Your new movie Alienated
- in a few words, what is it about?
In a few words – we
practice this challenge all the time. Alienated
is basically about a
conspiracy theorist that witnesses a UFO but he doesn’t know how to tell
his wife. He doesn’t know if she’ll believe him because of all
the other crazy theories he’s had.
being at its core about a couple past their prime arguing - is any of this
based on personal experience?
The film isn’t based on any
actual experience, but there are elements of my wife and I in both
characters. The dynamic and issues between the characters are based on a
few really tempered relationships that I’ve witnessed.
Other sources of
inspiration when writing Alienated?
yeah, I had a great time diving into the dynamic of this relationship, and
part of the journey was rediscovering films that had disturbing
relationships reminiscent of what I was creating. In a sense, I got
to do my own version of these films. Two that come to mind are
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and Hurlyburly. It may not be an
accident that they were both based on plays. The character work in
them is so incredibly strong. In both cases, the main characters all
suffer from having love/hate relationships. Terrible, terrible
things are said, but strangely there’s still love somewhere in there.
Well, it’s arguable. But the emotions are deep and complicated and
the relationships are really pulled to the test. Another film with
some raw emotion is Carnal Knowledge. It may not have been a direct
influence, but it could’ve been a subconscious one.
confined to very few sets, how challenging was this from a directorial
point of view, and what can you tell us about your locations as such?
Shooting in one location was only moderately challenging. The
whole thing worked like a puzzle that I had to figure out, as far as
blocking goes. Which action do I put in which room, and how can I
make certain sequences flow based on the layout of the house? It was
a fun challenge. I wrote the play with a particular layout in mind,
and I knew that it would have to be changed depending on the location that
we got. Once we confirmed our location, my producing partner,
Princeton Holt, sent me pictures. The real work came when I was able
to be alone in the house for several hours the day before shooting.
That’s when I roughly blocked the action and modified the script to fit
The physical filming was relatively comfortable—maybe too
comfortable. We lived and slept in the same house we shot in.
It was great for the actors because they were immersed in all these
details that encompassed their characters’ lifestyle. It was great
for production because everyone would arrive on set on time. Living
on location gave us the freedom to film whenever we wanted—day or
night—and for however long, with respect to the cast and crew.
Living on location was the best choice we could have made, and it just so
happened to save us a ton of money, too.
can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
I see the story as a relationship unraveling. A vicious
unraveling. I approached the material as a play, with one bit of
action leading to another bit, and one choice leading to a power play
leading to another choice and another power play, as much as possible
playing out in real time. Again, I wanted the feel of Who’s Afraid of
Virginia Woolf, where the scenes just go on and on with greater and
greater intensity, and they’re all linked by the same human motives that
drive each character. This kind of storytelling worked for our
micro-budget production because it allowed for long takes, which then
allowed the actors to sink their teeth into these exchanges and arguments.
Visually, I wanted to represent the main character’s psychology and
search for truth. Nate is someone who needs to know what’s going
on. In the past, that has involved many conspiracies that he’s
studied, but as circumstances pin his needs against his wife’s needs,
his marriage becomes the new target for investigation. As a part of
that he becomes his own target, as he looks at his own motives and
questions his beliefs. The deeper he goes into himself, the darker
and lonelier and more lost he gets. And so that’s what happens
visually, as we get lost with him—we lose him in shadows, we lose him in
the frame, our focus is thrown from him. We play with all kinds of
talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?
our cast. I don’t have to tell you why we chose these people
because it’s on the screen. They were perfect. We got super
lucky with Jen Burry [Jen Burry
interview - click here], who plays Paige, George Katt, who plays Nate, and
comic actor Taylor Negron, who plays their neighbor, Griffin. It was
mostly luck. We loved how expressive Jen could be, and we loved how
subtle George can be—what he can do with just his face. Taylor
worked out by chance, and it wasn’t until we rehearsed with him (the day
before we shot his scenes) that we knew what gold he would bring to the
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Our atmosphere on-set was mostly intimate and focused. Sometimes
it was dizzying and other times it was incredibly laid back. The entire
week flew by, though. My personal experience was very intense. I had
to constantly be working on the puzzle that was figuring out how this film
would work with so many logistical issues interfering. Location
adjustments, script changes, and a tight, shifting schedule all moved in
different directions, and I had to find a way to work with and/or around
it all while holding onto the story and communicating with each
department—sound, picture, performance. I had to be my own assistant director, which was hugely challenging. It’s crazy, but
I may have relaxed more during our takes than between setups or before and
after our shooting day because of all the prep and script adjusting I had
That being said, occasionally I would look in on the group during down
time and be amazed at how incredibly comfortable everyone was. With
the exception of George and myself, for the most part, because of our
processes, the cast and crew gathered and socialized so well that the core
became a family. It was beautiful. It was like hanging in a
dorm room. So chill. I’d pop in sometimes. George would pop
in sometimes. But the rest would always be there, in the living
room, chilling like Altman’s gang used to after a hard day’s work.
So I guess the atmosphere was eclectic depending on the time of day and
few words about audience and critical reception of your movie so far?
The reception has been a surprise. A great surprise.
We’ve gotten a lot of support and recognition. We loved watching
the film with an audience at the Chain NYC Film Festival back in August
because they found so much unexpected humor in it. I think a lot of
the film is funny—darkly funny—but I didn’t think others would be
entertained in the same way. Well, they’re not really entertained
in the same way. I still laugh at parts that no one else seems to
care about. And we witnessed people laughing multiple times at parts we
were surprised by. It’s been a crazy reaction altogether.
People seem to really get involved in our characters. We’ve had
some great discussions with viewers about who they side with and why.
It’s almost split 50/50, which says something to the strength of our
conflict. Our greatest reception may have come from our Boston
Sci-Fi Film Festival screening in February. So many people had great
things to say and questions about how it all came together. We were
so welcomed into the sci-fi community. We loved the experience.
Critically, we’ve done extremely well, too. We’ve gotten the
most praise for the performances in the film, Taylor Negron included.
Of his huge list of credits (over 130 film and television appearances), Alienated
has brought his only nomination and his only win. Sadly,
this was Taylor’s last film. He passed away last year of cancer.
The other actors have been awarded, too. My direction was awarded;
we got a few “Best Feature” awards and several technical accolades.
It’s all been a surprise.
future projects you'd like to share?
Our company will go
into production on a thriller I wrote called Spotless. Princeton
Holt will direct and we’ll bring Jen back as the lead. It’s about an
expecting wife who is forced to confront her family’s criminal past.
It’s a slow-boiler of a thriller. We’re very excited, but we
won’t get to this until after Alienated
is released in March.
What got you into
making movies in the first place, and did you receive any formal training
on the subject?
It was the one-two combo of Back to the Future and Indiana
These were my ultimate favorite films as a kid, especially the Back to the Future
trilogy. I first wanted to be an actor because I thought the
actors did all the cool stuff—the stunts. I loved
action/adventures, and of course you have to throw in some comedy.
By the time I got into high school I became more aware of what the camera
was doing, and I thought I might prefer creating an entire world, in
addition to playing the hero. Quentin Tarantino definitely inspired
me to become a filmmaker.
Right out of high school, I bought a cheap consumer camera from
Boscov’s and started making my first feature. (For some strange reason I
hadn’t even considered making a short.) It may have been the first
feature script I had completed (after many, many uncompleted). I
enlisted the talents of my friends, most of which happened to be involved
in theater, and we shot bits and pieces randomly over a few weeks. I
think the poor quality of the video discouraged me. There was no
consideration for lighting and little for framing. There was no art
direction. Blocking was forced. It was awful. It looked
nothing like a movie I would see on VHS or TV. And it was damn hard
to coordinate (produce).
A year or two later, I’d pack up and move to NYC to study film at
Brooklyn College. This is where I became a filmmaker, in part through
classes instructed by really great teachers; but in larger part through
experiences on set, by inviting myself onto any and every set in the area
for two years and helping out any way I could.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Alienated?
I made random shorts in and out of Brooklyn College. A short I
did called Hostage Person might best reflect one direction I still hope to
take my career. It’s a crime/dark comedy merging the styles of the
Coen Brothers and early Tarantino. I also made a short documentary
about The Vagina Monologue, the play by Eve Ensler. Seeing the play
performed at Brooklyn College had a profound influence on me, as did the
research that came with making the film. I basically became a feminist,
which may account for why I’m interested in writing strong female roles.
Eventually I hooked up with Princeton Holt through the introduction of a
mutual friend. He was slowly but surely moving his company, One Way
or Another Productions forward. I jumped onto his team and helped
make his first feature, Cookies & Cream, and then our collaboration
continued with my first feature, Uptown. And then we made a third
with our close colleague and producing partner at the time, Ryan Balas.
That was called Carter. We had a great run that year. Two of
the three films got picked up for distribution.
I think it was 2010 or 2011 when I officially moved into One Way
or Another Productions as a
partner. I’m now the head of our development department.
would you describe yourself as a director?
collaborative director. I like to trust my team and see what they
come up with based on simple guidelines for my vision. I like to
leave room for other people’s creativity. I come prepared with a
clear sense of what needs to be done, but while we’re doing it I remain
open to adjustments. So my process is a combination of structured
creativity. I’m told I’m pretty laid back on set, but my mind is
always whirling with ideas on how to solve whatever problem we’re facing
or could possibly face.
who inspire you?
Filmmakers that don’t do the same thing
each time out; filmmakers that challenge themselves. Filmmakers that
keep going no matter what. Filmmakers that do what they want
regardless of what society tells them, or what the market tells them, or
even what their better sense tells them. Filmmakers who finish and
release their films.
Your favourite movies?
Besides the ones I mentioned, I really like many M. Night Shyamalan
films. I like movies that make me cry because I don’t cry easily.
In America, When A Man Loves A Woman, Regarding Henry, Million Dollar Baby
are some. John Hughes movies, like Uncle Buck and Plains, Trains and Automobiles;
Christmas classics like Home Alone and Christmas Vacation; iconic action
flicks of the 80’s like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon; gritty character
pieces from the 70’s like Straw Dogs and Dog Day Afternoon.
Then miscellaneous films that have incredible writing or editing or
performances like Good Will Hunting, The Wolf of Wall Street, Scent of a
Woman, and Magic in the Moonlight. There’s a ton.
and of course, films you really deplore?
I don’t like lazy films that skip over logical issues. A
filmmaker’s job is to tell a story that makes sense within the world of
the film. You can’t ignore logic problems just to keep your story
moving. You can’t be a lazy screenwriter. Of course, films are
made with a lot of compromise so story elements can easily get lost.
You can’t just blame a filmmaker for a bad movie. You have to look
at the team, the executives or financial sources, too, and consider the
whole process of sharing and manifesting ideas and working together.
I can’t think of any specific films that I absolutely hate, and even
if I did I wouldn’t want to name them because the implication would be
that the director didn’t do his/her job, and that’s not fair to
assume. But I can think of two films that I used to hate, only
because my older sister used to make me watch them over and over again.
Again, it’s not the directors’ fault, but I used to hate Dirty Dancing
and Grease. My sister would pop these VHS’s in again and again and
sing along and dance until it drove me crazy. I couldn’t blame
her, though. I got back at her by watching Home Alone a thousand
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
You can find
information about our movie, a list of awards and reviews at
We’re on Facebook, as well, if you search “Alienated movie”.
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
want to really thank you, Michael, for taking the time to help us promote
and spread the word. We’ve been really fortunate to find people
like you who love and respect independent filmmaking. Thanks for all
your time and support.
for the interview!