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Deep Focus

Sergio Navarretta

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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 Sergio Navarretta, director and producer of The Cuban, about press tours in pajamas, making a project that says something important, and how he overcame debilitating anxiety.

TrunkSpace: Your film The Cuban was released in the middle of a very difficult time for a lot of people. What is it like promoting a project right now, and do you believe your film has a better chance of finding a wider audience with much of the country still on lockdown?
Navarretta: Most definitely. I am a big proponent of finding the positive in every situation. When the pandemic hit we had to put our theatrical release for The Cuban on hold, which was disappointing. But giving up seemed too easy and the message of the film drove me to push as much as I could to keep forging on even when it felt impossible. Sometimes adversity helps us to examine things more closely, and to re-evaluate our lives and what’s important. I really saw this pause as a chance to re-examine things in my life and within the industry – things that were in the process of changing anyways. My team and I were able to brainstorm innovative ways to get the film to much larger audiences than we’d initially anticipated via drive-in theaters and virtual cinemas. Also doing a virtual press tour in support of the film has been a thrill! I get to do interviews and Q&As with Louis Gossett Jr., Ana Golja and Shohreh Aghdashloo from the comfort of my home office (sometimes in my pajamas) and have enjoyed the benefit of being in many places at once without ever leaving my home. This period has also afforded me more time to spend with family and friends and in a way I have been able to reclaim my life. In the world pre COVID-19, it was easy for me to get caught up in the stressful, hurried pace of things. But, the truth is, the best way to open up the channels of creativity is when you are not running. For me, even in the midst of releasing my feature, this pandemic has been a return to the so-called simple things in life.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways, The Cuban feels like a throwback. We have become so used to seeing the cineplexes filled with franchises and existing brands that it’s easy to lose track of wonderful films like this. What drew you to the material?
Navarretta: Thank you for acknowledging that. I made the kind of movie I would want to see. I never grew up on Hollywood movies. I grew up watching Italian films with my parents where nothing explodes, the protagonist doesn’t fly and there is no shark that kills everyone by the end. They were “simple” films, slices of life in the neo-realistic style, with subtle arcs but left me satisfied and reflecting on life. The American films of the 1970s really influenced me later on, as well, which inspired the deliberate use of vintage Cooke Pancros refurbished lenses. I give a lot of credit to my cinematographer, Celiana Cardenas, who was able to manifest the look I wanted. I like classic storytelling, and allowing the characters and plot to drive the story. In terms of the material, I was involved from the very beginning, so there is a lot of me in it, i.e: my fascination with Cuba or the use of Afro-Cuban jazz. Making The Cuban was a very personal journey and in some ways cathartic. It was a way of dealing with the loss of my father and all the stories that died with him.

TrunkSpace: You wore many hats on the film as you do with many of your projects. Does director Sergio ever butt heads with producer Sergio in terms of what one wants to accomplish creatively and what the other knows is possible given budget and time constraints?
Navarretta: I think I’ve become good at it and the older I get, the more credit I give myself. I am a people person and passionate about what I do, so I find it difficult to delegate. I like being involved in all the aspects of production and being a part of the problem solving that inevitably needs to happen. It helps me appreciate the entire process a lot more. But at the same time, I have been working with my partner, Alessandra Piccione, for several years now. I know she has my back, so when my director hat is on I can rest assured and be there 100%. We have a trust that is essential when you are completely immersed in a project like this. Ultimately, I try not to argue with myself, and go over-budget, for example. The biggest lesson I have learned is to never compromise and always give it your all, even when it seems impossible or even when budget and time are a limitation.

TrunkSpace: What is a compromise that you had to make as a director on The Cuban that you feel actually ended up benefiting the end product? Was there a happy accident that occurred that ultimately turned out better in the end?
Navarretta: Yes, definitely. Shooting in Cuba, even with the best intentions, was not something we could really plan for. I went down with my very seasoned crew for a four-day second unit shoot and ended up moving to Havana for several weeks. We started with a traditional approach: scouting, having production meetings, trying to break through cultural barriers, language barriers, etc. But when it came time to shoot, we were forced to throw the plan out the window and I had to think quickly on my feet. Thankfully, Havana is an incredibly creative and culturally-vibrant place, and with no cell phone or other life distractions I found myself completely in the present moment. A lot of the shots that made it into the film from Cuba came out of my imagination while I was there. In the end, it taught me to trust the process. What will be will be, and that sometimes you just need to surrender and be okay with that.

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on The Cuban that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Navarretta: That is a great question. The thing I will remember most fondly is meeting the legendary Lou Gossett Jr. Being at his home in Malibu for the first time was surreal. When you spend your whole life fantasizing about this elusive mirage called Hollywood, and you have the opportunity to work with (and eventually become friends with) a living legend, you realize that anything is possible and if you are going to spend three or more years on a project, you may as well make something that says something important. Making a movie because it’s cool to make a movie does not appeal to me and frankly would never get me through those days where you want to give up. Also, I’ve always wanted to work with Shohreh Aghdashloo, so I remember the day I was directing her for the first time on set and thinking ‘is this for real’? I sat behind the monitor and thought, man it doesn’t get much better than this.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Navarretta: I am really proud of the score, and working with world class musicians like Hilario Duran. He is a real virtuoso, and brought magic to the experience. We recorded the music prior to shooting the film, so those compositions are in my bones. Every time I hear any of those tracks, it brings me right back there. I am also proud of the look. The film is beautiful to look at, and I was able to use visual language to tell a story in a way I never could before.

TrunkSpace: There’s a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, but how do you think our collective COVID-19 experience will impact the film industry long term?
Navarretta: I think ultimately change is imminent and as an artistic community we will continue to adapt as the industry always has. I lived through shooting on film and having to move to digital fairly quickly. The medium changes, the industry evolves but at the core is classic storytelling. What the Greeks were doing 2000 years ago at the amphitheaters is the same as what we are now capturing on digital formats. If anything, because of the new COVID-19 protocols for sets it will become more expensive and complicated to shoot, I think it will force us to look even more closely at the content we are making and why we are making it. Maybe it is a renaissance period, and like the 1970s amazing projects will come out of it. Every once in a while you need a shake up to bring things back to the core of the matter, which in this case is a powerful art form that is a means to communicate and to move people emotionally.

TrunkSpace: Where are you hardest on yourself as a director and how do you overcome those insecurities when they make an appearance?
Navarretta: I am hardest on myself when it comes to pushing beyond my comfort zone. Change is always scary, but thankfully I have a burning curiosity to explore new things. Somehow I’ve been wired to act in spite of fear, and jump into situations that terrify me. That is how I overcame debilitating anxiety, and am able to do what I do today. It also helps when the driving force is helping others somehow. I never want to let people down so making absurd commitments helps build confidence and gets me out of bed in the morning.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career as a whole thus far?
Navarretta: I have had so many monumental moments over the years, traveling to film festivals all over the world and meeting filmmakers and actors I have always admired. I would say the highlight was at the premiere of my first film, Looking for Angelina, where Jan Harlan, who was Stanley Kubrick’s long time producer and brother in law, was in the audience. After he saw the film, he told me he enjoyed it very much and we later sat on a panel together discussing the filmmaking process. Having an intimate look into the life of a master like Kubrick is something I will never forget.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Navarretta: I prefer not to know. What I didn’t know is what got me here in the first place. If someone would have told me how hard it would be and how much I would need to suffer to continue doing what I love, I would have definitely given up a long time ago. There is nothing rational about this. Ignorance is bliss and the discovery of things as well as the mystery of life is what makes it fascinating. Also, I’m terrified of disappointment so it’s best to live in the present moment, and not be too concerned with a past that doesn’t exist anymore, nor a future that is not guaranteed. Isn’t this a big part of the message of The Cuban? The music brings the characters into the present moment, which is what life is all about.

The Cuban is available now via virtual cinemas. For more information, please visit here.

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Deep Focus

Graham & Parker Phillips

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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 Graham and Parker Phillips, co-writers/directors of The Bygone, about brotherly backup, a different kind of bat cave, and steering clear of future cinematic water-based worlds.

TrunkSpace: The film and television business is one that isn’t exactly known for its loyalty. As brothers, do you feel like you have an advantage going into a project together knowing that each of you has the other’s back at all times?
Parker Phillips: Often times it does feel like it’s us against the world. We’ve joked that if one day we win any sort of award we will read off the list of people we would like to not thank, but the truth is we were lucky enough to be surrounded by very supportive producers and collaborators on this film and yes, having a brother as your co-writer/director is about as good of support as you can hope for. I’d hate to go at it alone.

TrunkSpace: That being said, disagreements surely happen both on set and off. But creatively do you feel like you two are aligned with similar artistic POVs?
Graham Phillips: Our vision was always so closely aligned that often times what felt like a big deal just wasn’t as it could work effectively either way. When those disagreements were in pre-production they were usually resolved on the tennis court, but with the time crunch of shooting we couldn’t exactly break away for a quick hit, so we stepped aside with our Director of Photography and 1st AD and made them the tie breakers.

TrunkSpace: Your new film The Bygone hit VOD on November 12. It’s never easy getting a film made, never mind getting one distributed. Throughout the process – and looking beyond creative – what was the most difficult aspect you faced in seeing your vision become a reality in this way?
Parker Phillips: Well, because of financial constraints, not everything we wrote in the screenplay could make it onto the screen. With the exception of one location, we shot the entire film within 45 miles of Oklahoma City, which presented it’s own challenges.
Graham Phillips: The exception being Alabaster Caverns, which is where we shot the ending of the film. The script called for an abandoned gold mine location and we found ours near the Kansas border in northern Oklahoma. The one rule we had while shooting there was to not wake up the nine thousand hibernating bats. As unfortunate as it is unsurprising, after shooting blanks from my character’s shotgun, the bats rose from their slumber and proceeded to fly around our heads for the remaining four days at that location.

TrunkSpace: Independent film requires creative sacrifices at times, both for budget and time-based constraints. With that said, would you have made a different version of The Bygone if you had an unlimited budget, or was it always supposed to be THIS movie?
Graham Phillips: Sure, a larger budget would have been great but we knew we could make this movie for a small amount. More money gives you more shooting days which is all any director wants, but at the end of the day we got it done. It was a subject that was really important for us to tell in the right way and we hope we succeeded in that regard. Then again, there’s a saying that you never really finish a film, you simply abandon it when you run out of time and money. There is obviously some truth to that.

TrunkSpace: What is a lesson learned throughout the process of making The Bygone that you’ll apply to the next project and all future projects moving forward?
Graham Phillips: To really scrutinize the script. Make sure you absolutely need every scene and trim as much fat as you can before you begin shooting. So much is lost on the cutting room floor, so you really want to protect against that. We cut 20 percent of the lines and 10 percent of the scenes in the film. Part of that was unavoidable as certain things just didn’t work the way they should have, but when you think about where that time and money could have been reallocated, you can’t help but fixate on how to make the next one even more streamlined.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Parker Phillips: The performances. What we were able to get out of our talented cast and all that they were able to give to our film. We consider ourselves “actors directors” in that we feel without the actor properly invested, the audience will never be, and everyday seeing them in the wardrobe of the characters we created was a real treat.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Okay, guys, here’s a blank check… go out and make whatever type of project you want,” what kind of film or series would you put in development?
Parker Phillips: Probably something with armor, castles, and trebuchets.

TrunkSpace: Two part question. What is the most fun aspect of DIY’ing your own concept from start to finish and getting a film made, and on the opposite side of that coin, the least fun that you would just as happily do without moving forward?
Parker Phillips: The film was entirely our vision from start to finish, which is an amazing experience. But film is also so much about the power of collaboration and we look forward to wearing fewer hats on projects in the future. For instance, our next film, Rumble Through the Dark, is written by Michael Farris Smith and based on his own novel, The Fighter, and we are loving working with a writer. It frees us to work from a mindset of creative interpretation rather than translation of our own material.
Graham Phillips: That’s true. There are far less arguments happening between the two of us now that we have a writer. At this stage in The Bygone we were critiquing each other’s dialogue and driving each other crazy. Working with a talented writer allows you to hold the perspective of a director from the beginning, focusing on what will actually be in the frame, as opposed to wading through the trenches of literary doubt with your laptop and coffee.
Parker Phillips: Or bourbon in some instances.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your careers thus far?
Parker Phillips: For me, watching my brother gallop out of a barn on a horse bareback and thinking how amazing it was shooting something we had begun writing together at a bar two years prior.
Graham Phillips: Probably not falling off that horse.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Parker Phillips: I don’t think I’d chose to take the ride. So much of this business is the path you take and what you create along the way. There are certain projects that we want to make in the distant future when we can command a higher budget, but I’m far more interested in how we get there than the final result.
Graham Phillips: Totally disagree. If we’re making the next Waterworld, I want to know now so I can change our path and stick with the indies.

The Bygone is available now on VOD.

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Deep Focus

Ali Afshar

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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 Ali Afshar, producer and star of “Bennett’s War” and “The Ride,” about what draws him to underdog characters, highlighting diversity in his movies, and the parallels of producing to owning a professional race team.

TrunkSpace: “Bennett’s War” feels like the kind of film that isn’t greenlit a lot these days. Almost a throwback. In terms of the big picture, was that part of the appeal in tackling a project like this in that it isn’t the kind of film we see arriving in theaters each week?
Afshar: What really drew me to this project is that it was a bit of a throwback sports movie, with the twist of the hero being an injured veteran. I really liked that aspect.

TrunkSpace: Such as the case with “Bennett’s War,” you not only star in it, but you also produced it. When you’re on set, how do you separate Producer Ali from Actor Ali so that your focus is on a singular task? Can it be difficult, especially when it comes to being a producer because so much of the day to day is ensuring that everything runs smoothly, which we would imagine, could take you out of a creative head space?
Afshar: I’m always wearing both hats at the same time. It isn’t easy to separate, but I enjoy being a producer and an actor so when I need to focus on specific tasks then I will. That’s also what a good director is for, to help you get in to the creative space on set.

TrunkSpace: This sort of goes back to our first question, but as a producer, is part of the appeal in bringing projects to life being able to represent characters and storylines on screen that aren’t being given a spotlight otherwise? And as such, does that then open up more interesting roles for not only yourself, but your fellow actors?
Afshar: Yes, our movies include a lot of diversity with female leads, ethnicities, etc. We’ve been doing that well before it was fashionable – it’s always been a part of our stories. It does open up more interesting roles and we believe good stories should include everyone.

TrunkSpace: When you’re both starring in and producing a project like “Bennett’s War,” do you feel duel pressure for those projects to succeed, both creatively and financially?
Afshar: Absolutely, and the pressure is tough because you don’t want the business pressure affecting your acting. There’s a fine line between creativity and business.

TrunkSpace: For fans, the final product of a film or series is always the most memorable part, but for those involved in a project, we’d imagine it goes much deeper than that. For you, what is something about your time working on “Bennett’s War” that you’ll carry with you through the course of your life/career?
Afshar: The military’s influence has been the most memorable part for me. I’ve learned a great deal about PTSD and the struggles soldiers go through on and off duty. I have a lot of respect for those who serve.

TrunkSpace: You also have the film “The Ride” due out in early 2020. Can you tell us a little bit about that film?
Afshar: “The Ride” is based on a true story of overcoming diversity. An African American man played by Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, and his wife adopt a white supremacist kid. It is a story of working through and seeing beyond differences to come together with love, and a testimony of hate becoming hope.

Forrest and Charlotte Lucas at the premiere of “Bennett’s War”

TrunkSpace: Beyond Hollywood, you’re also a professional race car driver. Are there parallels between racing against the clock (and budget) to get a film made and being behind the steering wheel of a race car? Does it take the same kind of focus and discipline?
Afshar: There are a lot of similarities. I owned the race team, so knowing those details of how to manage my team helped prepare me for being a producer in putting together the right people to get the job done. The main differences are that racing is more adrenaline and a one-time motor sport, where making a movie is a lot more collaborative and has a longer timeline.

TrunkSpace: Working in independent film can sometimes mean having to change aspects of a script on the fly in order to fit into budget and time constraints. If you had a blank check to go out and make any kind of project that you wanted to, what kind of film or series would you put into development?
Afshar: I love movies like “Rocky,” “Remember the Titans,” and “Friday Night Lights.” The underdog stories are my favorite, which all of our films encompass.

TrunkSpace: When you’re acting on a project that you’re not directly involved with behind the scenes, is it difficult to shut off the producer part of your brain?
Afshar: It’s not difficult, but I definitely notice the production efficiency and strategy.

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Afshar: The highlight has been working with my bosses, Forrest and Charlotte Lucas. Having them believe and support us in our American dream-messages is very rewarding.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Afshar: I would jump ahead. I’d be curious and a little scared, but I’d try to adjust accordingly for what I saw in my future.

Bennett’s War” is available on VOD November 12. “The Ride” cruises into theaters in early 2020.

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Deep Focus

Lauren LeFranc

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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 Lauren LeFranc, showrunner of the science fiction series “Impulse,” about job descriptions, creating television in a short attention span society, and finding inspiration in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

TrunkSpace: Formal definitions aside, what does the job of a showrunner entail for those who are not familiar with the term?
LeFranc: Well, I guess, you’re first a writer and then second to that, you’re the CEO of your television show, essentially. You’re in charge of running the writers’ room. You are technically in charge of everything to do with set and production and post production. You touch everything. There are certain department heads who are specialized in those particulars, but you have your hands in everything.

TrunkSpace: And does that change series to series or platform to platform?
LeFranc: No, it’s pretty much that. That’s the general job description. Everybody does it a little differently, but that’s the job.

TrunkSpace: Would 12-year-old Lauren be surprised that she would one day be serving in that role?
LeFranc: I think she’d be pretty stoked. I grew up on TV. I was, really, partially raised by books and movies. And so 12-year-old me would probably freak out a little bit if she knew that she could go to set and write stories – like a heightened level of playing make believe. And honestly, part of why I write and what I think about a lot is my younger self and just trying to think about what impact TV had on me and really wanting to put that forward for other people.

TrunkSpace: You grew up on television, but “Impulse” is on YouTube Premium, so you’re paying it forward, but in an entirely new way, which is pretty wild.
LeFranc: Yeah. I mean, my God, TV has changed so much. Our industry has changed within the last couple of years – even the last couple of months – so dramatically. I never would have anticipated watching the Internet or walking around with an iPad and watching all these different streaming platforms. And that’s how people often view content now. So, yeah, it’s really crazy.

TrunkSpace: So as a showrunner, do you think about that – the way people are watching – and does it ever impact the creative?
LeFranc: Our goal is always to visually make it look as beautiful and amazing as possible, assuming and hoping that people are watching it on a bigger screen, truthfully. Because, I think, we try to be a very cinematic show. That doesn’t mean that I’m not aware that some people are going to watch it on their iPads or their phones, but the goal is not to cater to that particularly, but to maybe inspire people to want to see it on a bigger screen and to try to get more out of it. Especially, because we have a lot of visual effects, and our directors are so excellent. You really want to offer that on a bigger screen if you can. I’m aware of the different options people have – the lack of attention span sometimes people have. I don’t creatively think on that level in terms of how we break story and the stories that we come up with, but I’m very aware of it.

TrunkSpace: That lack of attention span that you speak of can also be seen as a blessing for your series because, if people are watching and are invested in this day and age, you know you’re doing something right.
LeFranc: Absolutely. Everyone has a lot of options. I think the thing that I really love about being on YouTube Premium is that we can be any length. So, we don’t have to hit a certain length for every episode. I try to keep it in a certain window that I think is reasonable, perhaps because of the lack of attention span that I personally have. So, if it’s something 60 minutes, to me, it better be really fantastic and worth those 60 minutes. It’s a matter of minutes and it matters a lot, but we also can create whatever kind of content we want. We don’t have similar restrictions to broadcast networks or even some pay cable. So in that regard, it’s really freeing creatively.

TrunkSpace: With that said, could “Impulse” exist on another network in its current form or is it unique to YouTube Premium?
LeFranc: No, I definitely think it could. Because streaming platforms… if they’re willing to take risks and play in different genres, absolutely. The comparable networks to YouTube, I think, like Netflix and Amazon quickly come to mind. YouTube has given us such creative freedom. That’s been really a lovely experience, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t play elsewhere. I mean, we do curse a lot. (Laughter) We probably would need to censor ourselves a little bit.

I think a lot of TV and streaming cable services right now want to offer creativity to showrunners and to writers. And that’s really amazing to be a part of right now.

Missi Pyle and Sarah Desjardins in Season 2 of “Impulse”

TrunkSpace: On the opposite side of that coin, is there a feeling inside the TV community that it won’t always be this good and that perhaps this level of content creation won’t be able to sustain itself?
LeFranc: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if people could have predicted where we’d be exactly right now. And again, it’s ever-changing. I think there’s a huge potential that this is a bubble that’s going to burst at some point, but from my perspective, it’s like, let’s play in that bubble for as long as they let us. Because I think the thing that I love about it is that now, you can tell unique stories. We’re dealing with trauma, but there’s genre elements. We’re focusing on a complicated young woman and we’re not trying to cater to a particular broad audience in such a way to make that character super likable instead of just about making her more real and honest. And I don’t know if I could have told a story like this even five years ago, honestly. And that’s just a product of having so many different opportunities.

TrunkSpace: Five years ago, “Impulse” would have been a story about teleportation first, and the character stuff would have all played in the background.
LeFranc: Exactly. And that has been the greatest gift is that I get to tell a story that is not leading with some sort of snazzy element like teleportation. It’s leading with character and it’s leading with trying to create a grounded character drama and focus on a young woman, but focus on the people around her and equally focused on the people in this town who are struggling financially. No one is super pretty. No one is glamorized. No one is overly sexualized. That has been YA badly up until this point for whatever reason in TV, I think, with a couple exceptions. But really, it’s been, for me as a young woman growing up, a little disheartening and confusing because I’m like, “I’ve never experienced high school like this.” “My So Called Life” I think was a show for a time that really revolutionized how you think about young people. And that’s something that I hold onto a lot. And I was a big fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” I really wanted to write TV largely because of Buffy, because she was this complicated woman with burden, and she was strong, and powerful. And I hadn’t really seen a lot of those depictions before. So, I’m trying to lead in my generation with “Impulse” in that regard.

Season 2 of “Impulse” is available today on YouTube Premium.

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Deep Focus

Christopher Piñero

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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 Christopher Piñero, writer, director and producer of the suspenseful new film “A Dark Place” about riding the creative roller coaster, keeping on-set emotions in check, and embracing preparedness.

TrunkSpace: “A Dark Place” is your feature length directorial debut. Although audiences have already had a chance to view it at festivals, it will be released on VOD, Blu-ray and DVD on August 13. What emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to its release?
Piñero: It’s like that scared, excited feeling when you are approaching the drop on a roller coaster. More excited than scared, but still a bit of fear, which I’m okay with. I think, more than anything, I hope people connect with the characters and are moved on some level by the story.

TrunkSpace: As a director, what is more nerve-racking, waiting for a wide release like you’re on the eve of, or sitting in with a live audience during a screening?
Piñero: Without a doubt a live audience. There’s no place to hide, you’re stuck with a few hundred people for two hours praying they enjoy it. I remember our first screening for the movie – my heart was jumping in and out of my chest and my inner monologue was screaming, “They hate it!” But, there was a moment early on in the movie that the audience had a strong, positive reaction to and I knew I had them after that point. At least with a wide release like this I can go hide in my closet and turn off my phone.

TrunkSpace: Not only did you direct “A Dark Place,” but you also wrote, produced and edited the film. Was there ever a point throughout the production that you had wished you had taken on less? Did it ever get overwhelming?
Piñero: Absolutely. I went from doing a thirteen-page short to a hundred-plus-page feature and one thing I didn’t anticipate was how relentless the schedule was. We shot this in 12 days, and I remember on day six we were shooting the party sequence. There was at least 60 people on set – extras, crew and main cast included. After we broke for lunch I went into an empty bedroom and didn’t know if I was going to vomit or pass out. I hadn’t realized how overwhelmed I was and I couldn’t share with anyone, but my DP, because if the crew senses weakness, you’re done.

TrunkSpace: Did what writer Christopher wanted on the page ever contradict what director Christopher could achieve on set? Did the two creative yous ever butt heads?
Piñero: For the most part we were in sync. I had this story beat in the script that the director in me was never really happy with, but the writer side of me said, “No, this needs to happen.” When it came time to shoot that scene, we completely forgot to grab what was in the script. We were at the penultimate day of shooting when I had to rework that story beat on the fly and it wound up working so much better than what I had written.

TrunkSpace: What is a lesson you learned throughout the process of making “A Dark Place” that you’ll apply to future productions you involve yourself in? What will you do differently with your follow-up?
Piñero: I’ve learned preparedness in all facets is key to making a movie. A lot of the shots you see in the movie were decided on the day of shooting, because of the restrictions we had on the locations. Another thing I get better at every time I direct is communicating what I want concisely. And I get that way by painstakingly studying the script in pre-pro then throwing it all away when we start shooting!

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Piñero: I’m most proud of the film we created under the circumstances we were shooting in. We made this with money from my family and friends and I couldn’t be prouder of the results. At times we shot 11 pages per day, which is a little insane, but we pulled it off. And that was down to the cast and crew going above and beyond for the movie.

TrunkSpace: Do you think that bringing “A Dark Place” to life has altered your path? Has making this film changed how you look at your career as a whole?
Piñero: Yes, absolutely. The wealth of experience I’ve gained from going through that shoot is going to help me tremendously for the rest of my career. It was like boot camp for me. My hope from the beginning with this was, we get distribution and that will afford me an opportunity to tell a story on a bigger scale. We’ve achieved half of that goal so far.

TrunkSpace: What would 12-year-old Christopher think about his future directorial debut? Would the boy who dreamed of making movies be surprised by the film or your choices in it?
Piñero: I grew up in a military town and the thought of being a director was so foreign to me. Although, movies were everything to me when I was a kid, almost a religion, I was completely ignorant to the film-making process. I believe 12-year-old me would be ecstatic that I even made a movie to begin with. I strive to make movies that I would want to see on screen so I think he would be happy.

TrunkSpace: If someone came to you tomorrow and said, “Christopher, here is a blank check, green light any project you want for yourself,” what kind of movie would you make and why?
Piñero: Funny you ask that. I’ve just completed my next script, “Rosemont Forest,” and I’ll be looking to shoot that next. It’s a coming-of-age thriller, with horror elements that’s set in the ‘90s.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Piñero: I wouldn’t. As much as I like to try to anticipate and visualize things, I don’t want any spoilers. It would be like cutting out the first and second act of a movie and missing out on what makes the adventure so special.

A Dark Place” is now available on iTunes, Blu-ray, DVD and On Demand.

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Deep Focus

Haley Finnegan

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Featured image by: Ryland West

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 Haley Finnegan, writer, director, producer and star of “Westfalia,” a hilariously poignant short that pokes fun at social media and the influencer lifestyle. The film premieres tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of the Funhouse programming block.

TrunkSpace: Your new film “Westfalia” is premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival today. What kind of emotions are you juggling with as you gear up to share the film with the masses?
Finnegan: I am so excited and nervous and scared. I can’t wait to share it at Tribeca but I am also going to be a nervous wreck sitting in that audience. Every time I watch it with other people I have to hold on to my seat while I wait and hope people like it. I am mostly excited to be in my favorite city and to see everyone else’s films in the Funhouse block. Coincidentally, my good friend, Josh Covitt, is showing his short in the Funhouse block too. This will be our first time seeing each other’s films. We aren’t good enough friends to share with each other ahead of time, I guess…

TrunkSpace: As we understand it, “Westfalia” came together during a period of your life when you were unhappy with the progress of your acting career. Did making this film yourself allow you to control your own destiny in a way, and now that it’s finished and screening at Tribeca, do you feel empowered to explore the content creation side of the business even more now?
Finnegan: Auditioning feels like constantly asking for permission to do the work you love. And then one night, I decided I was going to give myself that permission. It felt liberating. And now I just want to do it again. I can’t wait to get started on my next project.

TrunkSpace: You wrote the script the same night that the idea struck you. Things started fast right out of the gates, but did everything come together quickly after that? How long did it take from core inception to completion?
Finnegan: A year later we’re here at Tribeca and it feels fast, for sure! It was written in April, shot in May, the picture was edited June – September, the sound was a work in progress and only recently completed. We had to do it quickly to meet the submission deadlines.

TrunkSpace: What are you most proud of with the film?
Finnegan: I’m so proud of the people who made it happen and the hard work they all put in. This was a labor of love for sure.

TrunkSpace: Did writer Haley and director Haley ever butt heads in terms of what one wanted and what the other could achieve given budget and time constraints?
Finnegan: Ha! That’s really funny. It’s reminding me of a quote about Freud not being able to figure Irish people out. It’s all an internal conflict, all the time! While it was my first time directing a short, it wasn’t my first time on a low budget set. I have been a part of a lot of projects that never see the light of day, so I knew I had to keep costs down while writing it. That’s why most of the scenes take place outside.

TrunkSpace: What was the biggest lesson you learned in making “Westfalia” that you’ll apply to your next project and all projects moving forward?
Finnegan: My biggest lesson would be – why did I wait so long to do this? And I hope other artists out there hear this. Just try it. Don’t spend too much money. Get your friends together. Make art.

TrunkSpace: The film pokes fun at the influencer lifestyle, but in a way, a project like “Westfalia” will find a large portion of its audience through social media. Does that kind of bring it all full circle?
Finnegan: Oh my gosh! I say this all the time. I started using social media so much more after making this. But I want to point out that while I think living your life for “likes” is a rough way to live, I think that Instagram is an incredible place for artists. If you have art or something to say, social media is such a gift. There are things we should absolutely love about Instagram but I’m not sure it’s seeing someone’s personal wardrobe conveniently linked to Amazon.

TrunkSpace: Do you think bringing “Westfalia” to life has altered your path? Has making this film changed how you look at your career as a whole?
Finnegan: Yeah. Well, I didn’t quit acting! I am really hoping to direct and write more. I love writing. I was scared to share my work. Now I can’t wait to do it again. It’s still scary, though!

TrunkSpace: What has been the highlight of your career thus far?
Finnegan: The highlight of my career is honestly the people I get to work with. I love my agents, my improv team, and all the amazingly talented people you meet on set and in the audition rooms.

TrunkSpace: Time machine question. If you could jump ahead 10 years and get a glimpse of what your career looks like a decade from now, would you take that journey? If not, why?
Finnegan: I don’t know if I would step inside the time machine! I like the crazy path of being an artist. It would ruin that rush for me. But it’s funny you ask that. I was telling my mom the other day about what a crazy journey it has been already. The serendipities in my past have been life altering. I made a speech spontaneously at a wedding that I wasn’t even supposed to be in and it landed me my first agent. This kind of surprise would be spoiled given a time machine.

Featured image by Ryland West.

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Deep Focus

Brian Skiba

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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 Brian Skiba, writer, director and producer of the new comedy/horror mashup “Rottentail,” based on the graphic novel by David C. Hayes and released by Source Point Press.

(Be sure to check out our chat with “Rottentail” star Corin Nemec here!)

TrunkSpace: “Rottentail” is based on a graphic novel. Did adapting a concept from a comic change up the creative process for you at all?
Skiba: Yeah, it definitely does. Typically you only have a script to go off of or it’s an idea and we develop the script. It was really nice to actually have something that was tangible and that we know already has a little bit of a fan base behind it. I enjoyed the process. I thought it was great. It allowed for us to take an existing source and expand upon it, which was a lot of fun.

TrunkSpace: Did having that tangible item make it easier in terms of securing the financing to physically make the movie?
Skiba: I don’t know. Source Point did the financing. I would think so but I think a lot of the financing came a little bit late in the game. We had some guys up front that got us going and then as we got into it, budgets tend to swell. I think he used the graphic novel mixed with what we had shot to finish off the budget, which was, obviously, very low to begin with.

TrunkSpace: Was there anything in that process, by way of budget or time constraints, that put writer Brian and director Brian at odds with each other?
Skiba: Yeah. Budget always dictates the war between writer and director Brian, for sure. Writer Brian is a 100 million dollar Marvel movie. Director Brian is like, “Oh shit, I only have 50 bucks.” (Laughter) There’s always that constant battle. On this one, going into it, I knew what I had when we started. The initial script was written by David Hayes and then I came in and did a rewrite on it. I already kind of knew where we were going to be at. For me, I went into it with the idea of, “Okay, this is obviously going to be a B movie.” It suits that genre because it is about a bunny man. If I went out and I tried to make “Logan” or I went out and tried to tell a super serious story about a guy in a bunny suit, to me it wouldn’t have worked. It wouldn’t do the book justice because the book is also very funny and tongue in cheek. So for me, I went into it thinking, “Okay, this film is going to be that VHS tape that you tucked away in the ‘80s or ‘90s and you haven’t seen in 20 years. All of a sudden you’re going through your stuff and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember this film. Let me pop it in.’”

TrunkSpace: And that played with us. It was like the movie we wanted to rent from Blockbuster back in the day, but our dad wouldn’t let us, so we went to our friend’s house and their dad let us.
Skiba: Yeah, that’s exactly what we were going for artistically, and as far as looks go, I think it’s been a success in that because it definitely screams that that’s what it is. At the same point, mainstream critics just don’t get it. They just want to harp on, “It’s low budget!” It’s like, “No, dude, it’s a genre piece. It’s an art piece.” Yeah, we didn’t have millions upon millions of dollars but this is a VHS tape exactly like you said… the kind you couldn’t rent but your friend’s dad rented. That’s what we went into the film wanting to create.

TrunkSpace: Is there something to be said too with a micro budget where, as a filmmaker, it forces you to think outside the box and maybe land some gems that you wouldn’t have if you went into a production with a limitless budget?
Skiba: Yes and no. I’ve done multi-million dollar pictures and had all the toys. When it gets that big it becomes a lot of chefs in the kitchen, whereas something like this it was kind of liberating to not have six executive producers behind me from a network constantly poking the bear, so to say. It was liberating to be able to go and say, “Hey, Corin, let’s just try something crazy right here and see if it works.” Corin would come to me and say the same thing. “Hey, man, you mind if I riff a little bit here?” “Nah, go for it.” It was liberating and we found lots of gems, so yeah, I think there’s something to be said about that. Granted, the filmmaker in me would love to have all of the toys on the planet, but I feel like for what we were given and the time we had, we put out something that was entertaining and that’s ultimately the goal.

TrunkSpace: With that in mind, what are you most proud of with the film?
Skiba: I’m most proud that we can make people laugh. We can make people smile. We’ll take them out of their everyday lives for 90 minutes and entertain them and let them reminisce. I think the greatest thing about this film – and what I’m seeing from everybody that’s starting to see it and what they come back with – is the same thing that you felt. It’s reminiscent of when we were kids… when we were kids in the ‘80s and ‘90s and this Grindhouse VHS kind of genre that’s been lost. Everybody these days is trying to be 8K and super clean. I personally kind of like the 16mm look. I like my film a little bit dirty and not seeing everybody’s individual pores like crazy. There’s definitely a nostalgia kind of feeling that goes with that. I think that’s something that we all accomplished.

TrunkSpace: One of the things we noticed in looking over your career as a whole is just how many holiday movies you have had a hand in, and considering this one is coming out at Easter, we can’t help but wonder if this was a purposeful career path you set yourself on or if it has been by chance?
Skiba: Yeah, the Christmas movies kind of just happened. It (“Rottentail”) is kind of my revenge on having to do so many of these Christmas movies I guess. I fell into Christmas. I did a couple thrillers, a couple horror films, and then a guy came to me and said, “Hey, look, if you write a Christmas movie I could sell it.” So I wrote “Defending Santa” and sure enough, the guy sold it. Then I met the network execs and the producers and I just kind of got into TV as far doing the TV movies. Since then I’ve done 17 TV movies. It’s been a great education and a the same time, it’s been a great career. I enjoy doing them. I have one coming out in October, but this time it’s a little step up. It’s for Universal Studios. I’ve got an actual studio release in October with Denise Richards, Patrick Muldoon and Barbara Eden called “My Adventures with Santa.” That one is a lot of fun too. If you enjoy “Rottentail” you’ll enjoy “My Adventures with Santa” as well just because it’s a fun kind of throwback feel Christmas movie.

Rottentail” is available in select theaters now.

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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

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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

SamUptonFeatured

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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