Interview with Absentia Director Mike Flanagan

What do you mean you have not witnessed Absentia? The film almost every critic who has seen it, already has a place for it in their top ten of 2011. Lets talk to the man behind the film. In a series I call, get to know your indie directors this is part 2…Mike Flanagan

1.What made you want to be a director?

I’ve wanted to do it since I can remember. I loved movies as a kid and started making little VHS movies when I was in 5th grade. I think movies have a tremendous power, not only to entertain but to really unlock the imagination of both the filmmaker and the viewer. It’s amazing how lost and absorbed we can get in a two dimensional image, and really a testament to the power of our minds.

2.What does the term ” indie” mean to you?

I like to think it means operating completely outside of the studio system, but that doesn’t really cover it anymore. As a true indie filmmaker it’s often very discouraging to see an “Independent Film Festival” filling its program with multi-million dollar films that feature A-list stars, and still call them “Independent.”

I think real independent cinema is easier than ever to produce, and that’s a mixed blessing. But once you hit a certain budget, pre-sell your foreign and domestic rights, and bag big-time talent from last summer’s blockbusters, you should be made to surrender the “Indie” badge.

3.Do you think the internet gives too many people way too much freedom?

I’m not sure what you mean by that … to my knowledge the internet doesn’t give or take anyone’s freedoms, it just makes information available to the masses for better or worse.

4.Do you think when someone blames the budget as to why a film is not that well received, is fair, or that they are looking for a scapegoat?

I wouldn’t say scapegoat, but I think it’s been proven again and again that a low budget is no excuse for poor storytelling, and that an enormous budget can never make up for a lack of good storytelling. A film has so many moving parts; you can’t ever really fault one thing for the success or failure of a movie, except perhaps the script. That’s the only aspect of a movie that can be created essentially for free, and if that’s bad the rest of the project doesn’t have much hope of working out well.

5.Do you think females get a fair shake in indie films and the industry in general?

I think women are exploited as a rule in films, largely because movies tend to play to their largest audience demographic, who happen to be teenage boys. There’s an immaturity in attitude in a lot of films, and unfortunately a lot of movies that defy that trend don’t tend to perform in the box office, so it’s as much the fault of the audience as the filmmakers. Hollywood does produce better films that don’t tend to exploit women, but people don’t tend to turn out in vast numbers to see them, so who’s really to blame?

The horror genre is particularly guilty, and often adds insult to injury by mixing the sexual exploitation with violence. I don’t want to stand on a soap-box, and certainly have spent my share of time watching movies that seem to center around blood-soaked boobs, but I think it’s important to be aware of the problem.

“Absentia” is the first time I’ve written my lead characters as women, and it made me a better filmmaker.

6.What was the last film beside your own, that blew you away?

“Lake Mungo,” by Joel Anderson. Knocked me off the couch.

7.Do you think indie films have too much freedom and that some films go way too far in its content and subject matter?

I don’t think indies have any more or less freedom than anyone else, but they can have the luxury of not having to craft their project for a mass audience. There’s a trend toward torture porn in horror, though that’s hardly just on the indie level. I hate that kind of movie in general, and a lot of indie directors head down that path thinking that if they really go for broke in the depravity department that it’ll kick open a door to them. I think it alienates them, unfortunately.

Cinema has the power to push boundaries and sometimes it’s done to great effect (“Martyrs” comes to mind, or “Imprint”) but it takes a pretty remarkable vision to infuse such depravity with purpose, and I think that quality is lacking in the indie world AND the studio world.

That said, and probably more to your point, indie filmmakers can also suffer because they don’t have the oversight the studio system puts in place. They can chase a concept too far, or linger far too long on story beats because no one is there to tell them it’s a bad idea.

8.How would you deal with an actor or actress who who was not fully behind the vision and script?

On my level most actors are too glad to be working to fall into that kind of pattern, and I like to think that they’ve read the script and are already behind the vision before they come on board. But if not, it’s all about finding a way to make them deliver the performance you want while still being true to their own vision of the movie. Most of the time that kind of give and take is one of the biggest joys of movie-making.

I had an actor in one of my earlier movies who didn’t learn his lines for a big death-bed scene, and it could have been a disaster. We actually wrote the lines out on post-it notes and stuck them to the face of the actress lying in the hospital bed, so he could read them for his close-up. We removed them for her close-up, and no one was the wiser. There are always ways, and solving those problems are some of fun puzzles of indie filmmaking.

9.Do you think youtube directors are a insult to people who went to school and learned the trade?

Not at all. If they can tell a good story, I think that’s great. If you’re talking about those truly, awfully amateur movies that pop up on YouTube that are barely watchable, I think those people might want to try to hone their skills a bit.

I don’t consider them directors, though. I barely consider MYSELF a director; I feel like you can’t claim to be something like that until someone pays you to perform that function professionally. I make my living right now as a reality television editor. Until someone pays me to direct a movie, whenever somebody asks me what I do for a living, I tell them I’m a television editor.

Saying you’re a “director” because you film a home movie and put it on YouTube isn’t an insult to anyone else, it just isn’t accurate.

10.Do you think the government should take more steps to stop illegal downloading? And how do you feel when you see a review of your film on a site that you know you did not send anything to and do not know how they got it?

Piracy and illegal downloading is particularly harmful to indie filmmakers. I know a lot of people that don’t feel any guilt pirating “Transformers 2,” and enjoy this kind of Robin Hood vs. the studios feeling they get from it, but when people pirate an indie they’re not only taking money directly out of the filmmakers’ pockets, they’re potentially ruining their chances of being properly distributed. I know of several independent films that have lost distribution offers because their movie was already available for free on Torrent sites.

I don’t think it’ll ever go away, but I like to hope that people realize that pirating little indies only makes it less likely that those indie filmmakers will be able to make another film.

11.What is your personal goal, dream?

I’m living it. All I’ve really wanted is to find a fantastic life partner, be a good father, and make movies for a living. I’m two thirds of the way there, and hopefully “Absentia” will help me finally turn this into a career.

12.Do you think alot of blog critics and for that matter youtube and other website critics are harsh on indie films?

Sure, but they’re just as harsh on studio films. People love movies, and some people love to hate movies. That’s fine. I wish more sites would give indies a fair shake, as it’s tough to get attention without the studio weight behind you, but I completely understand why they don’t. There’s a lot of indie shit out there.

13.If this never came to be, or had to end tomm. What would you do for a living?

I would want to be an astronomer. I love the work of people like Carl Sagan and am fascinated by the nature of our reality and existence.

14.If anyone wanted to get started in this biz, what advice would you give?

Get ready to be very, very frustrated. For a long, long time.

15.This is your chance to promote, pimp and thanks so much

Thank you! Check out updates about “Absentia” at http://www.facebook.com/l/f25aamPLysrEQNpFwTRv9KH6Lyw/www.absentiamovie.com, and keep an eye out for “Oculus” sometime late next year!

 


  • Mike, I am in the same boat. I am glad I got to see this film when I did early on as well. This film has so much hype. All these critics are already putting it on their end of the year lists. When I decided to do this indie spotlight series his name was my first pick. Wait till you see next week who was number 2.

  • I loved seeing this interview on here. Absentia was a movie that I could really get behind and felt very fortunate to have experienced it early. Mike Flanagan deserves all of the praise he is getting right now.