The realization of our own mortality is eye-opening. There’s an urgency involved and priorities become abundantly clear. Michael S. Rodriguez has spoken with us previously, but today he is opening up about a terminal illness he was diagnosed with recently. He wants to share his message with the world while there is still time. We are humbled and honored that he felt comfortable including us in this part of his life.
Michael S. Rodriguez’s Retrospect on 2016:
2016 was a difficult year for us. We lost a lot of people right up until the end. I think the one that affected me the most was Bowie. He transcended the arts and his influence spanned generations. That one still hurts. Plus, with people divided over the election, we witnessed many just behaving like animals. We saw the worst of humanity and that in itself was like a horror movie to me. Online feuding was such a turn off that a bunch of people retracted from social media, even if for a short time. Myself included.
I personally lost a lot this year, but professionally, its dishonest film festivals that truly affected me. They made me lose some faith in fair reception of indie works. Nepotism runs wild, and the filmmaker is being taken advantage of. Through awareness we can protect indie directors from these bogus money-making schemes. I openly protest festivals that are fixed and I will not live in fear of being blacklisted. They need to be exposed. I implore my fellow filmmakers to be distinct in your own style, be genuine and be especially critical of the festivals you choose to enter.
Michael S. Rodriguez on MCTD:
I’ve always felt pretty good physically, but this past year while I was working, part of my eye blacked out. I thought I was having a stroke so I called my wife and we went to the emergency room. They ran me through a series of blood tests. Many more tests came before they decided I had a terminal condition called mixed connective tissue disease. Basically your body makes antibodies to protect you and attack like when you have a cold. My body produces antibodies that attack my own body tissues and organs. The treatment is to take a bunch of medications and injections. I haven’t done any of the injections yet.
I’m in good spirits most of the time and very motivated, but physically it’s kicking my ass. I was contemplating the decision to quit film making and focus on the disease, but decided to ride it out and crank out as much as I can while I can. That’s where I’m the most alive… when I’m making movies. Out of everything I’ve done in my life, this is what I do best. I may not be better than others, but this is my best and I’m going to continue until my body gives out and I can’t do it anymore.
“Mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) is a rare autoimmune disorder. An autoimmune disorder is one in which the immune system mistakenly views the body’s own tissues and organs as “invaders” and attacks them. Patients who have a long-term, incurable condition such as MCTD should develop ways of dealing with their disease. Since the causes of MCTD are not known, there is no way of preventing the disease.” -ClevelandClinic.org
“Symptoms of MCTD include pain in multiple joints similar to rheumatoid arthritis, muscle weakness due to inflammation, fever, fatigue and accumulation of fluid in the tissue of the hands. Increased collagen content in the skin, lupus-like rashes, reddish patches over the knuckles, violet discoloration of the eyelids, hair loss and dilation of small blood vessels around the fingernails also occur. Dysfunction of the esophagus and abnormalities in lung function may be found in 80% of individuals with MCTD, which can result in high blood pressure.” -RareDiseases.org
This is something that was in my body and is genetically inherited. My doctor told me I was born with this. When I turned 40 I was diagnosed as a diabetic. This is just another punch below the belt. This is the first time I’ve gone public with it. I don’t like to talk about things like this normally, but I’ve actually had to reschedule a shoot because I woke up and my leg was swollen. This is something I can’t help and it’s something that really bothers me. I’m glad I’m aware of what this is. Even though I know this is terminal and will eventually attack my heart, it doesn’t scare me. I’m going to do what I can to make sure my family is taken care of and to continue to create to my full potential. When it’s time to lay down, I’ll know I made an impact and have left a legacy to last beyond my lifetime.
Michael S. Rodriguez on the Common Thread of his Films:
I make horror movies based on the human condition. It may not appear so on the surface, but there is always a strong social commentary. Even with a horror comedy, if you dig deeper, the true underlying meaning is there. It serves as both a lesson and a warning. I utilize flashbacks and subliminal messages to help express both the beauty and vile underbelly of who we are as a society. Overall I have a pessimistic view on what we have become. There are many facets of society yet to be explored though.
People take advantage of each other. For example, you can see this when people start a new job. They have this great attitude of going “above and beyond” and they want to go the extra mile. Eventually “above and beyond” becomes the expectation. They are no longer appreciated for what they’re doing as an exception. It’s a requirement and now they have less and less time to pursue their passion and spend time with their families. As you get older you recognize these problems more quickly and you read people’s intentions more clearly.
My message is not to just sustain. Allow yourself time to time to create. We are all creators and we all need an artistic outlet. We exist in a negative society. Pursuing your passion and being creative will bring positivity into the world. This is the main theme of my films and the message I want to convey. Take time for yourself and take time for your family. If everyone did this, society would change for the better.
Michael S. Rodriguez on his Films:
My style is formed from a mesh of different influences. For instance, Mario Bava influences my use of color. Jim Van Bebber influences how I show glimpses of humanity. Actually, Jim is one of the biggest influences in my whole life, and I knew I had to work with him. I am so amazed that he is on this independent level. I knew it would hit so hard because he is so visual. I take a page from him and am truly inspired by him. I think we really made something cool together with the film HOMEWRECKED (2016).
I wanted to give HOMEWRECKED almost a surveillance camera type of feel, but at the same time I wanted it real tight. To achieve this I filmed the same take up to 12 times. By the last go around the actors became super aggressive so it really worked for the scene as well. As the story came to a climax, the angles became more erratic and speed of shots intensified.
I do put a lot of symbolism in my movies, especially LAMB FEED (2014). If you watch that movie in slow motion you’ll see I put a lot of words in there, vintage porn, full frontal nudity… I always start very cinematically traditional but as we reach the climax of the film shots become rough until it gets to an apex of being disturbingly raw and real. I always like to include a peek of reality in between what is happening cinematically as well, just to throw in the real ugliness of the world with the fiction. I put a variety of serial killers in the images of LAMB FEED subliminally.
When I wrote LAMB FEED, I had these ultra-religious, judgmental family members that inspired this film. I was completely outraged. In this film the family justifies self-righteous killings because the people they kill are “worse” than them. But are they really? The family’s moral compass is way off. Basically they’re incestuous cannibals. It’s like “I’m fucking my sister for the Lord!”
I don’t go to the movies a lot. When I go and there’s a bunch of generic jumps and fluff that really piss me off. I like to film with a writer’s point of view. I want to make everything I do feel authentic. Many don’t see my short, NIGHT OF THE SEAMONKEY (2013) for what it truly is. The subtext is about the disconnection of the kid and his parents that don’t care about each other. It’s a dysfunctional childhood. Of course, it also has the comic relief and over-the-top horror moments.
LAKE OF SHADOWS (2017) is based on a true story and local legend. Tino Zamora is the producer and came to me with the story. There were over 150 deaths involved in the actual historical misfortune of that lake. It’s a variety of recreational hazards and even organized crime involvement. We show about an eighth of the actual, but that could set this up easily for a franchise. We’re almost done with principle photography. We plan to have it wrapped by the end of 2017. It’s a 90 minute feature with a series of overlapping vignettes.
LOVE STARVED (2017) is a horror short starring Felissa Rose, while ACTOR’S LIFE and BOW TO ME are two upcoming micro-projects in pre-production for 2017. They will be intense and filled with familiar faces in the horror genre.