Many in Hollywood seem afraid to try new things. Thankfully there are people who take the leap where others dare to tread like writer, director, producer, and cinematographer Aaron Mento. Aaron wears many hats in his productions and has produced several short films. His first full-length film STANDARDS OF LIVING was filmed entirely on an iPad2. It is a fun and inventive thriller with themes of humor and dread. It is available to view for free online here: http://www.standardsoflivingmovie.com/. I had the opportunity to correspond with Aaron regarding his work.
You have mentioned in other interviews that you are a Twilight Zone fan. Do you have a favorite episode?
So many of these are great, but maybe “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” I love the whodunit aspect of the episode and it’s also really funny. The episode happens mostly inside the diner, and that kind of limited location writing has always inspired me.
What were the biggest challenges in directing Standards of Living?
I shot the movie myself, and had almost no crew, so stamina and endurance were definitely a challenge. Some takes would last over twenty minutes without a break, so trying to compose a steady shot with the iPad for that amount of time was difficult. We only had the location for two weeks, and everybody had jobs to go to in the morning, so we could only shoot for 6 hours a night. It was a really tight schedule.
What influenced the decision to film Standards of Living using only an iPad?
One day, after writing on my computer for a few hours, my left eye went partially blind for fifteen minutes. I thought I had a brain tumor, but the doctors said it was actually an ocular migraine, which is like having a headache inside of your eyeball. After this health scare, I realized that life was really fragile and it was high time to achieve my biggest goal: I was going to make my first feature film, and I wasn’t going to let any excuses stop me. I decided to use an iPad 2 because it was the only camera that I had, and because I loved the challenge of shooting a feature-length film on something so non-traditional.
What movies influence you most as a director?
I watched PHANTASM a lot before shooting STANDARDS OF LIVING, because it’s so “homemade” and ambitious. I’m also a big John Carpenter fan, and am always re-watching THE THING, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and HALLOWEEN. Low-budget movies with attitude and balls are definitely my biggest influence.
Standards of Living had a very small budget. What were some of the challenges of such a small budget?
I didn’t have multiple versions of the actors’ costumes, so we had to try and get the blood FX to work right on the first take. There wasn’t anybody else responsible for dressing the set, so I had to do all that myself. I also painted all of the artwork in Mariella’s room. Without a big budget, you have to wear a lot of hats, but that also allows your fingerprints to be seen in all levels of the production (for better or worse).
If you could be involved in any movie throughout the history of film what would it be and why?
A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET is probably my favorite movie of all time, so to be on that shoot would be a dream come true. I wish I could have seen that rotating room screw up and accidentally dump blood all over everything.
What lead to the naming of your production company?
Ocular Migraine Productions was named after my health scare, which prompted me to make STANDARDS OF LIVING in the first place. It also serves as a reminder to myself to keep moving forward, to keep climbing that mountain, because it could all end at any second.
What lead to the concept of the “talking peanut” act for the comedian character in Standards of Living?
You’re the only person who ever asked about this, it’s a really good question. I wanted the comedian to be truly awful, and for his “soothsayer” shtick to be awkward and pathetic. Him interacting with a circus peanut seemed like the bottom of the barrel of stand-up comedy. I wanted to drop the audience right into this terrible act at the beginning, and have them think “Oh shit, is this what the whole movie is going to be like?!” Plus, I love the fact that the comedian is supposed to see the future, but he has to look at note-cards to remember his jokes.
How did you find such an interesting cast for Standards of Living?
I’ve worked with Derek Houck (who plays Stu) on other projects, and he was in my thesis film when I was at Loyola Marymount University. Through Derek and other friends, I was able to gather an incredible cast who were game for anything. Everybody trusted that I could make a good movie on an iPad, and I’m eternally grateful that they went along for the ride.
What made you decide to allow your film to be seen for free?
STANDARDS OF LIVING is the first feature film in the world shot entirely on an iPad, but nobody would know that if I didn’t release it right away. If I waited for traditional distribution, or did the festival circuit, somebody else could hear about my movie, make another movie on an iPad, and then release it online first. I’m working on securing distribution down the line, but for right now, I’m glad that people can check out STANDARDS OF LIVING online for free.
Show business is incredibly hard to get involved with. Do you have any advice for people attempting to get into the industry?
For filmmakers, don’t ever let “no” stop you from making a movie. There are a lot of people who want to see you fail, so never ever give them the satisfaction. If you don’t have any money, then the only thing that can make you stand out is your own unique voice. STANDARDS OF LIVING takes place entirely in a handful of rooms, and while this was difficult, I also didn’t have anybody telling me what I could and could not do with my movie. Stay true to yourself and make a movie that you would want to buy and re-watch, again and again.
You seem to be a fan of the horror genre. What scares you?
In the EXORCIST, when Father Merrin warns, “The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us.” That scares the shit out of me.
What are some of your future projects?
I recently finished writing an 80’s action comedy with my buddy Louis Sweeney, who also went to Loyola Marymount University. We’re in talks to attach some actors who we are huge fans of, so that’s been a lot of fun. I’m also writing a slasher movie with a unique hook that I can’t wait for people to see. I’ve also been writing some articles over at RUTHLESS REVIEWS, so be sure to check those out.