Story by Heidi Amantullah
Ted V. Mikels. Moviemaker extraordinaire (and he
With over a hundred films under his belt and fans
that span the globe, Mr. Mikels (Ted to me, dont you forget it) is a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to the film business.Starting out 55 years ago, Ted had
to learn as he went, and teach what hed learned, in order to make the films he wanted, the way he wanted, though not necessarily
with the funding he wanted. Because of a reluctance to conform and an original vision, Mr. Mikels movie making has been characterized
by low budgets throughout his career. He seems to think this is an obstacle at times, but his fans may disagree. With horror
films like Corpse Grinders and AstroZombies to back up their claim, many people cite him as the largest influence on independent
horror film making ever.
11. Doll Squad, The (1973)
... aka Seduce and Destroy (1973) (USA)
12. Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1972)
... aka Female Plasma Suckers (1972)
13. Corpse Grinders, The (1972)
14. Girl in Gold Boots (1969)
15. Astro-Zombies, The (1969)
... aka Space Vampires, The (1969)
... aka Space Zombies (1969)
Film Addiciton: You worked with Ed Wood on Orgy
of the Dead, as the lighting director. What was that like? What was your opinion of the film, and of Ed Wood?
Ted Mikels: No body knew who he was. He was a
non-entity on the set. At the risk of sounding self-important, I was the one who knew what to do, and I was teaching the cameraman.
I did it as sort of a favor, to help them. I did the graveyard sequences, the werewolf sequences, the fogI had some experience
with these things.
FA: Some of your films, like Children shouldnt
play with dead things, and AstroZombies are more famous that others. What do you think of that? Are these films you are particularly
TM: These are well-known films. But I look at
it like this: Each movie is a series of compromises. These films were made with little or no money. I feel that they are never
adequately representative of my work because of these limitations. Many times things fall short of my expectations. My favorite
work, is of course, the next one I make.
Corpse Grinders and AstroZombies are my most outstanding successes.
Most people (who are horror or independent film fans) know these films. I get emails from people about movies I made 40 years
ago, telling me how much they love Corpse Grinders! These films were made on a hope and a prayer.
FA: You just made sequels to Corpse Grinders
and AstroZombies. What are they like?
TM: Corpse Grinders II is sort of a retelling
of the original story. However, it picks up where the original left off. The main characters are the nephews of the main characters
of the original. As for AstroZombies, I may be doing part 3 and 4 as well, because of the high worldwide demand.
Its difficult to be an independent horror filmmaker, because you
keep hoping that the money will come from somewhere. After 55 years, I have made more feature films than any man alive. I
hoped that at this point the money would come out of the woodwork, but it doesnt happen. So we have to wait for the funding
to come from somewhere.
Sometimes we use hamburger and sawdust! We just got to keep existing
and keep creating credit cards.
FA: Youve not only worn many different hats in filmmaking,
but youve also made many different types of movies.
TM: Yes. I have lived my whole life that way. I like to
step aside from what everyone else is doing. When other people are making films about motorcycles, Im making musicals. Most
people who make low-budget films these days are making horror. There is such a proliferation of horror now!
FA: Does that mean you want to stop making horror?
TM: I do want to move away from horror, but I keep
getting contacted by these fans that want me to read their scripts, critique their film, give an opinion on what theyre doing.
Its not that I dont want to do this; its just that Im so busy. I have to write, shoot, edit, direct, do sound effects, on
all my movies. When youve only got 30 people working on a project, you end up doing most of it yourself.
FA: You teach a filmmaking seminar. Whats that about?
TM: People are amazed at what it takes to actually
make a movie. Most people think that theyll just use a camera in their home, and make a film. I put across the idea that they
need to put together the film as a producer, create concepts, write the script, research, edit, use lighting techniques, use
photography to make a viewable film, make sound effects, market the filmI teach them how to hold the reigns as a film maker.
FA: Which, of all those tings, did you do the most of?
TM: During my first 10 years of film making in Oregon, no
one knew anything. There was no one up there who was knowledgeable about any of these things. For ten years I learned and
started teaching others all I knew. When I went to Hollywood I was considered
an expert, because Hollywood tends to have people who are specialized in one area:
lighting or holding the slate, for instance. I could do it all. That kept me very busy.
That was my advantage. You are always obligated to teach,
especially when making a lower budget film. For instance, an inexperienced sound person needs to know to listen for a hum
in the cable, or training camera people. Sometimes, I would get so involved in teaching that I didnt focus enough on the lighting,
or the directing. Oh my. I live with whatever I get. I think about it and say, Hey, why didnt I stop and get that shot? .
The consequence is that I have ended up doing everything myself so that nothing is neglected.
I try to keep my shoots limited to 4-5 hours. Independent
shoots are thought of as having long 12-16 hour daysI dont do that. 5 hours is workable and seems better. Besides, after 5
hours, people get hungry and I cant afford to feed them! So I send them home. Buts sometimes, they have so much fun on the
set its hard to get rid of them.
Besides, anytime you get on a roll with filming, and you
break, you never get that roll back. Maybe in Hollywood, on a tighter schedule,
but not in the real work. I drive real hard and then quit after 5 hours.
FA: Do you like Horror films the best?
TM: I am a moviemaker as opposed to a genre creator. I
have made musicals, and action, (like the Doll Squad, which came out years before Charlies Angels), Blood Orgy of the She-Devilsand
everyone has a different film they consider my best. People like different things. A month ago someone commented on an unreleased
film I made in 1977 in Utah,
called Alex Joseph and his Wives. They said that was my best. The point is, when anyone says they like a certain film of mine,
I tell them that they are all my favorites.
Right now Im working on a sequel to Blood Orgy of the
FA: What do you want to work on next?
TM: Dont know, but not the same thing. The life of an
amoeba on Mars, maybe!
FA: Have you been influenced by anyone?
TM: I dont watch anybodys films. I like to think Im on
my own. Copy me, fine, but I dont copy others. No Time!
FA: What do you think about TV?
TM: TV is too controlled. Youve got to show up at a certain
time! Im not a conformist. I set my own hours; based on the weather, availability, and ingredients I need for a film, soccer
games. Versatility is important to me. TV is too 9-5.
FA: How do you feel about being a Horror Icon?
TM: Last week I was in Los Angeles,
and they were showing my films in a special theater. I was told how many people Id influenced in the independent horror genre,
and it brought a tear to my eyeI didnt know what to expect.
Teds philosophy of non-conformance, (particularly the
part about not working from 9-5) is seriously endorsed by all the members of the management and practiced by many of the members
- Heidi Amantullah, December 2003