“Climate of the Hunter” had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest on Sunday, September 22. The film is directed by Mickey Reece, who attended the festival in 2018 with “Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart.”
Reece’s narratives and characters are equal parts classical, adult and complicated. “Climate of the Hunter” is set in the late 1970s. Two middle-aged sisters vie for the affection of a man from their past who may or may not be a vampire. We had a chance to speak with Reece during Fantastic Fest about early beginnings and more. Read the full interview below!
When did know you wanted to direct, write and make your own feature films?
Mickey: I was already into the movies but I saw like “Streetcar Named Desire” in my 20s and I thought, ‘Oh man Marlon Brando is so cool.’ For some reason, I understood what he was doing playing to the camera — somehow I just related to it. I got my friends together and I was like ‘Let’s make a movie. I want to act.’ And then we would make these movies and eventually, these little movies we were making would be a lot better if I was holding the camera because no one else can get the focus right. They weren’t setting up the shots right. They don’t have the same understanding of it.
I eventually transitioned into being a director so it was very important to me to direct actors because I went into it a completely different way than learning it like at a school or anything. I just got into it thinking about ‘How am I going to make, you know, my neighbor look like Marlon Brando?’ You figure out ways to get what you want or manipulate the situation or whatever to get what you want. I kept doing that and having the energy and was like, ‘Oh we’re almost there’ kind of deal and just kept making them and making them and making them, until now we’re here.
How has the experience been from making your first film to the 27th with “Climate of the Hunter”?
Mickey: 2008 or 2009 was the first one we did. We would show these movies at our local music venues and would show three a year. We were just constantly making them. And then it kind of grew out of those and had to move to a bigger space because people started coming. We had to keep moving until now we have to hit the festival circuit.
After a couple of years, like 2010 or 2011 — I can’t remember the year — but after I’d made like six or seven of them I went to Arkansas. There was this lady in Arkansas that some friends introduced me to that had money and liked to support young artists. I asked her for five grand to make a movie and she said yes. And to make a movie in Hot Springs, Arkansas. My head was spinning. I was like, ‘$5,000? Do you know what we can do with all of this?’
I bought a new camera and I bought some new sound gear. We stepped up the movies a little bit and the movies were in HD, which was a big deal. Once I started writing the script and got all the stuff to pay everyone to get out there and said, ‘Let’s make this movie that I wanted to make.’ At some point, I realized ‘You know what? I don’t deserve $5,000 to make the movie because I haven’t seen all the movies.’ I spent a couple of hundred dollars on buying all the DVDs I could off of Amazon and studied Terrence Malick, Sam Peckinpah — all the greats. My film knowledge was still so limited that I knew the shit I liked was good but I didn’t have any reference catalogs.
You tend to direct and write in the horror genre. What are some the films that influence your work and influenced “Climate of the Hunter”?
Mickey: “Climate of the Hunter,” in particular, was kind of like my film “Strike, Dear Mistress, and Cure His Heart” that premiered at Fantastic Fest last year. I was still on an Ingmar Bergman kick so there’s definitely some Bergman influence. Whenever I realized that we had cabins I started thinking about the Bergman film “The Passion of Anna” and how I can incorporate some of that stuff, and then that was more in the writing process of it. Whenever we decided we’re gonna make it a vampire movie it’s like, well let’s take that vampire arc, that vampire lore but mix it up in the way where it still fits into a Mickey Reece movie. Then “Daughters of Darkness,” the ’70s erotic vampire film, influenced the style of how we were going to execute it.
I like the way it kind of intertwined the mental illness and then the two sisters who are kind of vying for this guy but you never really know.
Mickey: I definitely didn’t want to do anything where there’s like a twist or anything because that’s always terrible, always cheesy anytime anyone does that. I wanted to withhold the point and the reasoning sometimes within this stuff, within the lead up to it. That way it’s not so like an M. Night Shyamalan twist whenever she comes out of the bathroom and is like, ‘What the hell did you do?’
No, I think there was a good balance.
Mickey: I had always thought about that in the script: ‘What if this comes off like a twist or something?’
And then what was it like working with Mary Buss, Ginger Gilmartin and Ben Hall? What was it like having them as these characters?
Mickey: Ginger I cast without an audition. I cast her and then wrote the role for her. I said I wanted to get her and Mary together. I was like — I knew Mary was going to be in it and I wanted her and Mary to be together. I wrote around them and then I was introduced to Ben Hall as the best actor in Oklahoma. I met him like, ‘Hey how’s it going. All right.’ We were respectable. The first couple of days we were feeling each other out. Maybe egos at play. I don’t know. But then a couple of nights in I guess we had a breakthrough where we stayed up all night talking about movies and stuff and then all of a sudden all the next days were just wonderful, and now we’re like best friends. It just took a second to develop the relationship.
But with his character, I don’t think it would have mattered either way. But it made everything a lot smoother once we became close. But it wouldn’t have mattered either way for him because he’s just a professional and just like ‘Do whatever’ — it’s like nothing’s going to affect his mood. Or his mood is not going to affect his performance rather. I’d seen Ginger’s work and I was like, ‘We don’t need to do an audition or anything; I just want you to sign onto this thing and then I’m going to write it for you.’ And she’s like, ‘Okay.’ And then we just gradually spent more and more time together and then the same thing — we’re all in these cabins together. So we all became really close and it’s just a really tight-knit family.
What was the turnaround time like since you made it to Fantastic Fest 2019? What was the shoot time?
Mickey: Two weeks. Late January through early February, like the last week of January and the first week of February. I had a cut by March or maybe early April and then we tweaked it, got the visual effects, got the score and then went and did sound and color at the last minute. And here we are now with it.
Can you talk about the score of the film?
Mickey: I edited the movie with “The Childhood of a Leader” score and “The Daughters of Darkness” score. I combined those two and edited the whole thing with those, and then I gave them to my score guy. The music he created has nothing to do with those two scores at all. That was to help me edit and to set a tone. He sees, ‘Oh I see this music needs to be dark here or this needs to be brighter here. This needs to be louder. This needs to be obnoxious; this needs to be subtle.’ And then he just goes and makes his own scores over it.
The film had a nice VHS kind of feel to it. Was that after the fact or did you shoot it that way?
Mickey: We shot in the 4:3 aspect ratio because all the movies we were watching and getting into for inspiration for that movie were all in 4:3. It was a no-brainer to shoot in 4:3. It makes it look very classical, and it’s different to shoot a movie like that. It was different for compositions and framing and was not a challenge but just like ‘Oh this is different.’
What is it that has made you make so many films in a short amount of time when so many people spend years on a film?
Mickey: When I needed to absorb that film knowledge before going to make a movie. I’ve made so many movies now and have absorbed so much of the process and my own personal taste. So there’s not a lot of options for me, where I think a lot of filmmakers will be presented with options or think of the ‘Wait a minute we could do it like this, we could do like this.’ And in that vein, I’m probably not a very good filmmaker for that stuff. I know as soon as I see it what has to happen and what has to be there and have a very specific vision for everything, whether it’s writing, editing or directing. I know exactly what it’s supposed to be because it’s all based on my own taste.
How does it feel being back at Fantastic Fest with “Climate of the Hunter”?
Mickey: Amazing. Right now I can’t imagine my films getting along this well with everyone in any other capacity at any other festival. I’m still new to the festival game but this is obviously amazing and my favorite festival, of course.
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Featured image credit: Rick Kern
Catherine grew up watching action flicks at a very young age which led to her love of film. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelors in Radio-TV-Film in 2012. Always the adventurer, Catherine traveled and lived in Sydney, Australia for a year where she took a selfie with Brad Pitt. She runs Shuffle with passion, lots of caffeine and tacos. When she’s not editing or writing you can find her crafting and planning her next adventure.