The Black Saint spends a fair amount of time trolling the web on a daily basis looking for something different, something that excites me. Every so often I find just such a tidbit. A month or so ago I lucked upon a trailer for a film called “Puppet Monster Massacre” & I knew I had to own it, quality be damned! But much to my surprise and delight, I purchased a really good, funny movie that just happened to star puppets instead of people in it. In addition, it’s gory enough for those of us who like to see the red stuff flying to & fro.
I managed to get in contact with the director of this epic (Through the magic of Facebook) & he graciously agreed to answer some questions about himself & what it was like to stick his hand (Literally) up his actors asses! Acolytes old & new, I give you the multitalented Dustin Wayde Mills!
HN: Let’s start with what got you interested in making movies as a career..
DWM: I just watched a lot of movies when I was growing up. We had a lot of VHS tapes in our household and I just watched a different movie every day of my life. I remember watching the original “King Kong” for the first time and after it was over there was a featurette on how it was made, all the stop motion effects & such. I became obsessed with stop motion & learning how movies were made after that. It never occurred to me that movies had to be made, I just figured you turn on your TV and they appear from somewhere! Once I realized that movies were the product of a lot of people’s hard work & craftsmanship I became really fascinated with the process & I just wanted to learn everything about it. It started really early, I honestly don’t remember wanting to do anything other than making movies.
HN: Well now I’m curious, exactly how old are you?
HN: Whoa! You are a youngster! How old were you when you saw “King Kong”?
DWM: I was really young, probably about seven or eight I would imagine.
HN: Did you have any formal education in filmmaking?
DWM: No. When I was 12 my family got a VHS-C camera & I started making stop motion movies with my G.I. Joe’s. I lived out in the country and I didn’t have any friends nearby so I had to make due with what I had. I didn’t have any actors so I made movies with my toys, That’s how I started. I did go to college to study Telecommunication for a year but I dropped out because I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life & they didn’t have a dedicated film department there either. I learned a lot of what I know from reading books & from the internet.
HN: What school was this?
DWM: Ball State University.
HN: Did your parents support you in your decision to drop out & follow your dream to make films for a living? Or was there some disappointment on their part?
DWM: They always let me make movies. The camera wasn’t mine, it belonged to my mother and they knew it was a hobby of mine to make my little movies. I think when I decided to try to make films professionally they were scared a little bit but now that I’ve got one done & it’s in distribution and it’s making money they became very supportive now & they think it’s really cool. You know my mom made the puppets for “Puppet Monster Massacre” so I got her involved with the whole process and they’re very happy with it now.
HN: Your mom made the puppets? Wow. I’m no “Puppet making expert” but the puppets in the movie look really good!
DWM: My mom can sew really well and we got a pattern from off of the internet. I was with her for the construction of the first three puppets & then I would just send her some sketches of what I wanted & she would make them look just like the sketches I sent.
HN: She did an amazing job! You actually just answered my next question which was had you done any other films prior to this one?
DWM: I really just did my little shorts & stuff. I directed a couple of videos for a local band and I did a couple of freelance jobs doing videos for local businesses & such. I made shorts with my friends all through high school but no, I never tackled anything as big as “Puppet Monster Massacre” before.
HN: Since you professed a love for stop motion earlier I wonder what made you decide to use puppets instead of stop motion for your first feature?
DWM: I just really wanted to do something crazy & original, that’s where the puppet idea came in. The closest thing we’ve ever had to a puppet horror film was “Meet The Feebles” I guess & that’s not even a horror film, it’s more of a exploitation film. That’s where the idea for using puppets came from. And I could also accomplish things on a very low budget using the puppets and still have it be convincing and coherent that I couldn’t do with live actors. Like some of the backgrounds & effects for instance, I could make the backgrounds sort of cartoony looking because the puppets are cartoony looking as well. I wanted to tell a big story and I think it would have been hard for me to do it with live actors. Plus, at this budget level where you can’t afford to pay people I didn’t have to worry about disgruntled actors. Puppets are always on set on time & they don’t complain! And they do a perfect take every time as long as I’m on point when I’m puppeteering them. So it just made things go a lot smoother. I think a lot of low budget/no budget filmmakers would agree that when you’re not paying your actors it’s hard to depend on them. And that’s not their fault, it’s just the way it is. But with puppets I didn’t have to worry about that. When we filmed It was just me & my assistant director most of the time in the living room with a green screen and a camera.
HN: Which leads me to my next question. Who was responsible for all of the CGI backgrounds?
DWM: I did all of the compositing. I did some of the modelling as well. Some of the models like Wagner’s mansion were purchased from the internet. I am not a fantastic modeler & I really didn’t have time to model everything with all of the other duties I had on the film so I got some of the models from online websites like Renderocity, Content Paradise & Turbosquid. These are sites where you can purchase the rights to use their 3D models. So I just bought the ones that fit in the universe I was creating. Sometimes I would alter the colors a bit or alter the model itself a bit to match how I envisioned it. That’s where the bulk of the modeling came from.
HN: Really? I didn’t know you could purchase 3D models on the internet.
DWM: Oh yeah! It’s really cool. Say you need a 3D model of a certain car, you just type in the model number of the car and you can find it. But not all of our backgrounds were CGI. A lot of them were matte paintings & collages where I just took different photos and combined them to make a new background.
HN: Well they all look great! And the puppets blended in pretty seamlessly with them. And now you’re telling me it was just you & one other person behind all of it? I’m very impressed!
DWM: Well, thank you!
HN: I did wonder why you went with CGI though. Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to make small sets and film it that way?
DWM: Actually the stuff that I bought online was very cheap. It would’ve been much more expensive to build sets. It also would have been much more complicated. In a perfect world, if I had a million dollars to make a sequel I would’ve built small sets but it just wasn’t in our budget. The CGI saved our asses because it was so cheap. I don’t remember any figures off the top of my head but I didn’t spend more than a thousand dollars on the backgrounds. You have to find ways to be creative, for instance I bought a set of stock images of trees & I would just place the trees creatively, use a couple of different ones, flip them, change their colors, throw in some shafts of light & play with the shadows a bit and that became a forest! It was just a bunch of pictures of trees but if you put them together right and you add the illusion of depth & you get the colors right you have a forest. We used a lot of tricks like that to save time.
HN: How long did it take to complete the movie from start to finish?
DWM: We started in March of 2010 & we finished in March 2011. It took just about a year.
HN: What was the final production budget?
DWM: The shooting budget..what you see on the screen cost about $3500. And that was mostly for a new computer, camera & software to do the effects. That was the bulk of the budget. The puppets themselves were really cheap. Each puppet cost between 20-40 dollars to make. The most expensive one was the monster because he was made entirely from foam and using foam is expensive.
HN: Did your mother build the monster as well?
DWM: No, I did the monster actually.
HN: One of the extras on the DVD was some test footage of different monsters you were thinking about using. I like the choice you made regarding the monster for the film.
DWM: You know the one I thought was really cool was the one that sort of looked like a marionette. I actually liked that one a lot. But it just didn’t have the same kind of look or personality that the rest of the movie had so I think going with the hand puppet for the monster was the best choice in the end.
HN: The first thing I thought of when I saw the monster was the “Zuni Fetish Doll” from “Trilogy Of Terror”. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that film or not.
DWM: It’s funny you say that. When I was making it I was trying to make a sort of combination of “Pumpkinhead”, a Gremlin & a Xenomorph from “Alien” but now that I look at it..especially with all of the teeth, it really does look like the “Zuni Fetish Doll”. I never thought about it while I was making it, maybe it was in my subconscious but he really does look like that doll.
HN: When I saw the teeth, the “Zuni Fetish Doll” popped right into my head and it sort of creeped me out because I’m terrified of that movie & that little angry doll. As a matter of fact I’ve only seen that movie the one time it premiered on TV & I haven’t seen it since. It scares me that much!
DWM: I just read an interview with Guillermo DelToro and he talks about how size can make something scary. If you make something big enough it’s automatically scary but if you make something little that’s fearless, something that’s not afraid of you despite it’s size…that’s really scary! And that “Zuni Fetish Doll” was not scared of anything! Once it came after you it didn’t quit till it got you.
HN: Let’s talk about the voice work in the movie for a bit. I know you performed a lot of the voices yourself for the movie but I think once people start to watch the movie, the character of Raimi is going to be everyone’s favorite.
DWM: Yeah, Raimi & Gramps seem to be the most popular right now.
HN: Gramps was very funny also but I really dug Raimi, especially his voice. Did something inspire you to give him that particular voice? Was there something you drew on to make him sound the way he sounded?
DWM: I have a very good friend who actually helped out a little bit on the movie with the explosions towards the finale. We were joking around with him & we would do a voice for him. He almost sounds like Cartman from “South Park”, so I kind of took that voice & gave it a lisp. The trick to making Raimi interesting is I’m constantly changing his pitch. His voice goes from very low to very high depending on what he’s saying. You know if he’s excited while describing a movie to someone his voice goes very high pitch but if he’s threatening someone or if he’s being mean like when he tells Mona to go “Wash Her Ass”, his voice drops to a very low register. But he still has that lisp so he can’t be threatening because he sounds so silly. It’s really just my friend’s voice with a lisp added on really.
HN: How has the film been performing critically & financially so far?
DWM: You know we’ve been doing pretty well critically. I’ve seen a few bad reviews and I can tell that the people who wrote those reviews aren’t the people I made the movie for.
HN: I read one very negative review & I agree with what you’re saying. I think it’s important for a critic to not have a preconceived notion of whether the movie is going to be bad or good from hearing the title or seeing puppets on the cover. And if they watch a movie with these notions already implanted into their psyche they’re just not going to be fair to the movie. Even if somewhere deep down inside of them they liked it. I think it’s a film critic’s job to review every movie they see on it’s own merits. Don’t get me wrong here, if I see a movie and I think it’s bad then I’ll say it’s bad. But I always go into each movie I watch with a clean slate, so to speak. And I give every movie I see a chance to impress me. Even the ones I end up not liking.
DWM: I think it’s important that every time you watch a movie that you watch it on it’s own terms. With this movie I didn’t set out to make a cult classic or the best horror film ever made. I just wanted to make a fun, goofy movie that horror fans would think was cool because that’s who I am, a horror fan. I go to a lot of conventions & I wanted to make a movie that these great people I meet at conventions would think was cool. That’s what it was all about, it’s goofy fun. It’s jokes, tits & blood. The movie is sort of my “Love Letter” to 80’s style horror films. In the eighties horror films were so much more fun than they are now. It’s not that horror films are bad now, there are some great horror films out there now but take a film from the 80’s like “Night Of The Creeps” which is one of my favorites, or “Re-Animator” which is another of my favorites. You can tell they were having so much fun making those movies! That’s what I wanted to achieve, somebody called me and said that a lot of the movies we referenced aren’t from the eighties. That wasn’t really the point, the point was to make a movie that felt like an eighties movie. that had that sense of fun, the gore, the ridiculous nudity & the character cliches. That’s what I wanted to make.
HN: Yeah, I got a big laugh out of the sex scenes in the movie. The one in the graveyard really made me laugh out loud!
DWM: (Laughing) Thanks!
HN: Have you ever heard of a film called “Mad Monster Party”?
DWM: OH yeah! I have the DVD actually. I love that movie!
HN: I was thinking about it while watching your movie because the whole plot point regarding the five principle characters in the film getting the invitation to go to the castle reminded me a lot of the way “Mad Monster Party” started out. Was that an influence while you were writing the script?
HN: That and “House On Haunted Hill” actually.
DWM: “House On Haunted Hill” was a direct reference but I love “Mad Monster Party” so I’m sure some of that leaked out onto the final product, perhaps subconsciously. But I do love, love “Mad Monster Party” so I’m sure some of it is in there.
HN: What can you tell us about your next project?
DWM: Actually we’re right in the middle of production on a new film. We had to take a hiatus because our star got appendicitis. So we had to wait for him to get his appendix removed & for him to heal up but we’re starting up again on August 27th. The movie is called “Zombie A-Hole” & it’s live action. It’s really, really, really low budget. “Puppet Monster Massacre” had no budget, this is being produced on a percentage of that budget. Me and some friends are trying to make a fun little grindhouse movie. We’re not taking anything too seriously, we’re just trying to have some fun. I think at this point the budget is less than a thousand dollars. It’s sort of a zombie/slasher type film and we had to make a cool silicone mask for the main monster and that cost about $150 dollars. That was the most money we’ve spent on it so far. We have a Facebook page up for it.
HN: Oh really? What’s the title of the page so our readers can look it up?
DWM: It’s Zombie-Ahole or something to that effect.
HN: Don’t knock yourself regarding your budget. Have you heard of a film called “Colin”
DWM: I’ve heard of it but I haven’t seen it.
HN: The word is they got that film done for $40 dollars. It was made in England so I don’t know how much that is in Euros but it’s really well done & a very good movie. It’s streaming on Netflix.
DWM: I’ll have to find it. What we’re doing is like a “Road” movie & every other scene features gore or nudity. It’s a “Girls, Boobs & Blood” sort of movie.
HN: There’s nothing wrong with that! I like it already!!
DWM: We just want to make something that’s fun to take to conventions that people might enjoy and see what we can do with a small amount of money & some imagination. There will be some puppet special effects in it though. But in terms of action, real actors…real boobs!
HN: Will there be a sequel to “Puppet Monster Massacre”? The ending left it wide open for one.
DWM: We’re actually in the planning stages and hope to get it started by the end of the year. We didn’t sell a million copies of the first movie but we did really well & made our budget back right away which is a really good feeling by the way.
HN: I’m sure it is!
DWM: I have a lot ideas and I think I’d be OK being the “Puppet Guy”, you know what I mean? I think we’re going to make quite a few puppet horror movies & not all of them “Puppet Monster Massacre” related movies. Maybe different styles of puppets, more serious subject matter. It’s fun to make these movies. It’s fun to put them together & people seem to like them so I think we’re going to keep doing them for a while. This might sound like bullsh*t but I like this level of filmmaking. I’ve met people who want to work with $100 million dollar budgets and that’s fine. But I like making movies with my friends, I like not having producers breathing down my neck & my dream is to make this my day job.
HN: What do you do for a living now?
DWM: I’m a graphic designer but my dream is to have enough films in circulation so that I can live off the royalties & take care of myself & my girlfriend. And I can just make movies 24/7 wherever I want to make them. Not necessarily in Hollywood. That’s what I want to do, just make fun, low budget movies with my buddies and make good friends along the way. That’s what I want to do.
HN: Before we end this I’d like to know what you’re favorite horror movie is?
DWM: That’s such a hard question for me to answer but I would say Fred Dekker’s “Monster Squad”. They don’t make movies like that anymore with all of the Universal studio monsters in them. And although the movie features kids, the threat to them is real. You just don’t see that in movies nowadays.
HN: Least favorite horror film?
DWM: I don’t understand the appeal of the “Saw” films. I don’t find them scary. Maybe because I’m jaded but I just don’t get them.
HN: I appreciate you sharing some time with me Dustin. Thanks for sharing your story with us & we’re all waiting for your next project!
DWM: Thank You!
If you haven’t seen “Puppet Monster Massacre” yet, what are you waiting for? You’re missing a fun movie & what could be the first in a series of great little movies from Dustin who only wants to entertain us & have some fun while he’s doing just that. See it now!