Your new movie Dime Crimes
#34 - in a few words, what is it about?
Doll, played by Ashlee Mundy, has her world turned upside down when a man who
appears to have stepped out of her favorite pulp comic arrives at her door. She
must decide whether to embrace her fantasies or stick with the life she
has built with her distant boyfriend - a life that, while imperfect, is safe.
tells the story of a young woman who spends her days hiding
out from the world and, ultimately, her attempt to crawl out of her slump.
How did the project come into being in the first place?
was approached to direct the film in fall 2013 by writer/executive
producer John Michael Wagner, who is an old classmate of my friend (and Dime Crimes
director of photography) Jaime Medrano jr. They had joined
forces and were looking for someone to helm the project. Jaime is someone
whom I have a great deal of respect for both on and off set so I was keen
to work with him. He brings both a terrific amount of pathos as well as
humor to his imagery, so that was a big selling point. The other side of
it was that I tend to avoid dialogue when I write my own projects and was
itching to work on something that was dialogue-heavy. JMís script was
clever and his talent showed through right away. Other than that, the
idea of working on anything with executive producer and Tony Award-winning
actor John Benjamin Hickey was huge. Iíd been a fan of his for a while
and that kind of sealed the deal.
John Michael Wagner
can you tell us about your screenwriter John Michael Wagner, and what was
your collaboration like, both before and during the shoot?
I loved working with JM. He is the perfect mix of strong
opinion and eagerness to see the other side of the coin. I threw a lot of
curveball suggestions at JM during preproduction and he was always willing
to try them out on the page. He went through about thirteen drafts before
we landed on something we were both happy with - and that isnít to say
many of them werenít totally fun, shootable drafts. He could have
stopped at any point but I think we both saw an idea at the end of the
tunnel and were willing to do the legwork to get there. The theme of pulp
comics is one example of something that was absent from early drafts that
we came to together. As for during the shoot, JM played the third
character, that of Dollís boyfriend, Jack. I had seen him act in a
production of Our Town and was blown away, so it was good fun directing
him. I think we ended up doing one take of a lot of his close-ups because
he would always nail it.
Dime Crimes #34
was quite obviously inspired by vintage pulp fiction and film noir -
something that holds special place in your heart, and how easy/hard was it
to bring the fitting imagery across?
Oh yeah. Many of the
Menís Adventure covers that grace the walls of Doll and Jackís
apartment were originally on my own. I love that stuff. You know, I
believe you can thank Jaime Medrano for the overall look of the film. I
had planned on giving it a more Edward Hopper/stylized comic book look,
and Jaime walked me away from that. There is a sort of sadness to the
film that he created by using a more realistic lighting design (while
keeping strong directional light from outside). Victoria Aguila, the production
designer, also played a big role in the final look. I am
forever grateful to them for teasing out so much emotion in something that
could have been done in a sort of stylized, emotionless way.
Crimes #34 was filmed in no more than a handful of rooms - so what
kind of a challenge was it to keep things interesting? And do talk about
your location for a bit!
We had booked another location but
it thankfully fell through a week before the shoot. I think what we ended
up with worked much better, though it was a scramble at the time. During
preproduction we decided not to venture outside of Dollís
apartment for budgetary reasons. Indie projects often suffer from a
desire to cram too much into a little amount of resources and we
wanted to embrace the limitation. The entire movie was shot on a Ronin
camera-stabilizing rig which allowed us to have a fair amount of movement
in those tight spaces. We were lucky to work with a killer Ronin operator,
What can you tell us about your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
JM wrote a
script that could be interpreted in many different ways and I spent a lot
of time breaking it down with the cast, making sure they knew exactly what
each line was responding to or driving at. I would try to get the
performances to a certain place each rehearsal knowing we would add a new
layer the next time, so they started out quite different from where they
ended. An example of this is Ashleeís take on Doll - we focused on the
depressed nature of the character almost entirely up until the last couple
of rehearsals, when we started adding in the geeky, comic-loving
side. I find her performance pretty hilarious in the film. She has
these wonderful twitches and comic timing, but it is layered on top of
that deep sadness. For JM, we did a lot of backstory on why his character
was so angry, and then found a way to temper it to explain why he
doesnít just explode or kick Jimmy Daltonís character out.
about your cast, and why exactly these people?
I think we
were just incredibly lucky to have Jimmy and Ashlee nail their auditions.
We had met with a fair number of actors but it was difficult to find ones
with the right mix of humor and depth. Many had one but not the other, or
just werenít the right age or build. Both Jimmy and Ashlee are excellent
listeners and that is a wonderful skill for an actor to have. They were
very receptive to notes and played off each other well - finding actors
who could be so vulnerable with each other was probably the hardest part.
The part of Bug was originally written with musician Bosley Brown in
mind, and Jimmy brought a similar swagger to it. Bosley wrote all the
music in the film -- Iím a big fan. Bug isnít an easy
role to play, though, and Jimmy pushed himself quite hard to find the
right mix of childishness and menace. Because we had done so much
rehearsal, there were few on-set changes made to performances which
lowered the number of takes.
you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shot the bulk of the movie on location but a large number of the close ups
and insert shots were filmed several months later in a School of Visual
Arts classroom. Eric Pennycoff edited the film and we realized we wanted
that little thing you never have enough of - coverage, so we did the
pickup shoot. It came out seamless which I think surprised everyone. Any
closeup where the background is obscured by a body was done during the
second shoot. As for the atmosphere, it was your usual harried,
everything-that-can-go-wrong-will, low budget shoot, but we had a fun crew
who kept everything light.
$64-question of course, when and where will Dime
Crimes #34 be released onto the general public?
is only just now entering the film festival circuit, so the best answer I
can give is to ďlikeĒ us on facebook at
to stay updated on when it plays near you. We are eager to share it with
future projects you'd like to share?
Iíve been focusing
on commercials and directing music videos - do you have a band? - but have
a few narrative projects in the works. One is a sort of Roald Dahl
meets Todd Solondz meets Creepshow story. Iíll leave it at that and just
say itís going to be awesome. Iím also still trying to find a home for The
Plight of Cecil, a web-series created by my friend Carla Rhodes (find it
on YouTube)! I directed the pilot episode. Carla and I have spoken at
great length about where she wants to take the story and I love how her
mind works. Sheís delightfully mad. That one is executive produced by
Mallory Lewis, who is the daughter of the late, great Shari Lewis of
Lamb Chop fame.
What got you into
filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the
My older brother was into it when I was young so I
needed to copy him. Much later I studied film at Bard College and then
received my Masters Degree from The School of Visual Arts in 2013. Bob
Giraldi, who is an executive producer on this film, was my professor at
SVA. It is the second project we have done together, the other being
Retire for the Evening, a short about a sock puppet who tries to continue
performing after his puppeteer has died, dragging the dead body around
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
to Dime Crimes #34?
Retire for the Evening
other than Retire for the Evening and the web-series The Plight of
Iíve directed music videos, commercials... Iíve directed three Indie
features but that was a long time ago and Iíve learned a lot since then.
When Iím not directing I tend to assistant direct. Iím a naturally
impatient, detail-oriented person so jobs dealing with schedules and time
management fit nicely. There was a time in my life where I worked closely
with hotel labor unions and saw many workers treated unfairly - the assistant
director gets to ensure a film set is run safely and respectfully.
would you describe yourself as a director?
was the assistant director for Dime Crimes
and I owe much of my sanity
to him. He was a perfect sounding board and kept me from dipping too much
into my assistant director side, which tends to be a worrier. Iím still
learning and growing as a filmmaker, but I try my best to empower my cast
and crew while being decisive. I try to stay willing to compromise and
shift gears during a shoot in order to make the day. Thatís the assistant
director side of me talking, too. Films are great because they
are a group of people creating something together. I like that and do my
best to adapt during shoots as opposed to fighting against all the
variables at play.
who inspire you?
Hitchcock always gets me. The way he plays
with audience culpability and voyeurism is impressive. I love how in a
movie like Psycho he gets you to side with Janet Leigh, and then switch to
Tony Perkins, and then switch again to Vera Miles. It happens so
effortlessly that you barely notice. Another favorite director is
Antonioni - I find LíAvventura maddeningly deep. Hmm... Shout outs to
the Coen Brothers, Todd Solondz, and David Lynch, too...
Your favourite movies?
Fargo, Psycho, LíAvventura,
The 400 Blows, and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Authors
Patricia Highsmith and Bret Easton Ellis continue to inspire me.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Men of Honor,
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Check us out at
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you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
comics in the film were all illustrated by Italian comic book artist,
Emilio Lecce. I was a fan of his since he worked on IDW Publishingís
GI Joe: The Cobra Files series. The covers were colored by SJ Costello, whose
recent work can be seen at
The movie would not have been the same without them!
for the interview!