Your upcoming movie The Stray - in a few words, what's it going to
The film The Stray is about a little girl who longs for a best friend and
falls in love with him when she sees him...
What were your inspirations when writing The Stray, and
what can you tell us about your collaboration with your co-writers? And
how do you personally feel about the film's topic in the first place?
There were many
incarnations of the story and the characters, and I had several drafts I
had written myself, but it wasn't until I started collaborating with my
group of producers and writers that all the pieces fell into place. I knew
what I wanted to portray, and since it was the first film I was writing
and directing I knew it was important to get as many eyes on the script as
possible. I think it's always a good idea to do this even if there isn't a
studio involved. I mean if you can't pitch it to the person in front of
you, how could you ever do it with the film right? Eventually we'll all be
at a place where it's impossible not to collaborate, whether it's your
creative team or a studio. I've always believed that making a film is
about creating a team of people that believe in you and will support you.
So I did my best to create that environment, and I think we were
successful. Everyone involved was very invested in the story and put a
great deal of effort to bring it to life.
idea came to me in a half-dream, and I had to wake up and write it down as
quick as I can. I know it sounds cliche but it happens quite often and
there actually is a scientific explanation for being able to think while
you're sleeping. I think the process is fascinating and it's my favorite
part of the creative process. It's quite literally a dream come true.
is a quote usually attributed to W.C. Fields that goes "Never work
with children or animals" - and on The Stray you got both. Now
I have no idea how to turn this into a proper question, but would you like
to comment on it anyways?
It was never my
intention to work with children or animals. Actually it never has been. I
used to live in a small house surrounded by neighborhood kids screaming
their heads off every day after school around the block, kicking balls into
my yard etc... So I know how hard it can be to deal with children, but in
this case it was quite a pleasure. The choice to cast children was the
result of the collaboration between my producers and the writers, and
we're really glad we went this route. In fact I don't really think of them
as kids. I just think of them as Zoey and Xi. They both have a maturity
and professionalism beyond their years, and are both quite accomplished.
Perhaps more than most "adult" actors trying to make it in Los
dialogue is always quite tricky from the words on the page to the actor,
and it's usually quite a process working with them to get the right
reading. However in Zoey's case she nailed it the first time without any
direction. All of the intentions and inflections of the character were
there, and at that point I knew she was going to be great.
I'd also like
to note that there was quite a bit of stunt work in this film. Xihuaru's
been trained in Wushu Kung Fu for many years, so we took advantage of that
and really showcased what he can do. He's really amazing with his physical
work, and I really doubt there are many child actors who can perform on
his level. In fact I think we'll have to put in swords, knives, ninja
stars, throwing knives, etc. in the next film I do with him to really show
what he can do. If the zombie apocalypse happens I'm sticking with him.
In any case, Zoey Diaz and Xihuaru Kilcher are tremendous individuals. Working with them really brought
me back to what it feels like to be excited about life. Often times working
to pay rent can get tedious and strenuous, but this film really inspired
me to remember what it feels like to pursue your dreams - to really go for
it. Something I hadn't mentioned before was that we really wanted to focus
on the innocence and purity of children. I often refer to Steven Spielberg
when he says that children are really the only ones that are not afraid of
anything, and will walk out that open door when adults would have closed
it. The Stray is really about doing what you love, loving what you love,
and living life how you want to live it. It has a really positive message,
and it's universal among all ages and cultures.
an important point. I'm interested in creating stories that can be shared
across different cultures, whether it's based on a fantasy world or a real
world. Of course it has to be something very specific, but the story and
the characters have to be universal. It's something that I've really
thought about over the years as I write my scripts, and it's definitely a
balancing act. Universal, but very specific.
Ryo Rex directing his dog stars
So what can you tell us about
your dog stars, and what are the actual challenges working with animals
from a director's point of view?
Animals can be quite
tricky, and in our case we didn't use them too much. But it's interesting
because the story is about what animals actually feel. We wanted to tell their
story. But I think we'll leave it at that as I don't want to give too
What can you tell us about the
rest of your key cast and crew?
producer Jennifer Scott with another dog star
It's always a challenge to
create a team that is completely invested in the project, especially for
something so small with no monetary compensation. Everyone on the team has
a lot of experience, and I pulled a lot of strings to make it happen.
Asking for favors is my least favorite thing to do, but in this case I
felt so strongly about the project that I did anything it took to make it
How would you describe
your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
is an interesting thing. I've worked alongside many directors, features,
commercials, corporate, etc., and they are all very very different. I've
shot many things as a DP and an operator, so it took quite a bit of time
to understand how I wanted to approach directing. What I've learned so far
is that good directing is about leading a team - a team that understands
you, and will do anything for you. Actors and the crew. Not because they
are afraid of you, but because they want to. So in that way I think
directing is about everything. It's about life, relationships,
communication, problem solving. There are little things you can learn in a
book about shot lists and storyboards, but it's really about the people.
You have to be able to be a leader and make decisions. Other than that the
story itself should be in the script, and it has to be amazing from the
What can you tell us about the actual shoot, and the
set was really relaxed. There was no reason to rush through shots, so we
took advantage of that. Most of the work was done prior, so it's really
just about getting the lighting and the composition right. Since I was
shooting and directing at the same time, we took our time. I think we shot
about 3-4 pages a day. Another thing to note is that almost the entire
crew consisted of women. I didn't intend it that way but it was refreshing
to see a crew like this. The film industry is very male dominated and I
think more women should work behind the camera.
I realize it's probably way too early to ask, but any idea when and where
the film will be released onto the general public?
we'll be done with it sometime in the Spring. I'm out here in Colorado
shooting a feature so I won't be back for a while, but we'll be working on
post when I get back to Los Angeles.
go back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in
the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?
was never on my radar. In fact I took a class in high school my senior
year in film thinking it was going to be easy, and I nearly failed it. For
a very long time I was pursuing a rockstar career and that was my sole
purpose in life. I laugh at it now because I was so serious about it. I
think a lot of creative people go through that rockstar phase and
eventually graduate. Maybe some people don't but that's okay too. I did
eventually fall into film studies at UC Irvine, and I think it was really
important that I did. It was a happy accident since I had nearly failed my
high school class and thought it was impossible to learn film. The program
consisted of film theory and history, and we wrote a ton of analytical
papers on all aspects of the content of the films throughout history.
That's all we did-write papers. In fact I loved it so much they awarded me
an outstanding senior achievement award when I graduated. It was quite
ironic since I had nearly failed my film class in high school. I love
telling that story. But UC Irvine was a great backbone to what I learned
on my own playing with cameras and lenses. There was a point when I was
completely obsessed with cameras. I would engross myself with online
forums gathering all the information I could, buying cameras and lenses,
shooting millions of tests and color grading the footage until my eyes
would bleed. I think I did that everyday for about 2 years until I got
completely sick of it. But it made me really realize that a beautiful
image means absolutely nothing without a good story, at least in cinema.
In photography I think a different argument can be made.
far as I know, you started out in the business as a cinematographer. Now
what can you tell us about that aspect of your career?
always been a fan of beautiful images, and being a cinematographer is
about creating and capturing those images. I remember a particular moment
when I was a kid, sitting on my shortboard at Black Point on Oahu waiting
for a set. We were dawn patrolling (surfing) and the sun had just poked
it's head through the palm trees and I thought to myself "It's so
beautiful... I want to share this with the world some day." I think
growing up in such a beautiful place (Oahu) had a lot to do with my love
for beauty. There actually was a point in my life when I thought I'd be
content doing nothing but just surfing everyday.
got you into directing eventually, and what can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to The Stray?
I think I've always
been interested in directing. Since I was always working right beside
directors all the time, I felt myself wanting to contribute more than what
I needed to. More often than not I would keep to myself out of respect,
but I feel that I learned a lot just by observing and seeing what works
and what doesn't. Then there came a point when I had accumulated a library
of ideas and scripts in my laptop and I eventually said to myself "I
have to make these dreams come true!"
Any future projects
you'd like to share?
All I can say that there are a lot of
projects in development, and they are very different worlds. However they
all usually deal with similar themes. Some are very close to real life,
some involve fantastical worlds, and some are based on favorite themes
such as the ones in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. We're in preproduction on
another short film which is equally if not more exciting than The
How would you describe yourself as
I'd like to think of myself as a nice person
who knows what he wants. Someone who will listen and then make a
decision that's going to work.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
have to say there are many people that inspire me, some of which are
Christopher Nolan, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Robert Rogeriguez,
Robert Richardson, Roger Deakins, etc...
I have to say Vanilla Sky, the remake. I
know it's a remake, but there's something about the story that really
intrigued me. I don't know if it was intentional, but that film explored
the idea of the mind and perspective - which is what filmmaking is about.
It's about point of view and the personal story of the character, and I
liked that about the film. The same story can be told a billion different
ways which is why I love filmmaking.
... and of course, films you really
I don't think there's a film that you can't learn
from. Actually I find some films quite entertaining. One film in
particular is Tommy Wiseau's The Room. I find it amazing. "You're
tearing me apart Lisa!" It's hilarious. Now that I'm recalling the
movie I'm going to have to have another movie night with my friends with
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
You can find us at
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
I don't think so, I think we
covered quite a bit!
Thanks for the interview!
you Michael for the opportunity to talk about the film, I really