Daniel is a multi-award winning writer, director, producer and actor. His audio story, Fading Kingdoms, has been featured in multiple film and art festivals globally. His live action directorial debut, MONiTOR, is an official selection at the prestigious 2022 Garden State Film Festival and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. Daniel is also a versatile performer having starred in many independent films as well as featured background on such major productions as, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, HBO’s Succession and The Deuce. Daniel just finished part three of the Fading Kingdoms trilogy and is excited to release his next horror short film Glass Eyes, which he produced, wrote and directed. Glass Eyes was given 4/5 stars via Take2IndieReview and has received much praise from fellow industry veterans as being a “cinematic” and “effective horror short”.
Where were you born and raised?
I was born in Long Island, NY but raised in Voorhees, NJ, the suburbs right outside of Philadelphia.
At what age were the arts introduced to you?
My father is a musician and has spent his entire career in the music industry, so growing up in that environment, I naturally looked up to anyone creative. My personal obsession with cinema started at a very early age.
Do you remember the experience of seeing your first horror film?
I can’t remember my first horror specific film experience, but I do remember the first time a film terrified me. I was around seven years old when I snuck downstairs while my father was watching Terminator 2 and it happened to be the infamous kitchen scene when the T1000 impersonates John Connor’s mom. Some pretty gruesome stuff transpired in that scene and I screamed from behind the couch where I was watching. Needless to say, my cover was blown and my parents weren’t thrilled.
You’re a semi-professional hockey player. How did you make the transition from sports into film?
My love for movies was always a big part of who I was and always present, even during my hockey career. Hockey was just something that I took to naturally and it kept opening doors for me, even today where I currently own and operate an ice hockey training company. I was fortunate to play NCAA D1 hockey at UMass-Amherst which is a big program and also in the minor leagues. Most recently I was an emergency backup goalie for the New Jersey Devils in the NHL, a fun experience. Eventually, I just reached a point in my life where I had to pursue film and storytelling. Luckily, I have the support from my wife, family and friends, which certainly helps given it’s an industry of rejection.
You just finished part three of the Fading Kingdoms trilogy. Tell us more about this project.
Fading Kingdoms was a project born in the early stages of the pandemic. As independent artists you are always looking for ways to tell a story that fits your financial means. Since we were all locked in our homes, and frankly couldn’t afford to produce a fantasy film, I decided why not tell a fantasy/adventure story as an audio drama? I’m so proud of the FK trilogy, as I believe it’s a strong story and IP that we hope will get picked up by the right people at some point. It’s a versatile story which could basically exist in any entertainment medium. It’s available for free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify!
Your short film Glass Eyes deals with guilt. Was that a conscious decision on your behalf, to study a zombie pandemic through that emotional prism?
I suppose the initial concept was based around guilt, but my fascination with the genre has always been with the initial outbreak. Seeing how people would react in these situations. Naturally, fight or flight is our instant psychological reaction to danger, so what’s an interesting story, we could tell within that sandbox. Also, the character of the Man, played wonderfully by Brian May, has an aura about him that you could see this person putting himself first. Sophia Lucia Parola’s take as the Woman, really sells the whole scenario, because in a short film structure you have to immediately connect with the characters. She’s such a talented actress it’s not hard for the audience to immediately like her.
You are clearly a horror film buff. What are some of your favorite horror films and why?
Ironically, I have a hard time watching horror films! Jump scares kill me and I require a pillow to hide behind when my wife and I watch horror films. That being said, I LOVE slow burn atmospheric horror. The eeriness of certain films like The Witch, The Shining, It Follows, Mike Flannagan’s recent television work just to name a few. That style and tone of horror is what I really respond to.
Why did you decide to shoot the film in two timelines? What did you want to accentuate?
I felt we needed to come up with a unique structure to make the film feel fresh. Admittedly, the zombie genre has become a little watered down and one of my heroes, George A. Romero, has a famous line “don’t make a zombie film!” He goes on to elaborate that what he truly means is don’t make one without a purpose or something to say. Without trying to sound pretentious, I felt our film has a few things to say if you choose to reflect on it. The production goal of this film was to make a “classy” cinematic zombie thriller with inspirations from filmmakers I love such as Denis Villeneuve and Jean Marc Vallee, rest in peace. A style of zombie films you don’t see very often.
You are also an actor. Your performance as the golfer zombie was particularly amusing. Was that always the plan, to have a small cameo in this film?
I started my film journey as solely an actor, performing in my long time collaborators films. That collaborator is Brian May, the star of this film! He also makes films which I’d recommend checking out. I’ll always have the desire to act and perform, but over the last few years, I’ve been really drawn to writing and directing.
What do you enjoy more – writing, producing, acting or directing?
Easily directing. I believe my biggest strength creatively is developing ideas and concepts, but the writing phase feels tedious to me. Having the chance to tell a story visually is exciting to me. Film sets also have a certain kind of energy that brings me right back to my days as an athlete. We’re all working as a team to try and create something special.
What approach did you take when working with the actors? On what aspect of their performance did you focus the most?
Brian and Sophia are such amazing actors that I never felt I had to pull a performance out of them. I’m a big believer in preparation and luckily they are too. So after some meetings and rehearsals, I could see that they had a handle on what the story was and, more importantly, who these characters are. Once the day came to film they were ready to go. I don’t believe we ever had to do more than a few takes.
The zombie make-up looks fantastic in your film. Tell us about the make-up process.
Wendy Gasinski was our incredible make-up artist. She deserves all of the credit. The process was pretty seamless because she was so prepared. I had to be in the make-up chair for a few hours before we shot and she made it comfortable. Directing in zombie makeup was certainly interesting!
What filmmaker(s) inspired you the most?
An impossible question! It changes by the day, but I’d have to say my all time favorites are Spielberg, Tarantino, PTA and Kubrick. Currently, I’m finding alot of inspiration from filmmakers like Jordan Peele, Guillermo Del Toro, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho and Mike Flannagan.
What advice do you have for aspiring independent filmmakers?
Hire Rick Cook, our cinematographer. I can’t say enough about how much he helped me bring this film to life. I’m very excited to see where his career goes and I can’t wait to work with him again. My more traditional answer is cliche, just make things with people you enjoy being around. No one has handed me our projects. They exist because we worked tirelessly to bring them to life. Ignore any self-doubt you might have and finish whatever you start.
What’s next for you?
Fatherhood! My wife and I are expecting. By the time you read this we could be dealing with those dreaded sleepless nights! In terms of film, directing a feature film is the next logical step for me. We have a few very strong ideas and concepts in the works, just a matter of finding the right people to help us bring them to life.