‘Itsy Bitsy’ director Micah Gallo discusses inspirations for upcoming horror film

We got a chance to check out a trailer last week about big spiders, and it was incredible! Unfortunately, it did freak out a couple of the writers here at Nerd Reactor, but overall it looked downright freaky and fun. This is the type of film that makes you want to check under your bed every night just after seeing the trailer!

So one has to wonder, where does this kind of nightmarish story comes from? Is this the type of film that is filled with CGI or practical effects? Is it all jumpscares, or does it have a story element to it? Thankfully, we got a chance to catch up with the creator of the film, the visual effects vet turned director, Micah Gallo.

Nerd Reactor: Before I go into anything, I wanted to let you know that your trailer scared the crap out of one of our writers here. After we posted the article talking about the trailer, he freaked out and wanted to know why the image of a huge spider was on his Facebook.

Micah Gallo: (Laughs) yeah?

NR: So on behalf of the fun I got out of that, thank you (laughs)!

MG: I’m glad it was effective (laughs)!

NR: Just looking at what you’ve done in your career, thus far, it’s really impressive what you’ve done in the visual effects department. What made you get into visual effects?

MG: I’ve always been fascinated by effects. I like movies that have effects. There’s something about magic tricks that intrigued me -as a youth- that, I think, carries with me into filmmaking. But honestly, how I came about DOING visual effects was that I had directed a short film, called Wick, which was based on a feature script that I wrote. That introduced me to Tyler Hawes, who did the color correction on Wick, and he had approached me and said, “Hey, I’m looking for a visual effects producer. Do you know anybody?” And I said yeah, sure, and gave him a list of people, and he said, “No, no, no, I mean you.”

And I really wasn’t interested at the time, running a business or doing that type of work, but after having some conversations with him, it intrigued me! And I’m really glad I did it, you know. In four years, I’ve worked on over 40 feature films, mainly doing color correction and mastering for various territories, but also a lot of visual effects. In the beginning it was more invisible visual effects which are in almost every movie you see, and then we started doing a little bit more of the hero visual effects.

It was great experience, I learned a lot from working on those films. From people’s mistakes to also the things that they did well. It was great, it was great experience, I met a lot of interesting people and I was really glad to be supporting independent movies. I really believe that if an independent movie has the right talent and the right people on board, it can be just as good -or even better- than some of these big budget films. I think that’s where a lot of innovation comes from in the industry.

Short film, Wick (2010)

NR: What were some of your inspirations that you drew from when you decided to work in visual effects?

MG: I guess my inspiration in visual effects have always been craft. I really believe in the craft of effects, and I think that it’s worth studying for a lot of filmmakers now, who may have skipped over a lot of those early years of cinema, where you couldn’t use computers to create special effects. I think it’s a really great tool, but there was a level of craftsmanship not just in effects, but in all the aspects of filmmaking that it required to make something unreal appear to be real. To make the impossible possible.

I think studying those techniques probably had the most influence on me, and the way that I approach effects. I’ve always told filmmakers that it was one of our strong suggestions to always do everything you can practically first, because essentially when a viewer is looking at something that they know doesn’t exist, which for our case, is a giant spider, they’re already picking it apart. It’s just a part of the human brain.

And if you’re using nothing but animation, which, say what you want about it, the craft of animation has become better than it’s ever been, but it’s still animation, so what you’re talking about is a cartoon. So I think doing something practically, first, and then enhancing it with animation, or doing what you couldn’t do, practically, with computers, is the approach that I -personally- have always advocated, and that we took on making Itsy Bitsy.

NR: In terms of Itsy Bitsy, it seems that deciding to go more practical than CG effects was much more of an uphill battle. Do you agree?

MG: Definitely! Yeah, it’s more difficult, which is why I think a lot of filmmakers avoid it. It seems easier to not put the energy and effort into how you could do it, practically, but it’s a great challenge for the mind. And like I said, you can’t argue with the results- the results that you get from putting in that extra energy and time. To me, I think some great examples would be Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Jurassic Park (1993). With Terminator 2, I think they had something like 40 visual effects shots in the movie, which now you make a romantic comedy and there’s like 100.

But being at that time, it was risky to do things on the computer. They did literally everything they possibly could practically first, and the level of believability in that film and using the same approach with Jurassic Park, I think that’s why those films are so strong, even now. Because you watch them, and you get this great tangible reality that’s only enhanced with practical visual effects. So I just really believe that, no matter how much more effort it takes, if you want the audience to have that seamless feeling watching it, it’s going to require that level of craft.

NR: And with a movie like Itsy Bitsy, I got to be honest, I was reminded of a random movie I saw as a kid: Jumanji (1995). The creepiest part of that entire film was that scene with the spiders!

MG: Ahhh interesting! It’s funny, because we met with the ADI guys (Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.) who created that spider, and actually was over at their place, and they showed it (spider) to me. What that was was kind of a high-end windup toy: it would run across the floor, and the legs moved. With our spider, I worked with Dan Rebert, who was running the creative department during the TV series, True Blood, and also worked on Slither– his credits actually go all the way back to Terminator 2!

What we decided to do was take a more organic approach, something that involved more human interaction. That’s why we used a variety of different puppets, to create the illusion. So what that took was planning out every shot of the movie, having to storyboard everything. We even did some tests that we shot on DSLR cameras whenever we could. Normally, if you look at a movie like Child’s Play (1988), they have tons of puppets, or if you look at a movie like Gremlins (1984) they have tons of puppets.

So because we couldn’t afford to have tons of puppets, we had to figure out all the different things we needed to accomplish. It was then a collaboration with Dan Rebert and -really, him leading the charge- saying here’s how we can create the minimum number of puppets needed that can accomplish what had to be done. So that took some amount of interchangeable parts, and then there were still computers involved, which helped us because we used very high-end techniques such as 3D printing in some cases.

Jumanji (1995)

We used ZBrush (digital sculpting tool) to basically design our model in the computer, and print some of those parts so that we could test different things and stuff like that, so that we get the performance just right. So it was this great blend of human being ingenuity, in terms of hand making some of the parts, but also -in the final performance- it’s humans that are in some cases moving the spider and some animatronics.

NR: It’s so cool with what you’ve done with the trailer -and with what you’ve hopefully done with the film- in how you’ve gone past the fantastical aspect of horror and touches deeply in the plausible aspect of it. So with your trailer, it not only took me to a place of a very real fear, but it also reminded me of the roots of the horror genre, and why I love the genre so much!

MG: Yeah, I agree! Hopefully it taps into something that’s universal, you know. We all on some level have a fear or fascination with spiders, they’re just very bizarre creatures. My high concept that I came up over 10 years ago was the size of a spider, it was very important to me because I wanted to see those horrific details. When you look at spiders with magnifying glasses, they just are horrifying, there’s just something in our DNA that says, “No, no, no” when you see it.

So I wanted it to be large enough to where you could explore those details, but also small enough where it could hide behind things. I wanted it to have this sentient quality where it was like watching the National Geographic channel on some level, but it still has that plausible reality that you’re talking about, so that it’s in line with our experience of what spiders are. Because there’s nothing more frightening than the actual nature of it. How it actually behaves, I think, is the thing that’s creepiest to me about spiders, which I hadn’t really seen.

They had some great moments in Arachnophobia (1990), although I wasn’t a huge fan of the story, in the way that it took a humorous approach. Which is fine, it’s entertaining, but I didn’t get a lot of depth out of it that I was hoping for. And then I’ve seen giant spider movies, which was just a spider standing in for Godzilla. It was almost meaningless, having none of the things that frightened me about spiders.

So yeah, I wanted to take this approach, and infuse it by making it fun and suspenseful in that Hitchcock-ian way, but also have a serious character drama, where you invest in the characters and really care about them. Those are the films that bring me back, films like Jaws, and Silence of the Lambs, and The Exorcist. There’s something about the fact that they’re character dramas, first, and then have these fun genre elements that get you pulled in, and also have this deeper human element when watching the film.

NR: Where did the idea to bring in the god-mythos come from for the film?

MG: Well, it was a mix of the concept itself and real ideology. When we decided that the spider came from an obscure tribe in a cave in the regions of Thailand’s jungles, once we investigated that, it just made perfect sense. Basically, in those cultures various tribes tend to worship different animals as a god or a representation of their god. A lot of those religious beliefs come from Indian religion, and so it just kind of made sense. As we started doing more research, it seemed kind of obvious to invent and take elements that were real, and infuse them with what we need our specific story.

The mythology that is being told in a horror movie, especially if it’s a new mythology that the viewer isn’t already accustomed to seeing in other texts, then it has to be simple, understandable, and interesting enough to sort of engage them. Those are the rules that the creature or the horror in that film sort of conforms to.

NR: Did being a part of a film with a giant spider make it difficult to cast?

MG: You know, honestly I don’t know how much the spider influenced their decision to do the movie. It seemed like what they all responded to most was the characters. I was really pleased about it, and lucky to work with people of the caliber that we worked with. With both the more known and unknown actors, we just had tremendous acting talent across the board. Everybody understood their part and put in more effort than they had to -on an indie movie- to make sure that the performances were great.

So, I think for them, they just experienced it as it being a character drama, and understanding their character, and liking their character, and wanting to explore that. I think the spider element, to them, might’ve been a marketable thing, I’m not really sure how they felt about it. But yeah, that was our approach to the film. The thing that me and my co-writers were kind of almost torturing ourselves over, especially right before shooting, was just making sure that the character drama was functioning. It was really easy to come up with suspenseful scenes and scares, but at the end of the day, there was nothing more important than the character drama, and making sure that that level of the movie was functioning well.

Denise Crosby as Sheriff Jane in “Itsy Bitsy”

NR: I understand that the film is funded through Kickstarter…

MG: Well, post-production we’re hoping to fund through Kickstarter. We had a really good initial kick-off, but we still need people’s support in order to finish the movie. So we’re hoping with the prizes that we’re offering, which I think are really cool. For instance Matthew Peak, who designed all the Nightmare on Elm Street posters, has some cool artwork on there, because he’s doing the poster for the movie. As well as some other unique prizes, we’re hoping that that’s incentive enough for people to support us.

We really need people’s support, for anyone who cares about these types of independent movies, and believes that they can and should be made outside of the studio system. Hopefully they’ll either share our post or throw in a buck, or whatever they can afford to do to support us in finishing this movie. We really have something great here, and we want to share that with the world. But in order to do that, we just need more support. We’re hoping that this goes well, and that we’re able to premiere in the first quarter of 2018.

So if you’re a fan of independent horror films, and want to get behind this project, head over to Micah’s Kickstarter page and be a part of this incredible creepfest of a movie, Itsy Bitsy!

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Eddie Villanueva Jr.
Eddie Villanueva Jr. 251 posts

A movie connoisseur of only the finest films, and an Encyclopod of geek and nerd knowledge. And if you know what an Encyclopod is, you're cool too!