Posted May 28, 2014 by Jeff in Flicks

Writer-director Jon Moritsugu: Genius, madness, dreams & nightmares

Writer-director Jon Moritsugu has a long, illustrious career of making trashy low budget movies. But for the past ten years, he suffered from some serious writer’s block. He finally got it together last year for Pig Death Machine, a film about a shipment of pork that enables a woman to become a genius. The movie has camp appeal and compares to the work of b-movie master John Waters. It’s won awards at some of the underground festivals where it’s shown and is still making the festival and repertory rounds. Moritsugu recently phoned us to talk about the movie.

You shot the movie in Sante Fe, right?
Yeah, we shot in Sante Fe.

So, what was that like? It seems like it might not be the sort of thing they’d be used to there.
Generally it’s bigger movies coming into town. This was a really small production. We shot for 12 days with a small crew, but it went really smoothly. We got a lot of local support from people including the restaurants and the locations. There’s actually a studio in town, Garson Studios. They’re a pretty big Hollywood studio, but they totally helped us out too. We got to use their blue screen facilities and stuff like that. It was great.

I read that you haven’t made a movie in ten years.
Yeah, that’s true.

What have you been doing in that time?
We were moving around a lot . . . starting scripts, then stopping them. We had moved three times during that time period. I just had that big mental block. So, for this one [my wife and creative partner] Amy [Davis] definitely got on my ass and was like, “You’ve got to make a movie. We’ve got to do it together. You know you got to do it.” We got it done and the block is gone. It’s awesome.

What exactly inspired the concept for the film?
I think it just comes from us talking about what happens when your dreams do come true and sometimes they turn into nightmares. It’s almost like those people winning the lottery. So many times their dreams come true and their lives become nightmares. We were talking about characters and what would happen if these characters would have really wild dreams come true.

Are you a vegetarian?
No. I totally love my steak!

What about the IQs of the characters going up after they eat the pork. Where did that come from?
I think it was just the whole idea of genius equals madness. People wish they were smarter but when you reach the genius level it’s sort of like brushing with madness. We heard these stories about Einstein not being able to tie his shoes or count his change and stuff like that.

We wanted to explore that whole idea of genius equaling madness.

What kind of budget did you have for the movie?
It was a really low budget film. We did it all for under $20,000. We did all the post-production so I did editing and Amy did the colorizing. She also did a lot of the costumes and basically everyone worked for free. Yeah, we got it done really cheaply and shot it really quickly.

The music is a really important part of the film. Talk a little bit about what you were going for and how you picked the songs.
It just starts sort of starts out with what bands I like . . . what music I like. We ended up working with a couple bands that were a little more electronic just because I felt that would be better for people going crazy and losing their minds. We have Monte Cazazza and I Am Spoonbender. It’s a little more electronic but basically it comes down to I love to use music that I love.

What about your own band? Don’t you have a band?
Yeah. We have a band called Low On High, so we used some of our music too in the soundtrack.

What’s you approach? How would you describe your own music?
It’s like scuzzy punkoid, garage-y, glittery, full of hooks and riffs. It’s just the two of us. We gig out with no drummer and we also record in the studio.

Is music a similar creative process to filmmaking, or is it much different?
It’s a lot quicker. So, when you’re making a film, it might take you a couple years to complete. It’s just awesome to be able to jam and write a song, record it and two days later you’ve completed something.

I’ve always felt film and music really go hand-in-hand but one feels a little bit more immediate and quick and loose than the other. When you’re getting bogged down in moviemaking, you’ve got to have a release like that you know.

I know you started in the ’80s. What made you want to get into making movies?
Just the whole idea. I think that the movie is the most powerful form of art. When you make a movie, you’re almost creating a dream like environment for people that’s full of visuals, full of sounds, full of emotions and full of these characters’ stories. It’s almost like a surrogate reality. I’ve always just been really into that aspect of it.

You’re always being compared to John Waters. Is that accurate?
It totally is. I mean he was one of those early dudes who totally inspired me. I just remember studying movies and getting my mind blown open by John Waters. It was just was purely entertaining and trashy, but I think his movies, especially the early ones delivered the goods. I totally was inspired by John Waters when I started out.

You studied critical theory at Brown, right?
It’s totally true.

Who’s your favorite critical theorist?
My favorite who I love to hate is Derrida.

I was going to guess Derrida!
He spoke on the college campus once. He refused to say anything in English. He insisted that the speech be in French, so no one could really understand him. I remember studying his stuff. He was writing an essay and he was inventing his own words and language. It was some of the densest stuff I ever read. It just sort of baffled me why someone could cloak themselves in so many layers of language and they could quite easily explain their idea in one simple sentence. I love to hate him.

Are you still bitter about getting screwed out of an Oscar nomination?
I’m not bitter but it was one of those situations where the movie got kicked out of the running because of a technicality. It was screened in Los Angeles on 16mm and it was the late ‘90s where they said that every movie had to screen on 35mm. These days they don’t even hold that. They got rid of the rule, but I contested it and talked to John Davis, who’s the head of the Oscars and they agreed with me. They changed the rule the next year, but I couldn’t reapply the film the next year. He was like well that’s the way it works.

Do you think you’ll ever have that opportunity again?
I hope so. Stranger things have happened. When I was in the middle of my creative block and we weren’t making any feature movies, we got asked by some friends to do a music video for their band and we actually got a Grammy nomination for it.

I was also going to ask you if you were pissed off that you lost to the Foo Fighters?
Right before they announced the winner, these ushers are pushing the Foo Fighters towards the front stage, so at that point we knew we didn’t win. But they were really nice, sincere guys, which made it a little bit better, but at the time it really did hurt. I just remember “Weird Al” Yankovic was sitting behind us and he also didn’t win and you could just see that hurt on his face too. I mean we walked the red carpet. We were there, but definitely we wanted to win that thing.

Are you working on any other music videos?
We shot a music video for a band, yeah. Right now and just preparing to release Pig Death Machine on DVD and working on a new script.

So, the writer’s block is officially gone then huh?
It is. I want to shoot a movie in Hawaii. All these great ideas, I can’t wait to start on this project. I just want to get down and dirty and gritty with the islands. I think it will be really fun.


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].