“Shoot ’Em Up” Director Gets Down & Tricky with his Adult Animated Feature “Nixed”
How. To change. It up.
Real-life hijacker Sam Byck attempts to fly a 747 into the White House to assassinate President Nixon. “Tricky Dick” believes the same shadow government that killed JFK is now trying to off him. Nixon sleuths his way through multiple suspects and theories in an attempt to solve the mystery of John F. Kennedy’s slaying to save the country and himself from getting “nixed.”
Throw in mind-boggling plot points like — hijacking assassin Byck; JFK dropping acid and screwing blondes in the White House; secret crossdresser and blackmailer extraordinaire J. Edgar Hoover’s paranoia; racist Texas oil barons despising JFK for loving Martin Luther “Coon”; the Secret Service wiping down JFK’s limo crime scene to hide evidence; the CIA, worried by JFK’s appeasement to the commies, coordinating a smoke screen to hide the truth of JFK’s murder; and, Bill Clinton spying for the CIA — and Nixed is an alternative take on history.
However, Davis confesses that 95% of what may initially seem bonkers, is actually true, explaining: “I liked director Oliver Stone’s movie JFK, but I found in my research so many wild, crazy, funny, and ‘true’ events related to the JFK assassination that I just loved and put in my film. I had no agenda and had no axe to grind as to who or who was not involved in the killing. I just wanted to put the most entertaining facts in my story.”
Hello and presto, you have the intriguing premise of Nixed, a satirical comedy/mystery, and adult animation that cleverly speculates in an alternative history. Wittily written, directed and animated by Michael Davis, it’s a far and innovative cry from his two most known filmed projects: writing/directing the widely praised Eight Days a Week, a loosely autobiographical, coming-of-age story starring Keri Russell, which won the Audience Award at the 1997 Slamdance Film Festival; and, also writing/directing the octane fueled action thriller, Shoot ’Em Up, starring mercurial Clive Owen.
So, what connects Shoot ’Em Up to the inventive, somewhat subversive adult animation of Nixed?
After graduating USC, Davis apprenticed under several top directors as a storyboard artist, including a turn as storyboard artist on the groundbreaking Pee Wee’s Playhouse, and the hugely successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie. Many years later, after writing/directing his first features, he drew 17,000 drawings to create fifteen minutes of previz animation to plan all of the action sequences for his Shoot ’Em Up project. This animation convinced Clive Owen to jump onboard to star in the film.
Jump forward to today. Amping up his animation artistry in Nixed, over the past four years Davis has worked seven days a week, sometimes eighteen hours a day, to draw thousands of images all by himself to conjure up an alchemic brew to bring Nixed to life.
So, how did he slide into the world of political intrigue, and what are his hopes for adult animated screened projects, generally?
— First off, what’s the basic message of Nixed?
— Nixed is a reminder that we always need to be vigilant to protect our democracy. Our crazy times with Trump isn’t the first time our democracy has been under siege. The killing of JFK was also an attack on democracy.
— How did you get interested in American presidents?
— When I was a kid, I loved the board game Landslide — a roll-and-move election game. This got me interested in presidential elections. In fifth grade I begged my parents to let me stay up until 1 a.m. to watch the presidential elections. I even campaigned for Nixon (in my ignorance) and passed on Nixon pamphlets (I know, right?!). I never geeked out reading prez biographies, as I’m more of a fiction guy. But, in my research on Nixed, I discovered fact was stranger than fiction. In fact…95% of what you read in the synopsis is true. I just riffed on the facts.
— With the January 06 Committee hearings now looking into former President Trump’s involvement, like the Watergate hearings looked into Nixon, how did you come to focus on JFK and Nixon?
— Firstly, growing up, I was a fan of “Herblock” (Herbert Lawrence Block) and his political cartoons in the Washington Post, and I always wanted to make an animated political cartoon. Then, a political junkie friend wanted to do a story about behind the scenes at the White House. We batted ideas around and ended up thinking that JFK and Nixon were the most interesting characters. They knew each other well, even having Senate offices opposite each other. That classic PBS series, I, Claudius, which was a masterful portrayal of the Roman Empire and the families that ruled it, came up in conversation. It’s almost an allegory of current times. We also liked the idea of having an unreliable narrator, and doing an alternative history. Nixon was perfect for the unreliable narrator. Moreover, I am a fan of the mystery genre, and JFK’s murder is the most famous murder mystery of all time. Thus, Nixed, formerly titled Fun with Dick and John, was born.
— Budgetary concerns seem key, so why else did you choose to animate Nixed?
— Yes, from a budgetary standpoint making it animated made Nixed affordable. But I also had to upgrade my animation skills, so I could create the CGI animation featured in the film. As for the growth of adult animated content, in general, it has been prevalent in Europe and Japan for a long while already. In the U.S., we’re slower to embrace it — I wish that American audience’s taste would expand. They still like jokey, if successful series, like The Simpsons, South Park, Archer, and Family Guy. But there’s still a boring same-ness and safe-ness to our adult animated content. I wish audiences, networks and distributors got excited about more serious and smarter adult animation.
— Where is Nixed at, right now?
— We’re just beginning to look at distribution options. We recently presented a two-hour movie version at Annecy International Animation Film Festival to great response. But we also have a three-hour version, cut into eight episodes of 22–24 minutes in length.
— How much fun did you have creating Nixed?
— I’ve had the best time of my life the past several years. Making Nixed has been the ultimate auteur filmmaking experience. I only had one person to answer to, my investor; otherwise, I had total control — writing, directing, producing, and hand-drawing the animation. I taught myself Maya and did all of the CGI myself — along with learning Final Cut Pro and Pro Tools. I edited the film and helped with the sound design. I feel so empowered. Nobody can stop me from making films. I will just animate them myself.
Michael Davis is currently developing two additional animated features — a wild rock n’ roll musical and a sci-fi spin on Shoot ’Em Up, in addition to creating some hot property NFTs. Check out the official website of Nixed, and the official trailer.