What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
I grew up in mostly rural settings in Nebraska, Kansas, and Idaho having very little interaction with films. My first entree to visual storytelling was through comic books, and I was fully planning on moving toward a career as an illustrator – I started submitting to Marvel at age 11 – when I watched the film that changed everything for me: David Lynch’s Wild at Heart.
It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, and was the first time I recognized that filmmaking was an art form. Up until then I hadn’t realized that it was a craft in which an individual could express their own unique voice. I decided immediately that I wanted to make films, and never looked back.
What filmmakers would you say were your greatest sources of inspiration and who had the greatest influence on your filmmaking style?
After the entree to filmmaking via Lynch, I got a job at a video store and began watching everything I could get my hands on. My sources of inspiration run the gamut pulling from wide ranging voices including Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Mel Brooks, Sam Peckinpah, early Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen Brothers, I’m completely in awe of Lynne Ramsay who is likely the greatest director of our time, and Ana Lily Amampour who is doing some of the most visually stunning, innovative work out there today.
As someone making films from far outside the industry I also drew a lot of inspiration from the work, and methods of creation of Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee. They were the first individuals that I recognized were “independent” filmmakers, involved in every aspect of their pictures from financing to release. I studied their films, and as much information as I could find regarding how they actually made them.
Likely the greatest influence on my filmmaking style is Peter Bogdanovich. He grabbed me withThe Last Picture Show, as it felt like places I knew, then charmed with with Paper Moon, andWhat’s Up Doc? Throughout his work is a visual, and emotional intelligence, peppered with whimsy. When I made 6 Dynamic Laws for Success, his work was top of mind.
You mentioned Lynch, a filmmaker who has experience in a wide array of artistic mediums, as an inspiration. How do you think your own experiences in other art forms, namely illustration, has informed your filmmaking style?
I think the construction of comic illustration definitely caused me to see the connection between imagery and story. Oddly, or maybe not so oddly, it was my early recognition that I didn’t have that little “extra-something” that would push me over the top in that form which drove me to seek out other means of artistic expression. While I could draw, my ambitions for what I wanted to see on page, and what I produced on page didn’t always line-up. When I began exploring film I realized that part of my stumbling block in illustration was how confining I found limitations of the panel and page, pen and pencil. Essentially, filmmaking provided me a bigger canvas, and more tools in which to explore those frames. That said, I think the enduring influence I’ve taken from illustration is thoughtful composition, and building story (tension, conflict, and revelation) through images.
What are some challenges to indie filmmakers that a general audience might not know exist?
That making the film is less than half the battle. It often takes much longer, and much more stamina to stay the course that gets your film in front of general audiences.
How would you describe your directorial style?
Hands on, and staying calm. I often shoot and edit my work, as well as write and direct. Part of that grew out of necessity, there weren’t a lot of people making films in Idaho in the mid-90s, so in film school and after I made a point of having a working knowledge of most aspects of nuts and bolts filmmaking. It also grew out of my early practice as an artist. When I approach a film, I see it as a giant art project with each piece of the process as important as the next in achieving the end result, so I like to dig in on the whole process. Shooting my films allows me to be the first audience for them, and creates an intimacy with the actors that I prefer to just being an observer behind a monitor. I fell in love with editing in film school, recognizing early that it’s where the magic that is filmmaking truly comes together, and is what I’ve done for most of my professional life. That all said, I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with some remarkable people that never fail to make the work better.
What kind of projects do you have in mind for the future?
My current cache of scripts are all cousins of 6 Dynamic Laws for Success in one way or another. I trend toward ideas that seem like ridiculous pairings, allow for some mad-cap hijinks, and if I’m lucky are rife with absurdity and satire. I’m not sure which one will land next, but the three projects I’m most excited about are a comedy-thriller titled Kill Thy Neighbor based around the world of pay-day loan services, a mad-cap rodeo caper, which actually lives in the universe of 6 Dynamic Laws, titled The Sucker Creek Jamboree
(Brought to you by Millicent Murphy’s Famous Buckaroo Buffet & Travel Oasis), and a limited series I’m writing called Goodbye, Blue Mondays which is a near-future, satirical sci-fi comedy on masculinity – toxic and otherwise.
What are some of your favorite films?
What’s Up Doc?, Arsenic & Old Lace, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Paper Moon, Bringing Up Baby, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Smokey & The Bandit, Junior Bonner, You Were Never Really Here.
Which filmmaker currently working in Hollywood do you admire most?
Sean Baker. I love that he’s steadily created an incredible body of work on his own terms, and stayed true to his voice throughout. It’s wonderful to see that being recognized and rewarded.
Tell us about your experiences on the festival circuit.
6 Dynamic Laws for Success played 10 festivals, and offered an incredible opportunity to watch the film with a diverse array of audiences across the country. The highlights were hearing folks laugh at the appropriate moments (and at moments that surprised me), being told time after time how entertaining the film was, the legendary Burt Reynolds handing me a Special Jury Award trophy in Rome, Georgia, winning Best Narrative Feature in Barbados (not to mention going to Barbados), and meeting fellow filmmakers who’ve since become great friends, and in some cases collaborators.
What drew you to the premise of your film? Why did you choose to shoot in black and white?
I was a shy kid in high school, debilitatingly so. In an effort to curb my awkwardness, and social anxiety I read two books: How to Win Friends and Influence People, and Think and Grow Rich. Something about the voice and cadence of those mid-century self-help books stuck with me, and when I sat down to write that voice creeped in. Ultimately, the book became a great device within the film, and a clever way in which to structure the acts. I think the overall treasure hunt aspect of the film harkens back to films like It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, which are rife with gags and zany characters, and likely emerged from the depths of my subconscious while writing.
I always new I wanted the film to be black and white. I love the texture of it, and the ways in which you can more overtly use light. It also creates an immediate separation from real life, and allows for some abstraction with time and space.
Your film is an interesting blend of genres that don’t generally get put together, how did you determine this was the path you wanted to take your film on?
I knew going in that I wanted to make a noir picture with a sense of humor. The more zany, screwball nature of it illuminated for me during the writing process. It was one of those situations where the characters took hold, and two weeks later I had a first draft. Ultimately, for better or worse, I knew I wanted to make a film that stood apart from the low-budget independents you might normally see, while celebrating the cinema that had inspired me over the years.
What advice would you give someone thinking about making their first film?
Surround yourself with good people, and make the things that bring you joy. If your gut tells you that you didn’t get it (the shot, the scene, the moment), you didn’t.
If you had to recommend one film to someone looking to make their first film to give them a sense of what they are in for, what would it be?
For the utter hubris, pain, joy, heartache, and insanity that is making an independent film: American Movie (1999). For fun, and inspiration around the birth of cinema, Peter Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon(1976). Highly recommend tracking down the B&W version. It’s an entertaining romp that hints – other than the technology – not much has changed regarding the struggle of independent artists to get things made and shown; as well as how easy it is to get in our own way on the road to fulfilling our vision.