Indie Horror Director Spotlight: Michael Okum

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Welcome to our latest Indie Director spotlight.  This time we interview Michael Okum: an award winning independent filmmaker and visual artist born and raised in New Jersey.  Michael’s first feature film “Expressway To Your Skull” was released on DVD and VOD in fall of 2015. Regular posts about his art and film work can be found at https://www.instagram.com/madwolfproductions/.

RH: What inspired you to get into film making?

MO:  The more I think about this the more I believe it’s a mixture of factors and not just one specific event, experience or incident.

Like pretty much everyone growing up in the wake of TV and Movie Pop culture in the last 30 years or so my childhood was spent glued to a TV screen and I actually grew to appreciate movies more than TV because I watched so much garbage. This is a stance I still hold today. I believe movies are just on the whole more well-crafted and better than most TV shows out there. That being said my early exposure to visual storytelling struck something very deep inside me that has resonated to this day. I always felt this urge to make films and tell stories visually and it was only after years and years of studying and experimenting that I came to develop the skills and confidence to make films. Unlike some of the cooler sounding stories you hear about directors or filmmakers seeing one particular movie and feeling destined to make films from then on… for me it was more of a roundabout path where I actually studied fine are painting and art-making first in college and then came back around to filmmaking later in my 20’s.

RH: Which horror directors have influenced you the most and why? 

MO:  Here again I feel like I grew up in a time when I wasn’t even aware that some of the greatest horror directors of the last 40 years were making films and releasing their best work when I was really young. These are the directors that many hold in very high esteem now like Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, David Cronenberg. In truth I still tend to gravitate more toward directors who have built up a body of work that transcends just making horror films… but now more than ever I see that its important to celebrate the work of such pioneers of the genre who are still making quality films today. Also directors like John Landis, Mick Garris, Bob Clark, Fred Dekker.

Some of my favorite directors that cross genres are probably on everyone’s list… Scorsese, Kubrick, Fincher, Lynch, Tarantino, The Coen Bros, G. Del Toro…

The common influence all these directors have for so many of the younger generation of directors and storytellers coming up lies simply in the power of their vision. Each one has an extremely strong sense of how to tell a story and maximize the power of the cinematic experience for the viewer for the couple of hours you have people’s attention. It’s definitely not as easy as it seems and requires a TON of discipline and hard work.

RH: What are your favorite recent horror films?

MO: This is one of those questions that seems so obvious at first but then when you think about it it’s a little hard to answer. I really believe we’re living in a kind of horror renaissance compared to previous decades because there are literally SO MANY quality movies and tv shows being released…  and as many of us independent filmmakers know there are lots of film titles that go overlooked in the vast wave of films constantly coming out. So along with the more mainstream titles like Cabin In the Woods, It Follows, The Conjuring, The Babadook there’s also “deeper cuts” like Starry Eyes, Beyond The Black Rainbow, Midnight Son, Stake Land, Lovely Molly to name just a few.

RH: What are your favorite horror films?

The more horror films I watch and the more of them I choose to make I realize that I prefer those more rare films that try to explore the psychology of horror and real violence both physical and mental as part of the human condition. Often these films, the original classics like Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween and newer modern classics like Scream, Hostel, Frontier(s), Wolf Creek, The Loved Ones, House of the Devil depict violence and bloodletting more realistically and feature human killers rather than supernatural ones… but I’m also a big fan of the horror comedy hybrid when its done right. Drag Me To Hell, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil…

This year alone has been a great year in horror films of all kinds which gives me hope that the genre is expanding and the pool of talent out there making films is very diverse. The Witch, Green Room, Don’t Breathe, Hush…

Also I feel I should mention that horror re-releases in the form of new deluxe Blu-Ray editions as well as more obscure titles on DVD give horror viewers young and old a truly unprecedented access to the history of all variations on genre-filmmaking now more then ever. It’s an absolutely great time to be a cinefile and a filmmaker. Finally TV has proven itself to be a very fertile ground for fans of horror and dark storytelling too with shows like American Horror Story, Ash vs. the Evil Dead, The Walking Dead, True Blood, Dexter… and the list goes on… The horror genre seems to be more dominant than ever.

RH: Are there any other independent horror filmmakers you would recommend to our readers?

MO: Well I’m a bit of a workaholic and reclusive type so outside of seeing lots of films I don’t really network as much as I should but in making Expressway To Your Skull which is my first feature over the last several years I’ve built up some great connections to film genre websites like yours. There are a lot of horror genre websites online but, like the field of horror titles being made, there are a few that stand out to me as being a cut above (again like your site).

One writer/producer/director I met in particular in my work is Derek Mungor who has similarly just started his journey into feature filmmaking. Like me, he’s an ambitious guy and should be developing more interesting work in the near future. I also should mention if some readers aren’t already aware… that there’s lots of free horror short films to be seen on YouTube and Vimeo alone…its a great way to discover new talent in the galaxy of indie filmmakers online… There’s lots and lots of fun stuff to watch out there for sure.

RH: Do you have any upcoming (or recently released) project we should look out for? 

MO:  My recent feature “Expressway To Your Skull” is currently available for rent on maexpressway-to-your-skullny VOD platforms like iTunes, Vimeo On Demand, Amazon On Demand, and Google Play. Its also available on DVD and you can find everything about it at http://expresswaytoyourskull.com.

In addition to that my newest work is a dark little short film that I plan to release sometime in early 2017 and may lead to bigger and better things… possibly a new feature in the works from my company Mad Wolf Productions with me as Writer/Producer/ Director again. Mad Wolf Productions definitely has good stuff in development in the new year and beyond. You can follow updates for my work at: https://www.instagram.com/madwolfproductions  and  https://www.facebook.com/MadWolfProductions

RH: Thanks for your time Michael.  We’re looking forward hearing more about your upcoming projects.

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