Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Laytonsville and Gaithersburg, Maryland, and the Gaithersburg area is where I currently reside with my wife. This is where I first picked up a camera when I was 6 years old, and I feel very fortunate to be from here.
How were the Arts introduced to you and at what age?
It was really important to my parents to introduce my sister and I to the arts, culture, and science when we must have been around 3 or 4 at the oldest. I grew up loving stories and drawing. We would go to the library, concerts, the theater parks, movies, and watch tv together. We didn’t have a lot of money when we were little, so the free museums in D.C. were very accessible, as well as museums in Baltimore and local areas.
Do you remember what your first movie experience was?
The first movie experience I remember that really mesmerized me was seeing the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie on tv when I was about 4. Even just the opening credits and John Williams’ score seemed so magical to me, and I knew I wanted to tell stories to help people. I don’t think I knew just yet I wanted to be a filmmaker, but that certainly changed when I saw a highly censored version of Jaws when I was 6.
How did your career as a Filmmaker begin?
When I saw Jaws when I was 6, that movie demonstrated for me the power of film. I saw new techniques, powerful themes, amazing cinematography, and began to understand the significance of directing for the first time. I asked my parents if I could borrow the home video camera, and quickly got to work teaching myself techniques and even trying to re-create shots from the movie. When we would go to the Baltimore Aquarium, I would bring my camera and film the sharks for hours and hours for my movies, and of course to appreciate and understand them. A couple of years later, when I think I was still somewhat shy about making my own movies, I accidentally showed one of my movies to my classmates for the first time. I brought in a VHS tape on a rainy day for recess to show my classmates a funny claymation tv show I loved, but I didn’t realize that same VHS tape had one of my own movies on it before the show. I was so embarrassed and tried to stop the tape, but my classmates were really encouraging and said, “No wait, let it play! This is is really cool!” So, I let the tape play, and they cheered me on, and I think they even applauded. That was the first time I feel like I had an audience outside of my family, and then I knew, “Ok, I know I can do this, but now I know it can click with people!” In high school, I would make my own movies outside of course work and show them to the entire school and show them in the auditorium. In college, I also kept making my own films both for school projects as well as outside of course work.
Did you have formal training?
I did by the time I was in high school. There wasn’t any kind of film class until I was a sophomore at Gaithersburg High School. I had incredible teachers who had a philosophy I still carry with me to this day, which is that film is a uniting art form. After I took the film class, it wasn’t available the next year, but my teacher also taught an English Speakers of Other Languages class, and wanted to use film production and film appreciation as a means of teaching them. I became a Teacher’s Apprentice in 11th grade, and it was my duty to help my peers who spoke English as a second language to make their own films. It was incredible. When I graduated high school in 2006, I began attending Towson University just outside Baltimore to study Electronic Media and Film. It was really important to me to be part of a blossoming film program at a school in my home state. I stayed in Maryland for a few years after graduating from Towson in May 2010, then moved to Los Angeles in 2012 for about a year. While I was living in Los Angeles, I went back to school to UCLA Extension to study Directing. I came back to Maryland and began my Master of Fine Arts program in Film and Electronic Media at American University in Washington, D.C. in Spring 2015, graduating in May 2018. Bummer was actually made in part as my thesis film from American University.
Did you have a support system when embarking on your creative journey?
I did and still do, which I feel very lucky for, and wish everyone could have that. My family, friends, and community have always been there for me, even when sometimes I feel lost about what my next step should be.
Who is someone you look up to in the industry that you would like to work with?
I really look up to Steven Spielberg and would like to work with him, or his production company Amblin someday. Sometimes when I’m feeling my best or even my worst about filmmaking, I’ll look up articles and interviews with him regarding advice or guidance for what he had gone through in similar times. Of course, it’s really important to me to be my own person and be my own filmmaker, but hearing his perspective on my work, or even getting the opportunity to collaborate on something together would be an absolute dream come true. I also would love to work with someone like George Lucas, and I bet we would actually agree on a lot and have similar sensibilities. In fact, if my ultimate dream can come true, just as Spielberg has grown Amblin, or George Lucas grew Lucasfilm, including the creation of Skywalker Ranch, I dream to keep building my company Limitless Films in a direction similar to what those filmmakers did.
Tell us about your company LIMITLESS FILMS. When did you create it and what is your goal with the company?
I created Limitless Films, LLC in 2010, just a couple of months after I graduated from Towson University. It’s funny because although I don’t need my own company to make my films, owning a company even on a small scale has helped with aspects of production and distribution. It was a dream I had since I was in high school, and I even came up with the name for it back then. I hope to continue making films with it and continue growing it as a company. Making my first feature film through the company is one of my next big steps I’m getting ready for.
In your latest short film – BUMMER – you wear the hats of Writer/Director/Editor – as well as doing music for the film and a voiceover. How did this story evolve for you as the Writer?
As the writer, there were actually many drafts, and the original approach was different in some ways than the final script. Originally, it was about a larger family of different generations with all their different perspectives on the approaching asteroid. I won’t spoil the ending, but even how I approached the ending changed. Originally, the ending was going to be how it is in the movie, but there were drafts in between where I tried different approaches. I decided to stick with the original plan for the ending because I felt it was too important.
The message in the film is powerful. Does that come from somewhere personal for you?
Thank you! Absolutely. I had lost several family members and friends very suddenly around that time and was trying to deal with it. As I do with many things I’m going through, I thought it best to deal with themes of loss and life through making a film about it. I’m sure many people have gone through those same feelings, so I hope it connects with people.
How is being an Actor in your film different for you when Directing? Any tips for Directing oneself?
A balance that I feel is really important when I’m directing myself is to show the same care that I would as any other actor. That means not being too hard on myself if I’m not delivering the performance that I need to. Being a director, you have the whole scope of the film in your head. As an actor, you literally have a part in moving that scope forward. A lot of my actors and acting colleagues appreciate that I know what it’s like to be an actor, same with cinematographers and other roles, because then I can speak their language. I know what is possible, and even how to push it further. And even if I don’t, I trust that they do. Trust and faith I think are cornerstones of leadership, and empowering your team to bring out the best of their talents.
How many films have you Directed thus far and which one has impacted you the most as an Artist?
Bummer is my eighth short film, and I’m working my way up to my first feature soon. Each one is special to me, but will I will say is that The Infinitely Generous Francis Victus was the first of my films to be accepted into film festivals as far away as India. Growing in the Gaithersburg and Laytonsville area, places like that seemed like the other side of the planet, but nonetheless I had hoped one day my films could reach places like that and connect with people there, and vice versa. Culture and film have a symbiotic relationship in my opinion, and that film helped me have a new understanding of that.
So many Indie Filmmakers BIGGEST hurdle in getting their film made is financing. How do you go about raising money to make your films?
I don’t like the idea of letting budgets get in the way of me making the films I believed in. Luckily my movies so far have been very low budget endeavors, paying essentially out of pocket if the time comes for items like meals, permits, etc., but I’ve always tried to make the most of what I have. That’s my mentality as a filmmaker, as a person, and even part of the theme of Bummer. In the future, though, I want to keep my options open and be open to new avenues for raising money, including collaborating with producers and major studios. If that were to happen, they would see that now I have an entire body of work that can give a good idea of my sensibilities, what I’m all about, and may be where I’m going. My colleagues are encouraging me to try crowd funding in the near future, especially since they have had such immense successes with that approach for their own films, so I’m considering that. Currently I’m selling one of my movies for the first time as Bummer is currently on Vimeo on Demand. I might window it onto other platforms in the future, but we will see since this is all new territory for me, and I hope that if this venture is successful, then part of that income could help recover from Bummer as well as being put toward future films.
How did you go about casting and where do you find your pool of talent?
I try to find talent in all kinds of ways, including references from other actors, directors, or producers. I had heard of Marili Mejias and Hope Perry through the work of my colleagues at American University, although Marili I’ve see on television a few times! Hope has been in television as well, so getting to work with them both was tremendous. In fact, I was on a production with Marili and got to see her work in person. She was playing a character with a thick accent, but when the take was over and she came out of character, she dropped the accent, and I was blown away! I thought about how lucky it would be if I could work with her one day, and little did I know that I would be just a few months later on Bummer!
What film created your biggest obstacle in shooting?
I used to think the biggest obstacle I had shooting was the first day of filming Sponge in Denton, Texas in 2014. That’s because right after we shot a few scenes, the entire town’s tornado sirens started blaring and everyone was screaming and running indoors. My cinematographer pointed to the sky and said, “There it is”, and we saw a funnel forming. We took shelter, and a couple of hours later it passed. We safely got back to filming, and we had to film the opening shot. We found an incredible but humbling landscape for the opening shot. It was of a lake with a beautiful but haunting red sky above it with ominous dark clouds. We got the shot, and if you see Sponge and you see the opening, the darkness of those clouds in the red sky is the tornado passing several miles away. Now, though, the first day of filming Bummer is giving that Sponge story a run for its money because of how cold it was the first day of filming. Spring was supposed to be right around the corner, but the wind was picking up that day and the temperature dropped as we were filming. I had an incredible team who continued to help make the film despite that. The tornado story is probably worse, but I always try to think of Spielberg and his shark not working for Jaws, or any of Lucas’ issues filming Star Wars, and that they still made some of the greatest films I think that have ever been made.
Do you scout your own locations?
I do, and if I remember right, I actually stumbled onto the location for Bummer by accident. I was driving around Laytonsville and other parts of Montgomery County where I grew up, specifically looking for somewhere rural. Since it was going to be winter time, I wanted to find somewhere that almost had a barren look to it. I saw a road I had never noticed before, thought I’d trek down it, and it was beyond perfect! The permit process was really easy, and I’ve often worked with the same people in this area for nearly ten years to acquire permits and permission to film in certain areas. Even the folks at City Hall know me by now because of my movies!
What is your process as the Director of a Film working with your Actors? Do you have a rehearsal process?
I’m really lucky and sometimes on my films when we don’t have time for rehearsals, the actors are good to go anyway. In this instance, we were fortunate on Bummer to have rehearsal. We only could meet for small amounts of time, but they were really impactful, and I think the actors felt that it really helped in this film. We would rehearse and act out the entire movie, and other times we would sit down sometimes and just talk things through, and discuss character feelings and backstories. Since I’m an actor as well, I appreciate how important it is to let the actor do what they love and interpret the character as they see fit. In this instance, I definitely did not want to be overbearing or anything like that, however of course I was supportive if anyone had a question. If the actor’s interpretation is in line with the Director, then the chemistry will be fantastic. I also think it’s important to listen to the actor and collaborate as well to best serve the film.
What is your preproduction process with your Cinematographer? Your process in working with your DP on set.
I’ve worked with Michelle Hernandez twice, and both movies were really different. She filmed a few scenes for my previous short The Infinitely Generous Francis Victus, and that time I gave her total freedom to get whatever shots she wanted. She really appreciated that, and said it was like a dream come true. She actually improvised nearly everything in those shots. For Bummer, I think she wanted to approach it very differently and plan a lot for very specific shots she wanted. It was still a massively collaborative process, and I felt humbled to work alongside her as she did her work. We had discussions and meetings about the sets, especially since half the film was going to be shot in a car. There were narrative aspects to consider as well as technical, as is usually the case. She comes from a photography and filmmaking background, so she knows exactly what to do and how to accomplish it, even if all I described to her was a feeling I want from the frame.
Is there any one message you hope people walk away with after viewing one of your films that defines you as the filmmaker?
A message I hope people walk away with is that people can change and define themselves, if they want to. Redemption is possible, and peace is possible if we can be understanding of different perspectives, understanding of the universe around us, and appreciating life in all of it’s forms. I don’t like the idea of stereotypical villains in my movies, so far I don’t try to indulge in on-screen violence too much, and I try not to think too much in terms of stories about clear-cut good versus clear-cut evil. I try to find themes that may resonate socially and universally, and focus on the relationships between people as well as the world around them.
What are you currently working on for your next project?
I literally just got accepted into a new venture for the Sundance Institute called Sundance Collab, Directing: Workshopping Your Feature. I think it’s a really cool and modern idea of a course that my understanding is that students can attend either live or on their own time, which is good for me since I have so much going on here in Maryland. To be accepted, I had to already have a feature script written, which is great timing because just a month prior, I finished a new draft of a feature I’ve been writing over and over again for the last ten years. I’ve made 8 short films since founding Limitless Films in 2010, but have not yet made my first feature, even though I have several scripts ready to go, and even more ideas that I’m eventually going to put on paper for features and shorts. As for a feature, hopefully it is either what comes from the Sundance Collab course or is one of my other ideas, but either way, I’m trying to get started quickly. The feature I’m workshopping in the Sundance course is about a pop star who tries to take a break from being famous, but likes being “normal” so much that is considering staying gone for good. The other feature idea I have is a little more of a sci-fi idea regarding issues of identity and the challenges of love. I have a script for my 9th short film which I hopefully can get started on once the weather becomes a bit warmer here in Maryland. That one also happens to be a sci-fi, but approaches themes involving bigotry in a futuristic perspective. I have other shorts to make as well, but that one is nearly ready to go at the moment.
Lastly, of all the hats you wear in your films – which one is your favorite?
That’s a tough question! It’s really tough because I value every single part of the process and love it, whether I’m doing everything myself or working in a team. I would say, though, I love being a Writer/Director. To pick one of those is even harder, and as you’ve pointed out, that’s already boiled down from all the other hats I love wearing. I think I would be a storyteller no matter the platform, so creating an entire story no matter if it’s for stage, screen, text, or anything else, sometimes I feel that being Writer is my favorite hat. Other times, though, I know that I’d love to direct either from my own script or from somebody else’s script, because it’s important to me to find the themes, the emotions, and the connections whether I wrote the material or not, and then work with the actors and the entire team to bring that to life as a Director. It’s definitely between a Writer and Director because I love doing both, not just at the same time but also individually. I hope that’s a good enough answer for now!