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An Interview with Mathius Mack Gertz, Executive Producer of Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre and 7 Nights of Darkness

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2011

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Two movies you have executive produced are going to see a release in the next few weeks, Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre and 7 Nights of Darkness.

Let's start with Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre - how did you get involved with the project?


My recollection is that I was sent a screener by the Producer. I believe that properly getting distribution for a film is a very similar job to getting funding so I approach it as an Executive Producer. I package the film and do a lot of research as to the best outlet for the project to make it into the marketplace and stand out. My company sent packages out to about 25 distributors before we settled and negotiated the deal that we did.


What convinced you that there was an interest in a genre spoof like Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre?


Much of what I do is based upon my instincts and experience as a creative producer. I look for the commercial potential in projects. Wether at the development and script stage or as finished projects. If a project is in development, I might sign on to enhance the commercial aspects of a script without affecting the artistic integrity of it as much as possible. Then we will package it and secure funding. In a finished film, I look for the potential to be able to package it as a ‘high concept’ title. My market is not the public, it is the wholesalers and retailers. They are the ones that I believed I could convince to handle Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre.


Caesar and Otto's Summer Camp Massacre was of course the brainchild of Dave Campfield [Dave Campfield interview - click here] - so in what way did you relate to the film's special brand of humour?


Well frankly I related to my vision of the film's commerciality. I envision the potential of a film. The ultimate potential. Can it change the world, create buzz, make a profit, enhance a filmmaker’s career, etc. I don’t have to relate to a film as much as to understand it and its audience. I spend time on both the creative and business sides of the entertainment business. It gives me a unique perspective and understanding of not only the creative process but the marketing of that process to retailers and gate keepers who ultimately bring the product to the public.


7 Nights of Darkness - again, how did you get involved?


I believe the filmmaker and I met at a horror festival and it went from there. But I confess my memory is sketchy.


By 2010, when 7 Nights of Darkness was made, the whole found footage-thing was already on the decline. What made you believe this would work nevertheless?


“Work” is subjective. You can make a film for a price and return investment to the investors and even a profit in many different sub genres. The trick is to understand the price point in relation to profit potential and be able to assess how to position that film to create enough following to justify a DVD box on a retailers’ shelf.


In general, as an executive producer, how big is your influence on the creative side of filmmaking?


Generally speaking, not much. However, if as an EP I have creative respect from a writer/director, then we can collaborate effectively. It all comes down to relationships and making the time to deepen them and establish a trusting environment. Since my background and education is both creative and business, filmmakers tend to give me the benefit of the doubt as long as I deliver what I say I will.


I suspect the concepts of the films you produce are hardly ever your own - so how do you choose the projects you produce? And does marketability play a big role in your decision making process?


While I can write, I choose not to most of the time. I prefer to develop existing material. To that end I have to have a script that I believe can be developed into an excellent one with a writer or writer/director that has the ability to take notes and rewrite. I believe that the art of screenwriting is not about writing. You only do that to get the idea out of your head and onto paper. The art is in the rewriting process. Now can we rewrite a script eight, ten, twenty times and get it to where we can attach bankable talent and financing to make a commercial enough film that will return investment and provide money to make the next film? Many times at the micro level you will need to look at scripts that will fill a niche in the market place in order to create that kind of a perfect storm. For example: horror, urban, faith or family based, Latino, children’s, Christmas.


Most of the movies you produce are low to micro budget films. How would you describe the market for such movies, the means of distribution, as well as your own business model for indie distribution?


First of all you have to have, at the very least, a well-developed very, very good script. It should be, most of the time, a classic three act structure and not be longer than about 100 minutes. Does the film speak to a specific audience that is underserved by traditional Hollywood? Does the film have a built in genre audience? Can you attach some bankable name talent? Do you have a director that understands cinematic storytelling and film conventions? Can the crew and the budget sustain good production values? Can it be made for a price that we can envision as being recoupable? Does the pitch have interest for a distributor?


With all that said, the market is changing month to month. Films I got involved with a couple of years ago I wouldn’t make or distribute today. Ironically, the democratization of indie filmmaking brought on by filming on HD and access to the internet is creating a glut of marginal product. That combined with the imminent demise of the DVD and BluRay platforms is making it much harder to distribute micro projects and return investment. I wouldn’t make a film today without some name cast that distributors want. However, that is not to say that if you have a burning desire to make a movie, to say something or prove something that you shouldn’t. Just do it with the reasonable expectation of not making all of your money back.


There are (unfortunately) people out there who don't understand the appeal of indie, low-to-no budget films at all. So how would you describe your fascination with them?


I am not fascinated by them. I like good stories. I love well-made documentaries. I have the privilege of seeing many small films without star cast.


I love a subgenre of films known as Mumblecore. When they are well made they are a testament to the extreme micro-budget filmmaking art. I have two coming out this year. Alphonso Bow is one and Commit is another. My goal is create a win-win situation for the filmmaker, the distribution network and the public. We should all make some money and the public should get an opportunity to see diverse storytelling.


That can take many forms. I have a morally uplifting film, Works in Progress, coming out later this year. This is an indie film by a first time filmmaker that speaks to an underserved niche and does it well. A psychological horror film, Tiburon, just signed with me and a sexy urban comedy, Office Games, did too. So you see the trick with this is similar to the cable TV model. You need to have films that can zero in on a target audience.


Having mostly worked on the business side of things, have you never had the itch to one day direct a movie yourself?


Yes. The longer I produce and distribute, the more I want to control the entire process. However, filmmaking is a derivative and collaborative art form, at its best. Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a very cohesive film crew to make an excellent movie. When I have something I really want to say I will direct.


What got you into the filmworld in the first place, and the indie filmworld in particular? And what can you tell us about your early experiences within the movie industry?


I started out in theatre in New York City and left it for finance and marketing. When circumstance finally brought me out to Los Angeles, I decided to take some time off and return to school with the expectation of getting degrees in English and Business Administration. As a lark I took a course on the history of documentary film taught by Professor Joseph Daccurso and it knocked me feet over head. When the dust cleared I graduated from USC with degrees in Film Production & Entertainment Business, and History. Being a little bit older and less patient than my fellow graduates, I wasn’t interested in going the assistant route so I stepped off the road and cut my own path. I did five internships in various facets of the Hollywood entertainment business to get a lay of the land and then focused on the niche that I thought would best work for my personality, skill sets and ambition. That took me to producing and distributing. Along the way I have been screwed a couple of times, met and befriended some great people, gained the respect of my peers and landed on my feet.


Any future projects you'd like to talk about?


We are raising funding for a very well developed horror film to be shot for under $3MM.The short list for casting includes Bill Mosley, Danny Trejo, Michael Berryman, Linnea Quigley, Tony Todd, Alara Ceri and Shirley Jones.


While by no means exclusively working in horror, you do return to the genre time and again. Are you personally fond of horror, or is this merely for business reasons?


I have a passion for horror films. I feel they safely channel societal fears and anxieties in an increasingly antisocial world. I did a paper once comparing George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead to 28 Days Later and came up with some surprising conclusions. I studied Alfred Hitchcock and his films with Professor Drew Casper at USC and still use many of Hitchcock’s theories when I evaluate screeners or screenplays. Horror can also be a profitable niche market, among others. However, it is glutted with a lot of marginal films.


When it is done well, horror forces you to face yourself. It doesn’t matter if the blood and gore is on screen or not. Both work well if worked well. If you leave the theater or your living room and you are talking to yourself, the filmmaker did his job. Film making is all about the water cooler or the coffee shop. Does it engender a conversation?


Indie films you wish you had produced, but haven't for whatever reason?


I don’t indulge in that kind of thinking. There are people I have wished I had worked with but didn’t. First on that list is Marlon Brando. However, you look to create opportunities to work with people you respect and admire: and if they happen to be excellent at what they do, so much the better.


On the other hand, there was a wonderful little Mumblecore horror-comedy film that I really wanted to be part of called Die-ner (get it?). I know it was made but since then it has fallen out of view.


Filmmakers who fascinate you?


Fascinate? I don’t know about that. There are many producers I have met at the Producers Guild who I admire for their abilities to connect the dots and make films for tens of millions of dollars. It isn’t that difficult anymore to get to make a movie. However it is still hard to make a great movie, get it proper distribution that makes a profit and then get paid. That applies at any budget level. Part of what I do is get a film proper hybrid distribution, make sure it has some marketing behind it and then make sure the filmmaker shares in the profits. I admire producers who do that with budgets in the tens of millions of dollars.


Your favourite movies (you weren't involved in)?


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As indie films go, I’d have to say Citizen Kane by Orson Wells.

I tend to like a lot of films by certain directors, Hitchcock, Herzog, Tarentino, Von Trier, Burton, Eastwood, Renoir, Winterbottom, Spike Lee, the documentarians Ken Burns and Ondi Timoner and others who don’t come to mind right now. While I don’t believe in Auteur Theory, there are certain filmmakers who revisit themes with a style and passion that speaks to me. Conversely there are some who consistently make films that don’t appeal to me at all.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Elephant by Gus Van Sant

Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith

Both technically brilliant films. Hated them.


Your/your company's website, Facebook, whatever else?


I know this is terrible, but I haven’t gotten around to having a website built. Just been too busy. I was at Shriekfest last year and it surprised me how many filmmakers were suspicious of doing business with me because I didn’t have one so I have to get on it. I thought being able to refer filmmakers to flesh and blood filmmakers who would honestly assess my abilities would suffice. Very retro of me, I know.

But I pride myself on being accessible. I will accept DVD screeners with full contact information from any producers, phone calls during normal business hours and e-mail as well.

Anyway, here is the rest of it.


Mathius Mack Gertz

MM Gertz Entertainment

12400 Ventura Blvd, #222

Studio City, CA 91604 


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD



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