I started making short films on super 8 when I was a teen in the late 1970s/early 80s. At that time, I lived in Lancaster, California, and my friends and I would drive down to Los Angeles to see sci-fi and horror movies all the time. During that period I helped genre writer Bill Warren and his editor Bill Thomas with the promotion on Warren's book "Keep Watching the Skies" which is a two volume book about every sci-fi movie made during the 1950s. I went to several world sci-fi conventions in the late 70s and 80s and those certainly had an influence on my filmmaking. My early influences included Harlan Ellison, Charles Beaumont, Rod Serling, Roger Corman, Forrest J Ackerman, and of course the late great Don Dohler. I had early scream queen crushes including Caroline Munro, Ingrid Pitt, and Mary Woronov!
(photo of me and Caroline Munro circa 1978)
How did you get your start in the film industry?
I never got into the film industry, really. I made my short films and eventually moved to New Orleans, Louisiana where I met some people interested in making low budget genre films as well. So I co-wrote, directed, produced, and edited two feature films there - "Cut Up," and "Zombie! Vs. Mardi Gras," the latter of which is also featured in the great VHS documentary "Adjust Your Tracking." (see photo) The no-budget movies I made were strictly independent and I'm glad to say I never worked for a studio in Hollywood! I was an avid reader of Don Dohler's CINEMAGIC magazine, and I still reference it today if I need help with a particular special effect.
(photos of the movie posters from Cut Up and Zombie! Vs. Mardi Gras)
Can you tell us anything about the lovely movie First Man on Mars?
I wrote the original First Man on Mars story while there was a lot of excitement about NASA sending people to Mars. So I thought it would be timely to make a film about Mars, but of course make it a horror-comedy about an billionaire astronaut who funds his own expedition to Mars only to find that Mars had nothing of value for him to claim. He accidently comes in contact with a spore that infects him, and on his way back to Earth he turns into a hideous mutated monster and the space craft crashes into a Lousiana swamp. He starts horribly mutilating and eating the people of the nearby town.
The movie is a satirical homage to 1970s drive-in movies like "The Incredible Melting Man" and earlier movies like "First Man in Space." Troma wanted to distribute the film, but Tomcat Films aka Summerhill Films picked it up before Troma contacted me about distribution, so it is currently in distribution with Summerhill and you can get the DVD in many stores, streaming on platforms, and on Tubi TV (ad based platform).
(photos from First Man on Mars)
What do you consider to be the strongest element of your work?
Absolutely my strongest asset is starting a movie and finishing a movie in a timely fashion. That may sound strange, but you would not believe how many people start a film and never finish it! And I think to myself, why would you do that? Why start filming and just stop? So my philosophy is, when you start a film, do everything you can to finish the film, because if yo don't, it will haunt you until you die.
Do you think you've changed as an Director/Producer since you first started?
I've gotten much better at streamlining a project to get it done quickly and efficiently. Pre-production is very, very important. You MUST rehearse the script with your cast prior to getting on the set to shoot the film. You MUST block out any needed action as well as you can before you get on the set. You would be surprised at how many low budget films do not do these things, and they suffer for it. Granted, when you are blocking for scenes, sometimes things change on set because of conditions or location, but always do as much pre-production as possible.
My latest film, Witch Tales aka Cuentos de la Bruja, was filmed entirely in Peru with a bilingual Peruvian cast. We simultaneously shot the movie in English and Spanish language, so it was even more difficult than normal. However, I was determined to keep the 14 day shooting schedule and it happened. At the beginning, I was fortunate enough to meet with Emilio Obregon who is the owner of the Museum of Terror in Lima.
He became the Associate Producer of the film and we shot all of the Witch scenes at the museum. The Spanish language film has just finished its one year film festival run and was accepted into 12 film festivals winning 6 awards including Best Feature Film and Best B-Movie, so we had some good success with it.
I am still talking with distributors but have not yet gotten a good offer. However, whether I go with a distributor or distribute the film myself, the film will be officially released in April, 2020.
(photos from Witch Tales)
What are some of your upcoming projects?
I am still making a documentary about 1950s pre-code horror comic books called "Haunted Thrills," which should be ready for film festivals by September, 2020.
I have also recently written and sold a few short stories to some publishers. The anthology "Monster Party" from Deadman's Tome Publications contains my story "Thing in the Shed," which is a story I adapted from the screenplay I wrote to make a short film of the same name several years ago. That film is part of "Horror Anthology Movie Vol. 1" DVD on sale on Amazon.
I also have a new story called "The House on Greenville Street" being published by the great Black Bedsheet Books for the first Days of the Dead anthology book to be released this Feb. 8th at the Days of the Dead convention in Atlanta, which I will be attending. I also have a short film playing at the festival there, a short screenplay in the script competition, and my feature film "Cuentos de la Bruja" is up for Best Foreign Film of 2019 because it played at Days of the Dead Atlanta last year.
Where can we found out more about you and your work?
There are four good sources -
2)Horror Anthology Movies website - http://www.horroranthologymovies.com/
3)RP Facebook page- https://www.facebook.com/reelprogress/
4)Goodreads - https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/13496649.Mike_T_Lyddon
What advice would you give to someone wanting to try a career in Director/Producer?
It depends on what they want to do. If they want to get noticed by a Hollywood or big independent studio, then working in the system i.e. getting a job with a studio would be a great idea. If not, make a commercially appealing movie and try to sell it to a studio or get a great distribution deal.
While it is possible, it is as likely as winning the lottery. I have never desired to strike it big in Hollywood or "Blumhouse" style indie studios, and I've been happy making my own no-budget films. Some of them make money and some don't, but if really enjoy doing it, it shouldn't matter what kind of budget you have.
Seriously, the foundation of any good movie is the story and screenplay. Work on that first, and when you have it the way you want it, have other people read it and get feedback. You will know when you are ready to start production.
If you could work with any Director/Producer who would they be and why?
Stuart Gordon would be way up on the list. I love his genre films and dramas like Edmund, and I think it would be amazing to watch his process all the way through a film.
Impossible to list only one. I love Metropolis, Island of Lost Souls, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Forbidden Planet, Fiend without a Face, Come and See, The Last Picture Show, The Conversation, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Duck Soup, Invasion! aka Welcome to Exceptional Vista.
Favorite country or place?
Another hard question, but one place that comes to mind is Santa Elena, Venezula. In 2006, I hiked up the Tepui called Roraima with several friends. It is a "table top" mountain 9,000 feet high and flat on the top. This was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World." All the rocks are black, the animals are black, and the frogs do not jump, they crawl. It was like stepping back into prehistoric time.
(photos from Roraima)
Did you know anything about sweden?
Yes, I have been to Stockholm and Upsala. Back in the 1980s, I went to Europe with my friend John Woods, who also did camera work on First Man on Mars, Zombie! Vs. Mardi Gras and others. Sweden is an amazing country and one of the highpoints of that trip.
Anything else you want to mention?
My old "fiend" John Woods will agree: Shooting on film is great! Whether it is super 8 or 16mm, the look of film is something that digital video cannot duplicate. If you get the chance and can spend the additional money for film, do it. That being said, when you make a movie, it doesn't matter what you film it on. It could be your smart phone, a cheap camcorder, or anything. The important thing is that you make it and finish it and show it to as many people as you can. And make it about something that really interests you, not just another rip off of the latest trend. If you are true to your art, it will reward you in ways you may never have thought of.
(photo of me and John Woods on the set of First Man on Mars)