-By Colin Newman-
You probably know Mickey Reece from somewhere. He has done a little of everything over the past decade or two. Now, however, he has a startlingly accomplished new film called TARSUS that premiers Saturday night. (our review is here) We caught up with him this week for a brief interrogation.
Where did the idea to do a film about recovering meth addicts come from?
Originally, these characters just had hard lives. Danny’s character was just an alcoholic who was trying to get over a divorce but once Rebecca had established her look for the film we kind of said, “Well, you obviously have a meth problem.” And so Johnny McQuire could relate, he too needed some kind of drug problem not unlike Patricia Peters. The characters come first, then the story.
The dialogue in this film feels very natural. How much of this was improvised and how much was written?
The movie is not ad-libbed or improvised. If anything it is retro scripted like most of our movies. The only movie we’ve ever stuck to the script on was ‘Mickey and Me’. I wrote the outline so everyone knew what we were doing, then when it was time to shoot Danny would write the dialogue a night or two before and we would work with that. Some people didn’t ever know what the hell was going on and would just show up and I’d tell them where to stand and what to say but that’s because the camerawork is so busy and there were so many takes that it wasn’t as important for everyone to be on queue with one another every time. Some actors hate me for that.
Becky puts in a really striking performance as Patricia Peters. How did you end up casting her for that role?
I didn’t cast her. She cast herself. This is her movie. Dustin Sanchez cast himself, too. I just cast everyone else.
Where in OKC was this filmed?
Oh man. Everywhere. Paseo, Moore, Newcastle, Norman, Tuttle. You name it. I remember spending a-lot of time in the south side ghetto where the vatos locos hang out. Scratch’s house is the real deal: a real life meth house.
There are some impressionistic images (goats, family photos, etc) throughout the film. Was there a specific message you were trying to convey, or were you just trying to establish a mood?
To define anything in the film as a message or mood only cheapens it. When you’re making a movie you’re creating a world and for the audience to lose themselves in that world they need to see it through more than one lens. Well, I don’t have any money so I can’t afford any of those lenses. But because I do have pictures, an iPhone, an old DV tape camera and a VCR that world is my oyster. I can’t paint but I know what strikes me as visually pleasing. Also, those are alpacas and they’re hilarious.
I noticed you had a grant from OVAC. What did that go towards?
Sound and festival fees mostly. We actually got a-lot of money for this one as far as investors go. Don’t ask me how that happened cause I couldn’t tell ya. I’m sure it’ll be a long time before it happens again.
How did growing up here in the 90s just as meth was beginning to be a major problem impact this story?
I didn’t really turn it into a personal story until halfway through shooting. It just didn’t click with me that I knew these people, I was one of them. My brother has had a problem with that stuff for as long as I can remember. That’s him talking at the beginning of the film about how he got clean. There were a-lot of times when the characters were sober I would try and make the shots linger so as to slow down. Then when they got to use again throw in the jokes and the fast paced cutting to pick it up. I like how Rod Lott from the Gazette described it as a “sobering narrative.”
I noticed a definite Robert Altman vibe to some of these scenes. Am I on to something here?
Sure you are. Most people that watch my movies haven’t seen any Robert Altman films so I don’t get to indulge on these answers as much as I’d like. Definitely characters talking over each other and multiple conversations going on at once, whether it be coming from a TV or other people in the room, is something I definitely picked up on in Robert Altman’s direction. I’ll probably always be happy to just film people talking in rooms, because the possibilities are limitless. There’s still so much new filmmakers (not that I’m an old hand at it) can learn from 70’s cinema and it saddens me that most people I meet don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
How the hell did you make 7 movies in 3 years?
I live for this shit, man. I’m a soldier of cinema.