Your new movie The
Debt of Maximilian - in a few words, what is it about?
is a story about two brothers with one having a gambling addiction the
other knows nothing about.
were your sources of inspiration when writing The
Debt of Maximilian?
younger brother had a gambling addiction, which I didnít know anything
about at the time. Later he told me about it and I was fascinated about
how someone could get caught up in winning fast money without considering
the downsides of losing it all. After hearing his intense story, I became
interested in exploring this further and started writing the screenplay
based on what he had gone through.
You came up with the story
for The Debt of
Maximilian together with Adrian Moen (any relation by the way?) -
so what can you tell us about that collaboration?
Moen is my younger brother. He helped me with the story, since he went
through the experiences similar to what Max went through. He was the
starting point source for the screenplay I wrote. He told me stories about
his experiences with his gambling addiction and placing bets on sports
games. At the time he was placing bets, I had no idea why heíd get so
mad when a player would miss a free throw. Many years later he would tell
me everything that had happened which inspired me to write the screenplay
of the film. I took his experience with gambling and dramatized it for the
what extent could you actually identify with Maximilian and the stuff he's
used different characteristics of both my younger brother and me when I
created the two brothers (Maximillian and younger brother Kyle). Some of
me are in both Max and Kyle. But I was never interested in gambling. I
tried it when I was younger, but it never got me excited.
Do talk about your overall directorial
approach to your story at hand!
painstakingly worked on what I wanted the characters to say in their
scenes. A lot of it was taking away about half of the words I had
originally written for them to say. I thought that it would be better to
allow the actors to express themselves without having to say much. I
asked the actors to know their lines before coming to the shoot. I told
them that it was okay if they miss a word or two, as long as they convey
the heart of the scene.
location, I would set up the camera and mic the actors and let them know
what the camera sees. Basically giving them their play area and where
theyíre out of frame. If it feels natural, then I keep it and move on.
If it feels as if the pacing is off or clunky, then we try another take. I
didnít want to overdo it and deplete their natural energy. It would have
been nice to play around and try different things, but I was on a tight
schedule because a lot of the locations were provided for free and I
didnít want to overstay my welcome. While under the strain of keeping
the production moving, I kept thinking if I can at least get the shots to
tell the story, then I might be okay.
What can you tell us
about The Debt of
Maximilian's key cast, and why exactly these people?
three main characters were played by talented actors. They each had a
confidence and physical look that I think makes them desirable to watch,
which is important because stories can become boring at times and having a
watchable character in the story keeps the audience engaged.
Lee Eller - I cast Travis because he had the right balance of intensity
and good naturedness. These were the characteristics I was looking for in
Valeriano - I cast Mark because he was able to portray a naive younger
brother (Kyleís character) whoís fed up with where his life is going.
Briones - I cast Angelica because when I first saw her come into the
casting room for another show, she looked right for the part of Nena
(Kyleís drug addicted fiance). I asked if sheíd be interested in
auditioning and she said okay. When she auditioned, it was clear right
away that she had what I was looking for. Someone with a soft and innocent
face, but with a dark fire in her soul. Her expressions were very subtle,
yet powerful. That was exactly what I was looking for.
few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
was exciting for me because I was finally making my own feature film on my
own terms. There was no pressure from anyone else except from me! Iíve
worked with other directors as their DP or editor, who have been great to
work with, but Iíve always wanted to tell my own story in my own way.
Since the shoot was crewed mostly by myself, I was zen like while setting
up the camera and miking the actors. My main focus everyday was to make
sure I didnít forget any shots. I had my storyboards and shot list and
made sure the actors were able to run creatively free while asking them to
basically deliver the message of the scene they were doing. The only thing
that I would have liked was more time to play with the scenes with the
actors. I will be better prepared on my next film.
$64-question of course, where can The
Debt of Maximilian be seen?
(Pre-Order) available here:
Film Ch: https://bit.ly/UK_Film_Ch_TDOM
Anything you can
tell us about audience and critical reception of The
Debt of Maximilian?
the film to film festivals was eye-opening. I first tried to submit the
film to American festivals, but unfortunately not one US based film
festival accepted the film. But when the film was accepted into a small
foriegn festival in Slovakia (Kosice International Monthly Film
and won the Best Actor and Best Director awards, I decided to submit to
only foreign film festivals to see what would happen. From there, the film
has won numerous awards including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor,
Best Cinematography and Best Music. Just because one door closes,
doesnít mean there isnít another door to open.
did receive several great reviews so far. Your review, Mike, was the first
I saw and it was exciting to see. My first great review for my first
feature film. What a great honor. It definitely lifted me up: http://www.searchmytrash.com/movies/debtofmaximilian(2019).shtml
other reviews also came in shortly afterwards, and one was another great
review from a critic in Australia, Cain
Noble-Davies (Film Ink): https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/the-debt-of-maximillian/
another wonderful review from a US based critic, Hunter Lanier: https://filmthreat.com/reviews/the-debt-of-maximillian/
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
like to make two more films related to The
Debt of Maximilian, which
would possibly relate to how a personís psychology
about money affects who he is or what he can become in our society. How it
brings opportunity along with fears, hang-ups, worries and greed. Most
importantly the inability for the main character to control
himself/herself because they are focusing on trying to control their
external world without considering changing who they are. Itís
been said that money is the root of all evil, but if, in a different
world, the act of love was a currency, would love soon become the root of
What got you into filmmaking in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
I decided to go to film school, I made a commitment to become a
professional filmmaker. Not someone who works for a creative, but someone
who is creating. Itís tough to break into Hollywood as a creative,
unless you have made something worthy you can show and impress people
with. There were many times when I would think that I might be better off
working in another industry so I can make a living and support a future
family. But I realized that whatever I do will be a challenge if I want to
be good at it. And if I donít love what I do, would I ever enjoy the
process of being good at it? I kept coming back to filmmaking, because
thatís what I love.
always had a passion for cinema since my fine arts class teacher dove deep
into the metaphors of a movie directed by Wim Wenders titled Wings of
Desire. Ever since that two-day analysis, Iíve been watching as many
intriguing arthouse and foreign films I can.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The
Debt of Maximilian?
havenít done much directing prior to this film. I never found a story I
really loved to make my own feature film. I made one short film in film
school many years ago. I used to think that the best way to become a
director is to direct other peopleís scripts. But there are a lot of
directors out there with very impressive work who are hustling for the
same projects. Iím not much of a hustler.
eventually realized that if Iím going to direct my own feature then I
would have to write my own script. So I worked on my screenplay. One bad
screenplay after another, trying to find my voice and genre. Making a
feature is a long journey that needs a lot of fuel. If I wasnít excited
about the story, then I would most likely have lost steam and probably
quit, disappointing everyone involved. I didnít want that to happen. As
I worked on finding that screenplay that would keep me going till the end,
I would shoot and edit other peopleís short films and music videos. Some
people liked my camera work, so that kept me engaged with filmmaking.
Watching a lot of foreign films, which are my favorite because they have a
different perspective on life than most American films. They have more
deeper characters involved in more profound circumstances. Iíd have to
say watching a lot of acclaimed foreign films helped to enhance my
filmmaking education. Especially the behind-the-scenes and Q&As with
the director. This gave me the confidence to make my own film. And it made
me believe that whatever film I make will be fine because itís from me
and it isnít following a protocol based on long established rules.
film is not anything revolutionary, but just the thought that I am free to
make whatever I want was liberating to me. In film school, it was taught
to make structured films. In screenplay class, I learned that there is a
structure to even obscure films to keep you engaged. This type of
structure helped me a lot. It would have been very difficult for me to
complete the script without it. Story structure helped to keep everything
organized, which is important to me. Thatís the way my brain works. The
screenplay book that helped me a lot while writing my script titled Save the Cat. It taught me the 4 act structure (similar to the 3 act
structure, but it broke down the 2nd act into two parts making it easier
to digest). I guess I could have figured this out on my own, but I think I
needed a book like this to hold my hand and tell me itís okay to do it
this way. Iíve learned that rules need to be flipped and challenged at
times. Holding onto rules can create a lot of mental blocks, keeping one
from reaching their highest creative potential. I do like structure
because it keeps things organized for me. And I also like limitations
since it forces me to think creatively within that small area I can play
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
like finding actors who embody the charactersí energy. They may or may
not look like what I had in mind at first. But the energy of the actor
would have to ideally come close to matching the energy of the character
in the story.
the character of Maximillian, played excellently by Travis Lee Eller, had
the energy or attitude that he had a chip on his shoulder and had
something to prove to the world, but was trapped by his reluctance to move
ahead because the trappings of society kept him crippled and reliant upon
the younger brother Kyle, played perfectly by Mark Valeriano, I was
looking for a naive minded young man who was wound up in his own hang-ups
of not being enough. A person who was anxious to spread his wings, but
couldnít let go of his frustrations of being the younger brother who no
one looked up to or respected.
Charlie, played nicely by Wali Habib, I was looking for someone older with
a larger body type. Like a gentle bear with a strong Middle Eastern
accent. Wali is trim and refined, but he had a sort of wiry and intense
energy about him, yet calm and controlled on the surface. I thought that
could work as a gentle bear. And he is Middle Eastern. I thought these
qualities could work well for his character.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Kieślowski, Coen brothers, Andrei
Now Redux, Full
Metal Jacket, Three
Colours Trilogy, Fargo, Seven
Carpenterís The Thing,
Silence of the Lambs.
... and of course, films you really
that have nothing profound to say. A lot of Hollywood fluff fits into this
category. Basically made for quick mass consumption without any
consideration for the audience's view of the world or the people living in
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I have merely forgotten to ask?
canít think of any. Great questions.
Thanks for the