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An Interview with Thomas Haley, Director and Star of Breakdown

by Mike Haberfelner

December 2020

Thomas Haley on (re)Search my Trash


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


It is a slowburn virus movie that has been described as a cross between I Am Legend and Contagion. A mysterious virus has wiped out much of the worlds population, with the remaining sick being corralled in quarantine zones, as one man, Tim Reynolds, fights to find a cure to save humanity, and himself.


Probably the most pressing question for many - with Breakdown being about a deadly virus while we're in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, was the film actually inspired by/made during the pandemic, or was it filmed earlier and the choice of topic just a coincidence?


Professionally I have been an Environmental Health & Safety consultant for 30 years. During the environmental journey I have had numerous pandemic training courses for H1N1, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, SARs, MRSA, and Anthrax. So when Dan and I were talking about this concept in 2014, the course of events were based on the training and hypotheticals… a sad parallel to today's new normal.


How did the project come into being in the first place, and what drew you to the story?


Dan Jagels and I had worked together on numerous short films, and we felt it was time to work on a feature length project together. We threw lots of ideas into the mix, and based on our fleshing out each idea Breakdown was born.


What can you tell us about Breakdown's writer Dan Jagels, and what was your collaboration like?


Dan is a dear friend, since our horror short film Thirteen, we just clicked and have worked together on several projects. We are both out for the same thing, a visually pleasing project with all of the best choices we can make in each situation, without compromising overall quality. His professionalism and knowledge make him a fantastic partner in any project.


With Breakdown being of the anti-utopian science fiction variety, is that a genre at all dear to you, and what can you tell us about your approach to the genre?


Yes I am a huge fan of the genre. Of course hordes of wastelanders or zombies would be a dream, but the “end of the world” theme is definitely something that was where I wanted to keep this film for sure.


Breakdown is limited to only a handful of sets - so what were your techniques for keeping things visually interesting within these restrictions?


We tried to take our time in each scene in pre-production and thoughts were how can we make this as interesting as possible. Camera angles and movement were chosen to really engage the audience.


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


For this project I really exhausted the pre-production period. The location was ours way in advance of shooting so testing thoughts and ideas in the field was a luxury we don’t get on many projects. I wanted a claustrophobic feeling in some of the scenes so the audience would be uncomfortable with our character as he struggled, but then offer moments where the audience could take a breath in a wider more open atmosphere.


You also play the lead in Breakdown - so what can you tell us about your character, and what did you draw upon to bring him to life?


Tim is an educated family man with some jack of all trades handyman attributes, much like my own life. I have known loss, and the script really resonated with me, so I spent time delving deeper into that world once I made specific character choices. I do this excercise where I read a scene and I lay on the floor with the lights off and watch the scene I just read play out on the ceiling, which I thought was really important since I was acting alone, or with a rat, or with a mannequin. I also would act in the mirror (so at least I has a scene partner) but it does make you feel borderline crazy.


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


The cast was AMAZING. Each one brought their “A” game to their character. Corey Sorenson played Gabriel and really embodied the mannequin, Brooklyn Haley as Kimberly was exactly what we needed her to be, sickly and optimistic. John Marrott and Jerry Broome as Cutter and Otis had wonderful chemistry and character development. The opening scene with scream queen Jessica Cameron [Jessica Cameron interview - click here] showed to be more horrific than when I first came up with it based on today's reality. 


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


The shoot was a fun one. We were shooting at a pace that was not too overwhelming as I had to act and direct. And our team was very supportive of the entire process.


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


Breakdown is a passion project and once it gets out there you always wonder if the audience will agree with your choices to make a slowburn style film and be entertained or not. So far audiences have been very receptive to the hard work we put into the film, which is amazing.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Oh yes there is amazing stuff right around the corner. Bearry, a romcom/slasher film, I star alongside Sarah French, Felissa Rose [Felissa Rose interview - click here] and Vernon Wells [Vernon Wells interview - click here], I produced this with director/producer Alex T. Hwang, due to be released early 2021. I star in Shelter an action/thriller that stars Jessica Cameron [Jessica Cameron interview - click here], Thomas Haley (me) and Michael Keeney. The film is written and directed by Alex T. Hwang and is set for a 1st quarter 2021 release. I direct and produce a werewolf creature feature Desert Moon that stars Sarah French, Jennifer Nangle [Jennifer Nangle interview - click here], Thomas Hakey (me) alongside Richard Grieco. Desert Moon is in post production right now looking towards 2nd or 3rd quarter release.


What got you into the filmworld in the first place, and did you recieve any formal training on the subject?


I have always loved film and stage productions. Back in grade school I had roles in a few musicals as I was in choir, but really wanted to act and loved to perform. I have been set safety for environmental for 25 years so in 2006 when I was asked to be on camera in a TLC project to play an environmental expert, I jumped at the chance. That was all it took, of course being on camera was harder than it looked, so after I was done filming that television show I looked for and enrolled in several acting classes. Once on some of my acting projects I discovered that I had stories I wanted to tell, so I attended workshops and seminars and started creating short films to learn the process. It has been a very fulfilling process, not always easy but always worth the effort.


When it comes to filmmaking, you've worn many hats on both sides of the camera - why is that, and what are some of the jobs you enjoy the most, which could you do without?


My passion is acting, I love it! But in the indie film community you must wear a lot of hats on every project. Sometimes you are hired to act as a character and in the rehearsal production says they are short a position and you fill that position. Other times you get hired just to work as a different position all together but because you like the filmmaker you help out. Either way all of the positions you must do the best you can for the benefit of the project. I enjoy directing and producing, the least… editing only because it takes so much time.


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Breakdown, in whatever position?


My favorite actually is my film Thirteen, A horror film based on a nightmare I had one night. The film was the first film where me and Dan Jagels worked together and boy was it a thrill ride. I learned so much on this project. We took a lot of time, worked many hours, lots of notes on revisions and score and the whole process. We set out to get this film screened at Screamfest and we succeeded. This film was also selected by Wes Craven to compete with 5 films for the inaugural Craven Award in 2014. That’s was such an honor.


Filmmakers, actors, whoever else who inspire you?


I love watching Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds, Harrison Ford, Dwayne Johnson, Danny Trejo, Dick Van Dyke, John Wayne [John Wayne in the 1930s - click here], Sean Connery and Al Pacino. And everything Robert Rodriguez and Steven C. Miller have directed are always a pleasure.


Your favourite movies?


That's always a tough one because all kinds of films and narrowing it down to a few isn’t easy, the list is huge.


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


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Facebook: @H2crewproductions


Instagram: @officialThomasHaley



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


I love chocolate!


Thanks for the interview!


© 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

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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
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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
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directed by
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written by
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