VOICES was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the April 2021 Fantasy/Sci-Fi Festival.
1. What motivated you to make this film?
I’m part of a very, very small theater/film production company called Some Assembly Required (SAR) here in L.A. Before the pandemic started, we were in our 4th year of producing evenings of one-act plays and short films every few months. The way we work is by literally pulling ideas out of a hat–for Voices, I pulled “tell a story where none of the characters speak the same language.” There were three things I knew for sure right away. First, I really wanted to work with Duality Filmworks again–we made a short called Cradle together a few years earlier that did well at the Fantasy/Sci-Fi Fest in 2017. Second, I wanted to give my very talented friend Chris Gross a dramatic role to play for once. Third, I wanted American Sign Language to be a part of the film. Luckily all three happened.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
The rules with SAR are you have 1 month to write; 1 month to produce. Those two months were October and November of 2016. But post didn’t finish until fall of 2020. I think the next questions will give me a chance to explain some of that, but the short answer to this question is it took the length of the Trump Administration to finish.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
Inside joke. In the short, the imaginary green dragon that Nik’s daughter drew is based on my childhood imaginary friend. I used to draw him all the time and tell my parents that, when we flew on a plane, P.J. was flying underneath to hold the plane up. There are a lot of reasons I’m glad this short got done, but the biggest one is how touched my parents were that our family dragon was a part of it.
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
The sound. Unfortunately, very little of the production sound was usable, so we had to start from pretty much scratch on the audio mix. I still can’t believe how good it is given what a bad starting place we were in once we had the rough edit was finished. I had no real money to spend fixing it, so it took 4 years for the sound to get to where it is now thanks to pro-bono help whenever they had spare time from my friends Betsy Gain and David Holecheck. The last piece of the puzzle was going back into the tiny location on a very hot day with Chris Gross to do ADR for every line of his dialogue. Of course, the air conditioning had to be off while we recorded, so we were dripping by the end of the session.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
As a working writer who has been gut-punched by Hollywood on more than one occasion, it was really nice to just hear some damn compliments. We had to make this quickly, in one location, with no special effects, so it was great to hear that all of those elements contributed to things the audience responders enjoyed. I have been a huge fan of Shoshannah Stern for years. When I got her the script, she said she’d only do it if we adjusted how exactly her character and Chris’s character would communicate. I learned a lot from Shoshannah about how incorrect some aspects of how Hollywood portrays such communications are, so it was really important to do it in a way that wasn’t a cheat. Given all that work, hearing the audience responders appreciate the representation of a deaf character meant a lot.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
I guess the answer to question 1 sums that up, but I’ll add here that I love stories set in one location, with few characters, and minimal motion. I’m really only trying to make TV and film to fund my dream of going home to New York one day and just writing plays for the rest of my life. Also, I really like being cryptic. There was nobody telling me to cram an expositional monologue into a character’s mouth so the audience would know what’s up from the jump. Watching characters explain shared knowledge they have to each other purely for the audience’s benefit is the worst, so this short and the others I have made are exercises in doing the opposite and letting the audience figure it out.
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
When I was very very young, my mom says I would always demand that she play the betamax tape of either Fame, Grease, or The Muppet Movie every day. So the answer is probably one of those three. If mom reads this, she might email you with the answer.
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
It’s exactly what it needs to be. I finished post on this short and another short called Harmonia Solid in the same week. They are both playing in festivals right now, and being able to submit both at the same time with just a couple extra button clicks has been a godsend in every way–except at how much easier those clicks make it to run up my credit card bill. 🙂
9. What is your favorite meal?
A tuna melt and a chocolate shake at any diner in New York. I’m still waiting for somebody in LA to make a good tuna melt.
10. What is next for you? A new film?
I’m pitching and developing some ideas now. A project I developed with writing partners about a crazy piece of Cold-War history in the 80s is being shopped in Germany with Uli Edel (The Baader Meinhof Complex) attached to direct. I’m developing a screenplay about the actual history that inspired John Ford’s The Searchers–the cultural whitewashing that film did of the true story is infuriating. Those are two of the eight things I’m actively working on. My dad is a screenwriter, and if there’s one thing I learned growing up it’s that, to succeed as a screenwriter, you need to be working on a lot of things at the same time in order to bend the law of averages in your favor as much as possible.