Who doesn't love a monster movie? Evil, boring people, that's who. Luckily Mike "Mad Man" Mendez is none of those things. Mega Spider is Mendez's first directorial feature since 2006's well-received The Gravedancers. Greg Grunberg (Heroes) stars as Alex, an exterminator who takes it upon himself to kill a monstrous spider. A "mega spider," if you will. I sat down with Mendez on the set to chat about spiders, FX, and how Mega Spider will compare to... Looney Tunes?
So tell me about Mega Spider.
Well, it was originally titled Dino Spider. It was [a script] that came to me and I first I said, "No! I don't want to do any of those type of movies, like Shaktopus or Megacroc." It was a weird evolution. I first read it and thought, "Well first off, this is better than I thought it would be." But I still wasn't sure if I wanted to do it. But I was really itching to get behind the camera because I was waiting on another project to happen - I didn't know if it was going to happen or not. So I started to flirt with the idea of doing it. It was upon meeting with the FX team, Ice Animation, and our FX coordinator Asif Iqbal, and I liked his enthusiasm. We started playing with designing the spider and I slowly started getting into it. I did a rewrite on the script, then I was getting really into it. I saw the first FX pass and I really liked it. I really liked the producers. Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson had a really good attitude about it. They didn't want to make the same crap either. That was they point: they felt these movies should be fun and entertaining and far better that the stuff that is being made. By that point, I was totally sold. Now it has really evolved far, far, far, far beyond anything I ever thought it could be. Honestly! I thought this was going to be an embarrassment for me. Something I would have to explain to people like, "Well, things were slow... there was a recession..." But it ended up that this has been the most fun I have ever had on a movie and I think I am going to be very proud of this. I think we are aiming far, far, far, far beyond your basic sci-fi TV movie.
Will it be tongue-in-cheek, or have you found a serious way to approach it?
At the moment it is called Mega Spider so I think it would be a major disservice to take it too seriously. That was part of the fun of it for me: the tone of it. I don't want to say that it doesn't take itself seriously because I don't want to say it's campy. It's not like, "Huh-huh, we know we suck, this stupid, we're just having fun cause we know we're stupid." It became naturally funny. Like some of the characters would treat it seriously, but our lead character would be a real human being in this, going, "What? It's a 50-foot-tall spider?" So we sort of had fun with it. The tone has kind of become a cross between Alien and Ghostbusters. We were blessed to get Greg Grunberg on board. He really took it to the next level. The entire process, we keep pushing it forward to another level. I've made really gory, violent films, and this is not really gory, but I don't feel I'm compromising. I think I'm making a really funny, entertaining, cool creature flick.
So not gory or violent... comparing it to Ghostbusters... is it going to be a family film?
I wouldn't go so far as to say it's a family film, but the original idea was to make it a TV movie, so kids can watch it. A lot of people are going to die, but not gorily. I made it a challenge for myself: how can I have fun with this without blood n' guts? It turns into a little more Looney Toons - lots of people getting crushed and swallowed and destroyed. Thousands will die, so I'm not getting soft in my old age; we're just not going to linger on the gore. I will wait for my next movie to do that.
And what is your next movie?
Next one is called Overkill. One problem with being a filmmaker is the length [of time] between films. I like doing two back-to-back, and I like to keep going, honestly. [Mega Spider] has really reinvigorated my passion for making movies. Who would have thought that it would be on something called Mega Spider?
Are you planning on going the festival route? Direct to DVD?
All of it. I would really like to take the festival route first, then we will see. In my mind, I feel like we have been establishing something. I see it more like a TV pilot. I see this continuing - not so much the mega spider part of it, but the characters of Alex and Jose, our two bumbling mega spider busters. I think there is a lot more that can be done with them, and also with Ray Wise, who plays our general. There is a lot of room to keep going with it and continuing these characters.
Okay, let's lay out the plot.
Sure! Mega Spider is about a government test out of control. What starts off as a foot-long spider gets loose in a hospital and continues to grow. Only a bumbling exterminator, played by Greg Grunberg, knows the spider's mind as well as [the spider] does and is determined to stop it. He's never dealt with this kind of spider before because this one grows exponentially every few hours and is nothing but an eating machine. It continues to grow until it is 50ft. tall. He's trying to beat the military, who is also after it, and trying to prove to them that he doesn't need all those weapons and technology - he has spider senses! He is going to stop it before anyone else does.
How much of the effects are practical versus digital?
That's a very sad story. I'm a big practical effects guy. I love practical effects and I am a big believer in them. But - and you can see us in an episode of Monster Man, about us creating the effects - it didn't go so well with the practical effects. It just did not work out, was not what I wanted, looked pretty bad.... Sadly, our digital model is far more impressive. I, who am not a big believer in digital effects, am constantly wowed by things I am being shown, things we are doing. So this became a challenge for me, to adapt to modern technologies and try to make it effective. I mostly hate CGI, so I am trying a lot of tricks to disguise the CGI. I am hoping it is not going to be very obvious. A lot of it is about not seeing the creature, but there will be a point where you will see the creature, in all its glory. That was very important to us before stepping forward: to know that we could pull this off. Off the first FX test, we all felt very confident that we could do this.
Did you have to restructure any of the script to compensate for the change in effects?
Well, whether it was digital or practical, I felt either way, it is probably a good idea to build up to the reveal of the monster dramatically. So I didn't have to change it too much; it was just more about the approach.
How did you get Greg Grunberg involved?
Well, we talked to his agent, and I owe a friend, Darren Lynn Bousman, for doing me a solid. He is friends with Greg and told him, "You've gotta meet Mike, he's great, you'll love working with him." Greg got excited about that, then I met with Greg and closed the deal. Greg has been such a trooper. We needed someone like that: has a bit of clout, is kind of the "upperclassman" here, to set an example that this is not a big Hollywood production, but it's okay. We're going to rough it, we are going to put our best attitude forward, and really get the best product. That's what matters: what is in front of the camera.