How did you get into film making?
I’ve been making films for most of my life. You know the story, you start with your dads big old VHS camera making films with your friends and stop motion animations with action figures. I eventually realized in Junior High that it was what I wanted to do as a career. It was fun. But more than that it was a way that I could communicate what was going on in my head to people around me whether it was stories, feelings, images, or fantasies. It was magical, satisfying, and when I saw peoples faces range in emotion from joy, to disgust, to fear to sadness all in one sitting, I knew this is what I wanted to do.
What does your creative process look like?
I mood board the shit out of everything I make. I love taking images that inspire me and collage them all together and basically make a piece of art for the film. Its sort of an abstract road map that gives my creative team a sense of what I want to do with the project. If I am working on a narrative film, I will design posters for that film even before I start shooting. Its all about immersing yourself in the project and finding what inspires you and what you like most about it. It weeds out all the dull, less interesting stuff and helps you get to the core of what you want to say. Sometimes I’ll do this before I even have a script written. When the script or idea needs to be put down on paper thats when personal experience becomes key. Every film I have ever made has drawn from something that has happened or is happening in my life. It’s where my head is at the time, what I am worrying about, what I am afraid of, what I want to explore and fix in my life that draws inspiration for the core of the idea. Also there’s just the “Let’s make some cool shit” aspect that is always there. Not everything has to mean something and I feel like mixing that with whats happening in my life makes the stories that much more interesting. I love creepy, unsettling imagery. To be honest, I don’t have too many creepy, unsettling things happen to me. But underneath those sadistic, macabre images there is stuff that is affecting me or the world around me that I want to talk about…just not in the most obvious of ways. The “You Want The Night” video is a perfect example of that. Yeah it’s a bunch of really cool looking characters looming all menacingly, but each character has its own meaning to me. And whats great about it is that they can all have their own meaning to everyone else. Some viewers will see weird people in Halloween costumes and that’s it. Others will connect with the soldier and the candles representing his time running out. For others the ghosts may resonate as the secrets behind closed doors in a suburban environment. For me the question was how do I take these visuals that are in my head and explore questions, fears and uncertainties I have.
What elements of film making do you enjoy the most?
Finding the frame, Production Design and working with actors and talent are my favorites. I find that my entire body tingles and I melt when those three elements come together perfectly. Production Design is creating the tangible world, the frame creates the feeling of the world, and the actors make you believe in the world.
What’s most challenging?
Time and Money. Every filmmaker will agree with me on that.
Is there a particular cinematic era or genre that influences your work?
I am hugely inspired by the films I grew up with which were a hodge podge of 50’s monster movies, 60’s rock and roll films, 70’s revenge and violence exploitation, and 80’s horror and action. There was a fantastical dirty reality those films had that nothing has ever come close to again. I strive for that in all my work.
How did you come across the band?
A friend of mine sent me the song Oceans on Spotify and I was literally hooked ever since. I remember dreaming of making a video for one of the tracks on the album. Still one of my favorite commute albums.
What drew you to the song You Want the Night?
There was something unsafe and sinister about it. An unflinching sinister. I was waiting for the song to break from the tone and let you know that everything was going to be alright, but it never does! And that was great! I bet I’ve listened to the song close to a thousand times and it’s still one of my favorite jams. It’s menacing, brooding, and is a testament to what magic can be done with killer synth and haunting vocals.
What influenced your ideas for the video?
Things that frighten me. Things that unsettle me. Things that as much as I would not want to run into in the night, I WOULD WANT TO RUN INTO just to say I saw it. Not sure what would happen to me…not sure if I would make it out alive or be scarred for ever, but it would be worth it. Every moment the viewer is put in the same room with these characters. The viewer looks at them, they stare back. What are they thinking? Thank God there’s a screen between them. Or maybe that’s unfortunate?
What was the most fun part of making the video?
I love working with my crew. We are all very serious about what we do but we make it fun. It was also a joy to see all of these characters come off the page and become reality. It was almost as though I was creating this little collection of characters I could put in a showcase that you could stare at for hours and wonder. That was satisfying.
What was the most difficult part?
The compromises. You shouldn’t feel or see them in the video but budget can be a hard thing at times. It is the challenge of low budget filmmaking but has ultimately made me the filmmaker I am today. No one cares what didn’t make it to screen, only whats there. And I don’t care if you have a 500 dollar budget or a 50,000 dollar budget, you always make the viewer feel like they are watching something important and high production. You find a way.
When approaching a music video what is your aim as director/film maker?
Create incredible engaging imagery. Does it make sense? Who cares. Does it create a new meaning with the song or enhance it? It better. Does it look cool? It has to. For me it’s really about finding imagery that you can’t take your eyes off of. Make the viewer feel things they weren’t expecting to in those 3 minutes. Also, can you make the band fall in love with your vision? That is so fun and satisfying because its there that music and film connect and create something original and exciting only the band and the filmmaker could have done.
You can view the video “You Want The Night” Mike directed for Sleep Thieves below.
Check out some of his other work at
VIMEO : https://vimeo.com/mikepnelson