Your upcoming film My Friend Max - in a few words, what's it
going to be about?
My Friend Max
is a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale about an
misunderstood young girl, Thea, and the longstanding relationship she
shares with an imaginary friend, Max, after the death of her father at a
very young age. When Thea begins to develop a new relationship with
a classmate, she finds herself having less time for Max, and ultimately
must choose to grow up and move on to new experiences, or stay in the
comfort zone that she's known for most of her life. This is a sad
story about loss, finding yourself, and taking a leap of faith in hope of
finding something remarkable.
What were your inspirations for
writing My Friend Max, and was any of this actually based on
I've primarily made horror films in
the past, and have felt a lot of pressure from family members to make a
film that was a little more "nice". Of course, in doing
so, I had to incorporate a little bit of the supernatural into it, and
I've always been intrigued by imaginary friend stories. There is so
much to explore in the imagination of children, and there are no rules in
a child's creative mind, so the concept was one that I had thought about
for quite a while. Instead of it being horrific, I decided to make
it heart-wrenching and very relateable to everyone who's ever experienced
losing someone dearly close to your heart.
What can you tell us about your
writing partner Chuck Mittan, and what was your collaboration like?
met Chuck at the Snake Alley Festival of Film in Burlington, IA, where his
scripts had been selected as finalists in SNAFF's screenplay competition
year after year, and my films screening there at the same time. SNAFF
helped Chuck & I develop a mutual respect for each others work and I
pitched him the idea of "a cross between Drop Dead Fred, Stand By
Me, and Let The Right One In." Chuck loved the story idea and
was on board immediately. We took turns writing parts of the screenplay
through collaborative emails, and together we explored Thea's complicated
world and the people she shared it with. I can't say enough good
things about Chuck Mittan, the guy is an amazing storyteller, and really
brought out the best of my storytelling abilities as well. Nothing
but positives on my end, I hope to create more scripts with him in the
few words about the intended look and feel of your movie?
plan on visually capturing the feeling of hope as it emerges from the
storm of teenage emotions. We have a phenomenal cinematographer,
Peter Wigand, on board who's going to pull our audience back to a
childlike innocence and then slowly lead them back to adulthood over the
course of the film. I have some very direct visions for certain
scenes, but I also love allowing my DP's to flex their creative muscle
film will star Doug Jones - why him, and how did you get him even?
wouldn't want to work with Doug Jones? The guy is unlike any other
actor ever! His ability to demonstrate strong emotions through
physical movement is mesmerizing to me, I could watch him eat a sandwich
and be entertained.
got Doug involved through a mutual actor/producer named Steven Luke, who
had worked with Doug on a previous film called Dust Of War.
Steven has always been a big supporter of my films, and my young
lead actress, so he was happy to help connect us to Doug, who's loving and
playful performance in Dust Of War was exactly what we were looking for in Max.
Working with Doug is like a dream come true, especially for my
daughter who absolutely adores Abe Sapien!
My Friend Max
also stars Kaylynn Burgin, who's your daughter, right? Now
what can you tell us about her as an actress, and what are the special
challenges working with child actors?
is, indeed, my daughter. She got involved with acting after she
expressed disappointment at not being able to go to film festivals with
us, since the films I made were fairly graphic and not appropriate for
someone her age. So I wrote a short family-friendly horror script
called Bring Me A Dream & and cast her as the lead. She
took to acting like a duck to water, of course she's grown up around
actors & filmmaking most of her life so I think it was an easy
transition for her, and an exciting one for me to see happen. She
hasn't slowed down since then, doing 2 other films, and being cast in
multiple local plays. Working with Kaylynn has been great. She
works so incredibly hard to understand her characters, and loves to
analyze & dissect the reasons for their decisions in the script.
She's grown by leaps & bounds since she started, it really is
amazing. She recently won Best Actress at the Dark Scream Film
Festival in the United Kingdom for her performance in my film
think the biggest challenge in working with kids is getting them to trust
you and buy into aspects of the production that they are unsure of. Kaylynn
was very nervous about some practical effects that we used in Special, and even though she knew about them months ahead of
time, we had an extremely difficult time getting her to understand that it
was completely safe when it came time to shoot the scene. In the
end, you have to understand that children should not be subjected to
emotional pressure to do something they are not comfortable doing,
especially if it's something that they are passionate about. We
ended up using a stand-in for that shot, and everything worked out, but it
was frustrating at the time.
What can you tell
us about the rest of your key cast and crew, and why exactly these people?
rest of the cast is made up of local talents around Iowa, some I've worked
with in the past, and most that I have not. Madison R. Wells plays
Thea's Mom in the movie, and has had a lot of professional accomplishments
as an actress. We have another young actor, Cooper Pierce, who blew
us away in his audition, as the classmate who's starting a new friendship
with Thea. Lastly, we have Jim VonDolteren who plays Thea's child
psychologist, Dr. Stephens, and is desperately trying to get to the heart
of her relationship with Max. Casting was tough, but we
unequivocally got all the right people.
far as I know, My Friend Max
is still in its fundraising stages as
we speak - so what can you tell us about your fundraising efforts?
even though we have Doug Jones attached to our project, we are still
considered an "indie film" and don't have a lot of money to work
with. Obviously, with such a major Hollywood actor in your film,
you'd prefer to not cut corners, so
we're currently live on IndieGoGo trying to raise $15,000. We've
got a lot of cool perks available like copies of the script,
digital downloads of the finished film, My Friend Max
Doug's on-screen worn costume, and of course producer credits. Perks
start as low as $5 and go all the way up to $5,000. I'm not taking a
dime of the money myself, this is a labor of love for me, so if anyone
wants to be involved in a movie with Doug Jones, go here and help us out
with a donation, or by sharing it on social media:
your funds are raised, what's the schedule - and any idea when the movie
might be released onto the general public yet (however tentatively)?
shoot schedule is locked in for September, that's when Doug was able to
squeeze us in. We'll debut the film at a yet undetermined film
festival, and then hopefully play it around other festivals for about a
year before we put it online.
future projects you'd like to share?
I've got a few acting
roles lined up and then I plan on turning my attention to a sequel of my
film Special to answer the questions, "what happens
What got you into
filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on
I'm primarily an actor, but there were so few
productions in Iowa about 4 years ago that I got into directing because I
just wanted to keep working on something. Now that there are more
people in Iowa making movies again, I'm looking forward to getting back
into character myself. I've been professionally trained as an actor,
but I have not been to film school myself. Directing has been a
"learn as you go" adventure, and I've improved greatly, film
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to My Friend Max?
I've performed in multiple
movies as an actor, both non-paying indie films and well-paying studio
films, and directed 4 short films all of which were in the
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
I'm not an overbearing director who
has to have his hands on the camera the whole time, or who has to make
every minuscule decision. I believe in my crew, and their ability to
deliver. Making a film is all about teamwork. I try to surround
myself with capable & passionate people, if I do then it makes my job
directing easy. I don't believe myself to be any more important than any
crew member. I'm not the one making a movie, we all are.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Hitchcock, John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro.
Man, this list could go on forever, but a
few that come to mind right off the bat are Psycho, The Orphanage, The
Changeling, Escape From New York, Pan's Labyrinth & The Crow.
... and of course, films you really
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
Most remakes & Point Break, even though I
admire Kathryn Bigelow as a director.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, IndieGoGo,
Anything else you're dying to mention and
I have merely forgotten to ask?
also secured rights to use a hit song from Midnight Cinema (formerly
Thriving Ivory) in My Friend Max.
I just want to say how amazing my gorgeous wife, Jessica, is for
understanding the amount of time that has to be put into making a movie.
Without her tolerant support, I wouldn't be able to do what I do.
Thanks for the
Please, all the thanks are on my end. It's
an honor to speak with you.