Celluloid Screams - Don Thacker Gives Us a Talk on Motivational Growth
DC: How was the puppet manipulated? The effects guys did a fantastic job.
DT: It was cable controlled. We had three puppeteers on a bench underneath the set, and Steve Tolin himself puppeteered the centre portion of the mouth and the in and out movement. I think the biggest testament to them, and it blew my mind, was that I was editing and I was logging all the footage. Because the audio levels are always different, I had my audio turned all the way down and I was just sorting stuff. I was sorting by lip reading all the people... and then I got to The Mold, and I got about twenty minutes in and realised I was sorting Mold footage by reading its lips! Which is ridiculous; it's a puppet! I'm reading a puppet's lips to sort the footage!
They did an amazing job. We had video that we were working off of to figure out how we were going to do it, but they didn't really need it. They were just intuitive. We actually planned a bunch more time than we needed to shoot The Mold scenes, because they got into it and just clicked and started nailing it. About twenty minutes after they started the first tests on set, they were just ready to go. They all had headsets and lines, and Steve Tolin would trigger the lines and there'd be a beep in their headset and they would start. So it was giving a live performance – we had The Mold's voice coming out of a speaker on the set. So our actor was interacting live with this thing, which you can't do with CGI. We really wanted somebody to be dealing with another [physical] thing. When I gave direction, I gave direction directly to a fungus. I didn't talk to the guys underneath, I talked to the fungus. It was really funny... between takes it would talk and would make fun of people and shit. It wouldn't do it in Jeffrey Combs' voice – it would do it in their voice – but it was still funny. It was really cool. They kind of just kept themselves warmed up by fucking around. You can see in the 'Behind the Scenes' when people are setting up shots The Mold is always talking to the Director of Photography. Like, he's setting up a camera and The Mold is like 'hey sweet tits, how you doing'. It's really funny to see, and they're just making sure their chops are clean and they know what they are doing.
DC: Jeffrey Combs does the voice acting for The Mold. You've mentioned that all of his lines were pre-recorded before shooting?
DT: We recorded him first for a couple of reasons. First, I wanted to do this thing where we played him live. I could not afford to have Jeffrey Combs for twenty-eight days! My film is considered ultra low budget, under 250,000 dollars, which means I got Jeff for a good price – quote unquote – but that good price was not... I mean it was more than was required, but a lot less than he makes [normally].
Reason number two was that if I screwed up the Jeffrey Combs part, we didn't have a movie. So we had to do that part first so we didn't waste a bunch of time finishing this movie if I had ruined it.
DC: Did you know Jeff before making the film?
DT: I didn't. I know him a lot now! We're like buddies. This is how cool he is... he still gives me time. He'll just send me a text just to say how are you doing. He doesn't need to do that – I'm nobody! He knows famous, famous, famous people! I'm just this guy and he has no problem sending me text messages to say hello and stuff.
What's really interesting is how committed he was to the role, when it was nothing. It was two days' work, six hour days... nothing. It was a break for him! I mean, he's in the theatre doing 'Nevermore' with Stuart Gordon and all this cool stuff. My movie was just a blip, I mean, nothing. But he came on the day and he just nailed it, and gave a performance that's unique – unlike anything he's done before. People are like 'I didn't even realise it was Jeffrey Combs until halfway through' and I'm like yeah, he was acting! It was really neat to see how he committed and delivered for someone he didn't [have to] – I mean, his career isn't going to be made or broken by my movie. He doesn't need my credit, but to see that he committed so wholly – it wasn't surprising [per se], but it was surprising for me as a nobody... as I said in the Q&A that guy was working with Peter Jackson! He's right now working with Stuart Gordon! I'm nobody! Why is he giving me so much care? Calling me up on the phone and asking what you think about this and what do you think about that.
DC: How did you get in touch with Jeff initially, and was he your first choice for the role of The Mold?
DT: He was always my first choice. I had another guy whose name is similar in star power but whose voice has been used in horror movies before as a bad thing. We talked with the agents and everything but we had to pull out because my producer and I had a conversation – and he was a backup, he was in case Jeff said no – we didn't go to this guy since his voice was used in genre pictures before and we were worried that people would immediately associate with that [rather than the character].
If Jeff didn't go, I don't know what we would have done since I wrote parts of it just for him. He was our first choice. It was kind of like – I'm gonna do it! I'm gonna do it all the way and get everyone I want! Which I'm surprised happened! (laughs) Eventually, through a series of interesting events we ended up talking to his voice agent. He gave the script to Jeff, who read it on a plane, I believe, and gave me a call afterwards, then read it again and seemed to like it. We talked for a couple of weeks leading up to the actual shooting, and then before shooting we worked out exactly where we were going [with the character]. Then we started talking about the voice itself. One thing I really wanted was to maintain purity of the voice. Everybody involved with the film expected that there was going to be some kind of sound effect – some kind of gross sound, reverb or something we were doing with his voice that changed it. I told Jeff straight up that we weren't going to touch his voice... we want to fall in love with the voice a little. I kinda lie, because deep deep deep into the mix, my sound guy put some squishy sounds back there, but it's super light and it only just accents the big moves that he does – but it's not covering the voice or augmenting it in any way. I wanted you to be able to fall in love with this voice and trust it, but then when it gets angrier or hard I wanted it to be threatening.
DC: With Jeff recording his part of the film in isolation, was there much scope for improvisation or physical involvement on his behalf?
DT: I brought Adrian DiGiovanni with me [to see Jeff]. Great actor... days before coming here he had won Best Actor for the film at I think it was the Tucson TerrorFest. He's really nailed it, but he never really worked beyond super-Indie stuff, so I wanted to put him in the presence of somebody who had been on giant movies just to show him. It's a different feeling. I worked out in LA for a while, and been on bigger pictures. I knew the feeling of Indie people versus 'legit' nine to five actors whose job it is to be on set all day long – not being a waiter or whatever else and act sometimes. So I had to fly him out with me and sit him in the presence of a cult icon, and have this guy just blow his mind.
He said in interviews before, and there's one on our website where he points it out, that he really had to up his game. He was intimidated and scared, and shocked into this new level of acting. There's this thing we call 'Combsing It', which is where Jeff goes all the way. Like, you have an idea of what it could be, but Jeff just nails and it and keeps going – that's 'Combsing It'. So we brought Adrian along with Jeff and they worked it out. So on the day, it was more... not rote memory kind of stuff, but [the character of] Ian on the recording is a lot less interesting that Ian on the day, because between the time we recorded Jeff and when we shot the movie, Adrian made Ian a much bigger, better and more complete character because he was so intimidated and shocked by Jeffrey Combs.
We brought Jeff to the set only once. He was in Chicago for a Star Trek convention or something, and we drove him over to the set to show him and he said to me what is possibly one of the best compliments I've ever gotten. Not just to me, but my set designer Rae Deslich... we showed him the set and we showed him The Mold and he said man, I've been on Star Trek for eight years or whatever and those people know how to make sets. Now this... this is a legitimate set! We were like WOW, because we're in a paper plant – this shitty warehouse in South Chicago – I was so stunned and amazed. It was great. So he was as connected to the film as he could be; he's a busy dude.