I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mike McGraner, the man behind “The Director Series”, which features a monthly screening of each David Lynch film in Columbus, Ohio. Twin Peaks fans especially have taken notice after the blockbuster announcement that both Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise would be attending the screening for Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which has now turned into a full weekend event including the film’s two stars. This was a really fun conversation with Mike that I hope you enjoy!
AG: Where did the idea come from for “The Director Series” ?
MM: In 2014, I was looking for my next project to start. I started “Night Owl Theater” in 2010 and it was successful. “The Director Series” was something I had always wanted to do. A lot of people do retrospectives and they cherry pick titles. I wanted to approach it like if you were a film student, or you were just learning about a certain director, this would be a way to start in the beginning and watch a person’s career unfold. The choices they’ve made, good or bad, the struggles they’ve had and things like that. I wanted to go through a director’s career in chronological order so you could get the complete experience of a person’s career. Lynch is the first person that came to mind because Twin Peaks is what got me into film. At the same time, he’s the only person that comes to mind that in one presentation took you to every single emotion a human body could feel. Whether it’s a nightmare, falling in love, depression or anything else, all of these things happen in every single Lynch film.
AG: For those that are just now hearing about the series, tell us where you’re at in the series now.
MM: We’ve shown Eraserhead and The Elephant Man and we’re about ready to go into Dune. I did try and do the series last year in Miamisburg, Ohio and got through Lost Highway before the venue cancelled it due to lack of attendance. I put in so much work into promotion but it was a tough location. Beautiful theater but a really small town and we could never get above 50 or 60 people. So I tried the four independent theaters in Columbus, Ohio and the one thing I kept being told was that Lynch doesn’t have enough fans to fill a room. I knew in my heart that was not true. Everyone wanted me to start with Tarantino, my second choice but I was set on this series starting with Lynch, then Tarantino, then Kubrick. I finally went to the owner of the theater where I do my horror series and asked for just one screening of Eraserhead with the condition that if it did well, we would go month to month with this series and he agreed. We did Eraserhead and we had over 100 tickets pre-sold. We wound up almost selling out a 250 seat theater and he gave me The Elephant Man the next month, which also almost sold out.
AG: How would you describe the experience for people who have attended Eraserhead or The Elephant Man?
MM: Not to sound like a total hippy but its such a room full of love. I have other series where there are always people who aren’t pleased with something. With Lynch, there are people in their 70’s and 80’s that showed up at Eraserhead, along with college kids and it’s the most diverse crowd I’ve ever seen. It’s neat how they react at all the right times too. I always try to add things, like showing The Short Films of David Lynch after Eraserhead. With The Elephant Man, the kid with the pea gun happens to live in the neighborhood so we brought him in to talk about his experience to the crowd. I didn’t expect people to enjoy it so much. I kind of thought it would just be my geeky thing but people seem to really love it and it makes me really happy.
AG: Which Lynch film are you personally most excited about seeing on the big screen yourself?
MM: Always with me, its Lost Highway. I absolutely love that movie and it hit me at a time where I was really into Lynch. I was 8 when Twin Peaks aired and watched it all the way through. After Twin Peaks, I got into collecting screenplays and in the mid 90’s, I got the screenplay to Lost Highway. I read it, fell in love with it and probably read it six times before the movie came out. I saw it opening night and just kept watching that movie. I remember paying $92.99 for a VHS copy of the movie because that’s how much I loved it. Then I bought it on Laserdisc for another $40 (laughs). I spent a ton of money on that movie.
AG: There’s a lot of conversation among Lynch fans about how few of us have seen his films in theaters because of how limited their releases typically are. How would you describe the experience of seeing any Lynch film in a theater compared to a home video setting?
MM: The theater shuts your mind off. With his films, you’re hypnotized, you’re in a dream and his films deserve you to not think about a damn thing other than where you are now and what you’re watching. Seeing it in a theater with complete blackness around you is the way to go. His use of lighting alone makes it important that you don’t have any obstruction or light pollution from anywhere else.
AG: When should people expect an announcement for tickets to Blue Velvet to go on sale?
MM: The showing for Dune is April 20th. I did not pick that date to be funny but hey, its a perfect date to see Dune (laughs). At the screenings, I announce the date for the next screening and tickets go on sale the next day. We will be showing Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart before Fire Walk With Me but because of the scope of that screening and the costs we have to cover, I wanted to get that announcement out.
AG: How did you get Sheryl Lee and Ray Wise to attend the Fire Walk With Me screening?
MM: I never planned on having special guests at any of these. The night Eraserhead screened, I was so jazzed after that I thought about trying to get Sheryl Lee to attend Fire Walk With Me. I do know Sheryl and Ray’s manager from a horror convention called “Days of the Dead” I had worked prior. I never get star struck because I’ve been working with celebrities for over ten years now but Ray Wise is someone who meant so much to me as a kid in his performance as Leland Palmer. When I found out that Ray was going to be a guest alongside me at this convention, I felt starstruck for the first time. By the end of that weekend, his assistant could tell that I was really excited and set it up to where Ray introduced Swamp Thing as part of my “Terror From The 80’s” series when the convention hit Atlanta. Before Ray introduced the film, I told my sentimental, childhood story about what Ray meant to me and it choked him up. Ray thanked me for it and asked the crowd if anyone was filming because he really wanted a copy. After that, we stayed in touch and a year ago, I saw Ray and Sheryl at a convention along with Kimmy Robertson and Harry Goaz. I requested that Fire Walk With Me be screened and I had made a two and a half hour fan edit of Season 3 of Twin Peaks. My idea was to show both and make it 5 hours of Twin Peaks, complete with introductions from Ray and Sheryl. They agreed and I met their manager, Mike and we hit it off really well and stayed in touch. So for this series, I gave their manager Mike a call to ask about Sheryl and after a moment of silence, asked about Ray coming too. I figured I would aim high and then when he came back to me with a price, I would bring it back down to just Sheryl. I told him my budget and somehow he made it work.
Tickets are still available for the four screenings of Fire Walk With Me: https://squareup.com/store/the-director-series
If you enjoyed this interview please be sure to check out some of our others!