Michael Dougherty is the director of the successful fan film Browncoats: Redemption, set in the Firefly/Serenity universe three months after Miranda. The film got the blessing of Mr. Whedon himself, as well as cameos and assistance by a number of Firefly cast members and others involved with the show. Most importantly, Redemption raised over $113,000 for various charities. Michael and his organization Big Damn Films are now working on his second film to benefit charity: Z*Con.
I got the chance to meet Mike (and get chased by zombies) at the shoot for the Kickstarter video, which will promote the project and try to raise the necessary funds for Z*Con to be successful. A couple of days later we spoke via Facebook Chat about his plans for the film, his love for the geek community and how important they are to meeting the film’s goal of entertaining for a cause.
Heather: Mike, I’d like to start things off by talking about your film Browncoats: Redemption. A large portion of our readers are Firefly/Whedon fans, and I’m sure they’d love to hear about what you accomplished. Could you tell us how you got the idea and how you brought it to fruition?
Mike: Absolutely. The idea really came when co-creator (of Redemption) Steven Fisher asked “Have you ever thought of doing a Firefly fan film?” I said “No, but I have now and we’re doing it.” From there I went away, wrote the script, went to Dragon*Con ’08 and asked a lot of Browncoats about their thoughts on the concept. There was a large positive response, so we proceeded to reach out to FOX and Mutant Enemy to get permission.
The idea really came out of a simple place…”What would the world be like three months after the events in Serenity and how would a new crew just starting out survive?” I wanted to create a crew that was far different from the crew of Serenity, but felt like they belonged in the universe. After really breaking the story with Steve and a few people in the writing group I was in, I felt like I had a solid story that could stand alone or be a companion piece to the storyline in the ‘Verse. Kind of a TNG of Firefly.
Heather: Adam Baldwin and Michael Fairman got involved with the film, which is incredibly exciting. How did that happen?
Mike: Really organically. Adam came out of him hearing about the project. He was initially slated to be involved in the beginning, but his schedule with Chuck didn’t work out. After that Brian Wiser, one of the Producers of the Firefly documentary “Done the Impossible” came on board and made the introductions that brought Michael Fairman, Greg Edmondson, and Sonny Rhodes (who sang the theme song of Firefly) on as cameos. The cameo from Yan and Raphael Feldman (Fanty and Mingo) came about because we interviewed them for the bonus features of the DVD and they asked to be involved in some capacity. We wrote a real quick scene and added them in.
Heather: What was it like working with them?
Mike: As cliche as this is going to sound everyone was really nice and easy to work with. Every single person we interviewed and who did a cameo was really interested in being a part of the film.
Heather: That’s great to hear. Do you have any particularly interesting stories about Baldwin or Fairman?
Mike: Michael Fairman is completely as opposite from his character Niska that you can get. The best part was that we brought several pairs of glasses to replicate the ones he wore in the show. When he found the ones that worked for him he slowly became the character as he put the glasses on. It was interesting to see that slow change. As for Adam, he was just really gracious and thanked us for supporting MC-LEF. And boy is that man tall.
Mike: As far as we know, he’s always had a big affection for those who serve in the military. You can see it in the characters he plays, ranging from Full Metal Jacket to Chuck.
Heather: That brings a smile to my face. My husband’s in the Navy, and we really appreciate people taking time to show their support for the military. Thank you so much for supporting MC-LEF. It’s comforting and exciting when a group of geeks supports the troops. Support of our own kind and all, I guess.
Mike: I served in the Army for a short time and come from a family of military men. I’m really humbled by the people who serve our country.
Heather: Well thank you for your service! I’m glad you got into directing, though. How did that happen?
Mike: Completely by accident. Prior to Redemption I had never directed before. Always helped friends behind the scenes with small things like carrying equipment, holding a boom mic. etc, but never directed or written anything. Not even short films.
Then as Redemption got started, the world we created was so clear in my head that it became easier for me to feel confident that I could tell the story better than if I passed it on to someone else. I know that the film is far from a masterpiece, but I’ve been told it looks like someone who’s been doing this a few times…not someone that this was their first film.
Heather: That’s an incredible compliment. Speaking of incredible compliments, I read on IMDB that a commercial for Redemption aired on The Science Channel during its showing of Firefly, making it the first fan-film to air a commercial during the original material which it was based on. How did that happen?
Mike: As with most things in this project, because of the community of people who were a part of it’s success. Eric Manchester, who ran our lighting, works for them and made the introduction. It turned out really well and it was amazing to see the impact it had.
As with most everything with Redemption, the big things happened because of the good people who believed in it. And that, to me, is what makes Big Damn Films successful. It’s not about ego..it’s about community.
Heather: How would you describe your level of involvement with the geek community? How important were they to the success of Redemption? How important will they be to Z*Con’s success?
Mike: I love the geek community. Because the geek community involves so many different fandoms, like the Browncoats who made Redemption successful, I am involved in so many different ways. Geeks truly do rule the earth. Geeks, horror fans, and people who just like supporting projects trying to do good works will be the only reason Z*Con is successful.
Z*Con is really a love letter to all things geeky, social media, and zombie films wrapped into one.
Heather: So this is a movie for the fans, the geeks, the con-goers, who’ll get to see a film involving one of their favorite things to do. What inspired you to set a zombie apocalypse in a convention setting? Did it have anything to do with the crowded, cattle-like feeling of being with all of those people in such a hectic setting? The feeling of “If there was an emergency, how screwed would we be”?
Mike: It really came out of the horror movies I love. I loved when they used to be about tapping into that primal fear. Fear of the water, fear of birds, dogs, etc. So what’s scarier than the environment you love going to year after year creating zombies? It came from watching so many people in zombie costumes and thinking “I wonder how long it would take for someone to notice there really was a zombie at a convention?” And then thinking “What if Con Crud turned you into a zombie?”
Heather: Is this set at a real con or fictional one? If a fictional one, is it inspired by one particular con?
Mike: It’s a fictional one, but will have all the things you’d expect to see. It’s slightly inspired by a combination of Wonder Con, the Wizard World Cons and Dragon*Con.
Heather: I got to know you from meeting you at the Z*Con Kickstarter shoot. Did you use Kickstarter to fund Browncoats: Redemption? How does Kickstarter work, and how will it help you bring your film to life?
Mike: Redemption was completely out of pocket. This is our first time using Kickstarter. I like it because it really keeps the integrity of the project. What I mean by that is that the people do not actually give us money until the project is fully backed.
If we reach our goal early, all the additional money we raise will go to the project. The biggest thing, for me, is that every penny we raise from Kickstarter reduces the amount of money we have to take out of the money that could go to charity. 100% of the net proceeds are going to charity. That means if Kickstarter funds 100% of the films production…100% of what the DVD, Bluray, and digital downloads goes to charity.
Heather: That’s really inspirational. How do you think Kickstarter is affecting indie filmmakers like yourself, and your projects?
Mike; I think it’s allowing us keep the process a bit more honest than what the studios currently do. Kickstarter requires you update your backers on the process and where the funds are going. Now, to be fair, there are some that don’t, but the integrity of it is what is the most important. Because it means the community is saying “We want this” and it’s your job to keep your word and deliver it.
Heather: We definitely need more of that today. You said that 100% of the net proceeds are going to charity. What charities is Z*Con supporting?
Mike: So far we have selected Kids Need to Read. We’ll be reaching out to Red Cross and see if this is something we can partner with them on. and we’ll be opening the third charity up to the community to submit their charity and the one that receives the most votes will be selected.
Heather: We’ve touched on it a bit, but could you describe Z*Con more for us, please? What is it all about?
Mike: Z*Con is about Matt Moore, and his friends, who are four teens with a video podcast that get trapped in a convention when the zombie apocalypse breaks out. They use social media to share what’s going on inside with the outside world. It’s kinds of like Goonies meets Shaun of the Dead set in…well….a comic convention.
Heather: Did you base Matt on yourself at all? Was there a particular person or type of person in your life that you based him on?
Mike: I think each character has some small aspects of me in them. Matt doesn’t think of himself as the “leader” and that was something I had to work through on Redemption. When you are the source of the passion project…you need to be the person people can look to for direction and vision. He has a journey to go through on the film that will explore that.
The zombies are just the catalyst for the story…to me it really comes down to the people. If you can’t get invested in them…you won’t care when something happens to them.
Heather: I think that’s the real meat of a zombie film: The dynamic between the living, and what their actions say about our society. I look forward to the story you’re planning to tell with Z*Con.
Thank you so much for your time, Mike. Do you have any parting zombie survival tactics to share with us? Any weapons/ shelter of choice?
Mike: My biggest survival tactic is to work together. So often, in the bad horror films, when the people split up or start fighting against themselves they die. I recommend, just like in business, get good people around you and take care of each other. I really want to carry this same feeling into larger pictures. I truly believe in the community being the people who make things happen.
Keep up with Mike and Z*Con on the official Facebook page, and stay tuned to MRFH for updates on the project.