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Nicholas Tana is a filmmaker with an impressive resume; he has worked as a journalist, a world-traveling musician, a playwright, a producer, and a director. He eventually started his own company called “Smart Media LLC” where he writes, directs, and produces commercials and films. His latest movie is a dark horror-comedy about a wickedly naughty feline titled “Hell’s Kitty.” Hilariously, this movie was directly inspired by Nicholas’ own extremely-jealous cat.

Nicholas recently spoke about his experiences making “Hell’s Kitty” and more via an exclusive interview.

Movies, films, and cats went bad

Meagan Meehan (MM): What was it that inspired you to get into filmmaking and how did you get your start as a paid movie maker?

Nicholas Tana (NT): I’ve always liked writing and music.

Film is a way that I can marry my love for writing stories with a passion for creating music. This is my second film, my first being a documentary. I like that I can work closely with the composers, even writing and performing songs as well. When I heard that a lot of directors do that, Charlie Chaplin supposedly performed much of music in his films, Clint Eastwood, and even John Carpenter both directed and composed scores, I was inspired to do the same. Great films have been inspirational to me as well as a filmmaker. The power of a movie me someplace else; to inspire; to see things differently is just magical. Each film is like a world onto itself; a lifetime. The ability to create and live many lives in one life time is the closest thing to reincarnation, and that is what I get out of being a filmmaker.

I started as a child making horror Movies in an abandoned house with a video camera, and a classmate. We’d edited the action in camera. We’d literally freeze, and continue recording at different angles. The house itself appeared haunted, too. I was utterly abandoned. We smashed windows, and everything. It was fun! Years later, I won an essay competition in college, and became the only paid production assistant, who wasn’t a communications major, who got to work for the PBS station on campus. It led to my getting production work for ESPN after graduating, where I worked my way up to being an Associate Director in about six months. I later quit a few years later to start my own production company because I really wanted to make movies not work in sport television. I’ve been working independently as a filmmaker one way or another since.

I first got paid to make a movie when I worked on a martial arts sports promo for Madison Square Garden. The first time I got paid for a feature movie was when I got my first check from the distributor of my documentary.

I remember seeing it come in the mail, and thinking this is it? Fortunately, there was more to come, as we ended up being a top seller for Amazon in 2016. It’s nice to get those checks once in a while out of the blue. I still get them every quarter.

MM: How did the concept for “Hell’s Kitty” dawn on you and what do you most enjoy about this zany, funny, and mostly true story?

NT: I really lived with my cat--ironically named Angel--and she really hated anyone who I brought home to the apartment; especially, if they showed any sort of romantic interest in me! In fact, the actress Lisa in the movie was actually a girl that I once dated a few times, who was really scratched by Angel. Adam was also really my next door neighbor. I lived where we shot eighty percent of the film footage. My name is Nick, and I work as a writer, too. You can say the movie is very much autobiographical. I just added more blood, and supernatural elements to tell the story. The struggle I experienced trying to find love in L.A. with a cat that was possessive, and rumored to be possessed. I remember when buying the domain for HellsKitty.com that the salesperson person inquired about what I had planned to use the domain name for before sharing with me his own problems with having a possessive cat. The subject of the film is universally appealing. Many pet owners have similar issues; they too live in denial that their animals can do any wrong. It was also fun to speculate about what would happen to someone who’s pet actually was possessed. I also liked the idea of creating a world in which all these other iconic characters from other horror movies, converged, in an original story line. In a world of so many copy cat formulaic horror stories, I don’t think there is another story quite like this one.

MM: How involved were you in “Hell’s Kitty” casting?

NT: I cast the movie myself and wrote the character roles; so I would say one hundred percent. Most of the lead characters were real people in my life. As for the more celebrated actors, I reached out to my favorite cult icons and tried to pepper this film with as many of them as possible. The role Michael Berryman played was written four times for other folks before he agreed to take on the part. Kevin Smith was supposed to do it but bailed. Louis Ferrigno also initially showed serious interest, but he wanted way too much money. Even James Hong, as I know his nephew, and wrote a role for them both, but he was too busy working on a major Hollywood movie at the time.

In the end, Michael Berryman agreed to do it, and he was most definitely the best man fort he job. However, each time I was rejected, I had to tweak the script to reflect the new actor who might be playing the part. In one case, Tony Todd almost agreed to play a Handy Man, who would pop up everytime his name was mentioned five times. I regret his not agreeing to take the role. His manager wanted too much money. It was a shame because I really had a strange gelatinous substance leak from my bedroom, which my real handyman discovered was coming from a beehive lodged in my bedroom ceiling. I took footage of the bee keeper who I hired to remove it.

Later, I wrote a script in which Tony Todd’s Handyman character was attacked by bees, in a tribute to his character as The Candyman. It was sad I couldn’t get him to do it. It would have been awesome.

Working in entertainment and advice

MM: So, what is the best part of being involved in the movie portion of the entertainment industry, what’s coming up for you in the future, and do you have any advice to offer?

NT: I love being able to work with people I grew up watching on TV or in the theater. I also like building worlds and seeing something that was in my imagination come alive. Watching an army of folks gather to manifest a fictional world is surreal and amazing. It’s like being able to play pretend as an adult, and getting paid to do it.

I’d like to think that in a few years I’ll be producing a hot TV series on television, with a couple of cool books (both fiction and none fiction) published; maybe, even on the best-seller list. I’d also like to get involved in creating virtual reality worlds. I think this is going to shape change the entertainment industry. Now as a writer, all that world building and back story, which usually never gets included in the final product, becomes the central focus. People will connect and interact in new ways through virtual reality world building. It’s more like a date with your audience; only you don’t have to be the only one talking. It’s going to be interesting.

I already have one movie on Amazon. It’s a documentary on our touchy relationship with self-pleasure (aka masturbation) called “Sticky: A (Self) Love Story.“ I also recently finished writing a psychological thriller about a radio psychologist who uncovers what she suspects is a deadly plot by a pharmaceutical company to control people using prescription drugs. I’m also shopping a unique TV pilot set in Harlem Renaissance New York during the 1920s while working on a PSA for “Heal The Bay,” a sequel, and parody of “Jaws“ called “Straws” which is part of a Strawless Summer Campaign. Also very deal with my heart is the idea of turning “Hell’s Kitty” into a musical and perhaps a TV series, too. I’ve already written a whole new season with exciting twists and turns!

Regarding advice, I would recommend that they learn their craft by making movies. Today, it is a lot easier than ever to get equipment affordably, which can do virtually everything you need it to do to make a movie. Smart phones are now virtual production studios. If you really like filmmaking, you should do it, and let nothing stop you.

MM: Finally, given your horrific experiences, why should someone own a cat? Sell us!

NT: Cats bring a magic to your life. Angel’s mother ended up on my doorstep. I took her in because she would have died, otherwise. She was pregnant, and starving; she needed help to survive. I named her Hope because she was pregnant, and the vet said, she couldn’t test her for feline AIDS and leukemia because it was stress out the babies, and so I was hoping it would all turn out alright. One day, Hope had a tiny litter, and the babies came out healthy. I kept one of them and named her Angel. After I had Angel, my life took a turn for the better.

I sold a children’s animation show, and was able to quit by day job producing and writing a business show for Thunderbird School of Management. Shortly after that, I got financed on my first film. Angel inspired this latest film, too, and is the real star. I’m convinced that if you allow a cat into your life, you’ll be blessed. Not to mention, the fact that they are pretty autonomous, come already potty trained, kill rodents and creepy crawly things, and are super fun to cuddle with, too.