Michael Schroeder is a well-known name in the world of low-budget filmmaking. His work encompass many styles, from sci-fi actioner over black comedy to erotic thriller, and the films he´s directed are perennial favorites of people who believe the motto ‘small budgets do not necessarily equal low-tech or cheaply done flicks’. A consummate professional, the helmer of Cyborg 2 (1993), Cover Me (1996), Mortuary Academy (1988), Dead On: Relentless II (1992) and other titles was cool enough to answer a few questions for us…
I began my film career in Utah while attending Brigham Young University. I worked as a stunt driver, then a first AD (Assistant-Director), two short years later, I went to L.A. in 1980 and began working as a first AD and UPM (Unit Production Manager). I was able to first 25 features during an eight year period. I got in the DGA in 1983. I became a director in 1987 on Mortuary Academy.
2-You’ve worked with a very impressive array of acting talent: Angelina Jolie, Elias Koteas, Jack Palance, Allan Garfield, Elliott Gould, etc. Unlike a lot of the acting one can find in genre films, the performances of the cast in your films seem pretty strong and uniformly intense. Tell us a little bit about your approach to directing actors. Do you rehearse them a lot ?
I don’t rehearse alot when it comes to my actors. Most of my films have had limited budgets so I don’t get the luxury of a two week rehearsal time. I get great performances from my actors simply because they are not confused by my direction. I keep things very simple and clear. I stress strong character study and effective “super-objective” of their characters. So when we are filming, we’re not searching for the character, we are executing decisions we previously made. I shoot really fast, it behooves the actors to be sharp and focused. I do thorough preparation for my films. This prep is evident when I’m able to answer all the questons from the cast & crew, or at least address their problems by coming up with effective solutions. The crew and cast feel a bit out of sync or sort, if they can’t keep up with me. However, my passion and professionalism tends to permiate through the cast & crew and everyone gets caught up in it.
3-Could you let us in on some of the filmmaking tips/secrets that you utilize to give your films such polished/slick looks under the time/budget-restraining circumstances your required to face?
The take on me is that every film I’ve directed is better & more interesting than the script and looks more expensive than the budget. This comes from years of experience. It takes just as many hours to shoot a bad movie as it does to shoot a good one. I meticulously plan everything with my department heads so when we’re shooting, we are actually shooting and not vascillating with indecision. I only shoot what I need. I’d rather shoot 18 really terrific setups (camera positions) than spend the entire day covering the scene from all angles (like 40 setups) and then trying to create the film later in the editing room. I create the film on the set.
Being a former producer and UPM, I know how to help my producers say yes to most of my requests. If I need two crane days and they’ve only alloted for one, then I get with them and create a way for them to give me what I want and still help them stay on budget. It comes from years of making films, of watching other directors make good and bad decisions. You actually learn more from the bad directors who often shoot themselves in the foot.
4-Cyborg 2 is a movie that I like a lot yet it bears almost no resemblance to the original, directed by Albert Pyun. The link between both being a very ‘thin’ one. Was this a sequel to Cyborg from the start?
Cyborg 2 started out as an original script entitled, The Glass Shadow. Producer Raju Patel bought the MGM rights to the Cyborg name and changed our movie into Cyborg 2: Glass Shadow. I was told after we shot the film that I had to put some Van Damme footage in my film.
Interview conducted by Marco Freitas.