Without a doubt Jim Mickle is proving himself to be one of the most talented genre filmmakers of the moment and he just keeps getting better with each and every new project.
This was most recently evidenced in his most recent remake We Are What We Are as he cunningly managed to reinvent the original whilst maintaining its essence. Then, earlier this year saw the theatrical release of his pulpy neo-noir thriller Cold In July, bursting with a stellar, veteran cast lead up by Dexter’s Michael C Hall, Don Johnson and Sam Shepard. Hall plays protective father, Dave who finds himself thrust into a profusely dark and seedy criminal underworld after accidentally shooting an intruder in his home.
For Cold in July, Mickle once again teamed up with writing partner in crime, Nick Damici to adapt Joe Landsdale‘s novel of the same name. Whilst primarily a neo-noir revenge thriller, the film does indeed bring some of Mickle’s horror savoir-faire to the table so fans of Mulberry St., Stakeland and We Are What We Are are perfectly pampered. This genre feel is further cemented as Damici puts in a short-yet-rewarding role as the town’s Sheriff.
We got to speak with Jim who openly discussed Cold in July, his undying love for genre films and how increasing prestige and budget changed his work ethic. He went on to reveal he’s constantly collaborating with his cohort, Damici so we should expect plenty more sophisticated and deft feature films (and TV shows) in the not too distant future.
Although Cold In July moves slightly away from horror, your roots are essentially genre movies. Where did your love for horror spring from?
When I was really young I was fascinated by horror movies and they always scared the hell out of me. I was literally a baby when I started seeing horror movies and they scared me so much I always ended up sleeping on my parents’ floor. I think that as I watched more and more I kind of desensitized myself to it and I started being interested in how horror movies worked and how they were able to have that effect on people.
You had a real interest in special effects and animatronics as well I understand.
Yeah. I had a stage where I was interested in magicians and magic tricks and that kind of grew and went on to make up effects and that lead me to watching a lot of horror movies to see how all that was done. That was the point were it transitioned into filmmaking in general.
So what pushed you towards a directing and writing career rather than a career in special effects?
I started even when I was just a teenager. My Dad got a home camera to do home videos and that sort of thing and as soon as that happened I literally just picked it up and started making these little special effects videos which featured gunshots and bullet wounds. So I ended up making little films that all involved people getting shot and they were all backwoods type horror films. That was when I was about fourteen or fifteen. After that I started to get a little bit more artistic and did things like crime stories and stories about being a teenager. It just all sort of evolved and then my parents split up when I was 16 or 17 and my father ended up marrying a screenwriting professor who was incredibly supportive of trying to make a career out of this. Up until then I had seen it as just a hobby that I just tried to keep up with for as long as I could but then she really supported going to film school to learn the skills to then go on and make a career out of it. So then I went to NYU where I met Nick Damici.
How did Nick Damici end up becoming your partner in crime?
Well he was the lead actor in a friend’s short film which I was working on. We stayed in cabins in a small town for about a week and my cabin was next to Nick’s. Basically, we just hit it off. After a day’s shoot I’d see him sitting playing guitar on his porch and go over and talk. I really had never seen an actor as genuine and with as much screen presence as that for a student film so we hit it off through that. We both had very similar interests and he told me about some of the things he had been writing and I thought they sounded amazing and at that time I was trying to write but not with great luck on my own. When we came back to New York he ended up writing a script about that shoot that we were on. He sent it to me and I read it and loved the script and I gave him some thoughts. Then it just turned into a back and forth thing where he’d send me stuff and I’d give him notes and we ended up writing original scripts that way and then Mulberry Street popped up. At that point Nick’s acting career had stalled and I was working on sets but not getting to actually make movies so we decided that if we didn’t create an opportunity then it wasn’t going to come.
So you took the bull by the horns with Mulberry Street with a shoestring budget. Obviously things have come a long way for you since then but back then you said that if you ever got the chance to make films on much bigger budgets you’d rather spend the money on various projects or on other people’s projects. Are you still a believer of that philosophy?
Interesting! I do remember saying that. Things change and things become more difficult. As you get to work with bigger budgets things disappear much more rapidly. But yeah, I do still think that. I think things can get too bloated and too big very quickly. It’s tougher and tougher as you move up but I hope I’m able to continue making movies the size they should be rather than spending a lot of useless money on useless things. So coming to Cold in July, how did you discover Joe Lansdale’s novel and what was it about this particular book that made you want to turn it into a feature film?
I had been a fan of Joe since Bubba Ho Tep which I saw as soon as I graduated college. It just blew me away and I knew I just had to read more from whoever had written it. I loved his particular point of view and the great mix of tone and I started reading his stuff just as a fan at first and I fell in love with his characters and his whole world. This was after we had done Mulberry Street which was a very low budget and very much a New York movie and very much a 911 movie. We were coming to a close on that as we’d spent almost two years on it and we were so over the New York setting by then. I wanted to read something different so I had a couple of Joe’s books and ‘Cold in July’ just happened to be one of those. Instantly it was just like “Wow! This is a movie.”
Was it an easy book to adapt into a screenplay?
Well the first draft was very quick and really we just started adapting page by page. Then we ended up with a really long, dense script which had every element from the book. Then it was just a case of sitting with it and carving it down but then we’d feel we’d missed some bits so we were constantly massaging it to make it just the right shape.
So what about the casting process?
Well that was a totally different experience. We went through a lot of financiers, a lot of different companies backing the film at different stages and they all had different ideas about how they wanted it to be, the kind of scale they wanted and who was going to get it done for them. Ultimately, we got to a point where we were able to make it with the people that we thought would be best for the movie.
So neither Nick Damici nor yourself had anyone in mind?
No. I would find that that gets you into trouble. In Mulberry Street almost every role was written specifically for each character as most were people that Nick knew in the neighbourhood. That kind of thing is great when you have no money and you are just desperate to find people to fill the roles. It was a really amazing experience but I think it can get you into trouble as you start moving on because if you start thinking you want a certain person to play a part then you start writing the role a little juicier than you would otherwise and you start injecting scenes into the script. I find it much cleaner if you don’t do that and it helps you to really get the script on the page and then later go about figuring out who those different pieces are going to be.
Cold in July is certainly a move away from your previous genre projects. Have you turned your back on horror or have you got more in the pipeline?
Oh I’d love to get back and do horror again. To a certain extent the three that we did were really good and I’m really proud of them and, crazily enough, they have all gone on to have these long lives. They get discovered even though they’ve been out for a little bit so it’s funny how we are also just coming to the surface a little bit. I’m sure I will do some more horror though. It just really depends on finding the right story to tell. I’d also really love to do some science fiction. There’s also another project that we are casting right now which is an intellectual Hitchcockian thriller which is all very subdued. I love that as it’s completely different and it would mean making a completely different movie so, even though all are part genre in nature, I like that all of them are very different from each other.
And what can you tell us about the TV show you are adapting from Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard novels?
Well we’ve just turned the final draft of the pilot in and now we wait for the heads of the network to decide if it’s going to get a green light. We’re anxiously waiting to hear their decision for that.
And finally, please tell me the Stakeland TV series is still going ahead.
Yeah it is. Nick Damici has already written all of them which is kind of amazing. I think he was at a point where he was frustrated with writing jobs. He felt he was trying to put a square peg in a round hole so I told him to just write what he wanted to. He ended up writing some really beautiful stuff with a very similar kind of energy as the movie. I just heard recently that there is some network interest and we’ll see what happens.
We’d like to thank Jim for talking to us and can’t wait to see his future projects come to fruition. In the meantime, Cold In July is available on DVD and Blu-ray this Monday 20 October and we’ll leave you with a trailer for the film.