up with the idea of doing the “prequel” first.
I know it sounds weird calling the first film a prequel but it kinda is the way I wrote them. The feature is about a friend going to a haunted asylum to find her missing friends. The prequel is about how the missing friends get lost. It works perfectly together.
What I like about it is that as a viewer, you don’t HAVE to see the prequel to understand what is going on BUT you have a little insight and are almost like “in on the joke” if you have seen the prequel.
I chose the supernatural because it’s something that can feel like it happened. Something moved. What caused that to move – that kind of thing. I also love the idea of not seeing exactly what is happening. The idea between both films is that we can’t see the ghosts in real life but if we look into the camera or our cell phone, we can.
I plan on using the environment to set the suspense. Yeah there has to be a jump scare here and there but my favorite thing to do is set the framing in such a way where the audience wants to see something in the corner. What is over there? You feel it as you crawl up in a ball and you DON’T want to see something but you do. I love eliciting that feeling and can’t wait to put that all together for the films.
Horror News Network: Blows my mind how fast twenty years can go by. Before animation you had the experience of working on your own short film entitled “Television Monster”. It changed your life for sure! Talk about that experience and how it impacted you as an artist and filmmaker?
Mike Gasaway: You had to dig deep for that one! That was my second film I had ever done work on. Thank the heavens the first one was done on video tape so many years ago. “Television Monster” was done almost exclusively by me. I had some help with editing and the sound but everything else was on me. I learned just how difficult it was to do everything on my own and that I needed talented folks around me to help make my vision come to reality.
At that time, I had no idea what I was doing either. I didn’t even think that I was directing, to tell you the truth. When I look back on it, I didn’t. I learned so much more from the on-the-job training when I started directing television.
Horror News Network: Your first film “Help Me” came about when after you decided to leave animation in 2010. Why leave a field that you were a nominated and award winning creator, animator, director and more?
Mike Gasaway: It was out of necessity. I moved from San Diego, California to Columbus, Ohio. There wasn’t much animation going on there and definitely not longer form work that I was used to. I travelled back and forth between Columbus and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and found there wasn’t much animation there either BUT did see that the film community was pretty strong. I knew how to direct and did a very small live action commercial for the Kids’ Choice Awards for Nick a while back and loved it. I knew I had to do either that or find a completely different career. I wasn’t ready to become an accountant just yet.
Horror News Network: From what I have read and researched, you definitely are a fan of film and especially horror. You share the fans passion as well as pain for quality horror films on all platforms. Was this need for quality horror a focal point in the process of creating “Help Me!”?
Mike Gasaway: Most definitely. I look at movie making as something very simple. It’s a simple story with complex characters. For horror, you have to keep the feeling terrifying BUT have to let a little tension here and there. You have to amp things up at the right time. Wes Craven was so good at this. Kevin Williamson did a fantastic job with this in Scream. I want to make something along those lines. I know this story isn’t something wildly different but I guarantee it will scare you.
There are parts of the script that after I wrote them, I got up and walked around the room with the heebie jebbies. I couldn’t believe that came out of my fingers. Those are the moments I wish more films had. The Conjuring and Insidious are doing a pretty good job. James Wan is nailing it for sure. I’m hoping to do more of that.
Horror News Network: You are currently running the fan funding for “Help Me First!” on Kickstarter. Why Kickstarter and why fan funding? What is the coolest perk for fans?
Mike Gasaway: I tried the traditional route of finding financing. I had a production partner at one point and even had half of the original budget funded before he had to drop out because his day job was taking too much of his time. I had a few other false starts with other companies that didn’t seem to grasp my vision and that’s completely fine. Because those two things happened, I found a wonderful crew and cast that I wouldn’t have had if I stayed on the other course.
I did a lot of research before choosing Kickstarter. It had a broader reach and seemed to really want the campaigns to succeed. The social aspect of the whole campaign is completely crazy. I know I’m annoying the crap out of friends on Facebook (I hope not) and I promise it will all stop when the campaign is over.
The coolest has to be a ghost on set. Our FX crew is awesome and we are going to shoot the ghosts a little special so to tell your friends and family you are a part of these interesting scenes is going to be worth it. It’s a little higher dollar at $1000.
The movie poster is another great perk. I wanted to go a little retro with it. A little Argento with it and my artist, Tom Morgan, got it just from a sketch of mine. He nailed it quickly and it’s pretty exciting.
We may have a SUPER cool reward on the last day but that all depends if my FX team can pull it off for it. If they can, it’s going to be very special.
Horror News Network: What makes “Help Me First!” not just another short horror film? What are the pitfalls you don’t want to fall into during this process?
Mike Gasaway: What an awesome question. This is going to be a short you are going to remember and WANT to see more. It’s setup to have the feature pick up right where the short leaves off. We have something cool for the credits that will make you want to see more. I know the subject matter isn’t terribly original but I hope our take on the demon will be and that people will remember this short, much like people did with Mama.
A pitfall is not doing enough pre-production so I’m doing as much as I can right now. I want to be completely prepared so when we are on set, we are ready to roll. I’m using this as the start of everything else so I’m taking it very seriously. We’re shooting at a real haunted house, Hill View Manor in New Castle, PA so there could be “extras” on set. I’m hoping they are happy with what we are doing and won’t disturb us very much. If they do, I hope they take direction well.
The biggest thing right now is raising the money. We have a long way to go but I know we are going to make it. I’m doing this movie no matter what.
Horror News Network: Talk about cast and crew for “Help Me First!”? As of right now, it looks like a smart blend of different professionals in all areas of film and horror including Lori Cardille of “Day of the Dead” fame.
Mike Gasaway: I do a ton of research before writing my scripts so I know the characters very well. I know Maureen so well; I could see her mannerisms. When I saw Maggie Carr, I knew she was Maureen. I was lucky enough to run into her and she couldn’t have been more excited to do it. Once I had her, my nerves settled.
Much of the other cast know each other and that’s important to me for this short. They have to feel like they know each other so that helps a ton.
Getting Lori Cardille was a dream. I met her a few months before and I have to admit, was a little of a fan boy. Day of the Dead is my favorite of the Dead series and she was the lead. Getting to meet her was very special and she couldn’t have been sweeter. When we were looking for someone to be Lisetta, the demon, someone mentioned Lori and we all smacked our heads, of course!
She was very excited when I talked to her about the role as well. She loves the idea that she gets to be sweet yet a demon as well. She’s such a pro too. Having this cast will make my job very easy. My crew has done a lot of movies and feature docs as well. Steve Tolin, of Tolin FX is not only co-producing but also all of the effects for both films. To have his team on this also puts my mind at ease.
As far as post, my editor is my long-time editor from Jimmy Neutron and Planet Sheen. He and I have a shorthand and he knows what I’m going to say before I say it. My composer is Mark Menza who I have known for a long time as well. He’s so versatile and talented. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. The only one that can screw this up is me.
Horror News Network: How does your experience working with “Disney”, “Nickelodeon” and such digital media outlets, benefit and impact “Help Me First!”?
Mike Gasaway: I directed every aspect for my shows. As a director, I was in charge basically from script to screen. I’ve dealt with many A-List actors and have been leading every aspect from cameras/layout, to animation, to lighting, FX, music and final mix. I have the utmost confidence that I can oversee each phase of the production.
Because it was television, I had to make quick decisions and know what battles to fight. I know what’s important to the story and what isn’t. That will help a ton on set when we need to shoot things pretty fast. The pre-production is super important too.
I think the biggest thing, though, was I don’t second guess myself. It took me almost a season of Neutron to get to that point. A lot of decisions I made, I wasn’t too sure of. Is that funny? Does that work? I eventually trusted my gut and it all worked. I’m to that point with this film. I know it will work. I will make it work.
Horror News Network: Having the CEO of “Alamo Drafthouse” and “Drafthouse Films” Tim League as an Executive Producer is huge! How did you get him involved in this project and how does his success with “Drafthouse” influence you?
Mike Gasaway: Like I said earlier, Tim was great helping getting this going and pushing me in the right direction. It is ironic that he and I used to hang out in each other’s basements watching all of these old horror films to the wee hours of the morning. We never would have thought that eventually we would be getting paid to make those very same movies.
Tim’s been very gracious with his name and time as well. He’s been there for me every step of the way. I can’t wait to get this short film done so we can make a very successful feature film. Through “Drafthouse Films”, we release it and then who knows after that.
Horror News Network: Tell the fans more about the Kickstarter for “Help Me First!” and where they can find out more information overall?
Mike Gasaway: I think that horror fans or even fans of Jimmy Neutron are going to want to be a part of this. We’re making a very high quality movie and I’m very sharing with what we do. To get to be a part of this will give you an inside look of how this whole process goes. You’ll see exclusive clips, behind the scene stuff and parts of the movie that nobody else will see. Heck, you could even be IN the movie. We will give you some crazy makeup!
We need all of the help we can get! As Maggie says in the Kickstarter video, help us make Help Me!
There’s more on the movie here as well: http://www.helpmethemovie.com
Horror News Network: Thank you so much for taking the time Mike!