“I’m a completely reinvented filmmaker” – Producer Michael Luceri (The VH Interview)

This year saw the release of the late Andrew Getty’s The Evil Within. Funded by the not inconsiderable Getty fortune, the film constituted a working education for the budding filmmaker and a thorough exploration of Getty’s own tempestuous inner life. After Getty’s unfortunate passing in early 2015, Producer and friend Michael Luceri was left with the difficult task of completing the film’s editing and doing justice to his legacy. VultureHound spoke with Luceri about working on the project for fifteen years, and about the character of the mastermind behind it.

How did you get involved with The Evil Within?

I was kind of an up-and-coming filmmaker I guess. I made some shorts and a mutual friend of Andrew Getty, who I never even knew existed, was one of the hundred people who came to the screening for the last short I made years ago. She said “hey, do you have a card? I have a friend who I want to give your card to.” So three days later I got a call from Andrew Getty saying “Why don’t you come up and talk to me about filmmaking?” So I went to his big beautiful house built in the twenties or thirties, and met this really cool, eccentric, incredibly intelligent guy.

He was very old school; he almost spoke like John Wayne. Somewhere between John Wayne and Jack Nicholson, I would say. He spoke to me and said “Well I’ve got a few people in mind, there’s three of you I liked talking to the most so I’m going to give you a  couple of scenes and you have three days each to sit on my editing system and show what you can do with these scenes.”

When it came to my turn I cut the scenes and he called me back and said “The other two guys, one works for MTV and the other works for FOX, and they want to work for me. You’ve only made a few shorts but you did a better job editing than they did – but you don’t have as much experience. Why should I pick you over one of them?” I said “Because I’ll work for free for two weeks and you can tell me to get lost or pay me.” He says that obviously he’s going to keep me but I’ll need to become a producer, and I’ll need to be picking up shots and re-shooting, and even down the road once the movie is fully shot out, there’s still going to be some VFX work. Nothing is CGI – everything is shot in-camera and composited in the film.

The film certainly makes admirably heavy use of practical effects, how was it working with that sort of material?

A lot of fun! I became Andrew’s temporary VFX compositor, so we understood that pretty well. There was one more step for me as the two weeks evolved; he said “To stay on board and last with me you’re going to have to learn to think like me, because I’m going to be here working with you but when I go away and come back I want to see something I would have made.” I was like “Yeah! That’s interesting, let’s shoot for that.” He wanted to be really specific about keeping the film all practical. He did as much practical stuff as he could in-camera, and anything he couldn’t get away with in-camera he would get as much as he could then grab a few plates and composite them together.

How was it working on something that was so entirely one man’s vision?

There’s lots of ways that could have went, but Andrew and I just got along so well. I love classic American cars, and Andrew loved old cars too; when I first got hired by him I had a friend that worked for Jerry Bruckheimer – I had just sold a 1966 Mustang – and my friend that works for Bruckheimer said “He wants to get rid of as many cars on the lot as possible” so I showed up and there was the car from Coyote Ugly! So I bought it. Andrew loved classic European cars, so I talked him in to understanding why I loved classic American muscle cars, and he showed me how to love European ones. He had such a wealth of knowledge, the guy just knew everything. Even about things like space – his construction company is called Supernova for a reason!

Sounds like you got on very well!

Yeah, all the stuff that some people might find challenging in the filmmaker’s journey to me was easy because the guy was just fun; he was smart, he was fun. On a random day he would be like “Dude c’mon let’s not work today, let’s go get lunch and we’ll go see a movie, we’ll go see The Nightmare Before Christmas. So we went to Universal Studios and saw it there. He came to my birthday parties, and ended up hanging out with my friends and coming to our Halloween parties.  His best friend was John Murray – Bill Murray’s brother. He enjoyed being rich but never wanted to be, he wanted to be like everybody else.

A lot of the film’s motifs seem to come out of his own life and troubles, how much of the characters comes from Getty himself?

I would say that Andrew’s actually a fusion of John and Fred. It’s the duality of who Andrew was; like John he was a very intelligent person with a classic BMW, but the duality of Andrew was complete. If you knew Andrew for a very long time you’d say “Wow it’s just painted all over him that he’s two guys.” Even Lydia echoes a certain relationship or two that Andrew took very seriously in his past. The three of them offer a surreal view of what Andrew perceived as reality. Andrew always when he was young, the mirror made him question a lot of things. Being such an artistic guy from such a prosperous family, sometimes he would separate himself and go into his own little world in his head, because he was so internally artistic, and he never knew how to shut off. I can go out with my friends and shut it off, but Andrew never knew how to.

The word ‘obsession’ has cropped up repeatedly around Andrew’s relationship with the film.

Absolutely, some people say that Andrew went bankrupt making the film – and if you print this you’ll be the first to tell the truth – he never almost went bankrupt. Absolutely ridiculous, but he did have a monthly trust, and at times he’d put that trust in to the film in the first half of the month and be broke for the last week. He knew that better times were coming but I would watch him put so much passion – people use the term ‘dumping money’ but everything Andrew did was calculated, he never dumped any money, it was always used for specific things. Even if it was something that he didn’t know would work, he would want to know for himself whether it would work, he had the luxury of time to do that.

He was using this film half as a school and half as a film for an audience. That’s one reason why he put so much in to it. He didn’t mind failures because he would invest in the failure of a shot – like when the giant spider crawls on to the bed; that was his third attempt at that shot. For the first two he must have spent a few thousand dollars, but he learned. He wanted to try something and he learned; I think for one spider he used helium balloons holding the legs, and that didn’t work. So he’d shoot again. On a rare occasion he’d be out of money on the last week of the month, and he was so generous towards me that I’d be leaving for home late and I’d see him sitting down for dinner with a bowl of cereal and I’d say “Dude, I’ll buy you a steak for dinner!” He’d say “No, no, I have to do this.”

What challenges did you face working on a film this unique?

The urge to get on and make more than one film in our lifetime! About halfway through the production I found myself thinking “Shall I get out there and leave Andrew?” You have to make a lot of films in your lifetime, and Andrew knew that to, but he wanted his first to be just right, and to use it to make the rest of his films – ultimately it was about what he was looking to gain from this. He would have made his next film much faster. Like I said, he used it as an education. He was definitely ready to make his next one a lot faster. He was ready to jump in to his next film and do it really well. He was and had been working on other films including short films in the past, and his shorts are hysterical, some of the titles – things like Third World Spring Break. He was a very, very funny guy. When we were working he was very serious, but he was a lot of fun with everybody around him.

Sadly, this is Andrew’s legacy piece. Will having worked with him influence your work in future?

Absolutely, one hundred percent; I was one college filmmaker before I met Andrew, and now I’m a completely reinvented filmmaker, and very happily. We’ve lost an amazing up-and-coming filmmaker, because every film he was going to make after this was going to be even more batty, better and even more gripping,

The Evil Within released in the UK this year and is available on DVD now.