Wanting to become a filmmaker after he saw Star Wars as a child, Patrick Meaney has had a lifelong love for telling stories. In addition to producing numerous documentaries about comic books for Sequart, Meaney is soon to release his feature length film, Trip House. Despite being incredibly busy, Meaney allowed me to interview him about his career and latest projects. And you can learn more about Trip House by liking it on facebook and following it on twitter at @TripHouseMovie.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, when did you know you wanted to create films for a living? Was there a specific show or movie you think pushed you in this direction the most?
Patrick Meaney: For me, it all started with seeing Star Wars when I very, very young, like three or four years old. It was in the late 80s/early 90s, a very brief window when Star Wars was dormant, but I saw it on VHS and loved it.
I don’t really remember consciously, but I know I never wanted to be the characters in the movie, I wanted to make the movie. I always had ideas for stories, and I think the big question for me as I got older was, is this something that I could actually do?
When I was in high school, I read Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, and that made me think about story in a way I never had. It played with metafiction, and talked about the impact stories make in the reader’s life. It’s the first time I realized that even though stories were fictional, they could make a bigger impact on the real world than some actual events. They could shape your understanding of the world and change your life.
So, I was very inspired to chase that dream of getting into film, and putting my own stories there to hopefully impact other people in the way that the things I love had impacted me.
Yanes: Prior to your upcoming film, Trip House, you were a producer on the Sequart documentary, She Makes Comics. How did this experience change the way you thought about women in entertainment?
Meaney: Working with Marisa Stotter to make the film was a great experience. We got to talk to so many incredible people and hear why they were so passionate about reading and creating comics. It made me think a lot about the simple power of seeing yourself reflected on screen for groups that don’t usually do.
I think a big thing is just not seeing male as the default for characters. It’s frustrating that having a female character is worth commenting considering women are half the population. It shouldn’t be outside the norm.
Yanes: Do you feel that She Makes Comics may have impacted how you developed Trip House?
Meaney: On the most direct level, I met Tiffany Smith while interviewing her for She Makes Comics and was excited to cast her in the movie.
More generally, it made me extra conscious of making sure that there were plenty of compelling female characters in the mix in the film, and that everybody had their own arc and journey. It’s frustrating that even today so many female characters exist to serve primarily as a wife or girlfriend or object of a quest for the hero. I didn’t want to do that.
And the wonderful thing about movies is that you get to work with actors and actresses to bring the characters to life. So, if I write a female character, I can talk with the actress and make sure that what the character is doing feels right to them, and feels authentic and real.
Yanes: What was the inspiration behind Trip House? Was there an historical figure or event that you think shaped this story the most?
Meaney: When I was working on the concept, I had recently moved to LA and I was reading a bunch of books about the stranger aspects of local history. I read an amazing book about Charles Manson, which opened with a section where the author described him on a dance floor, dancing in a way that radiated electricity, as if he had some kind of supernatural power.
So, I kind of jumped to the idea, what if someone like Manson really had the ability to manipulate space and time and do these strange magic rituals? And that’s where the character of Frazer grew out of. I was particularly interested in the way Manson manipulated vulnerable people into becoming his followers, by preying on their insecurities, and gaining their trust until they would do terrible things on his behalf. He was so powerful he never had to kill people, he could get people to do it for him.
With Frazer, I also wanted to draw on the history of government research on LSD and other psychedelic drugs in the 50s. So, it was kind of the idea of what if someone who researched this out there stuff for the government wound up getting ‘turned on,’ and building a cult of followers to aid his experiments in black magic science.
That was the inspiration for the 60s side of the things. I also liked the idea of people going to a house that would manifest their internal conflicts. The idea of a group of friends who had drifted apart from each other having to deal with all their issues had a lot of conflict inherent, and was a simple enough premise that I could focus on character rather than get bogged down in a lot of plot machinations. It was all about getting to dig into what’s going on these people and manifest their issues in an interesting way.
Yanes: One of the main characters in Trip House is a novelist named Gwen. Characters who are writers or artists tend to be stand-ins for the author of the story. So, how much of Gwen is an extension of your struggles as a professional creative?
Meaney: Gwen as a person, both in her personality and background, is far away from me. But, I do think that every writer has kind of a love/hate relationship with the material they’re writing, and can at times feel like what they’re working on is terrible. It’s a long, lonely journey when you’re writing something, and that idea of just going out there every day and putting something down is similar to what I do.
But, a lot of the character just emerged in the writing. One of the things I do when I write a script is write up background information on all the characters. Most of it never makes it to the actual film, but it’s useful to help me understand their behavior. The character of Gwen actually started as a supporting character in another script I was working on. When I started writing her backstory, I wanted her to be someone who grew up in a sort of very insular academic community. So, I started thinking about a story we’ve seen a lot of a professor who sleeps with his student, and all the trouble that causes for them.
But, what happens to a kid that comes from that relationship. How is their sense of self impacted from always being the subject of gossip and knowing that they were born in this scandalous situation? It would probably make them feel very down about themselves, and very defensive. I loved the idea, and when I was figuring out the plot of Trip House, I felt like this character would fit in really nicely.
And, making her a writer was a way to make her constantly feel the shadow of her more successful father, and give her a tangible goal that she was struggling to achieve. And then I was very fortunate that Kaytlin Borgen brought the character to life in a way that was more vivid than I could have imagined.
Yanes: Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Chloe Dykstra (Heroes of Cosplay and Max Landis’s Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling), and Tiffany Smith (DC All Access) star in Trip House. Given their large presence in fandom, how do you use their presence in the film to get attention without coming off as pandering to their fans?
Meaney: It’s hard out there for indie films to stand out, so hopefully audiences will see people that they know and like from the world of fandom and decide to check it out. And I think if they do, they’ll be really impressed by the talent that each of these actors displays.
For me, working with the actors and getting to collaborate with them to bring these characters to life was the most fun and rewarding part of the process. With Chloe in particular, we expanded a lot of her material together on set, and worked to make her a pretty menacing and unique character.
In general, it was great to have a cast that understood the more challenging sci-fi and fantasy elements of the films. It’s not everybody where you can say something like “In this scene you’re watching alternate versions of yourselves across time,” and have them get it and be able to bring that to life emotionally.
It was really amazing how many of our actors knew each other or had mutual friends, and if that brings people from the fan community to the film, I’ll be very happy for that.
Yanes: Though a low-budget film, this film doesn’t look low-budget at all. What techniques did you deploy to get the most out of what you had?
Meaney: My main goal with the visuals was to focus on stuff that I knew I could do better than anyone else. At our budget, we couldn’t create CG effects that would look good, so I focused on workable practical effects that would convey what I wanted to get across.
For instance, the goal with the Demon makeup was to keep it very subtle and low key so you focus more on the performance than on the makeup. And with the production design, we had to choose specific elements to signify different times and places in an efficient way since we couldn’t just buy everything I’d have wanted.
Beyond that, it came down to really working out the plan for everything with each member of the team in advance. I knew the shots we needed to get and how they’d cut together so we were able to move quickly. When you’re trying to shoot 90 pages in 13 days, there’s no time for indecision, it’s all about keeping the momentum and moving forward.
And I have to give props to makeup designer Michael Dinetz, production designer Lenora Jayne and DP Jordan Rennert for making it all happen.
Yanes: When people finish watching Trip House, what do you hope they take away from it?
Meaney: To some extent, that’s not for me to say. The film hopefully speaks for itself in terms of theme. I’ll say that the core of the film is about facing your demons, both metaphorically and literally. Each of the characters has to deal with something from the past that has defined their life, and they have to decide if they can let it go. So, hopefully people find something of that in their own lives to relate to.
More generally, I hope that people enjoy taking a trippy ride through the subconscious, and like getting to watch something different. In a lot of ways, I made the kind of movie I want to see that I don’t see out there, with a blend of horror elements and strong character drama, and the sort of malleable, surreal universe we see a lot in comics, but rarely in film. I want the whole movie to feel like an immersion in someone’s mind, and you leave having gone on a wild journey.
Yanes: Finally, what projects are you working on that people can look forward to?
Meaney: On the narrative front, I’m working on a new horror/thriller project that will reunite a bunch of Trip House cast members. Hoping to drop some more news on that soon.
On the doc side of things, a feature length version of my film about X-Men creator Chris Claremont is coming out on iTunes/Amazon/VOD in November. She Makes Comics is available on all those platforms now, and my doc on Neil Gaiman is currently on Starz.