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Chords in Conversation: Mike Mendez Talks BIG ASS SPIDER!

mike mendezThe long, long line of direct-to-TV movies of late featuring all manner of poorly rendered CGI mutant or prehistoric creatures with a penchant for harrassing scantily clad women has left the genre stale, to say the least. Since late greats ranging from Ghostbusters and Gremlins to Tremors and Arachnophobia we’ve been deprived of anything on a par with said examples. That is until now as Mike Mendez decided it was the right time to bring back the classic z-grade creature feature setting Greg Grunberg on the trail of a BIG ASS SPIDER!

To celebrate the release of BIG ASS SPIDER! here in the UK we spoke with Mike all about the film, the long, long list of title changes and to find out exactly what prompted him to take this project on given the sorry state of the creature feature in recent years.

So to be totally honest, I loved the film but I must admit that I went into it with mixed expectations. This was absolutely nothing to do with your past work – I’m a massive fan of The Gravedancers for example – but basically because I’m still seeing a specialist for my recurring nightmares caused by Sharknado and The Hoff battling against a giant Anaconda. What was it that made you want to dabble in B-movie creature feature territory given its current status?

I had all the same reservations you did before making the movie. This is a genre that has been dragged through the mud. There’s a lot of bad films of this type out there. I didn’t want to be one of them and as I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that any time someone gives you money to make a movie it’s an opportunity and the end result is really up to you…providing you have the right support. Thankfully, Shaked Berenson and Patrick Ewald from Epic Pictures Group were very supportive.

If I’m not mistaken, your first name for this was Dinospider but there were a load of ideas thrown on the table such as Massive Attack and Alex & Jose vs. The Giant Spider. To be honest Big Ass Spider really sums up the whole concept of this movie and is also obviously a major selling point. What was it about the other names that made you stick to this one?

From the first meeting I had with Epic Pictures I told them that the correct title for this movie was Big Ass Spider! It just had the right attitude. I hoped it would make it stand out from other movies in the same genre. Patrick and Shaked didn’t quite agree with me at first, and so began a two-year debate on what the title should be. Thankfully, they finally came around to my way of thinking. Blackmail is a powerful tool!

[Shaked was kind enough to add some insight at this point regarding the title:

Actually we always liked BIG ASS SPIDER! but that title presented us a couple of challenges. First, the phrase “Big-Ass” does not translate to non-English territories. Since the movie was financed from foreign sales, we couldn’t ignore these markets. Second, the retailers had reservations against putting ASS on the cover which is understandable when you’re trying to run a family friendly business like Walmart.

Eventually we went with BIG ASS SPIDER! but allowed some variation to the title. Walmart ended up covering the ASS and calling it “BigGEST SPIDER!” A handful of fans were upset at this but the movie is the same and because this cover is available only at Walmart in limited run, maybe there will be a collector value there. Time will tell…]

There are so many different creatures you could have played with. Why did you go for a Big Ass Spider?

The concept wasn’t mine. It came to me as a finished script. With that being said, I do like the idea of giant spiders. They are some of the most fascinating and alien creatures we have on Earth. They are certainly one of the most feared creatures on this planet, as well as being one of the most vicious killers. So designing a bad-ass alien spider sounded like it could be fun to me.

Another choice I first was unsure about was Greg Grunberg as Alex. Not because I don’t appreciate him as an actor. Quite the opposite. He played it to a tee in the end but I just had a hard time imagining him pulling off a John Goodman style bug catcher. Why did you go with Greg and were you a bit concerned people would be quick to compare him to the likes of Goodman?

I would be lucky if people made comparisons to John Goodman in Arachnophobia. I also felt I would be lucky to have Greg Grunberg. After all, this is a very low budget movie. Usually films of this nature have a former teen heartthrob that was relevant 25 years ago. So, to have Greg who was just on a successful sci-fi show felt like a huge score for us and we would be very lucky to have him. He also brought a certain blue-collar humanity to the character that made him even more likable. I feel, especially after working with him, that’s it’s impossible not to like Greg Grunberg.

Talking of Arachnophobia, did you find yourself watching a load of cult creature features or did you try not to get too bogged down with revisiting classics for influence? Apart from creature features were there any other films that you’d say were a big (conscious or unconscious) influence?

I felt it was important to revisit a few of the classic giant monster films, so I took the time to re-watch “Them,” and at least do all my homework by watching as many giant spider movies as I could. While the film is an homage to atomic age creature features, the stuff I took more influence from was more modern day fare, like Tremors, Aliens, Big Trouble in Little China and Ghostbusters.

Did you always have the idea of Alex and Jose teaming up when you first read the script or were any two specific actors in mind from the word go as I believe it was Greg who eventually brought Lombardo into the cast?

I didn’t write the script. Gregory Geiras has the honor of being the creator of Alex and Jose. I didn’t have anyone immediately in mind. I wanted a character that would be like Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China. A heroic idiot. When someone suggested Greg Grunberg, it wasn’t exactly what I pictured at first, but I thought he would make a great, lovable oaf and hero.

Lombardo I just feel so lucky to have gotten. He was Greg’s suggestion, and Greg felt adamant that this was our Jose. So it was a total leap of faith…and the best decision I ever made.

For the very tongue in cheek approach I was pretty blown away by how good some of the CGI effects were. So many of the cheapo sci-fi affairs of late were marred by these dodgy effects. How important a part did getting the effects just right play? I believe that Greg Grunberg wasn’t totally convinced about taking the part until he saw a sample effect on your phone.

big-ass-spider-hiresThe effects were hugely important. When we were in pre-production, we believed the spider was the star of the film. Then Lombardo showed up and blew it off the screen. But I digress… The spider in the very least was the title character and Epic Pictures wouldn’t green light the film until we were sure that we could pull off the visual effect. So we were very blessed to have a company like Ice Animation really step up to the plate and push it further than what we were imagining.

They did a sample for us. It blew everyone away. It’s one of the things that convinced Greg to do the movie. The effects house was located in Pakistan. My knee-jerk reaction was that it would be a disaster. Thankfully I was mistaken.

I’ve read that you would love to keep going with the Big Ass series. So does this mean we’ll be seeing Collosal Cockroach et al in the near future?

I hope so. Let’s see how the movie does.

And can you spill a bit of info about any other upcoming projects such as Don’t Kill It?

That’s something that I hope to do this year. We’ll see if it comes together. It’s a dark action movie with a lot of gory kills. I think it will be fun.

We’d like to thank Mike and producer, Shaked for taking a moment to answer a few questions and urge you to watch BIG ASS SPIDER! which is now available here in the UK. To get you itching all over and even more in the mood for the creature feature you were all yearning for we’ll leave you with a trailer for the film:

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