Rebel Rouser!

An interview with Nathan Thomas Milliner

 

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Most of you are in love with Nathan Thomas Milliner and don’t even know it! In fact, I bet you diehard horror fans own at least one piece of his artwork in one form or another.

Nathan’s artwork is prolific and far reaching, from illustrating movie posters for Scream! Factory and HorrorHound Magazine to artwork for Sun Dog Records and even The Weinstein Company, Nathan has just about done it all! Not to mention he is an accomplished and award winning filmmaker most widely know for his Freddy Krueger fan film, “The Confessions of Fred Krueger.”

That is why I have split this interview with Nathan into two parts, one is for his artwork and the other for his films. I feel that the two are very separate in terms of style and background and are best served separately.

Enjoy!

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THE ARTWORK:

EW: What got you started as an artist?

NM: I’ve been drawing since I was five years old. My earliest memory of drawing was in the first grade when my teacher sat me down at her desk in front of the whole class and taught me how to teach myself to learn how to draw.

She had me trace three different coloring book pages about three times in a row. Then on the fourth attempt told me to draw it free hand. What she was doing was helping my hand get used to translating what my eye was seeing. Repetition. She had noticed that whenever we drew something in class, I was very detail oriented. She told my mother if you ask a normal five-year old to draw a house, they’ll draw a square, a triangle roof, maybe a door, a chimney. Nathan draws the sidewalks, the shutters, the curtains, the gutters, the bushes, the grass. Basically, I see everything. Observational. From then on I just drew whatever interested me at the time. Toys, comics, movies, etc. Movies really sparked the storyteller in me.

EW: Who do you look up to as an artist?

NM: So many to even mention! As an artist, you learn from so many artists and you sort of pick up on their techniques and marks/strokes. Your “style” becomes a combination of those hundreds of little details you learned from looking at artists you admire. Most of my life I have just drawn. Never took a huge interest in painting so a lot of my heroes are people who drew very well. People like Bernie Wrightson, Jim Lee–(was big into comic book artists), Brian Bolland, Marc Silvestri, Drew Struzan and on and on. But many painters also inspired me like of course the late, great Frank Frazetta and Norman Rockwell. I always looked up to those who seemed to be able to capture lifelike imagery. And I myself sort of focused on photo realistic art for a long time. But truth is, I have grown bored with that. In many ways, making art look like a photo is pointless. You can just take a photo. While impressive, it lacks the look of it being created by hands. So now I like to work looser and make things look like drawings again. I want to see the line work and not be tied down to being photo real anymore. Makes things more exciting and open.

EW: What is your process for creating poster artwork?

NM: Depending on if it is a pre-existing film or a brand new one means different processes. Normally I am doing a pre-existing film for home video releases. In that case, if I have seen the film or not, I still do the same thing. I first watch the film. When watching the film I try to figure out what the film is really about, why it speaks to it’s fanbase, what the fans love so much about it, and what are the most visually interesting things about it. What images jump off the screen at me? What grabs attention because after all the purpose of cover/poster art is to attract sales. It’s marketing.

Once I know the elements I want to use (sometimes the client will tell you what they want to see) then I start to doodle. Working on compositions on paper in thumbnail sketches. I will usually come up with a handful of ideas but I usually know instantly when I have come across the right one. Sometimes you are asked to send several variants to the client but in my experience, 90% of the time the clients trust me and love whatever I send them with my gut choice. Once I know what my layout and design is, I need to find references. Photos from the film. If I need a reference I do not have, I grab a camera and take a photo of myself in a pose or costume. This is usually to make sure I get the anatomy and body mechanics right as guessing how the human body exists in reality is different than what we see in our heads.

The thing that comes with doing movie poster art is people expect it to look photo real. So you have to use photos. It is basically the same process that Drew Struzan used. Sometimes the licensing people will send you all of the reference photos they can or you can just google them or get screen grabs. I try to find images that fit my design and layout. The poses. Usually you can’t so you find a head shot that works and then make up the figure using photos of yourself in costume. A lot of my work is me as a model…lol. You’ll find that is common with artists. I don’t always have time to hire a model or set up a shoot. So I have posed for male and female drawings. You aren’t drawing you exact anyway. It’s just a reference for body mechanics and lighting and getting the clothing right. Then comes doing the actual artwork.

For a long time it was all about getting a rough pencil sketch down on paper and then jumping straight to inking it. I come from a comic book background so all of my drawing is practical on paper with pens and ink and in a comic book artist style blended with a photo real style. Once I have the drawing done, I scan it into the computer and color it digitally underneath my drawing. A lot of people just do the drawing in photoshop but I just can’t. I love working with real materials for that process. Lately I have tried to get away from digital and have been using acrylics and color pencils to color my work. My last Scream Factory cover was Village of the Damned and it was all practical. But these days, digital is a requirement in most cases. It’s cheaper and faster and it’s easier to make changes and fix things.

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EW: Have you gotten any feedback from some of the filmmakers that you created posters for their films?

NM: Yes I have and it’s always exciting and humbling. No matter what your critics say to you, when the filmmaker reaches out to thank you and tell you they loved it, it makes you feel like a million bucks. The first was Don Coscarelli when I did a Phantasm piece of HorrorHound Magazine. He wrote to say how much he loved it and wanted to get the rights to possibly use it elsewhere for the film’s marketing. Joe Dante reached out to say he liked my Howling cover art. Wes Craven tweeted my Shocker artwork for the blu ray saying he liked it a lot. The Chiodo Brothers got word to me that they felt a Killer Klowns piece I did was the best they’d seen drawn apart from their own art which was mind blowing. Stuart Gordon actually stopped me on the floor of a convention (I am not sure how he recognized me out of the crowd) but he came up and asked, “Are you Nathan?” I said yes. He said, “I just wanted to tell you how much I loved your cover art for Dolls. It was beautiful.” That was just amazing. Dick Warlock and I became really good friends after doing the covers for Halloween 2 and 3. Gave me a big handshake and said, “You made me an icon!” No Mr. Walock, you were an icon long before I drew you, you know? Fred Dekker, Carty Talkington, Victor Miller, Tommy Lee Wallace, John Carpenter. It is a very rewarding experience to have the pleasure to contribute to the legacy of the films of these amazing artists and to hear they loved what you did. Never gets old.

EW: What are some films or projects that you are dying to do their artwork?

NM: I always say whatever Quentin Tarantino does next…lol. He’s my favorite filmmaker and it would be a dream come true to get the call to do a movie poster for his newest film no matter what it is. The closest I have come was Weinstein hired me to do artwork for a 2012 event at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that honored Quentin’s filmography. It was just before the release of “Django Unchained.” They used the artwork I did for the invitation, on the wall on the red carpet and it was on the screen when guest speakers were speaking. Seeing those photos of Harvey Keitel, Quentin Tarantino, Jamie Fox, Steve Buscemi, Harvey Weinstein and others standing on the red carpet with my artwork covering the wall behind them was surreal.

EW: What are your most popular pieces?

NM: I think a lot of the Scream Factory stuff is the most widely known. It really varies. I hear a lot about the Halloween 2 cover for Scream Factory. That job kind of changed my life. I was doing conventions prior to it for years but the first convention I did post Scream Factory’s Halloween 2 and 3 release with my artwork was HorrorHound Weekend with Jamie Lee Curtis at her first and only horror con appearance and I noticed a huge difference in how busy I was at that show in terms of sales, autographs and requested photos with people. The Howling cover. The Day of the Dead cover. The Sleepaway Camp one had a lot of attention from the fans of that series. I don’t know. I have been very blessed and love the people who follow and support what I do. They are the best people in the world and really motivate me every day. My personal favorite is the Never Sleep Again coffee table book cover. To pay tribute to my favorite horror film ever to my hero Wes Craven and to be associated with such an amazing book by Thommy Hutson was a true pleasure. It’s more about what it is more than the art really.

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EW: How do you feel about the future of film artwork? Does their seem to be a renaissance back towards the “good ole days” of “VHS art” that required real artists that had to know how to draw and paint?

NM: It’s slow moving. I am hoping studios are realizing that fans really desire illustration in this area. Most movie posters these days you couldn’t pay me to hang on my wall at home. They are so empty and soulless and boring. I think for big studio releases, they no longer care about the movie poster. A poster used to sell your movie but now with the internet, the poster is almost pointless as fans know every detail about the film before it is even in the can. You don’t really need a movie poster to get people to come see Captain America: Civil War.

When I was a kid it was all about the poster you saw in the movie theater or the trailer at the theater. Now everything is so readily available online that marketing is a totally different beast. So instead of paying great illustrators to create a jaw-dropping movie poster for a big sum of money, the studio just has their factory of graphic artists whip stuff up that all look like they came off an assembly line with the same colors, compositions and photo cut and pasting. It’s depressing. Hopefully the resurgence with stuff like Mondo and Scream Factory and Arrow Video will wake them up. I have noticed a stirring. Some licensors have recently hired artists to do all new illustrations for dvd releases. They’ll print them on cards and insert them on top of the dvd. Maybe a hopeful sign of a change. I have to say the Suicide Squad posters have been a breath of fresh air.

 

THE FILMS:

EW:  What got you started in filmmaking?

NM: I’ve been a movie fanatic since I was young. I was lucky to grow up in that Speilberg/Hughes/Henson/Zemeckis/Lucas era of cinema seeing stuff like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Superman, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, E.T, Jaws. So storytelling became a big part of who I was.

In 1989 I saw Tim Burton’s Batman and it inspired me to get into comic book writing and drawing. But my comics were always truly me making movies on paper. In 1994 I saw Reservoir Dogs and it changed my life. That surge of indie filmmakers in the early 90’s with Tarantino, Rodriguez, Smith, Linklater really inspired me to think, maybe one day I can make a movie.

In 2006 I was told about a zombie film being made in Louisville and they needed zombie extras. I ended up contacting the director about maybe doing his poster art for the film too. He was game. It was with this film that I was on my first movie set, met local filmmakers and attended my first film festivals. I got the bug. I wrote a script for a short horror film called “Girl Number Three.” I wanted to direct it but had no real resources. I ended up turning it into an illustrated novella that I published in late 2007 and a local filmmaker read it and instantly asked to put it on film. I came on as a producer and screenwriter and the film was filmed and released in 2009. A year later while on the festival circuit I told him I wanted to direct a film version of a zombie short comic I had written and that began my directing career. That was “A Wish for the Dead” which was shot in 2011.

EW: What are some of your favorite films?

NM: My top 10 are Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs, Dazed & Confused, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Predator, Pulp Fiction, Jaws and True Romance.

EW: Who are some of your cinematic influences?

NM: While Tarantino is my favorite filmmaker I tend not to follow him in my own directing. I think my style is far more “70’s” in style. I tend to think cinematically in a Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah sort of way. I really like David Fincher and The Coen Brothers. Alexandre Aja, John Carpenter, Park Chan Wook, Walter Hill, Sergio Leone, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Winding Refn.

EW: What are some recent horror films that you really enjoyed?

NM: I am not like most of these guys from my generation who think all new horror sucks…lol. I think some amazing films are being made these days in the genre. Some of my faves have been It Follows, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, The Witch, Inside, Haute Tension, 28 Days Later, The Descent, The Hills Have Eyes remake, Horns, The Conjuring, You’re Next, Trick r Treat, Let the Right One In, Adam Green’s Frozen, King of the Ants, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, We Are What We Are, What We Do in the Shadows, Pan’s Labyrinth, Death Proof, Wolf Creek, Rogue, Burning Bright and Wind Chill.

Behind the Scenes photo of Nathan Milliner and Kevin Roach in, "The Confession of Fred Krueger."

Behind the Scenes photo of Nathan Milliner and Kevin Roach in, “The Confession of Fred Krueger.”

EW: Tell us a little bit about “The Confessions of Fred Krueger’s” journey from script to film.

NM: I’ve been wanting to see that film since 1988. I fell in love with the Elm Street films at age 12 in 1988 and when I fall in love with a film I want to absorb everything I can about it. I ordered a book by Jeffrey Cooper called “The Nightmare on Elm Street Companion” from the mall book store shortly after and in that book, Cooper penned an “origin” called “The Life and Death of Freddy Krueger.” I wanted to see that made into a film for 25 years. There was talk for years of a prequel and Englund was all for it. At one point John McNaughton was going to make one. I am sure there were many other attempts. But once the remake came out, I pretty much figured that was never going to happen. At least not with Englund.

While talking to some other fans online around 2012 about the prequel that had never happened, someone suggested I write one. So I chose the one scene I wanted to see if I were to write the film and that was the interrogation of Freddy. I had been mesmerized by The Iceman Confessions in the 90’s on HBO. When they interviewed hit man Richard Kuklinski. I wanted to put Fred Krueger in that position. I wanted to take the character back to his roots. The vile, drifter who snatched children from the beautiful people of Springwood that we lost through the sequels. The family man suburbanite Fred that we got in 1991 through Freddy’s Dead was so 180 from the original character Craven had given us and invented that I decided to stick 90% to the original film also using Cooper’s story and peppering things from the rest of the sequels here and there to fill in blanks. I just love writing conversations and to have Fred tell his story was for me, a treat.

I attempted to make the film for several years but it didn’t become serious until after I directed “The Encyclopedia Satanica” for Volumes of Blood 1 in 2014. That film ignited the filmmaker in me more than ever and the crew and cast I had on that film inspired me. Mostly Kevin Roach who was a dream to work with and I started to realize I could look forever and never find a more suitable Fred Krueger. So it really kicked in gear because of Kevin and my cinematographer David Bonnell. I wanted to work with them again as soon as possible and “Confession” felt like the right film to do. It was to get it out of my system. It had been with me for 27 years and while I had little interest in making fan films at that point in my career it was that itch that I had to scratch. The film was shot over the Summer in 2015 and released in September at HorrorHound Weekend and on youtube. Very proud of it.

EW: What was it like meeting with such positive praise for “Confessions?” Were there any fans that were angry with the film or you?

NM: Taking on such an iconic and beloved character is going to always bring rejection and anger. You’d think a “fan film” which is made out of love for the material would get a pass but fans can be pretty stubborn. Getting them to accept anyone other than Robert is always hard. Even with someone as talented and fantastic as Kevin who really gives a powerhouse, award-winning performance (he’s won two best acting awards out of three film festivals for the role) fans are still quick to throw insults his way and say he’s not Robert so he sucks. He even got death threats if you can believe it. For a fan film!

But the truth is, the reaction was overwhelmingly positive. It was a big surprise really. I think the die hard fans recognized the passion, love and attention to details that the film obviously shows. It isn’t the fan film for the casual fan or the fan who hasn’t really done their homework. The film’s biggest criticisms come from people unwilling to see anyone but Englund or those who feel I got it wrong because I didn’t use the Freddy’s Dead origin story with suburbanite Fred living in a house with a wife and daughter. While that works and is scary, that isn’t what Freddy was. Freddy was the boogeyman. He was like the Cropsey legend from New York. He was meant to be that sinister drifter in the shadows who snatches you kids in the night. He hated the perfect, beautiful people of Springwood and wanted to hurt them and punish them. He would never wish to be anything like them. He never knew love so wanting a family was the last thing he would want. He hated youth and kids. He wouldn’t want one of his own.

But the truth is, the film has been far more celebrated than hated. I think we have the most positive youtube comment thread I have ever seen…lol. It’s shocking really. I’ve been told by cast members of the original series how well we did with it and most exciting was days after releasing it online, director/writer Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night, Psycho 2) wrote me a message online to tell me how much he loved the short and wanted to know if there was anything he could help me with in promoting it or anything else I did. He said the film showed an eye and a talent for filmmaking and I should direct as much as I possibly can. That meant the world to me.

EW: How did your involvement with “Volumes of Blood” come about?

NM: The producer, PJ Starks, had been a fan of Girl Number Three and liked my writing. We became friends online. He ran a film festival in Owensboro, KY and had invited me to be a special guest at the show and shortly after that he asked me if I would be interested in directing a segment for the film. He sent me three scripts and only one really appealed to me but I asked if I could re-write it and make it my own as I saw potential for it to become something really special. That was “The Encyclopedia Satanica.” I took this film seriously because I was not fulfilled with my first directing effort (A Wish for the Dead) and wanted to fix all of the problems I had made on it and really wanted to see for myself if I could produce something really good. I just didn’t want to make the worst segment…lol.

When you watch anthologies there are always really good ones, forgettable ones and usually at least one that just doesn’t work well. All of that is subjective of course but the reaction to “Satanica” at the premiere was pretty amazing. PJ’s wife who isn’t usually into horror I was told, instantly jumped out of her seat when it ended and ran over to him and said, “Nate’s movie is so good!” It was the hit of the film and was usually called the “masterpiece of the film” in most of the reviews which was an amazing feeling. Again, I just didn’t want to make the underwhelming episode but I just worked really hard on it. And I had an amazingly talented cast and crew on that film. It really motivated me to keep directing and move forward with this. It is still my favorite film I have made.

EW: Can you tell me about “A Wish for the Dead?”

NM: A Wish for the Dead was based on a comic short I wrote in 2002 for my comic group Feral Comix. We wanted to do a horror anthology comic and they wanted to focus the first issue on zombies. It was an 8-page short and I didn’t end up publishing it until 2007. I didn’t want to do the usual survivors of the apocalypse but wanted to commentate on death and loss. The book was really conceived on the idea of premature death and dealing with saying goodbye. But it was also inspired by a segment from the 1972 Tales from the Script film. The one based on the Monkey’s Paw. The idea of eternal life when you are a corpse in horrible pain that will never go away.

In 2010 at a convention I told my producing partner that I wanted to direct a film. At least direct one thing before I die, sort of thing. I had never really thought it would be something I’d do. I was totally green and unprepared to do it right. So I think “Wish” suffered from my being too inexperienced and taking on such an ambitious feature film my first time in the directing chair. I had a lot to learn and the whole thing was more of a collaboration with the producer who really wanted to be the director so I think that kind of clouded the film in a way. I think it’s probably important for a film to be collaborative but at the end of the day it really needs that team leader. That person with the single vision of what the film needs and should be. That isn’t to say the film is not good. It’s been received well but it’s one of those things where it was my FIRST time (we shot it in 2011) and I have learned so much in the past 5 years and have directed 3 other films since it and it’s one of those things where you see only the mistakes. That’s just how all artists are. The hardest thing about it was the film was finally released through Legless Corpse Films this past Spring and they were promoting it as “the new film” from Nathan Thomas Milliner when it was actually my first film and was 5 years old. After Volumes of Blood and Confession of Fred Krueger, it was hard to see something I did years ago being presented as my most recent work.

I hate talking about it because a lot of good people worked on it and worked hard and gave some really great performances. I still like the film but at the same time, I have moved on. Glad it is finally out though. Hopefully people are enjoying it. It is a very personal story. A lot of me and my loved ones are present in it and a lot of the stories and characters are personal to me. It’s far more of a drama than a horror story.

EW: If you could choose to work with any actor or actress currently working in the film business who would it be? Why?

NM: There are so many. I think if I had to choose I’d say Robert Duvall. The man just amazes me in everything. He is so real. I just believe him no matter what he is doing and I think it would be simply amazing to work with him. To have some of his legendary experience and talent rub off a little on me. I think I’d learn a lot from him. Guy is just a powerhouse and even in movies that are considered popcorn and b-movies, he always delivers amazing performances. I mean, some of my favorite performances of his are in stuff like Days of Thunder and Gone in 60 Seconds. He elevates it. Don’t get me wrong as Tony Scott is one of my heroes. True Romance, Man on Fire…top 20 films there. May he rest in peace. I was lucky enough to meet Jerry Bruckheimer a few years back and it was after Tony’s death and I thanked Jerry for all of his work with Tony and Jerry looked me in the eye and said thanks and told me, “He was the best! The best!” I’d also love to work with DeNiro, Tom Hardy, Kate Winslet, Ryan Gosling, Tim Roth, Harvey Keitel…there are so many really. We could make this article a week long commitment.

EW: Do you have any film projects on the horizon?

NM: I just wrote and directed a segment for Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories (a sequel) back in March called “Fear, For Sinners Here” which is a Christmas based home invasion short that I fell in love with upon conception. It was amazing to work on. Currently in post with that one. It’s being scored at the moment by Rocky Gray who scored The Barn and has a long history in the metal scene.

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In about a month I will be directing a segment I wrote also called “Murder Death Killer.” I had written this segment and another director was on it but had to step away just a day or so ago actually. So I am currently in a mad dash to recast the film and get all my ducks in a row. Going to be rough but up to the challenge.

I have been writing a feature film script titled “The Dark and Bloody Ground” for about 20 months and really hope to make this the next film I make after Volumes of Blood 2 is done. I am very close to having a final draft on it. It’s gone through about 6 drafts so far. Want to fine tune it one more go before I start trying to put things in motion.

EW: Do you have any dream projects that you want to make in the future?

NM: One film I have always wanted to make is “Swag.” It’s a novel by Elmore Leonard. I read it about 20 years ago and just loved it. I am a big fan of Leonard’s novels and I can’t believe no one has made it a film yet. The book’s sequel, “Stick” was adapted in the 80’s with Burt Reynolds starring and directing.

I’d also love to maybe adapt something by Joe Lansdale someday. Love his work. Got to meet him recently and he was such a cool cat. Basically I want to be Jim Mickle at the moment…lol. I really want to get into making a crime film. It’s been my favorite genre. I keep chasing Scorsese’s Taxi Driver like several others have. Stuff like One Hour Photo, Dead Man’s Shoes and Nightcrawler to name a few that have done so in recent years.

 

Be sure to check out the official home page of Nathan Thomas Milliner at REBEL ROUSER ART.

Erick Wofford is a writer/director and independent filmmaker known for his award winning short film, “The Music of Erich Zann.” He is currently in production on his first feature film entitled, “Splatterpunk!

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