Your movie The
Phoenix Rises - in a few words, what is it about?
Phoenix Rises is a science FACTion film that centers on a group of
scientist who must band together with a secret branch of the US government (based on the actual
Phoenix Project) to help
develop countermeasures against a group of environmental terrorists.
did the project come together to begin with?
I was originally hired to DP a feature for Denny Wilkins
and after shooting one film... he decided he liked being behind a
desk better than being in the field. So he asked me if I would
like to direct one of his films. Itís a different process with
these guys than most indies, I suppose. Theyíre kind of like a
studio at first and basically gave me a packaged film to make. This was SkyHook. It came attached with full cast - with the
exception of Maxine (Allison Smith). So after SkyHook - he wrote a
sequel and asked me to direct that one. It was originally called Chemtrails,
but I felt the film wasnít quite Ďchemtrailcentricí
so we altered the title to The Phoenix Rises. The title is kind of a
personal reminder as much as it is the metaphor.
you tell us about your writer Denny Wilkins, and what was your
Working with Denny is great. Weíve now written three
films together in full collaboration. The first of those is
of Liberty. Heís a genius - so it's like having a free
research aid in all your writing. He knows so much about science from his background (former DOD guy) that he adds a ton. It also
helps that heís a tremendous science fiction fan.
How would you describe your
directorial approach to your story at hand?
I attended a very small film program at the University of
South Alabama, which isnít Ďknowní for film, so I assume
my approach is a wee bit different than tradition. I enjoy the process of
letting the actors perform the character without a ton of over-direction -
safe for blocking elements. Once we see how their
performance is, I really try to make it as collaborative a process as
is feasible to the serve the story. I think of the audience first then
go after my own wants. Because I was a DP first, I see things from
the lens perspective then begin to block the framing and
character around that--this in turn leads to some on-set rewrites
but I feel it makes for a better narrative. As a drummer I approach the process like making music. Sure drums alone can sound
cool, but to me they sound much better once you start adding
other instruments. On set we call it "jamming".
Of your cast
of key characters, who could you identify with the most?
I most click with a combo of persons - Tom and Bob - as
they were in The
Phoenix Rises my characters to write. Iím a huge
military fiction fan so it was nice to be able to pull in my own passion to
theirs, plus Iím a bit of a workaholic, which both men seem to
carry through in their characters.
what can you tell us about your key cast, and why exactly these people?
I was fortunate to find a great group of people locally
(here in Mobile, AL). Weíre like a family of sort - as we have
all shot 3 films together now.
talk about the actual shoot for a bit, and the on-set atmosphere!
I like a calm set, but Iím also super passionate so
there are times the intensity level rises beyond the calm. That said the
more films Iíve directed the less loud I have become. Film is
a team sport to me and it's important to know that everyone has a
duty to perform and has their own interpretations. By allowing
them the freedom to express themselves, within context of the
story, the viewer is able to experience a better motion picture. We
typically have a swear jar - that I fill up first - that we donate
to a charity. On The
Phoenix Rises and Sons
of Liberty it was towards the Wounded Warrior program. As far as the rest of set - itís fun. I mean weíre
here to do a job, but luckily the studios (MudBrick and
Frame29Films) allow us to be as creative as we want within fiscal
heroes of The Phoenix
Rises return in Sons
of Liberty - so what's that one about, and what made you revisit
the world of the earlier film?
of Liberty is a loose sequel in that if you have seen the other
films itís much more dense, but as a stand alone itís meant to
juxtapose the world of the scientist against the backdrop of the
soldier. Both feel a call for duty, but with completely different approaches.
of Liberty focuses on the forced relationship between
scientists and soldiers as they work together to stop a
micro nuclear device from being detonated inside the US by a
villain who blurs the line between terrorist and revolutionary.
The tagline of Sons
of Liberty is "One man's terrorist is another man's
patriot" - care to elaborate, also of course in relation to your
I grew up a child of the 80ís, meaning our villains in
cinema were very stereotypically defined. I mean look at GI Joe -
Cobra is Cobra, they really never seemed like they had an agenda
beyond "world control". In reality we all know that
there are always two sides for every story. By definition the Sons of Liberty
in US history are very much terrorists - in fact Iíd argue
that they started out as a violent organization that later realized more
could be accomplished through Ďprotestí rather than detonation.
I wanted to step away from the easy stereotypes and create a world
where the real villains are those pulling the strings from
behind the curtain. To me the desire for real political change is
rare, most of the time itís more about the self than the good of the
people and I think that AJ showcases that reality. Heíll claim heís
out for revolution, but in reality heís truly just hellbent on
revenge. AJ is funded by a group called the Ordo Mundi and their goal is
to change the political landscape of the world - itís an
homage to the theory of the NWO. I just wanted to ask the question,
"Whoís worse", the man building the bomb or the men offering
the means to do so.
I think we have covered all the protagonists of Sons
of Liberty above already, so what can you tell us about the
villainous (?) characters in this one, and the actors who play them?
of Liberty I really wanted to layer in the antagonists as
again I donít think we live in a black and white world anymore.
There is a hefty grey area. Tamer Hassan, who played AJ, came in with such force and understanding of his character that we
actually rewrote scenes to allow his character more time to unfold.
Heís a deeply conflicted character who has a passion for more
than just chaos.
Neil Dickson (Allister Salinger) was the perfect
actor for his character. He is such a charming man in real life - so allowing him the pilot seat of such a large organization
like the Ordo Mundi was great. It feels like heís just supposed
to be there.
Keith David is a tremendously amazing man. Nathan Reynolds has such a huge role in the film in conjunction
with delivery the Ďgoodsí to AJ and Rourke that we knew we
needed a veteran actor on our side. Along with Mark Sheppard and
Elyse Levesque, Keith has been on my wish list of actors to work
with for a very long time. Speaking of Elyse, she is such a
doll. I simply cannot imagine a better Rourke. We both agreed that
we wanted Rourke to be a slightly conflicted antagonist -
torn between her love of money and the harsh reality that is
the destructive power of a salted bomb.
of Liberty features a pretty amazing showdown - so how was that
one achieved, from conception to execution?
DP Kevin Duggin and I both agreed that if we wanted a
multi-layered shootout at the end that we HAD to make the
geography clear to the audience. So we spent a good bit of time
working with our tactical consultant, Dino Washington, in order to
make the movements, entries, and shootouts as solid as we
could. The trick of course to any action film is finding the line
between real and reel. We shot that sequence over a week - one sixth of
our entire production timeline - in order to get it right.
Jerrid Jones the sound designer was integral in order to make that
sequence work. Luckily, he works with me daily so he and I can also
jam on the notes, but his instincts really make the scenes
pop. I donít typically like to put my name all over a movie so I used a pseudonym for the editor (Ben Young). I had that sequence
written out with the cuts in mind, but still found new
ways to explore the scene in post.
$64-question of course, where are The
Phoenix Rises and Sons
of Liberty available from?
Phoenix Rises is available for rent and purchase on
Amazon, Vudu, Redbox, and almost every VOD network in the US. The guys and gals at
Acort/Midnight Releasing have been so
absolutely wonderful to work with. They really tend to the filmmakers needs, but gently steer them in the best
business direction. Overseas Iím not quite sure all of the
delivery vehicles, but I do know its out there. Sons
of Liberty was just
released at AFM in November so Iím not yet sure of full distro
Despite their scope,
Phoenix Rises and Sons
of Liberty were made on a relatively low budget - so how did that
influence your filmmaking, and would you have done anything differently
with considerably higher funds at your disposal?
Wow... good question. Yeah both films were made with a
pretty tight Dollar sign, but I think we did great with what we
had. I like to have some limitations as a filmmaker. It forces me to
always consider the shot, cut, cast, crew, and audience more. How do I cheat this explosion without cheating the audience. I find
itís best to lean on the expertise of your department heads. Necessity breeds invention.
If we had more money... I would have liked to pay the crew
a bit more. We didnít shoestring anyone, but I know that in a
value for value exchange, the production got a better deal. I would
also like more shooting time. Donít get me wrong we had a
crazy shooting ratio on Sons
of Liberty. Something like 12:1, but just a
couple of extra days would have been amazing. For The
Phoenix Rises... I would have added in two more big action set pieces. It would
have been great to have a Heat-style shoot-out in
the factory location.
Many key characters
of The Phoenix Rises
and Sons of Liberty
are actually introduced in Skyhook. So you obviously have to talk
about that movie for a bit, and was Skyhook ever designed to be the
launching pad of a series?
I believe that Denny always had a series in his head from
the birth of SkyHook. I wanted to make a TV/web series out of
it from day one, so I think it kind of was a launching pad.
Thereís not a ton of good science fiction on TV anymore and the
shows that were good got cancelled really early (Firefly, Dollhouse) or exhausted their narrative too quickly.
Is there a chance we'll see
more of the characters of Skyhook, The
Phoenix Rises and Sons
of Liberty, and any (other) future projects you'd like to share?
Iím not sure if weíll revisit the gang from Sons
of Liberty or The
Phoenix Rises again. It was nice to close it out, but we built such a large world
it would be fun to explore the Sons
of Liberty versus Ordo Mundi relationship. I recently finished a supernatural psychological thriller
I wrote and directed called Convergence. It stars Clayne Crawford (Rectify), Ethan Embry
(Once Upon a Time), and Mykelti
Williamson (Heat, Forrest Gump). Itís in post production
now and is easily the best film weíve made to date.
We are in preproduction on a steampunk epic called Aether. No cast yet as we just got greenlit about a month ago. I
am also producing three films. Hayride 2 is due out any day now, and
a World War Two psychological horror film codenamed Ubermensch with writer/director Horst Sarubin
make up the narratives. The other one is a documentary called Who are These
People? that focuses on the enconomic impact
of Close Encounters of the Third Kind had on the city of Mobile.
got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal
education on the subject?
It all started with Raiders of the Lost Ark. There was
something about telling a story that rich that drew me in as a kid.
In fact Iíd argue that many of my male archetypes are homages back to Indiana Jones - who I thought my Dad was as a kid. Iím
sure thereís some sort of psychological connection there. As
I mentioned, I attended college at a small commuter school
in Mobile, Alabama. There was no formal film program, but a
group of us banded together and started one. We found out that
the school had several Bolex H-16 REX cameras available in
their archives... so we snuck in and "rented" them.
Pretty soon the school found out and allowed us access. We built our community from there. I learned most of my film knowledge
by working. I was lucky enough to be introduced to a producer named Scott Lumpkin, who graciously took me under his wing
and began teaching me everything. It wasnít long before
I began working in the locations department... and the rest
What can you tell us about
your filmwork prior to Skyhook?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I started my career in filmmaking working as a PA on a low
budget action film called Sacrifice (with Michael Madsen).
From there I moved into locations and eventually into camera department. Thereís not a ton of work in Alabama circa
2004, so I began working for an advertising agency. I stayed in
that world until I lost my job in 2010. I moved from Columbia, MO
back to Mobile and linked up with Denny. Itís pretty boring
really, but every project I did was a brilliant education into
filmmaking--and thatís what itís all about. Every job I learned a new
tool. Now I can pull those tools out on a film and know exactly what I
need from them and if I donít know... I get to learn. Itís
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Obsession. I become obsessed with every project I
currently am working on until it is delivered. Iíve just learned over
the years to hire way smarter so you can worry less on the small stuff
and focus on the overall narrative. Every movie gets easier in
some function or another. Challenges now appeal to me more than ever.
Filmmakers who inspire
Hitchcock, Antoine Fuqua, Paul Greengrass, Alfonso Curon, Peter Berg, Spielberg,
John Ford, and oddly... Peter Greenaway
Your favourite movies?
Children of Men, Gravity, Spielberg before War of the Worlds, Rope, North by Northwest,
The Shining, Star Wars, anything by Joss Whedon, Oceans 11, Un Chien Andalou.
Every film in some way inspires me...
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
There are not a ton of films Iím not into. Sometimes for
me it's more that the hype is bigger than the film itself. Like Drive. Decent
film... but to me not the end all be all that it was
described to me. I loathe Contact, Green Lantern, and Dracula:
Dead and Loving It. Lastly... Iím not a fan of Man of Steel, but that's because I nitpicked it.
website(s), Facebook, whatever else?
Earlier films and my production company can be found at http://www.frame29films.com
for the interview!