Spiders are one of the things we, as humans, are commonly terrified of. I count myself in that category. And yet, I adore horror movies focused on the creepy, crawly creatures. Arachnophobia, Eight Legged Freaks. I eat it up. And thanks to effects guru turned director Micah Gallo, the new generation has a scary spider flick of their own to enjoy in the form of Itsy Bitsy.
The upcoming creature feature includes a cast featuring Elizabeth Roberts, Denise Crosby, Arman Darbo, Chloe Perrin and character actor extraordinaire, Bruce Davison. It also features some incredible practical creature effects, especially for something that started life as a Kickstarter-funded movie. I recently had the chance to speak with Micah Gallo about directing his first feature, his history with the business and much more. So, without further adieu, here's our chat.
Congratulations. As I understand, this is your first full feature. And the way you went about making it, it's impressive the way you got it done.
Micah Gallo: Thanks. It was definitely a labor of love and you know, kind of like one of those friends and families things that brought it to fruition.
Yeah, where pretty much when you look at the budget sheet, there isn't really any way to show, "This was done for a favor."
Micah Gallo: Right. Exactly.
Can you tell us a little bit about what the movie's about and how it came about?
Micah Gallo: Basically, it's probably about ten years ago that I originally came up with the idea, and then we worked on, you know, me, along with two other writers, ultimately worked on many drafts of the story. We wanted it to have kind of the fun, you know, kind of popcorn aspects of an Amblin thing. Something like Jaws with edgy character drama. Kind of like The Exorcist. But really, if you're familiar with something like Q the Winged Serpent or Of Unknown Origin, where it has kind of a psychic link between the character drama and the creature itself, that's kind of what the movie is. And so our story is about a young single mother who's dealing with a loss of a child in the past, and she moves with their two current children to a new place to work for an elderly art appraiser who needs help. He needs a nurse because he has M.S. and, he too has some things in the past and his past comes back to haunt him in the form of this creature that, you know, unbeknownst to him, is inside this other object that was brought to him by someone he used to work with who knew his wife, who is now deceased. And then, when that gets unleashed, it basically makes both he and Kara, our lead mother character, have to deal with their past in a very real, literal present way, if that makes sense.
Yeah, right. Literal meaning a big, scary spider.
Micah Gallo: Yeah, right. Exactly.
This applies to me very specifically. Spiders scare a lot of people. It's one of those things that I'm deathly afraid of. Does the fact that it's something so universally scary make your job easier or more difficult?
Micah Gallo: We definitely wanted to deliver on that. So I mean, I have my own personal fears, which I tried to incorporate into the narrative. I think that's always interesting and helps make it hopefully unique when a filmmaker kind of brings their own unique vision to what's frightening to them. But yeah, I did try to hit those touchstones, and it was important to us, both in the narrative and the images and the way that the creature itself behaves that we be true to what's really frightening about a spider. Not just make a big, lumbering beast, which we've seen in a lot of movies now. And also make it large enough, though, that people could see the really horrifying details because when I looked at a spider, you know, studying a lot of spiders and spider parts to design our creature, looking at them under a magnifying glasses is pretty horrifying. So we wanted to size it up a little bit, so you could really see some of those details and really try to touch on those things that I think are kind of baked into our DNA that frighten us about spiders.
I'm very much a lover of practical creature FX. But more casual fans aren't super familiar with what goes into something like this. They don't even really understand the difference between practical vs. digital. You kind of came from an FX background. So how would you explain that? What you do as it specifically relates to the practical FX stuff to someone who doesn't really know anything about it.
Micah Gallo: We obviously design it in such a way that you don't need to know anything, in my opinion, it's probably more than an opinion, it's kind of how it works. CG, which most movies use now, and we used to some degree, is basically a very expensive cartoon. So rather than have it look cartoony, which wasn't our intention, we decided to do things practically, which at least starts with a basis in practical reality. You kind of get to see something in real space, the light bouncing off of it, which helps, I think with convincing the audience that something is real, because it has that physical reality. You're not having to create physics in a cartoon, which is kind of what CG is. So we instead approached everything practically we could and even the way that we went away about visual effects. You know, we used digital compositing, which is obviously nice compared to old school optical compositing, which used to have gigantic black bars around everything and you can see exactly how things were put together. Now we can see mostly put things together, but we still chose to shoot practical elements. And so even though it's digitally composited, what you're seeing are real things sandwiched together into an image. So again, I think it just helps believability. And then we only used computer-generated images when we absolutely had to. So we kind of approached it from a performance aspect and kind of were able to look at the performance and say, okay, now that we've got it to this place, we'd like to add this detail that I think we'll take it even further into the realm of believability for the audience. And so that's kind of how we approached the shots.
That makes sense. You mentioned CG. On the one hand, it's completely necessary. But also, when you get a big budget movie, I think sometimes it's just a crutch where they can throw money at it. But I also know that it's necessary when it's done well, it works. So as a filmmaker, where do you stand? What do you think the balance should be between digital and practical, as we're kind of seeing practical effects, not die, but sort of get sidelined a bit in favor of CGI?
Micah Gallo: Yeah, well, you know, I think there's kind of a wake up call happening that you're probably seeing more on the independent film side. But I think it's going to happen in studio movies too, where it's getting back to the craft. I think you can't skip over craft, whether it's in editing or cinematography or directing. There's no shortcut to a good result, and so I think at least understanding film history in terms of effects, which were always practical when they started and were very ingenious. I think kind of starting at that place is beneficial. You know, even if you choose to use computer-generated imagery or, of course you're gonna use digital compositing, it's good to have an understanding of how those pieces fit together. And then I think it just kind of comes to, what is your intended result? I mean, obviously, if you want something that's kind of, let's say, cartoony or comic book, even maybe visual effects that are generated in a computer might work best and may best of that style. But I think if you want something that's realistic and has a tangible quality, starting with doing everything you can do practically first is, in my opinion anyway, going to lead to superior results. I have a love for movies like Terminator 2 and Jurassic Park, which obviously did have computer-generated effects, but had so few compared to movies made today. You know, they did everything practically they could do first. And I think that's why they hold up really well.
You seem like a serious student of this stuff. This is your first feature but you've been doing this a long time. Did you want to direct? Did you always want to do FX work? How did you kind of find your way into what you're doing now?
Micah Gallo: I always loved FX-driven movies. There's something about magic that really appeals to me. I never had the patience to be a magician, but I love that effect. And to me, the effects work the best when they're like a magic trick, where you're kind of switching up the technique shot to shot. Because I think at some point the audience gives up and gives up trying to guess how you did it and just kind of goes along with the story. Whereas if everything is CG they kind of know that and it kind of takes away some of that magic. I went to film school at USC, and after I got out I was working on a lot of indie movies on the crew side. And then wrote a script called "Wick" and made a short film based on that. And then when I was doing the color correction process, I met a guy who was kind of working on his own and wanted to start a company. And so he was talking to me about that. We started a company with the mandate of helping independent films look just like studio pictures. And so I did that for about 4 years. Worked on about 40 feature films, doing a lot of invisible visual effects, a lot of which we didn't get any credit for, mastering and color correction. Obviously we're very heavy in the post process. But we always told filmmakers the same thing. We tried to get them to come talk to us in the beginning and if they ever did, we told them, "Look, just do everything you can in camera and then anything you can't get in camera because of your production challenges or just because you weren't able to find a way, then we can help you in the digital realm. Finish out that effect or get the look you want.
It's funny, some of my favorite directors have said some version of the exact same thing. It's interesting how often I've heard that same thing from really respected filmmakers. If you don't mind me shifting a little bit, one of your first movies was Hatchet. There's one of my favorite practical kills of all time in that movie where Kane Hodder just rips that guy's head open. I don't know exactly what your position was on that movie, but did you have anything to do with that? Because I feel like a lot of people who've seen that movie brings that scene up. It's like a notoriously amazing example of practical effects.
Micah Gallo: I can't take any credit for the practical effects on Hatchet. I know Adam Green well, and Cory Neal, who is the main producer on that film is an executive producer on Itsy Bitsy. So we're familiar with them. We've worked on a lot of their films. We did visual effects on almost all their movies. When we came into play was in post-production, and we gave that movie a major facelift. We worked really hard and extensively on various effects and the color correction and stuff that kind of, I think, elevated the film. But Adam chose from the beginning to do as many effects practically as he could because he just loved those movies. He was into those old school slasher movies and that was the vibe that he wanted to create with that film.
You just directed your first feature. Do you have any dream projects that you kind of have in mind or any franchise stuff that you would like to tackle? If the gates of Hollywood were handed over to you, what would you do?
Micah Gallo: I have projects that I'm working on. As far as existing franchises in the horror realm, I was always inspired by stuff that's really surreal. For me, it was Nightmare on Elm Street. That kind of created my love of horror. Just the imagination of things like that, Hellraiser and Evil Dead, are the reason that I love horror films to begin with. I do have projects that I'm working on. But what I'd really like to do is partner up with a producer or production company or a distributor, and not have to carry the whole load of the film the way that I did on this one. I did have help. I'd just love to collaborate with a company and help their vision meet with what I'm into and make something really cool together.
I'm sorry. I should have brought this up earlier, but if people don't know, you did a Kickstarter for this. So there was a lot that went into it on your end to kind of get this going.
Micah Gallo: Yeah. I'm really grateful to all the people and some of the companies and news outlets that followed us. That initial Kickstarter campaign was back in 2017. Because it's really that kind of grassroots groundswell that got us. I think we have cumulatively several million views on our various trailers and stuff like that, and that's all just word of mouth. That's not marketing. It's just that people, people dig it and I'm really appreciative of all that support. And I hope that as we get into marketing the movie that more and more people see it because it's a movie that is kind of designed to not pull any punches but still be for the whole family. And so I was really pleased at the screening that we had at Popcorn Frights on Saturday. There was a little kid there who was about 9 years old. He was the only kid in the theater and he loved it. And that was my favorite review, was that this 9-year-old boy just loved this movie and wanted to talk with me about it. So I sat there talking with him about it. And I hope that gets out there too, that people share it with their friends and family and that it becomes that type of movie.
I really hope the movie does well for you because I feel like I was at 9-year-old kid when I was watching Arachnophobia for the first time. Is there anything just before we close out that you want to add or anything you want to say that we haven't touched on?
Micah Gallo: I just want to say that I'm really excited to have this movie released through Shout!, which is a company that obviously really cares about genre movies and understands the collector's mentality. So with our movie coming out in limited theaters and VOD August 30th, you can pre-order the Blu-ray right now. It comes out on October 1st, and it's going to have some really cool stuff like commentaries and other kind of making of things that I think will make it fun to own.
Itsy Bitsy arrives in select theaters and on VOD on August 30. To pre-order a physical copy, head on over to Shout Factory.