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Comedy | Distribution | Film Festivals | Interviews | Short Films

Talk About the Passion

1 Jun , 2000  

Written by Amy Souza | Posted by:

Filmmaker Andrew Mudge talks about the making of his latest Sundance hit 'Chicken Pox Pal.'
Sometimes it’s not about who you know. It’s not even about what you know. To succeed in any business, especially one like filmmaking, you’ve got to have passion, drive and confidence.

26-year-old Andrew Mudge is steeped in all three. He has written and directed four short films. He also edits them and acts in them. All of his shorts have traveled to film festivals. One even traveled to that famed fest in Park City, Utah.

"Since then, everything’s a little different," Mudge says. "When you have that card in your pocket, well, it’s kind of like the Harvard of film festivals."

In other words, festivals now call him.

The film that made it to Sundance is a ten-minute short called "Chicken Pox Pal." Mudge’s first two films had been 40 minutes and 32 minutes long, too long for the bigger film festivals’ short programs.

"Then," he says, "a very short plot came to me, and it seemed perfect for festivals. Basically the concept was chicken pox. Back when I was a kid, I thought it was funny that your parents wanted you to get the disease and they would bring someone over to infect you."

"Chicken Pox Pal" takes this notion one step further. It’s the story of a family who rents a Chicken Pox Pal who will, they hope, infect their child during the 48 hours that he comes to live with them. CPP 0824, who prefers to be called Teddy, is delivered to their doorstep all boxed up. When he emerges, it’s clear he’s not only focused on his goal to infect little Peter, but is also pleasant and helpful, the antithesis of their own ill-tempered devil. In the end, Teddy has to be packed up and shipped back to the lab for re-infection. But not everything is so straightforward. Given the choice between well-behaved Teddy and Hell’s spawn Peter, who do you think really gets sent back to the lab?

"Chicken Pox Pal" is weird and funny and just might be Mudge’s ticket to success. Not only did it screen at Sundance, Mudge has also sold it to the Sundance Channel and the Sci Fi Channel. Not bad for a film made for $5,000.

Like many beginning filmmakers, Mudge raised the funds for his movies by soliciting family and friends. He kept costs low by working with a skeleton crew. And he had access to 16mm equipment that a production company had shoved in its back room. He calls it a gold mine, which saved him from making his films on video.

"I’m a classic film lover," he says. "I know a lot of DPs, and that’s their art. Writing and storytelling, that’s my art. But I edited on a flatbed editing machine. It’s prehistoric. It takes forever. And when you go and edit like they did 20 or 30 years ago, you create a bond to your film. You’ve been through hell with it."

Not quite the same feeling as working on an imac with Final Cut Pro.

After Sundance Mudge quit his day job to work full time on his next project, a feature-length screenplay.

"I made these four 16mm films with my own blood and sweat," he says. "If things work out, this will be a total step up from anything I’ve ever done."

From the looks of it, Mudge has impressed a good many people already. He recently received a phone call asking him to direct some ads for Ford. And soon he will head out to Los Angeles for a number of meetings with producers.

Still, writing a feature-length screenplay is a challenge.

"Short films are so easy. You work with the simplest concepts," he says. "What I’m going through now — I’ve been coming up with this story for five months, and I haven’t even started writing yet."

Mudge does, however, have in mind a number of elements that are "going to be fantastic." And he has an image in his head of places and characters. But with feature films, he says, he’s thinking in terms of competing with the big names. His film will have action, he says, and maybe one small star, but nothing like the caliber of your usual Hollywood blockbuster.

Then again…

"The one edge is to try to make it really refreshing and original. There are only so many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies that people are going to go to. Eventually an audience is going to want to see something different."

Though "something different" rarely happens without passion, there’s also something else: the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other.

"Anybody can go make a movie. Movies can be as expensive as "Titanic" and as cheap as five bucks," Mudge says. "There’s no reason, if you have ideas, why you can’t take a video camera and shoot. See what it’s like to cut and edit. I still go out with my friends with a crappy camera and try stuff out and edit it together with two VCRs, just to see if a sequence works. It should be fun."

"One of my big pet peeves is people who go through their lives saying they’re going to make a movie, but first they need $3 million, or they’ll make a short, but first they need $20,000. I think they have a passion for making big waves, not a passion for making movies."

Very unlike Andrew Mudge, whose zeal for the craft of storytelling through words and pictures is palpable. Who, like a friend warned him, maybe shouldn’t move to Hollywood, for fear that his creative drive will be replaced by a ladder-climbing drive. Who, in three short years, has gone from soliciting family and friends for money to taking meetings in LA.

Maybe, in the end, it helps if you know some people. And sure, it helps if you know your stuff. But what would it be worth if you didn’t love what you were doing? Not much.