Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?
I have loved movies for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories involve me watching movies when I was just a couple years old. While I have loved watching films forever, I was always someone who was a bit too "practical" when it came to my career, despite the fact that my Dad had been a successful artist since I was young. I assumed that you were supposed to graduate college and then work at a job that you weren't passionate about in order to pay the bills. The thought really depressed me, so I tried not to think about it too often and focused on my hobbies, which included watching movies, playing video games, sports, listening to music and hanging out with friends.
I studied business in college, which did ultimately teach me how to be a good leader as a film director/producer, but the actual content didn't interest me much. I assumed that I would get some business marketing job out of college that I wouldn't really be passionate about. I started to have these fantasies about finding myself working a marketing gig on a film production during my junior year of college, and while the fantasy excited me, it also depressed me because it didn't seem realistic considering my situation.
During the second semester of my senior year of college, shortly after watching "The Social Network", which is one of my favorite films of all time, and which I believe had an influence on what I have written below, I had a dream that I was going to a prestigious film school, taking various filmmaking courses, collaborating with other students to work on film projects, etc. Near the end of the dream, I met a psychic who told me that one of my closest friends (Inspired by Mark Zuckerberg stabbing Eduardo Saverin in the back) would steal my film idea, but despite this awful fact, I would become a successful filmmaker.
While I believe that I get along pretty well with most people, I can be a vengeful person if I feel that I was wronged. What truly shocked me about this dream was that I was so excited about the prospect of being a successful filmmaker, that it completely overshadowed my distress over having my film idea stolen by my best friend.
Suddenly, I woke up, jumped out of my bed, grabbed my backpack and jacket and ran to the front door of my apartment, getting ready to go to one of my "film classes". Then, I realized that it was 12:10 p.m. on a Saturday; that I had just been at a bar the previous night with friends; and that I wasn't a film student at a prestigious film school, but a marketing student at a business school; and I would graduate college and find some job that I hated; and that would be the rest of my life...this was the single most depressing moment of my entire life.
I stared at my bedroom wall in horror for about 20 minutes and then a lightbulb suddenly popped on inside my head. I told myself, "So you finally figured out your passion as you're graduating college. That's unfortunate, but you're still only 21 years old. You have plenty of time". I immediately came up with a plan for my filmmaking career. I would graduate college with my business marketing degree and find a decent paying job in business after college during the day while pursuing my filmmaking career during the evenings and weekends. This plan launched the beginning of my exciting filmmaking journey, from watching youtube videos on filmmaking and working as a production assistant on film sets while working in Insurance to pay the bills to being able to direct and produce my own films as my main passion, while working for a post-production company, handling video editing and video ingest.
What was your first job in the art field?
I landed my first job in the art field from a networking event that I attended in Chicago when I was just starting to get my feet wet in the film industry. I met this guy named Eugene Sun Park, who was working on a film called “Self-Deportation: The Untold Tale of a Marginal Woman”. He brought me onto his set as a production assistant and it was a wonderful experience overall. I helped with location scouting, picking up supplies, set props and food, standing in as an extra, etc. While I met some great people and had a blast being on set, the best part about the experience was a guy I met named Lance Eliot Adams, who was the producer of the film. We spent a lot of time together picking up various items for the cast/crew, so we really hit it off and he ended up bringing me onto his films for various positions, including assistant camera, assistant lighting and production assistant. Meeting him was key because I had no film directing experience at the time, and he was the one who took a chance on me and decided to produce and shoot my film “Enter the Room” after reading the script. Because of this, I will always look back at working on “Self-Deportation: The Untold Tale of a Marginal Woman” and meeting Lance as one of the biggest stepping stones in my Filmmaking career.
What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?
-It starts from a place of anger and sadness for me, which I have heard is generally the case with many storytellers. My relationship with my roommate during the first semester of my freshman year of college is what gave me the idea for "Enter the Room". Almost all of the various things that Brian was getting on Jeremy's case about during the narrative were actual things that my roommate accused me of. (And there were other things he said/did to me that I wasn't able to fit into the film) Living with him was a very unpleasant experience for me, and I felt that I needed to get it off my chest by telling this story. While I felt like a huge rock was lifted off of my chest while making this film, I expected that telling this story would be painful, when the opposite actually became true. The level of excitement, joy and satisfaction of creating “Enter the Room” from start to finish was truly mind blowing to me and I have never looked back since, as I have continued to thoroughly enjoy telling stories based on my own personal experiences.
The main issues and themes that I want to incorporate into my work involve conflict, sadness, loss, tension, revenge, redemption and catharsis. Generally speaking, I love to tell stories that convey complex character arcs and display a wide range of emotions to the audience while also staying rooted in themes that most can identify with.
Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?
First, I come up with the idea in my head and obsess over it for a long period of time. While many of the projects inside my head never become complete enough for me to put into production, the ideas that resonate with me from start to finish are the ones that I decide to go through with, “Enter the Room” being near the top of that list. After the idea really works in my head from start to finish, I begin to write the script. While I rarely run into writers’ block since I already have the idea pretty well cemented in my head at this point, I often overindulge and repeat myself too often while writing. Once the first rough draft of the script is complete, I review it over and over, cutting it down and fine tuning it until I feel very confident that it is ready to go into production. Once the script is ready, I create mass postings through various websites on the Internet. First, I hire my assistant directors, production managers and production assistants. Then comes casting, sending countless emails, reviewing tons of actor/actress submissions and holding many auditions, calling back the top actors/actresses, casting the best ones for their respective roles, holding rehearsals (I usually hold 2-4), hiring the best cinematographer, gaffer and location/sound experts, scheduling shoot dates, capturing all of our footage for the shoot and locking down the picture in Post-Production. I edit for a living, so I take care of post-production for my films, which is my favorite part of the filmmaking process. Once the film is complete, I begin sending it out to film festivals as I am now doing with “Enter the Room”.
Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?
-Christopher Nolan was the first film director who I specifically followed. I first watched one of his earlier films, “Memento” at a friend's house in 7th grade. It was actually his parents' recommendation, and I was a rebellious kid, so I was skeptical. I was quickly proven wrong, and while I was confused by the twist ending, I was also very intrigued and immediately wanted to watch it again. I forgot about the film for some time, and about 2 years later, I stumbled into it at a Blockbuster. I became so obsessed with the movie that I watched it 5 nights in a row, learning something new every time as Christopher Nolan dropped so many Easter eggs throughout the film. In general, I really prefer to watch new films and I often get tired of repetition, but "Memento" is one of the few films that I can revisit over and over without ever becoming even slightly bored with it. Due to the ingenious plot structuring, smart script, incredibly complex characters and insane twist ending, "Memento" is the first film that I became obsessed with and is still my favorite film to this day. When I saw “Batman Begins” in theaters a few years later, I was blown away by the darker, more serious tone that the film went with and saw Christopher’s name in the credits as the Director shortly after the film ended. That was the moment that I learned of the influence that a director can have on a film and have followed Nolan closely ever since.
There are so many other directors who I follow, but I would say that some of the others who have definitely had an influence on my work include Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Gaspar Noe, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Akira Kurosawa, John Carpenter, Satoshi Kon, Michael Mann, Brian De Palma, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. I have had a number of family, friends and acquaintances compare my filmmaking style to David Lynch after watching “Enter the Room” which I take as a gigantic compliment.
How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?
-I think that the most recent change in the industry seems to be the switch from watching movies in theaters to streaming them online or through various apps, which has partially been a result of COVID. I still do believe that there will always be a handful of people (myself included) who want to see certain blockbusters and other “big spectacle” films on the big screen, but streaming movies is becoming more and more popular these days, and I think that this will have a huge impact on how filmmakers approach their craft moving forward.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?
First and foremost, I would not recommend becoming a filmmaker unless you absolutely love doing this and breathe it day in and day out as I (and a handful of filmmakers I have met) do. It is a long, expensive and stressful journey that often doesn’t come close to giving you back what you put in from a financial/recognition perspective. But if you truly love doing it and receive the level of satisfaction that I do from working on and completing your films, I think you should continue to push forward and hopefully things will work out. Even if they don’t, you will always have something to be proud of and no one can take away the satisfaction that you receive from completing your passion project.
Second, understand how competitive this industry is, never expect anything and never act like you are owed something. Unless they had some incredible connection, even the best and most successful filmmakers on planet earth had to start at the bottom and grind it out in order to get to the top. Be professional, kind and courteous to others, and always do what you say you are going to do. The film industry is very oversaturated and you need to do everything in your power to present yourself in the best light
Third, just do it. I slowed my career down at times by stressing over trying something for the first time and not taking initiative, giving myself various excuses. Of course, you should plan ahead as much as you can, but studying is never the same as actually getting out there and doing it. Accept the inevitable fact that you will make mistakes, be flexible and move forward and you will learn from your mistakes and improve as you go.
And last, just remember to enjoy the process and don’t focus too much on the endgame. I am currently editing my first feature film “The Corridor Crossing”, which I shot last spring/summer, and post-production is taking me a lot longer than I initially anticipated it would. I could obsess over this fact and make myself go insane, but I have instead decided to understand that this was my first feature film, so it is okay that I couldn’t properly estimate how long it would take to edit the film and simply enjoy the journey, which has been an absolute blast so far, despite all of the unexpected hurdles that I have faced to this point.
Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?
I absolutely do. Movies are easily one of the most popular forms of entertainment and some of them do end up reaching a large percentage of the planet. With that being said, I don’t necessarily expect my films to have this significant of an impact on others. The self satisfaction from the journey and completed project is enough for me. I do ultimately hope that my films can bring a wide range of emotions out of the audience, challenge them intellectually and entertain them.
What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?
It is possible that the negative impacts of COVID have made people a little more sensitive to darker and heavier films, but generally speaking, I believe that people’s tastes have remained relatively similar over the years.
As for what people like to watch, I really think it depends on the person to be honest. Mainstream viewers often focus on what’s popular, whether it’s the the new Marvel film, a hit blockbuster like “Top Gun: Maverick”, or a film that received plenty of Oscar buzz like “Everything Everywhere All at Once”, whereas a film buff may dive into films that are more arthouse, more “under the radar”, older classics, foreign films, etc. For me personally, I definitely have my specific tastes (I am a huge fan of science fiction, horror, multi-genre films, and films that tend to be loud, provocative, emotional, intense, complex, etc.), but I will watch anything that I hear or read is halfway decent from a quality perspective, is made by a director who I really like or covers a topic that interests me.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I just shot my first feature film, "The Corridor Crossing" last spring/summer. The film is currently in the early stages of post-production. I have another short film, "Bay for Blood" that is in the later stages of post-production. I hope to have that one completed by next fall/winter and plan to submit it to festivals around then. And I am hoping to begin production for my next feature film idea, "Incautious" as soon as I finish my festival runs for "Enter the Room" and "Bay for Blood", which should hopefully be in the fall/winter of 2024. I would be happy to submit some of my future films to this festival once they are completed.