Producers and Directors Eric Manche and Jeff Nitzberg agreed to an interview on what is a low budget gem in the rough AND features an atheist character, although in a bumbling, comical form (for our amusement, lighten up!) It’s Slimed, The Movie, and we’ve already reviewed it here on Freethunk, but we wanted to know more. Prepare yourselves for…
SLIMED! The Interview…(cue ominous music)
FREETHUNK: Who started this? Who thought it was a good idea to make a movie about a man-made ecological terror featuring an atheist park ranger, a Bible salesman, a cat, and a rat puppet?
ERIC: I may have had the first idea for the movie, probably just being about the adventures of an atheist and a Bible salesman, however, after I realized what I was getting myself into, I quickly recognized that I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own. I needed a partner in crime. A good friend from childhood, Jeff, agreed to collaborate with me. Over the course of the next few months, Jeff and I developed the rest of the story equally.
JEFF: Originally it was a park ranger and a priest, then the priest became a Bible salesman. The cat and the rat were both Eric’s idea. When we were trying to come up with a way of personifying the slime, I really wanted a demented scientist who strove for the ultimate cleaning product but Eric hated the cliché of the “evil scientist.” After much mental turmoil he said, “what if it’s an evil scientist rat puppet?” In hindsight of course it totally had to be an evil rat puppet with whom the entire cast including the puppet never acknowledges is a rat, nor a puppet. Eric built and operated the puppet… in fact we even showed some of the rat footage to Jim Henson’s daughter while we were editing the rough cut. She just happened to be visiting RISD at the time, and she was blown away by the footage… I don’t know how we didn’t make something more come from that.
FREETHUNK: How long did this project take? I know from talking to other filmmakers it can be years with all the “extra” stuff you have to do even if the shooting only took a month? Was there an actual budget?
ERIC: In all, the project took almost 3 years. Because Jeff and I were pretty much in charge of every aspect of the filmmaking (writing, directing, editing, special effects) it took a lot longer than it would have had we had a larger crew. We wrote and rehearsed for 4 months, filmed for 30 days and had a rough cut with temporary effects a few months after that. The remaining 2 years were filled with color correcting, sound design, finessing the visual effects, finding a composer to do our score, all this in addition to our full-time jobs.
JEFF: No one got paid at all… except our composer, who made out with a small sum. But essentially we had no money. Does it show?
FREETHUNK: To be honest, it doesn’t show as far as the no-budget. I watched the movie on my flat widescreen TV and it was big and beautiful. And was there a script? Were you improvising on set as ideas might have popped up. Were there ideas you had to discard due to being too complicated?
ERIC: We did have a script and we actually stuck very close to it. While there was the occasional moment of improvising (usually with the more physical jokes) almost all the dialogue is exactly as it appears in the script. We removed a number of ideas (and musical numbers) due to complexity but the one I was the most disappointed in was the removal of the opening scene, in which we were going to show the killer toxic slime claiming a female victim in the woods. We just ran out of time… and I really feel the scene would have helped grab the audience’s attention.
JEFF: We stuck to the script like glue… everything was scripted…we made the actors redo takes if they forgot an “AND.”
FREETHUNK: Are you guys actually atheists on some level or were you inspired somehow to create the atheist park ranger, Rock Rockerson? I wouldn’t exactly call him an atheist role model, more of a parody.
ERIC: I’m an atheist and I definitely wanted to infuse the movie with some of my feelings on religion, religious people and my non-religious beliefs. We both felt that the realm of religious debate would be a perfect fit with an action/sci-fi movie motif and knew that it hadn’t been done yet. Rock Rockerson isn’t necessarily a role-model, but I do think he’s probably the first out-of-the-closet atheist to star in an action/sci-fi/comedy. I felt it would be awesome to have a stereotypical action-figure as an atheist – both funny and accessible to younger viewers.
JEFF: I am not an atheist. I’m Jewish though non-practicing, and I wasn’t raised in a particularly religious way. Making a movie that featured nature vs religion as a backdrop totally excited me because I’m very neutral on the subject. It was very important not to demonize any one side. Rockerson is a total parody of a human let alone an atheist, and the same goes for Pepe, and there is nothing more satisfying, at least for me, than creating a structure that allows for these two radically different characters to grow a friendship by the end of the movie… even if everything just gets destroyed by lasers afterwards.
FREETHUNK: Where did you find Jordan Lee? As I mentioned in my movie review he sounds like he voices cartoons.
ERIC: Jordan was a local comedian in Clearwater, FLA (where Jeff and I grew up and where the movie was filmed) who responded to our Craigslist posting seeking actors. He was the 3rd person who auditioned and I knew right out of the gate we had found our man. During the rehearsal he did one of Rock’s angry speeches and got so into character that he was screaming and spitting in my face. I knew with that kind of dedication and willingness to go off the deep end he’d be perfect for the role.
FREETHUNK: And Dustin Triplett as Pepe, the Bible salesman?
ERIC: Dustin is a good friend of mine from high-school and a budding actor. He was always the most outgoing and hilarious of my friends and I told him the year before we madethis movie that I wanted to film something with him and asked if he was down for it. He really went out of his way to make the movie; balancing 3 jobs, the death of a parent, the suspension of his driver’s license and a 45 mile trip from his home to where we were shooting every day.
FREETHUNK: That is dedication! Lastly Jessica Borusky as Sally—did you physically stretch her face into those wonderful expressions?
ERIC: It’s all her, she has a comic gift and a willingness to put herself on the line and be as ridiculous as she can. She is also 100% responsible for Sally’s physical appearance as she did her own makeup and even came up with the idea that Sally is a hunch-back. You can’t really see it too often in the movie but she does have a prominent hump extruding from her shoulder.
FREETHUNK: Since Freethunk is a site that caters to freethinkers and attracts religious curiosity seekers, have you gotten any feedback on using an atheist character and a Bible pusher? Negative? Positive?
ERIC: I only had one case of a negative response – we were actually in talks with a skilled composer who basically didn’t want to be associated with the movie. He didn’t want to do it because he said he wouldn’t be able to show his work (and the movie) to his friends/family. He thought we were too hard on Christians… which really surprised me because I always felt both sides were fairly and equally skewered. I also questioned whether he watched the whole movie because it certainly ends on a note of being open minded and promoting discussion instead of blind hatred. Anytime you make a movie featuring religion you’re going to turn someone off, but my family (who are religious) loved the movie and didn’t find it offensive at all.
JEFF: Other than the composer thing Eric mentioned, no one ever objected to anything either religiously or otherwise while we made the movie. I was constantly surprised actually… I anticipated at least SOME opposition. We were blowing up children and the parents were very happy to have their kids in a movie… we sent the people in charge of the local Florida film commission the script to make sure we were in the clear to film in nature and no one ever said a word or asked us to change anything. This wonderful, generous man let us film in a real park station at a park in Florida, and the one day he walks onto set to check things out Rock is angrily stomping around slapping Sally in the face. He just said, “Wow! I can’t believe how professional this all is!” We were very lucky.
FREETHUNK: Who provided the special effects, for a low budget film they were plentiful?
ERIC: Plentiful indeed – they were done by myself over the course of 9 months and a lot of headaches. I love old-school practical effects and have a bit of disdain for computer generated imagery so I did everything I could to do the effects as they would have been done in the 80s, except that I was using a computer to composite instead of an optical printer. What’s funny is that the actual slime tidal wave is made out of oatmeal and was meticulously placed in the scenes as a miniature optical effect. Despite all my efforts, the majority of responses to the scene have been people who asked me how I did the CGI slime! People have come to expect that every visual effect they see nowadays is made on a computer, which is a shame.
JEFF: Eric did all the effects. He built most of the props, miniatures, and then sat at his computer for months and months doing all the compositing work. He started a tall youthful fellow. He finished a crippled, mold-covered gnome.
FREETHUNK: And speaking of special effects, who provided all the kids you blew up? Any injuries?
ERIC: Craigslist really came to the rescue with the kids. Jeff and I both thought that finding kids would be one of the hardest tasks in making Slimed but when we put up our posting we received no less than 40 responses by parents BEGGING us to let their kids be in our movie.
JEFF: After our huge response from Craig’s List we lucked out by running into this amazing woman, Amy Lynn Howell, who became our official child casting director of sorts, and she just bent over backwards to get us as many kids as possible… all of whom either were shot with lasers or blown up. No one was injured of course. The kids loved getting blown up… we’d just scream “LASERS EVERYWHERE! DIE! You’RE FALLING! You’re DYING!” They loved it.
FREETHUNK: Slimed reminds me of many of the movies I found as a kid when ma and pa video stores still existed. I’m thinking of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and Meet The Feebles (featuring puppets with problems) as well as Evil Dead 1 and 2. Now where are you coming from influence-wise in relation to good “bad” films?
JEFF: Oh no question, we love all those movies. You can also add South Park, Monty Python, the Zucker Bros, Jim Abrahams and The Marx Bros to the list.
ERIC: Peter Jackson was definitely a big influence, as well as an inspiration. The story of him making Bad Taste on the weekends with his friends over the course of 4 years definitely gave Jeff and I the impetus to carry through with our movie. Otherwise, I just have to mention my favorite movie of all time – Ghostbusters.
FREETHUNK: I know this gets more “geek” then some readers care for, but, as an artist myself, who did the cover art for the DVD/Movie Poster? It’s old-school painted, like all the great movie posters from the eighties. Admittedly, often the painted movie poster was better than the actual movie itself, but still…
JEFF: Thanks! Both Eric and myself actually met in art class in middle school, and we both went to art school for painting and drawing afterwards. When it was time to do the poster there was no question it was going to be an epic painting. So I did the illustration by hand, and Eric did the logo and layout design. It’s supposed to be exactly as you’ve described it. There was a time when movie posters were about making you WANT to see the movie, and what better way to do that then to make the movie look AMAZING with an awesome poster painting? Even if a movie is crap, shouldn’t the poster art’s job be to make you want to see it? Why have a great movie with awful Photoshopped crap fart terribly fake looking airbushed poop!? It makes no sense! I will fight to the bitter end to have every movie I ever make have a hand painted poster. Whew, I could rant for awhile… Frank Darabont has great things to say on the subject if anyone wants to hear that rant. Reynold Brown, Bob Peak, Drew Struzan and a lot of poster artists out there are all my heroes.
FREETHUNK: Finally, after this effort you must have a taste for more? Any thoughts on new projects?
ERIC: I’m really hoping to do a short puppet animation next, but I also have a script going about a killer giant flying shark that terrorizes a small beach town.
JEFF: Oh definitely, there are a ton of projects in the pipes. There is no question we want to make movies forever. I have a kung-fu movie that takes place in a diner, a relationship drama that evolves in a physical war between a couple, and a killer cockroach movie with a great twist… and then there is a short Eric and myself made when he was in college about these two guys who mutate thorough the entire film… I really want to convince him to make that one into a feature… those are just a few so it’s only a question of which one will happen first. Stay tuned!