Q1: How did you get into the world of film making?
I’m sort of the black sheep of a family of scientists and doctors. I grew up with a bit of a split personality, loving movies and science equally. But a career in the arts was hard for me to envision. So I studied computer science in college while doing a lot of theater acting on the side, then worked for several years as a video game designer. But I could never get rid of the lure of movies, so when I had an opportunity to leave my company I decided to take a chance on filmmaking, and I moved to Los Angeles to go to film school.
Q2: How did you come up with the idea of “1BR”?
As is often the case with me, it started with two different ideas crashing into each other. First, when I moved to L.A. in my early 20s, I lived in a building a lot like the one in the movie. I found the experience very isolating and creepy, and a little surreal. I was lost in this huge, anonymous city, longing for a sense of community while waving pleasantly to my neighbors on the breezeways and wondering who they really were on the other side of my walls. Meanwhile, I was also becoming fascinated with the history of cults in L.A.
When those two ideas came together in my head, it felt like rich terrain for a movie that might be able to get at the horrors that exist under the surface of the most mundane settings.
Q3: “1BR” was your first full length feature, How did you find the experience?
Intense and exhausting! I don’t know if there’s any film education as concentrated as making a low-budget feature. Pre-production was very hard, as we came face-to-face with all the limits we were facing, and I had to work really hard to scale things back to where we could afford to make the movie, while trying not to lose the most important core elements.
Production itself, as rushed and crazy as it was, felt like a relief compared to pre-production. I was so happy to be finally actually making this movie that had been in my head for years. Of course, we ran into plenty of disasters (so many that our producer, Alok Mishra, has written an entire article for MovieMaker Magazine about it). But we also had our share of miracles that kept the production afloat when it seemed like things were about to collapse.
Post-production was the opposite of production. It was so slow! We kept running out of money, which of course made everything grind to a halt. My wife and I also became parents right after we wrapped shooting, which slowed down editing even more. The upside of all this was that we got an uncommonly long time to work on the edit, and I think that helped make the final movie as strong as possible.
Q4: I thought the casting of the film was great, I’m curious as to how things were on set as it looks like everyone was enjoying making the film.
Thank you! We really did end up feeling like a family, going through this very difficult process together. If there’s a silver lining to doing such a low-budget feature, it’s that anybody who ends up working on it is definitely not in it for the money! Everyone had such a great attitude, and that started with Nicole Brydon Bloom, who plays Sarah. She’s just a brilliant actor, and a complete joy to work with, and I don’t know that we’d have even gotten through our schedule without her.
I was also able to cast my amazing friends Alan Blumenfeld and Earnestine Phillips, both of whom I’d acted with for years at a theater company in L.A. And since we didn’t have any money for extras, almost everyone you see in the background is someone either I or the producers knows. Both my parents are in the movie, as is my wife (who was eight months pregnant at the time).
Even the cast who didn’t know each other going in bonded very quickly, which is an experience I’ve had more in theater than film. It was just such an intense, stressful shoot, so it was a real saving grace to have this wonderful, generous cast at the center of it.
Q5: You took on a lot with the film you served as Director, Writer and Editor, how did you cope with it all?
It’s funny, that just felt natural to me. I’ve almost always written my own material, and have almost always edited my own movies as well. I actually find it easier to direct my own writing. There’s a certain command of a story that only the writer can have, and having that helps me communicate much better with the actors and key crew. It also gives me the confidence to adapt and make necessary changes as we shoot without fearing I’ll screw up some subtle story point.
As for editing, it might be my favorite part of the process and I love to get my hands on it. In this case I had the best of both worlds, as we had a terrific editor, Rich Fox, who did a lot of the heavy lifting getting the director’s cut in shape. He then had to go off to another show, and I took over the editing to get us to the final cut.
Q6: The film has gained a lot of positive reviews, were you expecting it to be so well received?
Not at all! Of course I always hope people will love anything I do, but after spending years on the script and nearly two years making the movie, with all the compromises we had to make and all the changes, I’d really lost perspective. I was just happy to have finished it. The response has just floored me. I’m so grateful to the festival programmers, critics, and fans who have championed this movie and helped get it out to the world.
Q7: Who were your favourite film makers growing up?
I grew up in an era when Steven Spielberg was pretty much synonymous with movies, and the first movie I deeply loved and watched over and over was Raiders of the Lost Ark. As I got a little older I got deeply into Stanley Kubrick, Joel and Ethan Coen, Akira Kurosawa, and Woody Allen.
Q8: Where you a Horror fan as a kid, if so what were your favourite Horror films?
Before I was old enough to watch actual horror movies, some of my most vivid movie memories are of the scary parts of non-horror movies. I was a bit too young when I first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, and had nightmares for weeks about melting faces and spiders and skeletons. I also saw 2001: A Space Odyssey at a very young age, and was utterly terrified by the ending sequence. I was completely unprepared for anything so bizarre and dreamlike.
When I got a little older, around junior high I think, I started reading Stephen King, and then in high school I got really into horror movies. The apex for me was The Shining, which I watched over and over. I also loved An American Werewolf In London and Pet Sematary, as well as goofier movies like Evil Dead 2 and Tremors.
Q9: What is your view on the Horror scene nowadays?
I think there’s never been a better time for horror than right now. It’s always been a genre that’s friendlier to low budgets and non-star-driven movies than others, and has also long been a way to tackle social problems and issues that would be hard to get at in other ways.
With the technological changes of the last ten or twenty years it’s become possible to make really first-rate movies with very high production value on a quite limited budget, and I think this has combined with the historical strengths of horror to create a real renaissance. Some of my favorite and smartest horror movies have come out within the last few years, including Get Out, It Follows, The Babadook, The Witch, and Saint Maud (which has had its release delayed due to Covid, but I saw it a film festival and it’s just so, so good).
Q10: Have you got anything exciting lined up?
I’m very excited about my next project, which I’m working on with the producers of 1BR. It’s very different, a science fiction film on a much bigger scale. The producers have forbidden me to say anything more about it, but it’s a script I’ve been working on for years and it’s very close to my heart. I’m completely thrilled to finally have a chance to make it.
Q11: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
The advice I always give anybody who wants to direct is: Learn to write. The best thing that ever happened to my directing career was when I stopped trying to be a director and decided to become a writer first. It made me a better director, and also put me in control of my own material. The only leverage anybody ever really has in this business is if they control a script that’s in demand.
If you’re already a writer, then all I can say is, keep at it! Ignore the screenwriting books and gurus; they’re all bullshit. Figure out what movies you’re dying to see but don’t exist, and write those. Watch lots of movies, read lots of books and lots of great (and terrible) screenplays.
And finally, if you find writing miserable and exhausting, you’re not doing anything wrong. You’re doing it right! I’ve always taken comfort in the fact that all the writers I know, including some truly great ones, find the actual writing process a kind of torture. That’s just the price of doing this job!
Q12: Do you have any last words for anyone reading this?
Thank you for reading my ramblings. And if you haven’t already checked out the movie, please do—we made it for you, and I hope you enjoy it!