Today we’d like to introduce you to Mel House.
Mel, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I first became drawn to the world of film after seeing A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET in the theater in 1984. (It remains my favorite film to this day). That’s where the love started. And then in college, I initially started as an aerospace engineering major with a minor in film.
And then about, I think halfway through my first year, it was clear that I was having more fun and plugging more into the film classes. I was doing fine in the engineering classes, but it just wasn’t firing me up. Like I was looking forward to, you know, cracking open the film book and talking about CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or whatever. So I changed my major to film and that’s where it all began.
Over the last 20 years, Mel House has worked in various capacities on several projects, including DP’ing the documentary ELECTRIC PURGATORY – THE FATE OF THE BLACK ROCKER and then directing the low-budget Lovecraft-inspired feature CLOSET SPACE (released on DVD worldwide through R-Squared Films). Mel’s work has been featured in Fangoria Magazine, on television, in theaters, and at several festivals around the world. Mel’s most recent feature, WALKING DISTANCE was distributed by Lionsgate Films in 2011 (under the title PSYCHIC EXPERIMENT). This year he begins production on his 5th and 6th feature films as director, the autobiographical INBETWEENING, and the dark drama MYSTERY SPOT. Additionally, Mel has taken on the role of Producer on films like Penn Jillette’s WATCH JESSICA DIE, Christopher Warren’s IMAGO (now retitled and soon to be revealed) and Michael Steves’ CLINGER and WEST OF HELL, as well as the comedy TV series PLACEHOLDERS, which is currently airing in syndication.
Mel has produced over 20 feature films, 5 of which he has directed himself. After years of toiling on other people’s movies, Mel decided to refocus on his own work. Mel’s 5th feature as director, MYSTERY SPOT, was shot in September 2019 in Hempstead Texas. MYSTERY SPOT stars Lisa Wilcox, Graham Skipper, Debbie Rochon, all of whom returning to collaborate with Mel. You can find more info on his work at upstartfilmworks.net or by listening to his podcast, “Barely Living The Dream”.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ha! Not in the least! As a half-joke to myself, I often wonder aloud if I can jump back into the aerospace engineering game. Making movies in general is one of the hardest things you can ever do already, and that’s assuming that all of the cards are in your favor and everyone is on your side. And then on top of that, I’ve dealt with all kinds of shady people – liars, cheats, thieves, etcetera. “Creative accounting”, unreliable folks that show up one day and no show the next….you name it. It’s super-difficult to get anything off the ground already (and this is skipping the relative difficulty of the writing/inception part of the creative process, which in and of itself is hard), but then once you somehow miraculously get a script done, get people interested, get it funded, SHOOT it, get it edited and posted into a watchable form – well then you have to then prepare to run the obstacle course of getting it out into the world and getting people to care about it. And then in addition to that, if this is really going to be “your life’s work”, you have to navigate the process of making a living and ensuring that you get paid fairly for all of your hard work. That whole arc is sort of the macro view of the struggle, and then you have all the little skirmishes that I mentioned previously that you find yourself dealing with on the day-to-day. Shout out to the wonderful legal and accounting team that I have assembled over the years – they go a long way towards soothing my anxiety.
Please tell us about Upstart Filmworks.
Since its inception in 1998, Upstart Filmworks has made a name for itself by walking the roads that others fear to tread. We are not a “Hollywood studio”, nor are we a “backyard indie”. Our narrative feature film production resides comfortably in the center, bringing high production values and recognizable talent on not-so-high budgets. Our projects tend to buck the norm stylistically as well, as we prefer to lean toward the cerebral side of things. Initially, we were known for really creepy weird Cronenbergian genre material, but that has been evolving over the last few years for a variety of reasons.
Over the course of the last few years, Upstart Filmworks has grown considerably. In addition to continuing to step up our feature film game, Upstart has also taken on video projects for high profile commercial clients as well as producing and providing support and equipment for several independent shorts and music videos. You’ll find examples of Upstart’s work all over the world…from film festivals in Europe, South America, and Africa…to cable channels like MTV, FuseTV and Ovation…to magazines like Fangoria, Rue Morgue, and Alternative Press…to direct-to-DVD releases available both domestically and abroad. Currently, Upstart Filmworks concentrates on production of in-house narrative feature projects but we are also able to provide complete turnkey production support (from pre-production through post-production and duplication), equipment rental, and consultation.
I’m most proud of the longevity of this crazy idea that I had over 20 years ago. It still sounds weird to me to mention my business as a real entity, if that makes sense. Regardless, I definitely think that you can trace a strong arc of evolution and improvement across all of the things we do. Each project builds on the last, and, at least in my eyes, is better as a result.
We also just completed and premiered a movie titled IN THE BLOOD that was in post-production for a literal decade – clearly there were many roadblocks and issues along the way. But once we started showing it to people and they were overwhelmingly into it…it made it all worthwhile.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Tenacity. Some would probably call it stubbornness. It seems to be working out okay thus far.
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Kenny Haner, Jeff Caudill (posters)