DreadWorld Exclusive: 8 Questions with 'Treehouse' Director Michael G. Bartlett!

If you've been paying any attention to the site over the last month you've noticed that I've been pushing pretty hard for folks to see the new film from Michael G. Bartlett, Treehouse (Review HERE). While not a perfect film, Treehouse is one of those independent films that burrows it's way under your skin and sticks with you long after the credits role. A lot of that can be attributed to the films director, Michael G. Bartlett. After putting the horror world on notice with his previous film Zombie Diaries, he follows with Treehouse, a film that takes some rather common horror film tropes and turns them on their heads. In particular, the way Bartlett treats his leading lady (the fabulous Dana Melanie) stands in the face of horror film tradition. Bartlett was kind enough to sit down for a little bit and answer some (rather silly) questions from us.

8 Questions With Treehouse Director Michael G. Bartlett!

1. Tell us about your journey. What inspired you to be a film maker?

Michael G. Bartlett: "Firstly, I want to start by thanking you for your review and your observations on my female character, Lizzie.  I am not feminist/activist but I am very proud to have brought a strong female character to the screen, and in a film that passes the Bechdel test.  Now on to your question.  As a kid I was always very inspired by ‘unusual’ TV like Tales of the Unexpected and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.  I feel filmmaking/story-telling is a skill that develops when you are very young and are in that super impressionable and also accelerated learning phase.  In Chess, if you are not a Grandmaster by 16, your hopes of reaching the heights of the game are much lower, statistically.  Your ability to see and collect patterns and techniques subconsciously is very high when you are a child.  I think I learned a lot about tone, mood and pacing watching these shows obsessively between the ages of 8 and 16. The moment I saw Jacob’s Ladder, aged 17, was the moment I actively said 'I am going to make a film.'   People used to joke about it with me at University who knew nothing of my plans.  They all said 'You just sound like a director.'  It’s funny as I met Adi Shankar (producer of The Grey, Dredd, Machine Gun Preacher, Lone Survivor) in Los Angeles back at AFM in November and he said the same thing.  “Most directors don’t even sound like directors these days, but you really do” he said. For my Masters Degree, in 1999, I studied Artificial Intelligence.  We had this very inspirational lecturer from Michigan named Greg Werner.  He gave a big speech one day with some of the best advice I have ever heard: 'If you have a dream or something you’ve always wanted to do.  Go do it in your 20s.  Take risks, start that business, travel, take those loans out, whatever you need to do to make it happen.  Because if you fail and it all goes wrong – you still have your 30s and that is more than enough time to recover and have a “normal” life.'  That really stuck with me and the sleeping dragon began to kick. Then the pivotal moment came in 2001 when I saw Jeeper’s Creepers.  Such a great first half and then such a terrible second half.  I walked out of the cinema, turned to my best friend and said: 'That’s it.  I’ve had it.  I can do better than this.  I’m gonna make a film.'"

2. You filmed Treehouse in Missouri. As a native of the United States I have to ask...Missouri?

Michael G. Bartlett: "When I moved here from London a lot of my friends were making jokes about me taking up a career in agriculture as there was 'obviously no film business or IT industry in Missouri'.  When I first visited, the name only rang a bell to me for two reasons.  (1) A chick once got up in Jerry Springer during an argument and proclaimed “I’m from Missouri” before she smacked down another chick.  (2) The most devastating Tornado in history touched down in Missouri.  When I first went through Immigration on my first trip here, the Immigration Officer was laughing and warned me I was in for a huge culture shock. It would definitely be a big leap for any regular Londoner.  For me it was natural and I’ve never felt so at home.  I also had 11 years of visiting the place before I moved here so it was a gradual move.  The pace of life is laid back.  People here are welcoming and friendly.  Houses are cheap.  I love Americans in general but Missouri seems to be a state that still remembers why the country was founded and what the constitution is.  I think a lot of younger Americans are a little ignorant of history and romanticize Europe in a way that is not true to life.  People here still remember and keep it real.  I think the same way they do.  I love the old timers here.  I love not having to commute while crammed into an over-packed train carriage with hundreds of other people.  I’m not religious myself but I love the people of faith here and the strong community values they uphold.  Now Missouri does have its down sides.  Horribly hot summers, annoying Brown Recluse Spiders and Horrible Ice Storms.  But I’d never go back to the UK.  Also I live in the Branson/Springfield area.  This part of Missouri is not very much like the rest.  I’ve seen Rich Hill (wonderful documentary) and stuff shot in Independence, MO.  Those places are worlds apart from where I live.  Springfield is its own little world – it’s a happy, vibrant little city.  I’ve lived and worked all over the world.  Springfield, MO is a dream come true for me.  I jokingly refer to it as The Garden of Eden with my wife."

3. What about Treehouse attracted you to the script?

Michael G. Bartlett: "The pitch.  It was atmospheric.  It was original.  I could see the Trailer.  I could see the poster.  It was fun.  It was dark.  It reminded me of The Goonies.  I loved the relationship between the two brothers.  And I saw so much potential to transform the 60 page Script Alex and Miles gave me into something really awesome.  I was looking for a film to really show off what I could do as a director and this kind of story, with its central location, really gave me the opportunity to do that.  Anyone can put blood make up on the screen or throw in some jump scares, but crafting a creepy atmosphere and making a film work that is so reliant on sound design is something that is not so easy to do.  Any other director may have seen this script as a risk.  For me it was the opportunity of a lifetime with little to no risk."

4. Lizzie is certainly not your typical "damsel in distress" was that a conscious decision you made?

Michael G. Bartlett: "Yes – she’s based on my wife.  Who is a pretty no-nonsense Missourian.  I also am really fed up with all of these 2d cliché characters in modern films, especially the female ones.  Unless I’m watching a comic-book adaptation or a film with its tongue firmly in its cheek, I want to see real people I can identify with.  I wish more filmmakers would show the audience some respect."

5. Time for Film Word Association. We give you the title of a film - you give us your quick thoughts:

    a. The Wicker Man – amazing, amazing film.
    b. Gremlins – Great childhood memories for me.
    c. Jeepers Creepers – Man in a rubber suit who is apparently a demon who can drive a stick.
    d. She's Having a Baby – this is a real movie?  Never heard of it.

6. What was the biggest challenge you faced while making Treehouse?

Michael G. Bartlett: 'The biggest challenge came after I made the film.  You see, I have a full time job.  I work in software and love my job and the industry.  So I make a film every 2-3 years as a hobby – it’s my passion.  If I had to make movies full time I think I would lose my love for the business.  However in order to do both requires some big sacrifices.  I took 3 days off a week and worked 2 days on the day job each week and 5 on the movie.  So I was working relentlessly for 7 days a week for a month.  When it was all over I found it very difficult to reintegrate back into real life.  It took about a month before I stopped dreaming about making the film every night and was able to sleep properly.  If you’ve seen the scenes in American Sniper where Cooper’s character is sitting in front of a TV or in his kitchen and people are trying to interact with him and they just fade in the background – that is what it was like.  We didn’t just work a job on the movie then go home; it was a powerful emotional experience.  My costume designer described it best – he said it’s like we lived in ‘Treehouse’ – a place somewhere far away and we stayed there for a month then got thrown back into real life.  He also found it hard to adjust."

7. What's your advice to the 14 year old kid who dreams of being a film maker?

Michael G. Bartlett: "Go make a film (even if you just use an iPhone) rather just talking about making one whilst criticizing other films.  I had some kid e-mail me out of the blue from a UK university back in 2008 with a relentlessly scathing e-mail about how much he hated Zombie Diaries.  His abuse was actually quite clever in its scurrilous nature so I figured he must be pretty smart.  So I told him straight how I was inspired by Jeepers Creepers to go out and make a film.  I told him to take his anger at my film and use it as motivation to go make a film, just as I had done.  And he never did, as far I know.  I certainly haven’t seen his name on any movies.  I’d be the first to congratulate him if he made a feature.  But some people are more in love with talking about making movies than actually making them, which requires blood, sweat, tears, sacrifice and the ability to accept some people are going to criticize you.  The film business is tough work.  But if it’s what you really want, then get off your backside and take that risk." 

8. What's next for Michael G. Bartlett?

Michael G. Bartlett: "I plan to develop some scripts this year but keep 2015 as a year where I dedicate more time to family life.  2016 or 2017 I am sure I’ll be back with another film.  I just need to find a killer script.  I have plenty of investors wanting to back my next film.  It’s just about finding the right one.  I dedicate 2 years of my life every time I make a movie, so I want to make sure whatever I pick is worth the investment."

Wow! How about that folks?  Best 8 Questions ever or Greatest 8 Questions ever? So what did we learn? 

- We learned Missouri isn't all that bad.
- We learned I may be the only person in the world who loves She's Having a Baby
- We learned University students in England can be just as douchey as College kids here in America
- We learned that Jacobs Ladder is awesome (actually we already knew that - but it bears repeating)

But most importantly we learned about passion. We learned that if you love something there are no limits. As someone who also works a full time job and struggles to find time chasing his dream of being a screenwriter, Michaels journey and passion serves as an inspiration. So, I want to say a personal big thank you to Michael G. Bartlett for taking the time to answer some questions....and if you haven't seen Treehouse yet make sure you check it out when it hits VOD later this month.

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