To celebrate the release of the new horror flick American Mummy on DVD and Blu-ray from Wild Eye Releasing, Don interviews legendary director Charles Pinion.
Pinion is a visual artist and director who made the punk rock skateboard zombie movie Twisted Issues (1988), the post-Cinema of Transgression witches in the snow movie Red Spirit Lake (1992) and the gritty San Francisco cannibal movie We Await (1996).
American Mummy is designed to be the first instalment in a new franchise.
So let’s start at the beginning. Where did the genesis for the project come about and what lead to your involvement in it?
Greg Salman came to me with the title American Mummy in spring of 2004. We were kind of surprised that no one had used the title yet, so we were excited about that. We thought we might set the backstory in the 1800s, where a sentient, possibly interstellar non-corporeal entity, traveled from host to host in a Native American village. Finally the villagers managed to confine this host into one person, who they buried deep in the earth. This buried being is unearthed and awakened in modern times, and that would be what the movie is about.
My concerns were more about the viral nature of the entity, how it got from host to host, and not so much with Native Americans or American history. Greg took a more specific historical approach, and suggested we broaden the meaning of “American” to include the whole South and North American continent. He had been doing research and settled upon the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca, Lord of the Smoking Mirror, and that is the deity at the heart of American Mummy.
As an aside: we briefly flirted with the (silly) notion that American Mummy’s backstory would be about Betsy Ross’ sister, who REALLY sewed the first American flag, but is murdered by Betsy so that Betsy would get the credit. The sister is mummified in an American flag, and awakens in the modern day, seeking revenge, and some re-writes to the history books!
What did you originally want to do with the film to separate it from the glut of other mummy movies out on the market?
In 2004, I think we just liked the name and really wanted to make the movie. We had originally planned to shoot it in 2006, in MiniDV. Greg had a line on a camera that was this new-fangled format, HDV, and we were excited about that!
We planned to camp out in the desert and shoot the movie in 10 days or so, living and shooting in the camp. I was probably going to act in it, too, but after being in my previous movies I was really looking forward to only working behind the camera this time. In any case, the financing fell through at the last minute. We stayed in touch over the years, and one day the money came through to make it, as long as we shot it in 3D. This was right after Avatar came out, so 3D was on everyone’s mind.
To answer your question, I think once we decided on an Aztec mummy, we thought we were already pretty separate from other mummy movies.
Are there any inherent challenges in shooting a movie like this in 3D versus a regular format?
Yes! Yes!! (Hysterical crying.)
Details. Okay, let’s see. The simple science behind parallax and the subsequent illusion of 3D is pretty unyielding. 3D has rules. Certain shots don’t work in 3D that would work fine in 2D. Certain moves don’t work. Frantic, shaky camera absolutely doesn’t work in 3D, unless you want your audience to vomit. A certain cinematic pugnacity and desire to provoke that my earlier works possess had to be roped in a bit by the 3D (as well as by the expectations of my producer-partner and his hard-won investors).
Was there any fun set stories during shooting that you’d feel like sharing?
Well, the winds out in the desert were tremendous. Tremendous. I camped out on the set while most cast and crew stayed at a motel in the nearest town. The night before our first day of shooting, it was so intense I felt like I inside my sleeping bag was tobogganing down a wind tunnel. When I got up in the morning, our entire camp had been flattened.
Wait, this isn’t a fun story. Fun for the wind, I guess!
There’s a pretty funny extra on the American Mummy disc called “What’s the axe for?” where Albert and Max try to get through a scene without cracking up.
The truth is that filmmaking is as fun and funny as it is difficult. The absurdity of the whole process can really sneak up on you in the wee hours as you’re trying to shoot a scene.
After nearly twenty years away from the director’s chair, did you find it fun or challenging to get to this all over again?
To be clear, I had busy in the intervening years. I wrote a screenplay THOUSAND EYES in 1996 that eventually brought me to LA. Meanwhile, I edited documentaries, made music videos, and generally kept projects alive on various burners. But to answer your question: both fun and challenging!
Are you going to be involved in the remaining chapters of the proposed trilogy? If you are, what plans do you have to further the storyline?
Going into this, Greg and I agreed that he would direct the sequel, if there was one. I would still be involved as a writer and would be on set.
The brief gist of where the story is going is that the mummy Tezcatlipoca wants to become more embodied over time, so that he can return to his temple in Mexico City and rule again in his former glory. And that is going to take a LOT of blood!
How does the film compare to your previous works, considering the amount of attention they have received over time?
American Mummy is not nearly as anarchic cinematically as my previous work. However, the events that occur within American Mummy’s more controlled shot-for-3D frames will be familiar and I hope pleasing to those who like my other stuff.
So, the last question, do you have any other projects coming up you’d like to share with our readers?
Greg Salman and I are mulling over a new American Mummy film that might or might not be an “official” part of the trilogy but would be an interstitial, smaller story before the ambitious Chapter Two.
My feature THOUSAND EYES remains on indefinite back-burner and a horror feature DARK CANYON is another screenplay I have in development.
I’ve been shooting/editing with horror legend and Bizarro proponent, John Skipp, on book trailers for his Fungasm publishing line, and continue to work sporadically with my Chezerez Jourdain partner Jordan Ellis on his films and videos.