PromoteHorror.com was there when the next great spider themed creature feature “Itsy Bitsy” had its world premiere at the Popcorn Frights Film Festival. Not only did we get to see this amazing film, but we also got the pleasure to speak with the film’s writer, and director Micah Gallo. Below find out what he had to say about the challenges of making the film, how they brought the spider to life, why the character drama was so important, how Bruce Davison got involved, and much more…
-PH: I’m sure it has been a long journey to get here. How excited are you that the premiere has finally come?
-Micah: Yea, I’m excited! I’m very glad to be done frankly. How long have you been tracking the movie?
-PH: A little bit before the festival announced it. I found out through another one of the horror sites that it was coming, and looked more into it once I knew it was coming here.
-Micah: We’ve been really lucky that we’ve had a lot of support from horror fans, and horror websites. We did a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017 for post production, and I think that helped some people have an awareness about it. We’ve just had success since that first trailer that had like a million views organically, and even since then cumulatively we’ve gotten a couple of million amongst the various trailers. That’s all just word of mouth. I’m really happy to be done. It was a long journey. It took probably 10 years or more from inception, and then about 3 years to make it. It was quite a ride. I’ve still got a bunch of debts to pay down over the next 10 years. So that’s the life of an indie filmmaker for you! I’m happy it’s finally out, and people will be able to check it out. I hope everyone likes it and shares it with people because an indie film like ours it’s the only way that anybody knows. People telling people.
-PH: So briefly tell us what “Itsy Bitsy” is about?
-Micah: There’s the high concept, which you can get from the trailer, which is a very specific size to the spider that we wanted. We wanted you to be able to see the horrifying details, but still have it behave the way that a spider does. We thought it would be more frighting if it could hide under things, and be a little reclusive. All the things that I’ve always found frighting about spiders. We wanted that high concept to be there, but the thing we spent the most time on is the character drama. We have the story of a young, single mother who uproots her children, and moves to a new town, small town, where she’s taking care of an elderly art appraiser played by Bruce Davison. Both of their pasts come back to haunt them. There’s something unresolved that both characters haven’t dealt with in their lives, and I guess the spider being unleashed is sort of a catalyst for that. It comes in an object from a person from Walter, the elderly art appraiser’s past. When it breaks loose the mother character Kara also has to deal with some unresolved issues about parenthood and stuff like that.
-PH: Why spiders? Any personal fear of them?
-Micah: Oh yea! When I was a kid I used to pray that spiders wouldn’t come and bit my feet, my toes in the middle of the night. I don’t know why I was particularly afraid of that, but there’s something really disturbing them to me. I’m fascinated too! It’s like a fear fascination the way some people are with sharks, clowns, or whatever it is. For me that was definitely something that excited me as a filmmaker because the idea of bringing a character like that to life, and all the technical challenges of doing it was kind of hard, but inspirational for me. The idea of it always spoke to me.
-PH: You come from a visual effects background, can you talk about how you brought the spider to life?
-Micah: We did everything we could practically first. Even when I ran a visual effects company I would encourage the indie filmmakers we worked with to come and talk to us so that we could help plan it out. Part of that plan was to do everything practically you can first, and then only enhance what you absolutely need to with visual effects. When it comes down to it visual effects are a cartoon. They might be a very good looking cartoon, but it’s a cartoon. We find that by doing everything practically you can then you get to a place where you can make little enhancements of what’s missing or remove what needs to be removed, and you get a more realistic or plausible result. That was kind of how we approached it, but it was a really long process. I did some original sketches and designs. Then I worked with Mario Torres who did an original prototype sculpt. We did some molds. Some old school molds based off that. Did some early tests to kind of see how our ideas were working. Did additional tests. Redesigned it so that it would perform better. And that’s not even counting the visual effects process, which was fairly extensive.
-PH: Were you able to do everything you envisioned doing with the spider?
-Micah: We were pretty much able to do it. There’s always restrictions, budgetary restrictions, time restrictions, things break down. We with into it eyes wide open. I worked with Dan Repert. He was my main collaborator on creating the practical spider, and his team of puppeteers was basically creating that performance. We had to work very closely, and knew that we had a limited budget. What we did to deal with it was we always had a way to work if something broke down. We had to think it through. We didn’t have like “Child’s Play” has a puppet for every gag. We don’t have a puppet for each gag. We had to be very inventive, and know that we could switch out these parts. Have some way to keep moving, keep shooting. As you know, on an indie movie, it’s a train and the train has to be moving at all times or you’re through.
-PH: As the movie moves along, there’s a very powerful story going on with the family. Why was it so important to focus on this family’s struggle?
-Micah: For me, maybe it’s different in the case of something like “Evil Dead 2” where it’s so visually imaginative that that brings you back. But usually the thing that brings me back to movies I think are the characters. Either my emotional reactions to what those characters are going through. Whether that’s thrilling, sad, happy, or whatever I’m feeling with them they’re driving that. I really wanted that watchability. I think too that movies, if you listen hard enough they whisper to you. They whisper what they want to be. I didn’t want it to just be like a random spider running around and killing everybody. I wanted it to have a reflection of the characters, and kind of all feel like it was part of the same story. Probably that’s what we spent the most time on. I hope it makes a difference. I hope it makes a difference for the audience. For people who want more spider action I just would have needed more money to keep it at that level. We could have had more spider action, but we couldn’t have done it at the level we did it on without 3 to 5 times the budget. We tried to make up for that by having a character drama that hopefully you care about. Hopefully you start to feel something for the characters, you understand where they are coming from, and that pays off.
-PH: Watching the film that’s something I picked up on. At first I was thinking spiders, but then realized we are going more with the characters. The mother in particular has a very tough, tragic experience that is plaguing her, and you definitely get wrapped up in what’s happening to her.
-Micah: I’m really glad to hear you had that experience because it was very challenging crafting that character. In the writing, in the performance, in the editing because it’s not your classic Hollywood character either. Hollywood types will tell you that you can’t have a character that is unlikeable. It’s sort of like well yea but characters have to go through challenges. Especially in a horror movie there’s lots of unlikeable characters. It’s sort of known in the genre right. Sometimes you almost want someone to get killed. We tried to ride that line of what she’s going through like popping pills and things like that, but how do you make her understandable and still care in the end. Hopefully we found that balance.
-PH: There’s a good mix of veteran and young actors. How did this cast come together?
-Micah: We were lucky to get Bruce Davison early on. I had a friend that I met through another friend her name is Eileen Dietz from “The Exorcist.” She was in “The Exorcist.” She had the same manager as Bruce, and she really responded to the script just as a friend. She really went out on a limb and got me in contact with the manager. I think the manager took me more seriously because of Eileen because Eileen said, “this is a filmmaker you need to talk to, and he’s interested in Bruce.” So we worked out a deal with Bruce. All the rest of the casting was done pretty traditional. We had auditions and casting directors manage that process, and I was there for all of it. Bruce I think even though it didn’t bring our production money it brought us credibility of others actors want to work with good actors, and knowing that you have someone who can hold your attention and be serious. It was one of those things casting directors warned me too. They said casting this elderly character you’re going to have a tough time. There’s a lot of actors who you think of as really great who don’t want to get out of their chair. Don’t want to put on their shoes. They want to wear slippers to set, or don’t even want to come to location, which is where we had to shoot a lot of Bruce’s stuff. We were really luck that Bruce was such a committed actor. He really took our film as seriously as any other movie, which he doesn’t have to do. He’s an Academy Award nominee. He’s been in 250 plus movies. He could have just said ok I’m going to do this little horror thing and not put effort into it. But he had questions, comments about every line. There was just a lot of interaction with him, and a lot of respect for his craft. We really appreciated that level of commitment, and it brought the other actors and everyone else on the film up to a higher level of commitment seeing that from him. He made a huge difference. It’s a great performance. I’m really happy with what he did. It was a joy to work with all the actors, but Bruce was a real treat.
-PH: What do you want fans to remember most about your film?
-Micah: Good question. My goal was to make the type of movie that you can watch again. So that would be great. Even if one person was like “I really love this movie and I watch it every year.” That would be enough for me. I hope that’s what we made. That’s what we set out to make. Something that’s enjoyable, that you can watch repeatably, and has those kind of rhythms. A specific type of rhythm to make a movie that you can just sit back and let it wash over you again. I don’t if we accomplished that, but that was our goal. We hope that the suspenseful scenes work as well as the dramatic scenes, and that the spider is as good of a character as the other ones.
-PH: You wrote and directed the film. Personally, what was your biggest challenge in making the movie?
-Micah: Every step of the way was challenge. I got to be honest. We never had enough money. You never had enough time. There’s always some type of political or personal problem going on or technical challenge. I don’t know if one thing was easier or harder than anything else. It was a long road. You know the type of movie we made is not the type of movie that you recommend most indie filmmakers go out and make. The fact that we had kids and animals, and a creature that we did practically but also had visual effects. It was a lot of moving parts plus the normal challenges of making an indie film turn out. It was a very challenging movie, but I was lucky that things kind of worked out when they needed to. The certain things that didn’t work out turned out not to be very important. There’s kind of a Zen thing where you have to go with the flow a little bit. The movie and people involved kind of tell you what it’s going to be, and I’m just glad we finished because there were times when that didn’t seem very likely.
-PH: It’s tough out there. I talk to a lot of filmmakers. When you mentioned Kickstarter I know that’s difficult from the beginning. We promote a lot of Kickstarters, and I know a lot of people that it just doesn’t turn out well for them. It never happens for them. It’s good you were able to accomplish that, and make it all the way through.
-Micah: Yea, we had a successful Kickstarter, but interestingly it’s not like that gave us a bunch of money. It was good marketing, and we were successful. We created sort of like a following maybe because of it. But that too like you’re saying, it’s its own thing. You kind of have to hustle that, and it’s its own project. Each link in the chain is just as difficult as the last. It’s funny because I kept thinking it’s going to get easier. I kept thinking that there’s going to be a phase were it just coasts, and it never happens. When you’re the filmmaker and it’s your thing especially when I self funded a lot of it. Produced it. You’re doing all this work and no one else has that same level of energy, and even if when you don’t have the energy you have to find it anyway. And bring everyone along. People mean well and there’s a lot of people who want to make a good film, but what it actually takes is going the extra mile. A lot of times on the day or in the moment they don’t want to go the extra mile. They are there but they have other obligations and other things they want to do. So it’s some amount of pushiness as well to get something done, but it’s rewarding.
-PH: You’ve been involved in a lot of horror movies. What is it about horror that you love, and keeps bring you back to it?
-Micah: I’ve always loved imaginative horror movies. I guess I’ve had a death fascination since I was 5 years old. My mom said I woke up in the middle of the night and asked her if I was going to die. She was kind of caught of guard with the question, but was like “well not for a very long time mijo!” I’ve always been fascinated and horrified by death. I like the stuff that’s really trippy, dream like, and imaginative like “Hellraiser,” “Evil Dead,” or “Nightmare on Elm Street.” Stuff that’s really wacky and out there. I think there’s a way to get surreal or talk about interesting things in a way that’s still entertaining. That’s the kind of horror I like. As far as all the movies I’ve worked on we sought to help young filmmakers. Our goal was to help indie filmmakers with our post-production facility make movies that are as good as Hollywood movies. That’s what we were setting out to do. A lot of those films end up being genre films of all different kinds. That’s the work that was available and that was our mission for that period of time. To help those films succeed.
-PH: Finally, what’s next for “Itsy Bitsy?” What’s next for you?
-Micah: I’ve got projects that I’m working on, but what I would really like to do is this time instead of carrying the ball up the hill myself partner with a company. Find out some aspect of what they want to do and how that can partner with what I want to do. That’s really my goal over the coming year is to find a company or producer that wants to work with me so I don’t have to do it all alone again. It gets a little lonely.
-PH: If you want to let everyone know where they can see the film next?
-Micah: On August 30th you’ll be able to watch it video-on-demand as well as some limited theatrical screenings in about 10 cities that will last a week or two. You can pre-order the Blu-Ray now. It comes out October 1st via Shout-Factory. There will be a commentary and all kinds of cool stuff.
-PH: Thank you very much for joining us.
-Micah: Thank you both for you’re time and it was good talking with you.
Opening in select theaters, digital and on VOD everywhere August 30th, 2019 from Shout! Studios, Itsy Bitsy stars Academy Award©-nominee Bruce Davison (Willard, X-Men, Longtime Companion) and Denise Crosby (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Pet Sematary, 48 Hrs,), and is directed by Micah Gallo. A creepy-crawly creature feature based on the centuries-old poem, Itsy Bitsy weaves a sinister web of family drama, personal demons, and a horrifying monster.
In Itsy Bitsy, Kara, a private nurse and single mother, moves from the big city to the quiet countryside with her two children, 13-year-old Jesse and 8-year-old Cambria, to live with and take care of an elderly man with multiple sclerosis. Things seem normal enough until Jesse discovers a mysterious old relic in the old man’s house, leading to unexpected and horrifying things coming to life
Running Time: 94 minutes
Directed and Produced by: Micah Gallo
Written by: Micah Gallo, J. Bryan Dick, Jason Alvino
Story by: Micah Gallo
Executive Producers: Cory Neal, Geno Tazioli, Adam W. Rosen, Brandon K. Hogan, Jonathan Helmuth,
Tyler A. Hawes
Production companies: Strange Vision, Throughline Films, Paradox Film Group
Cast: Elizabeth Roberts, Bruce Davison, Denise Crosby, Arman Darbo, Chloe Perrin