Dan McCloy’s latest film So I Scare You? is out now. Watch the disturbing trailer before you read the interview…if you dare. Next enjoy learning about how Dan creates very low-budget horror films. This is a filmmaker interview!
Do you consider yourself “creative?” How do you express that creativity?
I do consider myself to be creative, often to the detriment of my ability to function in normal situations. I tend to daydream about odd things because I find myself getting bored easily. I‘ve retained virtually nothing I learned in school because of this. My mind was always concocting vivid, exciting scenarios from viking invasions to zombie outbreaks to bubbly creatures bouncing into the classroom and knocking over all the desks. I related much more strongly to my imagination and to this day can retain great details about daydreams from as far back as third grade, but I couldn’t solve a basic algebra problem with a gun to my head.
I tend to express my creativity via drawing, painting, music, and saying blatant nonsense with a straight face, to see if others fall for it. Currently I express my creativity through making micro-budget films. Filmmaking has been the most creatively challenging and satisfying because it encompasses everything I have ever learned or found interesting; writing, illustrating storyboards, design, music, crafting props and effects, digital art, and so on. In the editing stage, which is the most fun for me, you mold the results of your efforts together into what becomes the final manifestation of all your work. In some ways you have total control. However, in other ways you just have to step back and let your footage evolve into what it’s going to be, which might be different from what you had originally planned. It is a fascinating process.
How did you become interested in your creative practice?
It came from a dark place. I had battled with addiction and when I came out the other side I realized I had become something I wasn’t proud of, and had not created anything other than maudlin guitar music in quite some time. I felt I needed to redeem myself and the best way I knew was to leap into something I had always imagined but never attempted, making a feature length film. I’ve always been a huge fan of horror films, a genre in which extremes can be explored. I hated the fact that so many of them have been made by cynical people looking to make a quick buck or as a gateway to “legit” films. I felt that I could create something unique and honest. Of course I had no idea just how difficult it would be.
Where do you “find” your ideas?
Usually something will just pop into my head. If I find something odd, scary, or funny and it spreads like a virus in my brain, then I know it is worth pursuing.
My ideas kind of find me. The idea for my last film evolved from a one-liner I heard on The Muppets. Statler and Waldorf are trying to find something to watch on TV rather than continuing to watch the live Muppet show in front of them. The TV guide lists “Beach Blanket Frankenstein.” Couldn’t get the title out of my head. I thought, “Dammit! Someone needs to make this!”
I get inspired to make about one film per year, so no. On a daily basis I might have a dozen or more ideas, but most of them just go with the wind. Like I said, if for some reason one of them sticks, or if I find myself visualizing it over and over, and it starts to evolve seemingly on its own, then it is probably viable. My last film was a musical, for which I wrote and performed all of the songs. The riffs and melodies simply popped into my head and refused to go away until I had recorded them. People asked me how I did it and my response is that it was easy. It just came out. Other times I will beat my head against the amp trying to come up with a decent riff, and nothing will happen. If I acted on all of my creative ideas I would probably be incarcerated.
What are you working on currently?
I just finished Beach Blanket Frankenstein, a musical/comedy/horror spoof of the beach movies of the 60’s. We shot it in four days for the price of a used car. We had a great cast. I am very happy with how the film turned out. Currently I am working on promotional materials to get the word out and I will also submit to a few film festivals.
Now that I’ve seen the trailer, tell me about your childhood.
Childhood? I lived in two worlds where I was on the periphery of my father’s life in Seattle. It included going to AA meetings and being exposed to gay culture at an early age. I also lived in working class suburbia and hung out with my dice-rolling redneck anarchist friends. Never really fit into either world but I think it gave me some insight as to how people are just people and differences are often exaggerated in order to make one group of people feel superior to another.
How have you made it financially possible to focus on this film?
I lucked out and got a job which pays pretty decently and allows me some freedom with my schedule. Most small time filmmakers have to crowdfund their films or mug their dentist. I am lucky enough to be able to finance my films myself, along with my wife, who is co-producer and also acts and makes costumes. I am also fortunate to be my own writer, producer, director, editor, cameraman, visual FX supervisor, and music director. Otherwise I would have to pay a bunch of people to do that stuff.
Do you think artists should starve?
I think artists should stay hungry and stay true to themselves. Starving sucks and it can sap your self-esteem, so be sure to eat well. The imagination needs calories. I think if someone feels the compulsion to “starve for their art” they are probably dysfunctional and possibly a masochist. It is positive and healthy to be driven and passionate about your art, but you have to keep a roof over your head as well. There is a balance.
That being said, our society definitely undervalues artists. People who are not creative have no idea about the amount of work involved in the creative process. Paintings, songs, books, and films do not magically appear in order to entertain you. They are the result of someone’s blood and effort.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work?
Well, for years my challenge was trying to be a working artist. In the past, I did freelance illustration and also worked as a caricature artist. I had periods where I did well along with periods where I didn’t. I always had at least a part-time job in order to be sure the rent got paid. When I was in my early twenties, I graduated from art school and immediately landed a sexy job as a janitor. It was a challenge to remain upbeat and inspired while mopping up the detritus of many a flooded toilet.
I think the greatest challenges have always been internal. Staying positive and driven when it seems that no one but you gives a hoot about what you struggle to create. No matter how twisted or silly some of my art may seem, it is still a piece of me which I am throwing out there for the world to see. To be judged harshly or ignored always stings, so the challenge is sometimes to dig deep and continue to do work which is an honest part of yourself, in spite of what the rest of the world seems to think.
Have you ever reached an impasse where you thought the project had become impossible? What changed your mind?
Only briefly, but I kicked my ego to the curb and figured out a way. The only limit is yourself. You may have to alter some things and be flexible, but there is always a way. In any art there is the ideal you strive for, then there is what you can actually do with the means at your disposal. My goal is to always have the smallest gap possible between the ideal and the reality.
How can people view and stay up-to-date with your creative work?
Visit my website. All of my films are on Amazon instant video as well. Check out Beach Blanket Frankenstein, it will make you a smarter, sexier, and genuinely better person. Or, see Beach Blanket Frankenstein in July (date to be announced) at the Killer Valley Film Festival in Ashland Oregon. Stream or download the films The Witching Hour, Spookshow-a-Go-Go! or Paranormal Hunters with Rex Gonklin.
Are there any ideas you wish you had time to act on but haven’t yet? Do you think it will become possible in the future?
I have an epic script which is a remake of a semi-obscure Spanish exploitation gem which has passed into the public domain. It would take what for me is a pile of cash, but what for a Hollywood film would probably be a week’s catering. I think it will be my next project after I recover from Beach Blanket Frankenstein. May have to hold a few bake sales to help with the funding.
Also, I don’t believe in talking too much about what I’m inspired to do next. Giving too much away depletes the energy. It’s as if imagination/inspiration starts as this little glowing seed somewhere inside, and the more you hold onto it, nurture it, the more it grows until it cannot help but to manifest. If you give it away too soon, the energy required to make it happen disperses. That might sound a bit fruity but it has always been my experience of the creative process.
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:
I think olives are the Devil’s testicles.
Dan McCloy grew up in the Pacific Northwest. He went to private schools which taught him to question authority and ruffle feathers whenever possible. He graduated from the Art Institute of Seattle in 1993 and struggled to keep his idealism alive working menial jobs by day and painting by night.
Dan started doing freelance art for local bands and businesses as well as hosting caricature promotional events for international companies such as Guinness, Microsoft, and Sharpie. In 2000 he left Seattle for greener pastures, moving to the Applegate near Jacksonville, Oregon. In 2007 he made Dead Girls, the first of his offbeat films. Dan has been awarded Best Director twice by The Killer Valley Horror Film Festival in Ashland, Oregon.
Dan’s other passions include guitar, bodybuilding, animals, and collecting retro artifacts from his childhood.