Filmmaker Mike Olenick: In Luck

Mike Olenick's film Red Luck screens at Beeler Gallery at CCAD. When Red Luck comes to CCAD on Wednesday, March 30, you may notice some familiar scenery in the background of this “perverse psychosexual thriller” from Mike Olenick (CCAD 2000). Olenick, 37, shot his newest film in and around Harrison West, where he currently lives (and where he lived for part of his time at CCAD).

“There’s nothing scarier than filming a horror film in your own neighborhood,” Olenick says. “Horror movies are often set at summer camps or other places where you’re not likely to go. I’m more interested in the scary places lurking all around us every day.”

Red Luck (2014) has already racked up a slew of awards, including Best Experimental Short at the 2015 Slamdance Film Festival, Best Looking Film at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Expanded Cinema Award at the Hollywood Underground Film Festival. In advance of Red Luck’s screening here, Olenick, who is also an editor in the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Studio Program, discussed his time at CCAD and his work as a filmmaker. Read on below, and get ready to see Red Luck.

Q: What was your time at CCAD like? And how did it affect you as a filmmaker?

A: I met a bunch of really creative people at CCAD that I consider to be great, lifelong friends. Literally one of the first people I met in the dorm is my best friend for life. I feel like I was at the right place at the right time, and I’m still in touch with many of these people today. On occasion I’ve been able to enlist their help in making my own films, too. I made a music video a year ago, and the person who got me involved in that project was a good friend from CCAD.

When I was at CCAD, I was a Media Studies major, which housed photography, film and video. My emphasis was in photography, and my approach to movies came out of my interest in using a camera to record images. It was at CCAD that I made the first thing that I would even consider a movie, a video called Heston of the Apes. It’s a re-edit of Planet of the Apes focusing on only the moments where Charlton Heston speaks. You can do that kind of thing really easily now, but in the late '90s, it was nearly impossible to make something like that unless you had access to equipment in a production facility or a school. Being alone in the room with the switcher and saying, “Oh, what can I do with this?” was a formative experience for how I think about making movies.

Q: Let’s talk about Red Luck. How would you describe it?

A: I like to call it a perverse psychosexual thriller, which is slightly misleading, but there’s also some truth to that. It’s a rather mysterious film that was inspired by a dream of mine. I woke up one morning and remembered this really weird, bizarre story. I kept thinking about it because a lot of it took place near where I lived. When I’d go outside I’d find it impossible to not think about what I had dreamt. Two or three months later it dawned on me: “That’s your next film.” So there’s no surprise that there’s a dream logic to the movie. Red Luck is a little bit surreal at times. The film gravitates between being really dark — there are serial killers in the movie — to being almost stupid and goofy. My hope is that those extremes work together to build the tension that is at the core of the film. 

One of the key people who helped out behind the scenes is an alum from the MFA program, Liz Roberts (CCAD 2014). The first time I met her I welcomed her into my house and literally handed her my camera. I think she was terrified, but she didn’t blink an eye. She able to film some things that I couldn’t have done alone. In making almost all my films, I find myself contacting someone that I met at CCAD, or someone who’s gone to CCAD.


Continue your Luck-y streak. Find Red Luck’s trailer here.


Red Luck screens at the Canzani Center Screening Room at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, followed by a Q&A with director Mike Olenick. The event is free and open to the public.