Your new movie The Date -
in a few words, what is it about?
a bit of a meditation
on modern alienation and how the most intimate of acts brings two
outsiders together. And for me it's also more of a microcosm of the
beautiful tragedy of contemporary communication. Connection and
transience; moments and connections are fleeting and you may remember
something for the rest of your life - a single interaction but never see
that person again, never get to find out how they turned out or if that
interaction also really stood out to them. For these two characters, I
really feel it does... but I get to the end of the short and wonder. I
wonder about them a lot; if maybe in some parallel universe they really
mean something to each other and that is salvation.
I think the film has a lot to say about when we as humans CHOOSE to be
vulnerable, CHOOSE to connect with each other, at what times... and that
idea or question is something... well... it's something to ponder.
How did the project fall together in the first place?
Well, I had done a
prior project with Michael Gonza that went really well and he had this
script that he really wanted to do and so I looked at it and saw a real
gem, something that struck me as a sad and funny and an eerie character
study about how we as modern humans generally connect and over what sort
of things. Big thanks to Kris Salvi [Kris
Salvi interview - click here] for penning it. I also had the perfect
location for it, a bar that my friends owned in downtown Providence, RI,
and I felt they may really dig us doing this; which they did and patrons
hung out to watch how a movie gets made. Of course, James was in the
loop as cinematographer and we collab very well together on the last
project, both have a real love for color theory and photographic
composition as emotional cinematic grammar, so he was in. I approached
Chris Esper [Chris Esper
interview - click here], who was pretty busy on other projects but we dig each other's work
and have a lot of fun, on and off the set, so he was also down. Michael
brought on Mary Beth who I've coached in the past and love her work,
as well as Michael's, as actors. The rest of production was brought on by
Chris and James. But the week before our scheduled shoot date that we
already had permits and everything for, my mother died. And I'm like, ok... I got this, this happens on films all the time and nothing a
director can do, gotta push ahead. Then the week of the shoot, the day of
the shoot, my aunt dies. We still pushed forward. Had one night to shoot,
had to schedule around the bar's schedule with patrons and such, and boom.
In post, I brought on a lot of people I had worked with in the past, Nahuel
Attar my longtime friend, collaborator, came on as editor (though had a
huge roster of commercial work) because we enjoy working with each other.
Alan Gordon, someone I and Nahuel also have collabed with, probably one of
the best colorists in NYC who has worked on projects for Beyonce and James
Franco, also signed on. Raphael Ajuelos was a referral from a friend
who runs a French film school in NYC (connected with Stone Street
Studios); Raphael was amazing, having come off working frequently with
Saturday Night Live and some HBO stuff, he was cool with me creating the
most detailed post sound design list I could. We all worked remotely
except for me and Alan, I traveled to NYC for our color session after
discussions over email.
One of the most interesting stories is Patrick O'Donnell. So, I've known
Patrick since high school, we've been very close friends, worked together
in a director and editor relationship on a few high school projects and
he's always been an incredibly talented musician; a drummer. Really into
prog rock percussion etc. But a few years ago he snagged a little midi
keyboard and started to really explore his love of synthesizers. Well... I
had an idea of collaborating on a project years ago with him but it didn't
come to be. He had done a demo of some synth stuff he was experimenting
with and I was impressed. It was simple but none the less great. On this
project, I had a gut feeling that he was the one that needed to be on
this. Now let me say this; Patrick had never ever ever scored a film or
project of any kind before this. Let me also say this; Patrick had never
ever ever written long multi-layered pieces of music before this. I'm
nuts, right? He's a genius, right? Intuitively, I just felt he has this,
even though I had no real evidence and it was low risk if I was wrong...
and he blew my mind. Me and post sound had talked of whether the score
should be lower in volume or an audible focus... I voted for lower because
as much as I am in love with it, it could distract if the volume is too
high. The good thing is, if the project is listened to through headphones
(or good external speakers), the score and sound design are more prevalent
than say "on board speakers". When
Patrick and I created the score we listened to over 2000 synth sounds,
both analog and modern and narrowed it down to a slim 10 or 15. There were
a few things we strove for, an ambiguous score up to the last two suites,
an arc in the sounds and score, assigning sounds to represent Vernon and
Alice when they were divided and then come together (two separate sounds
coming together to make a song). The score had to be something that didn't
just complement the film but was a character, spoke for it, and was
listenable even if just on its own, apart from the film.
With Nahuel, the same focus was there; we spent real time carefully
cutting this together to be and feel how it does. It was very thought out,
it wasn't just lets splice it together and send it out. We tried to create
a visual grammar - certain shots repeatedly only come up at certain times
meaning certain things. Raphael, same focus; the sound design and effects
were carefully thought out and revised about 5 times; the placement, the
levels, the textures, etc. Color - same thing. Everyone was very focused on
a cohesive cinematic and sonic language.
With The Date
being about a very awkward blind date, is that something you can identify
Ha! Oh sure. I can say I've had a few that were
nearly as exciting. I had some pretty strange ones about 5/6 years ago
when dating apps first started to really hit. Those apps scared me away
from using them again for life, haha.
What can you tell us about The
Date's writer Kris Salvi [Kris
Salvi interview - click here], and what was your collaboration
is a great guy; very sincere, humble, collaborative and considerate. He
allowed us to make pre-production and post-production changes to the script,
and that takes a lot of trust.
Most of The
Date was filmed in a single location - so do talk about that
location, and what kind of a challenge was it to keep things interesting
considering this kind of limitation?
This was actually
pretty hard. When you are so limited with equipment, during a night shoot,
it can be hard to move the camera in big ways - for various reasons - not
enough lights to light a huge area; not any stabilization gear to move the
camera in smooth ways. For us, we needed the compositions to feel a bit
claustrophobic and also ambiguous. If looking at the tone of the shots
without sound, they can go either way in emotional or psychological
connotation, but they do hint subtly in one direction. This was purposeful.
We also really needed to connect characters with environment, the
environment in the bar and out the windows needed to feel like an
extension of them. The yellow table with the red lines being a path for
both of them to join hands. There is a sharp corner of a red table
framed behind Alice pointing at her... there's a reason for these things.
We wanted to do a lot with a little, do things subversively, hit the
audience's subconscious - and also, we had no choice due to the
emptiness of our pockets, haha. I find restrictions breed more opportunity
and inevitably innovation than total freedom. Though I hate to admit that
because it can be a royal pain in the ass, backfire, and also is
I'd say other challenges were the fact that we could only start filming as
the bar was slowing to close... all night exteriors - the bar was still
operational and even though we had a permit to shoot outside (generously
given by RI Film Commission), the street is bustling with people,
tourists, drunks, cars blasting music. We did not have the money to do a
street lock up so, essentially we had permission to shoot in public, with
ALL THE PUBLIC. That was tough because the exterior has dialogue and
choreography... and so we only had say like a couple hours to get it all
in the can. We got there 2 hours early to pre-light etc; by 1 am we had to
be inside to start shooting the interior, while the bar is still somewhat
operational and cleaning up. How we managed this was as we shot outside,
we started to set up the inside. And our shot list was very strict;
everything moved from set-up to set-up in the most efficient way possible.
But it was tough, we had a crew of 5 including me. So, even the idea of
shooting spatially "more of the bar" was almost inefficient
because the bar was small, we'd have to move our holding area for
equipment which would slow us down, we'd be in the way of the bartender;
it was going to be a time suck so it wasn't worth the effort, especially
in terms of the style we were going for. And we were fighting sunrise.
But we did it. The shots feel restrictive, like as the audience you want
to look around, that's a comfort, but we don't allow you to - that's a part
of our psycho-visual language.
What can you tell
us about your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
I mention a lot about that
above - I wanted the focus to be
on the relationship of these two people and what their life is like
outside of this sort of "let's play house" interaction... I
wanted to give as much about these two in a limited time. I wanted people
to care for them and know them in their 5 minute interaction. That was a
challenge: how to get people to care with not enough time for real
character development or back story... but it happens every day, on
subways, in cafes, a couple glances and two or three words and one cares.
I wanted that immediacy and "time is fleeting" here. There
is something about "urban night" that is secretive and
mysterious and surreal, it is when all vulnerabilities come out and the
masks of daylight fall, so that came into play. Also in sound design using
industrial sounds to mimic or stand in place for human sonic responses to
things - this again to further that sort of human isolation. We don't see
any other human around really, but we do hear a lot of factory and
machines; there are the sounds of club music in the distance, but it's
like a distant echo that we want to get too, but it's probably an empty
club as well. Colors played a big part, yellow and oranges in the bar. You
see this with the table, the lights. I needed it to feel a bit hot in
there and also was working around costume colors as representations of the
characters. The bright violet of Alice's shirt - violet is a very
particular color, it's unrestrained and sensual in a royal sort of way.
Outside there is some natural production design interplay of red and
yellow but there's colder lighting, more stark, and then we have the
turquoise, to feel like the bottom of the ocean and drowning. Photographic
compositions: Alice's are always clean and the camera nearly center frames
her keeping just enough distance to feel intimate but neutral. Towards the
end of the interiors, we have the exit sign framed in the background of
her shot, as if she is the way of the exit because there is a backdoor.
Vernon's are almost, almost, always dirty, she is always in them,
influencing and affecting. His also nearly always frame the window outside
behind him, that represents many different things for him. We also try to
keep Vernon more at a distance, purposely, and bring the viewer closer to
Alice - it almost feels like Vernon is "pulling back" by doing
that and also makes us really comfortable with Alice.
talk about The Date's
cast, and why exactly these people?
first let me say, they're all super talented people; I trained Mary Beth
Paul and worked with her in a teacher/student, acting coach/actor capacity
before. Michael Gonza had been acting long before I came on the scene and
came out of NYC. And they both love the journey and putting in the time to
find the characters and explore and change things. This includes
rehearsals, which aren't a luxury but mandatory. All that being said, the
film was essentially cast before I was brought on, Michael was exec-ing
and decided to bring on Mary Beth which was an excellent choice. Also
because they both work off each other well, they compliment each other in
A few words about
the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Well, we were very limited. I mean we had essentially nothing, haha. And that's fine
because we had a lot of prep, multiple visits to the set, overheads, lots
of conversations, a shot list - so all that helped when coming into an
environment we had little to no control over and a very limited amount of
time, with a very limited crew, to shoot somewhat complicated nuanced
$64-question of course, where can The
Date be seen?
it's doing a festival run first but keep checking in on my instagram
and also checking on the website
(under the projects section and the "Past" subsection).
Eventually, it'll find a home somewhere; my website, if nowhere else, haha.
Anything you can tell us about
audience and critical reception of The
It's been resoundingly positive so far... if I may say, acclaimed? I
mean we've scored 8.5 outta 10 with OC reviews alongside Hollywood
features and higher budget shorts etc and looking through the site, they
don't throw high scores around. And with every reviewer, they've loved the
project. So it is a good feeling, I mean one tries to prepare themselves
for the reality that "You can't win em all. And sometimes you can
only win very few" as has always been the case with creative work, in
general. But it was a good feeling because the road to success has been a
real struggle and I'm still on it. I started on this track at 18 or
earlier, I'm 33 now - that's years of trying to turn heads and get people
to notice not just the product but under what circumstances the product
was made. The context of what circumstances a film was made under are as
important in judging the value of a film itself, in my opinion.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
Wow, so many haha! Well... I have
a pilot for a short run episodic about the birth of organized crime,
racism against the black community, and the IRA in the 1920s; that one's a
doozie. I have a dark dramatic feature which follows the lives of 4 teens
whose lives are upended by a chain inescapable events regarding an
Evangelical community in the Pacific Northwest, all against the backdrop
of the 1991 Seattle grunge scene. I have pretty violent sci-fi thriller
which takes place in the near future and deals with the economic and
political collapse of the United States, and its need to unify its
currency with Mexico and Canada. These are all finished projects. I am
currently working on a feature that takes place at the edge of Alaska and
follows the return of a convicted felon who has disassociative
amnesia and is trying to piece together the memories of the crime he was
told he committed which devastated this town. All projects are currently
seeking various amounts of financing.
got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject?
Well, I'd say I went through a lot of tough
things from an early age, and movies were a way to connect and not feel
alone in what I was going through. And of course, was an escape. Also,
both my mother and father were passionate about the arts - cinema,
literature, music, etc. My father had a wealth of knowledge on cinema -
Fellini and all the great international filmmakers. My mother had a wealth
of knowledge on acting and techniques (a much longer story). I did
receive training in high school and college. I went to American Academy of
Dramatic Arts to study as an actor to be a better director and then did
Brooklyn College's film program (didn't have money for NYU). I ended up
dropping out my last year due to money and also disagreements with the
faculty who didn't feel I could deliver the thesis film I wanted to do; so
I decided to do it myself, without their help, and it did pretty well. But
outside of that, I read a lot, on a lot of subjects that directly affect
filmmaking and directing so that's also been the bulk of my education; I
try to shoot pictures all the time, study photographic composition and its
psychological implications, design, color theory, managerial stuff, etc.
What can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to The Date?
I've been working a lot on scripts, I did a film (the thesis I told you I
dropped out of school to do) called Broken Crayons - it was
pretty intense. All children cast (untrained actors), shot on super 16mm
and pro 8mm with a 2k DI. Period piece. Takes place all over the course of
one in real time. War scene. Etc. It was nuts but it won the golden palm
at Mexico International Film Festival. I don't even know if the festival
is still operational, it was like 10 years ago. Since I've just been
trying to break in the theater world. Did an off-off-broadway play, coaching
would you describe yourself as a director?
Oh God, I don't
anti-director? I don't know, I don't feel like I fit the mold, whatever
the stereotype is. I mean I study, I love creating but I hate calling
myself an "artist". It just has a weird history, a weird ring to
it. I'm just here, ya know? I'm just tryna reach people and talk about
dreams and nightmares. On set I'd say I'm both an" actor's
director" as well as a "shot director", I love the
exploration on paper and in rehearsal - "the work". I do a lot of
planning in prepro to free us up to fuck around and find these characters
during the rehearsal stage of prepro and production. I both can have set
blocking and then also rehearse and allow the actors to
"free-block". But at the end of the day, I'm just the guy
throwing back a Guinness, and dancing with myself to some shit I just put
on the jukebox, watching people in the bar, imagining their stories.
That's me I guess.
who inspire you?
All of them. Such a cop-out, right? I say that
because ya know, every filmmaker has good qualities and moments in films (more on this below). I really like John Ford, Scorsese (his stuff in the
70s and 80s is bananas - I'm in this secret love affair with After
Hours cause it's so not him yet it is, it's his most abstract and
sorta primordial), Fellini, Bergman, Kubrick, Tarkovsky, Carpenter, Danny
Boyle, Hitchcock, Penny Marshall, John Singleton, Billy Wilder, Coppola - a lot of the older folks.
Your favourite movies?
Ah. So many.
Trainspotting, Lost Highway, Days of
Wine and Roses, La Dolce
Vita, Hour of the
Wolf, Duck Soup,
The Great Dictator, Key Largo, Back to the Future
trilogy, Assault on Precinct 13,
The Warriors, After Hours, Tombstone, The Thing (1980s version), Eve's
Bayou, Crooklyn, Training Day, Stalker, The
Mirror, Eyes Wide Shut, The Leopard, Goodbye Dragon
Inn, Boyz N The Hood, Se7en, The Game, Donnie
Darko, Zodiac, Grosse Point Blank, Mississippi
Burning, To Sir With Love,
Indiana Jones franchise, Munich, Too Big Too Fail... just so many.
and of course, films you really deplore?
I can be a pretty harsh
critic but God knows after I direct something, I barely ever watch it
again. I let it go. Put my best in while it's in my care and when
I send it back home; like some kind of foreign exchange student. You could
name any director and even if you say "Oh this bloke is a
fuck-clown!" and I'd be like "Well, what about that moment in
such and such; that was pretty good, no?"
to be of the mindset,
let's celebrate each
other, lift each
other up, instead of tearing each
other down; what good is it to shit on things people worked
hard on? It just makes us feel better about our own inadequacies. It
doesn't serve anything. And we can also learn from each
other's mistakes and shortcomings.
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
very grateful you interviewed me and taking the time to type out these
questions. It made all this struggle a little easier and made me smile.
Thank you so much for that.
for the interview!