Thursday, September 4, 2008

Interview With Alexandre Michaud, writer/director of "Clean"

Every once in a while I just read the premise of a film and I know I'm in for a good ride... that was definitely the case with "Clean", from writer/director Alexandre Michaud. Here's how it reads, "A dangerous serial killer decides to go out with a bang when he is invited by a mysterious group of fellow murderers for an evening of snuff and torture". With a synopsis like that, the film promises a lot... and Michaud gives you what you want, plus a bit more. Reminicent at times of "American Psycho" and other times of "The Wizard of Gore" and blended with a wicked metal soundtrack, it's a great watch and definitely worth your time. Dead Harvey had the chance to talk with Alexandre Michaud about his film, "Clean"

Tell us about yourself as a filmmaker. Who are your influences? What's your directing style like?

I was always fascinated by the euro horror and action flicks from the 70s and 80s. I'm a big fan of Argento, Fulci, Castellari and also some Spanish and French directors. Back when I was a kid, I didnt even know those films were not American like everything else but these little bastards stuck with me... I have fond memories of watching Bronx Warriors, White Cannibal Queen and The Beyond for the first time as a kid or a very young teenager. Later on, I was much influenced by the golden age of HK cinema. Still today, Im looking up to the films of Ringo Lam and John Woo from the late 80s, early 90s as reference of quality.

My directing style is a little bit like Fulci probably... I'm a little messy but I like to think of myself as inspired... ;-) I dont have the talent Fulci had but our directing styles are similar in my opinion.

Film School: Yes or No?

No. I decided to lead a double life and studied in Finance.

So, at the risk of uncovering some not-so-hidden angst, where did the idea for "Clean" come from?

This is weird because CLEAN was conceived many years before we shot it so it felt a little out place when it came out. CLEAN had two inspiration. The first one is pretty obvious; Lewis' The Wizard Of Gore. I was looking for an idea for me to get back to gore cinema after a 5 years hiatus at trying other things. One night, I was half-drunk at a party at some buddy of mine's and we were all watching Wizard. Dont get me wrong... I didnt like the movie much but I think the idea of a snuff stage show was amazing and had a lot of potential. That's how the plotline came together.

The second inspiration is a little more left-field... Bill Clinton and the political climate at the end of the century. The way I looked at it, there was a lot of talking but nothing was getting solved back then. Nobody was prepared to take any action. Everybody looked the other way and nothing was really getting done. So... as I was writing the script, I put in that whole political sub-message that very few people get. Basically, what CLEAN was saying is... if you have the power to do the right thing, DO IT. We all learned how important this is in September 2001. Then again, its also important to know what the right thing is, so nothing is really perfect.

How did you go about securing financing and what was the approx. budget?

The film was self-financed. I already had a lot of equipment from prior project so that was not so expensive. Everybody who worked on the film did it for a differed salary and I still owe a lot of money to a lot of people. Thank God, everybody involved has been very understanding and ultra-cool thus far. Considering all debts I still have with those guys and gals, the budget was a little over 35k.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We shot with a good DV camera. The shoot was 20 or 21 days spreaded over 3-4 months.

Let's talk about the gore and effects. There's was lots of it AND it looked great. I particularly liked the scene where the guy on stage is trying to cram his intestines back into his stomach. Who did the effects? What was your favorite? …and how was it achieved?

All the effects were done by Jef Grenier. Funny enough, a lot of it was recycled from our very first film URBAN FLESH (which recently came out on DVD from Sub-Rosa). Those guts you see in the stage snuff murder (in two different scenes in the film) are the exact same pieces of latex you can see in Urban Flesh. My favorite gore scene is the one were Eric Therrien is pulling the guts from the naked girl (Chantal Petrin). Eric really got into it and it got real mad.

How did you go about casting the film? It was a fairly large cast, even though each actor didn't have that much onscreen time. Talk about coordinating the set and managing a cast of that size.

For the first time in my life, there was not real casting sessions for CLEAN. Since this was a non-union project, we used pretty much everybody we knew from prior projects with whom we had enjoyed working with. Marco Calliari and Sebastien Croteau are both long time buddies... Eric Therrien is a very good friend of Martin Dubreuil with whom I had done Urban Flesh. Chantal Petrin was recommended by west coast director Ron Ford whom I've known for years etc etc

Directing such a large cast was difficult for the first few days (or nights) but I got the hang of it pretty quickly. You need a good booming voice and sometimes you also need to be kind of an asshole... ;-) If you keep a professional attitude, it works out fine.

After it was all said and done, what would you have done differently?

I dont know yet. Maybe wait a couple of years and shoot it in HD ;-) I would probably do a casting session and not overlook small parts.

Another highlight for me was the music. A lot of indie horror films use metal, but not effectively. It usually seems out of place or put in, just for the sake of being put in. It seemed to fit really well with "Clean". Where did you get the music and how did you go about using it the way you did?

The soundtrack has two parts. Half of it was original score by the incredible Colonel 32 from the band Otaku. Its a friend of a friend from San Francisco. I pitched him the project and he liked the idea and the opportunity to try his hand at an original soundtrack. I talked to him on the phone a couple of times for a few hours and then I let him work. He did the rest.

The other half is metal songs from around the world. I approached a few bands and record labels and asked for permissions for specific songs and that worked out. Everybody was extremely cool.

In my opinion, the reason why it worked is that I pursued the songs instead of using whatever bands where sending me. Of course, you cannot always get what you wish for but its worth a try. The fist cut of the film included a song by Danzig and a song by The Doors. The Doors were very cool but asked WAY too much money and Danzig simply ignored us (which is OK with me, I'm still a huge fan).

The film is just over an hour long… is this something that was done on purpose? At the end of the day, did having it just short of traditional 'feature length' cause any issues?

Surprisingly, it did not bother any of the distributors. I even offered to shot a few extra scenes to take it to 75 minutes but they all said it was fine as it is... The short running time is an accident. The script was about 90 pages long and we shot everything but the editing resulted in a shorter film. Thats fine with me. I think its a good length. I hate 3-hour movies... Also, please note that the Brain Damage version of the film excludes a cool scratch video sequence that was cut because of possible right-infringement problems. No lawyer wanted to give me a definite answer on the question so I told BDF it was their call. Their call was to cut it, thus an even shorter film...

How about the festival circuit. Did you enter any festivals? How did that go? What did you learn? And what can you pass on to other filmmakers who've finished an indie horror and want to enter it into festivals?

CLEAN played in only two festivals because I did not send any submissions anywhere. I gave a copy to Mitch Davis from the Fantasia in Montreal because we've been in touch for a long time and I wanted to know what he thought about it. He liked it and offered to play it at the festival. The film also played for two nights in a film festival in Argentina which was fun. Im not a big fan of festivals so I never pursue showing of my films there... Not anymore. People ask me for a permission and I say yes but thats about it.

What about distribution? How's that going? Are there any lessons that you would pass on to other indie filmmakers who've just finished a film?

CLEAN has been picked up by Brain Damage Films about 2 years ago along with GoreGoyles 1 and GoreGoyles 2. Im still under contract with them so I will not complain ;-) Only thing I can say is... be patient. I got an offer for Clean for a lot more money only two weeks after I had signed with BDF. Dont rush into a deal. Wait and see. The first bidder will still pick it up if nothing else shows up.

Where can people find out more about "Clean" or, better yet, buy a copy?

There is a little bit of info on my website at . You can buy a copy there of course but the film is also listed on Amazon and all other online shops. In the US, you can find copies at your local store. If they dont have it in stock, ASK FOR IT. Theyll order it for you (ASIN: B0014567KC). As I said, you can also find copies of GoreGoyles, GoreGoyles 2 and Urban Flesh at the same places. Support 100% indy filmmaking. Buy copies!

What's next? Do you have any projects in the works?

Im currently working for Christian Viel's Movie Seals Productions (SAMHAIN EVIL BREED, RECON 2020, RECON 2022) as a producer. We are now in production on a VERY cool sci-fi film starring Anderson Bradshaw and Deke Richards. This should be ready by the end of the year. We also have a handful of other projects in the mix coming up this winter and next year. I should be returning to directing sometime next year if everything goes right. We are ready to take things to the next level.

You can buy the film off Amazon here or check out Michaud's website here. (love the pic on the front page, btw!)

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