I was recently blessed to interview the longtime musician and relatively new filmmaker, Michael J. Epstein, about his projects, past and present-
1.Your music has been featured in different things, some songs more than once, for those that aren’t familiar with your music, how would you describe your music?
I am involved in quite a wide range of music projects. Right now, my main performing projects are The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library – indie ensemble; Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – noisy bass/drums duo with songs inspired by the TV show The Prisoner; Darling Pet Munkee – garage rock songs about items sold in the back of comic books; and Space Balloons – children’s music about alien space travelers. I also used to play in an indie rock band called The Motion Sick and I had a lot of fun playing in Neutral Uke Hotel – a Neutral Milk Hotel sing-a-long tribute band.
A group of us also did the electro soundtrack to our second film, Magnetic, under the name Night Kisses. We may continue with that as a film soundtrack project.
2.How did you get discovered?, and what was your first gig?
I don’t know if anyone is ever discovered. You just have to keep getting in front of people when they’re looking and then once in a while, they notice you and think they found you standing there. I’ve been playing in bands for about 20 years, so any success or attention is just a fluke in the midst of being ignored 1000 times. Very early on in The Motion Sick, we got picked up for some nice coverage by SPIN, which was pretty helpful with getting things moving and convincing people to pay attention.
3.In the last couple years, you’ve gotten involved in micro-budget movies, when did your love first develop?
I’ve always been a huge fan of low-budget movies. I used to scour the VHS racks for the weirdest stuff I could find. I’ve always been really into people telling the stories they want without being confined to standard story structure or standard approaches to production. The scrappy filmmakers were always the ones who impressed me the most. I grew up with movies like The Toxic Avenger, Phantasm, and Death Race 2000. I always thought it would be great to make movies, but the resources just weren’t there for me, and I was busy doing music. Then, when we started doing music videos for ourselves after some great success working with other filmmakers, I realized there was no good reason why we couldn’t make movies too. The technology was finally cheap and good enough to make something I felt good about.
4.How did you meet your filmmaking partner Sophia Cacciola?, and how has that relationship developed?
Sophia and I met at an open mic almost 15 years ago. We became friends pretty quickly and started collaborating on music. All of our projects have kind of merged and we do all of our creative work together now, more or less. It’s great to have someone to work with and share the ideas and duties equally with.
5.You have 2 films in pre-production “Blood of the Tribades” and “Albatross”, what can you tell us about them?, and when do you expect them to be finished?
The funny thing about what we do is that we start working pre-production on a lot of movies and then have to kind of stall the ones that aren’t financially or technically viable at the moment. So, I think we have maybe 5 movies in various stages of pre-production. One might turn into a book first. Some will just take longer to make. Some will end up not getting made. But, it kind of takes putting all of those irons into the fire and then pulling the right one at the right time. That’s sometimes confusing and/or disappointing for people, but it’s just our financial and logistical reality.
Albatross was originally planned to go into production very soon, but it has been pushed back a few months. It’s a story about a family separated by an accident and the attempts at reuniting through a sort of interdimensional travel. It’s a sci-fi/horror blend. We plan to do a lot of practical visual weirdness with it – sort of like Videodrome or something along those lines. We hope to put that into production late this year or early next year and have it done by the middle or end of 2016 for release in either late 2016 or early 2017.
Blood of the Tribades started out as a short-film project, but kept demanding to be made into a feature. It is inspired by the European arthouse and grindhouse vampire films of the early 70s and it uses a superstition-driven society of vampires to explore themes of dogmatic extremism and scapegoating. We wanted to blend the era’s French surrealist take on vampires with the British stage-play take. I’d say it’s Jean Rollin meets Hammer. We’re going into production in just a few weeks and hope to have it completed by the end of 2015 for release in 2016.
6.If you could make a movie about anything what would it be?, and similarly, if you could make a movie based on any true story, what would it be?
Honestly, we mostly can make movies about anything! That is why we like working as small-budget filmmakers. We can make whatever strange experiment we want. That said, a bunch of our film ideas are on hold because of money and space. I think our real dream is to make a 60s-inspired space saga with practical model spaceships and colorful 60s pop visuals. Somewhere in the Barbarella and Star Trek: TOS family. We just need to secure a space to build a spaceship interior set to work with for a few months.
7.What’s your advice for an aspiring artist of any kind?, musician, filmmaker, etc
Don’t wait for the right time. Now is the right time. Just take initiative and stay true to your vision. Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do things the conventional way. Work hard, be honest with yourself, and accept that failure comes 99% of the time. The successful people just do 100 things and get noticed for the one successful endeavor.
8.And finally, from my first blog, you can tell I’m a Christian, do you have any religious views personally?
I was raised Jewish. Formal religion doesn’t play a part in my life right now, except that I take morality very seriously and try to hold myself to the highest standard I can. I also do my best to acknowledge the many mistakes that I make and learn from them and makes things right with the people I hurt. It’s hard work and requires vigilance and I am not always successful. The golden rule is still golden.
Michael J. Epstein – http://michaeljepstein.com
Hearing Research: http://scholar.google.com/citations?hl=en&user=DYB56FMAAAAJ
The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library – http://mjeml.com – library-themed ensemble pop
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – http://donotforsake.com/ – Duo based on ’60s spy-fi The Prisoner
Darling Pet Munkee – http://darlingpetmunkee.com – garage/surf songs about items sold in comic books
Space Balloons – http://spaceballoonsearth.com – children’s music by space wanderers
email list: http://blog.michaeljepstein.com/2010/07/join-our-mailing-lists.html