The fact that I do so much by myself and have figured this all out without any special help. I don’t (yet) have industry connections. I didn’t grow up rich. I use my SSI money and whatever else I can muster to find the most thrifty and resourceful ways to do things.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mykee Morettini.
Mykee Morettini is a filmmaker, artist, actor and musician from the Chicago area born in 1992. He’s helmed many short films largely by himself since childhood which appeared on Youtube before creating his first feature film EVIL EVERYWHERE over a two-year span between 2017 and 2019 with his own money and a cast and crew of largely acquaintances, handling most behind-the-scenes tasks himself. Mykee graduated from Flashpoint College in Chicago (then called Tribeca Flashpoint) in the film program and upon graduation went on to continue to produce various shorts. He creates collage artwork and paintings as well, a lifelong love, and has been creating albums under the stage name Moonbear Startiger since 2019, recorded by himself with cheap computer equipment on a laptop. Mykee is a supporter of the DIY mentality and a proponent of outsider art — some of his heroes including Basquiat, Daniel Johnston, Richard Kern, David Lynch, Frank Henenlotter, the group Cleaners From Venus, and J.R. Bookwalter’s zombie epic “THE DEAD NEXT DOOR” amongst many others. Mykee has used the arts as a means to express and channel his unique experiences in life and connect with others.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
I grew up in a very alien world, and didn’t really feel like the other kids at school. I kinda felt different, and like I had this internal understanding of myself but I was surrounded by people who seemed confused by me. I remember a lot of people wanting to know what was “WRONG” with me, and having a feeling I was somehow defective. I kinda was a sensitive kid, I could be really goofy and excitable but I remember a feeling that I wasn’t liked, and I recall being very lonely at school and getting really attached to certain kids I saw as being “cool” and then feeling really hurt when they didn’t seem to care about me. I was labeled a troublemaker by teachers because in my desperation and feelings of being lost I found it best to cope by being “funny”. I had trouble paying attention and often I wouldn’t understand the lessons in class and would frantically ask for extra help, and was denied that help because I was told it’d “hold back the rest of the class” if the teacher took time to help me understand better. So it felt kind of futile and I often would just “guess” when taking tests, and daydream instead of even TRYING to pay attention after a while. I was the kind of kid who asked “WHY?” a lot — I always saw the rules of society as being arbitrary, and the rigidity of certain structures as seemingly not having any point to them. I would daydream about being a filmmaker, visualizing a lot of scenes, sorta creating these worlds in my mind. I also used to draw a lot. I knew what I wanted to do as early as I could walk and talk.
Creativity was the one thing I felt drawn to, in all regards. When I couldn’t make sense of reality I’d just sorta get lost writing, acting in character all day while playing games with my baby brother, and sorta brainstorming movie ideas as well as doodling on all my schoolwork. So all of what I do now, was sprouted during early childhood as a reaction to my confusion and anxiety about the world and as a way to sort of cement my sense of self amongst a world of people seemingly unimpressed with me — I could instead produce some sort of tangible little piece of me that I felt impressed by, and others could see. It gave me a voice beyond just being a “problem child”. I didn’t really think about it much, it was more this intuitive sense that I was meant for the creative fields. My dad was an actor, so I knew that the movies I loved watching were filmed and ACTED in, by people just like me. I knew that was something I could grow up and do myself.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I said it before, really. I loved watching movies. I’d get lost in them, but I also knew that the little “worlds” I was viewing were CREATED by people. So I had this very early understanding of how filmmaking worked. The movies I loved were very personal to me. I’d watch them over and over and over and study them and then go act as the characters in the movie and live as them. There were also shows on TV in the 90s and early 2000s I’d watch as a kid like “CINEMA SECRETS” or whatever… these TV documentaries on special effects and stuff. There was this series called “30 X 30 KID FLICKS” hosted by the comedian Godfrey where they’d play all this short films created by actual kids. And at that time I’d already started filming with my own little Sony Handycam and I’d see that show and think “Oh, I can do WAY better than those kids”. I kinda feel like I wanted to grow up really fast. As I said, I felt like it was hard to relate to other kids so filmmaking became my way I’d relate to them. But then, all I wanted to do was make movies, and often times my friends didn’t. So in a way, it was a blessing and a curse. It was an identity I built based around the act of MAKING MOVIES, but often that meant I kinda forgot how to just “play”. But still, I never let up. And soon I began messing with editing software on our archaic Windows computers, and creating stop-motion animations. I just taught myself this stuff. It made me feel powerful and like I was GOOD at something. I built my own little world through the creative things I did.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
Perhaps a few things. During the shooting for EVIL EVERYWHERE, I had been hanging out with a high school friend (I was in my mid-20s when filming this movie) and he and I were painting, drinking and then decided to take mushrooms. And I ended up awake all night, got myself a ride home to my house and laid in bed THINKING and the next day went on to film a bunch of scenes for EVIL EVERYWHERE back to back, having kind of forgotten I was shooting that day, but I think I ended up even MORE focused than usual.
I tend to stumble into happy accidents while filming because often I’m shooting with NO BUDGET, NO PERMITS, and AMATEUR ACTORS, and I’ll be like the only crew. Shooting, directing, finding ways to capture the audio myself. So often times it’s very on-the-spot and sometimes I’ll improvise around a circumstance I’m faced with. We might show up to one place to shoot one thing, but stumble on something else and end up ADDING to the scene, improvising, getting more material than we bargained for. I think some of the best stuff has come from me and the actors deciding to add new stuff on the spot. The line in the film spoken by the professor, “You have no idea what you’re getting into… that mansion has evil everywhere…” was improvised by the actor on set and I thought his dropping the film’s title was clever. Sometimes passerby will see me and some actors acting ridiculous out in public, stare, come by alarmed and ask “what are you doing?” and I’ll say, “I’m making a film!” and they’ll say “for what?” — I never think there needs to be a reason to make films aside from the fact that you feel drawn to make them. My intention is always just to have fun making my visions into a tangible film for the sake of doing it. But some people act like that’s a foreign concept, like I should be making a film for some sort of “end” like money or an award. Nah, I think that stuff comes AFTER you’ve made it, but I think you should always just aim to express yourself, have fun and do your best and not get hung up on any outcomes other than producing the best film you can.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have to name-drop John McDonnell, who is an actor I’ve worked with numerous times. He plays the manager of the “LABYRINTH” featured in Jim Henson’s titular “LABYRINTH” film from 1986 in Episode 2 of my series CAPTAIN FANTASY. My character takes Sarah (as originally played by Jennifer Connelly) to complain to the manager about the problematic nature of the Labyrinth itself and the manager just politely counters all our complaints because anything goes in the Labyrinth. Then he plays the mayor in my “Grindhouse” short film CRIME CITY and he’s like every exploitation film “authority figure” rolled into one, and he’s only intent on creating more crime in his own city and driving more pollution to the town. I’d give him a scene outline and let him improvise the dialogue. He’s a really good sport, and he’ll just show up ready to go and bring 110% and I demand that from anyone working with me, really. Doesn’t matter the project — big or small. Act like it’s the project that will make your career, I think. But also have fun with it. I like to foster an environment of freedom and creativity but also make it clear that we wanna create something of a certain quality, even when it’s supposed to be a crappy B-movie. We’re all working together to make each other look good, and he’s a really good team player and a commanding presence on screen. I had a lot of fun working with everyone in EVIL EVERYWHERE too. Most of the cast was just friend, or mutual acquaintances. I loved shooting one “murder scene” involving Harley Hyde, wearing a wig to differentiate from the *different* character she played earlier in the film. She was required to sit on this guy and stab him a bunch of times and then pull out his intestines and all this other stuff.
I had built a set in my Mom’s garage to look like a bedroom because I wanted to have this controlled environment I could get messy. I built this “fake bed” gag where I literally tore a hole through a mattress with a knife and had the guy tuck his real lower body through it, with this “gag stomach” lying across, so that Harley could sit on top of the fake body and stab into it, reach into it and pull out the fake guts. It was a lot of work but a lot of fun and I remember both actors being super good sports considering this was shot in the dead of summer in a garage with no ventilation and involved gallons of fake blood. I kept asking, “you guys wanna break?” and they were like, “No, let’s keep going! We got this!” — That’s the kind of attitude I want more of in my filmmaking process. I will put myself at a discomfort to get stuff done. I wanna see that boldness in more people I work with. Whatever it takes, but let’s make sure we’re all on board with it so nobody feels put out or whatever. I’m also all about the balance.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
EVERYONE who works for me on these no-budget projects without pay is fundamental to me getting anything done. I thank everyone. Actors, people who drove us around, people who held boom mics, people who let us use their schools or offices to film. ANYONE who has ever helped me on my films deserves big credit. I do all I can as one man, but I do require actors! I do require the other pieces, and sometimes that means someone outside of me has to deliver them. And I’m grateful to WILD EYE for picking my film up when I wasn’t really expecting to do anything with it at the beginning. I tend to drop things on Youtube and pray to get views but if I can really break through to new audiences and get better opportunities to share my work and create my work, I’m just over the moon thankful. This stuff is my life. One of these days, I’ll thank people individually but I don’t wanna undercut anyone’s importance to making my dreams come true because it’s a machine that requires a lot of legwork and everyone deserves credit!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Nothing Is Impossible”. Think of life like the “underdog movie” plotline. You’re gonna face naysayers. You’ll face extreme odds. But keep at it, because you can do anything. Even if you achieve your goals in a different way from others, you can still get what you want in the end. I love that. I’ve adopted more and more over the years the attitude of just staying with my vision, and giving less airtime to the “doubters” and even less time to my own doubtful thoughts, because I know how hard on ourselves we can be as “artistic types” and we need to leave space between those critical thoughts and our overall sense of self, and just keep trusting we CAN and WILL achieve our goals. When it seems hard, when you’ve got doubts… push throug. Chill, breath, get back to that vision another time. Always let yourself believe there’s a way, because there always is. What you believe, you can make happen!
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
As a unique fellow myself, I’ve often felt I haven’t been represented. That may surprise people as I guess I’m a “white male” but I think who we are goes beyond our shallow appearances. I think it’s important we allow multitudes of unique voices to be seen and heard in the media. As a guy who’s faced a lot of traumas, struggles, emotionally or otherwise and had a very particular experience… a lot of that gets channeled into my films through allegory. EVIL EVERYWHERE and its predecessor PAURA TUTTO were made in response to me wanting to face my demons and take the power away from my own negative, damaging beliefs about myself. Casting myself in the lead wasn’t like an ego trip, it was just that I wanted to be the one to take on the evil because at the time, I was battling a lot of internal, really difficult things. In and out of the mental hospital and so on. But the films were a way for me to channel that difficulty into a tangible, literal thing. I think we need to really support people of all walks of life to be able to say what they need to say. Film is a very good medium because it’s direct and engages all senses. I wanna know that down the line I can create stories and characters that people relate to, or find some sort of catharsis in. Even if it’s just laughter. I love to make folks laugh and think and feel any which way. But that’s a byproduct of me expressing whatever I feel I need to express through the medium of film. And
I think now more than ever, we need to highlight different perspectives through film. I feel we’ve had a lot of societal narratives that are counterintuitive and the trends in cinema has only served to perpetuate these unhealthy ideas. I think especially for people dealing with mental illnesses, Hollywood has kinda portrayed “mental illness” as something to mock or fear. It’s not helping. We have movies like JOKER which to me is a comment about how the cruel nature of society destroys people, but instead comes across like “LOL look at the crazy guy. He’s so fucked up.” I think we need to open the door to all sorts of free speech and creative expression that may challenge the status quo a little, because I think there’s so much to be said. There are so many oppressed people out there who rarely get their side HEARD, so they’re kinda seen from the 3rd Person, and I think with film, we get the opportunity to help an audience EMPATHIZE in a very real way with a diverse range of characters because the film takes you on such intimate journeys you don’t otherwise get to witness.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
A film in production I am currently casting (also writing/directing/etc) with the working title “THE BRIDE” which is a film I’ve wanted to make for a while now. Took the time during last year’s Quarantine to script all my great film ideas out, and now I’m moving ahead with this one. It’s a horror-thriller. Not comedy, though. I’m going for a more surreal and dark tone with this.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
The fact that I do so much by myself and have figured this all out without any special help. I don’t (yet) have industry connections. I didn’t grow up rich. I use my SSI money and whatever else I can muster to find the most thrifty and resourceful ways to do things. People will say “you need this and this to make a film” and I’ll say, “No I don’t. And I just go do it. Maybe it took a while for some projects, but I pride myself on following through with what I say I’m gonna do, rain or shine. I’ve had periods in the past where I’ve had severe bouts of depression, been sent to the hospital, released and went right back to working on my film like nothing happened. This shit matters to me. I’ve done this my whole life and I’m only getting better. I’ve only started. I’m excited to do this on a bigger scale with proper budgets, crew and resources sooner or later. But I’ve done my best until then.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Stop listening to other people’s opinions. STOP. At a certain point you gotta learn to trust your own creative instinct. If you keep pooling for outside reactions, you’re gonna shoot yourself in the foot. You have to have confidence in your own voice without constantly needing outside validation. Also, there are going to be haters, but you gotta keep loving you and your ideas. Look at ANY biopic of any famous person ever. They were met with opposition at the start, and they kept doing their thing and found their audience. In a competitive world, just try to be the most YOU of anyone. Being unique and not trying to fit in is cool, in my eyes. There’s always gonna be opinions, but you don’t really need to bother with too many of those. I’ve had a lot of people criticize me for the very things OTHER people have praised me for. So who are you going to listen to? Listen to whether or not you’re honoring your heart and your vision. Are YOU saying what you want to say? Are you doing what you want to do? Find a way to make it happen on your terms. Find people who align with your vision and stop trying to pander to any sort of audience if it doesn’t feel authentic for you. That’s what I think. I used to beat myself up at film school because I was different and I was convinced it was wrong to make films that were kind of weird, and I sorta tried to water myself down and create stuff that appealed to EVERYONE, but then my heart wasn’t in it, and I wasn’t even good at that! So I think it’s important to do you and be the best at that, and take criticism with a grain of salt. Someone’s gonna think you suck either way, and you might as well like what you create…
When you create a film, which stakeholders have the greatest impact on the artistic and cinematic choices you make? Is it the viewers, the critics, the financiers, or your own personal artistic vision? Can you share a story with us or give an example about what you mean?
It’s always about me doing my vision justice. I’ve never had to make movies FOR anyone. I’ve not had producers asking anything from me. So really, I have the vision and knowing my circumstances I have to find ways to honor that vision even with the limitations I’m presented. A lot of the time I’ve felt if I just had a bigger circle of actors around willing to try new things, I’d be producing more often. I think the biggest hangups in the past have just been GETTING PEOPLE TO SHOW UP. Look, I will lose money making my films NOT expecting to get paid. I wanna pay people too, but I also want people to jump on board and help build these films with the intention the money may come LATER when all is said and done. I think being motivated just by the vision itself is the way to be. It’s artistic integrity, and I’ve got that in spades if nothing else. Just this blind ambition and idea that “I REALLY wanna make these films” by any means necessary and see what happens. So it’s just about — can I get people to do this, and what’s it gonna take to film this, and do I need extra money for this… basically from where I stand, is this possible. And usually I think everything I write or come up with is very doable. It’s just about sticking with it, finding reliable people and being smart about how I pull it off.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wanna be someone, like the people I idolized growing up who inspired me, who you can point at and you just know what I’m about and what I stand for, and maybe something about me awakens something in you. I do music and art and films and I act and I like to talk a lot as well, and I’ve got this rich backstory and I’ve been through so much… I often love just to dialogue with people intimately — connect deeply. Humans are my inspiration! I wanna be vocal about myself and be candid and open up the world to normalize such discussions. Normalize being vulnerable and sharing who you really are and being proud of yourself and kill the idea that you need to be XYZ to be special or worthy. I wanna instill a greater sense of “being boldly you”. We sorta have that shit going on now in some capacity at least, but it’s not authentic, I feel. It’s like “Be yourself by being like THIS” and then kids try to follow whichever product or celebrity is considered “authentic and original” when it should be more like “the way you are when nobody is looking — BE THAT MORE!” I wanna see people be weirder and more outrageous and breathe out a little more and have more fun with their beautiful existence. I know I felt super repressed most of my life when I thought the way I was to be “wrong” and nobody should bear that burden. Even during EVIL EVERYWHERE, I was like repressed and withdrawn.
That guy on screen isn’t me! It’s not my face, it’s not my attitude. But the creative aspect of the film challenged me in new ways and helped me step up a bit more than I was used to. I’m constantly overcoming, shifting. It takes guts to be yourself in a world that demands a certain palette — and keep reinventing what that means for you. And I wanna use whatever platform I have in the media to be real and be open about what I go through, WHY I am who I am in the hopes that’ll be just what someone else needs to hear. And I think in the media, it’s important to be upfront. You don’t wanna sell an inauthentic image and then have to live under that shell denying your REAL self just so you won’t ruin a reputation built on lies — it puts unnecessary pressure on yourself. Just be real, be flawed, and let that be amazing. Be a star who’s imperfect and has these issues and these experiences, because that’s totally fine and beautiful. And let your voice be used to make people feel understood and valid. Dare to be wrong. Dare to challenge archaic societal belief structures and be prepared to face scrutiny. As a person, I tend to be someone who helps people open up just naturally by being really open and real myself, so people sometimes let their guard down with me. I love that. That’s a beautiful thing we should be supporting more in this world. And even more so in an industry that has been marred in a way by erroneous beliefs and damaging ideologies and overrun by ads that sell us on the idea that we’re not good enough UNLESS… it’s bogus. I wanna see more beautifully imperfect people being proudly offbeat.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I wanna hang out with Jeff Goldblum and Aubrey Plaza. I love these super unique actors out there, they have such a vibe of their own yet I relate to their unique eccentricities. I love people with no pretense. They’re just… how they are, unapologetically. And of course my hero David Lynch, whose influence inevitably rubs off on much of what I do. Maybe Robert Smith of The Cure, who changed my life as a teenager and made me feel like I was heard. Any of them! Though I may be a bit shy, of course.
How can our readers further follow you online?
www.mykeemorettini.com is a website I try to keep up to date and it has links to other things I do. Check out my shorts and web series on Youtube.com/mordaciousfilms, follow me on instagram at Instagram.com/moonbearstartiger, or if you want to hear some bizarre outsider music go check out moonbearstartiger.bandcamp.com — I’m also on Spotify and Apple Music (Moonbear Startiger). I have multiple pages on Facebook for my art, music AND films. It’s a lot to manage, but then again… until I get a manager, I’ve gotta attempt to manage my own madness!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!