Your upcoming movie Abi - in a few words, what is it about?
is about a scientist named Vincent Forrester, who has created an organic
computer with the help of his assistants Julie and Abi. As they race to
clear a catastrophic virus from their system, the virus mutates from
computer to human, and infects Abi. Now her violent madness puts more than
their careers at risk.
did the project come into being in the first place?
McGuire, a friend of mine since college, wrote Abi years ago. We
both loved the organic computer concept, but didn't pursue it at the time,
being too expensive and complex. We put it in a drawer, but never
forgot about it. After the success of my previous horror film Ding
Dong, we decided to try and tackle the much more ambitious Abi, and spent months refining the complicated narrative till
it was as tight and supsenful as we could make it.
can you tell us about your writer Dan McGuire, and what's your
known Dan since college. I was a directing student at Columbia College
Chicago, and I was looking for a script to direct for one of my classes. A
mutual friend passed his script to me, and a lifelong friendship, as well
as a student horror film, was born.
and I collaborate very well, because we have a solid foundation of trust
and respect for each other's opinions.The most important aspect of
the relationship is that we are never afraid to pull punches on critique
or push back on the occasions that we're not on the same page. Neither of
us have a lot of ego about what we do, either, which is critical. The
motto is and always should be "story first". If the story
isn't working, what good does it do anyone, right?
With Abi being a
sci-fi/horror movie, what can you tell us about your movie's approach to
either genre, and what do you think makes it stand out of the crowd? And
are these genres favourites of yours in the first place?
been a fan of sci-fi and horror basically since I understood what a movie
was. I was born in '83, so it was the perfect era to fall in love with
genre films. I grew up wearing out video tapes of Star Wars and
wears those influences on its sleeve. The production design is
intended to show audiences something they've never seen before, and the
story is constructed to grab you and not let go, ratcheting the tension
tighter and tighter with every scene. I
think good films depend on the characters being relatable and smart. They
need to make decisions that make sense in the world they live in. That's
all the more important in a genre film, where you're already asking the
audience to buy a certain level of fantastic, unbelievable elements.
Characters being believable and understandable are what allow an audience
to accept the strange visuals they're seeing.
movies demand a certain amount of special effects almost by definition -
so what have you planned in that department?
for starters, we're aiming for all practical fx. I think CGI has its
place, but if it's at all possible I much prefer to do everything in
camera. It's better for the actors, and that makes it more believable for
the audience. The
main effect of the film is the production design, specifically Vincent's
organic computer. We're really trying to make something weird, wild and
unsettling with it. That's the main focus of the crowdfunding campaign.
Aside from the nominal fees we're paying the actors, our planned budget
goes nearly all to fx and production design. We want every Dollar to be up
on the screen.
you tell us about the film's intended overall look and feel?
is highly dependent on the relationships between the characters, and those
relationships reach some very intense levels. We want to keep the
lens fairly close to actors to increase that feeling of intensity.
That will be heightened by fast tracking shots and the more frenetic
element of hand held camera work. The characters will move a lot
during the course of a very traumatic evening, and so will the camera. There's
definitely a DIY element to all of the computer equipment. This
isn't the kind of thing you can pick up at a BestBuy, so its going to
have a bit of a piecemeal aspect to it, like the work has spiraled out far
beyond the scope that was originally imagined.
talk about Abi's projected key cast and crew, and why exactly these
got a phenomenal cast and crew for Abi, all drawn from Chicago. All
three principals are veteran actors of both stage and screen. I like
to cast actors that are collaborates first, people that are really
bringing a lot of ideas to the table.
Clooney plays the title role of Abi. She wowed us on her very
first read of the role. She projects the intensity that Abi needs
when the virus takes control, but also can pull it back to the most subtle
of facial expressions. Her understanding of a very tricky character
seemed almost innate. She's a fantastic filmmaker in her own right (her
short film Runner is on the festival circuit right now), so I
guess that shouldn't be a surprise.
Barkhordar plays Vincent. He was the hardest role to cast, because it's a
very nuanced role. But we're really lucky to have found him. Watching
Rom act, you can see him making decisions (as the character) that are
totally understandable in the moment. He totally nails the right mix
of command and restrained desperation that Vincent finds himself in.
Berman rounds out the cast, playing Julie. When we were shooting the
teaser video that you find on our campaign site, we were all amazed at her
ability to bring intense emotions to life. Julie is a strong, smart,
active character, but she's also put in some very scary situations, so a
versatile actor was key for this role, and Emily brings that.
crew is all drawn from the professional ranks of the Chicago film
community. I work on the Chicago PD TV show, and a lot of the crew either
work with me every day or I've met them on other shows I've done. One of
the best things about indie filmmaking is seeing everyone step up and show
their skills in jobs they don't get to do as often as they'd like.
Your film is currently in its fundraising stages
- so do talk about your campaign for a bit!
campaign launched on February 27th. We're looking to raise $14,000 for the
budget, which sounds like a lot, but it gets burned through fast for a
story that's very fx- and design-heavy, especially one with stunts and
professional talent. Working on a network TV show on a daily basis
sets a high bar for professional quality we want to meet in our own
projects, especially for the design work.
the budget's in place, what's the schedule? And even though it's waaay too
early to ask, any idea when and where the film might be released yet?
going to shoot four days in April. Hopefully we're through picture
lock sometime in June, setting us up for post sound to be done by end of
summer. The film will be started on the festival circuit. We're researching
some of the marquee horror fests for submission, but we'll apply to plenty
of other fests to get the film screened as widely as possible. One of the
most rewarding parts of my festival experience with Ding Dong was getting
to meet fans of the genre and see how they experience independent film.
Festival audiences are there solely because they love film, and genre
audiences are even more devoted. If you can make them jump or scream, you
know you really have them. And once its festival run is over, it will be
made available online as well.
future projects beyond Abi?
about to start a festival run with a non-genre short I did last summer, a
Civil War-set comedy called Hold My Horse. Beyond that, I've got a couple
more short scripts in my back pocket that are ready to start prepping,
including a very Lovecraftian story about a man kidnapped to be sacrificed
to an ancient god. We're
also working out some ideas for features. I'd like to make a feature
within the next five years. Hopefully Abi will be part of a body of work
that I can leverage into getting one off the ground.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
into filmmaking based on a love of movies. I was always fascinated
with the behind the scenes tricks of making movies - I watched The Making
of Star Wars or Jurassic Park almost as much as the movies themselves. It
was almost inevitable that I'd find my way to film school. I went to
Columbia College and studied directing, picking up lighting theory along
the way and turning that into a good career on major production crews. But
my heart will always remain with making my own movies.
You have worked as a dolly grip on many a
big production for both film and TV - now how does that compare to
directing indie shorts, actually, and how has it prepared you for this?
And of course, feel free to talk about some of the projects you worked on!
career has spanned from tiny indie short films to $300 million dollar
studio features. It offers me a phenomenal opportunity to study and
learn from a variety of different directors and apply those lessons to
what I do. One of the biggest lessons is to remember that all movies are
made the same way: one shot at a time. It all comes down to storytelling,
and what pieces are needed to tell that story. Of
course pushing dolly 60 hours a week or so tends to influence my shot
design. I love seeing the camera move and stay fluid, especially in the
more formal steadicam or dolly modes. Though handheld cameras still
have their place - we'll have some in Abi, for sure. It's all about
what tool creates the right feeling for the audience.
talk about your previous shorts Echo Chamber and Ding Dong
for a bit?
Chamber was a short that we made for next to nothing mostly for fun. It
got a couple of festival acceptances, but we never really pursued a
festival run. I still like the Lovecraft-lite vibe it has, though.
Dong started much the same way, as a film that I wrote just to stretch my
muscles. But the movie ended up getting a much bigger and better response
than I ever thought it would, picking up a couple of Best Horror awards on
its festival run. It taught me a lot about the industry, especially about
what I didn't know. I've still got plenty to learn, but making Ding Dong
really gave me a lot of confidence to try something bigger and more
How would you describe yourself as a
directing all comes down to planning. The movie is made in preproduction,
as far as I'm concerned. I do extensive breakdowns for the
characters' arcs and for the technical side of things. Sometimes you
get to set and toss it all out the window, but if you come in with a plan,
you know you've done your homework on what the scene is supposed to
set, I try to foster a lot of collaboration. I come in with a lot of
things planned out, but I want to hear what the cast and crew have to say
about what they're doing. As an indie director, everyone on set has
more experience doing their job than you have doing yours, so it's wise to
listen to their ideas. Hire smart, good people, both cast and crew,
and they make the film better.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
is always my go to. It doesn't matter how many times I've seen one
of his films, I can always notice something new if I sit down and study
it. I especially like the really efficient way he shoots films,
moving the camera to produce a master shot that you don't even notice is a
one because you're too wrapped up in the story. Jaws is full of those.
also really admire James Cameron. Aliens is a perfect movie, and the first
two Terminator movies aren't far behind. Of more recent directors,
I've liked pretty much everything Mike Flanagan [Mike
Flanagan interview - click here] has done, and any time he
puts something new out, I make sure to catch it.
Wars has always been my favorite, but I could watch Alien,
('82), Jurassic Park, or Jaws pretty much any day. I also really
like Last of the Mohicans, and of course The Princess Bride is simply one
of the best movies ever made.
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
want to single any film out, but I tend to really dislike films where
people do things to serve the plot rather than the plot being generated
out of decisions the characters make.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, IndieGoGo,
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to
No, you're a pretty thorough interviewer! Thanks so much for
talking with me!
Thanks for the