Mike Mendez (The Gravedancers) has been making horror films since before the dawn of the new millennium. He has been drawing a great deal of attention over the last couple of months with his latest addition to the genre, Big Ass Spider. FEARnet had the opportunity to check in with the man himself about Big Ass Spider. The film has garnered rave reviews through its debut at SXSW. Big Ass Spider has been getting praise for good-naturedly laughing in the face of its farcical premise but still taking itself seriously enough to provide the viewer with a fun experience.
We talked with Mendez about his struggle to get approval from the produces to call the film Big Ass Spider, how he reluctantly learned to embrace digital effects, and what kind of distribution the film is headed for.
Can you give us a brief rundown of what we can look forward to in Big Ass Spider?
Big Ass Spider is the story of a bumbling but loveable exterminator who accidentally gets roped in to trying stop a genetically engineered run away spider. It becomes a race between him and his lovable security guard sidekick Jose, and the government to see who can stop the spider first.
Big Ass Spider has been receiving rave reviews. Congratulations.
Mike Mendez: There is one terrible review out there, but I think its coming from a disturbed person. It’s kind of weird. The major problem that the critic had with the film – aside from the terrible acting, terrible direction, and terrible effects – was that we wussed out on a scene where it looked like a child was going to get impaled. They said we wimped out by not impaling the child. And I was like “What kind of f**king movie do you think this is?” (Laughs). Not that I have anything against killing children [on screen] but I do have something against killing children in a light hearted, funny movie. It wasn’t really the tone we were going for. It was one of those situations where the review is so bad that you can’t really take it seriously. But, you can’t please everybody. And I’m super thankful that we’ve managed to garner positive reviews, overall.
Last time we spoke, you were targeting Big Ass Spider for The SyFy Channel. Do you have any update on where you are at with distribution?
I have a feeling at some point it will end up on SyFy. But, the goal is to see if we can do a little better than that. These kinds of movies have kind of been dragged through the dirt because there are so many bad ones, but we wanted to give it an honest try. We wanted to see if we could do something better. Getting in to SXSW was, for me, a wonderful feeling and was very fulfilling. It was awesome to be in such a great festival. It was great to get accepted and great to see the audience react the way that they did. At this point, I’m hoping that we will have a small theatrical run with a VOD release, and then television. I have a feeling that it will live happily on TV for a while. It’s a very clean movie. It has a lot of playability. I hope to get a lot of television play throughout the world.
Congratulations. That’s fantastic. You were targeting the film for TV and now you’ve opened it up to a whole new audience.
That’s been one of the best things about it. We will see where it goes. I wanted to give the producers at Epic Pictures something in return for trusting me with a movie. I wanted to give them something that they could sell. On a personal front, I wanted to do something that wouldn’t let down the people that like my movies. I also wanted to do something that was cool enough to get in to cool festivals and be seen by a wide audience. It looks like, God willing, we have managed to achieve that, which is really incredible. When I first picked up the script, it was called Dino Spider. The way that I pictured that going is a lot different from the way that it actually ended up.
It was originally called Dino Spider? Like dinosaur spider?
The movie is about a genetic crossbreeding between a spider and something. It was originally a cross breeding of a spider and a dinosaur. There’s a way to go with that and there’s a wacky way you could do it, but an alien spider seemed more interesting to me. That probably has to do with my immense fandom of the Alien film franchise.
On the subject of the film’s title, it was looking like the film was going to be called Mega Spider. But you were holding out for Big Ass Spider. How did you win that battle?
It was a big struggle, to be honest. Epic Pictures, God bless them, understandably thought it would be difficult to sell a film called Big Ass Spider to foreign markets. So, for better or worse, Mega Spider was universal. Everyone understands Mega Spider. But, I had much bigger aspirations for the film, and we were really trying to elevate the film and make the best movie we could. To then give the film a really generic title felt like a disservice to the movie. That battle waged on for two years. I said in the very first meeting that I think we could take this in a good direction, but I think we should call the movie Big Ass Spider. They thought that was funny and said maybe they would consider it. But I wouldn’t let go. As we made the movie, no matter what they called it, I forevermore was going to call it Big Ass Spider. I think that is the right title for the movie. I felt it in my heart and soul. Big Ass Spider was the name that the crew and people who started to hear about the move latched on to. Everyone really liked the title, but there was still the problem of foreign sales. They came to me and said we want to call the movie Alex and Jose vs. the Giant Spider. At that point, I just blew a gasket. I said, “look. I can’t be cool with that. That’s not the movie we worked on. That’s not the movie we made. I don’t support that. I’m not cool with that in any way.” Of course, I was going to do my job, but it didn’t feel right to me in any way. God bless Epic Pictures, because they made the right decision and changed it to Big Ass Spider. We’ve gotten in to SXSW and a whole bunch of others, and the trailer has gone viral and a lot of good things have happened. I don’t know if they will ever credit me for the title possibly being responsible for some of those things, but the bottom line is that they did the right thing and changed the title and I think we are all better for it.
I know you are a practical effects guy. Are you happy with the finished product - post effects and all?
I will always love practical effects. I grew up in the eighties. I grew up reading Fangoria. I wanted to be a makeup artist. I would spend the little money I would make buying all sorts of mold making materials to become a makeup artist. That was an expensive hobby when I was a kid, and so was filmmaking. So, I kind of focused more on filmmaking but I will always be partial to practical effects. Working with the practical side of making the effects has always been my favorite part of making a movie. With that said, this movie certainly changed me in a lot of ways. It changed a lot of my viewpoints on making films. I really learned to embrace digital technology. It can be awful if it’s done wrong, but we were very blessed to have ICE Animation. They really blew me away. I wanted to do a stop motion kind of approach. I love stop motion and I wanted to do it that way. But we were able to do a nice compromise, in doing a very photorealistic hard shell creature that looks a little like stop motion when it’s animated. But, it also gave us the flexibility that you get with CGI. I feel like CG-effects are a tool that should be embraced, but CGI should not be relied too heavily on. There’s no way we would have been able to pull this movie off, on our budget, without heavy digital effects. I think it’s important to use the tools you have to the best of your ability. But like with anything else, a lot relies on the artists who are doing it. It could have just as easily been another company and the effects could have looked terrible. The success of digital effects relies largely on the artist.
Clare Kramer (The Gravedancers) is in the film. Was she cast based on your previous working relationship?
Clare is a good friend. I made kind of a conscious decision to try to save money. I knew that we couldn’t really afford a casting director. When you make a low budget movie there are corners you have to cut. A casting direction seemed like a corner we could cut. So, I made the decision to use what was around me. I reached out to my friends and to people I think are talented. I actually just used my Facebook friends as the pool to draw from for actors. I had the choice to either go seek out strangers or hire people that I know and trust. Greg Grunberg was kind of the only exception to that. We did not know each other and had not previously worked together. I do still consider him part of the circle though, because another director friend recommended me to Greg, so it still felt like we were keeping it in the family and sticking to my goal of casting through Facebook.
Can you give us an update on your upcoming film Overkill?
Overkill is a movie that I would very much like to do. Sadly, it’s not set up anywhere. That’s a somewhat recent development. The script is written and I have a very strong point of view for how I would like to make it. The grand question is, then, what is next? Will it be Overkill or a new project? I don’t know. I would very much like to do Overkill at some point. If I had my way, and I’m sure I won’t, I would love to stack up four or five movies in a row and just plow through them for the next three or four years. If that were the case, I would definitely want Overkill to be a part of it. The other thing I am curious to see if people would be interested in is a prequel to The Convent. That’s still in the script form, but that is another one that could potentially be out there.