We’ve seen some downright bizarre monsters in horror films over the years, but a hulking mass of black fluid? That’s a new one on me.
12 Kilometers started as a proof of concept short, which director Mike Pecci is now expanding into a feature. As he tells us in the following interview, the idea for a diabolical pile of black gloop actually came from a very personal experience.
Dread Central: So, the idea for the film came from a severe head injury that you were unlucky enough to sustain? (See an image of Mike in hospital and his CAT scan below.)
Mike Pecci: This is true. Three years ago I was asked by my girlfriend to go on a date. She wanted to go ice skating. At 35 years old I had never put on a pair of skates so you couldn’t blame me for being nervous about it. Of course I gave in — because she is gorgeous — and thought what is the worst that could happen? Sprain an ankle? So there I am being pulled around on the ice at the beautiful frozen Frog Pond in the Boston Commons. 10-year-old kids are skating circles around me. My girl started to get a bit antsy, and I was determined to tiger this skating thing out, so I sent her off on her own. I watched this kid’s technique and thought, “Oh this is easy.” So I pushed off into the ice. My feet came out from underneath me — I fell backwards — and landed on the back of my head. Last thing I heard was the sound of an old oak barrel splitting.
I open my eyes to a doctor shining a bright light into my eyes. He tells me that I have fractured my skull and that I have internal bleeding putting pressure on my brain. I’m told that I can’t fall asleep because I might not wake up. The next 5 days are a surreal horror trapped in the intensive care ward without sleep and lost on painkillers. I started having waking dreams about my inner voice not belonging to me and how the shadows in the room were alive. I was scared at first, but then completely fascinated. I had to keep track of these ideas, and my girlfriend recorded my ramblings on an iPhone.
The injury took me out of the game for about 5 months. The doctor wanted to wait and see if my brain would absorb the puddle of blood still in my skull. For the first time in 15 years I had to stop working as a director. I was having one of those points in life where you start to reflect and tally your regrets. The only thing I wanted was to finally make a feature film, the one thing missing from my life. If I recovered from this, I was determined that I would do everything in my power to make that happen. In between naps, nightmares, and splitting headaches, I outlined and wrote the first draft to the feature film 12 Kilometers. It was a story about a man losing control over his brain because he was under the effects of an infection that was unleashed from a drill site in Russia. Years before my injury, I had read about this drill team that dug the deepest hole known to man in the 1980’s, and it kept sneaking back into my nightmares. It was a perfect catalyst to tell the kind of feature I wanted to make. A film loaded with nightmares and tackling one of the scariest places on the planet — our mind.
DC: This is a proof of concept of concept short for a feature?
MP: Five months went by and I finally got the all clear from my doctor. Fully recovered, no side effects. I’m one lucky asshole. So I set out putting my feature film plans into action. I knew that there was no way I could raise the funds for a movie like this without showing people what it was going to look, feel, and smell like. I am obsessed with the films from my childhood. Movies like The Thing and Close Encounters. I wanted this film to feel like it belonged next to them on the shelf at the video store. I had to shoot a proof of concept.
Now, before the injury I had just shot a proof of concept/fan film for what I thought would be an awesome Punisher mini-series. My crew and I busted out butts putting together the coolest 5-minute sizzler piece based on the Greg Rucka version of the Punisher. I dropped a teaser for it online and the fans went nuts. People started writing that it looked better than anything Hollywood had ever done. Disney got wind of this and I got that dreaded cease and desist letter from them shutting it all down. Now I was sitting on a short piece that I couldn’t show the world. It was a big disappointment for me, my fans, and my crew.
This time out, instead of doing another sizzler piece, I was determined to shoot a short film that could stand on its own, something I could show in a theatre and really showcase the talents of everyone that had worked on the Punisher. I decided to do an origin tale and tell the story of the Russian drill team and scientists that started it all. This meant that I had to build 1980’s Russia here in Boston. I needed money. Thank god for Kickstarter! We successfully raised just over $16,000. The rest came out of my savings.
DC: How are you making the black fluid seem like a classic movie monster? I understand that you shot it practically? (See images of the creature below.)
MP: So I mentioned that I wanted this film to feel like an old John Carpenter movie, right? Like Spielberg and David Lynch directed an episode of “The X-Files.” Oh yeah… I didn’t have big bucks but I wanted it to look like it cost a million. That meant that everything had to be shot practically. I have been both a DP and director of commercials and music videos for over 15 years, and over time I have fallen in love with the organic happy accidents that you find when shooting practically. There is a great example of this in the film. The camera pans over what looks like an alien landscape to reveal this beautifully shot glob of the creature. I found this shot when looking for my focus. We shot that image using macro lenses and required me to look around for the subject. I watched the monitor and stumbled into that shot. I knew right then and there that it would end up in the trailer! That’s the beauty of shooting real objects; you find those happy accidents. So I teamed up with an amazing director of photography, David Kruta, and he got his hands on a beautiful set of 1980’s Russian anamorphic lenses. When lit correctly, the film would instantly feel the way we wanted because of them.
I then had the hard task of figuring out how I could get an oily substance to move on set. I stumbled onto this substance called Ferro Fluid. It’s a liquid with metallic qualities that could be controlled using magnets. It sounded like a good idea in theory, but I really needed to talk to someone who has used it before. Google “Linden Gledhill.” You will find his website, loaded with the most gorgeous micro photography and amazing shots created with Ferro Fluid. I wrote to him on a whim, asking his advice. How does it work? Is it reliable? Got any tips? He responded immediately and asked to read the script. He is a huge horror fan! I hear back from him the next day begging to be involved! Next thing I know I’m driving to his home in Pennsylvania with a tiny crew. We spend days experimenting with microscopes, magnets so powerful that they could crush your hands, and high-powered lenses. It was there, in the basement of a small home in a residential area, that we found the monster! IT WAS AWESOME!
DC: Will the film be in Russian?
MP: The short film is in Russian. Do I speak Russian? No. Was it hard? You bet your ass it was, but that’s why I did it. Look, the film takes place on a remote drill site in the middle of nowhere USSR. No one there speaks English. I always found it cheesy when films put American actors in movies like this and just give them a lame accent. Actually my favorite films done that way were by John McTiernan (Hunt for Red October and The 13th Warrior) where the movies started in another language, but it slowly transitioned into English. As if the character learned the language. Fun, but still cheesy. I wanted my fantastical story to feel real and scary. The actors had to speak the language. Have you heard the Russian language? It’s brutal and perfect for a horror film!
One of the unseen benefits from this decision was that it really opened me up to amazing actors. Most Russian actors, no matter how much experience, are always cast as gangsters, hitmen, or drivers. Being able to approach talent with a great role was essential to getting my amazing cast! It did make directing a bit more difficult but ultimately required more time doing my homework. That and some great translators on set. Shooting and editing a film in a mother language was fascinating as well. I forced me to see the material at its most basic elements. Blocking, body language, and pacing became the key elements. I was determined to make a film that was fascinating before you read the subtitles. I wanted to craft an experience that was universal, that would be easy to follow, and then when you read the text, it was like another layer of awesome. Will the feature be in Russian? No. It’s a mixed language piece, but English is the main language.
DC: When can we expect to see the short and the feature?
MP: I am putting the finishing touches on the short right now. We just had our first screening at the Boston International Film Festival, and our lead actor, Ara Woland, won Best Actor! I can’t wait to show the world our film, and it starts by hitting the festival circuits as we speak. If you want it to come to your town, write or tweet your favorite film festival and demand they get 12 Kilometers! I’m serious; film festivals will question our running time (28 minutes) unless they know there is a demand for it.
Once the festival circuit is done, we will be releasing it online. Follow me on Instagram @mikepecci or 12kilometers.com for future release info. I will be putting on private screenings for it and fans get first access.
As for the feature, we are currently putting together our pitch packet to approach a few major studios. This film needs the support of a larger studio to make it as scary as I envision it.
I can’t say enough great stuff about this film, and I have so many stories to tell about how it was made and that amazing adventures I have had along the way. Please check it out. If you like it, share it. And follow me on Twitter and Instagram for more!
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