Interview with President Wolfman director Mike Davis
No lights? No camera? No problem! With Hollywood film crews shut down over the past few months in the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic and its continued spread, the creative community is scrambling to figure out how to produce content remotely. Traditionally run studio sets that depend on close physical collaboration are off the table as social distancing is not a viable option. And while Zoom conferences provided a novel diversion, a sustainable form of scripted entertainment they are not. Filmmaker Mike Davis has come up with an innovative solution by creating feature films out previously existing footage, which he painstakingly re-edits with new dialogue and music recycled into what he dubs “green movies.”
How did you come up with the idea for quarantine filmmaking?
MD: I’d been collecting stock footage for years. Bits and pieces of old industrial shorts, educational films, public domain b-movies. I love the grainy look of scratched 16mm film, something nostalgic and subversive all at once. It comes from years of watching weird late night cult films on television as a kid. I began making my own films out of the footage, music videos, but I wondered if I could put together a full length feature with a plot and a story.
And this footage that needs to be purchased and licensed?
MD: I only use public domain material, meaning it’s lost its copyright or never held a copyright to begin with. Most films in that category are from the 1940s through ‘70s which is the disadvantage, except for me because I love the look, I’m all right with my films looking like they came from that period and it’s conducive to comedy and satire since visually it’s often funny to look at.
By piecing together random clips, how do you maintain continuity and characters?
MD: Well, there is cheating involved. I need to start with something long form as a base in order to have enough footage of a lead character to work with. For President Wolfman I used 1973’s The Werewolf of Washington which is not about the President, but it does feature a werewolf running around the capital which gave me a lot to work with. I combined that with over one hundred other sources. Some of those had an actor who resembled the guy in the original film, so I used it. Like stories you hear of an actor dying hallway through production and they need to shoot a double only showing the back of his head.
What is the plot of President Wolfman?
MD: On the eve of his re-election, the President of the United States is bitten by a werewolf and goes on a rampage, killing off his opponents one by one. He must hide this from his young son, girlfriend and of course the public, all while dealing with China’s bid to take over America and serving as judge at the Miss America Junior Miss beauty pageant.
Did you have to keep story elements from the original footage?
MD: No. The first thing I do when compiling clips is to erase the soundtrack. I don’t want to know what the characters are saying because I don’t want it to influence or hamper how I use it. Once it’s all edited together in sort of a “silent movie,” I write a script and have voice actors record the dialogue. So I’m guided by the visuals as to what is going to happen, but what they say is entirely new. I plug in the words into the actors mouths like a bad kung fu movie, but the audience is pretty forgiving and seem to play along with the joke.
Then the process is exactly backwards from a traditional production?
MD: I suppose. I start with the finished product first, the filmed footage. Then do the story and script. Sound, too, is really important. It’s what sells the technique to the viewers and gives the feeling of consistency. Same with music.
Is that also public domain?
MD: In most cases, it’s royalty free, which means it was bought kind of wholesale and very affordably. I actually composed the President Wolfman theme song and a couple of tunes were written by the star, Marc Evan Jackson.
There also appears to be in the film animation. Where did that come from?
MD: There’s an amazing psychedelic cartoon commissioned by the US government for the American bicentennial that has all kinds of patriotic imagery and came in handy for transitions. But also elements that were added by our producer Miles Flanagan that really accentuate the humor in many of the scenes. He added all the teletype subtitles, which is one of my favorite things in the movie not just because they’re fun but a great example of the creative collaboration that was involved in the making of the movie despite the fact that we were all hunkered down separately in our respective basements.
Is this your first foray into filmmaking during a pandemic?
MD: It’s the first to be released during one! So it’s timely. But I’d done a previous movie called “Sex Galaxy,” an homage to sexy sci-fi movies of the 1960s, which has become quite a cult hit. I’m working on a new film that deals with the current social climate, police violence and racism. It’s funky, very Seventies. Should be a real kick!