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
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
“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
“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
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...