Interview: Alex Craig Mann discusses making it in Hollywood and the “Detention of the Dead”
Alex Craig Mann earned a B.A. in Theatre from the University of New Hampshire and also studied Shakespeare in Performance at Cambridge University in England. After this, Mann began to study acting with Milton Katselas at the famous Beverly Hills Playhouse. Appearing in television shows and films since 1996, he has appeared in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Joss Whedon’s Angel, and Festival in Cannes. In addition to now teaching at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, Mann has written and directed his first film, Detention of the Dead. Centering on high school students who are in detention when the zombie apocalypse begins, Detention of the Dead is a fun addition to the zombie genre.
Nicholas Yanes: Lots of people want to get into acting. What was your motivation for pursuing this career? Moreover, when did you realize that you could succeed in this field?
Alex Craig Mann: When I was younger I loved expressing myself and sharing whatever I was interested in with other people. Also, I loved being the center of attention. So, it was natural I gravitated to acting.
I never doubted I could be a good actor. Success in the biz is something else. I did many very cool jobs and worked with some wonderful people. I fulfilled several dreams and in that way I feel very successful.
Yanes: Before we talk about your film, Detention of the Dead, could you share some thoughts on your experience with the Beverly Hills Playhouse?
Mann: I began my professional acting training there 20 years ago. It’s a great place to study. It provides you technique in a very supportive, demanding and challenging atmosphere. I’m dedicated to the development of artists and the Beverly Hills Playhouse gives me a place to do that. I’ve taught there for about five years.
Yanes: After years of acting you made the switch to writing and directing for your first film, Detention of the Dead. What was the reason for this transition? Did you want to become more than an actor, or did the idea for this movie really capture your imagination?
Mann: I began directing to become a better actor, to more fully understand the creation of the whole vision. I fell in love with that work. Also, I saw a way to create my own path even more clearly, and along the way hire my friends. So, the transition to directing was a matter of following my heart and passion, as well as an empowering business decision.
Yanes: What was your inspiration for creating Detention of the Dead? Are there any movies or stories that really inspired you while writing this?
Well it’s based on a play I work shopped and directed by Rob Rinow. I immediately saw its value more as a movie…the genre is endlessly popular, it’s marketable, etc. Rob and I added more of a John Hughes flavor. We were inspired by The Breakfast Club for its story, Shaun of the Dead by its comedy, and Evil Dead for its tongue and cheek/campy approach.
Yanes: Given how many zombie movies are out there, how are you hoping for Detention of the Dead to be different?
Mann: It’s low budget, campy zombedy. I embraced that as part of the concept and we all had a lot of fun making it. That passion and fun is on the screen. I didn’t shoot to be different. My goal was to entertain our target audience. I know it’s not for everyone, but those that it’s for will enjoy.
That’s enough for me.
Yanes: When writing Detention of the Dead were there elements of the story that had to altered due to budget constraints?
Mann: Many. Days before shooting I was rewriting. I had to make about 10 pages of cuts just prior to saying “Action’. There were many stunts and fx gags that had to go. I just didn’t have the time and budget to do them.
Yanes: Lots of people dream of making movies, but never get the business side of it down. How did you go about getting the needed financing and business infrastructure to make the film?
Mann: I pitched the marketability of the concepts: genre, zombies, Breakfast Club, and Shaun of the Dead. With a proof of concept, at least as much of one you can have in film, I was more easily able to convince investors that I could get them their money back. Regarding the business infrastructure – I simply hired great and enthusiastic people, beginning with my producer, Brooke Anderson. Her commitment and talent has been key to the business success.
Yanes: On this note, what suggestions do you have for up and coming film makers?
Mann: Pick doable goals and go for it. You can do it. You can outcreate any obstacles. You’ll have to because there are many. I suggest choosing material that is marketable or choose material that you MUST do because you have something to say with it. A combination of both is always best. Whatever you choose, you better be passionate. You’ll need all that passion to climb the Mt. Everest that is filmmaking.
Yanes: What are some long term goals you have for Detention of the Dead? Would you like to see it spin-off into a videogame or comic book?
Mann: If we were so popular that there was a demand to do more, then I’d like to do a sequel in which I could do all the things I couldn’t in the first. It’d be a lot of fun. Rob and I also wrote a TV show loosely based on the film.
Yanes: Finally, beyond Detention of the Dead, are you working on any other projects people can look forward to?
Mann: Yes. Nothing specifically to talk about yet. However, I will do more. The next will likely be a thriller. I’m excited to do my next film for sure!