Your new movie Removed
- in a few words, what is it about?
In a few wordsÖ survival and being the
product of your environment. I hope that doesnít sound too pretentious!
Itís a story of a couple that want to go camping and they unfortunately
meet two brothers (?) that will pretty much hunt and eat anything. You
know, basic survival type stuff!
To what extent can
you actually identify with Removed's
protagonists, and have you ever been on a trip similar to theirs?
kind of wrote the film because of a bad camping experience. One summer I
really wanted to get out into the woods and be a little more adventurous
and not camp so close to the usual campgrounds. This would have been fine,
but I forgot to bring any alcohol. I quickly realized that when I normally
go camping I drink too much and just go to sleep completely unaware of the
noises of the forest around me. Well, I went to bed sober and got woken up
to a horrible animal sound in the night. Kind of like a deep grunting
snort type of noise. I realized this noise was coming from about 12 feet
outside of my tent! All I had with me was a tiny pocketknife and if I used
that to defend myself I would probably have just pissed off the animal and
made things worse! I kind of freaked out and luckily I wasnít so deep
into the woods that I had hiked in and my four wheel truck was about 30
feet away, so I just legged it to my truck and hid in it for the rest of
the night! I never saw what made the noise and I think that made it worse
because my mind created some horrible man eating beast. This story does
not make me sound macho in any way!
sources of inspiration when writing Removed?
I was very
inspired by a book I read years ago called The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.
I actually gave my copy of the book to the actor (Nikki Flinn) who played
the Frank character, (SPOILER ALERT!!) as Frank's gender was supposed to be
questionable. In fact, Nikki isnít in any of the early promotion
material because we wanted to keep it a secret that Frank turns out to be
a female. We wanted to make the audience believe it was a man for as long
as we could. I really like the idea of messing with peoples pre-conceived
thoughts of how people are ďsupposedĒ to behave, but your surroundings
have such a huge impact on how you turn out. That was always the big
concept behind the film. If a person was brought up a certain way, and the
way they act in a normal setting is wrong, is the way they act really and
truly ďwrongĒ? I donít think you can judge someone for trying to eat
people if thatís what they were brought up with. Man, I sound a little
scary right now! Iím a nice person really!!! Oh,
and I read a lot of How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford
Angier. Really interesting book with a lot of old school survival tips in
it. I might need some therapy.
talk about Removed's
approach to terror and suspense for a bit!
the film I tried to use the concept that scared me when I went camping.
Itís the ďthings that go bump in the nightĒ thing. Our minds usually
fill in the blanks when they are taken to a certain point with a story or
character. That stuff is usually more terrifying than actually showing.
Iíve always been more scared when Iím not shown something in a film.
With that being said, my original story outline was extremely graphic! My
feeling is you have to suggest something really bad or go all the way and
describe the details! With Removed
we realized that it would be much more
cost effective to just suggest things and let the viewer's warped mind fill
in the blanks. We did shoot one thing that was very graphic and we had
fake guts spilling out everywhere, but as soon as we shot it everyone knew
it didnít fit with the rest of the film. Lighting and sound had a big
part to play with that. My cinematographer Scott Ballard [Scott
Ballard interview - click here] totally
understood that and I think he had a great time with the challenge. Also,
Jordan Eusebio my sound designer, totally got it. In fact, his brain may
have been a little too tuned in!!! It was scary how quickly he nailed it.
Iím definitely going to go more graphic next time though.
is set in the deepest of the deep woods - so where was it actually filmed,
how did you find your location, and what were the advantages and also
challenges filming there?
wrote the story with the intention of not making it so impossible to shoot
and one of those parameters I put on myself was the location. The film was
shot on location on Mt. Hood Oregon because Mt. Hood was an hour's drive
from where I live in Portland OR. I basically put it out on Facebook that
I was looking for a cabin and a friend said to come check out her place.
That place didnít fit, but she mentioned another place that had been
pretty much abandoned since the owner passed away about a year earlier.
The place was perfect and we got in touch with the family that owned it.
The only stipulation to using it was that we cleaned the entire place out
when we were done! The woman who had lived there was on the verge of being
a hoarder sort of and we ended up renting about 3 dumpsters to cart all
the stuff away. The art director Tiffany Ayers had fun with what we found
though. There were a lot of animal bones and animal skins everywhere. She
took one of the skins and crafted a lampshade, which lights one of the
main locations in the film! Itís in a scene where the character Arvis
sits and eats candy while listening to the screams of people being
What can you tell us about
your overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
this was my first feature I was terrified of directing actors!!! I had
done a fair amount of cinematography (director of photography) work before
and that side of things I was pretty confident about. Any technical
questions I knew I could answer, but what the actors were going to ask me
was a different thing entirely. My approach was to know the characters and
where they had come from. Basically the back story. I figured if I knew
the story of how these characters had come to where they are then that
would determine what they were going to do. It sounds so obvious, but I
knew every little thing about the characters so when an actor asked a
question I already knew instinctively what that character would do. My
only regret is that I should have let the actors play a little more with
the characters, but I think that comes from me not knowing how to trust
and work with actors. I would definitely let actors have a little more fun
with the characters now. Iím a more trusting person nowÖ I think.
talk about Removed's
cast, and why exactly these people?
Well, I had worked with all the leads before in some way or another and I
trusted them. The only person I hadnít worked with before was Nikki
Flinn, and Dennis Fitzpatrick had recommended her. I trust Dennis a lot and
have a lot of respect for him because heís such a great actor and human
being. I originally tried to get an actor that was transgender or a
transsexual personÖ I am pretty old school and I may be using the wrong
terminology so I apologize for that if I offend anyoneÖ but it was
extremely hard to get in touch with anyone that might be interested. I
mentioned to Dennis this problem and he suggested Nikki might be into it
if I was willing to shift the story around a little. I also thought that
Dennis would know whom he could work well with as he had one fairly
intimate scene with whoever played Frank. Iím so glad Dennis recommended
Nikki because she is great! She was so into her character and asked so
many questions! She made me really think about the character of Frank. She
asked so many questions! As for Erin and Michael, well I had worked with
them both before and I immediately asked them. I had no doubt in my head
about those guys! Erin is great and she is hilarious and a huge smart ass!
Poor Michael got dragged around half naked and put up with so much, but he
was always so positive! He would be laughing and clowning around one
minute and the next be lying naked on a stump of wood with bugs crawling
into his ears. All those guys are great actors and wonderful people. They
all trusted me and I am forever greatful.
A few words about
the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
shoot was a lot of fun and we stayed up on Mt. Hood for all principle
photography for 16 days. I had planned on doing almost all of the b-roll
myself the following year. The atmosphere was so good when we were
shooting. I come from the director of photography side of things, so I
really tried to make sure all the crew had the time they needed to get
what they wanted. My producer Molly Preston also comes from the production
side of things and so it was an easy sell to give a lot of time for set
ups. We really tried to stick to block-light-rehearse-shoot and make the
most out of the time we had. I had worked with Scott Ballard [Scott
Ballard interview - click here] on features
and a couple of those he shot on real film. I really liked the work flow
for film because everybody was on their A game you know? Film really does
sound like money whirring through the camera! We didnít do any playback
because that just wastes time. When we were rolling my job was to sit
behind that monitor and watch the scene! If we got it I knew it because I
was doing my job. Also, I trusted everyone on that set and I knew they
were doing their job! Filmmaking is really a lot of trust. I love shooting
films with those guys. I canít wait to do another one!
$64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?
is in a weird stage right now. Iíve submitted to several film festivals,
but sometimes you wonít hear anything for months. Iíve also just
signed a contract with the distribution company Maxim Media Marketing, but
that is in the early stages and Iím not too sure how they want to
proceed. So, unfortunately itís in a little bit of limbo at this moment.
Crappy answer Iím sorry!
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Removed
at one festival so far. It got into the 44th Northwest
Filmmakers Festival this year and it was really well-received. In fact, we
did the final export of the film only about 4 weeks before the screening!
I submitted a rough cut with time code on it and no color grading and they
liked it. It was great to screen it in my hometown of Portland. I was
pretty nervous and I almost missed the screening because I was shooting a
short film for Scott Ballard! It was a lot of fun and an awesome feeling
having the audience react at the parts you want them to.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
hoping to shoot a short film in the next couple of months called Uber
Itís basically about an Uber driver. Heís a man. Could be funny? Uber
drivers fascinate me. They are a weird breed. Besides that, Iím going to
start writing another script. Iíve got a few ideas floating around, but
I just need to pick one! Thereís probably going to be more darkness in
the next feature. Iím not really one for light and happy films. Donít
get me wrong, I appreciate them, but Iím more of a Lars Von Trier kind
got you into making movies in the first place, and did you receive any
formal training on the subject?
used to film my buddies skating. I used to skate all the time and it was
definitely my lifestyle. I found I wanted to cut out all the shitty tricks
in the videos and just make it look like we were amazing skaters! That
kind of got me into manipulating what people see. I never took it serious
though until I wanted to go back to school and change my life. I didnít
think I could actually make a living with film and video until after a
term at the local community college where I noticed they had a video
production program. I signed up and that was that! Originally I signed up
to be a helicopter pilot, but there was too much math involved! Although,
I have shot out of a helicopter a couple timesÖ so thereís that!?
What can you tell us
about your filmwork prior to Removed?
Removed I had directed a bunch of music videos (still do) and a couple of
shorts. Iíve been the cinematographer for 3 feature films now (Death on
a Rock by Scott Ballard [Scott
Ballard interview - click here], Emily by Ryan Graves and The Brain That
Wouldnít Die by Derek Carl) and Iíve done lighting for quite a few
features. I really come from a lighting and camera background and thatís
how I pay my bills. I love lighting and cinematography and I donít see
myself ever giving that up, but writing and directing give you a different
sense of accomplishment. DoP work gives you a very technical sense of
accomplishment. I do love both positions though.
would you describe yourself as a director?
boy. This question should be aimed at someone that has worked with me as a
director. My producer and scripty Molly Preston would definitely say Iím
a real pain in the ass! I'm a DoPís director I think, but recently I
directed 3 music videos where my DoP had been my 1st AC and I
think I pissed him off because he knew I would be judging him every step
of the way. So, maybe Iím not a DoPís director! Sorry Steven Bishop. I
donít know, Iím very particular, but I know what Iím asking of the
cast and crew. I know how difficult something may be and I try to be very
accommodating. Iíve worked with some really awesome directors and the
common thing is they are rarely telling people what to do. Thatís a myth
that you have to tell people what to do as a director. A good director
gives everyone the right tools to do their best. I try and get the best
from my cast and crew. I try to have a very clear overall vision as well.
who inspire you?
filmmakers that inspire me? Lars Von Trier, Kubrick, Scorsese (older
classics not really newer stuff), Akira Kurosawa and Errol Morris. Love
Errol Morris stuff! His films are always a little off kilter and you never
know where itís going to end up. You think you do, but the story always
takes a twist. This may sound like a cop out, but after finishing my first
feature Iím now just impressed with anyone that finishes their film and
screens it!!! Although Von Trier is top.
Your favourite movies?
favorite movies would be Antichrist,
Enter the Void, Withnail and
Suspiria and There Will be Blood, but there are so many damn good films
out there! Iím really liking how series are being done now. Like
American Horror Story, Black Mirror and the crossover of genres like
Worm Wood. Everything is getting so much better and the classic lines of film
and TV are getting blurred now.
and of course, films you really deplore?
have to preface this with this is only my opinionÖ I really canít stand
Inherent Vice. I really wanted to like it, but I felt like the director
just turned up for a paycheck! I think itís obvious when there is lazy
filmmaking. You can just tell when someone creates something and you know
they didnít really try that hard. I donít like to talk shit about
anyoneís films, but if I had to pick a film that made me feel like I got
cheated out of something it would be that film. I can usually find
something in a film that I like so itís really difficult to find a film
that I deplore. Man, all the Inherent Vice fans are going to hate me now!
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
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The links below
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movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
You can follow
the film and a lot of what Iím up to at Facebook at
And on Instagram at
If you want to check out the trailer itís at
terrible at social media!!!
you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
one little thing I wanted to throw out there, we put in a little nod to
Kubrick in the film. Thereís a reference to room 237 somewhere in the
main cabin. I always like when filmmakers put stuff like that in their
films! Thatís all I have.
for the interview!
Michael! I just want to say thank you for giving me this opportunity
to talk about my film.