Like most of us, the main character in SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, dreams of creating a better life for himself. While Mike spends his days grooming dogs for a living, his free time is filled with creating “weird video art that nobody wants to watch.” But his biggest goal is to create an all-cat remake of the 1970’s Stephen King classic Carrie.
But complications arise—as they so often do—when Mike meets Cora, the girl of his dreams. Can Mike escape his humdrum life and get the girl in the end?
We had a chance to talk with director Michael Reich about his history with dog grooming, Stephen King, and the creation of this wildly imaginative film.
To start at the beginning, when you first set out to create a feature film, how did you land on this story? Was it an organic process of discovery or is this a story you’ve been planning to tell for a long time?
Michael Reich: I guess I landed on this story because I was a dog groomer for a while. I moved to LA around sixteen or seventeen years ago, and I did music videos and at the same time, I worked at an indoor dog park. Then later I wound up working at a dog grooming place.
The world of dog grooming was a fun job, but also kind of depressing at the same time, because no matter how clean you got the dogs, they just wound up coming in the next week dirty. So it was this Sisyphean struggle [where] you clean the dog, and the dog doesn’t want to be cleaned.
And that just kind of set my brain in motion to make the movie with dog grooming somehow.
To stay on animals for a minute, in SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS your main character aspires to create an all-cat version of the horror film Carrie. What inspired you to pick that film?
Michael Reich: I love Stephen King. That was the first author I became obsessed with. I read almost every Stephen King book up until Gerald’s Game, [which] was the last new Stephen King book that I read. So I always loved Carrie, and obviously the De Palma movie is iconic.
There are all these Easter eggs in SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, references to other movies. The idea of an all-cat Carrie remake was lifted from this movie The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty, who wrote The Exorcist. He also wrote the book Twinkle Twinkle Killer Kane, which was then made into The Ninth Configuration. It’s one of the few movies he directed.
In that movie, there are all these inmates in a psych ward, and each one is crazier than the next. And then Jason Miller, who played Father Damian in The Exorcist, is a psych patient that is obsessed with performing Hamlet with all dogs. It’s a running joke through the movie that’s really funny, but also really insane at the same time.
I think I saw that movie with Mike Pinkney, who’s the star of SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS, and we thought it was hilarious. So when we were pitching music videos, [our joke pitch would be] “Let’s do an all-cat remake of Carrie” to get us talking about ideas. So that’s where the cat Carrie came from.
Between Carrie and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, there are some serious John Travolta vibes in this film. Where did the idea of including so much Travolta come from?
Michael Reich: I think I realized that connection afterward. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble came up during editing because I had to find a royalty-free movie. I went through this whole list of royalty-free movies, and The Boy in the Plastic Bubble was on it. It was like a Canadian/American co-production for TV, so it slipped into public domain.
As soon as I saw that movie on the list, I was like, “That’s definitely it,” because the Travolta connection but also because of the feelings of isolation [that’s] in my movie. I remember seeing that movie when I was young and it terrified me.
SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS feels simultaneously so true to life and yet so foreign—I’m thinking of scenes like the one where Mike’s landlord says they’ll look up what to do about rat infestations on Wikipedia. What is the trick to striking the balance between reality and surreality?
Michael Reich: I think it’s finding the surreality in real life. [It’s] finding the little awkward moments of hilarity and then recapturing them in cinematic form.
The actor who plays Honey David is actually my landlord, and he plays himself. I think almost every line in the movie is actually something that he has said. He’s, in a way, my muse. I’m working on a documentary on him now. I used to pay rent by making music videos for him because he’s a musician. He actually plays music [on the] Strip in Las Vegas.
So, to answer your question, there are surreal moments in life all the time, and I find it fun to collect those moments.
When you’re working on a movie that deals with a heightened or a slightly different reality than our own, what direction do you give your actors? Is it different than something that’s more straightforward?
Michael Reich: It depends on the actor, really. And especially in this movie, there was such a mix of non-actors and actors that everyone was different.
Mike Pinkney, for instance, is my writing partner and collaborator on a lot of different projects, and my best friend. He was not an actor prior to this. We would always eat lunch together, and I found watching him eat food was one of the most inspiring things ever. It’s very humorous to watch.
[I knew that] if I wanted to make a movie with the funds available to me, [Mike] would be the best person to do it because he’s just funny without doing anything.
To get him more comfortable on a camera, I wound up enrolling him in acting classes. Then I wound up taking the acting class as well. We did that class for maybe three or four years. In that class, I was paired up with Sonja Kinski for one of the exercises.
I saw her last name on the sides, and I was like, “Kinski! That’s a cool last name. He’s one of my favorite actors.” And she said, “That’s my grandfather.” I was immediately drawn to her whole vibe.
Working with [Sonja] is a completely different [experience]. Pinkney likes to do [scenes] a lot of times, and on the, like, fifth take he’ll get the [shot]. And with Sonja, it’s usually just the first take. So you just keep the camera rolling on her, and if she does something that’s the exact opposite of the script you just keep it going because you can’t write what she does sometimes.
Your film is filled with beautiful pieces of video art that are often cut into or in between scenes. Were those plotted out specifically in the script or devised after principal photography to compliment the scene.
Michael Reich: It’s a combination. I used to do a bunch of background visuals for bands. I would use a lot of low-fi circuit-bending equipment. When I wrote the script, I was really into that stuff, so I always wanted to have video art in the movie.
I think in the actual script it was only in it a little bit. I always wanted it to be in the film more, but I couldn’t figure out how to [incorporate it]. Then, when we were editing, I found that they were the perfect asides for moments.
I wound up editing the movie for a while, and I kept running [the film] through VHS and degrading the movie. Once I had that element it enabled the video art to blend seamlessly into the narrative.
They say that you should never work with animals or kids, but you’ve worked with quite a few animals. What is your advice to fellow filmmakers who want to work with animals in their films?
Michael Reich: Dogs? Totally chill to work with. Dogs are great to work with. I love dogs. Cats. I don’t really like cats that much. I don’t hate cats or anything; I just don’t connect with them. I’m just not wired that way. I think that actually cats are probably more interesting visually than dogs. However, cats are impossible to work with.
We had an animal trainer on set with the cat, and I was like, “Okay get the cat to run over here. I want to do them to look at the camera, jump up here, hiss, and then jump down.”
And they were like, “Yeah, maybe we could get him to go [in a straight line], but that’s it.”
At one point, we used a non-professional cat in one scene, and he ended up scratching the actor. Yeah, don’t work with cats, work with dogs. Even better, if you want to work with dogs. Get a dog. Love the dog. Be the dog’s best buddy, then the dog will do anything for you on camera.
SHE’S ALLERGIC TO CATS is now available to rent or own April 7th on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes. Interested in learning more? Check out our review of the film HERE.