Homage: Darkness and the Lord's Prayer, Black and White
1. When and why did you decide to be a filmmaker?
Some of my earliest memories were of films. I remember seeing the Temple of Doom at the drive-in back home when I was young enough I didn't understand that that guy was getting his heart ripped out of his chest. My dad and I watched a lot of movies together and I think those happy times instilled a lot of love for film in my elementary school days. I wrote short stories for years, but always got frustrated because everyone saw something different in my work. Of course, now that difference in perception from person to person drives my work, but back then I saw it as a failing in my own clarity.
So I moved onto comic books, figuring by putting more of what I saw in my head on the page it would be easier to tell my story. It still wasn't enough. I started reading up on Kevin Smith and Sam Raimi, two average Joes that decided to ignore all of the nay-sayers and take the risk on living their dreams. By the end of my freshman year at SMS I was doing short movies whenever I could.
2. What do you think makes a great director?
It takes a certain calm in the face of chaos. Even on small sets, a million little things can and will go wrong. A good director has to keep his cool no matter what's falling apart around him. You also have to have the ability to talk to people and share your passion with them especially as an independent filmmaker. You need every friend with every hookup you can possibly get.
And learn to communicate with the actors. It's harder than you'd think. You can know all the angles and f-stops and it won't do you a damned bit of good if you don't talk to the actors and let them know what you want from their character. This is something I'm still trying to get down.
3. What do you think is the key to working with actors?
Like the above rant said, communication... and stroking their egos just a bit. Hey, directors like it too.
4. What are your favorite films and why?
The hardest simple question ever. I'd put Shaun of the Dead and Ghostbusters at the top if for no other reason than I can sit down and watch them again and again and enjoy them every time. But then there are the classics like the Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man, Sunset Boulevard, and The Phantom of the Opera. Evil Dead, The Frighteners, and any zombie flick. I've got a thing for film noir and horror. But come down to it, I like movies, plain and simple. I'll watch anything once.
5. Who are your favorite directors and why?
Smith, Raimi, Kelly, Rodriguez, the Cohen and Polish brothers... the off-beat sort of kats that started making movies because they loved them, not for the money involved. They didn't have industry hookups, they just decided to take the chance and if their movies didn't make the headlines, who cared, they learned something and had a good time doing it.
6. Who are your favorite actors and why?
Robert Downy Jr, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Jimmy Stewart, Jeffery Combs, WIlliam Powell, Bruce Willis. They are artists. You've got to respect that. Sure, they've all made their commercial 'sell-out' movies, but a brother has got to pay the rent and it meant they could make the art house feature without people giving them too much hell about it.
7. Why did you choose Homage: Darkness and the Lord's Prayer as your first feature?
Horror movies are the gateway genre. A lot of great directors cut their teeth on horror, so it seemed like a good starting point. Not to mention, they are generally cheaper to make and there is no shortage of interest in them. Everyone loves to be scared. Plus, as far as genres go, horror is definitely my favorite especially when I
first decided to make a feature. I didn't get interested in noir or westerns until recently. Sci-fi needs a decent budget and action movies don't have the philosophy in them that I like in my flicks. Horror just felt right.
As far as why did I pick that particular story to write? Homage: Darkness and the Lord's Prayer is more about perception than spooks and spectors. If a person hears voices, we call them crazy. But isn't sanity just the popular perception of normality? Color blind people see orange where everyone else sees green, some people can sense minute changes in air pressure, others have hyper-sensitive taste. Maybe someone that sees ghosts is just tuning into a frequency John Normal can't pick up on. The individuality of perception fascinates me and prompted me to write a movie centered around that.
8. Why did you pick Black and White as your second?
I wrote Black and White because when I started the horror film, I decided to make four films; each firmly rooted in a genre and the exercise was to obey the rules of the genre and find my own artistic voice within. A Horror, Noir, Western and Sci-Fi. Taking the lessons learned from one, I'd go to the next with more experience and (hopefully) a bigger budget.
Black and White was a lot easier to write than Homage simply because I had met all of these incredible actors doing the first flick and knew I could depend upon them for my second. Plus, they all said they wanted to work with me on my next film... you can't turn down good talent willing to work for nil.
In all honesty, when I started writing it all I had was a single camera shot that I wanted in it somewhere. I knew it involved a bad guy that was perceived to be good and a good guy perceived to be bad. There is a stand off in an alley. We've been following one man, our supposed hero cop up until this point. Everything we've heard about the other player in this showdown makes us think he is the villain. The guns blaze and the villain is left standing. The camera goes from an over the shoulder from the dead cop's POV to the villain's POV and we follow him. We realize he is a misunderstood hero and the cop was corrupt. That one shot was to set the theme for the entire movie. Good and evil simply depends on which side of the trench you're standing on. Yeah, subtle.
9. What did you learn from your first feature that you applied to your second?
Actors are your friend. Love them. And no matter how cheap you did it the first time, the second movie can be better, cheaper.
10. What do you look for in an actor or actress?
Enthusiasm, passion, the ability to show up on-time and be true to their word. An actor quiting on you halfway through can destroy your film. Make sure they are people you can count on.
11. Do you think it's important to make short films before tackling a feature? Why or why not?
Practice is the key. A few shorts can't hurt because you can learn some necessary rules and guidelines without spending a lot of time and money. But a feature is a creature unlike any other. It's a tremendous undertaking and is an endurance trial that you need to be ready for if you ever want to see your baby on the big screen.
12. Do you feel it's necessary to go to film school? Did you have any traditional education or training in this industry?
I think film school is good for those that want to network. But if you're gonna make movies then get out and do it. Theory is all fine and good, but it's nothing like getting out there with the camera in your hand. I took film appreciation classes and the intro to media production class in college. That taught me how to run a camera, esthetics of the medium and the basics of editing. Otherwise, I picked up lighting from my photography class and visual composition from my drawing classes. My time working at the television station taught me how to shoot quickly and efficiently and make due with what I had. Like I said, just get a camera and start shooting. That's all you need.
13. How did you finance your films?
My incredibly supportive mom lent me the money for my first flick (thanks ma!). The second movie I just saved some cash here and there. The first one cost me around 8 grand with buying all of my equipment, the second movie cost me a whopping $1300 bucks.
14. What have you learned about the business side of filmmaking?
Networking and the ability to stretch a dollar. Oh, and never burn any bridges. It's too small of an industry.
15. How does it feel to screen your work for an audience?
Terrifying and exciting. That said, both of my features are still in post, so I've only had short films on the firing line. One of my features on the screen is going to be an ordeal and a half.
16. What are the most difficult challenges you've faced as a filmmaker?
Life gets in the way really easily. And it's really hard for those around you to take you seriously. Most people just give you a disbelieving look and say, "No really, what are you going to do with your life?" You've got to learn to barrel on through anyway. It's taken me forever to get my films wrapped up just because everyday life
doesn't leave much time for such an all-consuming hobby.
17. What is your most vivid memory from your filmmaking endeavors?
Spending 9 days in the middle of Amish country camping in a farmhouse that had been abandoned since its elderly occupants died in it a decade prior. This was after the van caught fire. Best 9 days of my life.
18. What do you value most about your experiences thus far?
I've become a more confident person because of it. I've done some things that some people just don't think about being able to do. Blowing up vans, watching stunt people take rolls off of the hoods of oncoming cars, dressing up as 1940s detectives and filming in smoke-filled bars. It's the stuff that dreams are made of, and I get to do it as part of my career.
19. As far as filmmaking, what do you think Missouri offers that other places don't?
Variety of terrain and scenery. A large, mostly under-used talent pool that is hungry for opportunities. I never realized how many talented crew and cast people are in this state until I got into filmmaking. The talent is incredible. It's the chance to use it that's lacking.
20. What is your highest priority as a filmmaker?
Movies are the way our modern day philosophers voice their theories and passions. I want to make people see the world in a slightly different way than they would have had they not graced me with their audience.
21. How and why did you get involved with digital effects?
I got my degree in digital effects because I didn't want any limitation to what I could create. No matter how outlandish my vision is, I know that with the right amount of time and a good computer I can make it happen.
22. What do you think digital effects offer over practical effects?
Less physical constraints which means I can make more epic movies safer and for a cheaper cost (providing I do the digital effects myself). But that said, practical effects add a believability that even the most advanced digital effects have a hard time pulling off.
23. What have been the most rewarding digital effects that you've done?
A light saber battle. It was more the experience than the actual end result.
24. What do you think makes a great cinematographer?
An original eye and the ability to not get hung up on convention.
25. What is the most important piece of advice you'd give an aspiring filmmaker?
Get out there and make your movie, dammit! What are you waiting for? It's just going to get harder the longer you wait so do it now!