American Vintage Pictures
M Van Michael
By Vernon Appelton | Photos By Hesh Photo
M Van Michael is known in the Denver area for his previous film adventure, “Motor Vixen,” a black and white short film that he wrote, directed, produced and was the cinematographer for. His current project, “Hot Lead Hard Fury” is a movie project that is inspired by the 70’’s Blacksploitation, Kung Fu, Grind House, and Buddy-Cop movie genres. Unlike recent entries to pop-culture that try to capture these genres, (such as Simon Peg’s, “Hot Fuzz,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Grind House” features, and the recent, “The Heat,” featuring Bullock and McCarthy,) Van Michael is telling his story without a Hollywood style budget while utilizing local talent (and a possible cameo from one of the original stars of this genre.) This raw story telling is true to its inspirations and demonstrates a character that may be foreign to generations who did not grow up watching these movies in the 70’s. Those of us who are familiar with this genre will appreciate the time and effort Michael has put into this film, as well as his artistic competence.
Van Michael storytelling days go way back. His first go at writing a script happened when he saw previews for Roger Corman’s, “Death Race 2000” and was fascinated by the images he saw of a young Sly Stallone and David Carradine racing to the death in a maniacal and mixed up world. Although Michael was too young to see the movie in theaters, he decided to write his own story about the images and possible story lines that the movie’s previews had inspired in his young mind. Van Michael was only in the 2nd grade at the time and his 8 year old mind was overwhelmed with the potential stories that he could tell about this race to the death. Although the script was never finished, the story telling bug had been planted in Van Michael’s mind, and there was no turning back.
Van Michael credits his mother for fostering his sense of creativity at an early age. His mother spent a lot of time reading to Van Michael, introducing him to many works of literature and teaching him to read on his own by the age of 5. Given this early introduction to literature, the young Van Michael spent as much time as he could reading books. He also found an interest in comic book stories with heroes and villains paired together in constant struggle. In addition to the written word, Mother Van Michael also introduced her son to movies, musicals, and her own acting experiences on stage while in school. His Mother imprinted upon her developing son’s mind an appreciation for story telling as it is found in multiple mediums, and the young Van Michael ran with it. He even remembers creating multiple adventures for his G.I.Joe’s while listening to the record, Paul Revere and the Raiders in his room. Van Michael’s mother wasn’t the only person in his early life that had a hand in his development as a storyteller. When his Mother became ill with cancer, father Van Michael would take his son to the movies for a brief escape. Drive-in movies were still around at this time, and father and son would frequent the “Sky-Vu” drive-in at the corner of Arapahoe and Dayton. Van Michael recalls, “There was nothing but fields and dirt roads to the east of that intersection.” The open space was not lonely for the young Van Michael, but rather it was a reprieve from the sadness and loneliness that he felt in his daily life. Spending time with his father was comforting to him, and it offered an escape from the heavy sadness he was still too young to fully understand and deal with.
“I remember seeing ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ there and thinking how cool it was to see a movie with open fields all around you. We saw some great films together, ‘Jaws,’ ‘King Kong,’ ‘Star Wars,’ - we’d also watch Saturday matinee’s together - old black and white monster flicks. But most of all I remember when Dad and I would watch the ABC Sunday Night Movie whenever a James Bond flick was on. Those films were - and still are - some of my favorite films, and I really gained an appreciation them.”
Van Michael’s first experience with a camera was his father’s Super 8mm. His dad took every opportunity to use his camera to capture his family’s day to day, as well as special occasions. His father had a steady hand and he had a good eye for composing the event’s story - even though there was no sound to accompany the captured images. “Seeing those films and watching him work the camera taught me a lot. I remember the lights he used were bright as hell”! When Van Michael was 13, his father purchased a Chinon Super 8mm that captured sound. This was the camera that the young Van Michael cut his teeth on. “I took over as the family’s cinematographer for events, holidays and stuff, and that gave me a lot of practice.”
Despite this early awakening of Van Michael’s artistic talent, he wouldn’t really tap into it again until his 30’s. In the intermediate years, Van Michael focused on sports, finding work and college classes.