- Was there a particular event or time that you recognized that filmmaking is your way of telling stories?
It started at a very young age. I remember going to the video store called Videomat in my home town with my father to rent Jaws. The store was always heaven for me as there were rows, and rows of VHS
tapes to choose from. I was fixated with Bruce on the cover, and my father thought it would be a good idea at age five to rent Jaws for me. This is the same man that in the video of my first steps as a toddler had First Blood playing in the background. Let’s say mom was not happy with that. Once we went home for Jaws though I was fixated with the film. Never being scared but just enthralled with the experience. The one moment in particular was when Hooper was investigating Ben Gardner’s boat. I was not looking
at the screen at this moment for a reason I don’t know but I remember looking at my father drowned in the color of blue from the screen. Ben’s head popped out then and he jumped out of his skin even though he had seen the film countless times before. At the time I didn’t know it, but something in my brain clicked, and I had to figure out how to do that. Invoke emotion, and entertainment all at the same time. To this day Jaws is my favorite film, and has a profound effect on my life.
- Do you think it is essential to go to a film institute in order to become a successful filmmaker?
I think this is something that is very dependent on the individual. If film is something you weren’t sure you were in love with from a certain age, and don’t have a knowledge of it, Film School is a very viable option. Especially for technical aspects. Learning how to use equipment, learning specific styles of other artists but telling an individual story can never be taught. You can only gain so much from a four year program. In my situation I was lucky to get on sets early on as an Extra or PA of major Hollywood films
and small indies. So when I started in Film School I had more on set experience than my TA and I felt very grounded and not growing as an artist/storyteller. I felt most but not all the individuals around me did not choose film school because they have to do it to live. It felt more like an easy major. Which is not the case. As cliche as it is I can’t live without film, and the ones that want to be unique artists/storytellers in their own right feel the same way. If you have a passion and love for it burning in you then I would say just getting on any set that’s any budget will be better than any prestigious film program you could get into. It’s all about getting your reps in, and learning the life of a film set.
- Is it harder to get started or to keep going? What was the particular thing that you had to conquer to do either?
I believe it is harder to get started. It’s finding something that turns you on as a filmmaker is where I struggle the most. I have stories in me, but what speaks to my heart is the White Whale I deal with. With Focal Point specifically it was hard for me to jump in at first because it was not my script. It was the first film I directed that wasn’t my own material. It was a story I connected to a lot because of my past dealing with a medical condition that made me feel like an outsider like our main character Lucas, but still took me a few drafts to really dive in. Once I found pieces of me I could relate to, and started adding parts of myself into the film then I could fully understand what we needed to do specifically with this story as well keeping true to Matthew’s original vision of when he first told me the story. Once I find myself in the project I am locked in but until that it can be hard to get something off the ground for me.
- What was the most important lesson you had to learn that has had a positive effect on your film? How did that lesson happen?
I think Matthew would agree with me, it was compromise. We had a few scenes that would have been absolutely terrific that we couldn’t shoot because of weather, or scheduling conflicts. It made us think on our feet, and for instance the Halloween scene ,Bowling Scene and Apple Orchard scenes were not in any of the original drafts of the film. We had lost out on a quarry scene, and also had conflicts with a Roller Skating rink. This I think helped the film immensely because with the Halloween scene for a film that takes place in New England you get more of a feeling with the seasons, and the Apple Orchard is my personal favorite scene of the movie. Matthew’s cinematography is gorgeous, and I think it’s one of the more human moments of adolescence we captured.
- What were the production realities from casting through editing that you had to accommodate? How did you navigate those compromises or surprises and still end up with a cohesive film?
As I was saying above, locations were a huge task of being quick on our feet. I think the biggest thing though we had to work with were young actors. Most of our leads were 9 to 17. It was the first time as a director I had to deal with that situation, and we only had so much time with them. We also had a few reshoots going into the school year so coordinating everything on that end became difficult as well. On a lower budget film shoot I can’t preach enough compromise is needed. We all want the exact vision we
see in our head but when you don’t even have shoe strings for a budget that is just not feasible. It was more of a pressure situation than what I was used to but truly in the end made the film much better because of the actors we had casted and the great filmmakers that were involved in every aspect.
Especially Grady, and Henri who played younger, and older Lucas. They were super consistent on performance and really brought good ideas to the table that helped us in the editing room.
- What was the hardest artistic choice you made in the making of a film, at any stage in production?
Cutting down the Halloween scene. It was more extended than the cut you have seen but I truly love the character moments between Lucas and Ally. They were 100% not necessary and the scene plays much better how it is now.
- You are a collaborator. How have you discovered members of your team and how do you keep the relationship with them strong?
I love working with people that love film, and don’t take themselves too seriously. They are as serious about the work as I am and all understand to do your job well. Matt and I really focused on putting specific people in Key Positions. Cole Pestana has been a Sound Operator for me for two films now, and I would trust him everyday of the week to not only record clean audio but be creative as well. Getting interesting B-Roll clips even when I didn’t think of it. This is only one example but specifically on my feature Nowhere to Run he recorded the sounds of a nearby flowing river. That played into the exact mood of what the scene became drowning out all noise besides that for a piece of tension I needed. It really is about finding what a specific person is good at and putting them in a position to succeed. Once you do that as a director trust begins, and you can rely on them. Then when everyone knows exactly what they have to do it takes certain stresses away besides just going and doing the work at the highest level possible. It also helps keep a set light, and fun. We all have our moments when we need to focus, but at the end of the day we are playing pretend. We are lucky humans to be able to do what we do. I try to instill that with everyone I work with.
- What do audiences want? And is it the filmmaker’s role to worry about that?
The Audience wants to be entertained, and I believe 100% it is your job to worry about that. I am not a fan of making a film for yourself. Tell your story any way you want but at the end of the day if you aren’t entertaining then who’s even going to care.
- What role have film festivals played in your life so far? Why are they necessary? How do you get the most out of them?
I am new to the festival scene. I have had a few shorts in the New Hampshire film festival, and a few shorts from my stint at Temple made the Diamond Film Festival. I did not attend any of those because I was not proud of the work I had done. I knew I had a lot better in myself. Focal Point, and Nowhere To Run are the first films I’m truly proud to have been a part of and direct. Sadly with the advent of Covid-19 I am in a lull with some festivals as we wait for the world to find some normalcy. They are so
necessary though not only for your work to be seen but to also meet other like minded filmmakers, and learn from their films and themselves.
- Do you believe that a filmmaker should be original and fresh or he/she should stick to classic but safe cinema style?
A filmmaker just has to be unique. Be influenced by who you love, and put your own spin on it. You can’t teach storytelling. When you see someone making a movie by painting by the numbers you know it isn’t genuine. Just be you.