“Leech on the Beach!” – the making of Mind Leech

The “On Set 7”: The core group of the movie. (L-R): Kyrie, Hugh, Bartosz, Ivory, Mischa, Paul and Chris. Pic by Ivory

A friend on Facebook posted about a horror film he’d seen called Mind Leech. After scoping out the trailer, I took the plunge and rented the film from the movie’s website. I found a lovely little film out of Canada, whose attitude more than made up for its low-budget. I reached out to the makers, and directors Chris Cheeseman and Paul Krysinski were more than happy to talk about their brain-sucking baby, the perils of handcuffs, and… yes, “Leech on the Beach”. What follows has been lightly edited for clarity.

I was sold on Mind Leech by the title. But what would you say to convince someone to watch it?

Chris: If cheesy low-budget horror with a side of humour is your thing, I think you’ll like it. 
Paul: Please, watch our movie!

Both your backgrounds are in special effects. What inspired you to make your own damn movie?

Chris: I was inspired by the talent of my friends and workmates. Having ideas and knowing how to put them into action, from both personal experience and knowing the right people.

Paul: I’ve been shooting movies since I was a young lad in the Ottawa Valley, so making a feature was always part of my gameplan. As for MIND LEECH in particular, it was simply because Cheeseman asked me to.

Where did the idea of the Leech come from?

Chris: I wish I had a good answer for this question but I honestly don’t remember. It’s just an idea that stuck….
To my head!

Paul: I guess it just wriggled out of Cheeseman’s brain somehow.

How did having two directors work, and how were duties assigned?

Chris: Duties we’re not assigned but more just organically came about. I had originally asked Paul to be “my first monster”. At some point he asked me if I had an editor in mind, and if he could throw his name in the hat. Bang, now Paul’s an acting editor. Originally Mind Leech was going to be 90% shot on 1 big piece of property, but that fell through at the last minute. At first, I thought the project was devastated by this loss. The show must go on! I scrambled to find other locations. We started shooting the fishing hut stuff first. Things did not go smoothly off the top and I quickly realized losing the first location was actually a blessing: it was too remote, we would have to do our own snow removal, and probably couldn’t get the RV close to set. The original location, while beautiful, would have probably sunk the project.

[L-R] Mischa, Chris, Paul with the Leech on and Bartosz. Pic by Ivory
So we’re shooting the fishing hut stuff and starting to find our roles. I would block the scenes but then Bartosz (the film’s cinematographer) would have questions about lenses, shot composition, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really understand. Paul would know what shots he wanted to edit with, so I had the two of them do the talking about that stuff. Also, since there was the location scramble, I had insurance paperwork, locations to find, and other production stuff that needed doing. There was very limited cell service up there. I would have to leave in order to take care of business and keep the ball rolling. In time I would refer to myself as the producing/director and Paul as the directing/DP. Early in the process, I recall Paul expressing concern about “stepping on my toes” creatively. I imagine my reply was, “Paul, I don’t care”.

Paul: That pretty much covers it; I was originally coming out for what I thought would be a brief acting gig, then everything grew from there. It quickly became evident that Cheese would be inundated with a lot of logistical stuff so I stepped in. I certainly didn’t want to undermine any of his direction or step on his toes, as it was still his project, so we had a brief chat. Cheeseman is very gracious and humble, so there was never an issue.

Steff Conover is a joy to watch as TJ. How did she come on board?

Chris: I’ve always known her as Ivory and she was actually the last to join Team Leech.  Check her out here to bring yourself up to date with the force that is Ivory. Anyway, I had everyone I needed for the project except a #1. Everyone else had come into the fold organically except the most important role. The character that ties Mind Leech and its sequels together. I typed up a casting call – and was about to start posting it – but decided to send it to a friend first, asking “Know anybody that fits this description?”. She replied “Yes, my boss, Ivory”. I was immediately sold.

I had considered her previously, but didn’t have a personal connection so I didn’t reach out. We had a phone conversation, which was basically me laying down the reality of the situation (doing your own makeup, your green room is your vehicle, it’s gonna be outside, it’s gonna be cold, no script, driving shots, gunplay….) and she was into it. I had done most of the talking and by the end of the conversation she asked if we’d do an interview or something. I told her I had made up my mind before calling and Bang! #1 Position Filled! I love what Ivory brought to the screen but she also made my life easier by being so multi-talented. Familiarity with firearms, winter driving, makeup, stage/camera presence, and a great attitude to boot! If we get to Mind Leech 3, I’ll definitely write in some horseback riding and fire breathing!

Paul: Ivory is awesome. We lucked out with her. She brought such a positive, energetic presence to set every day, and I think that’s reflected on screen. She’s just one of those real people. Cheeseman attracts those types of people. Frankly, the whole cast and crew is evidence of that. I agree, Mind Leech 3 needs Ivory galloping down the street blowing baddies away and breathing fire…maybe throw in a little archery.

Chris: Aaaahhhhh I forgot archery! YES. Flaming archery from Horseback!

It looks like a very chilly shoot. Were there any particular problems resulting from this?

Chris: It was as cold as it looks. No Hollywood movie magic there. The number 1 issue with the cold was the prosthetic glue for the Leech/head attachment. In retrospect we should have rehearsed a Leech/head attachment before being out on the pond. To say it didn’t go smoothly might be an understatement, wouldn’t you say, Paul….

Paul: Ha! Yes, well it was a learning experience. Though the glue didn’t want to hold onto the giant, heavy, silicone Leech, it certainly wanted to hold onto my skin and hair! Side note: fishing line does not feel nice tied to your head…you can ask Mischa about that too.

The shot of the Leech shooting out of the water like an arrow feels like it might have been the toughest to pull off. Was that the case, and how was it done?

Chris: It was an interesting one! We had a second hole in the ice, outside the front of the fishing hut. Bare hands in ice water, Chris Cooper (maker of the Leech) at the hole keeping tension on the Leech to keep it from floating up. We had fishing line running from the Leech, over Paul’s shoulder, and through the space between the boards to me behind the hut. See Paul’s sketch. 

Now I’ll tell you of the hardest shot to pull off! *SPOILER ALERT* The few seconds of the Leech puppeteering at the end of the movie. We shot this in the spring, after principal photography. In theory this was going to be a fun half day that we called “Leech on the Beach”. It was just myself, Paul, Hugh, and Bartosz. For the last 3 days of winter shooting, I had rented a dead-end road in Pickering that ends on the beach. While we could have just used any beach, a closer beach perhaps, I thought we might as well go back to the same one in Pickering.

The trouble started when we found the road we shot on was now closed and completely dug up. After some consulting with maps on our phones and vehicular reconnaissance, it is determined the best course is down the same road.  We had to carry the gear in about a half mile and then hop a fence. We get to the beach and start to setup, much later than anticipated. I had chosen this windy day to try and match continuity from the previous shoot. The wind was coming in pretty strong and so were the waves. I was working in the water wearing hip waders, just getting ragdolled. Trying to sync waves, pyro timing, Leech puppeteering, and having the shot was very VERY frustrating. Also, the beach was getting smaller and smaller. Breakaway waves would catch the other three, with not a boot among them, and soon all their feet were soaked. I had been knocked into water a few times and soaked one side of the waders.

Soon there was no beach left and we packed up, jumped the fence, walked back to our vehicles- defeated and wet. I had the only dry foot and a lack of confidence in what we had just accomplished. Or not accomplished. I do like how Paul cut the footage, but it’s hard to watch it without thinking of that day. Not only was it absolutely MISERABLE, but there was the expectation that it would be fun. No one showed up in the winter shoot surprised it was cold. While we were freezing on set, we talked about that sweet, sweet last day of shooting.
“Leech on the Beach!” we said. 
“There will be no snow!” we said. 
“It will be fun!” we said. 

Kyrie should be glad we didn’t need audio that day. It would have been mostly wind, waves, and swearing.

Paul: I’d have to agree, Leech on the Beach was definitely the toughest of all. The cold you can deal with, when you expect it. The frigid, relentless wind and water on a spring day catches you off guard. The Leech was also never really designed to be puppeteered, so we sort of winged it (much like the production in general!). We had some ideas on how we’d do it beforehand, but in the end you roll with the punches; try various methods for various angles, and use the best bits in the edit. While the final scene isn’t exactly how I pictured it, it’s not too far off, and it works well enough.

Mischa: “Hello – do you have a handcuff key?” Pic by Ivory

Chris: Also, I thought we’d get the fishing hut sequence in 2 days. It took 3½ I think. So 2 days in, we’re almost 2 days behind! I had scheduled Ivory and Mischa to come in on a day it was evident we wouldn’t get to them. I told them to come in anyway for a half day so they could meet the crew and get situated. I quick blocked a few scenes, then sent them to the RV to try on their uniforms while I returned to the fishing hut. 

After some time, Mischa came down to tell me he had put the handcuffs on one hand and couldn’t find any keys. Turns out there were no keys at all. We had a grinder there, but I really didn’t want to get into cutting them off his wrist. In a stark contrast to the way actors are treated in my regular line of work, I told him “There’s no chance we’re getting to shooting you today and I’m very busy. You’re an adult and I need you to solve your own problems”. So Ivory and Mischa left in search of a solution. Here’s a photo Ivory took on their adventure. 

On a side note, Mind Leech was half insured (as required when renting roads from municipalities) and half not insured, while on private property. I wanted to get more driving shots. I didn’t know whether to talk to the municipality, get insurance, and maybe have to rent and pay duty officers, or do it guerrilla style. My actors didn’t care, but I was concerned about the actual police driving past our cruiser on the road and taking an interest in what we were doing. Back to Ivory and Mischa: I believe they ended up going to a police station in a larger town to finally free Mischa. But I guess they first called the local police and were informed that there are no police on duty in the area on weekends. So now I had a solution: shoot the driving shots guerilla style the following weekend…

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from making a feature?

Chris: The biggest lesson for me was in post production, as it was all new to me. 

Paul: Yeah, learning a new post workflow for me has been educational. I know how we’d do it differently next time, that’s for sure. It doesn’t help that we kept adding footage..right up to the last minute. It’s for the betterment of the movie, but didn’t make our lives any easier.

Who would you say is the unsung hero on the production?

Chris: I would say Paul is the MVP. Unsung hero would go to my partner, Max. From support, ideas, encouragement to RV maintenance and taking care of the unfun stuff with me, they were there from beginning to present (not yet end!). Because they don’t work in the film industry and filled a variety of roles, I did not know how to credit them. I didn’t really want to credit them as a PA. When we did the last day of shooting, I wanted some background Police for the interrogation room scene. The costume didn’t really fit, but maybe that’s just Hangout Cop’s style! 

Paul: Thanks Cheese, I appreciate that! Yes, Max did a lot. I know they were doing a lot behind the scenes with you Cheese. I’ll add that I was impressed with how dedicated everyone was in general. Everybody worked hard and I sure noticed. Hugh, Production Design (and a bunch of other stuff!); pushed to add texture in every scene, whether it were specific props or wardrobe, or even ideas for additional footage (i.e. analogue video footage to intercut). Bart, our DP, was a workhorse; a one-man camera team. He’d show up early to build the cameras, and stay late to tear them down. Kyrie, sound; he’d always take it upon himself to record all the nuance (i.e. car scenes; he wouldn’t just get the dialogue, he’d also mount mics all over the car getting the engine, tires etc.). Everyone went above and beyond. Mr. Cheeseman probably worked the hardest of all though!

Paul, you have a pivotal role in the movie; Chris, you remain out of sight. Why did each of you choose to appear or not appear?

Chris: The first day of shooting in the fall was really a test to find out if I wanted to make the rest of the movie, and to gauge the running time of my ideas. Having Hugh and I be the first 2 on camera kept the team small, as we would have both been there anyway. Also, the idea for ML 2 came to me before ML 1. ML 2 has a character that spends some time in the water, along with a fairly involved stunt. You’ll notice we’ve established the “polluting asshole” lives on the water…

I will also say I was hands down the worst actor with no close second. While we’d be slating, my mind would start to wonder to all my other responsibilities. Paul calling action would bring me back to reality with a “WTF is going on?”. I’d break character constantly to talk about other things – like the next shot, or to save an old rucksack from getting soda water on it. Being “satisfied” with my own performance set a low bar for everyone else to easily exceed!

Paul: I do enjoy acting, and it seemed like fun. More so though, I just wanted to help Cheeseman out however I could, so I was game for whatever the role called for. As we said earlier, originally I was mostly just in front of the camera so I wasn’t worried about how much or how little time that would be.

What next for Team Leech?

Chris: Mind Leech 2! Shooting in Spring!, just not sure if it’s Spring 2023 or 2024
Paul: I’m game. Then MIND LEECH 3 BABYYYY!
Chris: Need a lot of $$$ for ML 3, so go rent ML now!

[Many thanks to Chris Cheeseman and Paul Krysinski for their time and effort in putting this together]

Mind Leech (2023)

Rating: B-

Dir: Chris Cheeseman, Paul Krysinski
Star: Steff Ivory Conover, Mischa O’Hoski, Paul Krysinski, Daniel James McGee

I rented this. That is worthy of note, because I cannot remember the last time we rented a film. We’ve become so used to scrolling through one streaming service or another and picking something. The idea of paying money to watch something at home is now… strange. But after seeing the trailer, I thought, what the heck, and dropped five quid on the movie’s website. I’m pleased to report, I don’t feel I wasted my money. While a frothy concoction, and barely an hour long, it’s a neat little B-movie, perhaps best described as if somebody had crossed Fargo with Slither  – albeit on a budget which extends only to one (1) creature.

It begins with toxic chemicals being illegally dumped into a pond. A few months later, pals Josh (McGee) and Craig (Krysinski) are ice-fishing on the same body of water, when a very large leech-like creature fires itself like an arrow, out of the water and onto Craig’s face. The resulting struggle leaves Josh dead, and their fishing shack on fire. This attracts the attention of local sheriff, Benjamin Pailey  (O’Hoski) and his deputy, recently arrived from the big city, T.J. Johnson (Conover). They follow Craig’s leech-propelled path of murder and mayhem, eventually realizing the creature is trying to make for the big lake to the South, which would open a whole new, highly unpleasant, can of… er, leeches.

It is a fairly sparse product: I already noted the short running time and single monster – there aren’t that many more humans present in the cast. However, what there is generally makes for amiable viewing. Conover is a lot of fun to watch as the urban fish in rural waters, and her deputy has a nice relationship with the boss, which feels genuine. There are occasional pacing problems, with a few scenes that seem to go on beyond their purpose. The opening one, with two low-lifes tossing a canister from ChemCorp into the water, would be one, especially since the film never circles back to the pair. It’s more fun once the mayhem kicks in, not least because the leech can move to a new host – almost shades of The Hidden.

Indeed, it feels like there are a lot of influences here, and spotting these will provide additional amusement for genre fans. I did feel the ending was a tad weak, and needs to end with more of a punch, and less obvious sequel setting. Still, it’s a sequel I’d be interested in seeing, especially if the leechy mayhem upped the ante to the next level. Final thought: this was watched this the same night 78,000 Swifties were crammed into State Farm Stadium, a couple of miles up the road from Film Blitz Towers. We, meanwhile, were watching a bunch of Canadians run around a snowy landscape, with a giant leech glued to their faces. I think we got the better end of the entertainment deal. For this is a leech movie which doesn’t suck.

Mind Leech is available to stream now, through the movie’s website.