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Ethan Shaftel | Alec Joler
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Kyle Rankin

Alec Joler
Director
Suspension
Buy the movie here!

1. When and why did you decide to be a filmmaker?

Drawing, painting and acting with a heavy dose of comic books, eventually led me to film. After reading comics for a few years, making little home-made shorts and animations with friends and family, and generally digesting the movies of the 80s, my dad let me see T2, and Iíve wanted to make movies ever since. Ethan and I met in junior high, made a class video, then a drama, won an award, and have been working together off and on, finally leading to our first "feature" as co-directors.

2. What do you value most about your experiences so far?

Love, understanding, companionship, beauty and truth.

3. What are the most difficult challenges you've faced as a filmmaker?

Transferring story and images from mind to screen while collaborating with a group of other artists.

4. What is your most vivid memory from your filmmaking endeavors?

Showing THE CULT (an action movie Ethan and I made in high school, utilizing digital editing for the first time) to our parents. That was the first true audience experience Iíve had (it helped that me and Ethan were the main characters).

5. What is it like to see your movie in stores and get a distribution deal?

Vindication and pride come to mind, but itís really about whether people get into the film and feel the need to discuss it that really makes me proud of SUSPENSION. Ethan is the consummate producer and directing partner. Iím just glad to be able to help create situations and characters and environments that resonate with people on a larger scale than we have been used to.

6. What have you learned about the business side of filmmaking?

Have a name actor, action, nudity, a gimmick or a good movie. All five help.

7. What is your highest priority as a filmmaker?

Truth even if itís fake. Transfer of emotion/environment/theme...

8. Why did you want to make Suspension as your first feature?

Ethan and I had made a slew of shorts before SUSPENSION, culminating in AN EASY GRAND, which we knew would be a stepping stone to a future feature with a possibility of release. We both did our own thing in the interim, periodically hooking up for projects, and eventually I was co-opted by Ethan to come in on a feature based on his short story, scripted by Aris.

9. Do you have any stories from the set you'd like to share?

There were scary moments at the Topeka State Hospital, but the environment is really needed for maximum dramatic impact. Letís just say that production assistants are easy marks when it comes to pranks.

10. What did you guys do to make your actors comfortable?

A film set is such a stressful environment for anyone involved in the process especially for the leads and the creative backbone. Ethan and Aris, having developed the screenplay together, were truly the spine for the actors so any question they had could be answered or at least discussed. On set, I tried to make sure that people were still having fun. Yes, we had a job to do, but itís a fun job, and as long as everyone is doing their part to make it the best movie possible, create the coolest image, capture the best performance, why not have fun in the process? Isnít that why we do this anyway?

11. What do you think is the best way an individual can succeed in this industry?

Keep on truckin... if you find out the answer, let me know. Follow your dream? If you believe in yourself enough, others will have to, because they want to follow someone with a dream.

12. What is the most helpful book you've read on filmmaking?

I have received two books as gifts on birthdays throughout the years that have influenced me tremendously. One was UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud (given to me by my uncle Paul) and the other was MAKING MOVIES by Sidney Lumet (given to me by my friend Ethan). These books have been invaluable to me as an artist. Anyone interested in sequential art should read these.

13. What is the best behind the scenes documentary or commentary you've experienced?

Itís always great to hear a talented artist speak about their work. The last commentary I remember was John Singletonís for Boyz N Da Hood. He was so young when he made that movie, and the comments and anecdotes he tells on that commentary really paint a picture of the film and him in a light unseen by a normal audience.

14. Do you feel it's necessary to go to film school? Did you have any traditional education or training in this industry?

The great thing about school is exposure to teachers, art and film that you would normally never be exposed to. All arts are related: music, paint, film, photography, gaming, drawing, etc. Artists and teachers are everywhere, if you are in school or not, so just open your eyes and ears... even the "bad" is "good."

15. Do you think it's important to make a few short films before tackling a feature? Why or why not?

I think that anyone who hasnít made a short film, and is thinking about making a feature, should make a short film. How are you going to know if you can retain an audienceís attention for an hour and a half if you donít know if you can keep them for a couple of minutes? Itís called entertainment.

16. What do you think is the key to working with actors?

Casting the right actor for the part is obviously the main choice, but itís really about comfort, trust, and consensus about the character, and making sure everyone is on the same page. Forcing the part is never a good idea. Surprises are rad though.

17. What do you look for in an actor?

I look for a connection, however small, between the actor and the character. I believe in the talent of acting, but sometimes, you know before hearing a word of dialogue that a person is right or wrong. Iíve learned that trusting your instincts is the best advice you can get.

18. What is the best film festival you've screened your movie at?

I have to say Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas was the best venue, but we have now been all over the world. Arizona was fun. Florida. Ethan might be a better springboard for this answer.

19. What is the most important piece of advice you'd give an aspiring filmmaker?

We are in a time when anything is possible. There is beauty in everything you see... do not be limited by other peopleís imagination. The littlest tidbit can be the most important issue in the right light.

External Links

James Cameron - Academy of Achievement
Robert Zemeckis - Academy of Achievement