Your new movie Elodie
- in a few words, what is it about?
is about a playwright who is led into the world of her own writing when
one of her fictional characters seeks her help in a kidnapping incident.
In general, itís about an artist overcoming failure by gaining an
appreciation for their own work.
lead character Sabrina in any form or way based on yourself, and to what
degree can you identify with her and the things she's going through?
approach to storytelling has always been to use my own emotions and
experiences, but to package them in a way that is entertaining and
influenced by the films that I love. So, yes, Sabrina is very much based
on me. One of the main reasons I made this film was in response to the
experience I had making my first feature film, Timespace.
The premiere of that film was a technical disaster, largely due to my own
inexperience and poor planning (I was 18 at the time). The embarrassment I
felt while sitting in a sold-out theatre with my film freezing, glitching,
and turning to static was something that stuck with me for years. I
couldnít shake the feeling that I was a failure. The only way I was
really able to work through it was by writing.
The events of Elodie
are set in motion by the public and painful failure
of Sabrinaís play. In order for her to overcome her embarrassment, she
literally enters the world that she created. This framework was pulled
directly from my own experience and allowed me to write a character
that, I hope, feels authentic.
Elodie seems to be
vastly reminiscent of yesteryear's crime cinema - was this at all on
purpose, and is that a genre especially dear to you, and why (not)?
Absolutely. I like to think of myself as a film fan first and a
filmmaker second. I believe anyone working in this field must have an
admiration for the works that came before. So once I decided that I
wanted to tell a story about a creator overcoming failure, I needed to
find the hook that would actually make it entertaining. I settled on the
idea of a film noir/crime drama. There are both specific and
general/thematic references to many classic films of this genre such as Shadow
of a Doubt, Laura,
Me Deadly, Chinatown, Taxi
Her to Heaven, to name a few.
I think what most draws me to the genre is the close relationship
between story and visual style. The mood established by the low-key
lighting and atmospheric locations is perfectly in sync with the
conflict of the characters in a way that is more satisfying than nearly
any other genre I can think of.
sources of inspiration when writing Elodie?
I defined the film for the cast and crew as equal parts film noir,
French new wave, and fairy tale. Obviously these are three very
different styles, but they are linked by my personal love for each of
them. Film noir because the moody atmosphere served as a natural
manifestation of Sabrinaís internal experience. French new wave because the experimental storytelling and editing techniques lent
themselves well to a low budget, meta indie film. And fairy tale because I wanted to be earnest in my portrayal of the fantasy elements
of the film. Stories such as Alice
in Wonderland, Peter
Pan and The
Wizard of Oz all deal with characters who move
from a difficult reality into a fantasy where their real struggles are
represented in entertaining, allegorical ways.
Other specific influences such as Persona, 8
from 5 to 7 and Pierrot
le Fou all helped as I formed the story and
brought it to life. I could go on and on about inspiration, so I would
just note that if you suspect I was influenced by a particular classic
film, either consciously or subconsciously, youíre probably right.
Whether or not I actually did justice to any of them or instead made a
pretentious Frankensteinís monster of everything I love is another
thing entirely! But thatís up to the audience to decide.
plays on two levels of reality that somehow interact with one another - so
how easy of hard is it to follow through with such a concept without
(literally) losing the plot?
It was very important to me that the two states of reality be intimately
related with one another as far as story goes. The real life problems of
Sabrina would be illuminated through allegorical scenarios in the world
of her play. I thought of the structure in terms of a balance scale.
Every element in ďrealityĒ needed an offset in the ďfantasyĒ
story in order to stay in balance. It was definitely a lot harder than I
expected to get there, however. It took several drafts to finally trim
down the plot to a point where it was manageable. Getting outside eyes
on the screenplay was invaluable, because oftentimes when youíve been
working on something for so long, you canít see the forest for the
Iíll admit that one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer is my lack of
subtlety. In earlier drafts, I overexplained everything in hopes that
every detail I was going for would be understood by the viewer. Once I
let go of that desire, I realized that as long as the throughline is
clear, the subtleties of theme would come more naturally. Looking back,
itís far from perfect in this regard, but itís an improvement. And,
to quote from Ed
Wood, ď...my next one will be better!Ē
What can you tell us about
your directorial approach to your story at hand?
I think any director working off their own script has an instant
advantage in terms of translating the emotions of the story into a
cinematic experience. My first step was to assemble a lookbook of visual
elements that represented my vision for the film. This included stills
from similar films, location photos, art, anything that helped convey
the images in my head. Then itís much easier to get everyone on the
One of the most important things for me to get right was the visual
contrast between ďrealityĒ and ďfantasyĒ. I already knew that
the world of the play would be shot in black-and-white, with heavy
shadow and dramatic film noir influence. But I wanted the real world to
have a similarly compelling visual style. I figured that if the fantasy
was black-and-white, reality must be full of bright color, like a
cartoon or a comic. One night my friends and I put on the slasher horror
Spa, and I instantly fell in love with its use of color in lighting.
I wouldnít say itís a great film, but it was exactly the visual
style I was looking for.
As far as working on set, my role as a director is to keep the ship
headed in the right direction, always toward that pre-defined vision. In
the chaos of fast shoots, late nights, early mornings, itís my job to
make sure that at the end of the day, everything we do is supporting
that unified vision. Of course I couldnít do it without the help of my
just have to talk about Elodie's
musical score for a bit, and about your collaboration with the composer
Iíve always considered music to be one of the most important, yet
often overlooked, aspects of film. Iíve heard many filmmakers and
composers state that a movieís score is successful if you donít
notice it. I disagree with that. I think music is just as important as
the visuals, as performance, as every other art form that is made
obvious to the viewer. Why wouldnít you want it to be bold?
I first worked with Louis Coste on my previously mentioned first
What instantly stood out to me was his incredible ability to translate
the emotions of the story into music. Weíve worked together on every
one of my films since then, culminating in the (now award winning!)
score for Elodie.
Before ever rolling the camera, I met with Louis to go over the
screenplay in detail, as well as my own emotions and intentions behind
the words. Having also been present for the Timespace premiere
debacle, I think he was able to tap into those same emotions that I did.
What resulted was a haunting piano dreamscape that made me smile from
ear to ear the first time I heard it. It was bold, it wasnít what
youíd expect. Maybe itís not for everyone, but Iíd rather have
something truly unique and interesting than safe and boring.
Do talk about
cast, and why exactly these people?
What separates this film from a lot of others in terms of casting is
that we had to find actors who could portray two different characters in
the same story. Thereís the ďreal lifeĒ version, and the
ďfantasyĒ version, which I view as being two halves of the same
coin. For these roles, it was important to me to find actors who could
be believable in both aspects, which requires a lot more skill and
flexibility than you might think. Iím extremely grateful to have found
Brittney Watson, Ian Holt, Taylor Dahl, and Brandon Caraco who I believe
were all able to pull this off wonderfully.
The exceptions to the dual role concept are the leads, Sabrina and
Elodie, who compliment each other as characters. For Elodie, I needed
someone strong, pure, confident - traits that Sabrina aspires to have.
Taylor McGlone was the perfect embodiment of this character. For Sabrina, I needed an actor who could appear vulnerable, but who was
fearless. I found that with Faith Decker. The role of Sabrina is
particularly intense. I made a decision early on that the entire film
would be told from her singular perspective, so that meant she would be
present in every single scene. I was extremely grateful to form a bond
of mutual trust with Faith that allowed us to bring the character to
life in a beautifully authentic way, and I think she did a phenomenal
A few words about
the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
This was definitely a low budget film, so we often had to get creative
with our shooting. There was a lot of guerrilla filmmaking out in the
streets, with the occasional secured location if we were lucky. On top
of that, pretty much everyone involved (cast, crew and myself) all had
full time day jobs. So we werenít even able to begin filming until the
evening or on weekends. Thankfully I had this in mind while writing and
came up with a concept that takes place mostly at night, so it worked
out. But it was definitely exhausting for everyone, having to work all
day, film all night, then do it all over again the next day. But of course, it was a ton of fun. The crew was small, so we all got to
know each other really well, which felt more like a family. Everyone
would focus on their role, but also lend a hand wherever it was needed.
This is essential when filming with a low budget. My goal was to create
an environment that was safe, comfortable, and open to creativity, and I
think we succeeded with that.
projects you'd like to share?
Iím working on a few screenplays at the moment. Nothing I can share
yet, but one is a feature adaptation of the comic I wrote. Rather than
fall into a particular niche, I prefer to try out many different genres,
styles, and subject matters as I move from project to project. So I can
say that whatever I end up doing next, it will most likely be very
different in form from Elodie.
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
Iíve been interested in filmmaking nearly my entire life. When I was
very young, my first love was Disney
animation, and I wanted to be an
animator. But then I saw Star
Wars and everything changed. I knew I wanted to
make movies as a director. I was probably 7 or 8 at the time, and Iíve
never let go of that desire. I would use the family camcorder to set up
and film elaborate productions with my little sisters in our unfinished
basement. Usually re-enactments of whatever I was into at the time - Disney, Dr. Seuss,
It wasnít until high school that I started taking the craft of
filmmaking seriously. I was active in the Drama department of my school
where I met many of the talented people I still work with today. I
founded the production company Black Box Films
before heading off from
my home state of Arizona to college at Hofstra University in New York. I
received a B.A. in Film Studies and Production with a minor in Creative
Writing. While it was helpful to go through a film program and make some
important connections, the college experience paled in comparison to the
education I got from actually going out and making films.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Elodie?
As previously mentioned, I started getting more serious about filmmaking
in high school when I wrote and directed my first legitimate short film,
Block, produced under the Black Box Filmscompany I founded. That
was followed by some additional short films of varying quality called Facade,
Song and Tangled
Wire. These were all produced with actor friends from high school,
and whoever I could convince to be a crewmember.
After going through my freshman year of college, I wanted to tackle a
feature length film, which was the aforementioned Timespace.
That was both a wonderful experience, working with friends and family to
tell a long form story for the first time, and a terrible experience,
with long days in the sweltering Arizona summer heat after biting off
way more than we could chew. The resulting film was adequate at best,
but we saw it through to completion and Iím proud of that. Itís
gotten terrible reviews (which I understand), but I think itís a good
example of the constant process of trial and error that every budding
filmmaker goes through when trying to learn the craft and find their
I returned to making short films for several years, my favorite probably
Hide Among Us!, a send up of 50s sci-fi. Then I started writing Elodie,
and a few years later, here we are!
than making movies, you've also written a comicbook, The Spirit of the
Shadows - so what can you tell us about that one, and how does working
on a comicbook compare to making a movie?
Thatís another project that is very dear to me. The story is about a
poor musician who falls in love with the daughter of a rich aristocrat,
but is unceremoniously killed and brought back to life as a monster. It
was heavily inspired by German expressionism, gothic horror romance, and
the Universal Classic
Monsters. Ironically, that story originated as a
film script, but after realizing it was too large in scope for a low
budget, I teamed up with my friend and incredible artist Nick Cagnetti
(creator of the indie comic Pink
Lemonade) to expand it into a comic.
I would say in some aspects it is very similar to writing a film (I once
again infused my own emotions/experiences with a genre that I love), and
in others it is very different. The biggest contrast is what you can
portray with a small budget. In a low budget comic, you can have a horde
of monsters burn down a Victorian Mansion no problem. In a low budget
film, the biggest set piece you can afford is a warehouse kidnapping.
But I look at the constraints as being part of the fun. It forces you to
be more creative, which often leads to better results.
Iím currently adapting that comic back into a feature film screenplay,
which has been a unique experience in its own right. Hopefully someday I
will be able to bring it to life with the production value it deserves.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Iím someone who deeply admires the history of cinema and wants to
shine a light on the often forgotten styles and techniques of the past.
My goal is not to blend in, but to stand out by pushing the boundaries
of style with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. On set,
my goal as a director is to create an environment that breeds
creativity, while always ensuring the safety and comfort of my cast and
crew. Some of the best ideas have come from the least likely people, so
I will always listen to any suggestion, no matter who makes it.
Filmmakers who inspire
My single biggest influence would have to be Alfred Hitchcock. Others
that have had a huge impact on me include Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder,
Ingmar Bergman, David Lynch, Jean-Luc Godard, Christopher Nolan, Dario
Argento, Fritz Lang, and so many others. And Walt Disney, while not
himself a director, was a brilliant filmmaker/visionary and likely my
biggest overall inspiration.
Your favourite movies?
So many, but perhaps the one film that exemplifies everything I love
about cinema is Sunset Boulevard. The
Empire Strikes Back, Sleeping Beauty, Vertigo,
Shining are all high on my list and have been
incredibly influential on my filmmaking and my desire to be a director.
I love everything from silent films like Metropolis and The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to more contemporary works
like Drive, Mother!,
A few more honorable mentions would be Phantom
of the Paradise, Black Narcissus, Dracula
Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Suspiria
A Space Odyssey, Psycho
(1960), the list goes on.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
I try to find something redeeming in every film. Knowing how hard it is
to make a good one, I give the bad ones the benefit of the doubt. But if
I had to choose, I strongly dislike Maleficent,
which took my favorite Disney character and went against everything she
represents. So I wasnít happy about that. I suppose a more recent, definitely controversial pick would be
I absolutely respect the artistry and think itís an incredibly well
crafted film that achieves its goal. Unfortunately its goal is to make
you feel absolutely awful, and it did. Thatís just not why I watch
films, so I didnít get much out of it except misery.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
website, social media, whatever else?
All my work can be found on the Black Box Films website:
Elodie is available on Prime Video at:
My personal social media is @DanZiggs on pretty much every platform.
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
Iíd just like to thank everyone who watched the film and expressed
their opinions, good or bad. Making any movie, especially on a low
budget, is extremely difficult and is the result of so many dedicated
people pouring their hearts into something bigger than any one of them.
Please seek out and support independent films. If you like what you see,
let the filmmakers know. Itís why we do what we do, and it means the
world to us to know that itís appreciated.
for the interview!