Your new movie Fresh
Hell - in a few words, what is it about?
the dog days of 2020, a year in which every hour brought a new horror, a
group of old friends stumble across a very different flavor of terror.
Thereís blood, thereís chuckles, itís very cool ;)
were your sources of inspiration when writing Fresh
Hell, and in what way does it mirror your experiences during the
in the summer of 2020, I cut off my own dick during a Zoom meeting so that
made it into the movie ... just kidding! We
were all going through it in 2020. Hell, we still are. It felt like the
seams of our world were bursting and so I put pen to paper to both escape
and to try and make sense of the senseless.
What can you tell us about Fresh
Hell's approach to the horror genre, and is this a genre at all
dear to you?
been into the macabre since I was a little kid. I started reading Stephen
King in the first grade and my love for horror ó that feeling of being
scared or shocked or grossed out ó has never gone away. For
this film, I took the template of a slasher film but then played around
with exploding that genre by the end.
The first roughly half of Fresh
Hell was, I presume, made via live video call - now how easy or
hard is it to make a movie that way, both from the director and the
actor's point of view?
a first time filmmaker, so I have nothing to compare it to. Iíll say it
was both easy and difficult. Easy in that it afforded us the opportunity
to actually make a film on a very limited budget. Difficult in that there
were technical hiccups. Any time an actor coughed or laughed, the Zoom
recording would jump over to them and we would lose the close up that we
needed. That was an awful thing to discover in the editing process.
Luckily, Matt Neal, co-director and editor, really worked some magic in
the editing room. (The editing room was his basement apartment and we
subsisted on a lot of Chicago beef and coffee while we tried to figure out
what the hell we were doing.)
Do talk about your over all
directorial approach to your story at hand!
battle is half won when you cast the right actors. And Matt took over
directing duties whenever I was on screen so I could focus on my
had a few vivid images in my mind for what I wanted certain things to look
like and relayed those to our very talented cinematographer, Brian Wiebe.
But I felt most of the movie should be raw, should feel real. Ultimately,
Iíd say the approach was a lot of prep and then just going for it on the
What can you
tell us about your co-director Matt Neal, and what was your collaboration
known Matt since we were 12. I adapted the Junior Mint episode of Seinfeld
for a school talent show and Matt was the best part of it. Over the years,
we became best friends. And I couldnít have done this without him. Not
only is he a great artist but heís a true chum who came into this crazy
process during the most stressful period of my life. He more than stepped
up to the plate as a co-director and editor, but he also bought me and my
wife groceries, made us dinner, took care of us.
You also appear in front of the camera in
Hell - so what can you tell us about your character, what did you
draw upon to bring him to life, and have you written him with yourself in
mind from the get-go?
I planned to stay behind the camera, but once I wrote a certain scene
featuring some truly grotesque body horror, I didnít feel I could in
good conscience ask another actor to do that. Especially as a first time
director. My wife (Christine Vrem-Ydstie, who plays Kara and produced the
movie) pretty hilariously said ďIím proud of you. The only person you
exploited was yourself.Ē Once
I knew Iíd play the role, I certainly wrote to my strengths. When it
came time to shoot, I was so wrapped up in pre-production logistics and
re-writes that I just didnít have the time Iíd typically spend to
prepare for the role. Luckily, Iíd played a charming psychopath on stage
the year before, so I borrowed from that. Used it as a short cut and a
launching pad for the Stranger.
Do talk about the rest of Fresh
Hell's cast, and why exactly these people?
was written for this cast. Theyíre all close personal friends or actors
Iíve worked with on stage whose work I admired. I go back 20 years with
some of them. I love them and I felt it was important that that love
translated to the screen. It was vital that these people felt like real
friends who go way back. They nailed it.
words about the shoot as such and the on-set atmosphere?
wonít lie. Pre-production was hellish. We didnít have enough time or
money or manpower. But you donít know what you donít know until you
dive in. It really felt like pulling off a heist. And I still canít
believe we pulled it off. Casting
a dream team, producing it with my wife (along with Caitlin Conklin, a
great stage manager Iíd worked with the year before), and bringing in my
best friend to co-direct and edit are the things that saved the day. That
said, there were still a lot of laughs on set.
you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Fresh
critical reception has been astounding. Film Threat said we were ďthe
cinematic equivalent of caviar.Ē What?!!! HorrorBuzz said itís
ďsharp, funny and scary.Ē And you gave us a great review here on
Search My Trash.
seen it at three film festivals now and my God, the response of those
audiences was beyond anything I could have dreamed of. Laughs and gasps
and applause. What a dream.
Any future projects you'd like to share?
got two screenplays ready to go. My hope is that this movie gives a bit of
credibility so we can do another with more money and someone elseís!
made you want to become an actor in the first place, and did you receive
any formal training on the subject?
I was five, I told my parents I wanted to make movies. I wasnít into
sports as a kid and my folks were great about that and found a community
theatre for me to take part in. I fell in love with the stage and never
looked back. I studied acting in undergrad and grad school and carved out
a nice, humble career on the stage. But
that love of cinema never went away. It just took the world shutting down
and not being able to do what I do for a living to finally push me into
saying, ďFuck it, Iím going to make a movie.Ē
As far as I know, Fresh
Hell is your first movie as writer, producer and director - so
what inspired this move behind the camera? And based on the experiences
with your movie, will you ever direct another movie again?
pandemic inspired it. I wasnít able to do what I love to do anymore. I
spent the first few months of the pandemic watching every movie on the
Sight and Sound criticís list that I hadnít seen and eating a lot of
weed gummies. Eventually, the sloth was too much for me so I locked myself
in a room and wrote. Iíd
written before in between acting gigs but never something that could be
said ďnever againĒ during the shoot. Now of course Iím addicted and
canít wait to make it happen again.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Fresh
Iím mostly a stage actor but Iíd been on a few sets. I play The Dude
in Dude Wipes commercials which are a total blast and what financed this
movie. Thank God for them. I played the villain in an episode of Chicago
PD. And I co-starred in a wonderful film made by my wife and Brian Wiebe (our
cinematographer). Itís called I am a Channel and just premiered at
Athens Film Festival. Hopefully youíll all be able to check that one out
Feeling lucky ?
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The links below
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How would you describe yourself as an
actor, and how as a director?
have no idea! Off kilter, maybe?
filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?
love Laura Dern. Meryl Streep and Daniel Day Lewis of course. Zendaya is
incredible. PT Anderson, Paul Schrader and Eric Andre are continual
sources of magic for me.
man, I could go on and on. Seeing a movie on the big screen really seals
the deal for me. 2001:
A Space Odyssey was one I just never got on the small screen. Seeing it a
few years ago in 70 mm thoughÖ damn, itís now my all time favorite. John
Carpenterís The Thing is maybe my favorite horror movie ó also after
seeing it on the big screen. Loved RoboCop as a kid but Mattís adoration
for that movie has rubbed off. Itís pretty masterful with razor sharp
satire and is just so much fun.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
made one now, I think itís a small miracle when a movie is thought up
and then made and then seen. Iíd have to think pretty hard to come up
with something that I absolutely deplored. Or be in a bitchier mood.
movie's website, social media, whatever else?
for the interview!
Thank you so much, Michael!