Mike Lombardo is an up-and-coming indie filmmaker that has recently blown away audiences with his first feature-length film: “I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday.” He was generous enough to let us see the film (our review of which you can read here), as well as his back catalogue of awesome short films. We reached out to Mike and he agreed to talk to us about his influences and influencers, his goals and aspirations, as well as what it takes to work your way up in the horror scene. Be warned that there are some minor spoilers for “I’m Dreaming of a White Doomsday,” but there are warnings before the paragraphs. This is a film you really need to see. Without further ado, let’s get dig into the good stuff.
NEVERMORE HORROR: Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into creating horror films.
I've been a horror nut since I was a child. According to legend, I cried every day my mom dropped me off at nursery school until October when they put up the Halloween decorations, then I would run happily from the car and into the classroom to play with orange playdoh and draw skeletons on everything. I became obsessed with horror movies as early as I can remember and would stay up to watch Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs and Tales From The Crypt reruns every chance I got. Looking through boxes of old school projects, I would write that I wanted to be a horror movie maker on worksheets as early as the 4th grade, so I don't think I ever really had a chance at leading a normal life. The Halloween store was my paradise every year and that's how I got into FX and eventually shooting my own movies on the vhs camcorder I got for Christmas one year. The advent of DVD when I was in high school was a huge step for me because special features and commentaries became my film school.
NEVERMORE HORROR: Obligatory Who are your inspirations and what are your favourite horror films? question.
My big influences growing up were Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, George Romero, Don Coscarelli, and Troma. Seeing other people filming stuff in their backyard with friends and eventually rising through the ranks of the film world has huge for me, and Troma was always super indie supportive and I learned a lot from their little FX tutorials and skits on Troma's Edge TV and their DVDs. As I got older I got really into David Cronenberg and John Waters and they have both been big influences on me too. Movies I grew up loving were things like Blood Diner, Aliens, CHUD, The Blob (80's remake), Dead Alive, Phantasm, Bad Taste, Evil Dead, Dawn of The Dead, and Street Trash. I would haunt the aisles of the video store and rent anything with a lurid VHS cover. I was really into 70's Italian horror and of course stuff like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and all of Stuart Gordon's films. These days I've come to love an eclectic mix of weird B movies and more offbeat drama/arthouse type of stuff. Currently, my 3 favorite movies are Cronenberg's Dead Ringers, Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-Tep, and Charlie Kaufman’s Synechode, New York.
NEVERMORE HORROR: If you could remake any horror film, which would you choose and why?
I don't know that I would really want to remake any movie, but I would love to do sequels to Weekend at Bernie's and Big. I have really weird and very disturbing meta fictional plotlines for both of those movies and I would love to make them.
NEVERMORE HORROR: A creepy two-minute trip for sure. I'm guessing from the subtitle that it's a bit of a stab at masturbation — a boy and his meat — but the short is anything but a comical coming-of-age piece. What was the inspiration? I personally found it to be a bit of a dark comedy with some cosmic horror thrown in for...reasons. Is there more to the story?
My Friend Lawrence was a strange experience, haha. It was conceived, written, shot, and edited in under 24 hours. It actually came about one night at my pizza shop day job. I was working with my old roommate Erik Myrnes at the time, and he had just bought a new camera and wanted to shoot something to test it out. I suggested a short about a guy who's best friend was a piece of meat, that was funny, right? Having an identical sense of weird humor as me, he agreed and decided to shoot something that night. I spent the rest of my shift writing my voice over that appears in the final movie, and we stopped off at the grocery store after work, bought some meat and went home and started shooting stuff. I don't either of us really knew what the hell it was going to end up being, and it was largely made up on the spot. When he started cutting it, I recorded my lines and he dropped in this terrifying score he had composed and it just went into this completely different direction than we had originally figured it would be. It's to date the strangest thing we've ever made, and I honestly still don't know where it came from.
NEVERMORE HORROR: We could totally be friends, you and I. Our seemingly mutual distaste for sportsball had me laughing out loud within the first 30 seconds of this short. Fantastic one-liners. That must have been a laugh-a-minute to shoot. I did not see the end...uh...coming. The delivery of that last line...
Again, where did the inspiration for this one come from? Was it your own idea or something conceived with friends?
Blowjob in a Can was the spiritual sequel to a short film I did over a decade ago called Home Made Roofies. The 10 year anniversary of Reel Splatter was coming up one weekend and I decided that shooting a new short was the best way to celebrate so I wrangled the cast and crew from Home Made Roofies together (who had not been in the same room with each other since the original shoot) and shot Blowjob in a single night. It was planned to be a fun little gross-out comedy, but the inspiration for writing it was much darker. I had gone through a really bad breakup of a long-term relationship the year before and was having a rough time of things. It got to a point where I realized that I was no longer able to have any kind of emotional connection with a partner and that I had commoditized sex, so I mixed that painful personal realization with some parody of my brother's sports fanaticism at Thanksgiving and the script was born. Looking back at all the old short films, I see that there was always some personal subtext floating around in there hidden under the comedy, its how I deal with things I guess.
NEVERMORE HORROR: You seem to have a penchant for the horror-comedy. The intro scene to Long Pig was pretty on-point; funny and witty. It takes a very dark turn thereafter, but again with the whole dark-comedy twist. I liked the cameo appearance, and them not wanting to answer your call. The visual effects were great, but the short did feel a lot like you were fucking around with some friends a bit more than taking the piece seriously. Was this more of laugh and exploring film with friends, or more of a practice exercise, exploring your style and technical abilities? That sauce looked terrible by the way, but those one-liners killed me.
Long Pig is a bittersweet one for me. I wrote that one because I saw my childhood and high school friends start to drift apart and go their own ways in life. It was meant as a kind of tribute to the wonderfully dysfunctional relationship we all shared as well as a deconstruction and parody of horror movie tropes. We shot everything but the opening ghost movie parody and then I was going through some shit and shelved it for a few years. By the time I picked it back up, I was in the middle of shooting The Stall and we had all new gear, including professional HD cameras and such. I decided to shoot the opening scene with the new gear as a riff on the clichÃ© of movie within movie scenes always looking like they were filmed for public access, I wanted to do the opposite having it go from Michael Bay to Mike Lombardo and literally having the movie Stop and go to a dvd menu. It's always super fun to see it play at fests because people think the projectionist fucked up and put the wrong movie on, haha. The long pig stew we were eating was actually made of beef stew, flour, ripped up grilled chicken, and food coloring. It was actually delicious for the first few takes, but as the day wore on and we were shooting the various angles, it started to congeal into ice-cold sludge that was extremely hard to keep down. I don't think the cast ever forgave me for that terrible day.
NEVERMORE HORROR: I don't know if you know this, but I am a huge geek for anything Lovecraftian and I had no idea that The Stall was going to be just that. It was a lot more serious than the other shorts, but still maintained that sense of comedy. I absolutely loved it. Why the pizza shop? What was your inspiration behind the short? Are you big into Lovecraft as well? Was this particular short sent to any festivals? It's a lot better than some of the entries I've seen and reviewed in the past.
The Stall was the big turning point for me. I felt like I was ready to tackle something a little more serious finally which was something I had wanted to do for a long time but was afraid to try. I had the idea and the tagline Where will YOU be when the end comes? since high school and I always knew I wanted to do a short about someone trapped in a bathroom stall. I'm a huge Lovecraft fan and I thought this was the perfect chance to play with some blasphemous terrors from outside time and space. The whole short is filled with little references to Lovecraft stories, from the name of the pizza shop to the radio station DJ and the graffiti on the stall itself. We actually shot in the pizza shop I work at, though the bathroom itself was actually at an abandoned factory cum art studio. I wanted to use my real day to day life at the pizza shop to vent off some frustration and also my secret fear of dying at work, having essentially spent my life at a job that is the complete opposite of my ambitions. The stall itself that the main character is afraid to leave because of some unseen horror lurking outside became a metaphor for my the shop being my own comfort zone that I'm afraid to leave for fear of the unknown. The devil you know is better than the devil you don't as they say. The short was extremely well received and we ended up playing about a dozen film festivals across the country which was a big step forward as well. It also gave me the courage to try to make White Doomsday.
NEVERMORE HORROR: It's no secret that I am a huge fan of I'm Dreaming of a White Doomsday. Congratulations on all the awards thus far. I read recently that it was going to be screened in Austria or Germany? Is that correct? Are you hoping to pick up another win?
Thank you! Doomsday has been better received than I could ever have hoped for. I was terrified the whole time we were making it because I was so far out of my comfort zone not doing horror comedy. It is indeed playing in Austria at the Steel City Underground Film Festival which is run by the very cool filmmaker, James Quinn. What makes this fest especially awesome is that all the movies are being transferred onto 16mm film and projected, with the winners getting an HD scan of their film. The fest will also make the actual film prints available to the filmmakers if they have a screening anywhere which is incredibly cool. I'm dying to see what White Doomsday will look like on film!
*Minor Spoilers for “I’m dreaming of a White Doomsday” — skip two paragraphs to avoid*
NEVERMORE HORROR: I really don't want to spoil Doomsday for any readers, as most folks haven't seen it yet, but I have to say that I was blown away. It's one of the best films I have seen this year, period...not just horror title. The interactions between mother and son were so real, and I was shocked to discover that you yourself are not yet married and without kids...purely because you captured that fear, desperation and parental dread so compellingly. Would you say that it was Hope Bikle's acting ability that really made the interactions so very believable?
So much of the film's feel is based on my experiences growing up and the year my mom spent in the ICU with kidney failure. That desperation and fear, the attempts to shield loved ones from reality, all of that came from some very dark times in my personal life. When Hope started reading the lines aloud from the script the first time I got goosebumps. She was able to channel all of that fear and anxiety perfectly and as she later told me, filtered it through her own experiences with a niece who was the same age as Riley in the film. I knew going into the production that if the relationship between Kelly and Riley didn't work, the movie was sunk. I actually set up a couple playdates for Hope and Reeve, who played Riley, so they could get comfortable with each other and they hit it off immediately. Within 2o minutes of meeting for the first time, they were carrying on and drawing pictures and playing games like they knew each other for years. This continued on set and off, in between takes they would hang out together playing games on her iPad, it was wonderful. That's the thing I learned the most from shooting White Doomsday: You can have the most brilliantly written script in the world but it doesn't mean shit unless you have the right people playing the parts. They both brought so much life and personality to their roles, so many little nuances they both added that weren't in the script, and its those moments between them that read the most real for me. I honestly don't think the movie would have worked with anyone but the two of them in those roles.
NEVERMORE HORROR: The most confusing part of the film for me was the inclusion of magical realism. The film, without it, would still have been brilliant, and some are going to find that kind of direction a hard pill to swallow. Are you trying to set a specific style that is Lombardo, or was it purely for artistic reasons?
The final act of the movie with Santa was always planned. The short story features him even more prevalently but when it came time to adapt it for the screenplay, those scenes didn't translate as well so his introduction in the film is a bit more sudden than I would have liked. Santa is a representation of the innocence of the world, the childhood belief in magic and all that is good. Santa exists solely because of the belief of children and Riley is the last child left on earth. They summoned him with the letter, but what does he do when there is nothing left for him to live for? One of the main themes I wanted to play with in the film is the world eroding that innocence as we get older. The gradual changing of black and white morals into shades of grey. I know some people don't like the sudden shift into more fantastical territory things take, but in my head Santa showing up is no different than the holiday tv specials we all grew up on, where they end with the twist of real Santa showing up and the characters realizing that the spirit of Christmas is a real thing. White Doomsday is bleak and ugly, but its still a Christmas movie at heart. Stylistically, I love the surreal and honestly I wasn't interested in making a normal post-apocalyptic film. I tried to ease the audience into the inclusion of it with the dream sequences and the guilt-induced hallucination at the abandoned house that Hope has, I wanted to pepper in little weird moments so that Santa showing up wouldn't be as jarring, and for the most part it seems to work, though there are definitely audiences who were a bit confused by it. I wish I could have organically introduced him a little earlier in the film, but none of the tweaks really changed much so I just went with it.
*End of Spoilers*
NEVERMORE HORROR: Why the shift away from your comfort zone? You obviously are comfortable with and have a talent for dark comedy, so why did you decide to go with a heart-breaking, post-apocalyptic script for your first feature-length film? A bold move that has undoubtedly paid off but was idea and the script all your own? Where did the inspiration come from?
I love dark comedy, it comes very easy to me, but White Doomsday is the type of film I always wanted to make but wasn't confident enough to try. All of the shorts I made are very personal, but in the past, I always hid my feelings under comedy because it was more comfortable for me to express myself that way. It was a way that I could deal with things in my head without having people analyze them too closely or if they did I could always say they were just jokes. My prose, on the other hand, is almost always very serious and very dark in tone. The movie was based on a short story I had published in 2012. A story I wrote when my mom was hospitalized with 4% kidney function and nearly died. That year of my life, the endless trips going back and forth to the hospital, keeping the rest of my family updated with the doctor's notes and trying to keep my mom's spirits up were among the most difficult in my life. I channeled all of that into a story about watching someone you care about slowly fading away and the feeling of helplessness as it happens. The years following the story's publication were very bad for me, my father passed away, I lost several friends to cancer, a long-term relationship I was in ended very badly, all of these things made their way into the script. It was an exorcism for me. Going forward there's going to be some films in this vein, though I would like to mix a little of the dark comedy into things and make a hybrid that fits my personality.
NEVERMORE HORROR: What's next for Mike Lombardo? You're obviously going to be busy with Doomsday for a while, festivals and all — is there another feature in the works thereafter? Are the gears grinding on the next feature-length film or are you going to try for a few more short films?
That is the big question! I have a bunch of short films I would love to make, and I need a few more to round out a new DVD collection of them in the future, but I think I might jump right into the next feature. It's a story that I've been writing in some form on and off for the last 10 years. It's (surprise!) a super personal piece about how following your dreams can have very unpleasant consequences, and how difficult it is to balance a normal life and relationships while maintaining a creative pursuit.
NEVERMORE HORROR: After watching Doomsday, I was blown away by what you did on what must have been a limited budget. The film, in no way, felt B-grade. I'd love to see what you could do with a big producer and a truckload of cash. What are the future goals and aspirations? What would you like to do if the budget wasn't a concern?
White Doomsday ended up costing about $11,000, most of which was my paychecks every week from the pizza shop and money from Reel Splatter DVD sales at conventions and on our website. The movie wouldn't have been possible without a whole ton of beautiful people pitching in for free and lending a hand or their expertise, and a whole phonebook of favors I called in. I was extremely lucky to have the cast and crew that I did, and access to all the gear that we had. There were a couple times where I ran out of money and the production had to wait, one of those times someone stepped in and very generously donated enough money for us to finish the movie. Going forward I would like to raise enough money that we can shoot full time (or at least 3-4 days a week) for a month or two instead of just weekends for 2 years. With a bigger budget, the first thing I would like to do is make sure everyone is paid, and then we would also have access to better equipment, locations, etc. Whenever I'm writing a new script, I always write to budget (in our case, none) so I try not to be too grandiose in scope. If I had more money to play with I would love to really go balls out and shoot some big surreal stuff with lots of fun slimy FX...and wrecked cars, lots of burnt out cars littering the streets.
NEVERMORE HORROR: I saw you were heading up a festival this last weekend. What was the deal with that? I saw that there was a screening of “white Doomsday” and that a fan had you sign a gas mask?
I was the festival director for the Scares That Care Weekend Convention Film Festival. It’s a charity convention every year and 100% of the proceeds go to families with sick children that can’t afford their medical bills. The film fest is part of the convention. The little boy cosplayed from White Doomsday and was very excited to talk me to about his favorite gasmasks, we talked about the ones I used in the movie for a bit and then he asked me if I would sign his for him. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me at a show.
NEVERMORE HORROR: Do you have advice for any up-and-coming horror filmmakers looking to break into the indie industry?
My biggest advice is to just go out there and do it. Nothing will teach you better than experience. There are loads of books on indie filmmaking, youtube channels dedicated to cheap ways to shoot stuff, and of course DVD commentaries and behind the scenes. They are chock full of incredibly useful information. Listen to the war stories of other filmmakers and take them to heart. Indie film is an uphill battle and almost always a nightmare. If you aren't willing to live off of canned soup and stay awake for 3 days at a time shooting 18-hour shifts, then filmmaking may not be your thing. It’s grueling and horrible, but nothing is as wonderful a feeling as seeing that finished product with an audience and knowing that your hard work created it. Your films become your mutant little children, and when you see it all together for the first time, you'll forget all about how horrible the experience making it was and you'll be reaching for that camera to do it all over again.
Thanks again for the interview opportunity Lombardo. We are really looking forward to how you amaze us next. Best of luck with “White Doomsday” on the circuit and keep reaping those awards. Thanks for reading and as always, stay sordid.
Site founder. Horror enthusiast. Metalhead.