Michael Dickson

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Pixie’s Year in Review: Turning 4 with Ghouls, Growth and Good Times!

Published October 13, 2016 by vfdpixie

Looks like it’s that time of year again! With Halloween just around the corner, and since I’ll be a busy bee the next week and a half, I’m posting an early shout-out for a couple of anniversaries I’ll be celebrating this year.

Rosemary’s Pixie turns 4 this October 17th. I’ve toughed it out for another year, growing as both a writer and film reviewer.  There were fewer reviews on the blog this time around due to some other writing projects I’ve been up to, as well as my contributions to Cinema Axis, that you can check out here.  Browse the site for a ton of other reviews on almost every film genre out there by the always prolific founder, Courtney Small.

There have been some really big highlights of the past year as well:

Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival a.k.a. BITS…and me!

One of the biggest changes for me is that I can now call myself a Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival programmer. Who knew?!!! I had to take a moment when Kelly Michael Stewart, the festival director offered me the position. I was surprised but SO stoked and honoured because I really love the BITS fest. It’s a great way to showcase fantastic talent and Canadian genre film, meet filmmakers, cast and crew, and it’s one of the few festivals out there that focuses on the business side of things as well. I feel so lucky to be a part of the BITS team.  They’re a group of great people who are just as passionate about film as I am.  All the screenings will be at Cineplex Yonge/Dundas Cinemas, which is a bigger venue this year.   This Saturday October 15th  at noon, we’ll be announcing the BITS lineup and schedule at Horror-Rama in Toronto. Come on out and say hi, enjoy all the fun at Horror-Rama, and get your passes for what’s going to be a great festival this year.

I also got a chance to interview Michael Dickson, a great Canadian actor who starred in one of the fan favourites at BITS 2014, Black Mountain Side.  He was a great interview, and the last time he was in Toronto, we caught up and talked about the film business, The West Coast and his brain-freeze cute dog.

Meeting Lizzie

I wrote an article on Adelaide Norris, a character in the 80’s indie feminist sci-fi classic, Born In Flames, for the website http://www.graveyardshiftsisters.com (run by my girl Ashlee Blackwell) last year. Little did I know that the director herself, Lizzie Borden, would find that article, and that she would be coming to Toronto for a free screening of the restored film at TIFF Bell Lightbox Theatre this past July. She contacted me out of the blue and it took me a minute to realize it was THE director of a film that moved me so much. Several emails and a few weeks later, I was sitting at an intimate dinner with Lizzie, myself and 3 other women who have supported or screened her film in the past, courtesy of TIFF and Chris Kennedy, programmer for The Free Screen. Lizzie talked about her experiences in the film industry, and wanted to know more about about us, the people who felt so strongly about her film. It was a night that I will always remember because Lizzie Borden is one of the warmest, loveliest people in the industry that I have ever met. (My apologies for no photos.  We were so engrossed in conversation that not one person pulled out their phone for a picture.  How old school is that?)

 

I’m a Published Author!

 

Women in Horror Annual (WHA, 2016)

The first Women in Horror Annual came out in February, including fiction and non-fiction works from women horror writers. I was lucky to be a part of this group of great writers and I had a book signing in July with one of the editors, Rachel Katz. It was a great night, with friends, family and fellow horror lovers coming out to support the book. There will be another signing coming soon at the end of the month to celebrate Halloween, so stay tuned for details. Can’t make the signing? Then pick up a copy here! I also contributed to The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films. That came out a few months ago, and I’m proud to say that I’m a part of an academic tome on horror.

japanese-horror-ency

The Encyclopedia of Japanese Horror Films (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016)

 

Last but definitely not least, is the Toronto After Dark Film Festival that starts today! My top picks are :  Under the Shadow, Train to Busan, As The Gods Will, Creepy, Antibirth, The Stakelander and The Void. You can read about all of the films here.  I’m as excited as ever, but more so because I’m celebrating the second anniversary I mentioned earlier.  It will be about 2 years since I met the love of my life at After Dark. I admit I had my eye on him for a few years (yes, years. I’m a chicken when it comes to approaching men), so it took a lot of courage to talk to him. Luckily, he was as sweet as pie (and still is!).  We’re both diehard fans of Toronto After Dark, so after some time as acquaintances, then friends, we finally realized it was a match made in horror. Even though we’re both older, slow and steady does win the race!

Well, that’s my year in review.  As always, I thank you, dear reader, for checking in with me as I write about films, books, and TV that I love. It’s been a great journey filled with many surprises, and one that I plan to continue with you because it’s truly been a good time!

Black Mountain Side DVD Release and Interview with Michael Dickson

Published January 25, 2016 by vfdpixie

BMSnew

Black Mountain Side (2014)

One of my favourite film events in Toronto is the Blood in the Snow Film Festival, where you’ll get to see some of the most unique, intriguing and exclusively Canadian horror films around.  One such film, Black Mountain Side, has resonated with me since I first laid eyes on it at the 2014 BITS Fest.  The tale centers around a team of field researchers who find a mysterious artifact on a remote mountain.  They are soon affected by an unknown force and slowly succumb to an insidious madness.  Directed by Nick Szostakiwskyj, this psychological horror is an homage to The Thing and The Shining.  Although it definitely conjures up memories of the horror classics, the film approaches mistrust and madness as an unexpected creature feature with fantastic production value and camera work.

I’ve been wanting to add this film to my collection as soon as I saw it, and my horror prayers have been answered.  This festival favourite is coming out on DVD January 26, a most fitting release date for a horror shot in the dead of winter amidst all this snowbound craziness, don’t you think?  I got the happy news from my Twitter friend, Michael Dickson, who played Piers Olsen, the professor sent to verify the artifact and ends up in a snowy Hell on Earth in the film.

Originally from Manitoba and now based in Vancouver, Michael has been going strong on the Canadian acting scene from a young age with a long list of theatre, TV and films on his resume, like TV series Northwood and Neon Rider.  Along with acting, he is a singer/songwriter with 2 albums under his belt, and has also begun producing for both film and music.  I got a chance to ask the busy actor a few questions about his experience on the set of this Canadian indie gem.

MichaelDickson

Michael Dickson

I’m excited that more people will experience this film now that it’s available on DVD.  Despite the obvious influences, what do you think makes the story unique?

When people see the film there are always, understandably, comparisons made to the original The Thing and The Shining but I think that there are plenty of differences that set the film apart and make it more of an homage than anything.

I think the introduction of “the creature” combined with the archaeological and mythological aspects, make it quite unique. A lot of work went into keeping the story fact based and I know they were consulting with an archaeologist on a regular basis through the writing process for just that reason.

Another thing that I think sets it apart is the style. There is no soundtrack, the takes are all quite long and the cinematography is widely framed and beautiful-shout out to Cameron Tremblay, the D.O.P. [director of photography] on that one. Nick [Szostakiwskyj] and Cameron had a very specific vision for how they wanted the film to look and feel, and I think they pulled it off wonderfully.

I also like that the special effects are all practical, not CGI. When I first read the script I assumed that there would be a lot of CGI involved [because] it has just become so common these days. When I learned that there would be none I was nervous initially, but dealing with the practical effects added certain challenges that I quite enjoyed.

 

I felt your character, Professor Piers Olsen, was the sole anchor as everyone around him descended into madness.  How did you prepare for the role?

Initially, it was some research into archaeology and Mesoamerican history and mythology. Before we began filming, I met with Nick a couple of times to discuss the character and kind of, flesh him out.

Except for 5 days of filming in studio. the entire film was shot on location and everyone lived and worked on site. That allowed ample opportunity to prepare for scenes and rehearse them with the other actors. Before shooting certain scenes Nick would often pull the actor aside, talk through the scene with them and help them get in the right head-space. As an actor, it’s great having that opportunity and a director who spends that kind of time with you. I’m still amazed when I think that Nick was only 21 when he directed Black Mountain Side.

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

Dickson as Olsen in Black Mountain Side

We learned at the BITS fest that this film came from a nightmare director Nick Szostakiwskyj had.  How was it for the cast to bring this to life for him?  Were there any scary moments that were too close to home for him, or yourself?

I got the feeling that by the time it went to film, Nick had spent so much time with the writing, rewriting and pre-production that he had a good perspective on it all so I’m not sure he had any of those moments.

The actors put a lot of faith in Nick and his vision for the film and he, in turn, put a lot of trust in the actors. Bringing the story to life was really rewarding and A LOT of fun.

For me, the scary moments were in the actual filming of some of the scenes. As I mentioned, the special effects were not CGI and there was not much room for error in some areas [like] the ARM [sic] scene in the doctor’s office, for example. In these situations it was more just being afraid you would screw up. In the end it just added to the adventure. [The arm scene in question involved only one shot for the use of a prosthetic arm and an axe.  Luckily, they got it!]

 

Since you were so isolated, and things get really intense in the film, I imagine you formed a brotherhood with your co-stars.  How did that affect your performances and were there any cabin fever hi-jinks that occurred?

There are some very intense scenes and there were times when the actors had to go to a rather “dark” place. For those scenes we would prepare and then just… give each other space. Afterward, yeah, we would definitely need to decompress. We spent many hours in the evenings drinking beer, playing cards and having a lot of laughs.

It was nice that everyone got along really well; cast and crew both. Many of us still keep in touch now. That whole atmosphere sort of carried over onto the festival circuit.

Of course, two weeks in a cabin with the same people, there was a certain amount of cabin fever but we just…channeled that into our scenes ;).

The cast one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

The cast, one snowflake away from a real bad scene.

Were the conditions as bad as they looked?

Well…truth be known, it was not as cold as we made it out to be. The temperatures were actually unseasonably warm. We were fortunate that the temperature would drop at night and we would usually have a fresh snowfall by morning.

Of course, dealing with the snow and being in such a remote location did have some challenges. The location was near a town called Lumby [in British Columbia, Canada]. It was up a very remote valley and you would have to drive half an hour out just to get cell reception. Navigating the terrain was an ongoing challenge for everyone but definitely made more work for the crew. They would have to get the equipment up and down the hills through some pretty deep snow. Everyone pitched in where they could but the crew were great.

 

What struck me the most about the film was the quiet of the landscape and lack of a soundtrack.  It made things so much more frightening because it felt like you were there in the action instead of an observer.  What was your first impression when you watched the film?

Well, I know when I heard that there was not going to be any music my reaction was…”Huh?” I know how much the soundtrack can set the mood of a scene and work to build tension, so I thought the choice to not have ANY was…well…bold, to say the least.

Having now seen the film, I can say that it works really, really well.  Adam Pisani, who did sound, managed to capture the sounds of the elements [like] the wind in the trees, footsteps through the snow etc. really well and I think that does engage the viewer more. That, combined with the beautiful, wide framed shots and the long takes, works to draw the viewer in and hold them within the scene.

 

What have you been up to since Black Mountain Side?

This summer I worked on a film called “The Surveyor” directed by Kristian Messere. It’s a gritty film about a guy trying to do the right thing and seeing it all go wrong. I play Walter, a bar owner who becomes something of a mentor on the main character’s path to revenge. That film is just going into post production and I will let you know more when I have more info.

Another film I am involved with is called Surftopia (working title). It might be more in line with your readers’ tastes. It is the story of an isolated surfing commune and has elements of immortality, cannibalism and psychological horror. A cool concept and should be a lot of fun to shoot. It’s currently in pre-production and I expect it will start filming early spring.

 

Do you have a favourite horror movie?

In recent years I’d kind of gotten away from horror movies. Truth be known I’m just kind of a pussy and the really spooky ones keep me up at night and the slasher ones make me queasy. That being said, the whole experience with Black Mountain Side has really brought me around. Doing the film festival circuit and meeting both the film makers and the fans has given me a whole new appreciation for the genre. I actually want to do more horrors/thrillers because of it. I’ve started watching them more, too…averting me eyes as necessary.

As for a favourite, I’d probably go back to the classics like Psycho or the Godzillas [sic films]. I know The Omen scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Oh and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [the original 1973 made for TV movie].  My sister and I watched it as kids and we talk about it now and it still gives us the creeps.

 

A big thank you to Michael for taking the time to answer some questions.  I’m looking forward to checking out his upcoming projects, and you can find Black Mountain Side on Amazon here, or buy the movie on ITunes here!

You can follow Michael on twitter @1MichaelDickson and check out his IMDb page.

Follow Black Mountain Side on Twitter @BMSFilm ;

and on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/BlackMountainSideTheMovie

Black Mountain Side on IMDb

 

Black Mountain Side BITS 2014

Published December 4, 2014 by vfdpixie

black mountain side

Black Mountain Side (1 hr 39 mins)

The unknown and isolation takes center stage in Black Mountain Side, the closing film for The Blood In The Snow Festival.  A team of field researchers are on the site of a breakthrough and mysterious archeological find that has the potential to turn history on its ear.  When a professor joins them to figure out the where and why of the ancient structure they are excavating, the mystery gets even more confusing as the men start to become increasingly ill and mentally unstable.  In the ensuing days, the team unravels and their isolation feeds an unknown terrifying menace that blurs the lines of reality.

I have to say this was my favourite film of the festival.  While it was a definite nod to horror films centered around isolated locations like The Thing, The Shining and even perhaps Alien, it had its own unique feel, most notably the lack of a soundtrack or scoring.  The opening scene of breathtaking beauty in the snow-covered wilderness was ominous enough, without any musical interpretation.  Cutting from interior, dialogued scenes to the silent, frozen exteriors subtly built tension as we watched the countdown to the characters’ descent into madness and murder.  The story also had a bizarre twist that defies any creature feature out there and will definitely stay with you long after the movie ends.

The cast really blew me away with their realistic portrayal of men losing touch with reality.  They were rough around the edges which added to their growing paranoia as nips grew to throat-crushing bites within their almost feral pack.  Most notable were Carl Toftfelt as Francis who gave me goose bumps as he struggled to keep sane, Michael Dickson as Professor Peter Olsen who was the only tether to reason and logic, and Marc Anthony Williams’ wild west demeanour that would culminate in one incredible continuously shot sequence.

In attendance at the screening was executive producer Samantha McDonald, and Michael Dickson.  McDonald told the audience that the inspiration for the film came from a nightmare writer and director Nick Szostakiwskyj had, and he was also influenced by H.P. Lovecraft and John Carpenter’s The Thing.  They filmed in Lumby, British Columbia and the 35 cast and crew members actually lived in the cabins seen in the film.  She also revealed that the lack of music in the film was deliberate since they wanted the audience to be in the action with the characters.  Szostakiwskyj also wrote with real research in mind.  He wanted the science to be accurate and the mythology behind the film believable.  Dickson recounted tense moments with one time use prosthetics and a real axe (eek!), but it all came together in the end.

Black Mountain Side, winner of a Best Cinematography Bloodies Award at the festival, offers a clean and beautiful low-budget thriller/horror that takes you to weird world of myth and madness you won’t soon forget.

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