Your new movie Hunter -
in a few words, what is it about?
Well, without giving anything away, I’d say it’s about a homeless
ex-MMA fighter who goes up against a supernatural death cult. If
that sounds crazy - well, it is, a bit.
What were your sources of inspiration when writing Hunter,
and was any of what the character's going through based on personal
I haven’t actually taken on many supernatural death cults (only the
two, so far)... but really, I was interested in exploring why good,
capable people generally don’t act when they see something in the world
they know doesn’t look right. The doubt, the fear, the social isolation
that comes from making waves anywhere, those things were very familiar to
me, as I think they probably are too many people.
I also did study Krav Maga and BJJ for quite a few years, and fought in
(small, amateur, local) tournaments, and that certainly played a role in
how the premise developed.
Once the idea took hold, I did research - that’s the fun part about
writing, it gives me an excuse to do fun things like volunteer at a soup
kitchen for a couple months, for instance, to get a sense of the life of
the character I was creating.
being a vampire movie of sorts, is that a genre at all dear to you, and
what do you think makes yours stick out of the crowd?
Good question. Spoilers, by the way :) I am a big horror fan, and an
even bigger speculative and magical realism fan. Something that bothers me about most protagonists is that they usually
have no trouble accepting that the reality they thought they knew is
actually vastly different - we don’t get to see an adjustment period. I wanted Hunter to react to the shattering information that “monsters
are real” in a more nuanced, grounded, complicated way than the standard
“well then, it’s up to me and only me to destroy them” that you
usually get right off the bat. Getting to that point, if your hero ever
does, should be a journey in itself. The journey, really. The internal
battle is always the more interesting and important one.
did the project fall together in the first place?
We decided to see how little we could make it for, Rebel-Without-A-Crew
style, signed on our director, David, and started doing crowd-funding. In trying to drum up support, I was lucky enough to stumble through
mutual friends onto meeting Helen Caldwell, who runs Canal Pictures out of
Chicago. She thought it had more legs than a zero-money production, and
with her guidance and help, we managed to raise a decent indie budget. At the time, honestly, we really couldn’t believe it. Even now, I
still feel as though we got really, really lucky.
were the challenges of bringing Hunter
to the screen from a producer's point of view?
Well, there were a lot of pretty tricky technical elements. A lot of
the challenge came from balancing my role as producer with the intense
physical work and time demands of playing the lead.
We also shot outside in the cold, often overnight a lot. So cameras
would freeze, and we’d have to take breaks to warm them up. Our color guy has to scrub a lot of rolling shutter noise stuff because of
that. David, our director, fell and hurt his knee on some black ice, we had
a car of someone outside production slide out on ice and run over our
B-cam rig at one point. So, fun stuff there.
Post was a challenge too - we made an ambitious film, that I think
that’s reflected in the sense of scope of the final product. The
post-production crew was very small, however, and although they all worked
amazingly hard, getting things done quickly just wasn’t an option. We
didn’t have the coffers to hire enough people, so every aspect of post
became this Herculean ordeal that we had to beg, borrow and steal to get
done. Keeping everyone rallied around a consistent vision for close to two
years is tough under those circumstances.
you tell us about Hunter's
director David Tarleton, and what was your collaboration with him like?
David was the first person we signed on outside of Morgan and I and was
a stalwart advocate and ally from the beginning of the process - before we
had any money or had any idea how we were going to get it, we had David. I always found our collaboration really enjoyable. David did a great
job of realizing the story, and making it look better than I’d imagined.
He’s a bit free-form to his approach on set. There’s a shot list,
which is more of a guideline, or series of must-haves, but a lot of our
best stuff came out of being in the space and having him see something in
the atmosphere or texture, an angle he found while were in the thick of
So, producers - hire David. He’s good people, and an excellent
also play the lead in Hunter
- so did you write him with yourself in mind, and what did you draw upon
to bring him to life?
I did write it with an eye on playing it. My producing partners
weren’t always super sure about that - they actually made me screen test
to make sure I wasn’t terrible. Luckily, I was able to convince them.
In terms of drawing from life - we’ve all experienced loneliness,
despair, longing for connection, fear, righteous anger at some point in
life. At first, I was weirdly intimidated, playing something you write is
weirdly exposed and personal. But, like any part, it’s just a matter of
accessing those things and augmenting them to fit the scene and the story.
I did have the added benefit of having lived imaginatively with the
character for a long time while writing it before I got to play him, too.
The surprise, in a way, is that I found I still had to have a full process
an actor, like with any part, to get to where I needed to get to and feel
good about the performance.
What can you tell us about the
rest of Hunter's
cast, and as writer/producer, to what extent were you involved in the
Casting decisions were made by triumvirate, Morgan, David and I tried
to come to consensus on everything, then if we couldn’t, we’d vote. There wasn’t a lot of conflict over casting
though, most people we
knew as soon as they walked in the room. Like Rachel Cerda - she auditioned, and David and I looked at each other
like “Holy crap, we just found Danni,” after the first 10 seconds. She
steals the movie, in my opinion. Rachel’s a star.
We got lucky with an incredibly talented cast. Nick Searcy was really
fun to work with. Also, really very into pro wrestling. Spent 90% of his
time on set enthusiastically reliving WWE highlights with our fight
There's quite a bit of action in Hunter
- was that at all a challenge for you, and how did you prepare for the
I worked out a lot. Too much. I wanted to get back to my fighting
weight for shooting - 155lbs, and I’m right around 6 feet tall. I lost
about 20 pounds, working out 2 hours a day, 5 days a week for a good four
I already had the fight experience and the fight choreography
experience, but getting in the type of shape it takes to shoot fight scenes
for 11 hours straight is a different beast entirely.
And I did fight training every day. At least 100 round-houses on each
leg, and 100 boxing combos, every day.
What can you tell us about the shoot as
such, and the on-set atmosphere?
The atmosphere on set was blindingly cold, mostly. The joke was
“Hunter 2: Hunter takes Hawaii,” or, more often “who wrote this?”
In all seriousness, we had an awesome team of people. Chicagoans are
hard workers, first and foremost, and not afraid to go the extra mile to
get something done they believe in. So, other than the cold, I’d say we had a good time. It’s a fun
script, lots of really intense locations and fake blood. I was one of the
ones signing checks though, so I desperately hope that “we had a good
time” was as true for everyone else as it was for me. I believe it was.
The $64-question of
course, where can your movie be seen?
Google Play, PSN, Xbox live, Fandango Now, Redbox, is what we know so far.
We’re waiting on confirmation for a few retail outlets, and other large
streaming services, but as soon as we know for sure, those will be up on
our site and social media. So, go check it out!
Anything you can
tell us about audience and critical reception of Hunter?
So far, it’s been really very positive, and here’s hoping that
trend continues. We did pretty well in our festival run, couple “Best
Feature” nods, which is always nice.
It’s definitely a genre flick, you’re either going to be excited by
headline: “Homeless ex-MMA fighter takes on Supernatural Death Cult,”
or you won’t. But, if you’re the type that is, you’re going to love
future projects you'd like to share?
Well, my next writing project is a feature that starts with an
office-worker finding out his wife is pregnant by a coworker he hates and
ends with he and that coworker battling to the death in a Mad Max thunder
dome style arena in the midst of a perpetual drug rave/orgy. It’s called
Toxic, and it’s absolutely bonkers.
I have a high-fantasy series I’m developing as well, but Toxic
is the thing I’d self-produce next. And I wouldn’t play the lead, by
I always have a couple things cooking. When something emerges as a
front runner, that’s when I see if I have the resources available to get
What got you into
acting in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the
I started acting at 10 years old doing community theater with my dad.
He got me into it, really, and I’ve been hooked since. I’ve done 3
shows a year every year since then, at least. My dad actually has a cameo
in Hunter, he plays the property manager that rents
Luke the storage space (and he had to screen-test too!!). I went to school for theater and screenwriting at Northwestern, and now
that’s Hunter’s out, I’m considering an MFA somewhere.
What can you tell us about your filmwork prior
Honestly there really isn’t a lot of it. I’d done a couple small
parts in indies and webseries, but Hunter
was really jumping into the
deep end. I’d done really extensive stage work before that, but not a
lot of film. Since then, I’ve been one of the leads in another indie feature and
had a short I acted in go to SXSW, couple spots on series here and there. The experience has made me a better writer, too. Now I think
“well sure, but how much would this scene cost? Is this where we want to
spend our money?” Once you see firsthand how it all fits together, you
have better perspective when you’re crafting things from scratch.
prompted you to pick up writing with Hunter?
written before, especially in school - shorts, stuff like that. Honestly Hunter
was the first thing that I couldn’t get out of my head to the
point where it grew into a feature. I tried writing it as a short, but
there was more story there, it didn’t want to be shorter than 90
minutes. Who am I to argue?
would you describe yourself as an actor, and how as a writer? And do you
thing there are synergies between the two?
I’m going to answer this as best I can, although it’s hard to
assess yourself accurately, I think.
As an actor, I gravitate towards classical work. I’m obsessed with
Shakespeare, because I love the complexity and challenge of the language.
I’d love to combine that with film work sometime in the future. It’s
fun to take on dark, complicated characters and plumb the depths of your
soul, go places you don’t really ever go in everyday life.
As a writer, I tend to write deeply imbedded in genres. You’ll never
get a down-to-earth, quirky indie coming of age dramedy from me, because
that’s just not what my brain makes. Writing for me always involves a
bit of escapism, burying something true in a fantastical metaphor.
Hopefully those things play together well in Hunter. I think they did,
decently enough at least.
writers, whoever else who inspire you?
My wife inspires me. She’s the sunlight after my storm (and a
brilliant artist in her own right.)
As an actor, I hope I turn into someone like Cranston, or Mc Kellan, or
Pacino. Someone with an interesting face, known for playing the morally
and emotionally complicated roles, with a voice like ground glass and
distant thunder. Here’s hoping I can manage a career that’s half of
any one of theirs, too.
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Modern writers, there are too many to count. There’s so much amazing
episodic content right now, it’s hard to keep track. Jordan Peele is
really moving different forms forward. I’ve never seen something I’d
his that wasn’t just staggeringly smart.
I’m a dork, so ... Lord if the Rings, Nolan’s
Batman trilogy (well, the first 2), anything Alfonso Cuaron shoots is
brilliant, most things by Del Toro. In Bruges, too. McDonough’s great.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
a huge fan of the recent crop of DC
movies. But who is? A lot of the
modern spectacle-based cash grabs that get churned out make me sick to my
stomach. They’re just boring. You’d get as much from watching a strobe
light for an hour and a half and could have spent the multiple millions of
dollars they cost on something that does some kind of good in the world.
Thanks for the interview!