Michael L. Wilson cut his teeth by driving the social media and online presences for some of entertainment’s largest names from Taylor Swift to Red Hot Chili Peppers, and has a long history building the notoriety of various brands, personalities, and intellectual properties for close to two decades. Currently, as the President of Permuted Press, Wilson has expanded the small publishing company by increasing the press’s release schedule by adding new genres like fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal to the existing lineup of apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and survival horror fiction, and by launching its new experimental independent film project, Permuted Pictures.
To learn more about Permuted Pictures’ first project, Scifipulse recently interviewed Wilson to learn more about Permuted Pictures’ foray into filmmaking with The OneStop Apocalypse Shop – specifically, the difficulties being an indie producer and embracing Kickstarter.
To learn more about the The OneStop Apocalypse Shop, take a look at its Kickstarter page here.
Nicholas Yanes: Going from working with musicians like Taylor Swift and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to fantasy, sci-fi, and paranormal fiction is a pretty big pivot. What inspired you to make this change?
Michael L. Wilson: Well, to be completely transparent, it was a decision that was made for me. The web development and marketing firm that I founded in 1995 had grown beyond entertainment and branched out into serving the banking industry. About 2/3 of our business came from one bank in particular that held something like 2.2 billion (with a “b”) in assets. We were doing all of their front-end technology and marketing. One day I got a phone call from the FDIC telling me that the bank had become insolvent and, “oh, by the way, that contract for nearly $1 million we have with you? That’s terminated, too.” We tried to bounce back, but at the end of the day I knew it was time for me to move on.
The same day I made that decision, I was sharing the story with an old friend over lunch. He said, “let me make a phone call” – 24 hours later I had an interview, and 24 hours after that I had the job. I honestly believe the whole process was supernaturally orchestrated.
Yanes: Given that the publishing industry seems to be consistently on the verge of falling off a cliff, how did you approach building Permuted Press to survive this changing landscape?
Wilson: Having just come off of a huge learning experience with my other company, I came in to Permuted Press with a lot of caution. Our investors, over time, gently nudged me to become more aggressive, which I’ve done. I may have, at times, been too aggressive, but it is always with the blessing and concrete business instinct of our investors.
Publishing isn’t in the dire straits that some would have you believe, but just like the music business we are all trying to figure it out. Consumers are still buying books. The big five are scrambling to figure out how to do more because their overhead is so massive, and if I can be totally honest, you’ve got a lot of people in big publishing who have become complacent. They’re missing opportunity because they aren’t nimble enough. At Permuted Press, we’re nothing if not go-getters. We hustle every day to do new, creative things and to capitalize on the intellectual property we have. The indie film arm “Permuted Pictures” wasn’t necessarily financially motivated – it is more of a labor of love for us – but it’s indicative of the kind of new things we try that bigger companies might be too slow-moving to consider.
Yanes: When deciding which proposed story to develop into a printed publication, what do you look for in a potential book? On this note, what are some terrible pitches that you’ve heard over the years?
Wilson: When we bought the company from the previous owner, we asked him that exact question. His answer was, “The author needs to be able to pitch the book in a single, short paragraph. If within a few seconds it causes you to think, “wow, that’s cool” – then that’s Permuted.” We call it the “elevator pitch.” Tell me about your book, but do it in the time you have between floors riding up an elevator together.
The only problem with that is that I’m pretty much the most uncool person ever, so I couldn’t rely on his process! One of our owners who is a publishing industry veteran with something like 25 New York Times best sellers under his belt, sits down with me and we step through pitches together. We look at things like market trends and author platform and a number of other things before we ever get to the writing itself. But if the story doesn’t pass the elevator pitch stage, it’s doomed.
It’s hard to call out the worst pitch. We rarely look at a pitch and say “that’s a dumb idea”, but I do vividly recall the one from a good while ago that freaked me out the most. I still kind of shiver when I think about it. It was a story where all the children in the world who died as victims of child abuse reanimated with the sole purpose of terrorizing their abusers, so you’ve got all these sweet innocent undead kids getting payback for the horrors they suffered. Some things are off-limits for us, and even though I understand the theme was one of justice for the wronged, I felt really uneasy using abuse as a big device like that.
Yanes: It was recently decided to turn The OneStop Apocalypse Shop into a movie. What was it about this idea that originally appealed to you?
Wilson: Last year at Texas Frightmare in Dallas, I saw a screening of a film called Conjoined. I think it was shot in a dude’s garage. It was bad, but intentionally so in a brilliant tongue-in-cheek campy way. I fell in love with it. Seeing what the director did there on no budget whatsoever inspired me to say, “our guys are great filmmakers, let’s try this ourselves.”
Well, the idea of doing a movie came first. Then we started looking for the script.
Yanes: When deciding to branch Permuted into film, why did you select this story to be your company’s first film project?
Wilson: The main things we knew were that it had to be cheap, and it had to be funny. We couldn’t do a big production with huge sets and costumes, so we looked for something that we could shoot on nights and weekends at locations near home. Beyond that, we wanted it to be somewhat comedic because doing a dramatic production like the one we’re going to run is a lot harder than doing campy comedy.
Settling on this one was, I think, about two main things. First and foremost, we needed to team up with an author who was really easy to work with. We haven’t done this before, and we needed an author who was great to get along with because if we encountered anything along the way that might cause us to have to mix things up, we didn’t want to end up at each other’s throats. Derek Goodman, the author of OSAS, is super laid back and just a cool guy, so that’s kind of an acid test for most anything our company does.
Secondly, his pitch immediately owned me. When he said “I’ve got this series that’s kind of like Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, I lit up. It was a perfect mix of what we wanted in a story with elements of both humor and horror, and it was even a series which we hoped we’d find so that we could make more films based on the books if the first one did well.
Yanes: To me, The OneStop Apocalypse Shop seems like a mash-up between Clerks and Monster Squad. What are some other classic stories that you feel influenced this narrative?
Wilson: That’s probably a question more for Derek Goodman, the author, and for Ryne Driscoll, the screenwriter, but from a strictly visual standpoint, I am excited by the fact that there are going to be a lot of practical, simple makeup effects going on here. They’re cheap, and they’re just a ton of fun to do. In that aspect, I kind of felt a real Universal Monsters vibe going on outside the convenience store. Ryne and Derek are both a lot younger than me, so they’d probably refer to some more modern references if you asked them. Yesterday, Ryne mentioned that she was going for something between the two stories referenced in the film’s logline. Not quite as raunchy and boisterous as Clerks, but something that wasn’t as tame and “young adult” as Buffy.
Yanes: When adapting any book to film, there are some elements that translate better than others. What aspects of The OneStop Apocalypse Shop do you think will easily transition to film?
Wilson: Ryne is introducing some new elements to make it all a little more cohesive and concise for film, but by and large what Derek has written is a great ensemble story with really interesting characters. He’s created a very cool world. The four key characters you’ll see in the film are very true to what Derek wrote. Their character and the interaction between them is really well done, so we were happy that aspect translates well.
Yanes: Creating any movie requires money. To fund this film Permuted decided to turn to Kickstarter. What are some of the reasons why you decided to crowd fund this movie? On this note, what are some concerns you have about turning to Kickstarter?
Wilson: Well, we Kickstarted it simply because I didn’t want to ask our investors to pay for something that has never been planned to be a big revenue generator. This movie, from the start, has been a labor of love because we all just really enjoy the art of filmmaking. Ryne and David, screenwriter and director, are also Permuted Press’s Production Manager and Associate Art Director. I didn’t want to ask our investors to fund something experimental like this because that’s not our primary business. We’re in the business of selling books. We’re focusing hard on “keeping the main thing the main thing.” From 8:30 to 5:30, it’s all about the business of making and selling books. The film is strictly a nights and weekends endeavor for us, and I didn’t feel that I could approach our investors to fund something extracurricular like a movie.
Ryne has Kickstarted films before so she’s more seasoned than I am, but speaking for myself, it’s kind of scary. When I was a teenager I never wanted to throw parties when mom and dad went out of town because I was afraid nobody would show up. That’s how I’m feeling right now. There was definitely a bit of a fear of failure when we pulled the trigger. I really just hope there are some other people out there who think this is going to be as much fun as we do.
Yanes: It was decided to film The OneStop Apocalypse Shop in Nashville. While this area has a huge music industry, it is still struggling to create a large television and film presence. What are some steps the state could take to encourage more film production in the area?
Wilson: Oh, that’s easy. Tennessee’s film incentives suck. Lots of films head to Atlanta or Alabama because their incentives are so much better. Mississippi’s are really good too from what I understand. Ask anyone who is a true Nashvillian and they’ll tell you that Music City is working hard to lose its hick image. We’re a very, very cool town and there is a vibrant community of filmmakers here, but unless the state decides to really be competitive in that arena, it’s going to remain hard to attract those big productions.
Yanes: Overall, what are some long term goals Permuted has for The OneStop Apocalypse Shop and other properties?
Wilson: Obviously, if the Kickstarter makes its funding goal and we do get to make the film and it puts a little money in the pockets of the author, cast and crew, and Permuted Press’s owners, that’d be nice. I don’t want to sound short sighted, but “Permuted Pictures” really is me, Ryne Driscoll and David Walker – three of us here in our office. We make, market and sell books by day, and then nights and weekends, if we’re fortunate enough to do so, we’d love to be able to make low budget films working with the authors we serve during the week. We lit up when some interest came from some New York producers who are offering to maybe help us with casting, post production and distribution, but even if that doesn’t work out, we’ll still be happy having made something that Permuted Press authors can point to and say, “that was a cool idea. I’m glad Permuted is my publisher.”