D.M. Cunningham’s short film Unholy Blood is the most recent Open Projector Night Peoples' Choice Award Winner. We spoke with D.M. to learn more about his work, inspiration, and future projects.
For those who don’t know D.M. Cunningham. Tell us about yourself - give us a short bio.
I was born under a full moon on Friday the 13th. Actually that's not true but how fun if it was. My journey is so long and vast in this business that it's hard to squeeze into a few sentences. In a nutshell, I relocated to GR last year with my family from Los Angeles where I lived for 21 years. I'm a husband/father, filmmaker, mask maker, musician and horror nerd. I've produced, written, directed television, and feature films for companies like Walt Disney, Lionsgate, MTV, History Channel, etc. too long to keep going! I started out as a makeup fx artist and to this day I still create monsters with my makeup fx/producing partner for film.
What is your favorite film(s) and why?
Oh man, this list is ever-changing. But I would say the films you can always watch over and over would be your favorites. So some of those would be: Halloween (original), A Nightmare on Elm Street, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Evil Dead, Valley Girl, Turbo Kid, Terminator, The Blob (1988), Friday 13th part 4 "Ted, where's the corkscrew?!" - how much space do we have to keep going??
Who and what inspires you?
My family inspires me to do better every day. I want to show my kids that if you work hard that you can achieve lots of cool things. My friend and mentor Wes Craven was a giant inspiration to me.
For those who haven’t seen Unholy Blood; Tell us about it. What’s the overall narrative?
Unholy Blood is a glimpse of a bigger story that I have planned and will hopefully make someday about nuns who fight monsters. This short was a chance to make a Tales from the Crypt style piece that would launch into a bigger universe.
Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of Unholy Blood and how the film came about? Why did you want to tell this specific story?
The film came on the tail of two other shorts we had just completed as a group in Los Angeles. We had this momentum going and we really wanted to try to dip our toe into the nuns who kick-ass story world. As it evolved it lead to friends saying they want to help and before you know it, we had horror icons in it.
For all the horror fans out there it doesn’t go unnoticed you have two horror icons acting in the film. Can you tell us how you got Heather Langenkamp and Bill Moseley in the film and what it was like working with them?
My producing partner Brian worked with Heather and her husband Dave Anderson who is an awesome FX artist in Los Angeles. Dave did the zombies in the Dawn of the Dead reboot, handled all the FX for American Horror Story and so on. And I believe Heather was introduced to Dave through Wes on New Nightmare. So it really came about because of personal relationships. Funny enough, we were discussing who we wanted for the male lead and we, of course, blurted out Bill Moseley. Not even a week later we are having lunch with Heather and she says, "You know who would be great in this role... Bill..." So we kinda knew that was the universe pointing us in that direction. It was a dream to work with Heather she's a real pro and was always up for stuff. She really wanted to be in the (spoiler alert!) creature suit so we thought why the hell not!
Tell us about your first related film experience, what hit you and made you want to pursue the world of film?
Star Wars made me want to make movies, Night of the Living Dead set me on the path of making scary movies. My mom took me to movies growing up in Colorado. I remember waiting in line for Star Wars for what seemed like days (probably like 15 minutes). As soon as that movie ended I wanted to see it again and again. NOTLD was the experience that really changed my course. I saw it on Shock Theater late Saturday night at a sleepover and my jaw came unhinged. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I had to know who, what, how it was made. So that started me on the Fangoria trail and then I started teaching myself how to make monsters, write scripts, grab a camera, act, all that stuff. It was glorious and gloriously bad, but here I am, still making the creepy.
What’s your next project?
The next project is a feature film that we are halfway through filming here in GR and out in the Lowell area. It's a horror film in the vein of movies like The Thing, Blob, Night of the Living Dead. We are really hoping to build upon the film community here and show everyone that there is great potential and talent in MI.
If you were granted a large budget and could make your dream film, what would it be?
I have a script I've written that I would love to make. It's very reminiscent of a DePalma movie. Outside of that, I've always wanted to make a movie based on the book Monster Blood Tattoo. It would be like a really dark Jim Henson movie. That would be a blast!
Can you provide any advice to aspiring filmmakers?
The greatest thing I have learned through a long journey of ups and downs trying to make my own movies, and it wasn't until recently that I truly figured out the best and simple way to tackle this universal "how do I do it".
DON'T write a movie with a cast of twenty people with big effects, multiple locations, etc. WHY? Because that costs A LOT of money. It seems obvious but you would be amazed at how many filmmakers have these scripts that they think are "low budget" and there is no way to make them unless a studio or a Netflix gives you money. And guess what, even the big guns have a hard time getting the okay and money to make movies. It's a struggle.
DO make a movie around the available assets that you have. Again, this seems obvious, but so many people to this day do not get this. If you have an uncle with a barn or an empty house that's just sitting there and he's totally fine for you to use it. Write a whole movie around that. You have two friends that can act? Write a movie about two friends in an empty house. Horror, drama, comedy, whatever you love. Keep it simple. You don't have access to lighting gear. Then it takes place during the day. Don't fret over filming on a RED camera or an Alexa. None of that matters. That only matters to other filmmakers. The best camera to use is the one you have access to. And let’s be honest, it's all about telling a good story, engaging your audience. Don't write a werewolf movie if you don't have access to anything like that. Keep it simple, make it quick, move on. Most of all don't strive for perfection. You'll never get a frame shot if you expect it to look like a big movie, smell like a big movie, etc. Lastly, enjoy the process of making the movie. It's not about red carpets and fame (as that comes and goes). Just breathe and enjoy every moment that you are there making something with friends. Because THAT is the thing.
Any words about Open Projector Night?
I've been really impressed with the way OPN is presented and the talent of filmmakers showing projects. It's such a great honor to be a part of it and I can't recommend it enough to aspiring filmmakers and established filmmakers alike. Take a chance, put it out there. You never know who you'll meet through it and what could come from it.
For more information on Open Projector Night and how to submit please visit: https://www.uica.org/open-projector-night