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Twenty Questions with Scott Wheeler
by Mike Thomas

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Scott Wheeler - One of my Favorite Directors

Scott Wheeler - One of my Favorite Directors
Today's Twenty Questions comes from one of my favorite directors...

Yeah - I was surprised also. Scott Wheeler, though he has directed only a few features, is responsible for a Lion's Share of my television viewing. His technical wizardry had me religiously watching "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Xena: Warrior Princess," "Battlestar Galactica," and many other sci-fi and fantasy programs for the past twenty-five years. His directorial credits are also notable, having helmed several Global Asylum projects, including JOURNEY to the CENTER of the EARTH, with Vintage Celebrity Greg Evigan, the raunchy comedy MILF, and his newest project, CELEBRITY SEX TAPE.

Scott, it's a pleasure to speak with you!

It's great talking with you too, thanks for doing the interview

Matchflick: Scott, as a visual effects artist, what's the wildest thing you've had to come up with?
Scott: Probably the wildest thing I have done was for the movie SCARY MOVIE 2. There was a scene where two characters get stuck in a meat locker and they are going to freeze to death. The solution to build body heat is for the girl to.. well... rub the boy to keep him from freezing. Ultimately he can't keep it in and erupts, it then freezes in the air and falls as ice crystals.

The scene got cut in the final film I think so no one ended up seeing it.

Matchflick: How did you choose you your projects?
Scott: There are several different criteria depending on what is going on at a particular time. Sometimes I'm just looking for something to keep the company going, sometimes you do a project because you really love the idea, and sometimes it's a stepping stone to where you want to go. I've been pretty fortunate and managed to find projects like SAND SHARKS and CELEBRITY SEX TAPE that satisfy all three criteria in one project.

Matchflick: Were you eventually sought out by directors, or did you still have to audition?
Scott: I think until I manage to direct something that is a huge success I will still have to audition and prove my self before I get a movie. The Asylum has been great to me. I can call them up and say I'll be free in June and they will try to find a project for me to work on, which is great.

Matchflick: Do you have your own equipment, or do you get a budget for gear?
Scott: I own a few cameras ranging from the 7D to the RED that I use on movies. I like to shoot second camera a lot on my movies so having my own gear to bring to the party really helps. Fortunately, Mark Atkins who has DP'd all of the movies I have directed, he and I have a shorthand that allows us to move fast without having to pay attention to what each of us is shooting. He trusts that I'm not going to shoot something stupid and I know he will cover any of my mistakes :)

Matchflick: Working with the “Xena“series, did you get to travel to New Zealand?
Scott: I wish!

I was a huge fan of the show and had some down time on "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" so I got in touch with the people doing the FX and offered to do some work for free to get on the show. Everyone wants free stuff so that's how I ended up working on the show. Later on when they switched supervisors, I was in the running for going to New Zealand to supervise the show, but, I didn't get the gig.

Matchflick: How much interaction did you have with the principals?
Scott: Some of the effects look as though they needed to be worked out with the actors. When I am supervising there is a lot of interaction with the actors. You have to get to know them and they you in order to work smoothly. It's hard to just show up and expect people to trust you are not going to make them look silly
An Asylum Classic - Visual Wizardry Courtesy Scott Wheeler

An Asylum Classic - Visual Wizardry Courtesy Scott Wheeler
unless you get to know them first.

Matchflick: What other projects have you worked on?
Scott: A bunch of stuff that I can't remember any more :). It's probably easier to look at IMDB,

Matchflick: What was the movie that got you into doing movies?
Scott: It's cliche at this point but like most of the people my age it was STAR WARS. I'd always been into movies, but, I left the theater after that movie knowing I wanted to make movies. In high school I got it to computers and eventually got a degree in computer science from Syracuse University. I convinced them to do a dual degree with the school of computer science and the Newhouse School of Communications.

Matchflick: What was your first professional project?
Scott: The first professional project I ever got paid for was for a local production company in Boston. I did a logo for them in 3D. The first TV or movie job was for FOX Television's "Space: Above And Beyond." I started modeling the alien fighters in Boston and moved out to Los Angeles to work on the pilot for the series. It was incredible to go from working at night in my basement to being on a Network show. The icing on the cake was that it was Science Fiction, Nerd Heaven!

Matchflick: Did you have any role models that inspired you to do special effects?
Scott: I studied the work of a lot of people and read as much as I could in any magazine that was FX related. I tried to absorb as much as possible. But, I can't say I got truly inspired by anyone until I started working out here. The people I get to work with daily and those I have worked with in the past are a constant source of inspiration since I can see them solving problems and creating amazing images on budgets and timelines that seem impossible.

Matchflick: What do you think Ray Harryhausen or Stan Winston would say about the modern digital effects?
Scott: I think Harryhausen would have loved it. The tinkering involved in doing stop motion work is the same kind of mindset you have to have to sit and move an object in the computer. Granted the computer takes a lot of the leg work out of the process by building the in-between frames for you, but the basics still apply. Winston was at the forefront of CG and practical FX integration with movies like JURASSIC PARK. So, he was already sold on the process :)

Matchflick: You've also written a few projects. Do you intend to continue to write?
Scott: I love writing. I don't think I will ever stop doing that. In fact that was one of my majors in college. I always like to have 3 or 4 ideas percolating in my mind at any given time. I find I write more when I am involved in another project, for some reason the distraction of different ideas help spark new ones. I remember when I finally got a writing credit many years after college, my father
kidded me "Finally putting your schooling to work."

Matchflick: Working for the Asylum, how do you take the stigma of Asylum's "cheesy special effects" reputation?
Scott: The Asylum does 90% of their effects work in house now. Prior to that I supervised their effects for 2 years. The timelines that have to be met are a grind. Frankly, I am constantly Impressed by what can be accomplished in such a tight schedule. While not every shot can be a work of art, there are many that I am proud of for what we managed to pull off with limited time and resources. In most cases an Asylum movie goes from pre-production to DVD on the shelves in 4 months. That's everything from shooting, editing, effects, sound and packaging.... that's a grind.

Matchflick: What is the attraction of working with the Asylum, or are you part of their production team?
Scott: I'm not officially part of
Xena - Visual Wizardry Also Courtesy Scott Wheeler

Xena - Visual Wizardry Also Courtesy Scott Wheeler
their production team, but, since I have been working with them for so long I feel a sense of camaraderie. The attraction for me is having the opportunity to direct feature length projects. Since I have been working with them for so long they also afford me freedom to
mostly do what I want and that's not always the case. I have my own FX/Post Production facility Rogue State, and they allow me to post the majority of the movies I do in my facility. They don't do that with everyone and I am thankful for the trust they put in me.

Matchflick: Tell me about MEGA SHARK vs, GIANT OCTOPUS, one of the Asylum's classics.
Scott: MEGA SHARK was a huge success story for the Asylum. It was just the right
amount of cheese and humor that let you know that NO ONE took what was going on too seriously. To be honest I didn't really get it while it was being made, I had no idea it would strike such a chord.

Follow-up Question: What is Asylum's affinity for aquatic monsters?
I think the owners of the Asylum grew up in the Mid-West. Being so far from the water made anything in the ocean exotic. :)

Matchflick: Is there a transition you have to do when you switch from fantasy effects to comic effects, i.e., going from DELTA FARCE with Larry the Cable Guy to Asylum's The APOCALYPSE?
Scott: Not really. With the exception of doing a straight up cartoon movie like (WHO FRAMED) ROGER RABBIT(?) the effects work stays the same. For DELTA FARCE I did a lot of C-130 and Helicopter shots. The movie going on around it was comedic, but the effects work is the same as if we were doing PLATOON

Matchflick: Let's talk about your directing. Two sci-fi features, Two raunchy comedies - which do you prefer?
Scott: I'm drawn to Sci-Fi since I am a nerd, but sexy women are fun too :) In a lot of ways the Comedy's are more fun since they can be wacky and out there. They are also less pressure to post since they don't rely on a lot of FX to tell the story. Chris McIntire (The Editor and FX lead on CELEBRITY) would disagree since there were 110 FX shots in CELEBRITY SEX TAPE. The perfect project would be a Sex Space Comedy. STARSHIP TROOPERS meets "Playboy".... hmmm, maybe I should pitch that.

Matchflick: How does it feel to be the one calling the shots? Do you treat the visual effects people differently than you were treated?
Scott: I like it, a lot. :)

Film is a team sport though. The director is like the Team Captain. He doesn't have to be the one making all the goals for the team to win, he just has to help them get there and keep everyone focused on the end product. That's the way I like to direct a movie. It doesn't have to be 100% my ideas that make it into the final product. I just have to be smart enough to recognize when someone on the team has a great idea and incorporate that. I've been really lucky to work with talented friends, actors and co-workers who share their ideas to make the finished product the best it can be.

On the visual effects side I've been the one supervising the effects on the movies I've directed, so no, I treat the effects people horribly!

Matchflick: What is your latest project, CELEBRITY SEX TAPE about?
Scott: It's basically a RISKY BUSINESS type story. A few Nerds go to a party they aren't supposed be at and end up recording one of their friends having sex with a fallen starlet. That recording makes it to the internet and the starlets manager threatens to harm them if he doesn't get paid off. They then have to make more tapes to pay off the killer Manager. In the end we all learn a valuable lesson about love and life. Very touching. :)

Matchflick: When I visited the set on one of your movies, I noticed you did a lot of the
So Wrong on So Many Levels - but Funny as Heck!

So Wrong on So Many Levels - but Funny as Heck!
camerawork. Is that your style, is it because of the infamous Asylum budget, or are old habits hard to break?
Scott: I don't really like sitting behind a monitor watching things happen. I like to get out and shoot what I want to see rather than spending time discussing it, tweaking and reshooting. Shooting 2 cameras can also speed things along and you need that to do a movie in 10 days. It also has a large part to do with the DP, Mark Atkins and how we work. We've done probably 20 movies together with either me doing VFX, directing or just camera work and Mark either directing, DP'ing or both. Because of that we have a very comfortable working relationship, I know he's going to get all the shots we need and he trusts I won't mess up the stuff I shoot too badly. In fact on both MILF and SEX TAPE I only saw half the movie while we were filming, just the part of the movie I shot. That's were the trust really comes in, we finish a setup and if I like what I got and he likes what he got we move on, no need to review takes. The last movie Mark directed DRAGON CRUSADERS we went to Wales with just he and I as the Camera Dept., you can't do that if you wonder about what the other guy is going to shoot.

Matchflick: I see that you're keeping your hand in the visual effects work. Is this your true love, or do you not want to get rusty. You know, something to fall back on?
Scott: I love visual effects work. Coming out to Los Angeles and being able to work in movies was a life long dream. Without computer effects I probably would still be a financial programmer. I do try to keep the chops from getting too rusty, but, I mostly manage the company and do the on-set work now. My time of sitting at a desk churning out FX shots on a regular basis are getting more distant each day. It is nice to sit down and do a shot or two every now and then though, for old time sake.

Matchflick: What's the movie YOU'D like to do?
Scott: I'd love to do a western, something like BUTCH CASSIDY, one of my all-time favorite movies. My ex-wife would always roll her eyes if we were surfing the channels and we came across BUTCH , no matter what scene it was on I would say "OH! This is a good scene, let's just watch this scene" Then I would end up watching the whole movie. I know this may sound weird but I would also like to do a sweet love story. I'm probably going to get my Geek Card revoked, but, I do like chick flicks from time to time.

Matchflick: Lastly, you've been on the production team, you've written, you've directed; any aspirations of acting, or at least Hitchcock-like cameos?
Scott: I have no real interest in acting, I'm too self conscious to let myself go that way. You need to to be a good actor. I have however played a few dead bodies in movies, so, if one of my movies requires a dead body I may make an appearance.

Finally, do you see yourself making another movie that features an aging, overweight, African-American carrying a table? I may have a few suggestions in regards to casting....
Have your people call my people... we'll do lunch :)

Scott will be calling the shots in the Asylum's CELEBRITY SEX TAPES, coming out, appropriately, on Valentine's Day. Catch his visual work on several cable networks, such as SyFy, Chiller, and Showtime. And be sure to catch Scott's work as Executive Producer as he works with his Proudhon Company, Rogue State, on the Sci-Fi/Horror Thriller, The PANDORA EXPERIMENT, due out Halloween, 2012!


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Science Fiction, Double Feature
Every other Sunday

This column will explore my taste in film. I watch all kinds of movies - all kinds - but likes science fiction/fantasy - action, animated, funny, even stupid. He will speak of his experience and his encounters with science fiction and the way it colors his - and our - everyday life.

Other Columns
Other columns by Mike Thomas:

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Joker Smackdown

Kids in Peril

Twenty Questions with Michael Bonomo

The Clip Show

All Columns

Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas was introduced to science fiction when he first watched 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, and was hooked ever since. But he doesn't just watch the gee-whiz, gollee-gee special effects. He watches the costumes quirks, evaluates the musical scores, even identifies favorite actors of directors. He collected comic book, but has moved on to weapons: he currently owns the Mj?llnir - the Hammer of Thor, Electra's Ninja Sai's, Mace Windu's Light Saber, and a couple of Batarangs.

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Mike Thomas by clicking here.

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