I got the opportunity to sit down with Mike Mort, right after the screening of Chuck Steel:Night of the Trampires! This movie is a fast-paced action horror film set in the mid 80s… all in stop motion animation. Mike is the creator, writer, director and voice actor behind the genius of this film, I am very grateful he agreed to take some time to talk to me in what must have been a very busy day!

If you haven’t seen any of Chuck’s adventures yet, go watch the Night of the Trampires trailer here, as well as the original short film Balls of Steel Justice here.

 

 

Sophie: Evidently this was a labour of love for you, and it really came through, As someone who grew up in the 80s, I was definitely wowed. Can you tell me the movies that really made an impact on you when you were a kid?

Mike: Yeah, I think it terms of horror films, the biggest one was Evil Dead 2. It was the first one I plucked up the courage to watch. I was terrified of horror films for a while. I used to watch monster movies, Ray Harryhausen films, more fantasy stuff. But when I saw Evil Dead 2, it was comedy and horror, I realized there was more to it. So I just kept watching more and more horror as well as action. Like From Beyond and Reanimator. All those types of rubber monster movies, you know? With the emphasis on gore and things like that. Action wise… I don`t know if I can pick a favourite, I`ve always just enjoyed action movies.

During the Q&A, you spoke a lot to the the pace of 80s action movies, so it must be something that just gets you in general.

Yes, it`s also because stop-motion can be a bit laboured when you watch it. It can sometimes be a little bit slow. One of the things I wanted to do with this, was to make it feel like these scenes were happening and we just happened to have a camera there, filming from lots of angles. That meant lots of shots were needed to increase the pace. The pace of the editing can create that excitement sometimes when watching an action scene. In CGI there`s a tendency to stay on one shot, show everything in one shot. Creative editing gets kind of put on the back seat, since CGI has no limits and can show everything without cutting away.

But I like that old approach, where you cut away for a reason. Like a special effect needed to have been joined, so you cut to a reaction and then you come back and there would be a different thing going on. So I purposely tried to mimic that. To a point that when you cut back, you`d see a different puppet head, from the transforming, then go away and back again, another puppet head. It was the limitations of the way those films were shot, but there was something about those limitations that created a certain pace in the film, thanks to the editing. A lot of films nowadays lack that, so I kind of miss it.

Well it definitely has an energy I haven’t seen in a while, particularly when I think about stop motion. I have to ask though, because you mentioned you’ve had this character in your head since you were 15 years old. Did he pop into your head originally as sort of a satire of how they were portrayed in all those films, or…

No, no I really like American culture. Growing up it was something I always aspired to. It was so glamorous… I know as you get older you get more cynical and you see beneath the veneer of things. But there is still something good about the idea in the films of the 80s, that was very clearly good guys vs bad guys. That’s gone away a little bit in films, nobody is willing to say this is the good guy, this is the bad guy. Everything is a bit more gray rather than black and white. I didn’t come up with the character to mock, I was just watching films all the time and I just drew this face in my English book, I was doodling. I drew several more versions. I look at those versions now, because I’ve still got those books, and I can see influences of the films I’d watched just the week before in those doodles. So it’s an amalgamation of all this stuff I grew up with. It’s changed over the years, as a character he’s become a bit more finessed I hope. But it definitely wasn’t a joke at the expense of Americans, it’s an homage.

These creations of theirs are so unabashedly over the top, it’s easy to either cheer or boo, there aren’t really any feelings in between. There is something to be said for that, it’s memorable. Well done recreating it.

It was meant to celebrate all that crazy stuff in those films, yeah.

It was very nostalgic, and I appreciated it. Part of what got me was the music! I saw you had some Saxon, Judas Priest… we’re you a bit of a metal head?

I am a metal head *guilty smile* I never had the long hair though. I’ve never been a concert person, I’m not one for crowds, so I’d just buy the music. Old school as well, all CDs. I don’t stream it or anything. Heavy Metal and rock has got… well that’s probably a nostalgia thing with me as well, but it’s just got a vibe that’s positive to it, and I connect with that. It’s not ashamed to be over the top.

This has to be the first time I hear CDs referred to as old school *laughs* instead of vinyl! I feel so dated.

Well they are now *laughs*

You say you’re not much of a crowd person, are you enjoying the festival despite this?

Oh yeah, that’s fine. It’s not… the concert crowd just has a vibe I don’t like.

Back to the movie *laughs* So this was the second screening, from my understanding, where was the first screening?

It was at Annecy Animation Festival, in France. It’s a well known animation festival, we did three screenings there. It went really well and had some nice reviews, so fingers crossed that carries on. The crowd seemed to enjoy it.

Fantasia has a perfect crowd for this as well, we look for this sort of thing. So now you’re looking for a distribution deal?

Yeah we’re doing the rounds and talking to distributors. It’s early days since we’ve only a couple of months ago completed the film and we’ve only shown it in two places. But we’re in conversation with a number of distributors, we’re gonna see how that plays out over the next few months. It’s exciting, and kind of scary as well. Because we want to get it right. The amount of work that’s gone into this, four years of work. Plus you want to make your money back, as well as enough to make another one.

You seem to have ideas about a sequel already, has it been simmering for a while?

*smiles* I have a few ideas for different sequels. We’re working on other ideas as well, that aren’t Chuck Steel, different ideas. All stop motion. We don’t want to stick to a ‘house style’, we want to vary things a little bit. We always want to make things cinematic, but we don’t want them to all have that same look and techniques. It’s gonna be good stories and fun.

That does sound interesting, would you bring them to Fantasia as well?

Yeah! It’s gonna take a while though… four years probably *laughs*

Take your time *laughs* I saw how much you’d progressed between this and Balls of Steel Justice, the original Chuck Steel short film, I mean, everything was just turned up to 11 in this movie. Given how long Night of the Trampires took to produce, I imagine there must have been some learning while you worked on it?

Yeah, it has been a learning experience, but it was also that I knew what I wanted to do with the film for a while. So it wasn’t like I was finding a way to do this , it was in my head, and we had the storyboards and knew what we needed it to be. The short film was done in my basement because we didn’t have any finance or anything. It was just me making everything, and I was gonna spend however long it took to get the shot. Then I met my partners and they in financing, and as soon as we finished the short film, they said let’s make a feature film! And I had this script from 2001, I’d written it back then. That’s why some of the jokes…

Some of the comments from the crowd was about sensitivity to the jokes. Things have gotten more sensitive since I wrote the script. We only did certain adaptions to bring it up to date. I din’t really want to worry about that stuff too much. I just wanted to do what I thought was funny. I did update a few things though. I remember Will Ferrell said a thing about the Twilight films, and he called one of them a Trampire in his skit. I was like oh right, he’s nicked that word now. So I had to stick a line in there to try to counteract that. If anyone noticed. I don’t think anyone did, but it’s just one of those things.

You did a great job adapting it then, I don’t think anyone was offended by any of it.

I do think everyone is a bit too PC these days. I know there’s reasons, with everything coming out, but it is going a bit too far in places. We need to chill a bit perhaps.

I agree, and art is a good place to express that *laughs*  Where are you off to next?

Do you know about Frightfest, in London? We’ve got a screening there, that’s our next one. That’s gonna be fun. We’ve got a festival run probably throughout the rest of this year. All the while trying to do the distribution thing… if we get distribution we might have to stop doing Festivals. We will see. I do want it to get out there.

***

Read my review of Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires here!

You can keep track of where Chuck Steel is going next on their website right here!

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