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An Interview with Sean Mannion, Director of Meme

by Mike Haberfelner

April 2019

Films directed by Sean Mannion on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Meme - in a few words, what is it about?

 

Meme is about Jennifer, an independent designer, who goes in search of the creator of a surreal mashup VHS tape but finds herself instead.

 

One of the key plot elements of Meme is collecting vintage VHS tapes - do you at all subscribe to that trend, and/or have you done any research on that subject?

 

I am not a VHS collector myself - though I amassed a bit of a collection when gathering props for the film. Part of the initial inspiration for the movie came from meeting VHS collectors in Brooklyn. A friend texted me a photo of a poster to an event called VHS Possessed being held by the Horror Boobs group at Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn. I went to that event and a few others they did, and it was a lot of fun and it was really cool to see this passion for videotape, which Iíd grown up with in the 90s and had assumed had pretty much all but died out after DVD. After I got some of the initial ideas for Meme, I talked to some people in and around the VHS collector community and I checked out the documentary Adjust Your Tracking, and that influenced how I represented that group.

 

Also, for the un-initiated, do explain what mash-up tapes are?

 

The mash-up tape is inspired by first the events I went to hosted by Horror Boobs but also mash-up videos on the internet. Itís not really something I observed much of outside of the Meme and other events I attended, and in context of Meme itís a bit more like a mash-up video you might find on YouTube. The idea in Meme is that it is a collection of clips from various original videos that were recombined on a new tape. Like a mixtape with only parts of the songs and on video.

 

(Other) sources of inspiration when writing Meme? And is any of the film autobiographical?

 

A little bit of everything I watched or read probably had an influence somewhere, and I slip in some specific references. Videodrome has influenced much of my filmmaking and thatís pretty prevalent as an influence throughout the film. Actually, the original outline for the film was based on an outline for a sequel to Videodrome, which Iíd written as just an exercise. David Lynch, particularly Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, definitely influenced the film. Other less direct influences from films include Savage Steve Hollandís Better Off Dead and the films of Ralph Bakshi, particularly Wizards and American Pop.

 

The film isnít really directly autobiographical. Some of it, like the main character using drinking as a crutch or the office scenes with the clients who are unable to actually approve something for fear that saying yes will be the wrong choice and just keeping a project running indefinitely, are inspired by my own experiences. The film is fundamentally about choosing to change and that is definitely autobiographical. There are a lot of ways in which the film is indirectly a representation of my own choice to walk away from my home in Alaska and the career Iíd been establishing and become a filmmaker in New York. The decision(s) came out of a lot of different feelings and events and finally giving myself permission to change, and that is definitely reflected in Jenniferís journey in the film.

 

To what extent could you actually identify with Meme's lead Jennifer? Or any of the movie's other characters for that matter?

 

One of the jokes I would make on set sometimes is theyíre all me. That is, all of the characters are just different parts of me, which I suspect is true of most storytellers. I identify with parts of all of them. Not always the best parts. I think for me Jennifer is definitely the one I feel the strongest connection to, because sheís always a little on the outside of things, which is a way I have felt many times in the past. People are doing things and there are groups and sheís there to witness whatís happening but often not a part of the group or the action. There are a lot of situations where she feels like an outsider or invader, and I think thatís me working some of my own feelings live that out.

 

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

 

This was an interesting experience, because we shot on weekends and whenever we could get people and gear together over an 11 month period, so I had a lot of time during production to think through a lot as a director, which was nice. As a director I know Iím also going to be the editor of the project so Iím approaching the film from that perspective. Iím thinking about how the pieces come together as weíre on set. I try to do as much as I can ahead of the actual shoot day. Consult with my director of photography about the shots and provide my cast with as specific notes as I can about the scenes.

 

Typically, ahead of the shoot day key cast get an email from me with extensive notes about what weíre shooting and their characterís place in that. For Meme in particular that was accompanied by scans of the script with my handwritten notes on them. Sometimes we would discuss my notes, sometimes the cast didnít have questions. On the day then I trust that the cast understands where Iím coming from in the scene and what Iím looking for and we discuss any final questions or concerns they have and then we shoot. If I need to modify something, I do that, but usually I donít need to do much.

 

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

 

Sarah Schoofs [Sarah Schoofs interview - click here] auditioned for the role of Jennifer early in the process when I was approaching the film differently. Jennifer wasnít actually the main character at the time, but I was having issues with the draft I was on and decided to try something radical to see if it would work and after meeting Sarah it seemed right to put her in the lead. I think it worked out well. I say audition but I donít have a typical process for it. I donít like having actors funnel into a room and read lines. That works for plenty of productions and Iíve done it before, but itís a lot and I donít feel like it tells me enough about a personís acting or if I want to work with them. So, instead of that, I review video reels or prior work and if I think someone who submitted might fit the role I invite them to interview over coffee. The interview and coffee is pretty much to see if I feel like I can be in the same room as this person for 8-12 hours on a shoot day. I know pretty quickly if I can do that or not. Sarah and I ended up chatting for around three hours when we first met, so I knew working together would be great.

 

Sarah and I repeated that process with multiple men for the role of Tommy. She joined me and we met with multiple people in an afternoon. Shivantha Wijesinha was among them and he was immediately a favorite. After Sarah and I had met with everyone that day we discussed it and Shivantha was the obvious best choice.

 

Kitty Ostapowicz was a similar process where we met and I liked her for the role of Carrie. She impressed partly because she was hit by a car while jogging the day before I asked her to meet and still got back to me promptly and just needed about a week before we could meet up. While some other actors had asked to push back our meeting because theyíd done a poor job of planning travel time, Kitty had been hit by a car and was still on top of things. She and I have since worked on multiple projects and she also served as an assistant producer for Meme.

 

The character of Lesley was written for Lauren A. Kennedy. Lauren and I had met on the set of Christina Raia's Kelsey: The Series and had shot a short, The Box, together. Lesley was just always Lauren in my head and Iím very glad she chose to join us.

 

I had a really hard time with casting Kyle. No one I was meeting with fit. Then, while helping our art director Nicole Solomon with one of her own productions I met Chaz H. Cleveland. He was there to play an extra in a protest scene and we got on well and I couldnít help thinking heíd be perfect for Kyle even though he had pretty much no acting experience. To my mind he just naturally embodied this warmth that I wanted for Kyle.

 

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

 

We shot a total of 22 days over an 11 month period. Seventeen days of principal photography. One day of pickup shots and Brooklyn exteriors. One day shooting the Wotan beer commercials. Three days shooting the film-within-the-film Beneath the Black Moon. Weíre a ďno-budgetĒ film which meant that everyone who was there was there really as a donation to the film. We had fun mostly, I think. There were times of stress and I certainly had my moments but everyone ultimately was putting a lot of themselves into the work and we strove to make it as easy and fun as we could.

 

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

 

For the short term, we are taking the film on a U.S. tour. You can learn more about where to see the film next at memethemovie.com/tour. By the end of the year it will be available to watch on digital streaming platforms. Keep an eye on memethemovie.com for more on that.

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Meme?

 

Meme is a bit of an odd movie and it doesnít work for everyone, which is fine by me. When it does work for people the reaction has been very positive. Thereís an enthusiasm for the film when people connect to it, which Iím really happy to see. People see their own experiences in Jennfierís journey. They have questions and theories. Itís been particularly interesting to talk to a few peopleólargely partners and spouses of cast and crewówho werenít involved directly in the film and have now seen it multiple times. Meme is designed to be watched more than once and Iím seeing how that is working in the enthusiasm of these viewers who are seeing it two or three times now with their significant other at our screenings.

 

Critically the reaction has largely been positive thus far. Again not everyone will like the movie, but those critics that have have had some very positive things to say about it and what spoke to them in the film.

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

Iím working on a handful of ideas for a next feature project. Weíll see where that goes. In the meantime, I co-wrote a short film with my business partner, Memeís art director, Nicole Solomon, a vampire short about the normalization of fascism weíre seeing following Trumpís election called Itís Normal, which we are currently submitting to festivals.

Also, there is whoisrubberducky.com

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?

 

I have always had an interest in film and I had considered film school right after college, but then fell into what I assumed was a safe career in software for a couple of years. When that career didnít prove all that safe and considering the deaths of a few people Iíd known who had gone much too early in life, I decided I needed to stop being afraid of going after what I really wanted because it might not be the ďsafeĒ choice and I signed up for the New York Film Academy and moved to New York to pursue film.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Meme?

 

Prior to Meme my work has been primarily shorts and web videos. There are a lot of the same themes throughout those. I worked out a lot of ideas in those shorts and learned a lot about the technical and artistic sides of making a film. I did a little bit of everything from shooting event coverage to documentary work to parody commercials and weird short films.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

I guess Iíd like to think Iím a director who has the full scope of his project in mind and chooses collaborators in front of and behind the camera who will make the project better and tries to let them do just that.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

I could probably fill up a book with a list of filmmakers who inspire me. Every time I list them I miss people. The aforementioned influences on Meme: David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Savage Steve Holland, and Ralph Bakshi are definitely inspirations. Others are Rachel Talalay, Nacho Vigalondo, Panos Cosmatos, Nicolas Roeg, Bob Fosse, John Boorman, and Ken Russell. Also, Boots Riley and Jordan Peeleís work has been really inspiring recently. Thatís just a few that are coming to my mind today. Tomorrow Iíd probably list a bunch of others Iím not thinking of in the moment.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

It all depends on my mood when you ask me really and what Iíve been thinking about recently. Iíll stick with some longtime favorites that I tend to return to because they inspire me or just for the joy they bring me: Videodrome, Scanners, Naked Lunch, The Fly, Heavy Metal, Zardoz, Lisztomania, American Pop, Heavy Traffic, Wizards, Walkabout, Mulholland Drive, Transformers: The Movie (1987), Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Office Space, Better Off Dead, Tank Girl, Superman: The Movie, Singing in the Rain, Wayneís World, The Re-Animator, From Beyond, A Nightmare On Elm Street, The Fifth Element, Nikita, and the first six Star Trek movies with the original series cast. I could probably go on. I wonít.

 

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

 

Eh, I donít know that thereís a lot of specific ones I really really deplore. I have been trying to get out of that mindset with films, because I donít think itís constructive for me to do that as a filmmaker.

 

There are films and filmmakers that arenít for me, though. Other people can have them but I donít need films by Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, or Michael Bay. I normally like Gaspar Noťís films but Climax wasnít for me (except the dance sequence at the beginning, that was great). I love horror but just random misogynistic gore fests donít interest me. I can watch a misogynistic gore fest as long as it feels like the filmmaker had something they were trying to say with it. Even if that thing was dumb or I donít agree with it. I also donít much care for mob movies or movies about assassins that arenít Nikita or Leon. I donít love Star Wars movies, which seems to be a serious offense to some.

 

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

 

Me: sean-mannion.com

I am @unclesean on Twitter and Instagram.

 

My company: 4milecircus.com

My company is @4milecircus on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

Meme: Memethemovie.com

Meme is @memethemovie on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

 

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

 

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Your shop for all things Thai

For any aspiring filmmakers or filmmakers considering going the ďno budgetĒ route I encourage them to check out my blog post series Making Meme on the filmís website, where I go pretty in depth on the process and ups and downs of making the film. Hopefully others can learn from our process. The series is still in progress and people can start reading it from the beginning here: http://www.memethemovie.com/category/making-meme/?orderby=date&order=ASC

Also, I am quite fond of roadside diners. I judge diners by how well they can make a bacon cheeseburger and the quality of their coffee.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thanks for having me!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
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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
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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner

 

Out now from
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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
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

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

out now on DVD