You have worked on plays in theater and also on various short film projects. When did you realize that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Filmmaking has been my life goal since walking home from school as a pre-teen and imagining all the amazing “Avenger-like” action sequences that could happen in the forest setting around me (I grew up in the Santa Cruz mountains in the small, rural town of Ben Lomond). Theater, for me, was always an easy access acting opportunity. To develop a skill of performance and authentic line delivery. I love the theater community and I love the energy of a live audience. But, I always hated that the production, after all that work, kinda dies. Yes, you can film it from a wide angle in the back row of the theater, but as far as making a long lasting and really engaging piece of entertainment… film, for me, was always the way to go.
When did you make your first film and what was it like to work on your first film project?
The first film I made was when I was 12 years old and I had saved up enough money to buy a High 8 Video Camera. It was the first type of camcorder that you could edit “in camera.” So, during the “drug movie” that my friend and I were creating, we could look at a take and say, “… eh… let’s rewind and reshoot that,” taping over the scene we just shot. It was magic! So, the experience was super fun, but what really made me want to be good at filmmaking was when I was showing people what we created. That experience really drove me to get more in touch with what is “watchable.” One time, watching footage with my father, he said, “ugh… I’m getting nauseous. Can’t you keep the camera still?” (I love my dad and he is the most loving person in the world, but that experience was scarring. But the best kind of scarring. It made me want to be better). Also, my father was offended that I had asked him to act in my film, but didn’t tell him that I was going to put one of his close ups after a shot of me pointing a gun at the camera. We added a gunshot sound fx to give the illusion that I shot him in the face. “Why did you do that?” was his response. So, it was a great experience shooting my first film, but it was a painful lesson learning about composition and camera stability, as well as writing a story that would better justify killing an older man. It helped me be more conscious of my audience.
What kind of films inspired you as a director?
I always loved really intense films. Or films that put you in a scene where you forget you’re even watching a movie because the content is so engaging. The first film that did that for me was Pulp Fiction. It was the first rated R film I’d ever watched. I was quite protected from graphic content as a kid (growing up in a Christain community and having a preacher as a father), but when I was 13, and watching TV at a friend’s house, my parents weren’t there to stop us from putting that film on. It was so different from the formulaic “feel-good” films I had been watching up until then. It showed me that there is a way to spark the intense feelings people have inside them and showed me that not all films are pigeon-holed into what is acceptable to the “mainstream.” You can be a dark story teller, and dark stories do have an audience. From there, I sought out directors that wouldn't make a “happy-ever-after” film; like Michael Haneke (the original Funny Games made me sick to my stomach… and I was like, “if someone can make me feel that way by making a film… then he really did his job well”), Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin was my favorite film for a while - though I wouldn’t suggest it to everyone), Chan-Wook Park (His revenge trilogy is mindblowing), & Ming-Liang Tsai (The Wayward Cloud was like nothing I had ever seen and made me feel as though anything is possible in film). I just love the engaging and the “off the beaten path.”
What genre of filmmaking are you trying to create in your work?
I’m trying to create relatable and captivating stories using extreme scenarios or emotions. I believe that could be put into any genre. White Heat is a “gangster film” and considered one of the best in it’s genre, but really it’s about bringing to the surface the homicidal psychosis of our leading character. He is driven by ambition, and when he gets a taste of blood, his ambition is what brings about his ultimate demise. Yes it’s a great gangster film, but it’s really about finding a character’s psychotic breaking point. That could be done in a superhero movie. In fact it has been done in Chronical (another one of my favorite films - it flips the superhero genre on its head). So, I don’t think I’m aiming for a certain genre of filmmaking other than using extreme characters within multiple genres. But… yeah… mainly dark comedy thus far. Sorry for sounding pretentious.
Please name three of your most favorite directors?
I went through every single film that Jean-Luc Godard made… and though I wouldn’t call him “the greatest” he really didn’t give a $#!% about his audience and made whatever he was inspired to make… which... really grew an audience. He was also very prolific. I respect that. And even though some of his films are nearly unwatchable, I’d put him up there. Woody Allen is up there as well... even though he married his adopted daughter… he’s incredible. He is so witty he makes me laugh out loud. Deconstructing Harry is one of the best films I’ve ever seen; he creates amazing story arcs for his characters and does it with feelings people can relate to and with comedy. And then for fun… I’ll watch anything that Taika Waititi makes: What We Do In the Shadows is gold! And Thor Ragnarok is by far the absolute best Marvel movie made to date.
What were some of the challenges of making an independent film for you?
Money is a challenge and a source of a lot of anxiety. I’m funding everything and wondering if it’s really the best move when considering my future. But… I kinda came to a crossroad when considering... I’m going to die… so, would I rather die living a somewhat comfortable life with a safe retirement doing something I could care less about? Or be a poor artist, using all his savings to be invigorated by projects that put a fire to my passions and connect me to like minded people? I chose the latter. Also… sometimes people will try to persuade me to take something out of my scripts, or shoot something in a different way… and though that’s like a kick in the stomach because they don’t agree with my vision, I realize I have to stick to my vision… it’s my vision, not theirs. Who the hell is this person? What films have they made? None? Ok, well… thanks for um… I don’t know what, but if I don’t try making a film exactly the way I believe is the best for the desired outcome, then I’ll never know what it would have been like to stick to my guns and build a foundation to improve on; rather than seeking everyone else's approval.
Do you plan to continue working on indie films?
There is no doubt in my mind that I will be making independent films until I die. That, or, I will have died inside because I gave up trying. Which is death.
Do you recommend film schools or does making a film teach you more than film school?
Film school was interesting. I hated it. I watched a thousand films and wrote a thousand papers. It was NOT what I thought it would be. Then they kick you out with your “film degree” and say … “good luck!” Now… I know I just painted a horrible picture of film school, and there are things I am very grateful for (One of which is a film history education, as well as being exposed to foriegn films. Those things really opened my mind to new ways of thinking about plot structure and what is acceptable in creating stories.) but I didn’t even touch a camera until my 4th year at SFSU. And when I graduated from film school I had very little production experience. To anyone who is reading this, I would say… GO MAKE FILMS! Figure it out. How to make entertaining content will only start to take shape after you get started. But… starting my own company making promotion films for small to medium sized businesses, it did go a long way when I told them that I had a degree in filmmaking.... A potential client would nod their heads like, “oh, ok. I can trust this guy.” All in all, completing film school has been very valuable, even though I hated it. It was like going to the gym. I didn’t like it, but I’m really happy I went.
How challenging is it to distribute indie films and find an audience for short films?
I have no idea. At this point in my “career” it seems impossible. But I haven’t even tried yet… So, that’s the next step. I wouldn’t even really consider myself a professional filmmaker. I’d consider myself a professional business man, because that’s how I pay my bills. When I start making money creating films I’ll be able to take the quotes off of “career” when talking about being a filmmaker. As of now, I’ve only spent a mind-blowing amount of cash creating content and submitting it to festivals with hopes to be seen and recognized as an artist who could be trusted to make a film with someone else’s money.
How can cinema change lives and have an impact on the world?
I can only speak from my own experience. Film has shown me that other people feel like I do: alone, terrified, cynical, resentful, and at times manically full of joy. And though I always felt like an alien, studying these humans, trying to fit in - hoping no one would point at me and scream, “faker!” - I felt connected to humanity when I was exposed to good art. I felt less alone. I felt inspired. And then... I felt terrified, because I found that life would mean nothing to me unless I really poured my heart and soul into what I felt passionate about. Film has done that for me. And ever since I’ve been trudging the path to get exposure and recognition that I am a credible filmmaker, I have had experiences I never thought I would; I’ve faced fears, I’ve matured (a little bit) and I’ve had the wonderful experience of people telling me that they laughed at my content and that they’ve been inspired by my efforts. So, in short: film can make people feel less alone, and also be a source for inspiration.
Why do you want to make films?
I want to have fun. I want to collaborate and care about the outcome of the collaboration. And filmmaking is the only thing that seems to offer that.