You may or may not be familiar with Les Mahoney’s recent indie film Mike Case In: The Big Kiss Off, currently streaming on Amazon. His new release, At Granny’s House, premieres this May, and while he’s a relative newcomer to the indie scene, Les brings a broad new perspective to the filmmaking pursuit.
Black Maria: What got you into film?
Les Mahoney: I spent 20 years in the Air Force. I was an imagery analyst; I looked at aerial photographs. I had assignments all over – California, Hawaii, Washington, D.C. (and) had a special duty assignment in Venezuela, a year in Korea. I did a temporary duty assignment as an inspector for the INF treaty by Reagan and Gorbechev eliminating nuclear weapons. That was really awesome.
When I retired from the Air Force, I accepted a job as a defense contractor in D.C., but first I had six months of travel planned. In Copper Canyon, I met a guy who filled my head full of adventure travel. I’d just gotten my MBA in international business and I debated with myself for a couple of months whether to take that job in DC or start on a new, more adventurous path. I ended up moving to Mexico and starting a tour company, which still exists.
I saw a play in Antigua in 2005 and thought acting looked like it might be fun. I had never given it a thought until then. I found out almost immediately that I loved it. I’d never done any drama in my life, ever. I took a month-long conservatory class in LA, 4-hours a day. Here I am, 45 at that point, and by the end of that first month, I remember standing on the stage ready to do a scene, realizing that I’d rather be here than out in the audience. That was my epiphany.
That led to the normal story: getting started, making lots of mistakes, and that led naturally to filmmaking because it’s accessible. Mike Case In: The Big Kiss Off is the first feature I’d produced.
BM: What is your favorite part of filmmaking?
LM: The collaboration is my favorite part. I just love taking a script and creating a team and everybody’s got their own piece to contribute – their own ideas. As long as you maintain a consistency of vision, everyone’s ideas can fit. It’s a synergy where the whole is much bigger than the parts.
BM: What are some things you’ve learned about the craft of filmmaking?
LM: The first one is, you get the script where you like it and then you have to take it to the next level after that. You have to be really clear on making the script as good as it can possibly be. Sometimes, like with Granny’s House, the script — I’m really happy with, but if I’d spent a little more time it could have been even better. Sometimes there’s no way around it because you set a schedule and you’ve got to pull the trigger, you can’t just keep writing.
BM: How has your life influenced your filmmaking?
LM: I’ve always loved film. I never thought I’d be involved in it. You wouldn’t think military experience ties into anything on the creative side, but it actually was really good for both my tour company and filmmaking, the organization, the logistics. I think some people get into the production side of it and they get overwhelmed. You have to be able to put it all together and have the confidence to know you can.
BM: What’s next for you?
LM: I’ve got ideas for several new projects. I’m going to shoot one this summer and I’m writing another one I hope to shoot early next year. My original goal was to get “Mike Case” out there, At Granny’s House and my next film, Available, and then I’d have three of them out there making money, so then I’ll be able to get investors for my bigger budget one, $300K, so I can point to these films that I’ve done that are out there commercially making money, to show investors that we can do this.
BM: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
LM: Take the bull by the horns. It’s not like it’s a closed system anymore. I’m going to shoot my next film on an iPhone 6. All the technology is accessible, the distribution is accessible. You can find the people you need. The key is persistence and knowing that you can do it, and creating a team, meeting good people and talking to good people and making them excited about your project. If you have a good project that’s worthwhile, other people will think so too.