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An Interview with Rufus Chaffee, Director of The Trouble with Uncle Max

by Mike Haberfelner

November 2016

Films directed by Rufus Chaffee on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie The Trouble with Uncle Max - in a few words, what is it about?


I like to say the movie is about murder, mayhem and peppermint stick ice cream. Plotwise it's about how Sonya and Joe think they have this perfect plan to kill her Uncle and run off with his money but the problem is that he just won't die. Beyond that, to me it's also about how different people leave their imprint on you. The line "Nothing's untraceable, there's always remnants" is kind of the theme of the film.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing The Trouble with Uncle Max? And honestly, is Uncle Max based on any of your own relatives?


The first draft was actually written in 2003 and it was inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock quote about how it's very difficult to kill somebody, messy business. I've always liked dark humor so I took that idea and twisted it around. The script went through a lot of changes before I realized my first draft was much better than any newer version so when I decided to film it I just stripped it back to its original vision and I think it was the right move. 

No Max isn't based on anybody I know but I'm sure we can all think of somebody we know that he reminds us of.


Which one of the characters in The Trouble with Uncle Max can you actually identify with the most?


When I write, all my characters are kind based of different versions of my own personality, I just explore it so I can usually identify with any of them at different times. However, Sonya has always been one of my all time favorite characters. The film follows her final commitment to becoming this manipulative, evil person and the way she is manipulative I enjoy a great deal. I think there's times we all wish we could give into being that person but because we have a moral code we don't so it's fun to get to explore that side even just in film.


You just have to talk about The Trouble with Uncle Max's own brand of irony for a bit!


The fun is always establishing characters, putting them in extreme circumstances and watching how they react. Elevating the tension and the desparation in all of them naturally creates conflict and there's always room for humor and the unexpected with that. The easy way out is to just introduce something new (a new character or new element) but to me that's a cop out, you first want to explore using everything you already have at your disposal because that's how you can surprise your audience. Vince Gilligan talked about using all the meat on the bone before you start looking to introduce something new and that's something I always try to remember.


What can you tell us about your overall approach to your story at hand?


I always try to check my ego and serve the story first, no matter where the idea comes from if it's a good idea I'll use it. You can have great visual elements, and cool effects and all sorts of fun stuff but if you don't have a great story with great performances people are going to lose interest. I can't tell you how many times I've been totally invested in an imperfect movie because the story and performances were strong and inversely, how many times I've lost interest in a beautiful movie because there was just no substance. Beyond that, I have to trust my instincts and make the movie I want to see and hopefully there are others that like the same types of movies as me.


Do talk about your cast, and why exactly these people?


Arianna Danae was my first and really only choice for Sonya. She has the same sarcastic dark humor as me and I knew she'd understand the character and she really gave an amazing performance. Nat Sylva came through the audition process and really anchors the film since he's kind of the normal one through everything. He also coordinated the stunts which was invaluable in keeping people safe and making it look real. Bill Taylor was recommended to me and I only had to see one tape of him to know he was perfect. He's actually a really nice, sweet guy which is quite a contrast to Uncle Max. Logan Lopez, who plays Phil, worked on another film I helped crew and he brought his own kind of campy take on the character which was just perfect. One of those moments that you have an idea in your head but somebody comes in with their own ideas which are way better than yours and you just let them do their thing and it makes you look good.


A few words about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The shoot went incredibly smoothly. We had a small cast and crew and I had a lot of my family help out as well as we shot at my parents' lake house. It really helped to create a fun atmosphere which I think translates onto screen. When you have good, talented people and you let them do their jobs it's hard not to have fun.


The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?


Currently the movie is available at Vimeo on demand -

We also have an agreement with Shorts TV so it will hopefully air on their DirecTV channel soon.


What can you tell us about the audience and critical reception of The Trouble with Uncle Max?


It's been overwhelmingly positive, which has been incredibly gratifying for me. This is a film that was very personal to me since I'd had it for so long and it just incorporates everything I've ever wanted to do with a film. To see it then be met with positive response is encouraging as an artist. It won Best Thriller recently at a film festival where a professional psychologist commented he couldn't believe how well I portrayed a sociopath seeing as he had been in the field for 30 years and was still learning new things. The reviews are all linked to the IMDb page.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


I'm currently putting together a feature which I hope to shoot in January. It has a very similar tone and feel as The Trouble with Uncle Max. I'm waiting to get the final go ahead in the upcoming week so fingers are crossed.


What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


I've never wanted to do anything else. I made my first movie when I was 8 and was always writing or making movies with my friends. I did get a Masters Degree from Emerson college which really helped me to fine tune my understanding of how to go about making a film as well as the business side of filmmaking. However, there is no greater training than just making films. Good films, bad films, just make films and learn.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Trouble with Uncle Max?


In terms of more professional films, I've made two micro budget feature films as well as a few short films and written quite a few scripts. My feature film The Muse is available on Amazon Prime and is much more a straight psychological thriller. It was quite invaluable to go through that process of taking a project from conception through completion so I'm hoping to be able to incorporate all that I've learned into my next project.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I would definitely describe myself as an collaborative director with a strong sense of story. The more good and creative people I can involve the better. Directing is about making decisions because everybody is always bringing ideas to you so I just try to make as many good decisions as I can because the goal is to create and then capture a moment on film and hope that energy translates. While I do have a lot of input and ideas, I'm not as strong on the technical aspects. It's why I have such a talented DP (Doug Gordon) and editor (Dave Borges) who I work so well with. So much of the lighting and look of the film was Doug and his team and then Dave brought countless ideas to post production. My strength is working with the actors, telling a great story and pacing so I focus on that.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Any filmmaker with vision inspires me. I saw incredibly inspiring films at the festival I attended because the filmmakers had such a clear vision of what they wanted to do and executed it despite budgetary or time restrictions. In terms of known filmmakers, the Coen Brothers are always pushing to do new and innovative things and their use of dark humor and tension always amazes me. Going to college in the 90's it's hard not to be influenced by Quentin Tarantino, and David Fincher never disappoints.


Your favourite movies?


I have very eclectic taste. My all time favorites are Fight Club, Braveheart, Heat, Blues Brothers, Out of Sight, Chinatown, Inception, Casablanca ... honestly I could probably go on and on. I'm always hoping to see that new film that blows me away and inspires me.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


Anything that lacks soul. A film that was put together only thinking about making money or to start a franchise and they forget about the core aspects that make a movie great: story and character.


Your/your film's website, Facebook, whatever else?


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Your shop for all things Thai

The Vimeo on demand page ( has all sorts of additional content like a behind the scenes slideshow and a Q&A video I put together. The IMDb page ( has links to reviews and cast and crew list.


Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?


Just that if you're reading this and thinking about making movies just get out there and make one. Grab a camera and a few friends and just start making movies. Learn as you go and have fun doing it.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD