Monday, January 30, 2012

Filmmaker Rick Greenwood

Richard (Rick) Greenwood Jr is a writer/director/producer/cinematographer who  earned his MFA degree in filmmaking from the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles CA in December 2010.  Rick was born and raised in upstate New York and came from a hard working background which not only breeds a great work ethic and determination in him and his  work, but the appreciation and value in all he sought s after and obtains.  He received his BFA in Fine Art from the University at Albany in 2008 before moving to Los Angeles in 2009 to attend grad school and begin his life in filmmaking.

With great visual esthetics, strong story telling and deep characters grounded in everyday hardships, Rickʼs films explore the dark places of the mind and society but through strong characters hope is still found in tragedy and loss.

Hinnon Valley is Rickʼs breakout film which has earned “official selection” at over a  dozen festivals and has won four awards to date. Char Hardin film reviewer for gave the film a 5 out of 5 and listed it as one of the top 15 best short  horror films of 2011, while Gruesome Hertzogg gave it a 9 out of 10. Hinnon Valley was also featured before Scream 4 on itʼs opening weekend in a private theater in upstate New York. With the festival buzz and the amazing feedback before Scream 4 it looks  like the feature version of Hinnon Valley may be possible in the near future. Steps have been made to make Hinnon Valley available to the public for rent and sale by mid year 2012.

“Film is a medium which encompasses every aspect of art, from the visuals and dialogue to the sounds and music it IS a world of it’s own. Having the power to bring someone into a world you create and have them invest their heart and soul into it, living and breathing the characters emotions and situations is the most amazing feeling in the world.”

Richard (RICK) Greenwood Jr


What is the current project you are working on?

In January I will be the Cinematographer for a low budget indie horror feature called “The Rental”. It will be shot in LA over the corse of three weeks. I am really excited to get to camera for my first feature. I also have two Feature scripts that I am pitching right now. The first is a dark noir conspiracy thriller called “Origin”. That one is my baby, but also a very high budget project. The second is a slasher/horror feature tentatively named “The Forgotten”. This script I wrote as lower budgeted project, which is something I am hoping to secure the funding for a go to camera on in the spring. I will direct, write and produce it.

How do you handle rejection?

How do I handle rejection?-haha Well, in this business you have to get used to it really fast. Projects will arise and struggle, then begin to look great, then disappear quicker than the first twinkle of the inception of the idea itself. You canʼt let it get you down, you have to just keep pushing and be resilient-only the strong will survive. Itʼs not always about talent itʼs perseverance, passion and drive that makes the difference in the end...and of course if you have the talent to back it up in the end, then your set.

What does success mean to you?

Finding something in life that will not only support you but inspire and motivate you. Success to me is just being happy and comfortable with your life, job and the people you chose to surround yourself with.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Actually if you asked me when I was younger what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have said a Rock Star. Iʼve always been drawn to and very good at anything in the arts, drawing, painting, sculpting, writing (poetry, songs and stories),music and of course a love for film. So I guess it just all made sense for me to go into filmmaking, because film is the culmination of all art forms from the writing to sound/music to the visuals, it is the ultimate work of art. Something that is so powerful people can lose themselves in so deeply emotionally, energetically and passionately. It is such an amazing feeling when you can get someone to invest and lose themselves in the world and characters you create.

 What inspired you to become filmmaker?

Itʼs sad, but the catalyst for my move into film was the passing of my father in 2005. My father and I were very much alike, very hard workers, stubborn and willing to sacrifice to get things done. However that sacrifice becomes a downward spiral because you keep putting the things off for yourself to fill the immediate needs of the moment, none of which help put you on the path of your dreams or passions. He used to give me crap all the time to do something with my life and my talents, but I never really listened, in the end he only wanted what was best for me and to not waste myself like he did. The defining message to me was when he died, he died of a heart attack at work, not with his family, not having fun or riding his Harley, but at work- I too was on the fast track of doing the same thing. I was a workaholic, even more so than him and I was wasting my life away. It unfortunately took such a terrible thing to happen for me to finally wake up and do something about my life. So I went back to school and received my BFA in Fine Art and planned on continuing to get my Masters in art as well, that is until I got my hands on a camera some editing software and away I went. I took to it like wildfire and everyone told me this is what I need to do, so I did.  Despite a laundry list of problems I ventured out to LA and went to Grad school at The New York Film Academy at Universal Studios. Things in my personal life were about to get much worse, worse than I could ever possibly imagine, but I loved the school and what I was doing. The average person probably would have given up right at the start, but I am definitely not one to quit. I lost everything, but I persevered and am now at a new beginning in my life. Things are still very uncertain, but at least I am still chasing my dreams.

What is the best thing about being one?

The best thing is that I get to do what I love to do. I mean itʼs extremely challenging, but nothing else can equal the rewards of seeing your work up on the big screen and have people really enjoy it. I am honored that I have had the opportunity to work with and meet some great and talented people, people I hope to continue growing and working with for years to come-and the list grows with every production.

What is the worst thing about being one?

The worst thing would have to be the money. Unless your independently wealthy or have a financial backer of your own, youʼre out there fighting and clawing to get someone to believe in your work, your project and most importantly you. It is very trying and I see how people could take the rejection personally, but you can never give up.
What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Wow, including school Iʼd say probably around 50 or so in all different positions- everything from directing to grip, gaffing, acting, AD, producing etc...Iʼve done it all.
Is there a sequel planned for "Hinnon Valley"?

Since Hinnon valley is a short Iʼve never planned any sort of sequel to it, however I would like to do a feature version of it hopefully in the near future with Alexis Zibolis returning as the lead character.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

I donʼt have a single favorite filmmaker but I like Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Alex Proyas, Peter Jackson, Mel Gibson, Wes Craven, Clive Barker, Frank Capra, Orson Wells, Guillermo del Toro, Quentin Tarantino and many many more.

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

The last couple years have been really tough. I have given up a lot for this dream and I am hoping my gamble pays off. I can honestly say though, that for the first time in my life I am doing something that I truly enjoy and it makes me happy to do it.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Do it because you love it, not because you want to be rich and famous. It is a very tough industry where the majority unfortunately fail. Talent will only get you so far in this carnival of favorites, friends and favors-hard work, a relentless drive and passion will make the difference in the end. Surround yourself with great people who are as driven and passionate as you and make it happen, donʼt wait for someone to do it for you.

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

I love watching and playing Hockey and Football. I also enjoy playing music, drawing/painting, watching movies and am a car fanatic.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

I have had a ton of jobs. I am a workaholic, so I buried myself in work at a multitude of different jobs. Let me see, I started as a paper boy, then had my own landscaping business, did carpentry and finishing work with my father, auto mechanics, kennel manager and vet assistant, cook, server, bartender, yogurt server, stock boy at a grocery store, free lance art, commercial cleaner, maintenance and a bunch of other things Iʼm probably forgetting. Told you Iʼve done a lot...keeps me well-rounded haha.
 What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Some of my favorite films are Braveheart, Forest Gump, Lord of The Rings (all three), Exorcist, The Shining, Nightmare on Elm Street(original), The Crow, Seven, Double Indemnity and so many more. Foreign films, I loved The Artist, Irreversible, The Orphanage, I Saw The Devil and a lot of the J-hor stuff. I donʼt watch much T.V. but shows I liked were The X Files, that 70ʼs Show and Quantum Leap.

How would you describe your film education?

I earned my Masters degree from the New York Film Academy at Universal Studios in Los Angeles CA. I am truly happy and proud of my experience there. They have a great all inclusive hands on program that teaches you so much at such a quick pace-it is truly a trail by fire. The added benefit of their program is that not only do you learn directing, but ever aspect of filmmaking, from producing to grip work. Of course like any program you get out of it what you put into it, but I know for me I can walk onto any film set and do any position they need me to do, makes me much more employable when the directing gigs arenʼt there.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

Anything it takes to get it done! If everyone is in and excited about a project I am all for it, when power struggles and egos get in the way then itʼs not worth it. Indie Go-Go and Kickstarter have allowed and supported many people who otherwise may have never had a chance to get their work realized, for that I think itʼs a great thing.

 How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

Well unfortunately due to the economy and tight fisted executives everywhere I think the mainstream film industry is suffering in its creativity and willingness to try something new. Studios want a guarantee that they are not only going to make back their money, but also make a large profit from their investments. Thatʼs why they keep banking their money into remakes and book adaptations, stuff that already has a branding or label to it. Even though I love the Lord of The Ring movies they are a prime example of taking something that already has a huge following and fan base from the books and translating it to the big screen. No matter what, the film will get a huge draw because it already has a name. Adversely- independent films have much more freedom, but they too still want to invest in projects that have a greater potential upside, because those who have money want to keep it. The strength of independent films are the people that make them. It is a very devout talented hard working group that can make things happen out of nothing. You have to pull favors and utilize your assets to make it happen, but in the end you still unfortunately need money.

You could go back in time and see any film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Never really thought about that before, but I guess I would say “ Touch of Evil”  by Orson Wells. I would have loved to see that amazing opening shot come together and see a master filmmaker at work.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Off the top of my head...”victims arenʼt we all”...”look what youʼve done to my sheets” (The Crow), “I have exorcized the demon!” (Ace Ventura) or “I hate to see you go, but love to watch you leave” (Face Off). When you get my brother and I together all we do is quote movies, so I could probably go on all day-haha. These are the first few I thought of, The Crow because I love that movie and could probably quote the entire film, Ace Ventura cause itʼs hysterical and I use it all the time, Face Off just cause itʼs a great saying...and Iʼm an ass man lol.

Do you believe in life on other planets?

I think youʼd have to be ignorant not to think there is life outside of the planet Earth. We are such a small speck in the large picture, I think itʼs complete arrogance to think we are the only ones.
 What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

Like I brought up with mainstream filmmaking, it is now just a part of the world. On the whole, I am against remakes. Most remakes in my opinion lose the essence of the originals as it tries to take something that was made for a different audience and time and twist, mash and distort it to hopefully appeal to a whole new audience-always dilutes it(Nightmare on Elm Street/Red Dawn/Arthur/Conan the Barbarian-horrible...Girl With The Dragon Tatoo/Dawn of The Dead-good). Sequels can be cool and fun especially  when its continuing a film and/or character in more journeys, but unfortunately they never seem to know when enough is enough. Anyone up for Rocky 87?
What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Book to move adaptations are tough, you will never truly satisfy all parties. Books are a great resource with amazing stories and characters and often have the potential of making great movies, however you can never fit everything from a book into a movie. So the challenge comes to the filmmakers, especially the writers and directors. They have to pull the necessities of the story out and decide what to leave behind-which will always disappoint a true fan of the book. In my opinion directors such as Kubrick with the Shining and Jackson with TLOR and The Lovely Bones did an amazing job of finding the core and heart of the stories and making amazing movies out of them. Some of the best and some of the worst movies have been adapted from books, I guess itʼs just a matter of who the filmmakers are.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to thank you John for showing an interest in me and my work and for giving me this great opportunity. I hope to have more work to talk to you in the very near future about :) and thanks for everyone who reads this and finds something in it that either intrigues, entertains or enrages you-lol.


Thank you for doing the interview Rick.   I'm a fan of you and your work. I enjoyed "Hinnon Valley" very much. Keep me posted regarding  HV as a feature film and your other projects. Also let me know when the film  “The Rental” will be available to rent ;)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Filmmaker Jo Custer

[caption id="attachment_2713" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Jo Custer (right) guest judging the Gulf South Funniest Comedian semi-finals hosted by Johnny Rock with Vince Vance and Terry Jurgelsky."][/caption]

Born in Maine and raised primarily in northwestern Pennsylvania, Jo is currently a New Orleans writer/director/producer, cab driver, photog and occasional journalist and actress. At six she entered a Sunday School essay contest and won: first in her church, then in the region, then in the state. Studying creative writing intensively for a few years at Penn State before ultimately switching to and earning a degree in journalism, she expanded from poetry, short fiction and play writing into film criticism, editing, news reporting and writing for the screen.

Last summer, Jo strung a story for the short-lived Louisiana Entertainment Reporter. She was also hired to adapt fiction for the screen under the auspices of mixer publishing and solicited to write film features for Paste Magazine, but both pursuits have so far had to cede way to her ability to keep herself afloat financially and growing as a filmmaker. Since ’09, she has been whittling away at a short story collection under the pseudonym Jules Alder — and various short films under her more prosaic name, since ’02. Last year, The History Press published her personal essay, Chopsticks, in the journal collection Western Pennsylvania Reflections: Stories from the Alleghenies to Lake Erie.

This year finds Jo’s short film HOTCAKES, an urban Western shot last November, in post-production. The rough cut will be under twenty minutes and test screened in New Orleans and on her Unclear Pictures YouTube channel on January 28.

HOTCAKES represents the first in a series of short film challenges Jo has set herself en route to readying herself to make a first feature film. The second in the Short Stack Series is currently in treatment form and will be produced mid-May or in late September, the determining factor being the success of the HOTCAKES Kickstarter campaign.

What is the current project you are working on?

We're in post-production and pre-marketing, in the rough cut/test  screening/crowdfunding stage, of HOTCAKES, which I originally wrote as a 5 page urban  Western. I liked the concept and characters so much, I expanded it into 17 pages and decided to direct and produce it myself with my editor as co-producer. I had started to shop the 5 pager around New Orleans, then realized there were no producers available who really got or connected with the story. My writing's too subtle for many, producers and actors alike, which is rough because I agree with Gary Oldman, et al, that acting is not a cerebral process; it's an emotional process. But a highly cerebral and intuitive process needs to precede the emotional, something that the uber-talented Gary Oldman maybe takes for granted.

People familiar with Owen Wister's classic Western novel The Virginian will have a clue as to what kind of protagonist HOTCAKES features. Those who aren't should picture a gentleman ranch hand, a real cowboy, surrounded by cowboys and wannabes at a poker table after one of them calls him a son of a bitch. The gentleman cowboy, the Virginian, lays his gun on the table as though discarding it, as though to say he doesn't even need it, and tells the loudmouth wannabe to smile when he says that. Marty, our Virginian, took a lot of layers from there, but that was the kernel of his character. And Burton Tedesco's tough but graceful demeanor pulls it off.

I knew I wasn't ready to make a feature, so I needed to start making longer films with embedded challenges, like making a seated dialogue scene watchable -- something I failed at in my last film, TOLL ROAD -- and finding the kind of actors and department heads who could interpret the characters and the setting as a character. My experience with my HOTCAKES lead was almost spiritual, Burton connected with the character so deeply. Our one on one communication really sustained me throughout the shoot. There were even a couple of times he saved me from making stupid mistakes while in a sleep deprivation coma of sorts. An actor like that is worth his weight in gold, if you're the kind of person who places value on something pulled out of the earth that you can't eat.

The same can be said of our production designer, Cassie Giveans. She's young, just old enough to drink legally, and this was only her second time helming an art department; but she's smart, strong, capable, multi-talented, very handy with the entire range of power tools, most of which I can't even name, and cute as a button. She was my right arm, really. At some point during the shoot, I decided to stop making or taking phone calls. I stopped wearing my producer's hat while on set trying to direct and pretty much just made Cassie my personal assistant. She took it all in stride and we got through the shoot relatively unscathed. This was my first budgeted film and Cassie made it relatively painless in terms of upfront production costs also, not spending a few hundred of the $1200 I allotted for set design. Since we shot all 17 pages in one location, we had to really make it count. We didn't have total control. We had a few different set configurations because of the narrowness of the gallery in which we were shooting. But she made it work, even staying up on set nights to change the scenery despite having classes and two jobs.

And I'm pleased that we're over halfway funded on Kickstarter before we've even test screened the film or released a trailer. It's still a long haul to $2500 by February 3, but I have some hope, which is nice.

Did you always want to be a writer?

The George Carlin answer is: "Well, not in the womb, but right after that." The serious answer is: I couldn't stop if I tried and I know deep down that writing and directing are my universal calling. That's when I'm fully myself.

What inspired you to become writer?

Overcoming illiteracy. I didn't learn to read by the first grade with the other girls and boys. I was diagnosed with a learning disability and it was suggested that I was, to use the language of the day, mentally retarded.

People who know me think that's hilarious in its discrepancy. I'm not sure I agree.

One teacher used to rip up my illegible homework in front of the class. My mother, who has my undying devotion for this, told the public school officials to go fuck themselves and co-founded a private school across the street at a church. I can't say with complete certainty that my staunchly anti-establishment mother didn't become a Christian just for me. We're still sort of marveling at how that all went down. Nixon didn't tear gas my mum for praying.

But the long and short of it is, Mom got me these books on tape and I sat and listened to them for about six weeks, and that was pretty much how I learned to read, after I learned the alphabet and phonetics within a few weeks or so at the new private school. Appears I sleepwalked through that part of kindergarten, too.

Turned out I had mild dyslexia, which was correctable with the audio books and some simple tracing exercises.

Then one day we had a "Sunday school is..." essay contest and I just knew I was meant to be a writer. Winning reinforced that belief. It won in the church, then the region, then the state. Then it went to nationals and was never heard from again, but it was an interesting ride while it lasted.

Something just clicked. This was what I was supposed to do.

What is the best thing about being one?

The worldview you get from it, I think, is like no other. It can be kind of lonely, but in that loneliness, you find a confidence; you learn that the only thing that matters is what we do and say. That's actually a pretty easy place to be coming from. And then you spend all your downtime, on the receiving end, listening to what others do and say. That's an extremely pleasing and peaceful form of existence, to me, constantly processing life as it happens.

What is the worst thing about being one?

It's amazing how many people think I'm stupid or insignificant because I'm motivated far, far more by beauty and a sense of order than money. My running joke is that God herself couldn't get me a date. Only, it's not a joke.

Also, I get tired of non-writers pestering me with ideas. At this point, I've been writing for 30 years. That's 30 plus years' worth of ideas I already don't have time enough in the day to write and they're what inspire me most. Other people's ideas typically don't inspire me. It's so rare that I hear a good one and even when I do, it's just like, Well if you love the idea so much, why don't you go write it yourself? I never really know what non-writers want from me.

I'm not going to write your book or screenplay for you. There are other people who do that. Find them instead. I'm not into bloodless writing. That's not why I put myself through this torture. And if I were, I'd write for television.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Film? I think around ten with a direct role -- writer/director/producer or writer/AD. Add another ten for crew, I think. But most of this has been really small, often disorganized stuff -- a lot of student work -- and a lot of it in the last year and a half. I'm an old writer, perhaps, but I'm a young director. Progress in that arena has really only started happening lately. That's why I moved to New Orleans, in fact. Making films in Pittsburgh was too damn hard.

Who is is your favorite writer?

My favorites tend to vary with my mood. In the last year, the mood's included Miranda July, Guy de Maupassant and Martin Amis, three very different writers. On days when I'm feeling glib, I say Salman Rushdie. I adore Rushdie and I've read a lot of his nonfiction, but not a lick of fiction, not yet. Any day now.

How has your life changed since you became a writer?

I think I can honestly say that it has saved my life in a way, though I don't know that I could honestly say how. I'm very sensitive, that's a certainty. Writing -- and facing criticism and failure as a writer -- has helped me develop a thicker skin in some ways while retaining all of the sensitivity that makes me who I am when I'm at my best. At least, that's the hope. It's a constant sifting, deciding what emotions you're going to let yourself be vulnerable to and for what reason. I'm at my best when I'm hip deep in a story with no time to look backward, only forward.

And maybe it's in part a function of the learning disability I was diagnosed with as a kid, but I am constantly trying to make sense of the world. Constantly. And it often just doesn't make sense. So if you want to get on my bad side or be ignored, just throw some confusion my way. I won't come calling, that's for damn sure. I've got work to do.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

Don't believe anything that will force you to make a major life decision without checking with your inner child first.

What do you like to do besides writing?

If I had my druthers, I'd be horseback riding and picnicking with someone I love. Also, I love swimming. Anywhere but still water. I'm not an attention whore, which makes me question whether I should be in independent filmmaking sometimes. I like to be alone. I enjoy privacy and safeguard it, probably a little too much. But I'm okay with that.

Now that I have two dogs to take care of (not mine, but I love them), I've returned to long walks too. I love to just go outside and commune with nature, wherever I am. Places have such histories. You can feel them palpably.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a writer?

Well, writing came first for me, obviously. Although my grandmother did put a camera in my hand when I was five and declared that I had "the eye" after she developed the prints. But that really came from her. I love photography, but it's not my first love. I tried to publish when I was nine. I sent a limerick to Cricket magazine: Rejected. I think that was my first clue that my calling is a real job and hard. I didn't try to submit anything again until I was a sophomore in college. Sent a story to The New Yorker: Rejected. You learn to scale back your ambitions rather than try and be something you're not. Despite over a hundred odd jobs, I've never been anything less than a writer.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

I'm pretty much addicted to all things Pedro Almodovar, Sam Ball, and Czech New Wave. Also, The Wire completely reset my rating system. Now, if it's not True Blood, I don't even want to watch TV. Which is good, I guess. Frees up time, especially since I don't get HBO. Or, at least I don't think I have cable. I moved and didn't even bother to check, which should tell you something. [Update: Turns out, I get HBO. And Game of Thrones.]

How would you describe your film education?

Ongoing. All the classroom work was really just a springboard into handling equipment and networking with the film community. It's my communications degree and the time I spent simply blogging about film that's keeping me on a clear course I can plot strategically, not to mention that private school my mother co-founded. You set your own pace and corrected your own work against a scoring key and really, in many ways, were self-taught and self-disciplined. I definitely think a good independent director is a good self-teacher. Like with anything you want to improve at, you set your challenges and rise to meet them. If I succeed, I learn to set greater challenges. If I fail, I gain confidence from correctly identifying my weaknesses and blind spots and apply more energy in that direction.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

One of the things I love about NOLA is that there isn't really a "scene," per se. There are students who all pretty much run together and there are these meetup groups that try to get a sense of community and fresh-flowing blood, but this town attracts so many individuals and a lot of actors, especially, who come for all the films that are just now starting to hire more principal roles outside of L.A. I think a good way to put it might be that in other cities, you might feel like an outsider looking in at first as a filmmaker. But in NOLA, that's sort of the realm of the old money, and they aren't in film. The rest of us are all pretty much equals, even if competitive cliques still do exist.

That said, this isn't much of an online town. Most people in film here are on Facebook, but not so much on Twitter or anything else. If you see that as an unforgivable negative, then I'll say this to you about NOLA: If you're an artist and you haven't at least visited here, your education's incomplete on several levels.

How has social media changed the independent industry?

I think that question would better be answered by Henry Jenkins and Ed Burns. They should get together and write a new book. I'd read that book, as long as it contained hard data and analysis and wasn't padded with fluff.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

I've seen the pie chart depicting the divisions of wealth in this country, so I'm not as happy about it as I could be. Does it help a lot of people? Yes. Are they for the most part people who need and deserve it? That's up to their networks. It's actually kind of nice because I don't have to evaluate and judge each and every crowdfunding opportunity that comes along. The networks for these projects take care of that. I've only contributed to two projects in my life, and only one of them used an online platform. When I see something I dearly wish I had money to contribute toward, I do what I can to give it a little exposure. In the future, I'm hoping to be able to change my giving to sharing ratio. I think too many people outside of indie film get bombarded with fundraising messages with no good context in which to place them. Hopefully that's not happening on mine. I'm contacting people directly. But that's just a starting point. How it takes shape and rolls beyond those I already know is rather mysterious.

But to get back to the division of wealth, one of the strangest things I've observed is this vein of dissonance running through the indie film community over famous people crowdfunding. The argument seems to be that it should be saved for those who need it. Now, that's not laissez-faire, nor is it kind; more importantly, it's not practical. For one thing, famous doesn't automatically connote rich and even if it did, trying to limit someone else's creative potential over a quality based solely on perception, a quality which can dissipate at any moment, is absurd and, to reiterate, unkind. To get to the practical matter of the issue is that pie chart I mentioned. If famous people can help to redistribute that wealth even a little, then that's a good thing. But I would caution people not to have stars in their eyes. If you want to complain about something, complain about campaigns that keep trying to raise funds after they've made their goals. It's classless and an indication you set the wrong goal in the first place.

For that matter, while we're on the subject of greed, please make sure you fundraise what you need. Not "how much you can get." I worry that people think we're all socialists, when it's only socialism to an extent. Just because a filmmaker gives to others' campaigns doesn't mean that filmmaker can expect reciprocity; the same goes with audience for those films. That's capitalism. I worry about people being misled and exploited, thinking that they're buying into a system that's eventually going to pay off for everybody when obviously that has not been and will continue to not necessarily be the case. It pains me to say it, but most of the people I've met in independent film are pretty thickly mired in middle class values. So I guess I also worry about disillusionment.

An online friend of mine stunned me last summer, to give you an example of mild disillusionment. He hadn't really been using Twitter, just Facebook, and it was clear he hadn't done any real research on crowdfunding before he jumped into it to raise money for a production studio. In fact, he pretty much just asked a random question on Facebook about it and I came out far and away in favor of Kickstarter, with good arguments to back that up, and then he used IndieGoGo instead. Like, a couple days later. His campaign was not going well and hadn't ended before he started a second IndieGoGo campaign to raise money for the production studio's first film. Then that started to founder. I emailed him about it and he said that he was surprised that none of his industry contacts were supportive of his venture. This is the part where I should add that he lives in L.A. I tried my best to break it to him gently that I wasn't surprised. I'm a research hound, though, so I was pretty speechless beyond that.

What is the casting process like?

In this crazy, old city, it's a doozy. TOLL ROAD was the first film I'd ever had a formal casting for, and I have to say that it was worth the rigor I put myself through, to do it in a way that I felt would benefit everyone. I diverged from the norm in that I formed relationships with people online during the course of the process. Not so much before the actual audition night; actors are both understandably skittish of saying too much before an audition and busy. But with all the truly good ones who showed up, I was firm friends by the time I had the film cast. I was making solid foundations and inroads for future filmmaking: The 48 Hour Film Project, HOTCAKES, the next one...

Of course, we still had a few absolute loons show up and put on a show. One of them even got my cell number somehow and left me a half dozen messages about us doing lunch. Like we were going to The Palms or something, like I was Dean Martin and she was going to be the newest member of the Rat Pack. And this was after she turned in an audition that left everyone in the room uncomfortable with its craziness -- craziness, mind you, that included playing with my cookies while she was "in character." There were no cookies in the script, not even any food in the script (it's not that kind of film), and she was moving around my cookies right in front of me during the reading. It also seemed vaguely sexual, in a way I can't really put my finger on. We didn't do lunch.

Since then, I've developed a system of getting to know and then writing for specific people. With HOTCAKES, it backfired in two small ways. First, I wrote a waitress role for someone who had never been a waitress. In retrospect, I should have asked if she had; the physicality of it made her feel awkward. Second, the woman I wrote the fortune teller role for moved the week of rehearsals. I had to find a replacement right quick. But you have to be a dedicated actor for me to write you a role. If you're a stand-in, you're not an actor. If you're looking to make a big break in background work, you're deluding yourself and you're probably not an actor. Try an indie film like Kat Loyacano did and get dirty.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

The mainstream ones almost always give me a headache. Or worse, an eye ache. The independent ones often do too, but I guess I prefer better odds of seeing something innovative, or possibly even inventive, and definitely less stuffy. I like it when filmmakers put the real back in realism and that usually comes from the indie camp.

You could go back in time and see any classic film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Probably 2001: A Space Odyssey. But only if Kubrick promised not to be cruel to me like he was to Shelley Duvall.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Honestly, I don't have one. It's about character, not lines.

What is your opinion on movie remakes?

My initial reaction is always to say that I don't watch them, but I've noticed a trend. If I'm not aware of or haven't seen the original and it looks decent, I watch (3:10 to Yuma). If I've seen the original, and especially if I loved it, chances are no power on this earth could get me to see a remake. The studios put them out to make money in "lean" times, and I try to avoid giving money to studios whenever I can.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Wish we saw more of it, but I also think it could use more diversity. Brit lit has had kind of a choke hold on the industry for a while now. If you look at the Oscar contenders and what films really impacted people over the last couple of decades, you'll find British authors quite a bit. I love Atonement, but it would be nice to see a film of that caliber come out of the independent sphere, only from a new point of view. We need subversion, we need to have our taboos and norms pushed at and questioned and challenged to a proper verbal duel. And we need that from the entire world. Which is all part and parcel of being in independent film and not caring much about Hollywood.

Who is the best vaudeville performer of all time?

I don't honestly know; I can only say that my favorite is Charlie Chaplin. I suspect that I would have loved Vaudeville, though. If I had lived in that era, I might have opted to be a classic stage actress. After work, I would've skipped over to the follies to get my turn.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I'd like to invite you and your readers to the online HOTCAKES test screening, going live privately on YouTube on January 28. All you have to do is subscribe to the channel:

For the online portion, we may rely on comment fields and analytics, but we do reserve the right to track down your email address so that we can send you a questionnaire, should you be so inclined. It's optional, of course. Also --

Thank you very much for electing to maintain a blog like this that opens up artists' worlds to others. And don't forget what I said about how a hobby can turn into a career. Those words may haunt you yet, John Hoff.


Thank you for doing the interview Jo. I wish you all the best with your Kickstarter campaign.  I was also diagnosed with a learning disability as both a child and recently as an adult.   I agree I think having an obstacle to overcome can be very inspiring and push a person to do their very best work.

SIDENOTE: I heard that Charlie Chaplin once came in 3rd in a Charlie Chaplin look-a-like contest.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Filmmaker Arthur Luhn


Arthur Luhn was born in Aspen, Colorado and moved to Vermont with his mother when he was 3. In Vermont, he began attending the Austine School for the Deaf. It was at this time he discovered making movies at the age of 7 or 8 through being exposed to a 8mm film camera his stepfather had. It was not long before he was wreaking havoc on the family household, making short movies ranging from horror (which left a front screen door destroyed and his mother furious) to comedy (which took up an entire garage, locking out the cars for a long time).  The introduction of a VHS movie camera into the household only made things worse.


With his transfer to the Brattleboro Union High School, the household became a lot more sane, as Arthur’s passion in filmmaking waned. From high school he went on to attend Boston University where he intended to major in Archaeology. He found the mathematic and ethical aspect of the field very tedious and boring. That, along with the death of a close family member, inspired him to change his major to religion and philosophy where he studied extensively and read voraciously in the fields of philosophy, mythology, religion, and psychology, earning a degree in comparative religions study.


It was not until a few years after graduating that his interest in filmmaking suddenly surged with the purchase of a drastically marked down video camera at a department store. It was not long before he was making movies at a furious pace, starting with his first short film, “Destination Eyeth” which was featured on PBS’s “History Through Deaf Eyes” that aired nationwide.  He went on to write and direct his first full length feature, “The Golden Legacy” a year later and finished the film in two years. This was followed by “Conned” his biggest and most audacious project to date, taking three years to make.  Arthur now resides on the south shore in the Greater Boston area and is on work on his third feature film, a psychological thriller that takes place in a quiet sleepy town.

What is the current project you are working on?

We just finished “Conned” an action-comedy indie film that’s been making the rounds on the festival circuit with tremendous success. It’s won a few awards- best film, best director, best DP, an audience award for best film, and it’s been nominated for best original screenplay. Right now I’m working on a webisode series called “Lil Miss Repo” and working on the next feature, a psychological thriller that I hope to get going this winter.

How do you define success?

Doing what you love to do and getting paid to do it.

How do you handle rejection?

I just let it roll off my back. I don’t keep count or hold grudges. Getting rejected isn’t a bad thing in my mind, anyway, because it means you’re trying to get somewhere. I think it’s worse to not get rejected because that means you’re not even trying.

Did you always want to be involved with the film industry?

I don’t think I see it that way- I just want to make movies, whether or not that stipulates that one be involved with an “industry.”

What inspired you to become involved with the film industry?

My inspirations are driven by movies and making them.

What are some of the best things about the industry?

I don’t know- I haven’t been involved to the extent to be able to give a satisfactory answer.

What are some of the worst things about it?

I guess I can’t really remark on this either. I’m not really qualified.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

I’ve done two features, working on my third now. I’ve done almost 10 short films I think- lost count there.

Who is is your favorite filmmaker?

I especially admire those filmmakers who I believe represent the next generation and are always pushing the envelope: Christopher Nolan, Guy Ritchie, to name a few.

How has your life changed since you became involved with the film industry?

I’ve become more broke.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to start a career in the entertainment field?

Make sure it’s something you absolutely love doing and wouldn’t rather be doing something else, because you’re going to pay for it with your life.

What do you to do when you're not on set?

What anyone else would do with their free time, I guess.

How would you describe your film education?

Never-ending. I’m always learning, trying new things, studying other filmmakers, or continually reading up on it.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

I don’t have a favorite film- it’s like asking me what’s my favorite snowflake.. there’s just so many movies out there that I admire and wouldn’t want to leave out if I had to pick one or even a top ten. I don’t watch TV so I’m extremely incompetent there, I’m afraid.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

A long stretch of white beach giving way to clear blue seas, somewhere in the Carribean. Two leaning palm trees with the requisite hammock and also a surfboard nearby.

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

It’s given indie films a fighting chance for recognition. Levels out the playing field, it seems.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

I think it’s good- it’s a good tool, but like any other method of raising funds, you have to put in the work.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

Well the subject matter is of course far more electic, but I don’t see any particular advantage one has over the other. It all comes down to how good your story is.

You could go back in time and see and film being made. Which film would it be and why?

Star Wars. I know by now it’s beyond cliché, but at the time it was a very ground-breaking film. To paraphrase Monty Python’s saying: “And now for something completely different.” I think that just captures it so well. I’d like to have been there to see how the creative process was coming together and how various people were reacting to it. I know a lot of people were shaking their heads at it at the time, and only Alan Ladd jr. was nodding his head at this spectacular other-worldly vision.

Do you believe in life on other planets?

I believe in Planet Eyeth!

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

I don’t really have one. Too many of them in my head.

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

Never really been a fan of them except in rare cases where sequels are justified and well-done, and even sometimes better, as in the case of the “Empire Strikes Back.”

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

If it’s done well, then those are fine by me but you rarely if ever see that. The creative space that a book gives you is much more time-friendly and more flexible than a film which is far more constricting because you’ve got a certain time limit, so there’s a lot of compression involved. Sometimes it’s done well, sometimes it’s not. “No Country for Old Men” was done pretty well.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012



Gandalf taught me how to be a spirit wrapped in flesh. Aragorn taught me how to be a man. Frodo taught me of perseverance, and Samwise of loyalty. Along the way I learned of the power of the written word, the gift it could give by slipping past our defences to show us the best and the worst in ourselves. So who is Stephen B. Pearl? He is a lifeguard, husband, mystic, science enthusiast, home handyman, backyard mechanic, and writer. Like most of us the face he wears changes with the company and the season. His three cats know him as pride alpha, I like to think so, though servant might be more accurate. Who am I kidding? My wife runs the pride; I just try and stay out of her way.
At any rate, I am a man of middle years who lives in a house in Ontario, Canada with three cats, a wife and a sincere hope that you will enjoy my books. My presently available works are.

Tinker’s Plague: A post-apocalyptic, science fiction, medical and political thriller, ISBN 978-1-933157-30-6 available in paperback and e-book formats from Draumr Publishing: 

Slaves of Love: e-book: A futuristic detective story of love and madness. 

The Hollow Curse: e-book: A centuries spanning tale of love and obsession available from Club Lighthouse Publishing:

Nukekubi: A paranormal, detective novel, ISBN 978-0-9867633-6-6 - eISBN. 978-0-9867633-7-3 available in paperback and e-book formats from Dark Dragon Publishing:

For more information about Stephen B. Pearl or his works please visit:

What is the current project you are working on?

There are several. The central one is the rough draft of Tinker’s Sea the second book in the Tinker series of post-apocalyptic novels. I also have a space opera that I’m editing Smugglers’ War and a series of interrelated stories in the Sabbath series of the Pagan Writers Press then there’s promotional work. What am I forgetting? Oh yes, breathing. Must make time to breath. OK that’s enough, back to work. 

How do you define success?

Being happy and living with a degree of honor and dignity. For that you need to do something you like and you feel makes a difference.

How do you handle rejection?

Badly. The truth is being an author you will get loads of rejection. Editors are looking for reasons to get your work off their desks not reasons to publish you. You can’t blame them when you consider the number of manuscripts they see. One trick I use is I save all my paper rejection letters. Pile them up and every once in a while go out in the backyard and burn them. It’s very cathartic. I also have a file on my computer labeled “Their Loss” that is a black hole that I dump my rejections into. A stock rejection from a editor means only one thing. Don’t send that story to that editor again. A personal rejection with advice means that a very busy person saw enough in your work that they took the time to offer advice. It may be good or bad advice, but it is a minor win.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Since I was twenty three. Before that it was Astronaut, Professional SCUBA diver or Ambulance Attendant.

 What inspired you to become a writer?

Writers taught me how to be, how to live, how to think. They made me look at myself and see the good and the bad in the mirror of their words. I want to pay some of that back.

What is the best thing about being one?

When your book comes out in print and you hold it for the first time knowing that people will read your words. That you will touch them and if you’ve done your job they will gain pleasure and maybe, just maybe a new perspective from your work. That is a feeling that makes the months of blood sweat and tears worthwhile.

What is the worst thing about being one?

Poverty, It’s like acting, until and unless you make it reasonably big it costs more than it yields. This trend seems to be getting worse.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

Oh gods. Books maybe 20, books that have a chance of seeing print, ten short stories, blogs other things I wouldn’t hazard a guess. Lots.

Who is your favorite author?

J.R Tolkien, of living authors Jim Butcher, who is also a really nice guy. His wife Shannon, also a writer, is a sweet heart. One of the nicest couples I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

How has your life changed since you became writer?

I’ve been writing for 26 years I’ve been published, in any significant way, for 3. So not much. I still love my wife and cats. I still eat too much and have to force myself to go to the gym. I attend a lot more Science Fiction Conventions than I use to.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to be a writer?

Get out before the addiction becomes to strong. Really, if you think it is going to be easy, if you think you’ll self-publish your masterpiece and suddenly have fame and fortune think again. There are thousands of people at the same level you are all competing for the book Buyer’s dollar. If it’s too late for you to save yourself, if you just have to write, if your characters keep you up at night then live. Experience everything you can, without being stupid of course. If you want to write fantasy join a group that recreates the middle ages. If you want to write about magic, crack some books and find some public circles of local mystical religions to attend. Be respectful, these are religious ceremonies and the faith of the people attending deserves respect, but learn from the experience and bring that to your writing. All great fiction is based on a network of facts.

What do you like to do besides writing?

Walk in the woods. Cross country ski in the woods, swim, skin and or SCUBA dive, play with my cats, attend sf conventions.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a writer?

Before after and during. Lifeguard has been the most persistent. I’ve also been a laborer on a loading bay, a shipping and receiving clerk, worked for a short time in a balloon factory, that came in handy when I wrote Nukekubi, among other things.

How would you describe your education?

Collage graduate with some university. Up here in Canada Collages offer practical hands on programs with diplomas. Universities offer the BA, Masters, Doctorate stream and tend to be more theoretical. I am also very well read and at least marginally knowledgeable in a verity of fields. A man should not have an opinion unless he can back it up with at least a basic understand of what he has an opinion on.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Films, The three original Star Wars, The American Pie movies, Alyson Hannigan be still my heart.

TV, Forever Knight, Farscape, Sanctuary, Babylon 5, How I Met Your Mother, so what it’s a harmless crush were both married and met once for about two minutes and I’m sure she doesn’t even recall the incident. I’ll say this for Alyson, she was a class act all the way when I did meet her. She made up for the horrible week I’d had in less than a minute.

How has social media changed the publishing industry?

It’s given everyone a platform to promote their books. The competition has skyrocketed and the quality control has all but vanished. Frankly, things are a transitory mess and I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I suspect that a few reviewers will develop reputations for doing a good analyses and they will become the king makers in a new literary landscape. It has also shifted the responsibility for promotion away from the publisher and onto the writer. I feel this is a less than ideal situation since the personality that often makes for a great writer tends to be exclusive from the one that makes a great promoter. I know many authors that hate doing readings, cringe at having to “plug” their work but these things are now essentials.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

Budgets, desperation, risk taking, pay.

 You could have any first edition book. Which book would it be and why?

A Gutenberg Bible because I could sell it and buy a place in the country. For practical purposes what added value does being a first edition give. The words are still the same and the story doesn’t change.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather: Death, “Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.”

This speaks to the core of what it is to be human, to strive for that which is worthy and unreal and by that striving to make it real. To become a creator in the universe shaping it into something more grand than it could ever be without us. It is about will, desire, striving, and our ultimate evolution. In a sense it is a way of restating a quote from the Book of Coming Forth by Day. “I am not a man perfected, I am a man perfecting.”

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

It varies with the movie. The first four Alien movies were a rare example where the sequels lived up to the original. The Jurassic Park franchise on the other hand tanked after the first movie, aside from the CGI. So it’s a case by case basses.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Much the same as above. I will say this, usually if the movie is better than the book it means the book needed a good compression edit to start with.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Just a thank you for having me and a list of some sights where people can learn more about me and my work.

My personal website:

YouTube Readings:

PolkaDot Banner:
Good Reads:


Thank you Stephen for doing the interview. I think that's really awesome that you met Jim Butcher and his wife. You've got a lot going on. I wish you all the best with your projects.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Actor Todd Johnson

Todd got bit by the acting and show biz bug at a very early age, pre-pubescent, actually. His most memorable performance was his first. “I was in 2nd grade, and I was a Noun. In fact, I was going to be an Adjective, but the kid who was the Noun originally couldn’t say the word “plural”… so since I already knew his lines, I took it and was the star of the show!” That got him hooked and he has been an actor ever since.

The most fun Todd had in a performance was a sketch comedy show that he acted in, directed and produced in a small theater called “The Black Box” on the Westside of Los Angeles. “On opening night, we had 17 people in the audience. The second night, we were half-full and by the time the show closed, we were turning people away because we were going to violate the fire laws!” Todd stopped acting from age 23 through 34 to raise his kids. He also used to own a high-tech business. Currently, he balances being an Engineering Fellow at an aerospace giant where he builds weather satellites with taking on important acting roles while spending time and money to make movies which make a difference.

Johnson was a graduate from Colorado State University with a dual major. He received a Bachelor of Science in Physics and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater. He went on to receive his Masters of Science in Optics from the University of Rochester. He has trained with some of the most world renowned acting coaches and schools today including Stephen Book, Ivana Chubbuck, Margie Haber and The Groundlings.

For more information about Todd and his work please visit

What is the current project you are working on? 

I am producing, directing and have co-written a horror feature film called “The Rental” ( The story is about four girls who move into their first off- campus house only to find that the owner of the house is a soul eater. It stars Katherine Browning, Mike Campbell, Leah Verrill, Ashley Love, Tiffany Walker and Bianca Lopez. Our Director of Photography is Rick Greenwood who I have worked with recently on “Hinnon Valley”-another horror film. Amazingly,  I’m not acting in this project because the energy I have had to devote to the behind-the-camera work. It has been fairly intense!

How do you define success? 

I truly believe that success is what you make it. You can be successful at anything as long as it satisfies what you feel you have contributed to society. When I first got my driver’s license, I pulled it out of the mailbox and opened right in front of the mailman. I hooted, hollered and screamed because I had gotten my driver’s license at the ripe age of 16! But the success was the mailman’s. He looked at me with a really big smile and said “That’s what I like about my job.” Then he drove off and high-fived the air. THAT was success for him. For me, if I can contribute knowledge, or enjoyment or any small thing to make the world better, I have been successful. And I have.

How do you handle rejection? 

Just let it go. That’s easy to say and not always easy to do. If you get rejected by your girlfriend of several years, that’s different than getting rejected by a casting director or a producer. I let it go externally, but those rejections usually put me in that state of mind to ask: “What could I have done better?” The beauty of that question is that 99% of the time, you couldn’t have done anything better. That helps me really let it go. But that 1% usually makes me change my tactics. If that producer, director, etc. doesn’t want me for his next feature, then maybe my best route is to go into competition with him. THAT changes your life.

Did you always want to be an actor? 

My first acting experience was when I was a Noun when I was in second grade in my first play. I was originally cast as an Adverb, but the kid they cast as the Noun couldn’t say the word “plural”. So I took over. Since then, I was hooked. It was not without its starts and stops though. I got married in my mid- 20s and had two kids, then got divorced and, well, let’s just say that “Todd was on a nine year acting hiatus.” Unfortunately those were some of my prime years for roles, so it has been an uphill battle to get where I am now. And the hard work has paid off. I have two great kids!

What inspired you to become an actor? 

What is funny to me is that I never really needed the inspiration that everyone talks about. Acting is all about collaborating, creating, changing and making little pieces of magic happen. Just entertaining is entertaining to me! If I make someone laugh, cry, scream-that’s my inspiration.

What is the best thing about being an actor? 

When people tell me that a piece that I have worked on has moved them in some way, in public, you have to keep your cool and politely say “thank you”. But sometimes I go home and cry because I’m so happy that they were so moved. I did a stage play in West Los Angeles about five years ago and when it was over, a woman came up to me in tears to tell me how much she loved my performance. She said it reminded her of her husband (who had passed away not more than a year prior). I stood with her for almost 20 minutes pretty much ignoring everything else going on around us. That’s the kind of thing I live for: To affect people (hopefully) in a positive way.

What’s the worst thing about being an actor? 

It is funny how acting mimics real life and vice versa. The stories that you hear about studios, power grabs, etc. are all unfortunately true. If the waiter job in that upscale restaurant is between you and the owner’s son, who do you think is going to get the job? If the two line role in that next big screen film production is between you and the Producer’s daughter’s husband, who do you think is going to get the job? Most folks do try to be fair and there are some phenomenal casting directors out there who insist on new talent all the time (look at Criminal Minds!). The politics can be daunting. It’s just something you have to deal with.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on? 

Somewhere in my files I actually have a list of every role that I have ever done including radio, commercials, voice overs, not to mention stage, film and television. I know it is over 200 roles-probably over 300, but I haven’t checked in a couple of years.

Who is your favorite actor? 

I had hired a PR guy once who asked me this question and I said, without hesitation, Kevin Spacey. Here’s the thing: Have you seen Kevin Spacey in a flashy role or in some Tabloid recently? No, but he is definitely still working. He is the actor’s actor. I don’t usually get star struck, but he would be one person who I might get star struck with if I had to play across from him. He doesn’t have to say anything to get his point across. He doesn’t have to rub his success in your face. He just does it.

How has life changed since you became an actor? 

Oh, you mean aside from the marriage, divorce, two kids, etc.? Hahahaha! SOOOO many things have changed. When I was a little kid, there was nothing called a PC, much less a cell phone, or and iPAD. Over the years, I have definitely mellowed. If you had met me 20 years ago, I was a bouncing superball of energy. Most of my newer friends still think that I am, but people who have known me for a long time say that I’ve become more relaxed and at-ease with everything. I tend to let things bounce off of me.

What piece of advice can you give someone who also wants to make it in the acting business? 

Give up now! So if you get past that line, be ready to work and network. You may not be pretty (and goodness knows I’m not), but if you walk into a casting director’s office with 7 pages of dialog that you got last night and you blow them away with a full performance that is fully off book, do you think you have a shot at booking that role? You have a much better shot than if you don’t have any training, and you haven’t even read the lines before you walk in. Who have you contacted in the industry recently? When is the last time you sent out a post card to every casting director and agent in town? When is the last time you did a follow up call with your agent or a new agent? What kind of industry parties do you go to? Is there anyone at those parties that you go to that can REALLY help you make your career happen or do they just want your clothes off? If it’s the clothes, you are going to the wrong parties.

What do you like besides filmmaking? 

Ha ha! Okay that is funny to me because I have a dual degree in Physics and Theater. I build weather satellites for a day job. If there’s a hurricane on its way to you, and you have been told to evacuate, I can tell you that my weather satellite is probably why they are telling you to evacuate. Of course, I actually LIKE skiing and playing in the snow whenever I can. Scuba diving is fun too. I have found that doing nothing can be inspiring too, but not for too long.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become an actor? 

I have had so many jobs in my life, but I have to tell you that acting is the one I have stayed with. If I were to get hit by a Mack Truck tomorrow (don’t get any ideas, folks) I would be okay because I have made a difference. I am very content with what I have done so far. That said, there is no way I’m stopping any time soon. The laundry list goes something like this: Full time Mom-Dad, engineer, owner of my own high tech company, salesman, dishwasher, cook, carpenter, ditch digger, chief technologist, film maker, script writer, and film editor. I’m sure I left something out, but that’s a good start.

How would you describe your film education? 

I double majored as an undergrad in theater and physics. The beauty (and curse) of that theater degree is that it was the first year they offered it when I was in college. So I got a lot of lead roles in their plays. I have continued training to this day having trained with some of today’s greatest acting coached like Ivana Chubbuck, Stephen Book and Margie Haber. On the film production side, I have learned from the school of hard knocks. I edit films because ten years ago I decided that I would rather pay $1,000 for a fancy film editing program to do my own demo reels than pay someone else $500 to do it for me. I have produced about 25 different films because I’m just good at it. I know how to fill out paperwork (it’s that science background). I direct films because if I wanted to hire a director, I would have to pay them. I write scripts because I want people to buy them (and I’m one dissertation away from an MFA in writing), but I have come to realize that NO ONE buys feature scripts off the street. They DO buy spec scripts for TV shows, so I’m working on that next.

What are some of your favorite American Films? Foreign Films? Television shows? 

American Beauty; Lord of the Rings Trilogy (I actually liked them all); Drive; Star Trek (the latest one). No foreign films that are commercially famous come to mind, but I have to say that I’ve seen a couple in film festivals that have really rocked my world. TV shows: Crime dramas like CSI:, NCIS, and well written/well made Sci-Fi shows like Firefly, Star Trek, etc.  Sci-fi in plain English folks-if it’s too wrapped up, I don’t get it.

How would you describe the film “scene” where you live? 

I live in Los Angeles, and the scene is scary. Doors are closing fast. Film and TV production is moving out of town to places like Wilmington, NC, Atlanta, GA, and Toronto. Why do this stuff in LA where they make it so hard to make a film or a TV show? And for the stuff that stays here: Let’s just say that I was not invited to dinner recently by Mr. Spielberg.

How has social media changed the film industry? 

Oh, huge changes. In fact, our initial marketing plan for “The Rental” is all based on social media. Did you know that Blair Witch was also based totally on social media? And that social media can make a film happen? Let’s put it this way, if I have a quarter million people liking my page, I can get theatrical release. If I have a half a million followers on my @TheRentalMovie Twitter page, I can get theatrical release. That’s only 250,000-500,000 people who have to hit one button and it’s a complete theatrical success! Talk about a difference! Distributors beg for it. Big films use it everywhere. Does it actually get you more ticket sales or DVD rentals? I don’t know. But us indie film guys want people to “Like” our pages and follow us on Twitter because, believe me, it helps!

What’s your opinion on crowdfunding? 

If you can get money to fund your project on Kickstarter or some other internet based funding method, you are smarter than I am! I did try to do this for “The Rental” and got nowhere fast. Then I started doing things the old fashioned way: I called people I knew. I had much better results there than I did on the web. I probably just don’t have the right intro line. Or people just don’t like to fund horror flicks when there is no return.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream? 

Money, time, star power, time, money, money, money. I love indie films because everyone knows it has to be done cheap and fast. And if they don’t know that then why are they there? Still, it is always good to have time, stars (who don’t act like them off camera) and, of course, money...

If you could go back in time and see a film being made, which film would it be and why? 

I don’t want to go back in time. I want to go forward in time! I want to see what the future holds. I want to know the lottery numbers so I can go back to normal time so I can fund that big budget picture that I want to star in.

Do you believe in life on other planets? 

Yes, there is at least slime mold on other planets. Intelligent life? I’m waiting on phone call from NASA before I make that decision, but it certainly can’t be ruled out because the odds are in favor of it!

What’s your favorite movie quote and why? 

“WASSSSUUUUUUP!” One word. Stupid. Silly. Perfectly played.

Would you ever consider owning a pet monkey? 

I have a cat and that’s too much for me to take care of these days.  Now a robot sounds pretty good to me.  ;-)

What is your opinion on remakes and sequels? 

With very few exceptions, I think sequels are great for the guys making money and horrible for the folks spending money. I make it a rule to never ever go see a sequel. I made that rule after Transformers II came out and I’m much better for it. If the feature film I am making is a success, do you think I’m going to make a sequel? You bet! For once the little guy wins!

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptations? 

Again, with a few notable exceptions, this is not my favorite way to make a film. Here’s the thing: You have a book that’s popular and that means that the film will be popular even if the film is not that good. A lot of money changes hands to do that adaptation because everyone knows it is a born success. More power to the little folks making money. Wait, they aren’t little folks anymore because they already have a successful book. But, if the film is actually good and we can all understand what is going if we don’t want to read the book, I give complete kudos to the Screenwriter and the Director!

Is there anything else you want to add? 

What? 6 pages isn’t enough?  ;-)  Thanks folks!


Thanks Todd for doing the interview. I'm a fan of all the cast and crew who worked on "Hinnon Valley" I think it's a  great flick. I'll  will be checking our "The Rental" Facebook page.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Filmmaker Jay Beck

Jay Beck is currently a graduate student in film at Columbia College Chicago. He has been directing short films since 2003. He is primarily concerned with themes of alienation and displacement and how this affects the individual and their psychology. His goal is to create cinema that combines the issues and depth of art films and the accessibility of Hollywood movies, such as the works of Jean-Pierre Melville and Wes Anderson.

What is the current project you are working on?

Man on Mars, which is about one of the first men to Mar’s return home.  It’s based on a feature I want to do, and has been challenging figuring out how to make it work as a short.

How do you measure success?

I try to think of success in terms of what I can control.  Fame and fortune would be great, but there are better ways to go about it than filmmaking, so I try to keep this definition in terms of why I chose movies.  So first off it’s getting to make the movies I want to make.  Second, taking risks and challenging myself and learning and developing.  Third, collaborating with people that challenge and engage me.  Fourth, helping others achieve their visions.

How do you handle rejection?

Very poorly.  I have gotten better over the years, but I have a sensitive personality type so I shut down easily or internally justify myself by thinking "oh they don't understand my work" or "their jealous."  This is rarely the case, but often when people critique my work they can tell something is not working but can’t put their finger on it.  Outright rejection is easier to bear because you don’t know the terms.

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

Not by a long shot.  I wanted to be a farmer and then a policeman and then a basketball player, from middle school on I wanted to be a playwright, and then around the time of college an architect or a computer programmer.

What inspired you to become filmmaker?

When I was 20, I was really searching for what I was passionate about and had started studying graphic design.  A lot of graphic design’s language comes from cinema so I started watching a lot of movies.  I took a digital cinema class and tried to replicate the shot from Amelie where she is skipping stones.  There was something about how the cinematography, music, and color all came together in that moment in the movie that made me realize I wanted to be filmmaker.

What is the best thing about being one?

Films are kind of like music, society should be able to live without them but somehow it gives life purpose and contributes to our experience.  To put it into words, at least for me is how Bruno Schulz described the Age of Genius in Sanitarium Under the Sign of the Hourglass, “There are things that cannot ever occur with any precision.  They are too big and too magnificent to be contained in mere facts…they quickly withdraw, fearing to lose their integrity in the frailty of realization.”

So now that I’ve given you my esoteric answer, I think it’s that film contains all the arts and can’t be done alone.  I get to explore all mediums without having to have mastered them.  So I can I work with a musician and have insight and ideas but don’t have to know how to play an instrument.  You also have a community fighting for the same end, and from that common struggle an honest and deep intimacy emerges.

What is the worst thing about being one?

Films are kind of like music…just kidding.

I think one of the biggest struggles is making what you are saying compelling to others.  So what makes the medium great also makes it daunting.

Also money and time, most of the people I work with are okay with not getting paid but it’s always in the back of your mind that they are doing this for free.  I always tend to feel like I am asking to much of people, but then you have to remember that they are just as committed to the project as you are, or at least you hope so.  It also gets really difficult to schedule everything around other people’s work and life schedules.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

Andrei Tarkovsky

Bela Tarr

Jean Pierre Melville

Hiroshi Teshigahara

Alexander Dovzhenko

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

Hectic and anxious, filmmaking is really tough and a struggle, but so is anything worth doing.  Also writing is really hard because you come up against yourself, I always bang head on walls while trying to knock out a script.  There’s always the fear that people will think your best efforts are crap.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to make it in the movie business?

I don’t know about making it in the movie business, but I always encourage people to watch movies and make movies.

A lot of people have hard time with the more obscure and slower films like Tarkovsky and Bergman, but you really have to learn to appreciate them.  It can be a real challenge on your patience and focus, but I tell people not to worry about getting it just keep watching them, because it eventually starts making sense.  When I first started watching a lot of stuff I couldn’t see why the critics praised certain stuff as masterpieces or why they were so important, but eventually starts to make sense.  So I really encourage people to challenge themselves with what they watch and seek out a lot international and more obscure work.

I also encourage my friends to make the movies only they can make it instead of making good movies.  I think it’s most important to find what you have to say and how to say it, the craft and technical stuff comes later and develops while your making stuff.  The best way to break out with limited resources and money is to be unique.  Hollywood can do Hollywood better because their better equipped for that, so do something different.  The independent breakthroughs generally offer something Hollywood doesn’t and even often times have many flaws.  Flaws can be overlooked if the story and characters are engaging.

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

I have three cats so I try to spend some time with them.  I also watch a lot of movies and spend a lot of time reading stuff that can influence my filmmaking.  My life is pretty centered on making films so most everything I do is somehow geared toward that.  I am also really interested in film history and theory, so I spend a lot of time reading about that when I get a chance.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

Unfortunately, I’m not really an employed at as a filmmaker yet, so I work at Whole Foods in the bakery.  I’ve worked there in several positions off an on while I’ve been in grad school.  I finish taking classes for my MFA this spring, so then I will be teaching at Columbia College Chicago and trying to put my thesis film together.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

Umm, Houseguest…You’ll have to forgive me for being indulgent because there are so many good ones.

My favorite childhood film was The Neverending Story, because it just haunted and enchanted me.

The Usual Suspects:  Annie Hall, The Graduate, Harold and Maude, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Edward Scissorhands, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Godfather, Casablanca, Bicycle Thieves, The Virgin Suicides, Lost In Translation, Memento, Amelie, Rebel Without a Cause, Breathless, The Big Sleep, North by Northwest, Vertigo, 2001, The Shining, Dr. Strangelove, Seven Samurai, The Shawshank Redemption, Eternal Sunshine, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Independents:  David and Lisa, The Lost Skelton of Cadavra, Man on Wire, La Jetee, Primer, Moon

International:  Ali Zoua – Morocco, Avalon – Poland, Battle Royal, Takeshis’, Kikujiro  – Japan, Yi Yi – Taiwan, The Host and Old Boy – Korea, The Power of One – South Aftrica, The Lonliness of the Long Distance Runner – Great Britain, The Cremator – Czechoslovakia, The Return – Russia, Touchez Pas Au Grisbi and The Red Balloon – France, 13 Tzameti – Georgia, Tuvalu and Dead Snow – Germany, Infernal Affairs and Intial D – Hong Kong, The Band’s Visit – Israel, The Cow – Iran, Apu Trilogy – India (Bengal), Insomnia and The Bothersome Man – Norway, The Celebration and Reconstruction – Denmark, Werkmeister Harmonies – Hungary

Masters: Hour of the Wolf – Bergman, The Conformist – Bertolucci, Viridiana and The Exterminating Angel – Bunuel, The Great Dictator, The Goldrush, and City Lights – Chaplin, A Nous La Liberte – Clair, Diabolique and The Wages of Fear – Clouzot, Orpheus – Cocteau, The Conversation – Coppola, Joan of Arc – Dreyer, 81/2 – Fellini, The Grapes of Wrath – Ford, The Fireman’s Ball – Forman, Alphaville and Band of Outsiders – Godard, Ball of Fire – Hawks, Encounters at the End of the World – Herzog, The Asphalt Jungle – Huston, The General – Keaton, Three Colors Trilogy – Kieslowski, Dr. Mabuse, Spiones, and Woman on the Moon – Lang, Duck, You Sucker – Leone, Eraserhead and Lost Highway – Lynch, Le Doulos – Melville, Sunrise and Nosferatu – Murnau, Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown – Polanski, Grand Illusion and Rules of the Game – Renoir, Rome, Open City – Rossellini, Earth and Arsenal – Dovezchenko, Stalker and Solaris - Tarkovsky

The U.S:  The Bourne Identity, Quiz Show, Awakenings, The Chocolate War, Explorers, The Princess Bride, You Can’t Take it with You, The Party, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Where The Wild Things Are, Sweet Smell of Success, Kronos

TV:  The Adventures of Pete and Pete

I’ll stop, but there’s so many great movies out there.

How would you describe your film education?

I received my Bachelors of Science in film and television from the University of Texas and am getting my MFA in Writing and Directing from Columbia College Chicago, but I’d have to say I learned the most from watching and making movies.  I made a few shorts between undergrad and grad school, which weren’t very good, but I learned a lot.  From making these shorts I learned how to pull together resources like how to find actors, seeking out friends that were musicians, getting or stealing locations, etc.  You really have to learn how to ask for favors as an independent filmmaker.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

Chicago is mostly commercials with some big stuff coming through from time to time, although there is a developing independent scene and a lot of stuff from Columbia College.

I really love Chicago though for the plethora a strong actors.  There is such a big theatre scene here that there is plenty of talent.

How has social media changed the independent film industry?

I think we are beginning to see the collapse of Hollywood.  They will hold out for a quite a while longer, but filmmakers can directly reach their audiences much easier now.  Especially Facebook has been amazing for a lot of this stuff.  Streaming has been really problematic for a lot of the industry and I think will level the playing field for independents.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

It’s really great because it gives you access to your audience before you begin making your movie.  It also allows you to begin marketing before you have even shot a frame of the film.  It also gives audiences a say in what they want to see.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

This is becoming more and more of a grey area with Focus Features, Fox Searchlight and many of the other off shoot companies.  A movie with a budget of 20 million or less is now often considered “independent.”  I think true independent film focuses on producing movies on smarter budgets and are more creative about constraints.  There is also less concern about the commercial success so there is more freedom.  I really believe people just want to see new and engaging work and this is where independent film is really finding its success.  Hollywood really doesn’t know what people want anymore and even though they still have a large hold the market you can see it beginning to slip.  It really doesn’t make sense to put 50 to a 100 million dollars into one movie.

You could go back in time and see any film being made. Which film would it be and why?

The Rules of the Game or Grand Illusion by Renoir, there is just a great energy that you feel from the cast.  Even though work isn’t always fun or happy the creative commitment of everyone was captured on the screen.

What's your favorite movie quote and why?

“You don't like my rice? What's wrong with with it? It's beautiful to me, but to you, rice is nothing... to us, it's just like my father and mother. Don't fuck with my family. If you have any dignity, apologize to the rice RIGHT NOW!” – Ken, A Better Tomorrow II

I don’t know why, I just think its really funny to make a gangster thug apologize to his rice.

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

It irritates me that there are so many great films internationally that are remade to be marketed to American audiences.

If you dig into film history you also find that a lot of recent movies are just remakes, and not nearly as good as the original.  I’m not against remakes if they have their own merit, but if they don’t contribute something new and fall short of the original then what’s the point.  Although there are some remakes that take a good idea and execute it better, such as Quarantine was better then [Rec] and the Soderberg’s Oceans 11 was far superior to the original.

Sequels are fine but I think often suffer from trying to explain the ambiguities of the first movie.  This has a tendency to ruin the first because it’s the questions that are left that can the film powerful.  A lot of movies are afraid to ask questions or leave questions unanswered which is actually ruining cinema.  The best kind of storytelling engages the audience through questions.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptions?

Cinema has a rich history of drawing from literature.  All of Kubrick’s stories came from books.  Although I think the idea of transposing a book to screen just so we can see it play out visually with real people is a bad idea.  The novel and movies are two totally different mediums and have different requirements, so to stay true to the book I think you have to actually steer away from it to some extent.  I don’t like it when people say, “that wasn’t in the book” or “they skipped or cut out all this stuff.”  The book has to be the beginning and then the movie needs to seek out its own requirements.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Nope, except for keep an eye out for Americanitis, which is my first feature that I have in development.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Filmmaker Ben Stark

Benjamin Stark was born in Heilbronn, Germany, before his family emigrated to Huntsville, Alabama in 1987. Stark graduated from the University of Alabama in 2006, formed Wonder Mill Films with Lee Fanning in 2007, and has directed seven shorts and one feature film (The Nocturnal Third).

What is the current project you are working on?

All of my film work is done through Wonder Mill Films, which I co-founded with Lee Fanning, who wrote and directed our first feature film, A Genesis Found ( Right now, I am trying to get our second feature (The Nocturnal Third) out beyond our local area. It has screened here in North Alabama, and is available to purchase and stream online ( I wrote, directed, and edited the film.

Both it and A Genesis Found (which I produced), are regionally specific films, so our goal for the next 9 months or so is to screen them as a double feature throughout the Southeast. We'll also try to find a home for both films on a reputable streaming app, like Hulu or Netflix. We're also developing a science fiction film for me to direct in late 2012. Lee is writing that.

I've decided to take a break from aggressively writing for the foreseeable future, as the process of directing a feature film has shown me where I excel, where I find the most satisfaction, and where I have the most fun. I'm constantly jotting ideas down for another project, but I'm working hard to zone in on taking care of our past two films, while preparing for our third.

What is the casting process like?

Casting is quite possibly the most enjoyable part of production. It's an extremely important process. Every mistake at the end of a film project probably points back to an issue in casting, whether it involve performers or technicians or artists. It's always a good idea to take as much time as possible to carefully consider and choose the people you surround yourself with. For actors, flexible and down-to-earth people with a good sense of humor tend to collaborate well. In regards to crew, the less drama they bring onto the set, the better.

In our productions, we try to make auditions and casting as comfortable as possible. For each of our feature films, we auditioned about 100 people, but we wanted to make sure the experience was a positive one for everyone that came out. With The Nocturnal Third, we cast Luke Weaver several months before everyone else, because he was an actor I trusted and he was great for the part of Jeffrey. We had him read for the part and gave it to him a few minutes later. It was easy. For the lead role of Eli, we were more meticulous. We narrowed down our options to three actors, and had each read with Luke, who had already been cast. All three were great, and brought a different texture to the character. We finally decided on Kevin, and he proved to be an extremely surprising and curious guy.

Again, I can't stress enough how early casting starts and how important it is. Selecting which story to tell is casting. Deciding that an iteration of the script will be the shooting draft is casting. Deciding which cinematographer, sound man, costume designer, production designer to work with… These are all casting decisions, and a thoughtless move in pre-production will cause a severe headache for everyone involved.

How do you measure success?

I think it's very important for an individual to have a strong personal definition of what success. You need to share your goals and be accountable to your family and close friends, but not the entire world. I set goals on a large and small scale. I usually try to only have one item a day that I absolutely have to get done, and then count extra accomplishments as bonuses. I also have a five year plan for Wonder Mill, and for my personal life- family, finances, and so forth.

Speaking strictly about filmmaking, I feel like I've done my job when there are no walls between myself and the movie.  "Success" in filmmaking is completely subjective, and should be decided by the filmmaker, his loved ones, and his close collaborators.

How do you handle rejection?

I put a lot of hard work and time into the projects I take on, but I always try to keep my identity out of them. If I pour my entire being into a project, it hurts the project. Consider a mother that roots her identity in her child. When that child leaves the nest, the mother is crushed, and the child is stunted. In more enlightened moments I remember that Jesus is God. When I put my hope in something much bigger than me, I can embrace failure.

Failure will happen. I should emphasize that, I suppose. We will fail. We will fail often. The key is to fail early, as they say in prototyping. Your reaction to your various failures will depend on your motivations, and your reaction to failure will determine how quickly you recover.


Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

When I was very young, I wanted to be a detective, a pilot, and - after seeing Jurassic Park - a paleontologist. It took an astute friend of mine to point out that when we talked about paleontology (which he also had a newfound interest in), all I talked about was Jurassic Park. I was about ten years old then, and realized that everything I wanted in life was a reflection of movies. That's when I became interested in how they work, and was soon overwhelmed by the frightful realization that they cost a lot of money, were created far away, and took a long time to finish. I loved movies, but was deathly afraid of moviemaking. After some failed attempts at shooting car chases in miniature and recreating John Woo action scenes with bottle rockets, I abandoned the goal. Throughout high school, I got very lazy and spent a lot of time watching television and reading comics.

After graduation, I rediscovered cinema and the spark ignited. I studied marketing at home for a year before switching majors and transferring to the University of Alabama's Telecommunications & Film department in Tuscaloosa. Things really took off there, as I consumed a ridiculous amount of history, technique, and theory in a very condensed period. It was really very thrilling, and sometimes I wish I had the time now to be as ravenous as I was back then. Eventually, I met up with Lee and we began producing short films with a group of friends.

What inspired you to become a filmmaker?

Again, Jurassic Park was a big part of it. I think Tim Burton's Batman was the first movie I saw as a kid. We only went to the movie theater on our birthdays, so seeing a movie on the big screen was a huge deal. My dad watched a ton of James Bond films when my siblings and I were little, as well as Clint Eastwood westerns, Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, and superhero stuff. On my own, I watched Looney Tunes endlessly and read a lot of Calvin & Hobbes.

I've always drawn comic strips, but I've never had the talent to really imbue them with any sense of perspective. Cinema allows for that, and I think that's the fulcrum of my romance with it. Perspective, either in a character sense or in a visual sense, is a film's greatest power.

What is the best thing about being a filmmaker?

What's amazing about directing a film in the year 2011 is that there is a codified set of visual rules that, when wielded with a deft hand, can tell a story more potent and dynamic and reflective than any written work. Film grammar has not really developed or become much more complex in the 60 years since its culmination, and things like trendiness and gloss constantly threaten erode it, but the fact still stands that it works. Novelists rarely bend the language drastically to tell a story, and yet the medium survives and flourishes (I assume). I certainly love to experiment and bend the medium, but I appreciate the fact that I can experiment with a fall-back, and with easily accessible tools. In our day and age, the printing press of film has been invented. For less than $5,000, which anyone can scrape together over the course of a year or so, you can have all the tools you need to tell a story using the grammar of cinema. That is absolutely amazing.

What is the worst thing about being one?

The absolute worst part of the filmmaking process, the part that makes me feel like a completely lecherous fool, is looking for money, and in turn, looking for an audience. Those are the two elements of the process that I not only hate, but that I am absolutely horrible at. I am a bad salesman and I would prefer the films do the work for me. Lee, one of the other cogs in Wonder Mill, most likely agrees with me. We do our homework, we perform the due diligence, but it never really clicks, and I'm not sure why. I fully admit that this is a weakness of Wonder Mill's, and I think both of us would love to collaborate with someone who is as passionate about audience-building as we are passionate about narrative film.

What is the estimated number of projects you have worked on?

I've worked on two feature films, and over twelve short films. That doesn't count for-hire work on commercials and corporate videos. It also does not include failed experiments, like the Vietnam spaghetti western I made when I was much too old for that kind of insanity. I've directed seven short films and one feature film.

Who is your favorite filmmaker?

My ultimate triumvirate of directors is made up of Steven Spielberg, Akira Kurosawa, and Orson Welles. Their films were essential to my film education and development, and their approaches to visual grammar just kind of set off fireworks in my brain. The stories they choose all combine skepticism of the human spirit with a hope for improvement. I also love the Coen Brothers, Michael Curtiz, Alfonso Cuaron, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, and Werner Herzog, all of which deal well with the “agitation” of the male mind (as Herzog himself might put it).

How has your life changed since you became a filmmaker?

I have very little free time. Ten years ago, I was a pro at wasting an entire afternoon watching The Simpsons or playing Nintendo 64 or reading movie-related message boards. Now, I can't sit for more than twenty minutes without getting anxious and looking for something to work on.

What is one piece of advice you can give to someone who also wants to become a filmmaker?

First, I would recommend that any prospective filmmakers figure out if they want to generate their own projects or focus on a particular craft. I'd encourage a sharp focus on a certain skill, but at the end of the day, any broad experience is good for your tool kit, as long as you're learning.

If you want to be a project-generating writer/director, you're probably not going to get paid for it, and that's okay.

Let's be honest: You, the aspiring independent filmmaker, have two options. You can go to Hollywood, struggle to get a P.A. job, and battle your way up the industry food chain to generate a single project that has a very narrow chance of actually getting made. That's option one. Option two is to make what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Second, if you’re going at it outside of the “system”, I recommend you get a day job. Find some sort of steady work and make sure your groceries are paid for, because your decision-making on a given project is always going to suffer if you're worried about paying the bills.

In the case of a part-time filmmaker, your worst enemy isn't your well-connected friend with the similar goal in the competitive industry town. Having a day job and being self-sustaining takes you into the big battle. The great enemy of the independent artist is comfort. Your worst enemy isn't comprised of your doubting mother or nagging girlfriend or irritated boss. Your worst enemy is comprised of video games. Your worst enemy is comprised of good television shows and movies. Your worst enemy is comprised of parties, food, alcohol, pets, and vacations. These are all wonderful and amazing things, but it is up to you, the artist, to temper them.

Third - and this is the tricky thing - is that you need a greater motivation to create than just to fulfill your own dreams. If all of my motivation comes from within myself, then I have no reason not to let comfort win. However, if I am working for a greater sense of mission, or if my work serves a cultural, spiritual or societal purpose outside of myself and my paper dreams, comfort will be a quaint prize rather than an enemy. For me, I think a well-crafted scene of suspense or humanity is beautiful to God, the way a good bottle of wine or a well-sung song or well-built automobile are.

On an organizational level, Wonder Mill's mission is to show that regions can produce evocative, intelligent, and entertaining cinema. I personally think Kelly Reichardt is doing this beautifully right now with her Oregon-set films. The tools are available for film to flourish in the United States, outside of Hollywood, the same way it has flourished out in the rest of the world. So that’s the biggest thing I would tell someone looking to get into filmmaking: Don't do it for money or to fulfill some vague dream. My generation has been fed this lie our entire lives: If we work hard enough, we’ll achieve our dreams. That’s just not true. Shoot for something bigger.

The second biggest piece of advice I would give is - above all - do NOT go off on some maniacal rant about your personal convictions in an interview on some gracious gentleman's blog. Hell's bells, that'd be suicide!

What do you like to do besides filmmaking?

I try to watch a lot of movies, which rarely actually happens. I'd like to be able to watch one highly regarded movie a week. I try to read a book a month, often non-fiction. I try to run and lift weights several times a week. Other than that, I just kind of eat food and drive around with my wife.

Have you had any other jobs before you decided to become a filmmaker?

To be honest, filmmaking has never actually been my job. I have a full-time gig as a video editor and videographer at a local company. It's fantastic, supportive, and completely contrary to the clichéd nightmare of the soul-sucking "day job". Before this, I worked some retail, but spent most of my childhood and adolescence working at my parents’ tile company. Our film The Nocturnal Third was actually filmed at their shop.

What are some of your favorite American films? Foreign films? Television shows?

American: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rear Window, The Big Lebowski, The Sea Hawk, The Dark Knight, The Palm Beach Story, Jurassic Park, Children of Men, Frankenstein (1931), Unforgiven

Foreign: Seven Samurai, Shoot the Piano Player, Fitzcarraldo, Knife in the Water. I'm watching The Decalogue soon, and am very excited. I’m also anxious to get into some Melville, and have the Le Cercle Rouge blu ray sitting on my shelf, waiting to be watched.

TV: The Simpsons (Seasons 3-10), The animated DC shows from the 1990s, Lost, Twin Peaks, Star Trek (Original Series)

How would you describe your film education?

The University of Alabama doesn't have a strict "film school", but my time there was well-spent. I took plenty of film courses and, with Lee, was able to finagle a good bit of equipment to make shorts outside of class. I had some very helpful professors, one of them being an accomplished director that just launched a web series ( ). I spent as much extracurricular time as possible learning the history of film, and making my own short films. The Tuscaloosa Public Library has a staggeringly great selection of a wide array of cinema, so UA students have no excuse for being behind on the classics.

How would you describe the film "scene" where you live?

I'm not sure it exists. There are some very hard-working filmmakers that travel outside of our region to get paying work, and there is a contingent of scrappy DIY-ers like Wonder Mill, but we are pretty bad at communicating. One of our goals for 2012 is to make a stronger connection with other filmmakers in Huntsville and its surrounding areas.


How has social media changed the film industry?

Honestly, I'm not entirely sure just yet. I've made the mistake of keeping my productions very insular. In college, we tried to reach out to other filmmakers on campus, but nothing really stuck. After college, I immersed myself in the production of our two feature films, using the internet only to advertise auditions. It's only now that I've really found my footing on Twitter, and it's amazing. I've learned so much and gotten into a ton of great conversations with people I would have never met otherwise. I've yet to see it really impact one of our productions directly, but it can only be a good thing to connect with and learn from people in similar situations. Again, Wonder Mill Films’ big thing is regional filmmaking, and the potential for a region to be represented by its cinema. I think the internet, and social media in particular, is essential to visual media being spread and shared on a grass-roots level, and we're probably just seeing the beginning.

What's your opinion on crowdfunding?

I think it's a wonderful and intuitive development. We're planning on using crowdfunding to help us further distribute our first two films, as well as to raise cash for our third feature. That said, I think there's a large danger for filmmakers to become lost in the fundraising stage, and crowdfunding does allow for an overemphasis on money. Money is a delicate element of filmmaking. It's important and necessary, but if you give it too much attention, it'll pull you in and influence your visual style, your writing, your casting, and your editing decisions. It's a monster that should be attended to and fed, then ignored as much as possible.

I'm seeing filmmakers now that put so much thought into how they're going to crowdfund, and by extension how they're going to build an audience from which to crowdfund, that their films are becoming about that and are becoming shallow projects that aim to please. It's important to remember that the story at hand is much more important than the audience. The audience is not a customer, but they are an essential component of storytelling. I think Sheri Candler is quite wise in recommending that every DIY indie film crew include a "Producer of Marketing & Distribution". The screenwriter or director or editor or performer of a given piece should not be spending an awful lot of energy on fundraising if they can help it.

How does independent film differ from the mainstream?

I'm not sure that it really should. In a perfect world, I think that both would be telling stories, but mainstream films would be those that naturally attract a multi-cultural or inter-continental audience. The problem today is that "independent" has become a genre, and that's very sad and unhealthy. What's equally sad and unhealthy is that people use "mainstream" and "independent" film fandom as a kind of prideful merit badge. It's all become about why we like a movie, rather than what the movie is saying, whether it be produced for $2 or $2M.

You could go back in time and see any film being made. Which film would it be and why?

I would have to say Raiders of the Lost Ark, with the caveat that I'd bring some canned goods to avoid the stomach issues that plagued the production. I would get a huge kick out of seeing Harrison Ford work. At the time, he exuded an on-screen comfort that's only been rivaled by Jeff Bridges or someone like William Holden. Of course, it would be amazing to watch where Spielberg put the camera, how many takes he did, how the special effects team worked out gags, and how stunts were mapped out.

What's your favorite quote and why?

Right now? C.S. Lewis - “Our instincts are at war. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.”

I can’t really tell why I love that so much, so I’ll add my all-time back-up, from Indiana Jones -“I’m just making this up as I go.”

What is your opinion on movie remakes and sequels?

I am okay with remakes, reboots, and sequels, if they're good. I think it's only natural for a story to be continued, or re-purposed in a new context, like in the case of The Departed. I do wish they were not as en vogue as they are right now, but I suppose it's only a symptom of the short-sighted thinking in Hollywood. My ears do perk up when I hear about a completely original movie, but often those movies are just as bad as the "branded" ones.

What is your opinion on book to movie adaptations?

I think they're a great for visually-oriented filmmakers looking for a kernel of an idea. I'd consider Stanley Kubrick to be the master of book adaptations, as he took a book's basic central idea and developed everything around that. If a movie shows off a cinematic nature through a solid story and in an interesting context, it should be produced. If that story is grown out of a book, or a comic strip, or a video game, or a pre-existing movie, or a newspaper advertisement for dog shampoo, then so be it. A great movie can be grown out of anything if there is a story to be told with a measure of focus, discipline, and patience.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We need more reviews for both of our films! If any film writers are reading this, we'd love to send them screeners to check out. We're always looking for honest, probing reviews that are open to engage in a dialogue with our movies. Folks can get in touch with us on Twitter (@WonderMillFilms) and through e-mail (


Thanks for doing the interview Ben. I've become a fan of the work you and Lee are doing over at Wonder Mill Films.