Your new movie Darkness
in Tenement 45 - in a few words, what is it about?
a psychological thriller set in the 1950s that explores the power struggle
inside one tenement building after a biological threat outside leaves them
sequestered for months.
Tenement 45 being a science fiction movie of the post-apocalyptic
variety, is that a (sub-)genre at all dear to you, and some of your genre
love a post-apocalyptic film that can bring light to our current issues
and themes while still being unique and ideally super stylized. One of my
all-time favorites is Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Delicatessen, which I actually
used as a reference for our film's cinematography and production design.
I've always appreciated Terry Gilliam's surreal style so 12 Monkeys sticks
out to me as a favorite. Then of course there's Mad Max: Fury Road, which
is one of the most fun times I've ever had in a theater.
(Other) sources of inspiration when writing
became fascinated with the 1950s and found many unsettling similarities to
present day: bomb drills that mirror school shooter drills, Russians yet
again poking their way into American politics, and a society on high
alert. The 2016 election started in full force and I naturally found
myself comparing some of the most absurd moments to things that happened
in the 1950s. It just naturally flowed into writing a script about power
and corruption that was set in the 1950s. In
terms of creative inspiration, I was very inspired by the films The Witch
and The Village and listened to Joanna's Newsom's album The
Milk-Eyed Mender while writing.
Honestly, if you were thrown into a
situation like the one in Darkness
in Tenement 45, what would you do?
am a total control freak (I am a director, after all). So if I was trapped
in a tenement building, I would no doubt attempt to be the leader. I think
or at least hope that I would be a bit more diplomatic although that may
just be wishful thinking.
in Tenement 45 is pretty much confined to only a handful rooms in
a rundown apartment building - so what were some of your techniques to
keep things visually interesting?
spent a lot of time on the look of each room themselves to keep them
continually engaging throughout each new scene. The art team spent days
perfecting the aged paint and ripped wallpaper and made sure each room had
a very distinct look. We also experimented with some unique cinematography
on wide angle lenses that we hoped would break up the monotony of being in
one space for the entire film. With sound design, we were able to add rain
and thunder outside to differentiate scenes even further.
So what can you tell
us about your location as such, and what were the advantages and
challenges filming there?
shot the entire film on one stage that we converted from a standing sitcom
set into our rundown little tenement building. The space came equipped
with dressing rooms, a production office, and room for hair/make-up so we
were able to set up shop about a week early and get everyone on the same
page under one single roof. One of the biggest advantages of shooting in
one spot was that it allowed us to move quickly and focus our resources on
very specific areas, which helped a ton with our budget.
then of course shooting everything at one space also had its own set of
challenges. The space wasn't entirely soundproof and on our first day of
production there was this never-ending and irritating noise bleeding into
the stage. The manager insisted he never heard the sound before and that
it must be coming from our equipment. We nearly went insane trying to
figure out where this noise was coming from because it was putting us
behind schedule! Eventually though, we figured it out. The sound was
coming from the light in the women’s bathroom. The soundstage manager
wasn’t used to having so many women on set and didn’t realize that the
light in the women’s bathroom had a sound issue. We brought in a lamp
the next day.
What can you tell us about
your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
technical approach with directing was to not overwork the actors. I'm not
one for a ton of rehearsals so I spent the couple days prior to production
reading over the script with the actors and giving them an intention for
each scene instead of actually rehearsing. We spent the rest of our
rehearsal time blocking and finalizing the stunt work. On set, I tried to
give the actors a little room to breathe. The film is a slow burn in a lot
of ways so my approach was to focus on each actor's end goal then to make
sure our progression was consistent. With the other department heads, I
made sure that each decision we were making was elevating our story and
pointing back to our themes.
talk about Darkness
in Tenement 45' key cast, and why exactly these people?
Kramer, who plays the power-hungry Aunt Martha, and Nicole Tompkins, who
plays her troubled but good-hearted niece Joanna, were a great team on
set. I'll never forget Casey's audition. Her monologue truly terrified me
and I knew right away that she was perfect. That feeling was only further
solidified when we took a deep dive into the script, its themes, the
election, and realized that our background and mindset had some eerie
similarities. I knew Martha needed to be someone who was strong,
intimidating but also broken and even motherly. Casey managed to balance
all of it in a great way. As for Nicole, beyond being an incredible
actress, she has these amazing looks that say so much on their own. Joanna
is a character who spends much of her time alone or spying in silence on
the adults so these looks were vital to understanding her as a character.
One of Nicole's most impressive moments was watching her manipulate her
face to elevate my Shelley Duvall/The Shining reference.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
was fast! We had a two week production that left no room for errors. I was
lucky enough to have an amazing team behind me (a crew of over 70% women).
We were all realistic about our limited time on set so spent
pre-production mapping out every individual shot, figuring out what room
our G&Es need to be prepping in between takes, and coming up with our
A, B, and C game-plans.
itself ran incredibly smooth, we all collaborated in a way that felt
productive and organic. There was great communication across departments
and a lack of ego that helped make it easy to ask questions and
collaborate. I felt very, very lucky.
$64-question of course, where can Darkness
in Tenement 45 be seen?
due to the insanity with coronavirus, our film festival premiere has been
postponed. This film is so relevant to the current state of the world so
we're focusing on getting it out for viewers to see as soon as possible!
In the meantime, follow us on social media (@tenement45film) for updates
on its release.
Anything you can tell us
about audience and critical reception of Darkness
in Tenement 45?
live in a crazy time right now and our film has a lot of eerie
similarities, so most of the feedback we’ve received has been on that
correlation. Viewers are surprised that a film set in the 1950s about a
tenement building hiding inside from a mysterious “disease” could
somehow now be so timely. Beyond that, we’ve gotten some great feedback
on the look and style of our film. Our production designer Caitlin Nicole
Williams deserves a ton of credit for creating such a perfectly decrepit
tenement building while our composer Logan Rees has gotten some shout outs
for his minimal but powerful score.
Any future projects you'd like
are two projects that I’m excited to be developing right now. The first
is a surreal drama set in Florida’s hurricane season that follows one
woman who discovers an extraordinary plant growing in her home that
magically provides her with assistance. When the situation in her
cul-de-sac gets desperate, her neighbors’ greed threatens to destroy the
very thing that could save them. This project is called Hurricane Hennley
and has been getting some screenplay accolades. The second script is a tap
dancing psychological thriller that’s a mix between Black Swan and
What got you into filmmaking in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
have wanted to be a storyteller ever since I was first handed a camera in
middle school. I remember filming music videos in my bedroom, “nature
docs” about my grandfather and eventually a documentary following a
homeless man. My need to communicate stories through film continued to
flourish when I attended an arts high school and, eventually, the Film
School at Florida State University. It was there that I really learned my
passion specifically for writing and directing and started exploring my
actually met the producers Crystal Collins and Simone Lapidus at film
school where we worked together on short narrative films and
documentaries. We all eventually moved out to LA and continued to work
together (along with other FSU alumni) on various projects. The crew of Darkness
in Tenement 45 includes over 40 FSU alumni from pre-production
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Darkness
in Tenement 45?
last project was a feature documentary called The Melting Family, which I
produced, directed, and edited. The film traces the events that led to my
divorced family of 7 parents and 16 siblings and explores the nostalgic,
troubling, and eye-opening moments that shaped my unique family. Working
on a bare bones budget with minimal crew, I spent over five years
compiling archive footage and interviews. The film made its world premiere
at DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary film festival. I’ve also
written and directed two short narrative films and have written numerous
How would you describe yourself
as a director?
a surreal filmmaker who focuses on female-driven storytelling. I gravitate
towards political and social themes but enjoy telling them in a stylized
way that alleviates the audience from their everyday life.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Jonze,Yorgos Lanthimos, Miranda July, Duplass Brothers, Paul Thomas
John Malkovich is my all-time favorite. Parasite is the best movie I’ve
seen in recent history. The Big Lebowski always makes me smile.
... and of course, films you really
this point movies that really bother me are usually ones that I loved as a
teenager and rewatched recently to discover that they do a horrible job
portraying women on screen. One of the most obvious being She’s All
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
all of our social media (Facebook/Twitter/Instagram) is @tenement45film
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
I wrote this film about quarantining and being trapped inside to avoid an
outside disease, I really did not see this as a possibility for our
future. With the coronavirus crossing borders into the states, this film
has never been more relevant. Our film explores how people react when a
mysterious disease may or may not be outside their doors and the paranoia
that ensues. In a lot of ways, the effects of coronavirus feel very
similar especially when happening in an election year. In our film, we
watch the tenement building as they make DIY biohazard suits and masks
meanwhile the CDC is asking healthy Americans to not purchase face masks
as they’re in short supply. The residents in our film question every bit
of their day-to-day life based on whether or not it might get them sick
and I see people all around me having the same daily fears. The film asks
how are we equipped to handle such a crisis, who can we rely on to lead us
and keep us safe, and ultimately what matters most to our survival? The
world is simultaneously beginning to ask these questions and the film
serves as a relevant exploration of human nature in crisis.
Thanks for the interview!