Filmmaker Cindy Cullom has spent over three decades in the film industry beginning her career as an actress working with some of our greatest visionaries like Stephen King and David Lynch. Over time, Cindy has taken her passion for film and the horror and sci-fi genre to new levels. From acting to special effects to producing, this year she will put on the hat of Director. Over the years that she has spent in the film industry she has also worked as an airline pilot, and is proof that not even the sky’s the limit to what you can achieve for yourself.
We are dying to know why you wanted to become a pilot, and how that went along with doing special effects and producing films.
Cindy: You know, I was a military brat. My dad wasn’t a pilot though. In fact, I’m the first pilot in my family. But as a child, we traveled a bit and I always loved when we flew, especially the take offs. And I loved airshows! So from a very early age, I wanted to fly. When I was in my mid 20s, I finally got up the nerve to say it out loud. I was working as an actress back then, and everybody said I was crazy. But I was determined to go to flight school so I had all my friends over for a garage sale; sold all my stuff and began a new chapter in my life. And that was 28 years ago. Once established in a pretty fantastic career as an airline pilot, a friend who had started directing films said: “Let’s make some films together.” He said: “I know you know how to make things happen.” He knew of my artistic past, which had always been a big part of my life. He asked me to make a creature; Shadow Man, for a film. So I did and he was beautiful! I then said “That was fun! What’s next?” And he said: “Can you create a 15 feet tall skeleton man?” From that point on, I was a girl with two careers! The airline that I fly for is so supportive of what I am doing. I always smile when the mechanics see me and say “What’s up, Hollywood?”
It’s been such a positive experience. I’m very lucky to be fortunate enough to have two amazing careers that I love! I have so many amazing people around me in both film and the airlines that respect and appreciate that I do both. And as long as the universe allows it, I’ll always do both! And then I began producing and did really well with that and am now also a director.
I’m curious to know how you got started in the film industry. Would you share with us a little about that?
Cindy: I went to college in Wilmington, NC and in 1984, a production for a film called The Fix had come to town to film at race car driver, Hoss Ellington’s home. A friend of mine, who was working on the production, set up a meeting for me. After having met with the producer, Ervin Melton, I landed my first role as a background actor. On the film, I became friends with Hollywood greats Vince Edwards (Ben Casey) and Charlie Dierkop (Police Woman, Bonanza).
After we wrapped filming on The Fix; Vince, his wife Sandy, Charlie and I went out to dinner and during that dinner, Charlie told me how it was not a far fetched dream to want to make films. Many people around me had laughed at me for even considering that and had told me to get my head out of the clouds. I found out that Dino De Laurentiis was building a film studio in Wilmington, and was encouraged to get involved as it was starting up. Vince and Charlie inspired me by opening my eyes to what was possible. The studio was built; DEG Studios, which is now EUE/Screen Gems, and I was right there ready to go. And you know what? I had no clue what I was doing, but there I was! And so many big productions filmed at those studios. I am so grateful to have gotten to work with some of the most amazing people in the industry on some fantastic films, such as Stephen King on Firestarter with Drew Barrymore and Heather Locklear, as well as his films Cat’s Eye and Silver Bullet.
I worked with David Lynch on Blue Velvet starring Isabella Rossellini and Laura Dern. I absolutely loved working with Alan Alda on Betsy’s Wedding along with his star filled cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Catherine O’Hara and Joey Bishop. And then of course, there was The Exorcist III. Getting to play one of the infamous nurses in that, was so much fun.
Who and what inspired you to go from acting to all of a sudden start making creatures and special effects?
Cindy: I met E.T creator, Carlo Rambaldi on the set of Silver Bullet. A friend of mine had told me earlier that if Carlo asks about E.T, to tell him I loved it. Carlo walked over and, indeed, asked: “Did you see E.T?” I said “Yes.” He said “Did you cry?” I said “Yes.”
He smiled at me and went back to work.
From that day on, Carlo and I became great friends. One day he told me that he would show me how he had come up with E.T. He sat down with me and started drawing a picture of his cat and how that progressed into becoming E.T. I had no idea at the time, just how special that was and what an impression that had on me. Carlo inspired me through his talent, skill and generosity to venture into the world of creature making and practical effects. I have a lot to thank him for. I have since created a lot of effects and quite a few creatures. My most recent project was the film Crossbreed with Vivica Fox and Daniel Baldwin for which I created the aliens and all the practical effects. It is always rewarding to see your work get positive reviews in media as well.
You began producing films as you were also the effects artist. How did that come about?
Cindy: Well, those who know me know that I’m not one to sit back and be quiet when I see something that needs fixing. A problem would come up and I kept coming up with solutions which then earned me a producer credit. Soon after I was brought on to projects as a producer. I started producing for the production company, Seraph Films and have worked with them on several award winning projects. The series, Horror Haiku, which I served as producer on, became a highly popular fan favorite. I love being a part of a film from concept to completion.
You will be taking on directing this year, on a film you also serve as executive producer on. Tell us about that.
Cindy: The film is a sci-fi drama called The Newcomers and it will be co produced by Nvisionate Studios where most of it also will be filmed. The Newcomers is written by award winning screenwriter, Joe Wakefield. It is a beautifully written story set in the near future when the world is co-run by aliens; The Newcomers. They have arrived to help save (us and) the planet by enforcing new regulations when it comes to dealing with overpopulation. It deals with the impact other people’s (the government) decisions have on our lives. Which of course has parallels to our current political climate. At the center of the story we find Amy (played by the phenomenal Jannica Olin) and her husband David, who are faced with the decision to sacrifice their desire to start a family in return for a secure future by taking Step 2; a process of becoming sterile. But sometimes, the decisions we make for the sake of family, don’t always turn out how we want. The controversy of the story will be brought to light in a comedic way by the talented Tanya Gorlow and Edward Gusts. I have so many talented cast and crew members lined up. I am very fortunate to have them all along on this journey! And to be able to produce this film with Nvisionate is a dream.
Can’t wait to watch it! And rumor has it that you already have another project lined up for when The Newcomers is complete. Are you able to share about that, or is that under wraps for now?
Cindy: Not at all. After The Newcomers we will begin pre-production on the anthology series, Dream Themes which Jannica Olin is signed on for as well. We are looking to create an ensemble cast for the series, much like what Ryan Murphy has done with American Horror Story; where the core cast get to take on and play vastly different characters. In our case it will be episode to episode as opposed to season to season. I couldn’t be more excited.