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Deep Focus

Kevin G. Schmidt

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Kevin G. Schmidt, writer, producer and star of the new inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas” about revisiting a 12-year-old screenplay, gaining valuable real-world insight into his characters, and why the art community is so important.

TrunkSpace: You wrote, produced and starred in “Randy’s Canvas.” Why was this a story you needed to be involved with in such an in-depth way?
Schmidt: That’s a good question. This story came to me in the way that a lot of things I get involved in my life comes to me – through writing. The director and I worked together for the first time when I was 18, so 12 years ago. The original idea for this story was actually crafted into a first draft 13 years ago. Two Aprils ago, Sean (Michael Beyer) hit me up and said, “Hey, we have the resources needed to finance this film, would you act in it? And would you call some friends to see if they would be in the film as well?” I was like, “Yeah, let me read it, it’s been 12 years since I’ve seen the first story.” And as it usually happens with a 12-year-old script, it needs some love and attention. And once you’re writing a project to shoot it, things have to be adapted to budgets and locations. So, we all agreed on packing a new draft together and working on what we would call our “finished” screenplay. Fortunately that attracted some really incredible artists and actors in our network and we all got together and made a film that really exposed us not only to the spectrum, but really a chance for all of us to work together on a cause during a film, which was even more beautiful.

TrunkSpace: Had you already moved on from your original script, thinking that it would never come into fruition and be produced?
Schmidt: No, not necessarily. I think you write stories that are meaningful or, and I’ll speak from my perspective, I write things that are meaningful… messages and themes I think are relevant and timeless. I wrote my first script when I was 15 years old and it still hasn’t been produced to this day. It’s not for any lack of effort, it is that stories and messaging come in waves. Things I’ve written 10 years ago get attention now. Writing is about storytelling and as long as your story is timeless and it focuses on themes that people can relate to as globally and universally as possible, then I believe that there’s always a chance for it to come back around. So, you never give up on a story, but you follow the momentum of your stories.

TrunkSpace: What were the biggest changes that you had to make in terms of updating the script and getting it shoot ready?
Schmidt: The main thing was tightening it all up. I think one of the main things that I went through and really focused on was crafting this film totally from a coming-of-age-story versus these larger than life fictional characters, and one of them happens to have autism. So, an example would be, in the old draft Henry and Randy have this card hustle kind of thing they were doing. They were like small time thieves and the whole opening bit is this five minutes of them hustling people on the boardwalk to earn some cash, and then they get caught and they run from the cops. It’s like this totally different thing. And when I reread that draft, I was like, “First of all, we’re selling a character-driven story that’s going to seem more drama than comedy. We don’t necessarily need this action bit. We don’t have time to shoot this action bit. It’s not really relevant to the core of all these characters and getting people invested into them. So let’s just remove that bit totally.” Then as we started looking at certain cast members to play certain roles, we were able to highlight a lot of their own experiences with the spectrum in their own lives and the things they’ve gone through. I’ve been friends with Scout (Taylor-Compton) since I was like 12 years old. I’ve had the fortune of growing up with her and learning about her. We’ve been friends for a long time, and she’s one of the most incredible actors I know. And when she decided to sign on for Cassie it was like, “Oh, I have this wealth of personal experiences that I have with Scout and with my friendship, and throughout collaborating, and throughout the years that we can put into this character Cassie. And she can have all these different layers to it just by what she’s thinking.” And that’s really what we did is we went through and we fleshed out all the characters and made them as relatable as possible.

A huge part of that as well was when we went into rewriting the screenplay, we worked with the Autism Project in Rhode Island and we called them our panel of experts. There were about 10 kids between the ages of 10 to 25, so some young adults as well – boys and girls – and we had this interview back and forth with them as we crafted the screenplay. The primary conversation was, “How do you feel autism is portrayed in the media?” And almost the 100 percent consensus was you’re either a massive savant, like in “The Good Doctor,” or if we go back a few years, “Rain Man,” or you’re super low functioning on the spectrum and it’s almost like everything is a burden. And I’m looking at these 10 kids who are more savant than they are non-functioning, and everything else in between, and you go, “Wow, we can’t tell a story about autism, we have to tell a coming-of-age story that all of these kids, us, and the broader audience, can experience that happens to be seen through the lens of the character with autism.” So, it reframed how we approached the story instead of telling a story about autism we were telling a coming of age story through a young man experiencing autism.

TrunkSpace: Just from that experience of sitting down with that group of 10 kids and young adults, that must have given you such a different perspective on how to approach some of those coming-of-age scenes.
Schmidt: Totally. I think something that was unexpected for me that came out of it was, we’re in such a PC culture right now, right? Everything is politically correct and people feel like they’re walking on eggshells, but when you’re dealing with an experience that somebody has had their entire life, there’s no alternate reality that they experience. It’s just like, “Hey, I am on the spectrum and this is my life. I’m still a person and that’s not who I am. It’s just a part of who I am. I don’t need to talk about it too much. I just do things a bit differently than you. Life is good.” It kind of made me go, “Whoa.” We spend so much time focusing on these minute differences within each other instead of these almost massive similarities that we have with each other. It allowed us to speak more freely and discover the intricacies of the spectrum through our panel of experts than we would have if we were so nervous every step of the way about doing something wrong. We were able to take risks.

Schmidt in “Randy’s Canvas.”

The boys and girls and young adults were all involved in making this film as well, so they were on set with us and we were always connected to the message behind the story. And that was unexpected to me, to be able to not only dive into something where from the outside if you’re not familiar with people with the spectrum, or close to somebody on the spectrum, you kind of feel like, “Oh, I’ve got to be careful what I say.” Well no, we’re really trying to highlight the individuality and the uniqueness of all these wonderful individuals who we were able to share time with and create art with along this journey.

TrunkSpace: You just mentioned how we as people need to look at the massive similarities we all have as opposed to the small differences, and in that, isn’t that the beauty of art and film? Regardless of where you come from, what your beliefs are or what side of the aisle you’re sitting on… art can bring us all together and we can find common ground within it, even when we don’t realize it.
Schmidt: I agree with that. That’s the whole reason I got into the arts. That’s the whole reason I started writing. It’s not necessarily the majority of the current environment. I also think that also means there’s more of an opportunity to tell stories that bring people together, versus polarization. So I hear you, man. Art, dance and singing… the arts are some of the most important tools to bring people together and create a sense of community. I’m always skeptical and a bit turned off when art is used as a weapon to marginalize one group or another.

TrunkSpace: There’s that same sense of community when you go and see a live concert. You’re all standing in this room together focused on the same thing… enjoying the same thing. That’s powerful.
Schmidt: Truly. And hopefully as this becomes the topic of conversation, so much about the important things about us like our experiences, our upbringing, sex, religion, politics… all the stuff we’re not supposed to talk about are actually the small minute differences that we can learn a lot from, as long as we’re not always trying to change people’s minds or be right. And I enjoy that. I’m the middle brother of three. I’ve kind of always been in the middle of things and listening to different perspectives. I’ve got a background in the arts. I love writing. Business is interesting to me too. So, I hope that as time goes on and as these years kind of play out, we get more community and conversation versus the current climate, which isn’t so conducive to that.

Randy’s Canvas” is available on on digital HD.

Check out our interviews with director Sean Michael Beyer and star Adam Carbone as well.

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Deep Focus

Chris Mul

AstralFeatured
Photo By: Gulben Gurler

In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Chris Mul, writer, director and producer of the new horror film “Astral” to discuss on-set happy accidents, the reason he can no longer watch the film himself, and why his dream project requires a much larger budget.

TrunkSpace: As you gear up to the official release of the film, what emotions are you juggling with?
Mul: It’s exciting to finally see audience reactions to the film, although undoubtedly there is some apprehension regarding what people feel about the project. As a creative and storyteller, you are constantly battling those emotions. Regardless, it is nice to be at the final hurdle, as we have been eager to share this with everyone.

TrunkSpace: “Astral” is your directorial debut. You also also co-wrote the script with your brother, Michael. As you two developed the script and began to write, did you try and adapt it in such a way that enabled you to more easily shoot it? Was that always in the back of your mind?
Mul: I think budget is something in everyone’s mind when you are first starting out. Whilst it’s definitely true that restrictions breed creatively, I think it’s wiser to find the story first and shape that around the budget you have. The producer in me is always telling myself and Michael, “Write to a small budget,” although thankfully he talked me round and we simply adjusted to meet what we had.

TrunkSpace: As far as Director Chris is concerned, did you accomplish everything you set out to do with the film when you were prepping for production? Were there any creative compromises that you had to make because of budget or time?
Mul: With careful planning, you can allow for those “happy accidents,” as you have usually prepared for the worst. With that being said, the final clairvoyant scene was perhaps my greatest compromise. We had about twice the material written down, from what we shot, and had to creatively find a way to maintain the intensity without the added substance. Despite the compromise, it’s definitely the scene I am most proud of.

TrunkSpace: Is it difficult to step away from a project, embrace the fact that it can’t be improved upon any further and then release it into the world? Creatively, can it be difficult to let go?
Mul: Every single day. I’m now at the stage where I can no longer sit in on screenings or re-watch the film, unless totally necessary. To me, on a personal and creative level, there’s a list of things I wish we could redo or change. Above everything else, it is nice to finally see the film into completion and be able to share it with an audience – to allow it to be judged on its own merits, and just learn creatively from the process.

TrunkSpace: How long was the journey for this particular film from inception to completion? Was there ever a point where you thought it might not happen?
Mul: We were actually far more fortunate than most on that front. We ended up having a bulk of the finance before even finishing the script – as our contacts and opportunities stemmed from our work in corporate filmmaking. I feel very lucky to have been so fortunate, and once the ball started rolling, everything just seemed to go from strength to strength. In all, we began in January with the script and structure, and were shooting in August – so a pretty quick one by feature film standards.

TrunkSpace: What is the biggest lesson that you learned in bringing “Astral” to life that you will apply to every project you work on in the future?
Mul: I think that would have to be the importance of forging strong collaborative relationships. When you’re shooting on smaller budgets, you have to have a complete faith in those you choose to surround yourself with. We were moving so quickly across the 12 days we had, that you have to believe in the people helping you to achieve the goal. That, and casting! We were very lucky to have Alice (our Casting Director), who helped us secure the plethora of talent we were fortunate enough to have worked with.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with your work on the film?
Mul: I would have to say the tone and pacing of the film. We set about with a view in mind, and purposely chose to steer away from the generic genre clichés. That allowed us to create a slower burning psychological thriller, which is grounded in reality and emotional beats. Although there are a number of things I wish we could redo, that pace and tonal aspect is definitely something I am proud of as a storyteller.

TrunkSpace: You always hear these amazing stories about how a scene had to be adapted on the fly because of budget or time, and in the process, a cinematic gem was then born. Did you have any moments like that where having to think on your toes brought about unexpected results?
Mul: Definitely! The first example I always think of is our clairvoyant scene. We had two days to shoot that scene and realized something wasn’t working after a few hours. Thankfully my producer, Christos, took everyone who wasn’t necessary out of the room and allowed us to work it through with the DP and actors. It made the world of difference and although we lost half a day, the footage we ended up with far surpassed what we would have had if we’d continued.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Chris, here’s a blank check. Go out and develop whatever project you want for yourself.” What would you greenlight and why?
Mul: I love that question. There’s actually a project Michael and I have been talking about for years. As he’s been writing his novel about the history of mankind, the notion of an epic tale in a similar vein to “Prometheus” came about. We’ve benched it for now, but without a doubt, that is the passion project that we are always working to. As time has gone by, we get more excited about it, but realize that the scale of that will definitely require a great deal of finance and creative progression. I look forward to sharing that with everyone one day.

Astral” is available today on VOD/Digital HD.

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Deep Focus

Sam Upton

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In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Sam Upton, writer, director, producer and star of the new hard-hitting boxing drama “12 Round Gun” about going all-in to bring his creative vision to life, the timelessness of film, and why he hopes audiences will be able to feel his soul when watching the movie.

TrunkSpace: As you were gearing up to the official release of the film, what emotions were you juggling with?
Upton: Really, I’m just thrilled that the lion is finally being let out of his cage. I’ve been working on this project for nine years, so the fact that it is now available in theaters and On Demand for audiences is quite special.

TrunkSpace: The film is your directorial debut. You also wrote, produced and starred in the film. Throughout the process, how have you compartmentalized your various duties? On set, did you focus exclusively on creative?
Upton: Yes. It was actually the most creatively fulfilling thing I have ever done. Ideas are inside all of us. They are our own potential floating in the air. Some of us galvanize these ideas into reality, and some of us don’t. For me, “12 Round Gun” is this exact thing. It is the actualization of all of my ideas. All the pieces, uncombined, are mere potentiality – so through arduous years of effort, the precise combination that you see in this film – the images, dialogue, music, sound and light – is essentially me. The making of this film is a synthesis of all of the art I’ve ever created.

TrunkSpace: Do you think you feel extra pressure for the film to find an audience and be accepted by moviegoers because you had your creative hands in so many facets of the production?
Upton: Yes. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t want everyone to love the film. I killed for it. I bled for it. I died for it. I bet the house on it. This film represents the truest form of independent filmmaking. This was an all-hands-on-deck venture. There are so many people, whom without their hard work and dedication, we wouldn’t be talking today. Needless to say, I’m beyond proud of the film, and I hope it will affect people somehow.

TrunkSpace: You called wrap on the film last year. Have you had to resist the urge to tinker with it further or have you continued to play with the final cut of film over the course of this last year?
Upton: There comes a time when you have to say “this is the movie” and you have to live with it. There is no digging the body back up out of the grave and trying to resurrect him from the dead. Movies last forever, so actually, in essence they never die. They live on – and the great movies are actually timeless. They hold up. No matter how much time has passed. You can watch Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” tonight, and you will be completely floored by it. You won’t care that it’s in black and white. It’s forever.

TrunkSpace: We noticed that you have a number of projects in development where you are wearing both the director and writer hats, though producing is not a listed credit. Did your experience on “12 Round Gun” make you want to trim down on the responsibilities during production so that you could focus on creative?
Upton: My passion lies in the creative. I have these three parts of myself, and each one of them requires attention. I write, I direct and I act. I love ALL THREE equally. They actually all fuel and support one another. Each one helps the other, and yet each one possesses a monumental amount of time, energy and focus. I look up to the great multi-hyphenate filmmakers like Orson Welles, Jerry Lewis, Clint Eastwood, Sly Stallone – the list goes on.

TrunkSpace: What is the biggest lesson that you learned in bringing this film to life that you will apply to every project you work on in the future?
Upton: NEVER GIVE UP.

Sam Upton as Joe in the sports, thriller film “12 ROUND GUN” a Gravitas Ventures release. Photo courtesy of Gravitas Ventures.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with your work on the film?
Upton: I once heard a great director say this about making a film…

The stories you have in the very core of your heart are actually the only stories you can make. And when you have cultivated one of these stories in a film, both you and the audience will be able to feel your soul in it.”

So I am most proud of the fact that whoever watches this movie, they will be able to feel my soul in it.

TrunkSpace: Chicken or the egg question. Which love came first… was it working in front of the camera or behind it?
Upton: My first love was acting. I’ve been an actor since I was in middle school. I live to perform. There is nothing like it. It’s almost like having a very severe disorder. You can’t get rid of it. I’m on a life sentence with no parole. However, my undying love for acting is really just one way I express my unquenchable passion for movies. So really, acting was merely the diving board into the magical waters of filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: Can you see a day where you’re writing projects for other directors, or stepping behind the camera to shoot a script written by another writer?
Upton: Sure. I’m open to anything as long as it wakes me up in the middle of the night with excitement.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Sam, here’s a blank check. Go out and develop whatever project you want for yourself.” What would you greenlight and why?
Upton: My current script. Without hesitation. Why? Again, as we’ve discussed, if you are not willing do die for something, than you have nothing to live for… and this current thing I’m writing is just that.

12 Round Gun” is available now in select theaters and on Digital HD!

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Deep Focus

Jenna Laurenzo

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Photo By: Mitch Tobias

In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Jenna Laurenzo, writer, director and star of the new comedy “Lez Bomb,” about the catch-22 of getting a movie made, why the film was so personal, and the reason declaring yourself a vegetarian at a family gathering can be so stressful.

TrunkSpace: You first started writing the film eight years ago. That’s a long journey to see your vision become a reality. Was there ever a point where you thought it wasn’t going to happen?
Laurenzo: Well, yeah. I had about six years trying to attach a star and a director. And you don’t have money and then it’s like, well what comes first –  the cast or the director or the money? Or the money bringing the cast and the director? It’s this catch-22 to fill this kind of puzzle, and I just figured I had to do both if it was ever going to happen. But see, that whole time everybody kept telling me how it was going to happen and sometimes it’s hard to not see those pieces of advice as if they are facts. I think only after a while do you realize that nobody has the answer. You have to figure it out. There’s no set path.

TrunkSpace: No two films are made the same exact way.
Laurenzo: Yeah. And you’re a novice or looking for advice every which way, and then you just have to learn which advice to take and which advice to let go. You just have to do it, there’s really no other way to figure it out except to figure it out.

TrunkSpace: In writing the script, you drew heavily on your own coming out experience. This being your first feature, and because your own story is woven into the narrative, do you feel exposed in that you’re putting yourself out there in multiple ways?
Laurenzo: Oh my gosh, absolutely! (Laughter) I had this moment where I was like, “What have I done?” I really just thought it was important for me to make this. It was so important – I had to do it. I felt like I needed the story and I felt there’s somebody out there that also needed it. That kept my passion very much alive throughout the process.

But then the moment, the day, we released the trailer… that day I texted my friend who has made a bunch of projects and has been in the public eye, and I was like, “What have I done? Is this how you feel?” It just dawned on me that all of a sudden that I don’t… I can’t articulate it. I felt very exposed and vulnerable.

TrunkSpace: It makes total sense. You wore so many hats in bringing the film to life. As far as judgment goes, the audience will be looking at all of these different elements of your creative self. Once the opening is over though, you’ll probably be able to enjoy it all more.
Laurenzo: Yeah. I was having this talk with my friend last week. And we were just talking about life lessons and putting everything in perspective. I was talking about how I was on this ship once and almost died. And she was like, “Look, nothing will be as bad as that.” I was like, “That’s a good way to think about it.”

TrunkSpace: Sometimes success is scary, especially for artists.
Laurenzo: Yeah. And I think that in general, my strength as a writer comes from the fact that I’m a very sensitive and vulnerable person. So yes, that’s my strength as a writer, but that’s also what makes me a sensitive soul in life. (Laughter) I think sometimes our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses. It just sort of depends on which side of the pendulum we’re on.

TrunkSpace: Because so much of Lauren’s story is your own, was it important for you to portray her on camera?
Laurenzo: I ultimately was planning on finding an actress to play that role. It just never happened without the financing or a director attachment. And that’s how I ultimately made the decision to play that role. Now, in looking back, I’m glad that decision was made. I felt like it was invaluable. It was an invaluable lesson on a lot of different fronts, but I had thought very longingly about playing the role, or the girlfriend.

TrunkSpace: Knowing what you know now, would it have been odd to see somebody else take on Lauren?
Laurenzo: Yeah. I think in looking back I’m glad I ultimately played that role because the story journey and the arc of that character’s emotions is very much grounded in my personal journey. I am glad that I was able to bring that to the role.

It was definitely an interesting process, falling back into those emotions that I had gone through years earlier. I even felt my body taking on these habitual tensions that I had gotten over. And all of a sudden I was like, “Oh yeah, I remember when my shoulders used to be tense this way. Oh, isn’t that interesting?” I thought it was an interesting journey as an actor, and spiritually, as I felt like I learned a lot about myself as a person and storyteller.

TrunkSpace: Do you think part of that return to old habits like the tension was because you shot the film at your childhood home?
Laurenzo: I think there is something wonderful about the fact that we shot in the house because it was just so colored with nuance in a way that I think is sometimes challenging to fake, particularly since the actors were playing a lot of real people from my real life. And I wrote this script around the locations I had access to, which made the execution a lot easier.

TrunkSpace: Which is a smart way to do it because then you make your job easier when you get further into the process.
Laurenzo: Yeah. When grandma rounds the corner, I knew what corner I was talking about. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: As far as your director’s vision, did you achieve your creative goals with the film?
Laurenzo: I kept thinking about who the audience was that I was trying to communicate with and make the film for them. I had a mentor of mine who kept asking me how I wanted to push the LGBTQ narrative forward. The tradition of those films… how did I want to push them forward? And it was important for me that the film was funny, that this film had a happy ending and that the aspect of coming out that was being explored was felt in acceptance versus the external pressures. I felt oftentimes the assumption is the external pressures is what make that journey ultimately the most challenging, and it’s self-acceptance that is sometimes overlooked. But the self-acceptance is ultimately what’s relatable to those who have not had to come out.

I really wanted to tell this story in a way that people who have not necessarily had to go through this journey can relate to while also serving as a dysfunctional family comedy that would expand beyond the built-in audience that I had in mind. And that families could potentially enjoy it together and maybe it would spark a dialogue if there was one that was needed. If not, just a lot of laughter. And in looking back and looking at the dreams we had, and the conversations, and Q and A’s, I feel happy because I think that I executed that.

TrunkSpace: Well, placing the story at Thanksgiving was a perfect way to make it relatable because everyone can connect to coming home to a big family function and the stresses that go along with that.
Laurenzo: Absolutely. And there’s just something so relatable, in my opinion, about coming home with any news to the family because you always wonder how the family is going to receive the news. I remember thinking about that when I wanted to switch my major. Or when I wanted to talk about my major or – and I joke about this in the movies – when I came home and was like, “I’m a vegetarian.” That was this whole thing. So sexuality… just coming home with any news is always eventful!

Lez Bomb” opens in select theaters and on digital HD tomorrow.

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Deep Focus

Sean Michael Beyer

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This week we’re taking an extended look at the inspirational indie “Randy’s Canvas,” a moving tale about a young man with autism who is on a journey of love and self-acceptance. Starring Adam Carbone, Kevin G. Schmidt, Scout Taylor-Compton, Massi Furlan, Michael Emery, Richard Riehle and Marycarmen Lopez, the film is available now on digital HD.

First up we’re chatting with director and producer Sean Michael Beyer to discuss on-set task management, fighting for his star, and why the Hollywood norm is conformity.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats to bring “Randy’s Canvas” to life. How do you compartmentalize those various jobs and focus on set?
Sean Michael Beyer: A lot of medication, I think, was probably the best way to go about it.

When on set, for me, even though I’m a producer as well, I’m really hyper focused on directing at that point. During pre-production, development, and obviously in the writing and all that, then it’s a little bit different, but I really have to focus primarily on the directing part of it. I’m an actor’s director. I came from acting and theater, so that’s sort of my approach to the process. Performances are important, and obviously those have paid off given the accolades we’ve gotten, so that’s a good thing.

TrunkSpace: Does being an actor’s director give you a different point of view than other filmmakers during the casting stage of production because you’re so familiar with performance?
Sean Michael Beyer: I think so. I’ve always understood the Hollywood need for star power – that you need the recognizable actor to make your film. I don’t like that, but I know that it exists and I have to respect it, working in the industry. But I want to find the best actor for the role. That, to me, is what I find important.

I had a lot of resistance casting Adam (Carbone) as Randy because some didn’t feel that he was the right choice. I just knew that he would do this justice and he obviously did, but I did have a lot of resistance and was told, “You’re making a mistake.” I just knew he was going to bring what it took. He did such hard work and research… I was very, very proud of all the time and effort that he put into it and it paid off.

TrunkSpace: With all of the various distribution platforms available now, has the need for star power become less important to getting a movie made?
Sean Michael Beyer: To some degree. I think you have to sort of prove yourself before the people will listen. The caveat always is, are they going to put money into promoting the project? Is the distributor going to get behind it? And Vision Films has been very, very supportive of us. We’re a small movie and I’m very pleased with what they’ve done for this film, but you have to look at it from the standpoint of… Ang Lee was perfectly quoted once. “Either you need the 20 million dollar star or a complete unknown.”

TrunkSpace: And in finding the complete unknown, you’re then creating the 20 million dollar star.
Sean Michael Beyer: Right. Exactly. It’s always the catch 22. You need the big star, but then you need the big budget. We certainly didn’t make this movie for 20 million dollars. Not even close! But there is that issue. Look at “Napoleon Dynamite,” for example. That’s going back a few years, but Jon Heder was nobody. He got paid like a thousand dollars to do that film, but Fox Searchlight got behind that movie and it went gangbusters. It was a very unique film and that certainly helps, but if you can get the support behind your cast, then you can cast that unknown. The audiences want to support that. Hilary Swank is a great example. She had done television and then with “Boys Don’t Cry,” all of a sudden, she’s an Oscar winner.

Carbone in “Randy’s Canvas”

TrunkSpace: How important is a film like this and independent films in general to future filmmakers? It just seems right now, more than ever, everything that we’re seeing in theaters is a remake, reimagining, or based on an existing brand?
Sean Michael Beyer: It’s frustrating, as a filmmaker. The Hollywood norm is conformity. I call it the MBA attitude of, “Well, if this formula works, then if we duplicate that formula, but we change a couple of words, then it should work too.” And it doesn’t always work. Sometimes it does, but I think the independent films that stand out, that get noticed, are finding audiences. Audiences don’t always want explosions and Transformers. Those are fun movies. I call them popcorn flicks like a lot of people do. They are fun, I enjoy them, but I also enjoy a good, well acted film. When you don’t have a lot of money to make a movie… and we didn’t have a lot of money to make “Randy’s Canvas”… we relied on good acting, good storytelling.

And shooting in Rhode Island was just amazing, despite the humidity.

TrunkSpace: Being both the director and the producer, is there ever any internal friction between the creative you and the business you and sort of trying to find a balance between what the director wants and what you know you can give him?
Sean Michael Beyer: There’s always that. There’s always the… I don’t want to deal with paperwork. I want to call action and cut. That’s what I want to do. I’ve always said to people that I’ve worked with, “Just give me my allowance and let me be creative and you’ll be happy.” If you start having me looking through contracts and stuff, it’s gonna get messy.

You always have to think about your budget. You have to think about your schedule. You have your location issues or lack thereof. Okay, is this scene going to be able to be shot the way that I envision it, with our limited resources?” The business side of me does kick in when I do that. And even when I write a script, from a blank page on the screen, from the beginning, I think, “Okay, what budget is this movie going to be?” I have to write with that in mind. I don’t completely limit myself, but you have to be a responsible filmmaker. There’s a lot of directors that just throw caution to the wind and I wish I could do that, but I have to be realistic.

Randy’s Canvas” is available now on digital HD.

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Deep Focus

Harley Wallen

HarleyWallenFeatured

In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Harley Wallen, producer, director and star of the family drama “Bennett’s Song,” which is available now on DVD and VOD.

TrunkSpace: You wore so many hats in bringing “Bennett’s Song” to life, which seems to be the way you’re used to working at this stage in your career. Does it feel odd when you’re on a set and not juggling that many balls at one time?
Wallen: You know what, in the beginning, when I got an acting gig, it was really hard to not want to help, especially when you see somebody make calls that you don’t agree with. But you just have to learn that we all have our own ways. So, I’m able to turn off and compartmentalize what I do pretty well at this point. Even in production, the key to be successful, for me, is generally I’ve been writing the stories – in this case my partner Nancy Oeswein wrote and so I didn’t have to write this one – but I do much of the producing, but the minute that we start being on set, I take off my producers hat and pretty much I hand it to Nancy and I focus on just acting and directing. I just focus on creative parts and when things take negotiating or any of that stuff, I step away from that unless I absolutely have to get pulled in. That way I can maintain creative during the production and put on my business hat in pre-production.

TrunkSpace: As you’re leading up to that point where you can split your business brain and creative brain, do the two sides ever butt heads in terms of what one wants and what the other one knows is possible?
Wallen: Yes, absolutely. I think right now we’re at a really interesting place. We’re really ready for a little bigger of a budget to take things a little bit further and to just demand a little bit more excellence, and that’s not the easiest step to take because you essentially have to earn your spot where you are fully first before somebody’s going to essentially grant you the next step. All of our films are privately financed so that makes it a little bit trickier as well because we have to go back to them and essentially hand them their money back and then start the next project. So, yeah, it’s tricky, but I really feel right now we’re sitting on this cusp of taking a fairly big step with some of our next films.

TrunkSpace: Strictly speaking from creative – from Director Harley – did you accomplish everything you set out to do with “Bennett’s Song?”
Wallen: No. Always, when I visualize, after I read the script, I have 100 percent of my vision and then that location didn’t quite measure up, or we have a performance that’s an eight instead of a nine, or a seven instead of a nine, or whatever it may be. So, you’re always chipping away at what it could be. Also, it was the first family film I’ve done so I felt that it was a little bit tricky because I didn’t want to make a traditional light, straight up goofy type of film. I wanted it to hold its own as a drama, I wanted it to hold its own as a romance, and also be a great family film. I think we succeeded to a degree with that, but I think we can do better and I really think the sequel is going to show that we definitely can do better.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned you’re always chipping away at what a film could be. As a filmmaker, is it hard to put that final stamp on a film and step away from it?
Wallen: Yes, I think a deadline is what keeps you sane as a filmmaker because you really could keep going and play around with it forever if nobody told you to stop. I always talk to my distributors and I like having firm deadlines that are realistic. That forces me to really not sit around and have that… what is it called… paralysis by analysis. I could see that happening. And it’s the same thing with having a good AD for me on set.

I remember reading about “Heat” and I know it’s not a family film, but they took, I believe, 17 takes… or 21 takes… of that diner scene between De Niro and Pacino and they ran dual cameras, which I know that he was not a fan of doing, but he did it for a specific purpose. They would really mirror each other. We don’t have that luxury all the time in these films and without a strong AD, I have a tendency to want another take and I have to learn to know what’s realistic and to keep a good schedule so as not to hurt yourself later. I would think through things if you let me.

TrunkSpace: At the same time, not having the big budgets to do something 21 times… it can lead to gems. It forces you to think outside of the box.
Wallen: Absolutely, and I think, even to take that a step further, the fact that I can’t hire all well-known cast members and have all these people with great expectations, you find amazing gems and people that step up and deliver a performance and give this character life that you just go, “Wow, I didn’t even see that. That was so much better than I even imagined because this took a life of its own.” So, yeah, I don’t dislike where I am at all. I think it has all its own charms just to be here, and I’m enjoying what we’re doing, but, like I said, I still feel we’re at the cusp where there’s a pretty big step in the works. I love what we did with “Bennett’s Song,” but I have a new cinematographer for the sequel, and some other things that I think will probably take us up a notch. This is going to be really exciting to see.

Wallen in “Bennett’s Song”

 

TrunkSpace: You sort of touched on this a minute ago, but the idea that it was kind of daunting to take on a family drama. We know you come from the thriller and action space, so what was it that made working in the family genre give you pause?
Wallen: I think the fact that I just haven’t considered this genre at all and when Nancy wrote it, I know she wrote it from the heart. Nancy has adopted kids and so it was just something that hits really close to home. We have a couple of filmmakers in town that do family film, and my first instinct was, “You should probably talk to them.” I had to calm myself down. When I read it, I read a really good romance, I read a really good drama, and then the comedy side of it as well, and I just didn’t want it to be anything less than that.

TrunkSpace: On the business side of what you do, with so much content and so many distribution platforms out in the world today, do you think that makes it easier for people to find a project like “Bennett’s Song” because they’re more open to films that aren’t hitting the big theaters or do you think it makes it more difficult because there’s more competition?
Wallen: I think it does a little bit of both. I think it comes down to, essentially if you get lucky or if you’re fortunate enough to find a good distributor. I remember when I made my first couple of films, I didn’t have any connections and I started reaching out to the distributors that I could find online and a lot of them get so much nonsense that they barely even go through it all because there’s so much garbage, in all honesty. Unless there’s somebody that can connect with a good distributor, half of the time you’re overlooked and bypassed and for me, finding Vision Films has been a really, really good opportunity. Our first batch of DVDs sold out in a flash. It was amazing. I ordered my own when it was in pre-sales and it was out of the warehouse and in back order before it was even out. I was like, “How does this even happen?”

TrunkSpace: That must be such a high to carry you into the sequel – to know that there’s an audience there?
Wallen: Absolutely, and you know, I gotta give Nancy a lot of credit. I wanted a more defined villain. I felt that we went villain-light with Tara (Reid) in the first one. Even though she did a good job, the character was only in six scenes or something like that, and even though she left her mark on it, I would like to see the villain have a little bit more balance and a little bit more power. She was almost not even introduced until the second act, so I feel that’s something that’s going to be a lot better next time.

Also, this is Dennis Haskins genre. This is where he’s golden and he’s going to have a much, much bigger character arc in this next one. I’m really excited to see that because I think that we’re going to see a little bit more of a balanced film the next time around. I love the script, so I hope that I can do this justice and put this on the screen, that’s for sure.

Bennett’s Song” is available now on DVD and VOD. The sequel is currently in development.

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Deep Focus

Sanjay Rawal

SanjayRawalFeatured

In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Sanjay Rawal, Director and Producer of the captivating new documentary, “3100, Run and Become.”

TrunkSpace: Your film “3100: Run and Become” is about what motivates endurance runners. What motivated you to tell their story?
Rawal: I’d always had a sense of what motivated people like myself to do distance running. There are moments in certain runs where we feel a sense of euphoria and lucidity. Science tries to rationalize that as a chemical high. The endorphins might be a by-product of that, but the memories of those moments also make a lasting impression on our lives. At the same time, I understood that there were a few cultures for whom running was more than a lifestyle choice or a way of life. Running is seen as a tool for enlightenment; complete unity with Nature; or profound connection to one’s ancestral past. These are much deeper concepts than why most of us run. These traditional viewpoints to running are religious or deeply spiritual. I wanted to show modern runners what these spiritual running traditions looked like in practice. And hence, we managed to get access to Navajo spirit runners, to Kalahari Bushmen and to the monks who traverse the highlands of Japan. And we wrapped these ancestral traditions in the modern arc of runners trying to harness their deepest spiritual reserves to try to run 3,100 miles in the world’s longest running race – a race in New York City that was, in fact, started by an Indian Spiritual Master, Sri Chinmoy. This race, now in its 22nd year, requires participants to average 60 miles a day within the 52 day window. It is mind-blowing, extreme and beautiful all at the same time.

TrunkSpace: This seems like the kind of film where so much of the story begins to tell itself through the subjects that you’re featuring. You almost won’t know what you have until you have it. What surprised you most throughout the process in terms of the narrative direction that the film took?
Rawal: Your perception is spot-on. We spent a year trying to develop access to the traditional aspect of the film – the Navajo, Bushmen and the Monks of Mt. Hiei, Japan. We had an intuitive feeling that the stories would all go together but we had no concept of how well they would until we were on location. And these were all expensive places to shoot. We basically went for broke. And we filmed most of these well before the 2016 edition of the 3100-miler started.

At the same time, the Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race is a race – and the results were totally unpredictable ‘til the end. We couldn’t burden runners with microphones and dozens of cameras so we had to film very judiciously. We were constantly juggling narratives as the race was developing.

The most surprising aspect of the filmmaking process was seeing how well those traditional narrative arcs were syncing with the 3100. And we began to cherry pick aspects of the 3100 that summer that had overlaps with the footage we’d shot. It was a very dynamic and exciting process to say the least!

TrunkSpace: So much of the success of the film also seems to hinge on how engaging your subjects are to the audience. When did you know that Ashprihanal Aalto and Shamita were going to be able to carry the film in a way that would captivate viewers?
Rawal: That’s nice of you to say! We had wanted to make a documentary that felt like a narrative in its visual style and storytelling technique. We knew that with such disparate locations and stories that didn’t overlap, we had to make decisions as to our main characters very early on. I had known Ashprihanal and Shamita for almost 20 years and it was clear to me that we would be able to film scenes to the strengths of the two. And I knew enough of their motivations that we were able to focus on what I felt would be their greatest strengths and weakness during the race as we filmed them months before. In essence, we knew that their conflicts and personal motivations in life would only be heightened by the struggle during the race. We realized we could build arcs through their normal life and their race experience through my own knowledge of their unique personalities.

TrunkSpace: As a documentary filmmaker, is it a balancing act to present the narrative and facts as they unfold, but at the same time, find a way of presenting it all in an engaging way?
Rawal: You’re absolutely correct in highlighting this. In documentary filmmaking we are obviously dealing with real people. And filmmaking concentrates certain aspects of the personalities of our characters in a way that distorts their reality – and remains as a lasting public record. The whole approach is essentially exploitative. Since many of the subjects were friends of mine beforehand and the others became friends, we had to balance facts with the sensitivity of the ramifications that those facts would have on our characters. Our characters were very sharing with us. Perhaps their physical suffering of racing opened them up more than they normally would’ve been. We had to balance what they told us with what we felt they’d be comfortable with us sharing. It was a very delicate process – revealing enough of our characters to engage an audience, but respecting the sacrifice our subjects made in sharing their lives with us.

TrunkSpace: It feels like a film like this would have a lot of visual and technical obstacles to overcome. Is that something you faced and how did you approach those hurdles as they were presented to you?
Rawal: We wanted from the beginning to make a doc that looked like an indie narrative. Our DP, Sean Kirby, is a master at this. The biggest obstacle was the fact that running is incredibly boring to watch. Sean made it a point to ensure that each day he spent on the 3100 mile race course, he’d try to approach the shoots with a different look in mind. At the same time, filming in Japan, Botswana and the Navajo Nation presented unique challenges. Unlike the 3100 where subjects repeat their loops over and over, we had to capture live footage in real time with visual perfection. We wouldn’t get a second chance. In Japan, we rehearsed shots and angles multiple times so that when the monk was on location, we knew what we needed. On the Navajo Nation, we did the same. We rehearsed our drone shots and fixed shots with stand-ins before our main character did a 110 mile tribute run. In Botswana, our cameramen Omar Mullick and Forest Woodward just did what they could to keep up with our characters as we chased large game down by foot over the span of dozens of miles.

TrunkSpace: What was the biggest stumbling block you had to face throughout the process of making the film? Was there ever a moment where you thought that it may not see the light of day?
Rawal: Although I would have liked to believe that I storyboarded the film in its entirety, interweaving these narratives proved much more difficult than I could’ve imagined. Thankfully we had an incredible editor, Alex Meillier, who spent months dissecting the various narrative possibilities of the film and finding ways to make them naturally fit with one another. We studied films together, classic tandem narratives like Robert Altman’s “Nashville,” Haggis’ “Crash” and others. At the same time, with such a mélange of characters in such an unusual film, and without the celebrity that many other sports films have, we have had to work doubly hard to get the film out there. We didn’t make it into any of the classic festivals, all of which films from my team have exhibited in at one point or another. Even after making the film, and feeling very proud of what we had done, there was part of me that thought that we would never be able to get it out there because so many of the gatekeepers in the industry were unsupportive. At the same time, audience members have driven 4, 5, 6, or 10 hours to theaters to see the movie. Audience reactions have been off the charts and very heartening to myself, my producer Tanya Meiller and to Sean and Alex.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Rawal: That is very kind question of you to ask. I’m really proud of the reaction our subjects have given the film. While I’m not a Native American and the film isn’t a solely indigenous film, one of our main characters is from the Navajo nation. The reactions that we have gotten in Indian country have been spectacular. We filled theaters in some of the most unlikely locations – and over and over and over. Native Americans seem to see this film as emblematic of the importance they have given to running across millennia. And I’m really proud to feel that we have done their story justice.

TrunkSpace: What did filmmaker Sanjay learn throughout the process of bringing “3100: Run and Become” together, and beyond that, what did human Sanjay discover? What did you learn about yourself or life, which in itself is a bit like an endurance run that we’re all involved in?
Rawal: In this day and age it seems like the divisions between people, particularly in United States, are insurmountable. And I think on a mental or experiential level they are. The fascinating thing to me is that there are a handful of activities that do not depend on race, economic background, or religion. When I run, I’ve never asked anybody their political background. We all have the same tools – our feet, our heart, and our breath. At the same time there are other great uniting forces or activities like food and like music. There is power in these practices they have brought humans so much joy for so many hundreds of thousands of years. On some level, I think we need to find a way to make these types of activities a more regular part of our experiences with one another. Our Navajo character Shaun Martin says that running is a prayer, running is a teacher, and running is a celebration of life. It is one of the most unique activities on earth in the sense. In that aspect, your parallel between running and life is totally appropriate. We have to find ritual and meaning in the small things we do together, we have to realize that life is teaching all of us something unique, and we have to celebrate this journey that we are all on together.

TrunkSpace: Some people love to run. Others hate it. What would you say to the latter group to get them to sit down and watch the film? What will they find in it that goes beyond running itself?
Rawal: Shaun Martin, our Navajo character, taught me something very unique. And it bears repeating. Running is a prayer. When we run our feet pray to Mother Earth and we breath in Father Sky. Running is also a Teacher. It teaches us who we are. When we run we’re also celebrating our own lives and being alive. I think those three things are uniquely human reactions that are worth celebrating.

And, in a sense, our film itself is a celebration of life with Navajo, Bushmen, Monks, Europeans and Americans. Running is just the common thread. But running shows how these totally disparate cultures are united. And, to me, that gives me hope that we’ll recognize on many other levels all the things that can unite us.

TrunkSpace: What’s next for you as a filmmaker? Where is your creative focus these days?
Rawal: I have come across a story that is too good not to tell as a narrative. I think it would be an absolutely stunning documentary but I think it could be a revelatory narrative film. It is the story of a native American female runner that few seem to remember, but in the late ‘70s she was the most dominant runner in the world. She overcame some of the most horrific traumas that anyone could deal with, but the same time she had and still has the heart of a champion. I can’t wait to develop that story into a script and find a way to bring it to the larger world – the story of Patti Dillon.

3100, Run and Become” opens in NY tomorrow and in Los Angeles on November 9. For more information, click here.

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Deep Focus

Michael Doneger

MichaelDonegerFeatured

With Game 1 of the World Series set to kick off later tonight, we thought it was a great time to take a look at the new baseball movie “Brampton’s Own,” which is available now on Digital HD. Next up to the plate, we’re talking with writer, director and producer Michael Doneger, who originally wrote the part of Dustin, a minor league baseball player who returns to his hometown after leaving years before to chase his dreams, for himself. The film, which explores those things we sacrifice for our personal goals, stars Alex Russell, Rose McIver, Spencer Grammer, Scott Porter, Jean Smart and Riley Voelkel.

We recently sat down with Doneger to discuss combining grand ambitions with limited resources, the reason he never thinks a project isn’t possible, and why the theme of the film is eerily similar to his own journey.

TrunkSpace: You wore multiple hats in bringing “Brampton’s Own” to life. When it comes to blood, sweat and tears, just how much did you put in order to make the film – your vision – a reality? Where did Your Dreams Road and Compromise Street intersect?
Doneger: In my experiences, compromising is inherently built into the filmmaking process. However I don’t look at compromising as necessarily abandoning your vision, but instead having to find a backup solution to ultimately getting where you want to go. For instance, our story required many locations and a lot of wardrobe changes. Typically film budgets similar to what we were working with try to minimize the number of locations and wardrobe changes, but to me, that would’ve limited the scope of the world I was trying to build. I didn’t want it to feel like an indie film. I just wanted it to feel like a film. So the compromise there was that we were going to have less time and fewer days to film, which meant actors would get fewer takes than what they’re used to, and our production departments would have to work at an accelerated speed to keep up. But we knew going into it that we were combining grand ambitions with limited resources, so we planned for that far in advance, and hired a cast and crew that was game for the type of pace we were asking for. Having said all that, it’s rare for everything to go without a hiccup and the final product turn out exactly how you envisioned. We experienced quite a few hiccups, but overall the film mirrored the vision I had for it as much as I could’ve reasonably expected. That’s not to say there aren’t scenes or moments I’d like to take a second crack at, or more time I’d like to get in the editing bay to nip and tuck a couple of things. But to expect it to ever be perfect is unrealistic. “Art is never finished, only abandoned,” said the wise Leonardo da Vinci.

TrunkSpace: Because of the various responsibilities you had throughout the course of the film, did Producer Michael and Director Michael, or Director Michael and Writer Michael, ever butt heads? Did you have to find a balance between what you creatively wanted to put on film and what budget and time would allow?
Doneger: I’ve never been hired to write and direct a movie that I wasn’t producing, so quite frankly I don’t know any other way. I’m sure there are benefits to having fewer responsibilities and not being tasked with overseeing creative and business decisions, but there are also benefits of the buck stopping with you and not being able to point a finger at someone else. My producing partner Mark DiCristofaro does an excellent job of running production and making sure I have everything I would reasonably need to make our day. And again, a lot of that starts in the pre-production phase. I shot listed the film months in advance, so Mark and I were on the same page early on in terms of gathering the necessary film gear and lighting equipment for each scene. For example, my original shot list asked for seven days of a Steadicam operator, but Mark told me early on that we could only afford three days, so given that information, I adjusted and made shot list concessions where I could.

TrunkSpace: It’s always a long road to travel in order to get an independent film to that first day of shooting. At what point in the process did you know that it was going to become a reality and was it smooth sailing after that point?
Doneger: Smooth sailing? That’s a thing? Huh… I’ll have to look into that. (Laughter) In terms of coming to the realization that the film is going to become a reality: I never for one second think it’s not going to happen. Even in the writing stages, I’m never thinking about “if” it happens, but rather “when”. And I believe that as a filmmaker – you need a certain amount of naiveté to thrust yourself into this crazy business in the first place. The industry is volatile on every level, whether you’re on the creative side or business side. So if you’re too practical and calculate the odds, the numbers will tell you that you’re crazy to take the risk of going out and making a movie. So my mindset from the beginning of every project I work on is when we’re going to make this movie not if. But of course you can’t make a movie just because you want to do it. There are lots of factors that rest outside your control. But your mindset is the one thing you can control. And it all starts there.

TrunkSpace: Sacrificing a more traditional life path in order to chase a dream. For your protagonist Dustin, that’s baseball. Did you feel a kinship with the character when writing? Could you relate to those sacrifices based on your own pursuit with film?
Doneger: Absolutely. I conceived the project based on my own journey of navigating the ups and downs of trying to make it as a filmmaker. Dustin’s not a direct replica of me. I don’t have estranged relationships with my childhood friends or ex-girlfriends or family members. But for Dustin, I wanted to give him as many obstacles as I could when he returned home. And those obstacles were these relationships in which he did a terrible job of maintaining while he was off chasing his dream. The plot points of the movie aren’t similar to my life, but the themes revolving around the price one pays to chase a dream are eerily similar.

TrunkSpace: You originally wrote the script with the intention of playing Dustin. What made you step back later in the process and cast Alex Russell in the role?
Doneger: Oh, wow. You’ve done your research. You’re right, I had originally intended to play Dustin, but by the time we got closer to putting the production elements together, I cared less about owning the character of Dustin from an actor’s point of view and cared more about owning the film as its director. Acting and directing are two diverging skill sets. As an actor, your job is to solely focus on your character, your intentions, your choices. As a director, your job is to know every little detail that goes into painting the entire picture. That means being in non-stop communication with every department head. So naturally, that would distract an actor from solely focusing on his or her performance. Ultimately I feared that if I did both on such a limited 15-day shooting schedule, that my performance wouldn’t have been as good as it should’ve been, nor would the film have fulfilled the vision I had for it. And I’m so glad I made that decision because Alex is tremendous in the film as Dustin and an extraordinary person. He’s so detail oriented and every choice he made came from a place of reason, which made it very easy for us to communicate and collaborate.

TrunkSpace: When hiring someone to play a character that was originally intended to be inhabited by you, do you then look for elements of yourself in your actor, in this case Alex? (We realize this question is very meta, but it’s fascinating… the idea that you’re looking for something in a performer that you originally saw in yourself.)
Doneger: I never looked for Alex to tackle a scene or make a choice comparatively to how I would’ve played it. Each actor has their own strengths and weaknesses and it’s my job to help extract and support those for whatever the scene calls for. I believe that most of directing an actor is done in casting. You know right away upon meeting an actor whether they’re right or not to play a role – at least in my experiences. And within five minutes of meeting Alex I knew he was going to be perfect for Dustin. Then the more familiar we got with each other the more we trusted one another. The director/actor relationship is all about trust.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of when it comes to “Brampton’s Own?”
Doneger: I’m proud that from start to finish, it’s a production that by all accounts, our cast and crew had an overwhelmingly positive experience on. Mark DiCristofaro and I value how enjoyable it is to work alongside an actor and crew member, just as much as we value their talent. That working environment matters. Chemistry behind the scenes is just as important as chemistry on the screen.

TrunkSpace: Did you have to change plans at all mid-production because of time and budget headaches, only to then take a different creative approach and end up with a gem that you never intended to have in the film?
Doneger: You always have to be on your toes and know to expect unforeseen obstacles. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every scene calls for a pivot and change of approach in one way or another. You never get exactly what you want. But to answer your question, nothing big or extraordinary stands out.

TrunkSpace: You once wrote and produced a project that featured Bruce Campbell. Couldn’t you have just retired then and been a happy man? There are 100,000 future filmmakers sitting at home right now watching “Evil Dead 2” as we speak!
Doneger: What a great experience that was working with Bruce. We were so lucky to get him. We’re at the same agency and I have to thank his agent Barry McPherson for really making that happen and putting the project in front of Bruce. I hope to one day find another opportunity to work with him.

TrunkSpace: What we love about a movie like “Brampton’s Own” is that it is original. It isn’t “Based On The…” or a “Sequel To…” or a “Remake Of…” It’s just a great original story, which seems to becoming more and more of a rarity in the world of film. How important is independent filmmaking these days to giving audiences more than super heroes and super franchises?
Doneger: The bright side is that there are various outlets, platforms and mediums for different types of stories these days. Sure, the theatrical experience is mostly inundated with superheroes, sequels and pre-existing IP, but the streaming services, cable and networks are home to a lot of great character-driven storytelling. I’ll admit, I really do miss the mid-budget range studio drama that now rarely gets made. The studio comedy is also slowly becoming extinct. But a lot of those stories are being told, just not as a movie, but either a streaming or miniseries. However sometimes I don’t want to watch a 10-episode season of a show to get my character-driven dramatic or comedic fix. Sometimes I want to see those stories told from beginning to end within two hours. And that’s what independent film has to offer.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Michael, here is a blank check. Go out and develop any project that you want for yourself.” What would you greenlight and why?
Doneger: Wow, what a question. I don’t have a dream project that comes to mind. I’m so focused on my next step, the next script, the next film, that I haven’t really taken a bird’s eye view look at my career and the specific projects I want to tackle past the ones I’m currently working on. But my goal is to continue to build projects that are bigger in budget and scope than the previous ones while still making the stories feel intimate by nature of putting character development at the forefront of any story I tell. But I guess if someone would like to give me a blank check to make a movie around the theme of love disguised as a 200 million dollar outer space spectacle, then I’m not gonna fight ya… oh, wait. Christopher Nolan already did that.

Brampton’s Own” is available now on Digital HD, including iTunes.

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Deep Focus

Don Michael Paul

DonMichaelPaulFeatured

On your mark. Get set. Let’s go!

We’re celebrating the release of “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” – available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand – chatting with the individuals responsible for revving our blood-fueled engines. First up, we sat down with writer/director Don Michael Paul to discuss bringing a fresh take to the fan-favorite franchise, the scene he’s most excited to share with audiences, and what he enjoys most about getting to bring his cinematic visions to life.

TrunkSpace: You’ve worked on a number of sequels throughout the course of your career. Is there a balance for you creatively to stay true to the brand you’re working on while also trying to bring your own creative POV?
Don Michael Paul: I try to always respect the creators that went before, but at the same time I endeavor to give the audience a fresh take. I never treat the films I do as sequels, I approach them the same way I’d approach an original. You have to try to stay fresh and fun so you can give the evolving audience a ride. I love movies, I mean really love them. Disappearing in the dark and watching a story unfold is gold to me. I try to honor each film with a different and diverse take. I’ve had some successes and failures, but I’m always reaching, regardless of budget or franchise requirements.

TrunkSpace: With “Death Race 4: Beyond Anarchy,” you wrote and directed the film. When you’re wearing both hats, does one influence the other in the various stages? For example, will Director Don step in and say, “I’m not sure we can pull that off…” to Writer Don while you’re in the process of working on a script?
Don Michael Paul: Director Don always has to remind Writer Don what can and can’t be done. Budgets are coming way down so I’m always cognizant of what I can do. But at the same time I push hard to put every penny on the screen and give the movie more size and sizzle than we can afford. It’s my job. Make a lot out of a little. Audiences want it all; greatness, craziness, fun, drama, comedy and suspense. I will always try to give them more than I have. I squeeze everything out of the tube and torture myself reaching.

TrunkSpace: What scene were you most excited to shoot based on what you wrote and why?
Don Michael Paul: I was very excited about shooting the motorcycle death race challenge. It was a unique scene in an interesting location and it really kicked-started the movie in a big way. I loved how the gladiators and the DR Clown participated in the sequence. And I loved all the car action.

TrunkSpace: Is there anything that you had to adjust on the fly due to budget or time constraints, and if so, did any of those moments bring about unexpected gems?
Don Michael Paul: Yes, originally the end race had something like 40 cars in it. I had to cut that down to 11, so we could afford to build the cars and design the stunts. I think limiting the amount of cars made the characters come to life in a stronger way. If there were more cars, we would not have been able to get to know the drivers and appreciate their fates in the way we did.

Danny Trejo in “Death Race: Beyond Anarchy.”

TrunkSpace: You started your career as an actor. Having been on both sides of the camera, do you think that has provided you with a different insight into how to approach being a director, particularly when it comes to working with actors that perhaps some other directors don’t have?
Don Michael Paul: I love actors. I know the road they travel and how soul-crushing it can be to stand in front of a camera and be disappointed by a performance. I try to give actors a big space to work in and create a mood so they have freedom to discover. I go very fast due to schedules, so I’m charging hard and they feel the relentless pace. It’s my hope their instinct takes over. Instinctual acting is when I get interested and excited by performance.

TrunkSpace: 2018 is a big year in terms of the number of films you have or will see released. All of them are based within an existing franchise. What do you enjoy most about getting to play in a sandbox that has already been established?
Don Michael Paul: I love movies. I love the whole process. I am blessed to do what I love. Again, they’re not sequels to me. They’re films, that will be put out there and blooming like an evergreen tree for years. Long after I’m gone they will be discovered by new audiences around the world. I hope they can be enjoyed whether you’ve seen the previous ones in the sequence or if you’re a first time watcher.

TrunkSpace: Is there a dream franchise out there that you’d like to helm an installment of? What would make your inner 10-year-old jump for joy?
Don Michael Paul: “Death Race” was a dream, but it’s not for 10-year-old Don that’s for sure. I’d love to have enough money and time to mount an epic in the vein of “Gladiator.” I love everything about that movie. I love the context and characters and the visceral struggle of integrity and honor vs. greed and avarice and jealousy. The raw power in the ending after the Spaniard has his revenge and goes to heaven knowing the love of your life is there waiting for him. This is great filmmaking and something I aspire to.

TrunkSpace: Finally we have the trifecta question for you. What job/project did you learn the most from as an actor, which one did you learn the most from as a director, and finally, which one did you learn the most from as a writer?
Don Michael Paul: I learned the most as a director on a movie that almost ended my career called “Who’s Your Caddy?” It was a critical and financial disappointment but I learned so much about myself and where I belong. The actors in this movie taught me a very valuable lesson. “Do you!” I’m blessed to have this epic fail. It built my character and taught me to tell and write stories in my wheelhouse. I learned the most as a writer on scripts that were never produced that I wrote for Joel Silver. He seasoned me as a writer and taught me about story, structure and character. It put me in a studio furnace which enabled me to write under pressure. I’m grateful for those hard knocks. As an actor, I learned the most from a movie called “Winter People.” I got to act alongside legends like Kurt Russell, Lloyd Bridges, Kelly McGillis and Eileen Ryan. I will never forget how clean and simple Kurt Russell’s acting was. Working alongside him 25 years ago was an inspiration to me then and now. Big respect, Kurt!

Death Race: Beyond Anarchy” is available today on Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

Next up, Don Michael Paul directs “The Scorpion King: Book of Souls,” due October 23.

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Deep Focus

Kate Green

KateGreenFeatured

In our ongoing column Deep Focus, TrunkSpace is going behind the camera to talk with the directors, writers and producers who infuse our world with that perennial pop culture goodness that we can’t get enough of.

This time out we’re chatting with Kate Green, Director and Executive Producer of the exciting new web series “NarcoLeap,” starring Chelsey Reist, Madison Smith and Aleks Paunovic.

TrunkSpace: “NarcoLeap” has such a great, high concept premise. Was there a part of you that worried how you would pull it off as a web series, particularly when it came to budget and time constraints?
Green: I wouldn’t say just a part, I’d say my whole being. (Laughter)

No, we’re really lucky in Canada. We have some amazing funding programs. STORYHIVE from TELUS, they had this amazing 100K edition competition, so we got that. We also have the Independent Production Fund (IPF). They came on board first actually, with just over half of the budget. Once I got that one I thought, “Okay, I’ve got a pretty good chance of kind of closing the financing with the other programs.” We’re very lucky here. And also, the project went through rigorous development when I was in the Women in the Director’s Chair program as well. So it’s not only financial support that we have here, we also have a lot of educational components and mentorship programs and things like that now.

Everyday was like, “How are we going to do this?” It was still very ambitious – lots of locations, lots of actors. It was pretty crazy, but we got it done.

TrunkSpace: Here in the States, a lot of creators use web productions as a way to establish a property and then work to get them set up as a full series. Was that the plan with “NarcoLeap” as well?
Green: My background is in documentaries. I started directing and producing in that for many years. I wanted to make the leap, pun absolutely intended, into scripted work. I’ve always loved science fiction, so for me I was looking for a project where I could do something in directing, and with the web series, it seemed like there were opportunities there to make the story happen. Yes, of course, we’d love to have a TV series, eventually that’s the big dream, but I’ve always wanted it to be able to stand on its own as almost like a prequel to the television series. The storyline that’s happening within the web series, it’s all prior to the TV. Once we get to network TV the show will have evolved and grown and be a bit more of a different standalone.

TrunkSpace: As a creator, is it daunting bringing something like “NarcoLeap” into the world knowing that there is so much content available to viewers these days?
Green: Absolutely, yeah. There’s so much great content out there on the web and TV. It’s so hard to have yours rise to the top. You really rely on your fans and for us we have a digital strategy and we’ve been working. The fans are the ones that lift it up. Before we’d even gone into production we had people making fan art and posters, and mainly they loved Chelsey (Reist) and they were followers of Chelsey. They were excited to see her in something different, but they’re the ones that really lift up your project, and we’ve just been overwhelmed and so grateful for their support. It seems to be getting attraction and attention so we’re really happy for that, and grateful.

TrunkSpace: It always seems that there is great support for great ideas, and something we noticed is, there’s a lot of really great original content coming out of the Vancouver production scene these days.
Green: Yeah, absolutely. We have an amazing service industry here. A lot of people work on the big Netflix shows and so that part of our industry is really thriving, but I think in Canada we recognize that can also go away in a heartbeat. The exchange rate could go up and all of that work could disappear. Then what are we left with? We have to create ourselves. We have to have that foundation of home grown talent and that’s, again, why we’re so lucky with things like STORYHIVE and the IPF, but they help support that and they help grow that home talent.

TrunkSpace: Does one sort of feed the other then? Do networks like Hallmark and the CW bringing their productions there feed into creators being able to create on the side when they’re not working on these other productions?
Green: Absolutely. I have a day job as a producer. I work on an HGTV show. In between shows or seasons I have the opportunity to grow my own company, KGP Films, and create content, but it’s a little different. Science fiction is very different than lifestyle television. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: You were both Director and Executive Producer on “NarcoLeap.” Did Producer Kate and Director Kate ever butt heads? Is there something that you wanted as a director that you had to talk yourself out of as a producer?
Green: I was very fortunate that I had two really great producers, Emily Keller and Ross Vivian, and my Co-Executive Producer, Trevor Hudson, and I had a couple of other mentors as well. I surrounded myself with a really great team. There were some decisions that as a producer I just delegated to Emily and Ross and it was great. I didn’t have to butt heads too much with myself. You always want the crane shot and you always want explosions and you’d love to have the fight scene go on for longer. Things like that you have to compromise on, but when you can’t get what you want, the wonderful thing about that is that you have to be creative. You have to find a solution. You have to make a mark. I love that part of filmmaking, when if you don’t have the time or the money, then you have to have a great idea and a great solution. Finding that, that gets my juices flowing.

TrunkSpace: There’s been some talk of a content bubble burst looming. As a creator are you optimistic that your job as a creator is safe long term?
Green: Yeah. I see an opportunity in terms of short form digital content. When I first started my company I was looking at new features and documentary series and all of that, and of course, that would be wonderful to have projects like that, but I feel as a producer when I put the producer cap on, I see way more of an opportunity to be creating dynamic, fun digital content. It’s just getting eaten up right now.

TrunkSpace: In terms of a possible “NarcoLeap” Season 2, is that on the horizon?
Green: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been noodling away on the storylines and possibly putting in characters and what I’d like to see. Again, it’s like that dichotomy of trying to do the day job and do the producing job and the directing job and all of that. But yeah, we’re getting geared up for sure.

Season 1 of “NarcoLeap” is available now on YouTube.

Read our interview with series star Madison Smith here.

Read our interview with Aleks Paunovic here.

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