Andy Mingo is a Portland-based director/producer. He gained recognition as several of his films were included at national and international film festivals and screenings. His most recent film, ‘Romance’ was adapted from a story by ‘Fight Club’ author, Chuck Palahniuk. ‘Romance’ made its world premiere at the 2012 Raindance Film Festival and went on to screen at Cinequest, the Seattle True Independent Film Festival, and the 2013 Portland Film Festival. In 2012 Andy was invited to the Paris-Sorbonne University where he lectured on the process of adapting Chuck Palahniuk’s fiction to the screen.
Andy is also the director of the Digital Media Program at Clackamas Community College in Oregon, where he teaches digital filmmaking. For his efforts in workforce training Andy was awarded the 2015 Oregon Governor’s Award for Innovation in Education by Governor John Kitzhaber.
Why did you become a director? Instructor?
My move into directing film was primarily due to my failure as a Hollywood screenwriter. While I was still living in San Diego I was in regular contact with an LA Producer, Tony Bill. Tony has a long career in film; he won an Oscar for producing ‘The Sting’ in 1973 and possibly more importantly he played the film producer in ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure’ who ultimately green lights Pee-wee’s biopic motion picture. Tony was very supportive of the scripts I delivered to him, but unlike his film producer persona in Pee-wee’s film, he passed on all three of my scripts, leaving me with the quandary of what I should do with my story orphans. So in the end I decided to go directly to the source and produce stories into my own films. My move into teaching filmmaking was informed by the void of any available film production instruction at all the colleges and universities I had previously attended. I really wish I had earlier opportunities to learn the art of filmmaking in my twenties; unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Ultimately I found myself teaching at a college that had some film theory classes, but didn’t have any offerings in film production. We created an initial production class and have been expanding our curriculum ever since, which now includes Motion Capture and Red Epic and Arri Amira camera operation.
Having grown up in the arid climate of Reno Nevada, I was immediately hooked on Oregon the first time I visited for my sister’s college graduation from Lewis and Clark. Everything was alive and green. That much life sparked my imagination. Later I moved to Eugene for a bit prior to graduate school, hoping to get into Ken Kesey’s writing workshop at the University of Oregon. I ended up doing graduate school in San Diego, where I met my wife, the award-winning Oregon writer, Lidia Yuknavitch. We grew tired of the lack of seasons in Southern California and decided to raise our son in a remote house that skirted the Bull Run Wilderness out beyond Corbett, Oregon. It was a magical place, straight out of the novel, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion.’
Why Clackamas Community College?
I had been teaching at the TV Production program at Mount Hood Community College when I saw a full time job advertisement from the CCC English department that emphasized storytelling and media. It was a good fit, and would turn out to be the beginning of a vision that many in Clackamas County shared. With a steady shift away from timber industry jobs, a lot of people were looking at the possibilities that the media industry had to offer. We are now on the cusp of a boom in the film production and video game development industries in Clackamas County, which will require a large increase of the local workforce.
What classes do you teach?
I currently teach Digital Video Editing, Directing for Film, and Digital Filmmaking, and I’m fortunate to work with talented instructors from the film and game development industries who teach classes in Motion Capture Animation, 3D Modeling, and Video Effects Compositing with Nuke. For a community college, we offer some of the most advanced workforce training in the state, with tuition at a third of the price of some other Media schools. And the best part is, our students get jobs.
What advice do you give to students the most?
If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re fired. I can’t stress enough how important it is to act like a professional when it comes to film production. A basic habit like being able to show up to a set before your call time can be the cornerstone of how you approach the industry – that and practice. Familiarize yourself with all aspects of filmmaking: camera operation, pre-production, directing, lighting, and editing. Create a general knowledge of the industry and then specialize in what you do best.
How many film projects have you worked on?
I’ve worked on around ten film projects, narrative, experimental, a feature and shorts. I’ve also created a few book trailers. I’m blocking some projects from my memory due to the PTSD I incurred while working on them. Those I can recall I cherish, though I’m mainly excited about what will be next.
Is there a secret to getting projects started?
There’s no one way to get a film project started. Sometimes one will fall into your lap. A friend will ask you to read an unpublished story. It resonates. You know immediately who you’ll cast and it all comes together. Getting other projects started is like being Sisyphus; you push a very large boulder up a mountain that reaches into the clouds.
What makes a good movie/film?
A great story makes a great film. Without the story everything else shifts and gets lost. After you secure a good story it’s the team that you bring together that determines the production’s proper execution. With the right people in place, the right collaboration, the only weak link is the filmmaker, so there should be no question on who is to blame if the film is or is not good.
What are the steps you take in developing a film?
Werner Herzog has a great line, “Send out all your dogs and one might return with prey.” Between films, I hunt for the best stories that I can secure and what that particular story brings with it. Does the author of the novel you’ve just optioned warrant attention by herself/himself? After that it’s pretty simple: script, financing, casting and production. Piece of cake.
How do you come up with your ideas?
I live in a house of stories and ideas. I have a tendency to daydream and I try to be keenly aware of where a story may lead. Initially I latch onto an idea that amuses me, but that’s where the hard work starts, because there is a large chasm between an idea and a script.
You’ve optioned stories from authors, why?
I option stories from authors because it is immediately obvious whether there is a story that can be adapted to film. Then there’s the fact that the authors I deal with (my wife included) are so much more talented and lauded than I am. By optioning a great story you become more than just who you are as a filmmaker. Now you have an obligation not to mess it up.
How do you research?
Living in Portland has offered some great opportunities. The literary world in Portland is very small to the point that everyone knows everybody else. Also my wife is in the world’s best writing group made up of writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Cheryl Strayed, Monica Drake and Chelsea Cain. There are stories flying around everywhere I go in Portland and sometimes they just hit me in the face.
What was it like working with Chuck Palahniuk?
Chuck and I are friends so working with him just seems like an extension of that friendship. Chuck also has a very conscious view of the separation between his written work and its cinematic representation, which I suspect he learned early when ‘Fight Club’ was first released. With the story, ‘Romance’ that I adapted from one of Chuck’s short stories, he was very supportive with his comments when I was writing the script. I bought the rights to the story for one dollar and a bottle of wine. Wine has always been a big part of our friendship.
Did you introduce any of your own personal life into Romance? If so, what? What was the process like?
‘Romance’ is about a slouch named John who against all odds scores a supermodel girlfriend who thinks that she is Britney Spears. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly surprised by the mismatch that life throws out at me. It seems like the overweight, bumbling core of my soul has somehow paid its karmic debt and I’m surprised by my good luck – the people I get to work with, my family and friends, and to live in such an artistic-centered place such as Oregon. Romance is about love and luck. These are also the foundation of my life.
What projects are you working on now?
I’ve sent out all my dogs and I’m waiting for one to come back with prey. But you can watch my short film, “Romance,” at Vimeo’s VOD service. Check it out. Let me know what you think.
Watch Andy’s film and let us know what you think in the comments below.