I was recently able to discuss the amazing web series Who is Mr. Tom? with creator/director/writer Michael Laicini. He gives us a lot of insight into the mysterious Mr. Tom, as well as the future of the franchise.
For those of you who missed it, I did a story on Mr. Tom here. If you haven’t watched the videos yet, please do, they’re very entertaining and have gathered quite a following. They’ve gotten attention from the SyFy channel, as well as composer Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill).
Without further ado, a look into the mind behind Mr. Tom:
Can you give us a little background on Mr. Tom? How did he come to be?
In one sense, it happened in a flash.
One day, I was alone and daydreaming while commuting on a train, and the image of a faceless man in a bowler cap and fine english suit (and the name Mr. Tom) just popped into my head. I couldn’t shake the image, it haunted me. It also made me incredibly sad.
I spent some time imagining what it would be like to to have a disfigurement that frightens people and on top of that not being able to speak. How extremely frustrating and painful!
The idea that he was also an exorcist, who can take demons into his body took form quickly (because I absolutely love horror movies) and after that everything else just began to flow.
I wrote a few drafts of the movie on my own, then David Amito (a wonderful actor and co-writer of the final script) got involved and really helped shape and polish it.
Then we set-out to create (on a nothing budget) the web series that we would use to generate interest in the character and help us find a Feature Film deal. Mostly shot with an I-Phone and edited/mixed at home.
But In another sense, I feel Mr. Tom and his world are all cumulative. Meaning, even though he came to me in a flash — that flash was born from a lifetime of watching horror movies; growing up on Steven Spielberg; having read dozens and dozens of scary books (from R.L Stine to Edgar Allen Poe, to Stephen King…) and creeping the internet for the most twisted/bizarre videos I can find… I am a horror junkie, always seeking out the next big thing, the next freaky-high. It worked out that I just so happened to create it. (does that make me a horror Heisenberg?) I LOVE Mr. Tom. The script is SO good. And I’m saying that as bonafide horror junkie… not just for the sake of self promotion.
I have to say, I love that most of the videos are only a few minutes long, it really gives it that “this could be true” feeling, was this intentional?
Absolutely. From the onset we knew the key was brevity for many reasons. We wanted the series to have that “just one more” energy, since they’re so short and easy to digest.
f you do a general search for “faceless man sighting” on youtube you’ll find a SERIES of videos of “sightings of Mr. Tom” that we shot all over the place, some in Toronto, some in New York. We planted them all over the internet…to drive people crazy.
There have been people who’ve messaged us thinking Mr. Tom was real.
We weren’t always sure how to handle those inquiries. One guy wanted Mr. Tom to travel across the country to help him with a demonic situation. I got a series of increasingly unnerving messages from that person.
A producer from a television program called Fact or Faked from the syfy network went CRAZY for one of the sightings videos of Mr. Tom. He was convinced I had captured a “shape shifter” on camera, in “mid-shift”. He went on about how there’s a secret society of shape shifters living on Earth and are secretly in control… I went along with it thinking it’d be great if they put one of our sightings videos on their nationally syndicated television program! Our negotiations went as far as me speaking with one of the producers who wanted to do an entire episode on my “sighting” and fly me out to New York and help them recreate it. This would have been great publicity for Mr. Tom but when I realized how far he wanted to take this I had to break it to him that none of this is what he thinks. He was very disappointed. It felt like I told somebody there was no Santa. On one hand I regret not going through with it, but at least I don’t go on record as a nationally syndicated liar. Not a great way to start a career in film. Well. At least not in my opinion.
The days of being able to fool people into thinking something is real are long gone when it comes to the internet though — sadly I say.. because there’s something magical about that feeling. We’ve all been tricked/conned too many times. But whether or not you believe it’s real it shouldn’t matter, because Mr. Tom is a captivating character. We have had fans who “go along” with the fantasy, we would even create videos of Mr. Tom answering questions people put on our Facebook. We had a lot of fun interacting with our fans “in character”. If you dig deeper onto our YouTube channel you can find those videos too.
Mr. Tom has become quite a success as of late, how did you feel when people started dressing up as the character and sending fan art?
Amazing. Truly amazing. We love our fans dearly. And they love Mr. Tom. It’s wild to think there were little Mr. Tom’s running around on Halloween. Girls especially love Mr. Tom. Our most intense reactions have been from the female fan base. One group of girls created bracelets that said “We (heart) Mr. Tom. Face your fear” and handed them out at school. Some have done artwork and fan fiction.
I won’t go into too many details, but we received a heartfelt message from a fan who binge-watched the entire web series and related so deeply to Mr. Tom’s story — she said he made her re-think committing suicide.
So yes. The fan response is incredible. And if nothing else comes of this project, it was worth creating for that response alone.
You’ve put together such a great cast; the actress who plays Helen O’Meara was just phenomenal. Will any of them be in the feature length movie?
It’s possible. I love my cast and some of them have been involved in previous productions — The woman who plays Helen O’Meara is a VERY talented actress named Denise DeSanctis. I met her on a short film I directed a few years ago. She’s incredible. Same with the Elisabeth Lagerlof who played her daughter. I did a little acting myself, I was the filmmaker. I hope to never have to act again. I did it strictly for budgetary and practical reasons.
Although, the experience of being punched and strangled by a character who came from my imagination is something I’m happy to have had.
Casting on the feature film is all up in the air right now, for every role except Mr. Tom — David Amito is Mr. Tom. As far as I’m concerned he was born to play that role. If Steven Spielberg (my idol) came down from the heavens and said Michael, I will finance this picture, but you have to recast Mr. Tom. I’d have to say (respectfully) no to Steven Spielberg.
What do you have going on right now?
I love haunted house movies and stories, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I feel like every. single. one of them. are the exact same story. A formula.
A Couple/Family moves into a strange place. They realize its haunted. They freak out and ask for help. Might hire a professional. Do a little investigating. The last act of the movie is always the same –an exorcism, or ceremony to help the spirit move on, people die, or live and escape the house.
The Conjuring was really great, but it was the same as every other haunted house story I’d ever consumed. I want to see something different. So I set out to write something that plays with that formula.
I’ve pitched it as The Conjuring meets Her.
The script is finished and we really, really love it. It’s the haunted house movie I’ve been waiting to see my entire life. We’re waiting on some grant applications to see if we can finance it.
Recently composer Akira Yamaoka of Silent Hill fame, he composed the music for the first four games — he read the script and loves it. He has said he’d LOVE to compose the music for this film, which is incredible, because I was listening to his music while writing it — if you’ve never heard his music check it out. There’s nothing like it. I’m honoured to have an artist like Akira attached to the project. We’re developing this movie now, looking for financiers and distribution.
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