Once upon a time, I attended Pittsburgh Filmmakers in Pittsburgh, and tried desperately to learn how to make movies. Most of the instructors there, at the time, taught you how to make "films", however, and as a result, I made a bunch of really crappy, pseudo-arty shorts before I came to my senses. (Actually, I did a couple of roto-scoped animated pieces that didn't make me wince, and a moody experimental piece that wasn't too awful). I made a comedy about a talking MAC machine that is technically one of the worst things ever committed to film. I was an awful cameraman back then. I learned a lot since.
But at the time when everyone else was trying to rip off Kevin Smith and/or Quentin Tarantino, I went in another direction. Amy and I sat down and wrote a haunted house story that I thought I could pull off rather easily. (One of our instructors said it was too ambitious, and I should stick with a dialogue-heavy character piece like the others... seriously, he said that! Like I had written a chariot race in there or something.)
The result was an 18 minute black-and-white piece called "Tenants" about a quartet of friends who move into a house and the house doesn't want them there. I tried to do something close to Robert Wise's THE HAUNTING, where things are suggested through camera movement and tone. I think it's about half-way successful.
It played at our "Senior Screening", most of the other students lower down laughed their asses off at it (and went on to cheer every time the word "Fuck" was used in the subsequent films). About four months later, I'd licensed it to Ron Bonk at Salt City (now SRS Cinema), who immediately put it into the first B-Movie Film Festival (the latest one is this coming weekend!) and put it on a VHS compilation of shorts called "The Cutting Edge" (one of the other films was by Fangoria's Michael Gingold). "The Cutting Edge" was available internationally. I don't think a copy ever sold, but dammit, it was available. And to think before "Tenants", I was thinking about giving up filmmaking entirely.
"Tenants" also played on things like iFilm - where it was roundly criticized - one reviewer offered to put up the budget of our next movie if we promised not to make it. I called him on it, but he never responded...
A couple of years ago, the DVD boom hit, and Ron asked if we'd like "Tenants" included on a new DVD, this time Paul Talbot's anthology, "Campfire Tales". Ron asked us to record a commentary for the film as well, and I ran down two of the other leads to do so. Then he asked me, in the capacity of "Film Journalilst" to record the commentary for "Campfire Tales" as well. Needless to say, I felt somewhat vindictated.
On the other hand, you never recover from you first bad reviews. One asshole wrote that Amy had the emotional range of a cuccumber. I've since learned not to take that stuff personally, but dammit, THAT one was personal!
So, this morning, I get this in my email: "I would like to comment on your film "The Tenants." (Standing Ovation) That was a great film!!!! I finally sat down and watched it and it left you with an eerie feeling of wondering what was there. I loved Amy's line "go open the door and kick him in the head". Amy put on a great performance and I definately need to check out her filmography and track down other films. You did a great job Mike, and I hope that one day I can come up with something that looks that good. I really hated to see the movie end, but at least unlike some movies you closed it out on a good note."
So maybe we're doing something right after all... So, screw you, ghosts of internet critics past! (Okay, that felt good.)
My new "Random Acts of Mike Watt" piece is up today. Another tragic tale of misadventure and romance...