I met director John Pata at my first convention which was Wizard World Chicago. He and his directing partner Adam Bartlett had their feature film DEAD WEIGHT for sale at their table and I immediately noted the quality of the cinematography of the film playing on the table and intrigued to see what the full film looked like I purchased one. My gateway into independent horror, I was shocked due to my low expectations and how they were blown away by this film. I went back the next day and purchased another. That was almost 11 years ago and John and I have been friends ever since. He has been my sounding board when I was starting The Blonde in Front and I’ve supported any of his cinematic endeavors however I can. John is legendary throughout the independent film community for both his influences and involvement in a number of films both big and small that span the genre filmmaking world. Known for his generosity, genuine character and excellent craftsmanship for whatever aspect he is involved with a film, when you meet him you most likely will never forget him. With his third feature BLACK MOLD having its World Premiere and winning both the Audience Award for Best Indie//Feature Film AND Best Actress at Panic Fest I had to get an interview in before he gets a franchise with Marvel or a Star Wars spin-off.
You just had your world Premiere of your feature film Black Mold at Panic Fest, what did you do right after?
We were lucky enough to have a huge number of the cast and crew at Panic Fest, so we all went out for a post-premiere celebration. This group of people are truly incredible and it was so great to just be around each other, laugh, reminisce, and celebrate everyone’s work. Then we headed back to Panic Fest for the karaoke party and I made a fool of myself singing Weird Al’s “Dare To Be Stupid.”
How many films were you involved with at Panic Fest this year?
I somehow ended up with three films this year. BLACK MOLD, which I wrote/directed/edited; BUG BITES, a short directed by my really good friend Danny DelPurgatorio that I edited; and BROOKLYN 45 directed by Ted Geoghegan. I came down for a few days to shoot BTS stills and interview the cast and Ted for the EPK. This is where I first met Jeremy Holm, who plays The Man Upstairs in BLACK MOLD. We sat down for our BROOKLYN 45 interview on December 8, 2021 and Jeremy’s first day on set was exactly three months later on March 8, 2022.
What makes Panic Fest so special to you?
There are a lot of reasons, but at the core of them is the community. The horror community that Kansas City has cultivated is truly unreal. Everyone is so enthusiastic and supportive and welcoming. The fans there are so hungry for the genre, it’s so refreshing to see. And there’s no pretentiousness or attitudes abound, everyone is so damn personable and just wants to have a good time. Also, having the mixture of podcasts and Nightmare Junkhead’s Game of Games makes it about so much more than just watching movies. It’s just fun, so damn fun and for some reason Kansas City/Panic Fest continue to be really, really kind to me.
Oshkosh is your #1 city. Would you say that Kansas City is a close second and why?
I’m not going to do any ranking of cities because that might get me in trouble, but let’s just say that I would have moved to Kansas City years ago if it didn’t get so hot there. I’m the opposite of most people; the older I get, the less I can tolerate hot temperatures. For real though, fuck that heat and double-fuck that humidity.
Black Mold was a very personal film for you as you discussed in the post Q&A. Do you think you’ll make another feature as personal to you as Black Mold?
I didn’t necessarily expect BLACK MOLD to be so personal when I began writing it, it just sort of happened so I can’t really say. However, I think anything I write will always be personal to a certain extent. That’s kind of just how I am.
What did your lead cast bring to their characters that was not on the page?
In a lot of ways, they brought everything. Characters never become 3-dimensional until they’re on set, in wardrobe and makeup, with an actor making choices. There’s a foundation on the page, and the cast built upon that. They brought humanity and life to these characters, as well as their own ideas. Getting to sculpt the characters through collaboration with the cast is such a rewarding experience.
With the weather, locations and overnights this seems like many things could go wrong and yet didn’t on screen. What is the scene that surprised you the most how smoothly it went?
The last scene in the film (scene 35) was 11 pages and I pushed to shoot it over the course of three days. I have never extended a scene over multiple days before, especially one that important and with so much going on. I knew how to approach it but it’s one thing to think about it and another to actually do it. Even over the course of three days, it was a lot of work but it was exactly what we needed to do to craft the conclusion of the film. When we wrapped the third day of the scene, I couldn’t help but think, “Holy shit, we did it!” And of course we did, the cast and crew were beyond incredible and there’s no way we wouldn’t have.
What would you like your cinematic legacy to be?
I don’t think of things like that. It’s been nine years since I’ve directed so who the heck knows if I’ll ever get to direct again. I’d love to, but getting one film made is damn near impossible and I’m not going to assume it’ll happen again. It would be sick as hell if it did, though.
AND the litmus test question for The Blonde in Front; Who is your favorite space pirate?
Some might think this is a stretch, and they might not be wrong, but I’m going with Roland Deschain from The Dark Tower series.
A modern day neo noir thriller with the twists and turns that rival the best in the genre. LACED tells the story of a couple on a secluded weekend getaway where the secrets from their past and present collide in murder. I was fortunate enough to meet with the creatives from LACED at Panic Fest in Kansas City on April 14th. For a dark story they could not have been nicer which is normally the case from what I have found for the creatives in genre film making. Dana was one of the first of the team I met and after watching the film and meeting her in person, it was obvious to me this is a woman that is going to have an incredible career in film.
How has your recovery been since the premiere of Laced and what did you think of Panic Fest?
Dana Mackin: Panic Fest was amazing because everyone there was so informed and enthusiastic about indie filmmaking. For the past 2+ years we’ve all been so focused on the film, and have had to make an active effort to talk to our friends and family about literally anything else. Panic Fest almost felt like a relief, because we could have a 45 minute long conversation with a near stranger about day-for-night shooting, 5.1 mixes, or distribution terms without them checking their watch. In terms of recovery…our team is one of extroverts, but I know that for the first two days back we all just needed a bit of time to recharge that social battery and battle the near-addiction level dependency on red bull that I personally developed the weekend of Panic Fest.
We spoke briefly at the festival regarding the array of films classified within the genre label. What was your gateway drug for each of you into genre films and how did that influence your film career and taste in films for the future?
Dana Mackin: I have a secret to share: I am a huge baby when it comes to “scary” movies. I slept on the floor of my parents bedroom until I was twelve, terrified that I was going to be abducted by aliens or possessed by an ancient demon, and I can admit that I am still absolutely afraid of the dark. When I was but a sheltered little kid at a Thanksgiving gathering one year, one of my ten million cousins decided to throw on Signs in the living room, and I exited that room fully traumatized. For about a decade after that I avoided genre films like the plague, certain that I would be unable to sleep for years after any of them. Imagine my surprise when a friend of mine forced me to watch The Babadook and, despite the fact that I cried at one point, I found myself enthralled with the power of the genre and enthusiastic about the idea of instilling that same reaction in others with my own stories. I think that in a lot of ways, being an absolute wuss has motivated my passion for genre films, because I know how powerfully fear can be translated through the screen.
I spoke with Kyle about how much I love the poster for Laced. It’s not a design that I see that much and I wish I did. How closely were you involved in designing the poster? Have there been any surprising reactions to the poster and what have they been?
Dana Mackin: I am a total maniac and control freak about the art displayed in my apartment. Kyle hung up a 27×40 print of the poster in our kitchen, and it’s still there. It’s Mattisse, Rothko, and now Krasnopolski. I love this poster. So far that’s been the reaction across the board, but I’m curious to see if at any point there will be questions raised about its commercial appeal – I have faith that the general public doesn’t need a heavily edited picture of a fearful face, dripping blood, or a “scary” font to garner interest in a film like this, but I suppose we’ll have to wait and see!
The location and music seemed like the 5th and 6th costars of the film. How was the location found for the film? How important was the music to you and how hands on were you with the involvement?
Dana Mackin: Kyle spent nearly a month obsessing over a temp score for the film – he knew exactly what he wanted for it, and when we found Steph Copeland it was like the film gods had hand-picked her for him. Her hard work and talent elevated this film in a massive way, and she also just happened to be an absolute pleasure to work with. Not only did the cabin provide the perfect set for this script, it also provided a place for all of the cast and crew to sleep during production. I think the fact that it feels like a costar in the film speaks so much to the talent of our DP, Sam Robinson, and the way he and Kyle worked together to make every shot in this single location dynamic and thoughtful.
With starring producing, directing and writing the film along with wardrobe and makeup, Dana and Kyle you had your hands pretty full. Will you be doing the same with your next film?
Dana Mackin: I’ve always thought of myself as an actor by trade, but producing this film has been an incredibly empowering, challenging, and educational experience. I loved being a part of every step of the process, from pre-production all the way through to this space of festivals and marketing, and I feel certain that this is just the start of my journey as a producer. That being said, applying high-stakes special effects prosthetics and then hopping directly in front of the camera to try and deliver an authentic and intensely emotional performance was, in a word, stressful. So I would love to not ever do those two things on the same day ever, ever, ever again.
Where is Laced going next?
SunScreen in St. Petersburg (Florida, not Russia) and hopefully many more festivals after that!
And the litmus test question for The Blonde in Front: Who is your favorite space pirate?
I’m stealing Kyle’s answer on this one – Treasure Planet. Best Mcdonald’s happy meal toys to date, in my opinion.