Where are you based and how did you first get into this line of work?
I’m based in Los Angeles. I started working in basecamp as a Set PA on the film Ali. I was a huge fan of Michael Mann and when I heard he was going to be directing Ali with Will Smith starring, I did everything in my power to get on. I was very persistent about it and as luck would have it, I was hired and it all worked out.
As a member of the crew, I traveled with the production and made valuable relationships that I still prize today. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me, coming out of the blue and landing a position on a film crew where I was the odd guy out. I didn’t know anybody going in other than TK Mann whom I’d only met from repeatedly cold-calling the office, and then eventually Spoon Witherspoon, Julie Herrin and Michael Waxman, both of whom I credit giving me my start in the feature film world since they took a chance on a stranger. But it was Michael Mann taking a liking to me when we were shooting in Africa that eventually advanced and sustained me through the years. It was my biggest professional honor to work by his side and to learn from him.
How did you get the Night Shift project?
I pitched Night Shift as a day in the life of a bathroom attendant in a L. A. nightclub, and every time I pitched it, it would always get a laugh. I knew I was on to something. People got it. I ran into Julius Tennon and Viola Davis at Charles King’s Fourth of July party. They asked me what I’d been up to, told me about their new company, JuVee Productions and invited me down. A week or so later, I sat down at their offices with Julius and Kaylon Hunt, pitched Night Shift and instantly, Julius said to me: “We are going to back you on this.”
It was thrilling for me to know that they we’re going to put their professional name behind mine. JuVee is like family; they look out for the talent they support. It’s been an incredible experience working with them. They were there for me every step of the way. I got additional financing and support from my business partner and friend, John Evangelista who loved the story of Night Shift, and the incredible Bryan Carroll who I’ve worked with over the years with Michael Mann. But it’s my producing partner and fiancé, Moira Griffin who I credit the most for the success of Night Shift as well as Efuru Flowers at Flourishing Films and Roberta Marie Monroe.
What gear/cameras did you use and why?
We shot on the Alexa Plus with Cooke Anamorphic Prime lenses. My DP and I worked very close together to figure out the best way to tell the story. His name is Eric Branco – he’s incredible.
Since most of the story takes place in a bathroom, we wanted to open up the space so that it didn’t feel claustrophobic and felt that shooting anamorphic would be the best way to achieve that and really give the film a truly cinematic feel. We were particular about the shots we chose making sure that none of them looked and felt like the same ones over and over since we were confined in this very limited space. Night Shift would not have been what it is without him. It was such a blessing to have him. At the time, he owned the Alexa that we used, which was a great benefit to the production as well.
Did you plan out the story structure from the beginning or did it come out in post?
I’ve basically become a bathroom expert in L. A. We searched high and low for the right location to shoot Night Shift and eventually settled on the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown L. A.
I fell in love with the character of the space when I came across it. It had just enough room for the whole film to be told and was the perfect place to house this story. There were a lot of grand plans going in, but a lot of them had to be scrapped due to budget restraints and/or space availability.
While scouting however, I would shoot photo-storyboards that we used as reference, but many of the shots that ended up in the film we’re re-conceived on the spot. It was all very organic and speaks to the unpredictable nature of storytelling. It was the same with the editing. I had a plan going in for Night Shift that was completely abandoned in post. We originally had a 23-minute cut of the film that we had to dwindle down to 15-16 minutes to be competitive in festivals, so it forced us to look at the footage differently and figure out a more interesting way to tell the story. My editor Sam Restivo (who I swear by) and I sat down and plotted out alternative ways to tell the story that eventually became the film that exists today. It was hard letting some things go, but ultimately it’s about the story and keeping the audience engaged and that’s what dictated our choices in the end.
What do you do differently from other filmmakers?
That’s a tough question. I think what I do differently, and really what each filmmaker does differently is how we each look at life and apply that very particular and unique outlook to our craft.
I think it’s the stories that excite us that make each of us different; our approach to the material and then it’s our overall aesthetic and taste that make each of us different. So in saying that, it’s my relationship to the story that makes me different, how I personalize it from my own life experiences, my own take on life makes me different, my take on art and how it should resonate or affect someone else, all of that combined makes me different.
You’ll find my difference in the themes and issues I want to address through narrative, the stories I want to explore through doc, all of that combine and make me different. I don’t know. I’m really trying to find the most honest answer to that question. I feel like I would have to personally know every filmmaker to answer that question honestly. I can say that I’m definitely very research heavy. I don’t know if that makes me different because I’m sure there are a lot of other research-heavy directors as well. I don’t know. Life experience, outlook, aesthetic, approach… That’s what makes me different from other directors. Best answer.
If you had to go back and do it all again, how would you get a foothold in the business?
If I had to do it all again, I would go to film school and start making movies and films from jump. I would have believed in myself and my talents and abilities much earlier. Although I’ve always been talented, I used to get caught up in other people’s artistry instead of my own. I’ve always had so much to say, but didn’t think it paled next to what others had to say, so I stayed put.
I’m thankful now that I’m getting the opportunity to express myself artistically and that I get to explore narrative through the most engaging medium on earth. Here’s how I see it, what we do as filmmakers is stand in courage. We take image, texture, shape, light, color, language, music, sound and experience and mash it all up into something engaging and exciting and hopefully shed some kind of light on a subject or a particular human experience that had it not been for the medium we would never have considered or learned about. But we do this never truly knowing how it will be received. It takes courage to do that and stand in your artistic truth. It’s a very powerful and humbling position to be in, because what we do is help shape how people see the world and each other.
But I’m actually thankful for my experience. It’s what makes me me and different from others. It’s why I’m the storyteller that I am today. I would go to festivals earlier too, even if I didn’t have a film there. I would go and meet people and see what other filmmakers are doing that has caught the attention of programmers.
What’s the one secret tip, go-to trick that you use often that takes your work to the next level?
I love to play with focus. I don’t use it much in Night Shift, but it’s the thing that excites me most when we’re shooting.
I’m learning to trust my instincts more as a director and to move and lean towards those things that move me. I’m trying to utilize all the gifts I have as a storyteller and create something truly cinematic. I’m always trying to push past my comfort level and to find ways to tell stories that don’t feel gimmicky, and that comes from an honest place. I love brutal honesty when it best serves the story.
I’m starting to play more with sound design and really take time conceptualizing the soundscape as much as possible. Just trying to engage every dimension of the film experience without it feeling over-produced. I think a lot of that comes from trusting yourself and knowing what you love about film and cinema and being able to communicate that to your team so that its effectively communicated to an audience. But what really takes me to the next level is my team of collaborators. It’s all about your team and I’m truly thankful for mine.
What has been the hardest part of doing what you do?
There are lots of hard parts about making films. Some of the things that come to mind deals with time constraints and/or limited budgets, or trying to get the money in the first place. Also, managing the unknown. There are so many unforeseen factors that go into making a film that you have to anticipate as much as possible and just be diligent in trying to handle them as they come along and be even more diligent in anticipating them.
Making film is really an exercise in time and resource management. A lot of issues you encounter on the way could be easily rectified with money and time, but that kind of takes the fun out of it at this stage of the game.
What is currently the best part of doing what you do?
Being a filmmaker keeps you traveling to really interesting places. I think that’s one of the things that I love the most. I also just like being able to help shape a story into what it eventually becomes. I love all parts of it. From writing, directing, editing and everything else in-between. It’s the process that I love. It all excites me. But I think travel is the best part. Meeting really interesting people. Getting the chance to peer into other people’s lives through narrative. Oh, yeah, the research. Yeah. That really thrills me.
What are some of your favorite stories or web videos that you’ve gotten inspired by?
I’m really inspired by this devastating but beautiful Russian film that came out last year called Loveless. It was such a stark and emotional pull about a missing child and the effect it has on the parents. It’s a real slow burn, but for whatever reasons just moved me.
I think it was the really deliberate unnerving pacing, the lingering shots and the gradual unravel that just captivated me. I don’t know. I find myself engaged by lots of foreign films and American indies.
I’m also very inspired by true crime stories, I’m currently writing one now; a kidnapping caper that goes horribly wrong. It’s a story that’s a hybrid character drama and police procedural that is set in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I’ve been traveling the festival circuit a lot with Night Shift and I’m inspired by all the work I see out there from emerging voices. There’s just so much out there to discover. I’m inspired by creativity and gumption – like the gumption to get out there, tell a story and stand in your truth. That moves me. Oh, and good writing. Man. Good writing. That’s inspiring.
Where can people follow your work?
Check the official site of the film here: http://www.nightshiftshort.com/