Your new movie Intrigue
- in a few words, what is it about?
is a comedy about two spies who have arranged a secret
meeting to make an exchange, diamonds for a high-tech weapon. But quickly,
we begin to gather that these two spies are not quite everything they are
trying to present themselves as. I could say more, but it might be worth
it for readers to just take a quick look at this 6-minute film:
is chock-full with espionage movie clichés - a genre at all dear to you?
And honestly, how much fun was it to play with all those genre mainstays?
Spy movies are a lot of fun, and I
definitely enjoy them. It's such a rich genre with broad appeal. It's also
a genre with a lot of clichés that are enjoyable to poke a little fun at.
Making such a short film like this means that there is very little time
for exposition. Because of this, I made the conscious choice to embrace a
lot of the spy movie clichés (exotic character names, suit for him, sexy
dress for her, accents, high-tech weapon, diamonds, so forth) as a
shorthand for dropping the audience right into the plot.
As a matter of fact, I am just
completing the writing of a book called Short Films 2.0: Getting
Noticed in the YouTube Age (which I hope to publish later this year).
In the book, I talk about how relying on deeply embedded concepts and
charter types within our global culture is one way new short films have
been able to become even shorter today and almost instantaneously drop the
audience right into the story. So this idea has been on my mind and was
something I specifically wanted to experiment with in writing Intrigue. It also serves the purpose of setting up the comedic
tone of the story, which is ultimately flipped on its head by the twist.
And of course, once the twist in the plot is revealed, the reason these
characters are relying so heavily on spy movie clichés becomes rather
sources of inspiration when writing Intrigue?
I'm a sucker for a really good romantic
comedy. So the second half of this movie is definitely influenced by the
romantic comedy genre. It is a humorous look at a couple trying to work
out the realities of being in a long-term relationship. In large part,
that's why the second half of the movie has a completely different look
than the first half. It's a bit of a genre hop.
And in that sense, I would say that
Kiyoshi Kurosawa's movie Doppelgänger is probably the other
strongest influence on this film outside of spy movies. It starts as a
genuinely creepy thriller and then morphs into a slapstick comedy. It's
talk about Intrigue's
special brand of comedy for a bit, and to what extent does it correspond
with your own sense of humour?
Well, the whole project came
about because I was sitting at my dining room table and the picture popped
into my head of someone taping a handgun to the underside of the table. It
was just a random thought. I often brainstorm ideas this way, but
generally stories don't come so naturally and quickly out of a single
picture. But I chuckled at the idea of someone haphazardly taping up a gun
under the table and had to ask myself, "why the hell would somebody
do that?" The stories just naturally then flowed out of my quick
funny explanation of why someone might do that and I wrote the first draft
right there on the spot in a matter of minutes. And in that sense it
really is born out of my sense of humor. I tend to write serious stories,
but I also joke around a lot and this is exactly the type of scenario:
switching genres abruptly in the middle of a movie and really having some
fun with audience expectations. Of course, most of my stories don't
ultimately lend themselves to these kinds of shenanigans as it would be a
violation of the audience's trust in me as a storyteller and would ruin
the whole experience I'm trying to create in those cases. But with Intrigue
I finally found the perfect story to pull this off.
So in that sense it really is an excuse for my silly sense the humor to
make it to the screen.
What can you tell us
about your directorial approach to your story at hand?
Knowing that I was going to switch
genres halfway through the film guided the kinds of conversations I had
with my cinematographer and editor, Trevor C. Duke. We wanted to give each
half of the film it’s own aesthetic that felt authentic to each genre. I
thought this might be a great project to experiment with multiple aspect
ratios. The first half of the film was shot in 2.35:1 Cinescope, which is
quite wide and often used in big action movies. We also kept the camera
either fluid or steady for the entire first half of the film and made sure
the lighting was moody. Finally, we color graded the footage in the first
half of the film to be very high contrast and very cold, mimicking the
look of many action and spy thriller movies. To do this, we emulated a
particular Kodak film stock and really pushed our lows into blues.
Once the genre flip happens, instantly three big changes happen to the
film’s aesthetic. First, the aspect ration suddenly becomes a more
standard 1.85:1 (almost 16:9). We also lit the scene a little more
naturally for the second half. Secondly, the color grading completely
changes (we drop the film stock emulation completely and go for a more
neutral color balance—which was a challenge with all the exceptionally
warm light that chandelier gave off). And finally, from that point
forward, the entire rest of the film was shot hand-held.
In essence, I wanted to allow the
audience to be part of the fantasy the two characters are crafting together.
But once that fantasy is abruptly shattered, I wanted the film to feel a
lot more real. I’m a big fan on selective hand-held shooting. I think it
is often overused in indie films, but if you dig through my films,
you’ll find I tend to have a lest one or two key moments in my stories
that are hand-held. I try to always be extremely deliberate with hand-held
shooting because it has a very different subconscious effect on the
talk about your cast, and why exactly these two?
a small project, I wanted to find people I trusted to run with the
characters and make them their own. I do a lot of cinematography work and
I have been the cinematographer on several project which Diana Porter has
been in. So I was already quite familiar with her acting. I had this
project on the back burner as I developed a much more complicated short
film called Parallel. So while I was working as the DP for a film
Diana was in, we got to talking about needing to work together sometime on
a project I directed. So I told her about Intrigue
and gave her the
script. She was instantly on board.
On a later project I was shooting for a director friend of mine, I met
Aaron Andrade. I was a big fan of his sense of humor and professionalism
as he had to deal with a lot of prosthetic make-up and other factors
on that particular project and still gave every take absolutely everything
he had. So I thought it would be fun to team Diana and Aaron up and make Intrigue. I knew I would need a very skilled cast because the whole
film takes place in one room and there are no other characters. Not only
that, but the actors have to switch so abruptly from one performance to
another, not to mention needing to appropriately be a little hammy with
the first half of the film, which is harder than it sounds.
We had one rehearsal and it was a blast! I knew right away my gut feeling
was right that these two would nail it. We spent time talking about the
characters and I asked them questions and let them run with creating the
backstory of how the characters got into this situation in the first
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
This film was shot in one night. I am a
big believer in thorough pre-production, so my producer/AD Kristina Stone
Kaiser and my DP and I had already been over the shot list and created a
schedule for the night (which we live tracked with Shot Lister on my
iPad). We shot in February in one of the worst winters to hit New England,
so the fact that my gaffer, Patric Hines, trudged through waist-deep snow
to set up the light outside that gave us the “moonlight” streaming
through the window the DP and I wanted is really a testament to the
guy’s dedication to the craft!
The atmosphere on the set was a lot of
fun. This is one reason I love planning ahead as much as possible. I feel
more relaxed, and as a result, the set just runs more smoothly. We have
the ability to enjoy ourselves as we shoot, joking around and still doing
very professional work all at the same time. This is also always helped by
the amazing food Kaiser provides on these projects. Can’t help but be in
a good mood when you’re so well fed. Nearly everyone on the crew had
worked on other Stories by the River (the company I produced this with)
projects, and so there’s a natural shorthand and familiarity there that
makes communication and quick work rather easy.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Intrigue
Well, so far, people are really responding positively
to Intrigue, which is exciting. It’s always satisfying to see the
film with an audience and hear the laughter. We also had a great Q&A
time following the film’s premiere and people were quite enthusiastic
about the film and expressed how pleasantly surprised by the twist they
I think one of the most fascinating things to me as a director is to hear
people talk about the film and hear them express how much they became
wrapped up in the story (which is always my ultimate goal). When I ask
people if they noticed the aesthetics of the film and how they change, the
vast majority don’t register this consciously on a first viewing. The
fact that they are so wrapped up in the story and so surprised by the
twist tells me we pulled off the aesthetics correctly as they should be
operating really on a subconscious level as people experience the film the
first time. In that sense, I feel like the film is proving to be a
successful filmmaking experiment for our team.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
I’ve got a big project called Unidentified I am currently hard at
work developing. It is both my first feature film and novel. On July 21st
I will be publishing the novel to Amazon Kindle. I am also currently
meeting with potential investors for the feature film. It is a
sci-fi/horror blend along the lines of many of the darker episodes of The
X-Files or movies like The Fourth Kind and Dark Skies.
It is about an FBI agent and a psychiatrist investigating a UFO abduction
case which the FBI agent believe is a dark ruse a kidnapper is using to
get away with murder. People can find out more about the project, where to
buy the novel, and keep up on the latest news by visiting the film’s
or check out the project’s Facebook page
Thanks for asking!
got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal
education on the subject?
What got me into filmmaking was
seeing the original Jurassic Park in theaters. I had always loved
movies. But seeing that film as a kid inspired a kind of awe of the
magical power of cinema to create such an immersive experience that can be
so wholly other from the rest of our daily lives that I knew I wanted to
tell stories through that medium. That love for the cinematic experience
expanded over time and even in my early teens I was drawn to movies like The
Shawshank Redemption, and later Contact.
What can you tell us about
your filmwork prior to Intrigue?
In 2012, I partnered with Dominic and
Kristina Stone Kaiser to create Stories by the River. It’s a non-profit
film production and distribution arm of The River South Center in Quincy,
Massachusetts. We’ve been producing several short films so far and we
are partnering in making the feature film I mentioned earlier, Unidentified.
So these past few years, I have done a lot of producing and
cinematography work with Stories by the River
as well as directing some
sci-fi short films, Playing with Ice and A Silent Universe,
which Stories by the River
produced and released.
Just prior to completing Intrigue, I
completed and released my most ambitious short film to date, Parallel.
It’s an 11-minute sci-fi romance with a much more lyrical style. It was
an incredibly challenging story to tell and was the longest
post-production process for any film I’ve ever directed due to the
amount of VFX, sound design, and color grading that went into the film. So
far, critical reception for the film has been absolutely amazing. The film
is available on-line thanks to Stories by the River
would you describe yourself as a director?
Oh boy … this
is tough. I tend towards stories that wrestle with life’s big questions.
Intrigue might be a bit of an outlier for me in that way, though I
do feel it is ultimately a film about the need for fun in relationships.
Given my philosophical bent (it was one of my two majors in college), I
generally find myself exploring science fiction in some capacity as I feel
it’s a genre that comes right out of the box readily equipped to ask big
philosophical questions about the meaning of life. I love watching and
creating deeply emotive films that elicit questions and thoughts too often
buried by our day-to-day existence.
As far as the actual discipline of director, I see myself as guide in the
collaborative process of making a film. I try to surround myself with
talented people and communicate my vision for a project and then hold the
whole thing loosely enough to allow for genuine creative collaboration
while keeping the story true to its original vision. In that sense, I hope
I am able to inspire people to do their best work, not demand it of them
like some petty dictator.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Terrence Malick is by far my favorite
director and his influence can been seen all over several of my films,
most notably A Silent Universe and Parallel. But I am also
broadly inspired by other filmmakers as well such as Martin Scorsese,
Clint Eastwood, David Fincher, Spike Jonze, Alfonzo Cuarón, and Alfred
Hitchcock. In particular in the last several years, I’ve been heavily
influenced by the work of horror director, Scott Derrickson.
Your favourite movies?
The Tree of Life, The
Shawhank Redemption, The Thin Red Line, Her, In the
Bedroom, Children of Men, Casablanca, Good Night, and
Good Luck, Wall-E, Blade Runner.
and of course, films you really deplore?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
You Got Served, Event Horizon, Oldboy,
Open Water, Left Behind: The Movie (that whole original trilogy is
straight-up deplorable), Django Unchained, Unidentified (a 2006 Christian
film I have to honestly say is the worst script I’ve ever seen put to
screen, and I sat through From Justin to Kelly).
movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?
My website is www.mikelwisler.com.
The website for Stories by the River
you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
really excited that Glen Hansard is putting out a new album. And I can’t
wait to see The Martian on opening night. I loved that novel!
for the interview!