After having just about every job possible in the film industry, Michael Baumgarten has begun to forge his own path in cinema. After producing and directing a string of successful films with a budget of $100,000, he has moved on up the ranks. With THE MARTIAL ARTS KID, he proved the market for lighter family fare was still in high demand. While not exactly a family film, his latest project PAYING MR. MCGETTY, is still free of the harsh language and bloody violence associated with these types of films. Mr. Baumgarten recently took some time to speak with me about his career and latest achievements.
Corey Danna: You held various jobs in the industry before you graduated to writer/director. Could you tell me a bit about your background?
Michael Baumgarten: I actually began working in nightclubs where I worked as a roadie and stuff like that. There was also a company called Land & Leisure Marketing and I worked a as a still photographer for them and an assistant. From that point on, I went to film school.
CD: Can you tell me a bit about working on your first two features MONSTER MOUNTAIN and LAST CALL BEFORE SUNSET?
MB: They were made for under $100,000 each, I actually made four features for under that amount each. It was a challenge but I shot them usually in 8 to 10 days. If you keep an eye out on YouTube, I’ll be releasing them all on there. MONSTER MOUNTAIN and LAST CALL really exceeded their budgets and turned out so much better than I had hoped.
CD: What I noticed when watching the trailers for these films was that each of your first four features looks nothing like the next. It seemed like you had deliberately tried to keep from repeating yourself in content and genre.
MB: I am a FILM FAN, not just an action film fan or horror film fan so if it’s a good story and it’s fun then I’ll make it. Working in one genre is left to the Wes Cravens’ of the world. He was a fantastic storyteller in the horror genre, Sam Raimi was the same way for a long time then he switched over.
CD: At least he returned to the genre with DRAG ME TO HELL, which I thought was great.
MB: Yeah, it was great!
CD: You’ve been working, in some capacity on films which featured Don “The Dragon” Wilson all the way back to the early nineties. When was the first time you had met?
MB: Back in 1994 when I first moved out to L.A. was thanks to Don who got me a job working as a P.A. I had originally met him back in Florida and he told me I had to move to Los Angeles if I wanted to work in the industry. So after that, I moved on to a Cynthia Rothrock film, more action stuff, before I transitioned into film finance and distribution so I could learn the producing side. I was also involved with a company called Legacy Releasing and I was part of a team with five or six people and we theatrically released three dozen films from 1996 to 2000. They ranged from being released on a single screen to, I think the largest amount was around 1300 or 1400 screens. Part of my job was director of acquisitions so I would go to Sundance and look for movies to buy. I went there for three years as a buyer and then I would have to watch 200 films a year as a job and do reports on them.
CD: Now that’s my kind of job!
MB: Yeah! It is, but you have to also remember that we were the 23rd theatrical distributor at that time so what happens is that when the film would get to us, it had been passed over by at least twenty two other companies so just know that (laughs). Some of them were really hard to sit through. I would try to find the good in it and sit through it because most of the time the director or someone from the cast was actually there to support the film. When I was there as an acquisitions executive, I just didn’t have the heart to walk out on it. Luckily, we did find a few gems!
CD: So what inspired the idea for PAYING MR. MCGETTY?
MB: We were at the Urban Action Expo in New York and Marcos Taylor was there sitting behind me. He had been in our film THE MARTIAL ARTS KID so throughout this screening he was a row or two behind me and he’s reciting the film word for word. At that moment I realized Marcos was more than just a stuntman, he’s a movie fan. After that, I went to James Wilson (producer) and pitched a movie to him pairing up Marcos with Don Wilson and it began from there. We originally wanted to shoot the film in New York and make a chase film. By the time we had the funding in place, it was going into November and starting to get cold. With this type of film, one bad snow storm could completely destroy the film. We needed to make sure the weather would be the same for at least eight to twelve days and in New York during November and December, you just can’t be sure. We had great luck with Florida and they’ve been really nice to us there so we just relocated it. I took a couple of weeks to revamp the script for the new locations. Filming in the Tampa/St. Petersburg area, it has its’ own little vibe there. We really just tried to incorporate the natural beauty and landscape to make it the best film we could. The film office really floored us with what they did for the film. One place they were able to get was the Al Lang Stadium and we had this place at nighttime with the lights on. Do you have any idea how much something like that would cost in Los Angeles? It would be like our entire budget!
CD: What’s great about this film and especially THE MARITAL ARTS KID, is that they’re both relatively family fare. Why did you decide to take this route?
MB: I just noticed the things you have to do to get people’s attention growing progressively worse and I did a film a couple years back called SMITTY and I hired the director of THE SANDLOT and we made a family film. We had a great cast with Mira Sorvino, Peter Fonda, and Lolita Davidovich, we shot it in Iowa, but we almost did it in Michigan. So from that, it was much easier to raise the money. It’s great to have everyone sitting in a room and everyone can enjoy the movie. It was fantastic to have the cast bring their families to watch it. The backers could bring everyone from their ten year olds to their grandmother and it worked. It’s much more fun to do these films without all of the cussing, the gunshots, or heads being torn off. He tried it out and luckily people really like it. The films have been entertaining without the audience feeling as if they’re missing something. There’s action but it’s not bloody, there’s some strong words but they’re not F-bombs sp we get the point across without hitting you over the head with a bunch of things that will earn it an R. It’s easier to for investors to back a film when they don’t have to rule any of the audience out. One thing that was amazing about PAYING MR. MCGETTY was at the Burbank International Film Festival with a bunch of people sitting there and digging on the film. There was a little girl in there, who was probably like eight, was laughing her butt off. At the same time, there was an actress there who has been in the business for like fifty or sixty years, from the classic days of Hollywood, and she’s just enjoying it. Everyone there was having such a great time, that was cool!
CD: When can audiences expect to see PAYING MR. MCGETTY?
MB: Marcos has a movie coming out in March called BABY DRIVER. It’s going to be an interesting and fun film, it was directed by Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD). It stars Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx and that’s going to be when we make our big push. We have a festival in St. Petersburg in April and Cannes in May so that’s going to be a busy spring. We’re hoping to make a deal when there’s a bunch of buzz surrounding BABY DRIVER which should be a huge help.
CD: That’s a great idea.
MB: Yeah, plus the movie is so diverse, as is the cast. There’s nothing out like us right now so we will stand out. It’s a good thing but there are those people out there who only look for the same ole thing and they might ignore us. It will all depend on if we find the right distributor with the right ideas of how to support us.
CD: Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me.
MB: It was a pleasure, sir. This was great!