Please tell us what inspired you to enter into the world of films?
Originally, I was on my way to being a therapist. I had studied psychology at UC Santa Cruz in California and started a Masters in Social Work at Tulane University in New Orleans. But I had taken a documentary film class at the local city college in San Francisco before moving to New Orleans. I loved that class. And found that I hated the social work material. None of the internships sounded exciting and all I wanted to do was make a film. So I dropped out. Then I applied to film schools and got in NO WHERE. And so I said I was going to do it anyway and moved to NYC and worked my way up from the bottom. I always loved film, visual metaphor, real stories. And I felt like I could examine psychological issues through film.
Filmmaking is a laborious job, so what keeps you motivated?
You just have to do it. I have a family and a full-time job in branded visual media. And you have to find time to do your own thing.
How do you choose your star cast?
Well, since I work in documentaries, it’s about casting. And that can be a little haphazard. You have to find the story connected to the right people. Who are interesting to watch. Engaging. I find I’m interested in people in general so that helps. And I like the challenge of bringing people out. But you have to have the right story. So its a decision that happens as you are making the film, at least at the beginning.
Do you think taking an audition is the best way to cast for a movie or documentary?
Not for a doc. Anyone who wants to be in your documentary is probably not going to be too good in the film. Reality stars are acting, and you can tell. The need to be seen is visible and affects how people are when the cameras are rolling. You need a reluctant character who doesn’t give a shit about the cameras. They will be less interested in pleasing and will just be themselves. It’s totally different in scripted but that’s my view of docs.
Do you agree many filmmakers fail to understand the importance of editing?
I think if you make films long enough, you have to understand that. Editing can’t save you from shitty material. But things can become a thing, come to life in the edit. It’s where the real art of visual storytelling happens. I really learned that in making my first film. I love the edit room and sometimes when I think I have a crappy film, as we edit, the film takes some shape and you can really see it. Structure appears and visual metaphor, that you maybe didn’t even plan, jump to life. It’s magic.
Who are your filmmaking influences?
I love Robert Greene. He makes films that some argue dirties the documentary genre because there is some interference with what is “real.” But I love it and think he really knows how to make docs into art. It’s not just anthropology, which is where the genre came from. I also love Joshua Oppenheimer, for much the same reason. His 2 beautiful films, The Act of Killing and its companion, The Look of Silence, are both masterpieces in revelatory art. When I was younger the films that brought me into the medium were Pi by Darron Aronofsky, Kids by Larry Clark and a lot of the Dogma95 films, especially Lars Von Trier. I always loved scripted films that had documentary elements to them.
How do you choose a script that you are going to direct?
You don’t in documentaries. You find stories. They are still hard to find. But a lot of it is what’s happening in the world, right now, and go look for that story.
Where do you see the film industry going in the next 2 years?
Shorter days, happier crews, more immersive media (VR/AR), less theater releases.
Do you make films to entertain the audience?
Sure. I mean, not only. I actually prefer to make something important or something beautiful before entertainment. But if you aren’t thinking of your audience when you make a film and considering their pleasure or experience, you’re just masterbating.
Which actor, according to you, is the all-time best actor?
Phillip Seymour Hoffman
What are your goals when you make a film?
To finish. To find a big picture, thematically. To happen upon magic moments. To find an audience.
What role does music play in a movie?
A lot, but probably less in documentaries than scripted films. But I still think it’s important. Some people believe the doc need to be silent and it’s all “pure film,” or some crap. Music helps a moment…or it can distract. So it has to be considered. I also like working with bands vs composers because I love live music. My dream is to work with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age on a soundtrack.
How do you ensure that production is on schedule?
I don’t. I usually find someone to help me with that. Well actually that’s not entirely true. I mean, when I direct, I also produce. But you can’t do both well. So sometimes, I am focusing on the direction and the producing goes to an AP or other producer, which is my preference. And then sometimes, when I do need to keep on schedule, I produce more. Then you need a DP who can also direct a bit so that it doesn’t stop because you are worried about schedule or budget. There’s no AD in docs. But it’s a balancing act.
Please tell us about your upcoming projects.
I am planning on covering another natural disaster and looking at people who are displaced, like in Forced Change. I think it’s an important topic and one I’m not finished with yet. I’m still casting in different parts of the world. I’m also currently pitching a documentary series about social impact design. That will hopefully be shot by the end of next year, fingers crossed.