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An Interview with Usher Morgan, Director of Pickings

by Mike Haberfelner

September 2015

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Your upcoming movie Pickings - in a few words, what is it about?


When a short-tempered mobster and his gang of thugs try to shake down a neighborhood bar, they're confronted with the wrath of its owner - a mysterious mother with a dangerous past. She's willing to die to protect her children, protect her property and stand up to the biggest racket in town. It's the perfect "lioness protecting her cubs" kind of film and I think people are going to enjoy it.


What were your sources inspiration when writing Pickings?


The movie reads a little bit like Kill Bill, plot-wise, and a little bit like The Big Sleep dialogue-wise. These are movies that I grew up watching. There's a little bit of spaghetti western and a little bit of film noir in it, too. The whole film is a clash between two worlds (backwoods rednecks vs. Italian mobsters). I think that's what makes it original, the idea for a "gangsters vs. rednecks" film has been in my head for a while.


As far as I know, Pickings is the first feature you helm as a director after doing numerous shorts - so why exactly this story, and how did the project get off the ground actually?


I always thought my first feature film would be a Bonnie and Clyde type of film. I personally love those kind of wild crime movies where the characters are free and uninhibited and are not forced to conform to the laws of genre, they break it. Movies like Natural Born Killers, U Turn and Sin City are some of my all-time favorites. So while this isn't really a Bonnie and Clyde movie, it's just as much fun. It's a revenge film with a lot of twists and turns in a world where there are no rules, the character is a survivalist and there is no limit to how far she can go.


You make it a point that your movie has a strong female lead character - care to elaborate?


She's a real character, she doesn't jump up and down in ridiculous costumes trying and solve crime, she doesn't fight 50 people at once and shoot her way through an army of thugs - instead she's a real person. She has a very dangerous past that she's trying to put behind her, she's trying to put her life back together again after suffering through a horrible tragedy and just as it seems like things are starting to come around for her she is forced to face off against a new threat - a group of thugs are making her life a living hell, and when her children are exposed to mortal danger, she takes action and you learn about who she really is and where she comes from. The script is written like a puzzle that keeps unveiling with every step she takes.


What can you tell us about the action in your movie, and how will these scenes be achieved?


We're going the Robert Rodriguez route, meaning we're pulling a lot of DIY tricks to create the action, using technical skill to do things on the cheap but make them look expensive like we did in the trailer. We had a similar approach to the trailer (which you can watch online) and we've pulled it off for very little money. I took it as a filmmaking class of sorts, where I learned how to create effects by combining on-camera and post. I'm not a fan of using CGI if you don't absolutely have to, so there will be minimal CGI in this movie. 95% of the stuff you see in the trailer were produced on camera.


Do talk about the film's intended look and feel?


We're mixing two genres: film noir and spaghetti western. Two of my favorite genres actually. I've never seen anyone try that before, and I think it could be interesting. We shot the trailer with the Red Dragon and the film itself will be shot with the new Blackmagic Ursa Mini 4.6K camera on an anamorphic lens. Actually, since we're shooting in January, I think we might be the first to shoot a feature film with that camera since it's only being released in September, we have 3 months to test it and rehearse some of the shots with it. From the footage I've seen - it looks amazing!


Anything you can tell us about your film's projected cast yet?


Right now we have some really talented people attached and official casting is set to begin in October. The amazing Katie Vincent who did my previous short Prego and received 2 best actress awards for her role in the film will be in this movie as well, in addition to Taso Mikroulis and the talented Elyse Price and some of the folks you see in the trailer. The little girl you see in the trailer (Lily Brooks O'Briant) will most likely be in the film as well, she's very talented.

I tend to rehire a lot of people that I worked with in the past. You can check out the casting on IMDb or go to the website and maybe apply for a role yourself. You never know. We have a big cast. Casting starts October in New York City.


As far as I know, Pickings is still in its fundraising stages - so what can you tell us about your campaign?


We have $100,000 so far and we've decided to raise an additional 200K so that we can make this movie right and put it in theaters in 2016. We hope that people contribute and join in - we're giving away T-Shirts, early birds on DVD's and digital copies, in addition to IMDb producer credits and others. We're planning a physical fundraiser in NYC later in September as well.


We're shooting the movie either way, but we hope to have more money so we can include some of the bigger scenes. There's an unforgettable fight sequence that I really want to pull off and also, we want to try to get some real music from BMI and that tends to be on the expensive side. Post production is already financed by a post studio, so everything we raise will actually go towards principle photography.


Once the budget's in place, what's the schedule? And any idea when the film's going to be released yet, however tentatively?


The film is currently in pre-production, we already have a green light and principle photography is scheduled to begin on January 15th in New York City - the whole thing is going to take about 3 weeks to shoot. We're going to shoot some scenes in Mississippi as well.


Any future projects beyond Pickings?


I have like 15 scripts in my drawer just waiting to be made, so yeah - I have big plans. Hopefully people like my stuff so I can make them and keep making them, I've been writing Pickings for almost 2 years, and still rewriting every day today. I'm always writing something.  


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


I've always wanted to make movies, ever since I can remember. I don't have any "formal" training, but I do have lots of real world training and self-education. I read a lot of books on filmmaking and screenwriting, I took Dov Simens's 2 Day Film School courses and watch a lot of Film Riot. I also took acting classes and a private one on one coaching sessions to learn how to better communicate with actors, write better dialogue and direct a set more efficiently. Life is one big class if you pay attention, which I am. It's easy when you live in New York since there are a lot of resources. It feels like now is the best time for me to get into the business and start making movies on a consistent basis. I just hope that people like my stuff and that I can build an audience to survive the dive into "the industry".


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


I did a short noir film called Good Kids and more recently I directed a short comedy film called Prego, which is my first "serious" short film, it's won the Best Comedy Short award at the 2015 Manhattan Film Festival, Best Comedy Short Award at the 2015 Chain NYC Film Festival, 2 awards from the 2015 Indie Fest Film Festival and the Best Comedy award at the 2015 Trinity International Film Festival. It's currently doing the festival rounds and I'm using it as a platform to get people interested in Pickings. The process of doing the festival tour while working on a feature is actually really amazing, it's the best networking tool you can have.


I've written Prego with the help of Andy Cowan, one of the writers of Seinfeld, and I'm getting some really good feedback on it (it's really funny), once the festival round is over we'll probably put it up on YouTube for everyone to watch, possibly later this year.


From what I know, you actually started out in book publishing - so what can you tell us about that part of your career, and did this at all influence you later on?


I learned about stories and marketing. I learned that it's all about what's on paper and how you sell it. You can have the best cameras, the best crew, the best actors and still make a crummy movie that nobody wants to watch. If you have a good story on paper and you know how to sell it, you can make a kickass one-location-film and get people excited about it. It was also a great opportunity to get to meet people who are excited about stories and telling stories for a living. If anything I think my time in the publishing business fueled my drive to make movies even more.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I try to love everybody on set. I have as much respect for an intern as I do to my cinematographer and I want people there who really love working with one another. A movie set is a big family of people who all love cinema and want to create something amazing that they'll be proud of. I also love to collaborate, I can sit for hours and talk to my DP Louis Obioha about certain shots and certain camera moves, and since we both love the same movies, we sort of see eye-to-eye which helps a lot when we're on set.  


Filmmakers who inspire you?


Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson are my top 2 favorite directors and if you watch my stuff  you'll definitely see the inspiration, I've seen everything they did and actually created a shot-list for some of their films (it's a great exercise). But I also love Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Sergio Leone, the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson and Martin Scorsese. I can't get enough of them.


Your favourite movies?


That's a very hard list to compile, because I have so many the list could go on forever. But here are a few: Sin City, Pulp Fiction, Moonrise Kingdom, Tree of Life, Kill Bill, Inglourious Basterds, Lincoln, The Royal Tenenbaums, Midnight in Paris, The Big Sleep, The Artist, True Grit (2010), Kiss Me Deadly, Hugo, Amélie, There Will Be Blood, The Aviator, Sunset Boulevard, Natural Born Killers, Back to the Future and the Lord of the Rings-trilogy. More recently I think Birdman, The Drop, As I Lay Dying and Whiplash are near-perfect masterpieces.


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


Some failed genre parodies like Disaster Movie and Meet the Spartans, but overall I don't think there are movies that I really deplore. I have movies that I was really disappointed with. Movies like The Village, The Last Airbender and The Hobbit films for example, films that set high expectations and then you watch them and you leave the theater feeling like you've wasted $20 or grow to hate a director you used to love. That's never a good thing. I remember being half-depressed after watching The Hobbit and Grown Ups 2 in the theater. You walk away with the need to watch a good movie just to compensate for that experience.


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


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


Check out the Facebook page for information on casting, watch the trailer, share, etc. Regardless of how much money is raised using online platforms like IndieGoGo this movie is being made and we hope to release it to theaters in 2016.


Thanks for the interview!


Thank you!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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and shall not be held responsible for
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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