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Interview with Jack Messit - December 2008

Jack Messit - December 2008

Messitt's work as a Director of Photography and Camera Operator is extremely diverse. His international experience includes Feature Films and Television Series to Music Videos and Reality TV. This includes shooting in Thailand, Hong Kong, Belgium, the Philippines, Canada and throughout the United States. Jack is currently the 1st Vice President of The Society of Camera Operators.
After earning a Journalism degree from Indiana University, Jack worked on Chicago based Feature Films and Television Series. He then moved to Los Angeles where he received a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Cinematography from The American Film Institute.

Jack Messit, the director of "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" which will be out on DVD come January 9th, 2009, kindly responded to our questions about his futur (kick ass ?) slasher.
Oh My Gore : "Hello. Could you please introduce yourself to the Oh My Gore! readers who might not know about you yet?"

Jack Messit : Hey there, my name is Jack Messitt and I am the director and writer of "MIDNIGHT MOVIE". To see a trailer of the film – and a whole lot more – visit

Oh My Gore : "Why, when and how did you career turn toward cinema?"

J.M. : When it comes to making movies, I started at the very bottom of the ladder. The first movie I ever worked on was "THE BABE" with john Goodman. I was an extra and sat in Wrigley Field in Chicago in a wool suit in the middle of the summer. It was miserable and I loved every minute of it.

From that experience, I met a lot of people and begged my way into a job as a PA. I did this for several years and worked on some great movies that were shot in Chicago (The Fugitive was my favorite).

Then I got into The American Film Institute and earned my MFA in Cinematography and began a career as a cameraman. That is how I got to where we are today...

Oh My Gore : "Which movies and/or which directors influenced you in becoming involved in the cinema industry?"

J.M. : My initial influences were Spielberg and Lucas, but who of my generation couldn't say that. But when I studied film theory at Indiana University, I was introduced to many other filmmakers and I branched out from the usual Hollywood fare. I was able to see films by Goddard and Tati... This opened my eyes and has changed the way I see film. Studying those that came before you is the only true way to learn as a filmmaker.

Oh My Gore : "What inspired you to write & direct "MIDNIGHT MOVIE"?

J.M. : I was really lucky, I signed on to "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" with a script already written and financing already in place. But the reason I was hired was because I wanted to make major changes to the project.

The major change was bringing structure to the movie in the movie. Originally, the “movie” was a just mish-mash of images (like in "THE RING"). But I thought that in order to have the audience in the movie stay in the theater for any length of time, there needed to be a story – So after a long process, The Dark Beneath was born.

As a successful cameraman, it was actually a difficult decision to direct the film. While a great opportunity, it meant that I would have to sidetrack my camera career for at least a year. But after thinking about it, I figured that the worst that would happen would be that the movie was awful and in the end, could go back to shooting again – so why not. I took the chance and am really glad that I did!

Oh My Gore : "Why a horror movie?"

J.M. : Why not? Making a horror movie is awesome! You get to play with all the fun parts of making movies – stunts, fun make-up, fake blood... Lots of blood!! With 21 days of shooting and 18 kills, I showed up every day, looked around at the cast and asked, “Alright, which one of you is dying today?” How much fun is that?

Oh My Gore : "What was the principal influences for the film?"

J.M. : I had a lot of influences for "MIDNIGHT MOVIE", but the main feel I was going for were the fun slasher movies of the 80's. I think that we tried to update that formula to work today, but you can't help but see both the "FRIDAY THE 13TH" and "NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET" series in our film.

When it came to The Dark Beneath, the movie in our movie, it is based on several films from the 60s and early 70s. "TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE", "THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD" and "PSYCHO" were the main influences.

Oh My Gore : "You had $1million for budget, this is quite good, but not a lot as the film was shot in 35mm, was it enough to shoot "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" ?"

J.M. : I think that even if the budget is $100 million, as a filmmaker you never have enough time or money to do everything you want. But with $1million, this is especially true.

While our budget was limited, we tried to do everything the right way – from shooting 35mm to using Pixel Magic (300) as our effects house.

We made the most of the money that we had and looked to make every penny show up on the screen. Shooting 35mm was one of these choices and I think that it shows. We just couldn't have gotten the same look with video – even HD. It just doesn't hold up the same.

And we made sure that our effects budget was high enough to deliver the kind of effects that our audience expects. Like it or not, we are competing with all the higher budget films. That is where the bar is set. People do not give us a break because we were low budget, so we have to deliver – and I think that we do.

The biggest difference in having more money is having the resources to shoot an effect more than once. With our budget, if the effect didn't work, we had to move on anyway. No time to clean thing up and try again.

But I am really happy with the way the effects turned out. I think they are amazing for our budget level! Having said that, there were a lot of sequences where I dreamed up some really amazing shots and effects that we just didn't have the time or money to pull off. Maybe on my next feature, I'll have more resources to work with... We'll see.

Oh My Gore : "Specials effects seems to be really gory, can you talk us more about it?"

J.M. : "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" has a rising level of gore. I wanted the kills to get better as the movie went on. If the movie's marquee kill starts the film, it makes it tough because you have little place to go from there.

Too many films today start at such a level of gore that they peak with scene one, or set a level that makes the movie kind of plateau from then on. So I decided to set up the kills in the movie to mirror the history of horror. In the beginning, you see just before and just after, like early Hollywood. But as the decades moved on, Hollywood's kills got more and more gory. So do the kills in "MIDNIGHT MOVIE".

And we get all the way to today's “torture porn” level... And while it is by far the creepiest scene in the movie, there is a surprisingly small amount of gore. Just goes to show you that the mind will fill in the blanks in a far worse way than a filmmaker can.

Oh My Gore : "Do you have any shooting anecdotes?"

J.M. : Really, we were lucky to finish the film. About halfway through shooting, we were shut down by the IATSE, the Hollywood below the line locals. We thought that we were done for sure because of the added expense to the movie. We worked through the numbers and cut some things and wrote a big check to them. That certainly wasn't money that went onscreen, but at least we were able to get back to shooting.

Oh My Gore : "Which scene was the most difficult to shoot?"

J.M. : There is a marquee kill about halfway through the film where 2 key characters get taken out in spectacular fashion. Not to give too much away, it involves someone trapped in a window.

Well, we only had one day to shot his and to make matters worse, we had one of the actors for only the first 6 hours of the day. We had to shoot all the shots with him first, then we went back and picked up all the others.

It was tricky and thank god I had planned the scene well. We left with all the pieces we needed to put together a really fun scene!

Oh My Gore : ""MIDNIGHT MOVIE" Won 2 awards at the Chicago Horror Film Festival (Best Cinematography, Best Feature Film), what do you think about it?

J.M. : I was totally jazzed about the Chicago Horror Fest!!!! It was the first real audience that the movie played for and it was great to see the response! As a cameraman the Cinematography award was really special and the Best Picture award blew me away! And having grown up in Chicago, it was a real honor to win the awards in my hometown. I'm still smiling about it!

Oh My Gore : "The movie will be out on DVD on 6 January 2009, did you planned any French release?

J.M. : We are working on getting the movie out in France. I'll be sure to let you know when we ink a distribution deal.

Oh My Gore : ""MIDNIGHT MOVIE" is your first movie as director, what was this experience like for you?"

J.M. : Directing was a lot of fun.

As a longtime director of photography and camera operator ("THE CURIOSITY OF CHANCE", "AMERICAN IDOL", "BONES"), the production process held little surprise for me. But working with DPs Clyde Smith and Ruben Russ and camera operator Greg Collier was really an amazing experience. It was really liberating to let go of the technical aspects that a DP has to deal with and be able to focus on the emotional impact of the film's visuals.

But there were several aspects of production that were a new experience for me... the casting process and then working with actors' performances was something that was I had never done. I loved every minute of it.

Helping bring life to the characters was so much fun. Actors always bring a lot to the table, but focusing them and really honing in on who their character really is inside was a great challenge, but really rewarding.

Working with the sound department and music composer was also a completely new to me. It is really amazing to feel the difference that they both make.

When you are editing, you do your best to make the scenes as tension filled as possible, but when you start adding music and sound effects, you can both bring a scene to a new level.

It was amazing to feel the difference when mixer Andy Kantos played with the sound elements. With the addition of a good mix of sound effects, he was able to transform what was “good” scene into something that really puts you on the edge of your seat.

And with a movie within our movie, our composer Penka Kouneva, really had her work cut out for her. She had to score two distinct films and then make those soundtracks blend into one seamless score. She was able to elevate the film to new heights with her tension filled music.

Oh My Gore : "Do you think that you will direct another horror movie?”

J.M. : Who wouldn't want to direct a horror film? Making a horror film is really making a movie. And I get to yell across the set, “I need more blood!” It's a lot of fun.

But even with all the make-believe going on around you, you get to nurture the actors performance and help create credible characters that an audience cares about. It is really the best of both worlds.

Oh My Gore : "What are you future projects?"

J.M. : I just finished as the DoP of a movie about human trafficking. We shot in Vietnam and on stage in the Philippines and just wrapped a few days ago.

I have several potential projects in the directorial pipeline. Some are horror, but many are not. We'll see which one is able to get off the ground first.

But no matter the genre, making movies is just a fancy way of sitting around a campfire and telling a story. To be effective, the story needs to be a good one. Then you have to tell it well. I look forward to taking on that challenge again, for sure.

Oh My Gore : "What do you think about the horror movies made nowadays?"

J.M. : Horror movies have always been hit or miss. For every good one, there are a slew of bad ones. When there is a successful horror film, it always spawns dozens of imitations trying to ride it's coat tails. You have to watch out.

Oh My Gore : "As Oh My Gore! is a French website, I'd like to know if you like French movies?"

J.M. : I love them! Some of my favorites include: "RED", "CITY OF LOST CHILDREN" and "WEEKEND".

Oh My Gore : "Generally speaking, which are your favourite horror movies ? And the ones that scared you the most?"

J.M. : There is nothing better than a good horror film! I think "THE SHINING" is still my favorite. Still, really creepy. But as you watch "MIDNIGHT MOVIE", you'll see winks to my other favorites: "SILENCE OF THE LAMBS", the original "TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE" and "PSYCHO". I think my favorite horror movies all have that strong thriller edge.

Oh My Gore : "Which movie would you like or would you have liked to direct?"

J.M. : I would have loved to have been a part of so many successful films – who wouldn't? But if I had directed them, I am sure that they would have turned out much differently... So I will leave them alone, directed by the people that should have directed them to the masterpieces that they are.

Oh My Gore : "Which actor would you like or would you have liked to work with?"

J.M. : I would have loved to work with Paul Newman...

Oh My Gore : "What do you think of Oh My Gore!?"

J.M. : Oh My Gore! is great. My French is very poor: Je parle un petite peu. But I can see that you are an awesome site!!!

Oh My Gore : "Thank you so much for answering this interview. Is there anything you would like to add?"

J.M. : Thanks for helping get the word out about "MIDNIGHT MOVIE". We are a very small movie but seeing the audiences reactions to the film tell me that we have done something right.

Ultimately, I wanted "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" to be a rollercoaster ride for the audience. In the first third of the film, the anticipation is built as we climb the hill so to speak. We are getting to know the characters and setting up the peril they will soon face. But once we peak the crest and the killing really takes center stage, it does not stop until the film stops rolling – literally.

We will have a screening at the International Genre Film Festival "Mauvais Genre" in Tours, France - from the 11th to the 13th of April 2009. So please get out and see it!

Thanks again and I hope that you all enjoy "MIDNIGHT MOVIE" !
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