Interview with Mj Dixon

Dixon & I first met when I was a photographer for Gorezone Magazine in 2010. Dixon was part of the production team and since then he has come a long way in his film career. Since it’s been over a decade since then, I managed to have a catch up to see what films and projects are on the horizon for him…

https://mycho.weebly.com/

Interview by Jo Blackened

Hey and thank you for your time today! Let’s start from the beginning; when did you know you wanted to get into the film industry and how did it all begin?

I think becoming part of the film industry is something that I always wanted to do. Ever since I was a child I would take VHS tapes and pull the covers out and sketch my own movie covers and ideas onto them and then tuck them back into our video collection. I was always desperate to get hold of the camcorder and every year I asked for one for Christmas but it never happened, they were really expensive things in the 90s when I was growing up and just not a luxury most families could afford.

When I left school I really wanted to become a horror author. That had been kind of my dream as long as I could remember. And so I’ve just begun to write short stories as I was about to leave school, it was only then that I started to think oh it would be very cool if someone would l turn these stories into Films. Soon after that I worked on the short film with a bunch of local filmmakers and realised that Filmmaking was something I could potentially do on my own.

You were born in Sunderland, North East England. As a child, were you allowed to watch horror films and where did the fascination with them come from?

I was never really allowed to watch horror movies when I was a child, but whilst looking in the paper to see what was on, I would set up a video recorder to tape overnight then close the cabinet door so no one could see it was recording. I’d get up in the small hours of the morning and the tape before anyone got up. This led me to see all kinds of weird things that I normally wouldn’t otherwise have sought out. Including the works of people like Cronenberg and Lynch and of course the work of people like John Carpenter and Films like Alien by Ridley Scott, they were all things that forged my want to make horror movies.

When I was about 11 I saw Halloween and I became obsessed with horror movies from there, we would rent anything (or my friend would talk his gran into renting anything) that had an interesting cover and we thought could be scary and I became obsessed with those amazing covers that we used to see in the video stores and what those movies could be like. The obsession never really ended.

Did you study film making and directing?

I studied at Media college for a while, but the main focus there was newspapers and genre study more than anything else, it was only once a week we were really allowed to take a camera out trying to film stuff, that’s where I learnt how to edit on big tape machines which was a very hard, but ultimately taught me how to be a better Editor. I eventually ended up going to corporate video school in Newcastle and graduated from there a couple of years later.

After that, I moved to Preston to go to university and sit on my own production company which would eventually become Mycho. I spent the next three years really just using their equipment to make as many films as possible and that was a huge deal for me as I’ve never really had access to equipment on that scale before and I was able to really teach myself quite quickly the language of filmmaking.

Back in 2004, you created your own Independent Production Label ‘Mycho Pictures’. What made you decide to set up your own production label and not just work for another?

I spent a few years just trying to get projects off the ground in my hometown and for one reason or another that I’ve never really worked out for me, it was in an environment that was conducive for producing quality work and so I knew that when I left I would have a fresh start and the ability to kind of do things my way.

I set up a production company Mycho and started producing completely no-budget short films with anyone who would get involved and over time I started to build up a small catalogue of cool little short films, none of them was good, but they taught me how to be a better filmmaker and that was kind of my film school.

Your first official feature was released in 2010 with Slasher House, can you tell us about that?

Slasher House Was an idea that I had in the early 2000s, I’ve recently seen Freddy VS Jason and was somewhat disappointed by the results (at least back then I was, its grown on me since) and so I wanted to kind of do my own version of that, but I didn’t have access to any of those characters and so I went about creating my own little world of Serial killers that could crossover with each other kind of like old school comic books.

I wrote the script eventually in 2005 with the idea of making some much smaller films beforehand introducing some of the Killers that I had come up with, But when all those smaller films fell through I found myself in a position where I had a few months to make a feature and I needed something that fit into that kind of zero budget space. Slasher House had 5 actors and one location and so it fit perfectly. So that was the film that I chose to go ahead and make before I made any of the others, I figured I’d worry about that later. It took over 2 years to complete between peoples schedules and such, but it eventually got a big DVD release in 2013.

You’ve been quite busy since we last met! In 2019 you announced you have a set of new releases under the Mycho label, can you tell us about these?

Once Slasher House was done, I set about trying to build the universe that I wanted to start in the first place, and so we just kind of went out and started making feature films based on these are the Killers from that film. Over the next few years, we made films for Thorn, Cleaver and Hollower.

Then we decided to make Slasher House 2, the idea was to create a whole new roster of characters and introduce them to the world we had built, before giving them their own spin-off movies and building the franchise further. After the second film, we started producing sequels to Films like Thorn and Cleaver and also created spin-offs for characters like Jacob and Molly.  Each one serves to really expand the world that these characters live in.

 

You’ve written and directed 9 films and numerous shorts and created spin-off series for characters like Cleaver, Killer Clown, Thorn, Jacob The Panda Headed Killer and Molly Bannister. Which has been your favourite character and why?

I love them all in my own way, each one is so unique and I love all of them very differently. They are kind of like children in that they’re all very different and odd and they all have their own quirks which makes them all really fun to write, each character also has their own genre and feel so it allows me to keep ideas fresh rather than every film just being a straight slasher film with nothing else going on, but if I had to pick one that I really love to work with it would be Thorn. Thorn was the first character that I really created for this shared universe and so I have a special respect and love for that character and really love delving into the world that he comes from. He always has the most inventive kills too.

You have also directed some official music videos for reputable artists including Michael Schenker of Scorpions and Blaze Bayley of Iron Maiden as well as working with genre legends such as Nicholas Vince of Hellraiser fame. This must’ve been an incredible experience! How did it come about?

My day job is directing and editing music videos. I started doing it for local unsigned bands and eventually just begun to branch out to work with more successful and established artists. Michael Schenker and his team approached me whilst they were doing their UK tour after seeing a video I had directed for another band and asked if I would come and shoot a music video for them as they needed someone who could do it on a budget. That was kind of our wheelhouse and so we went along and, long story short, we ended up being his videographer, in terms of music videos, for the next couple of years.

Nicholas Vince was a different story, we were at the film festival with one of our movies and he was a guest at the same festival and so we got to talking about a project we were working on which would eventually become Hollower and he showed interest in it, we didn’t think for a second that he would want to be involved, but to our surprise, based on Anna’s pitch, he asked to see the script. We sent it to him and in a couple of days, he came back and said that he would really like to do it. We were shocked but jumped at the chance to work with a genre legend like Nick!

You’re also involved in the music industry, being a vocalist of UK Metal band ‘Subject Seven’. Did you always want to become a musician?

I’ve been in bands, to various levels of success, for about half a decade before Subject Seven came around. I’ve never really thought about being a musician but I’d been learning to play the bass guitar when a local band asked if I would consider joining as the bassist. During my audition, they asked if I could do some backing vocals and to my surprise when I turned up for my second audition they asked if I would-be singer. I have never really thought of myself as a singer before (although I did sing all the time just for fun) but figured that I would like to give it a shot and for the next few years really worked at that.

After Subject Seven disbanded, I went back to my old studio project HockeyMask Heroes and carried on writing music with that label, since then we’ve scored 8 of 9 of our films and released several singles and albums that tie into the rest of our work at Mycho. Recently we started a new project called DIXXON which aims to bring together my love of synthwave and metal, while still maintaining our love for horror movies and that will be the outfit that scores that Mycho movies going forward.

You’re married to film producer Anna Dixon. How did you guys meet and does it help to have someone who is also involved in the industry?

I don’t think that Anna ever wanted to really be involved in the industry before I met her, we’ve been friends for quite a long time and because of that and the low-budget nature of the films I was making (and am still making), I would quite often have to drag my friends in to help with various jobs on Set. Anna was one of the puppeteers on the music video we did with a giant robot scorpion and I remember that we had both been out drinking the night before and so kind of leaned on each other to get through the day with a massive hangover.

When we eventually became involved, I didn’t have a producer and so she offered to step in to make my workload lighter. and I think that it was a difficult job that she picked up very quickly and had a very natural talent for putting films together, so it wasn’t long before we had made several films together, and of course, once we figured out we could make films without killing each other we realised we could probably also get married. Which was nice.

Is it difficult balancing out a ‘normal working life’?

I think to make films full time, and have a normal life outside of that is very difficult. Film making is a very difficult thing to do even when it’s going well and you really have to turn it into your lifestyle in order to really progress anywhere with it and so that’s really what I’ve done.

My social life is very much based around the films that we make and the films of other people, so a lot of our friends are actors and producers and musicians and that’s all very good because we have a lot in common and a lot to talk about when we actually meet up.

Is there anyone you’d love to work with and haven’t yet?

There are loads of people I’d love to work with, there are so many horror icons a group watching on the big screen and a small screen that I would love to have involved in one of our films. I’m a huge fan of actors like Tony Todd, Brad Douriff, Jeffrey Combs and about a million others that I would love to get involved in a project somewhere.

There are also so many USA based scream queens that I would love to have In our films but because of the low budget nature in which we make them, it’s very difficult to bring people like that over. But I hope that one day we can involve people like Felissa Rose, Debbie Rochon, Linnea Quigley, Brinke Stevens and, again, about a million others.

What advice would you give someone interested in this industry and want to either act, direct or write?

I think the best advice, is to just start trying to do it, that’s the best way to start, find your feet just trying to figure it out on your own. Eventually, you’ll begin to get stuck and that’s when you start to expand your knowledge base and try to figure out where you’re going wrong. If you just do that over and over again and every time you get stuck trying to figure out why then eventually you kind of start to understand the problem before you get to it.

The best way of learning anything is by doing it through experience; you fail much quicker and therefore learn lessons much faster, so for anyone who wants to do anything creative, then I would say go and do it in whatever form that may be. Even if it’s just with your friends, or your sister, or your dog, just go and write something and make something and you’ll learn more that way then you will from any book and any film school.

Where do you draw your influences from when it comes to producing and directing?

I have so many influences it’s hard to quantify them all. I’ve been taking inspiration from everything my whole life, from real things that have happened to me, or to people I know, or people I’ve read about all the way through to comics, movies, books, art and so many other things, I never know where an idea will come from.

In terms of film, my biggest inspirations are the low budget greats like Sam Raimi, Robert Rodriquez, Lloyd Kaufman, they all have a really great attitude to filmmaking that really carried me in my early days. John Carpenter (or more accurately his longtime collaborator Dean Cundey) are really massive influences on my work.

Who does your photography and artwork for the feature films photos/covers?

Everything for our stuff is done in house, from writing to production, to post and even the artwork and posters. I trained as a Graphic Designer and Web Designer whilst I was at Corporate Video College and so those skills become really useful when it came to that aspect for filmmaking.

I also ended up picking up photography over the years. It, like most thing, started as a necessity and I ended up doing promo shots for actors and performers and eventually bands. In 2012 I was published in an album cover and Bizarre magazine and that really prompted me to keep at it.

What is the procedure for producing a new film or short? Do you have a set way of doing things?

Everything usually starts with a script or any idea for a script. Most of our features go through development for a couple of years before having a final script and so I spend a lot of time really mulling ideas over, it’s a long process, but we are also shooting something that been in development during that time and editing something that already been shot so the pace doesn’t have to stop.

Most of our films are made on a tight schedule and so we tend to have 14 days or less to shoot, but that really makes you focus on what’s important and how to approach it, you eventually learn how to be efficient with your coverage during scenes and know when to give yourself a little more time to get things right. But every film is a different animal so a set approach never really works, you have to be flexible.

What is the film industry like where you are based? Do you have to travel a lot?

There isn’t a big industry in Milton Keynes really, but it’s close to London so we get to do work there and bring people from out of there to come to us which is great and it means making a film without spending London prices, which is great when you’re making low budget stuff.

We travel all over the country making films and music videos though, and it’s really interesting, you get to see some amazing places and meet some amazing people. Starting out in the north, we still do A LOT of work up there even though we relocated closer to London.

How do you think the film industry has changed over the years?

I think in a lot of ways it never really changed all that much. There are more people doing stuff, which is great, but somehow that’s made the indie film industry smaller, which means everyone knows each other and that can be both bad and good.

I think digital technology has made it easier for anyone to make films and that’s really lovely for me to see. It was so hard when I started out just to get access to anything to shoot on and now people can shoot with phones from their pockets. I love it.

What genres of films do you like to watch generally? Any new releases that have caught your attention?

I watch loads of different stuff. I never understand why people only watch one genre of films. One thing I do is watch films I wouldn’t normally like because I find that it gives me a fresh perspective on my own material and that can only be a good thing. I also collect a lot of films and so I buy a lot of horror and sci-fi and action.

I really enjoyed ‘The Hunt’ and ‘Ready or Not’ recently, they are two films that really stood out to me. I love strongly written female characters and those films have that in spades. I also try to watch a lot of older obscure stuff (mainly horror) as there’s nothing quite like finding an old film that you missed years ago.

What are the pro’s/cons of being in this industry?

I think can be very draining at times, there is a lot of gatekeeping from other filmmakers and cliques that are designed to stop filmmakers that aren’t ‘pre-approved from making any steps up, and it can be discouraging. It’s a constant battle to get your stuff seen even after you’ve made it. But the upside, for me at least, is that I get to make films with my friends every day (well not at the minute) and that’s a wonderful feeling, just hanging out with talented people both professionally and socially and making fun, interesting stuff. There’s nothing quite like it.

Being so busy, do you have any time for hobbies?

I like to draw; it’s more of a personal thing than a professional thing, but I really find it very relaxing. A few years ago I was encouraged to start sharing my work online. I was nervous, as it’s really only for me, but people responded really positively to it and so I started producing a comic book and that was very popular.

I also collect action figures, my office is like a toy museum, I’ve done it for years and I’m forever digging in charity shops for old toys and retro figures. My walls are currently covered in Turtles, Superheroes and Masters of The Universe figures.

How has the Covid19 pandemic affected you and your company?

It’s been tough. My wife and I are both high risk and our son has a rare disorder that makes him vulnerable, so we decided early on to shield. We were moving forward with a distance friendly feature, but they virus spiked and we closed it down to keep everyone safe.

Instead, we’ve been focused on writing, so that when we can, we have plenty of stuff to keep us busy. Anna and I also produced a film called Toffee Apples that we shot in quarantine with only ourselves. It was a lot of fun and very easy going just making films with my wife.

What are your future plans/projects for the rest of the year? Anything we can look forward to?

We were supposed to start production of Slasher House 3 when the Pandemic began, it’s a really huge project that needs a lot of attention and so we want to wait until things are ‘really’ safe before we start bringing a team that size back into an enclosed space.

We have a little list of Covid friendly projects that we’d like to step out on first and just ‘dip our toes in the water’ I think before we go back to BIG productions. We also have loads of shorts to catch up on for our Patreon. So if all goes to plan, we’ll probably do that.

Thank you for your time today!

Thank you!

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