As a writer and filmmaker who collaborates with other talented creators, Brandon Rhiness from Edmonton, Alberta, CA has an extensive catalog. From comic projects he’s released under his personal Higher Universe imprint to movies, he’s been very busy. His comics Misfits and Ghoul Squad, among many others, are available from Higher Universe on ComiXology.
The latest comics Higher Universe is releasing include a Stargirl graphic novel, containing the first 4 issues, Misfits #5, The Boy with a Balloon for a Head #2, and a Stoner Kid graphic novel.
Currently, Brandon Rhiness is crowdfunding for his project, Mental Case Episode 3, on IndieGoGo. He allowed me to give him an interview in order to learn more about this project, as well as his creative process in general.
Brian Barr: Thank you for agreeing to this interview! Let’s start with your current film project. What is Mental Case about?
Brandon Rhiness: Mental Case is about a woman named Elya Virk who is extremely weird and socially awkward. She really only seems comfortable when she’s fighting or committing a horrible act of violence. And she’s easily provoked into doing so. However, as violent as she can be, she still comes across as a sympathetic character.
BB: Who are your collaborators for this project?
BR: My main collaborators are Afton Rentz and Morgan Yamada. They are both professional actors and fight choreographers. Afton is my co-executive producer and she’s also the star of the show. Morgan acted in Episode 1 and also choreographs the fights.
We have a great team of actors and crew with many new faces joining the team for Mental Case 3.
BB: Can you tell us about the actors and actresses involved?
BR: All the actors on Mental Case are from Edmonton. There’s a great pool of talented people here to choose from and I’m happy that we got such a great bunch. There’s too many to name here, so check them out on imdb. Or in the films’ credits!
BB: What are your biggest inspirations for Mental Case?
BR: Recently, I’ve become fascinated with characters who speak very little or not at all. My comic book series “The Boy with a Balloon for a Head” is a perfect example of this.
I’m trying to tell a story and make an interesting character through all aspects other than dialogue. And Elya Virk is such a good character, I love writing her. It takes a great actor to pull off a role like this and make it interesting. Thankfully, Afton is amazing and able to pull it off.
BB: Since this is a local Edmonton project, how have you been getting word out in your community? Is Edmonton a supportive environment for artists and filmmakers?
BR: Yes! Edmonton is extremely supportive! It has shocked me a little bit to tell you the truth. Everything from finding cast and crew to securing locations and finding a theatre to host our premiere has been easy because people are excited and happy to be involved.
BB: Along with film making, you also write and produce comic books. What are some of the major similarities in writing for comics and movies? What are the major differences?
BR: They’re both forms of storytelling, so I like doing them both. Writing and producing movies is a little harder because all of a sudden you have to worry about a budget. It doesn’t take any more money to draw a spaceship versus a car. But if you want a spaceship in your movie instead of a car, it’s going to cost money.
Also, comics are told in still pictures and movies are moving pictures, so the actual writing is a little difference. There are things you can do in one medium that you can’t do in the other.
But for the most part I see them as very similar mediums and I love writing in both of them.
BB: Who are your favorite film makers and comic book writers? Feel free to include favorite films and comic series or characters as well.
BR: It’s funny, Quentin Tarantino was my original inspiration to make movies. After watching Reservoir Dogs in high school, I decided I wanted to make movies. In recent years, though, I began to really dislike Tarantino. But in the last couple years he’s started to grow on me again. Lol.
As for comics, I always have a fondness for old-school Punisher comics that I grew up with. He’s my favourite comic character and I’ve always liked Mike Baron and Chuck Dixon’s take on him.
BB: I love your comic projects, Misfits and Ghoul Squad in particular. You have a knack for writing monster characters and comedy, but you have a diverse body of work that goes into various terrains. Can you share a bit about your current comic projects, including the Stargirl tradeback/graphic novel you’re releasing?
BR: We have a few new things coming out. I’m particularly proud to finally have the 4-issue Stargirl graphic novel out. It was the first comic I ever published so it’s great to finally be able to hold a thick volume of it in my hands and be like “Wow. I wrote this!”
The movie thing is incredibly expensive, so lots of our funds have been diverted into those projects. That means for the next while the comics will be coming out on a slower basis.
But Ghoul Squad #3 is slowly being completed. All the pencils and inks are done, we’re just working on coloring and lettering.
The Stoner Kid graphic novel just came out featuring comic strips of stupid, immature stoner jokes.
The final issue of “The Boy with a Balloon for a Head” should be out in the next couple months.
And a solo issue of Elvis the Zombie will be out soon. Elvis is a supporting character in Misfits.
We also published a Mental Case comic book. We did a limited print run of 50 copies with a special cover (of Afton Rentz’s face). It will be for sale at the theatre premiere of Mental Case on April 28th. After that we’ll publish it with a different cover.
BB: Would you like Mental Case or any other of your film projects to be picked up for a television company, or are you looking to keep it as a web series?
BR: I’d love that! I’ve already pitched Mental Case as a series to a few production companies. I’m also writing it as a feature length film. Afton and I might sell it if we can, or if we can get funding, we can make it ourselves.
BB: The Higher Universe has been working hard on comic projects for years now. You’ve also been filming more projects. As a creator, you probably have a lot of experience that could help new creators. Any words of advice you can offer readers out there?
BR: Yeah, I’ve gotten to where I am by working hard and promoting the hell out of myself. And I’ve put an insane amount of money into my projects. You have to be willing to spend money to get anywhere in this industry.
When Adam Storoschuk and I began Higher Universe Comics, we spent money out of our paychecks to pay our artists, then we’d sell the comics to whoever would buy them and we’d reinvest the money to keep making more.
Just make cool stuff and promote yourself and you’ll do fine. Just don’t expect to be rich right away. If you’re in this business to be super-rich you’re probably in the wrong business. Lol.
Check out Brandon Rhiness’s Mental Case, and support his IndieGogo if you can!