Your movie 'Til Death -
in a few words, what is it about?
Hereís the logline: Four unhappy
husbands wake up to a gruesome surprise the morning after killing each
is funny and silly,
but itís also about something real Ė how we as men see relationships
when weíre at our most selfish, and the absurd things that need to
happen for us to learn our lesson about whatís good in our lives.
What were your inspirations when writing 'Til
basics of the story came to me during a conversation that mirrored the
opening scene of 'Til Death
Ė four guys sitting at a bar, trying to
figure out what it means to be married, and how to bridge the differences
between men and women. It just got more and more absurd, talking about the
lengths men will go to avoid seeing things from their partnersí
perspectives, until finally it came to murder. I had the idea that these
idiot husbands would form a murder pact, but screw it up and the wives
would come back, and things would continue as they were Ė only with
undead brides, forever. There lesson is no matter how hard they try,
itís not about changing their circumstances Ė itís about changing
themselves. And of course after I had that premise, I had the ending too.
Do talk about 'Til
Death's brand of comedy for a bit, and how much fun was it to
dream up all those macabre details?
Well, something interesting to me
is that we had avoided comedy up to the writing of 'Til Death, because
we respect it and wanted to be sure we did it right. Itís easy for indie
comedy Ė or really any comedy Ė to degenerate into silliness,
forgetting story and character. We didnít want to cop out to a string of
sight gags; itís OK for a movie to be funny, but we want it to still be
But we got writing it, and the further we got
into it, the more we had to face that fact that we were really creating a
comedy. Once we accepted that, we discovered the tone and things like the
wivesí deaths and the husbandsí experience of living with undead
partners came pretty easily. And yeah, that was an absolute blast. I still
laugh at the movie, and Iíve seen it Ė God, I donít know Ö Iíve
seen it a lot.
What can you tell us
about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
My approach is to really work the
story, then really work the script hard, then work the characters to
exhaustion Ö all before we get on set. Thatís where I think the energy
of a director is best invested, because if you do all that right, the
script and the characters sell the actors and engage them, which lets you
do less of that on set and more guiding the story.
Plus, youíre very clear on what
youíre making going in. I think thatís important because filmmaking
depends on momentum Ė especially indie, where itís volunteers and tiny
bits of money and very limited time. You have one shot at things, and the
clearer and more compelling you can be going in, the better chance you
have of hitting the target.
I will say one place I think I depart from some other directors is, I
think shorts are heavily dependent on structure, timing and precision.
Theyíre essentially the same structure as a well-written joke: pared
down to only whatís required, perfect intonation and a great payoff. So
I will give line reads and get into the inner workings of the
performances, because the path to the payoff in a short is very narrow. If
you wander from it, it might make for an interesting acting decision, but
it could distract from the overall audience experience.
few words about your key cast and crew, and why exactly these people?
I think this was the perfect team
for this short. I am so incredibly proud of them all. It starts with
Randall Greenland, who is a world-class screenwriter and really gifted in
character and comedy. He wrote a hilarious script that is also touching
and sweet. The actors are special in the same way Ė they connected with
the humanity and absurdity in the characters and brought them to
believable life. We needed that quality if this was going to work. The
makeup effects had to be perfect, and I think they are, thanks to Shane
Howard. The shooting and editing is great thanks to Joe Buscemi. The
lighting by Lynn Padetha makes it look like we spent ten times what we
The list goes on Ė everyone was hand picked for
their particular abilities, and I think it paid off.
talk about the shoot as such for a bit, and the on-set atmosphere!
We had a good time, but there
wasnít a lot of time for goofing off! We had 18 locations packed into
two days, so we had to run, run, run. It was very friendly, and we all
know each other well, which helps, but we were all very ďonĒ
throughout the shoot. It was do a setup, do the takes, haul ass to the
next setup. We had a second unit for one of the two days, just because we
had so much to shoot.
I think itís a testament to the team, from the
acting to the production, that the movie feels so polished when we were
often sprinting along the way. The actors really held up and delivered.
on to your most recent film I
Owe You - again, what is it about, and what were your inspirations
for dreaming it up?
Where I had the idea for 'Til
Death and Randall wrote it, Randall had the idea for what would become
Owe You. He wrote the first drafts, then we worked it like we do every
story, changed the structure some, played with character. But what he had
out of the gate was terrific Ė it is about duty and friendship, and
these normal people with the normal little betrayals in their lives that
add up, and in this case, spiral totally out of control in a night of
Again, it has Randallís signature dialogue,
smart and funny, and great characters. And I think the ending has some of
my style in it, the big reveal.
Death and I Owe You
were actually scripted by Randall Greenland - so what can you tell us
about him, and what's your collaboration usually like?
As I said, Randall is a
world-class talent who Iím incredibly fortunate to know. Itís a lucky
break for me that he moved from LA to Columbus a few years ago, and that
we shared a friend who got us together. Heís won major screenwriting
competitions and been nominated and awarded for his writing at fests.
Heís also one of my closest friends and a true confidant.
What I love is we complement each
otherís skills. I have more of a focus and maybe a little bit of a knack
for narrative, overarching story. Randall kills it with character and
dialogue (but of course he is great at story too). So how we usually work
is, we meet and talk and tangle on a premise and characters until we feel
good about them, then we work through an outline, and when we have it to a
place we believe in, Randall writes the script. Then we test the script
and tweak and revise until we feel good about that. Then itís production
Weíre both focused on audience and structure,
and that lets us keep each other honest. We can say, hmm, I donít think
thatís working Ė letís try something else. And itís not personal;
itís about making the best story we can.
made you decide to not direct I
Owe You, and what can you tell us about your director Mike
Death, I felt like I
had learned so much about directing, and I needed to make a conscious
decision to put myself in a position to keep learning. I love I
Owe You and wanted to direct it Ė bad. But I wanted even more to
watch someone I respect direct it, and think about what I would have done
differently, and whether it would have worked.
Mike is an extraordinary talent. Iíd watched his work for several years,
watched him win contests and do great stuff. I also knew he had a very
different style from mine. I was so happy when he agreed to direct, and it
was very, very fruitful for me to AD and observe him. He is responsible
for some of the best moments in the short, simply on the power of his
Not directing is one of the best decisions Iíve ever made. I will be a
far better director on the next short as a result. And I consider Mike
part of the family now Ė I hope weíll keep working together long into
As the writer and producer of I
Owe You, how much creative input did you have during the shoot,
and how much of an hands-on or hands-off producer have you been?
This was a blast to make for me
not just because I think the movie is good, but it was a very fun
separation of duties. When it came to the shoot, I trusted Torin to DP,
Mike to direct, and later Brant to edit, and so on. They are experts, and
I wanted them to have the real Hands
Off experience: youíre good at what
you do, so do it. When we were on set, it was Mikeís set, and I was
clear about that. His calls. His decisions. I was AD on-set, and producer
when issues arose. I didnít call shots. I didnít direct talent.
Still, it is an interesting
dynamic. Before any on-set roles, this is a Hands
Off production, and I am
the creative director. I guide and shape the films, story to casting to
production to marketing to fests. A ton of that happens before we ever get
on set, though, in the million iterations of the script, the exhausting
build-out of the characters, the casting and prep of the talent.
In the end, what we have is a great movie made by
a great team. Iím proud of that.
what can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
Three words: cold, tired Ö and
This was our most ambitious film yet in terms of
professional production. We shot on the Alexa, had a huge grip truck, had
our A+ gaffer back from LA to light it all, had a car rig, etc. That
unfortunately meant we had professional-length wait times between setups.
It was also March in Columbus, and we were shooting overnights. This was a
frigid, exhausting, tough shoot Ė but everyone was professional and
upbeat throughout. I just loved their commitment to the story and one
another. It was really a beautiful thing to watch, everyone trusting each
other and supporting each other.
of the cast of I Owe You
is made up of people you also used in 'Til
Death - so anything you want to add about any of them now?
Itís about building a community
and growing it with each movie. These are people I believe in and trust,
so there is some overlap in the cast and crew, but there are also a lot of
new people. We cast this anew and separate from 'Til
Death, and picked
the people who were most right for the roles in I
Owe You. Both casts are
phenomenal, and Iím sure Iíll work with them again.
Iím proud at Hands
Off that we work with new
people on every production, and theyíre often standouts. In 'Til
Death, Patrick Walters (the henpecked Peter) had never acted in film
before, and heís won awards for that performance. In I
Owe You, Johnny
DiLoretto had also never acted in film, and heís already been nominated
more than once and won best supporting actor for his role as Todd, the
wronged friend who returns one night with a vendetta. I asked Mike to
direct, and heís already won best direction twice. Between these movies
we made a comedy called Help Wanted, and Shane, our FX guy, stole the show
in an acting role.
$64-question of course, where can these films be seen?
As of today, I Owe You
Death are still on the fest circuit, so theyíre not available publicly
yet. But theyíre getting around to lots of places.
If people are interested, they can see our other
stuff, including our Cannes short Stones, and our sci-fi horror best short
winner Room 4C, at www.vimeo.com/handsoffproductions.
future projects you'd like to share?
Weíve had a lot of successes Ė
screened at Cannes, won festivals. But Iíve never been so excited about
a script as I am about our next one. Randall has absolutely outdone
himself. Itís a short with the working title A Way Out, and itís about
two criminal partners, one older and world-weary, and one younger and
ambitious. The older guy has decided to get out, and the younger guy is
secretly assigned to stop him, but they both have a secret the other
doesnít know about Ė and it all takes place over the course of one car
ride. Itís tense and has some big surprises.
Thatís what weíll shoot next, and I canít
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
Iíd been a fiction writer my whole life, and I
thought that was my calling. But in 2009, I saw an ad for a local
filmmaking contest. It inspired me; I tossed the fiction writing and put
together a team for the contest. The plan was I would write the script,
other friends would direct, shoot and edit.
Midway through our single-day shoot, our director
backed out and I had to take over, and the lights just turned on for me.
Itís cheesy, I know, but I genuinely had an awakening. I honestly
thought, this Ė this is what
Iím supposed to do. And I havenít looked back.
So no, I didnít go
to film school. But what Iíve been doing since is going to school in a
different way. Learning to run a camera. Learning to edit. Learning
screenplay structure and formatting. Learning what makes a great acting
performance. Going to dozens of fests to meet other filmmakers, watch
their stuff and learn from them. Iíve done hundreds of hours of finding
people who are good at things and listening to them.
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to 'Til Death?
the last five years, with excellent partners, Iíve written and directed
television commercials, brand videos, a short documentary, several winning
narrative shorts, a broadcast TV series and more. Iíve also been lucky
enough to help program film series and festival blocks. So Iíve had the
chance to see moving-picture-storytelling from every angle, and itís
been a hell of an education. Iíve loved every second.
would you describe yourself as a writer, as a producer and a director?
As a writer, I love stories of
redemption and of people in dire circumstances discovering there is
justice in the world. I love it when the hero is at her or his most alone,
and discovers there are others there to help. Just me exercising my own
fears and hopes about the world, really.
As a director, Iím focused on
the audience experience; I think thatís my number one job. I work hard
to make sure we have a story that will take people on an emotional
journey, surprise them and make them feel something Ė and that it
becomes a movie the cast and crew will be proud to be a part of.
As a producer, Iím the most determined person I know. I donít love
producing, but my perseverance is an advantage Ė I never give up. But
believe me, if I can find someone who really gets off on producing and is
as doggedly determined as I am, I will give up those responsibilities in a
To be honest about all of these, who knows? Iím
still figuring out what they all mean, and where I might have something to
contribute. I just love to create stories.
writers, whoever else who inspire you?
I grew up on genre. Fiction
writers that inspire me include King, Barker, Brooks, Keene, Hill,
Simmons. Filmmakers include Tarantino, Park Chan Wook, Carpenter, Craven.
My two indie heroes are Jason Eisener (Hobo with
a Shotgun) and Jason Trost (The FP, All Superheroes Must
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
True Romance, Let the Right One
In, The Ring, Goodfellas,
My favorites of the last year or so include the Maniac remake, Simon
Killer and Under the Skin.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Sinister made me really angry. I
mean, irrationally angry. I know thereís a camp that loved it. But I
thought it was pandering, and became nonsense at the end.
I also donít worship Joss Whedon
the way I know many people do, and I donít think The Cabin in the Woods
was worth the hubbub. Of course it was beautifully produced. But
storywise, it was meta, and I donít think being meta is clever.
Deconstruction is easy. Being irreverent is easy; irony is not brave. If
he really wanted to write a ďlove letter to
the genreĒ as he claimed, I think he would have written a great horror
movie, instead of making fun of the skeleton all horror movies are based
movies' website, Facebook, whatever else?
Weíd love to see and talk with
people at www.fb.com/handsoffproductions,
and our stuff can be watched at
Trailers for I Owe You and
Death are there too:
for the interview!