Published: 17 October, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 204, October, 2011
Mike Pecci is a man with an eye for the chainsaw wielding ladies. Knowing him as I do now, that’s probably a little basic, as he has a pretty mean eye for anything that will make a great photograph – and if it’s tattooed, so much the better. With his latest project taking shape, what better time could there be to clash heads with this creative powerhouse?
I kind of feel like somebody else might have felt a long time ago when they were shown My Best Friend’s Birthday – the little known movie that Tarantino made before he went on to unleash Reservoir Dogs. The feeling pretty much comes down to something like ‘I’m in the presence of something special here, something on the edge of breaking through…’
Which is hardly surprising given the subject matter Mike Pecci chooses to play with really. Watching his highly stylised work and – especially at this stage of his career – being aware of how much he takes care of all the other ‘little things’, you can see something special really begin to happen.
Are great film-makers born with a silver spoon, or are they made out of solid hard graft? Should you go to college or should you get the hell on with it?
“Growing up I had all sorts of jobs ranging from a baker to airplane mechanic. I used to consistently work in music stores and fell in love with music and how it affected people, so I decided to go to school for radio. I learned quickly that it was a shitty job with no room for creativity so I randomly took a film studies class. It blew my mind.
“Suddenly I was aware of the camera. Aware that someone had to design everything on that screen. I raced to see my class councilor and told him to switch my major and put a camera in my hands. He explained that I still needed to take all of the other college required courses first, and in a year or two I could finally start using a camera.
“I did the math and realised how in debt I was gonna be while taking courses that didn’t suit me, so I told the school to shove it, went and got a job at a TV station, saved up cash, and took an intense film course in NYC. I learned how to produce films, shot about four shorts, and directed one. I came back to Boston, started my first company and went to work and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
And this is the kind of story that makes a mans heart sing. ‘Shock-tactics’ aside, Mike makes movies about people with character and depth. Always aware of the multitude of sides a human psyche has, he seems to pull these things out of nowhere to illustrate his movies – or am I reading too much into it? Is it more of a gut-reaction?
“I set out to make the sort of stuff I would want to watch. Luckily I have a taste that aligns with the audience – thank God. I like to tell stories about the dark side of people. Everyone has done something that falls outside of the public norm. I love sitting down and drinking with someone for the first time and cutting through all that bullshit chatter about what’s your favorite music, blah, blah, blah, and get to the real life stories. You were arrested for what? You have slept with a prostitute, really? You ate your kids candy bar and blamed it on the dog?! These stories add character and give you something to walk away with.
“I also love genre films; noir, cop movies, western heroes. The trick is to take those character stories and put them in a genre that you want to play with. You can expect to see a lot of this from me as I jump into longer formats.”
Mike originally got himself on my radar when I saw some of the ‘tattooed’ stills from his latest Grindhouse short film compilation. Is this inked-up inclusion a calculated move?
“Well, I became fascinated with tattooed women when I first visited the Suicide Girls website years ago. Growing up, I was obsessed with comic books, and trained to be a comic book artist for a while. I wanted to create these beautiful women I fell in love with as a child. I used to spend hours just studying sketch lines, poses, and the posture of these characters.
“When I photograph women with sleeves and process them through photoshop the image feels a lot like those comic book sketches. Random bits of vibrant colour, shading that emerges from shadow. I feel like I’m bringing these women from my fantasies to life. I hope that doesn’t sound too creepy! So since I had started doing photo sets for SG, it was a simple transition to bring those girls into my films.”
During 2010/2009, Mike shot a lot of music video too. Is that a conscious decision to push the business in other directions?
“At one point in my career, I crossed paths with director and musician Ian McFarland. He was a big fan of my photography and I was impressed with the videos he had directed. We hit it off immediately. We are both firm believers in the “do it yourself” mentality and he asked if I would shoot some music videos that he would be directing. Two videos later we realized that we were co-directing so we formed McFarland & Pecci and tackled the music world.
“Music videos can be a lot of fun. They allow us to test out techniques and sometimes tell short stories that reach a huge audience. For the next year or so we were just busting our asses with it here in Boston shooting for bands that Ian knew from the road and we somehow got Meshuggah and Fear Factory on board! Both those videos ended up on Headbangers Ball’s top 25 videos of the year list for 2009 and 2010. Then the agents started calling and so did the bigger acts…
“Ozzy, Devo, The Deftones, we have been writing treatments now for some of our favorite acts ever since. The problem with music videos is that the death of the music industry (as we knew it) is putting a cap on what we can do creatively because of budgets and business politics. So we are not expecting much from it these days. We find ourselves working for acts we love or friends now because it’s just a lot more fun. McFarland & Pecci is also changing. The brand is now becoming a creative house where we develop films, series, and content. Both of us are now repped as individual directors and on certain projects, we team up! The goal is to be creating edgy and beautiful content through our brand.”
To be frank, as we all sit here in 2011, this is how the future is shaping up for all of us. You can’t simply be a specialist in one area anymore and expect somebody to come along with a ton of cash and float you for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work like that anymore. To succeed you need to use every medium at your disposal.
“Absolutely. The web has made my career. I started doing photo shoots for Suicide Girls and my photography reached thousands of people on each release. I have been able to promote my films and sell directly to my fans all over the world. Our music video for Meshuggah has over seven million hits on YouTube and I now have a solid fan-base because of the internet. That fan-base has helped start my conversations with some of the ‘big guns’. It’s awesome!
“I strongly believe in self promotion. People don’t know what you are doing until you tell them. If I sat around waiting for you to call me, it would never have happened. Having direct contact with editors is key, creating those relationships, and staying loyal is big for me. You need to do what it takes. There’s a period early on in my career when it looked as though I wasn’t even on the planet. This is kind of between 2001 and 2005. What I was actually doing was four years of heavy experimentation. I was shooting and publishing photos, I was shooting my short films Flight and The Subway Stalker. I suddenly had a career as a cinematographer and found myself working on documentaries, and other friends’ shorts. It was a great learning period for me. I learned a lot of the skills that I fall back on during that time.”
I see a lot of fine pop-culture references in Mike’s films pulling in everything from Hitchcock to Sin City. do these influences seep into your work or they are persistently used because they work and provide a peg on which to hang the proverbial hat?
“In that film course I did, we made silent black and white movies. I was obsessed with Hitchcock’s suspense and spent a lot of time studying it, and of course, comics influence my work. When you look at my frames and look at the artwork of Jim Lee, well it makes a lot of sense. I like to follow directors. Fincher, Scott, Peckinpah, Spielberg, and other masters of the visual medium. They inspire me constantly with their camera moves, music choices, and characters. I love watching films, and I love watching an audience watch a film. It’s a beautiful personal moment that you get to have in public when you are in a theatre. It’s a lot of fun to see people reacting at the same time.”
Talking of self promotion and people doing things for themselves and making it happen regardless of circumstances, let’s take a look at some of the cover art for Grindhouse Shorts.
“I hunted each of them down specifically. I have been a member of deviantart.com for about nine years now. The coolest part of that site is that it gives you direct access to the artist. I also found a lot of my favorite comics artists on there and talk with them often.
“But for the covers, what happened was that I wrote notes to all of the illustrators I loved and asked them to do covers for me. Yasmine I have worked with before. She did a cover for my original Cold Hard Cash release. I love the way she draws and, she has this way of creating action and attitude that gets me excited! I saw CK’s movie poster work and his work with the old horror film vibe and thought he would be perfect! I love illustrated posters and variant covers. I think I am the eternal comic book kid!”
If you’re in the mood for following up on this part of the story, you can read more about the covers here at mikepecci.com/news/?p=122. So what’s next for somebody who has certainly put in the hours and paid his dues? Is there a big plan – a plan to step it up a gear and get more into the mainstream?
“I’ve been doing my thing now for over ten years. I have been learning how to shoot, how to edit, and how to tell a story. That takes time and practice. You read these stories about the overnight success. It’s bullshit. It seems like they are overnight because they aren’t being sold to the masses yet. I just keep pushing forward, aiming for bigger and better projects. I have two feature scripts ready to go, one hopefully goes into production this spring.
“I am excited to make the jump into the long format. I know I have the skills needed at this point and I’m interested in all the shit I will learn doing it at a bigger scale. There are all sorts of details that most people don’t think about. Politics, mastering the art of delegation and staying creative under stress (Tell me about it. Ed.). That stuff drives me, and that drive will put me in the bigger playing field. Very soon actually.
“I hope Skin Deep readers are really interested in checking out my movies. You can check out my website www.mikepecci.com for links to my short films and to check out my photography. I’ve created this new technique called ‘Living Images’; they are photographs that are alive. Really cutting edge stuff.
“You can buy a Grindhouse DVD here: mikepecci.com/news/?page_id=8. I
ship them out of my office and often sign them for people who contact me
on Facebook or twitter. We are also selling hoodies that have the
beautiful art from Yasmine plastered all over them. High quality brand,
shit too that I would want to wear. Alternatively, you can check out my
work with Ian and our music videos at mcfarlandandpecci.com. Be on the
lookout for news about that feature coming soon. It’s going to be
awesome and absolutely brutal to watch. Oh and yes there is a strong
“Finally, write to me, I love hearing from fans. Use the internet to get in touch. I do it!”
You heard the man...