Orion Classics releases The Domestics on June 28th, 2018.
NYC MOVIE GURU: When it comes to entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally, which of those two elements was most challenging to tweak in the editing room?
Mike P. Nelson: In the editing room, I feel like that where we found a lot of the heart. My MO of making films is that I like making films that are violent and irreverent with heart. Whenever I write a script, if those three things are on the page, then I got something that I feel like I can be happy with. When we got into the editing room, though, Julia Wong, my editor, showed me that very first cut. The one thing that I felt walking away from it was, "Wow! There's actually some humor in this and a warmth that I feel like Julia helped give to the story in that cut!" I think I was maybe expecting some of it, but not to come through as potently as it did, so I was very happy with that cut. That was actually my favorite part after watching that initial assembly cut. You know what those cuts are usually like. If you're not feeling like vomiting after those cuts, there's something wrong with the movie. I wanted to keep that kind of vibe. Obviously, we're going to make it better, but let's keep that humor, heart and really make that the focus. I feel like you have all this action and violence, but that stuff is going to resonate so much more onscreen if you can back it up with heart and warmth.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What is so appealing to you about dark themes?
MPN: I wanted to do The Domestics as a crazy post-apocalyptic action horror film. It was taking a lot of the situations that I dealt with in my own life---being married for two years at the time---digging deep and dark and getting uncomfortable with some of it. I put it into this movie and explored it myself.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How much information do you want audiences to know about the plot before they watch it? How did you decide when to trust the audience's intelligence throughout the film? Also, it's great that the film's title doesn't give away too much.
MPN: I can't tell you how hard I had fought for that title. There were so many times that we were getting pushed to get new titles and change it. I thought of just a couple of different titles just to placate the people that wanted those title possibilities, but for me it was always about keeping it "The Domestics" because it doesn't say exactly what it is, but when you put that title on poster with an ax that's painted like the American flag with spikes coming out of it, you're like "What in the hell does 'The Domestics' mean?" To me, that is what can be so enticing about movies. That was super important to me. I don't like to give too much away going into the movie, but when they see the trailer, there's going to be some stuff that's going to be given away that actually focuses a little bit more about the excitement and the thrills and the enticing aspect of it. When people get into the movie, I feel that they're going to see something that they kind of weren't fully expecting---something even better, I think, than what the trailer gives. There's something more underneath it that will make them walk away from it feeling like they're full. If the trailer is the coolest thing about the movie, then you did something wrong.
NYC MOVIE GURU: As a writer, how have you mastered the skill of incorporating exposition into a story?
MPN: I wish I could say that I've mastered exposition. I really haven't. I don't think I have. I'm okay with the audience being a little bit behind at times. Like the title and some others things in the film, there was some difference in opinion that I had with some people in the studio about the story that I wanted to tell and being okay with letting 30 seconds or more go by before you ever know what these characters mean. I think that one of the biggest things is the couple's relationship. We don't fully know why the relationship is sour. We get a sense of it. The idea that I had with crafting the exposition in this movie was: I wanted the audience to come in, watch this movie and get introduced to this couple out-of-the-blue. It's like when you go to a party and there's thing couple that you don't really know, but you've met them a couple of times. Something's off with them, but you don't know what it is and you're kind of intrigued by them and want to know more as you're watching them all night and doing these weird things. You're not quite sure why they're doing it, but you're like, "There's something going on at home!" That's the kind of feeling that I wanted to give audiences with the characters of Mark and Nina in this movie. We don't see that they're going through a divorce until halfway through the movie. That's super exciting because that's engaging filmmaking. You get these little clues. The kind of movies that I like are the kind that don't answer all those questions and that just give me pieces of the puzzle. That's what I was going for with The Domestics.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was the process like to decide how much violence to show in the film and how to show it?
MPN: I wasn't allowed to watch any R-rated movies growing up. PG-13 was the cut-off and even that was sometimes too much. So, I grew up watching of early Spielberg films. I feel like Spielberg always handles violence so well and made it so entertaining to watch. I specifically go back to the Indiana Jones films because I feel like, when you really look at those films, there's actually quite a bit of action violence in them, but he always had this really interesting way of getting a reaction from either showing or not showing. I like to kind of play that ground with the violence, but I also come from a horror-splatter background like Peckinpah, Tarantino and Lucio Fulci films. I like deciding how I can make the violence feel like it's exciting, fun and cinematic like in a Spielberg movie, but add a little bit of splatter, horror and gore here and there to shock you here and there. If you get shocked the whole way through, then you just get desensitized to it. I wanted to make sure that the moment that needed the blast of blood and gore came at just the right time. To me, it was about ramping it up and making it more and more bloody and gory as it went so that you want it go into the next level, so I kept giving you the next level.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What do you think would make for a great double feature with The Domestics
MPN: A dream-come-true double feature with The Domestics would be with Mad Max from 1979. That was one of the biggest inspirations behind The Domestics. Mad Max was such an interesting movie because it was post-apocalyptic, but everything felt somewhat normal, but then there were some wierd things in it. That was really exciting and it was what I drew from.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Do you think that The Domestics would work as a found footage film?
MPN: I never actually thought of that. I guess in could work. Doing a post-apocalyptic found footage film could be interesting, but for me, I like focusing on a really nice cinematic language, and I feel that sometimes the found footage films don't quite get to that point. I like to play around with the camera and do things that are a bit more artful with my shots. It's a cool idea, but I'm not so sure about it.
NYC MOVIE GURU: It's so refreshing to see a strong female character as a lead role in a movie. How challenging was it to get the film greenlit with a female lead?
MPN: We had a hell of a time with that whole thing. We were going through The Domestics pre-Weinstein, so fighting for that was a big thing: wanting to cast the right, strong female lead and to bring someone in who can really do this without worrying so much about the lead guy because the lead. That was such a fiasco to try to make that happen, but I'm so glad that things are changing now. I think that it's easier now to cast the female lead and to greenlight a movie just based on that.