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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

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

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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 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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