AJT: Mike, at what point did you decide to pursue film as a career?
AJT: Tell us about McFarland and Pecci. What genre or projects did you originally start with?
MP: I started the company long ago on my own, and I met my now business partner [Ian McFarland] probably about nine years ago. And we started off doing music videos for a lot of metal acts. So we were doing stuff like Fear Factory and Meshuggah. We wrote treatments for Ozzie Osbourne and things like that.
AJT: That’s bad ass man. I would imagine that making music videos is a great way start a career. Quite a few solid directors actually started with music videos right?
MP: Yeah music videos… Use to be a pretty big thing back when Fincher and those guys were doing it in that sorta “hay day”, and then you know the record industry sorta died. People started stealing music instead of buying it and the first thing to be cut were all those jobs, like music video directors. Well it still exists but the budgets are so ridiculously small that it makes it very difficult to do the stuff at the scale that we like to do stuff.
AJT: That’s a great point, which brings up the question: Is it possible to make a living as an independent film maker?
MP: If you’re smart about it, you wear multiple hats. Like I taught myself how to be a cinematographer because I needed one, but couldn’t afford one. I spent a lot of time shooting photos and taught myself to be a photographer, and the next thing you know I had a job as a photographer. You know I edit, I shoot, I direct, I write, I do all these different tasks out of necessity because they make me money. And as an independent film maker, I don’t really get paid for being a director yet. Though I usually get paid for making commercials and music videos, that kind of stuff I get paid to direct.
I feel like one of the things that you do if you pursue that kinda life, you just sorta give up money. You give up all the stuff that comes with money - you live with roommates, you pay as little as you possibly can, you don’t really go on vacation. You basically spend all of the money that you have in making things, you know?
AJT: That’s some great insight man. What are some of the influences - as in films or directors that you aspire to and pull you towards a certain genre and level of film making?
MP: I’m in my late thirties man. All the stuff that I grew up loving is the shit that people are flipping out about now. With Stranger Things, all the Carpenter, Spielberg, and Ridley Scott. All of those dudes that made those movies that felt real and scary, probably because I was a kid. And Stranger Things is a great example of it; when you take all those elements that worked really well and you bring them back, they’re fantastic!
AJT: Absolutely, the classics are definitely echoing from these new projects. And I’ve seen clips of your new film, 12 Kilometers. It looks Awesome. And from what I’ve read, it’s been well received. Now I’ve read a bit about the circumstance that you were in which served as a catalyst. Can you tell us how the concept came about?
MP: Yeah… Three years ago my girlfriend asked me to go ice skating for the first time in my life. Stepped out on the ice, my feet came out from under me and I fell back on my skull. I ended up cracking my skull and bleeding internally in my head, which was forming a hematoma and I was in intensive care for about five days. During that time the doctors would not let me go to sleep because they were afraid that I would not wake up. So we had to wait until the bleeding stopped. Because normally what they do is they drill into your skull to release the pressure, but my hematoma was forming on a blood vessel. So if they drilled a millimeter too deep, I would die… It was a lot of touch and go.
AJT: So it’s safe to say that of all your films and projects, 12 KM is your most coveted project to date?
MP: Yeah, it’s my most pivotal project and not just because it’s the last thing that I did, but it’s also the one that I learned the most from – it’s also the most challenging film, it took two years to film. I mean dude, I decided to do a movie in 1980s Russia here in Boston, and the entire movie is in a language that I don’t speak. And even though I am making a film about a Russian drill team that digs a hole, I’m still referencing guys that I know. Actually a great character who’s just an oil worker is based on a good friend of mine who worked for Amtrak, he was super fun and likeable. And you know it’s in the beginning stages that you’re struggling to put it in some sort of reality that makes sense to you. - and the easiest thing to do is to just reach and pull from your own life.
AJT: I’ve done a few experimental short projects myself with virtually zero budgets. And I always start with an idea, and I outline it; but once I’m out there shooting, its not that it warps into something completely different, but it often does transition into a better version of what I had envisioned.
MP: Man that’s directing dude! And mind you, there are some guys out there that it seems like they know all the answers and that they’re fucking geniuses… There’s a misconception that you know when you’re a director - you’re in control and it’s bullshit man. Most of the time, a director is just someone that has an idea for a theme or a vibe… And you’re just manipulating the elements that are thrown at you, that’s it. And a good director is someone that knows that he isn’t the only one that makes the movie. He tries to cast a solid crew of people that can eventually save your ass.
AJT: Great points man. So what’s the best piece of advice that you can give to any aspiring film makers out there?
MP: You know what… I would say… if you’re thinking about going to film school - definitely pick a place that allows you to work on movies immediately. Like… I’ve never needed a film degree. I’ve never been in a pitch meeting or in a client meeting where they said, “Hey, let me see your degree.” And the amount of money and people that are in debt with student loans is astronomical. And in our business it’s really not necessary.
I went to the New York Film Academy in New York, and they sorta glazed over everything. So they didn’t really teach me how to direct, didn’t teach me anything about directing. They taught me how to edit (old school on a steam back), they taught me how to set exposures, and they taught me how to produce. But really it was because I was super curious about that stuff that I took the initiative to learn it that it was useful. So I tell people, if you wanna be a film maker, what you do is you go get a job. Get an internship, go work for somebody, learn every crew position. Like if you wanna be a director, go work for the audio guys, go work for the wardrobe department, go work for the camera department, go learn all of those positions because you’re gonna A) Make connections and B) you’re gonna learn what works and what doesn’t work. So people that have the $45,000 for tuition, I say go shoot two short films instead. You’ll learn more from actually shooting those short films, than if you were going to film school.
AJT: That is some great advice and great insight as well. It’s an interesting point, you know… Do you need a degree to get a pitch meeting? To land a commercial? Or to get a job on a set?
MP: You don’t man and we’re now at the point with YouTube and the internet, that you can actually create your own school. Watch commentaries through interviews, and examine how things come together with behind the scenes - you learn a lot about directing. It’s really hard, it’s very hard to find mentorships in directing because it’s kinda closed off. Well, I was actually fortunate enough to be on the Farley brothers’ sets a few times, and I learned a lot from those guys. And an important thing I learned from those guys, is how they run their sets - they create really friendly and wonderful creative environments. They’re quite the opposite of one of these tyrants you often hear about shitting on people. I don’t put up with any of that. This business is about people and working with people, I don’t care if you are a fucking genius, it doesn’t mean you have the right to be an asshole. Yeah, you don’t wanna shit on people man, it’ll come back to you.
Interview done and written by AJT