I’m originally from New Brighton, Pennsylvania but currently based in Brooklyn, N.Y. I was more into fine arts growing up like drawing, and painting, and stuff like that. I was an undergrad at Penn State where I majored in fine arts. By the time I finished there, I realized that I wanted to study film, so then I went to Columbia University graduate film school.
Yeah, I would say that was my first shoot. My thesis in Columbia was the first time where I felt I was doing something that, even though it wasn’t entirely successful, was unique to me in terms of how I was shooting it and the construction of the story, because it was something I wrote and directed on my own. It was kind of the first time I was excited about trying a personal style of filmmaking. My thesis was called Stranger.
Not really. I didn’t really have anything out there until I made The Strange Ones. Stranger got into a few festivals. It’s about a woman who works in a diner and meets a guy who at first she thinks she’s attracted to, and then she realizes he might be her long lost son that she put up for adoption when he was a teenager. So, I see those kinds of connections in my work now, but Stranger didn’t have the life that my subsequent shorts have had.
Probably around the time when I was twenty or twenty-one. I knew I wanted to work in film, and I was transitioning out of fine arts. I realized I didn’t have much to say in fine art. I was kind of flirting around in different disciplines like painting, drawing, and print making, but I didn’t feel like I had specific point of view with the work I was doing, and I was drawn to narrative storytelling. Films were my extracurricular interest, so I realized that maybe that was a professional field that I was more interested in. At that time I didn’t know what kind of vocation I would end up in, so I floated around in writing, directing, and making documentaries. When I started to go to Columbia, that’s when I really zeroed-in on directing, because I realized I was the sort of filmmaker who wanted to have a total vision and sort of have control of all aspects of it from the script, to the editing, to working with the actors and the director of photography, and stuff like that.
I was at home working on the movie. I was editing the film, and it was around nine at night. I was alone in my room. It really took me by surprise. I was just sort of in disbelief for a little bit.
I don’t know. I mean, the first thing I did was call my producer. I don’t know. It’s really hard to describe. I was just really elated, because I didn’t expect it. We shot the film very late. We shot the film recently, so I had really little time to get it to Sundance. I wasn’t sure how they would take it, or if there would be enough time to finish the film before the actual festival. So, the fact that the cut we sent in was good enough for them was mind-blowing, and for a good two days I was still in disbelief. Then that sort of morphed into anxiousness and worry that I would not be able to get the film finished in time.
A couple of things. I had worked with one of the kid actors in my previous film, The Strange Ones, and I really wanted to work with him again as well as his brother, who is also an actor. I auditioned them, and I really liked both of them. I always write a lot of stuff about teen characters, and I just thought that they were really fantastic teen actors. So, I wanted to do something with both of them, and I had been reading a lot about the disappearances of teenagers in reference to this one screenplay I was working on. I came across this one story about this woman whose son is kind of like the classic milk carton missing child case, and it fills the mother with a lot of grief. Years later, she claimed that her son visited her in the middle of the night, as an adult now, and he told her this crazy story about where he had been and what had happened to him, and that he was in danger, and how he could never return to his normal life. Everybody thought she was crazy and was just making it up, but nobody really knows for sure, you know? So, that’s the story that inspired this story, and I made it to where it transferred with these two brothers that I had wanted to work with.
I didn’t have specific goals really. I was just excited to show my work and meet like-minded people. Lauren Wolkstein and I are working on a feature together, so we were hoping to form relationships with like-minded people who can help us take the next step. Also, meeting other filmmakers and seeing other work that I’m excited about – I find that to be the more creatively rewarding part of being at Sundance. It’s actually really inspiring. I actually want to start writing again whenever I get back home from Sundance.
A feature version of a short film that I co-directed with Lauren Wolkstein called The Strange Ones, which played in Sundance in 2011. We have been putting together a feature version of that, so that’s something that we’re hoping to move onto next. I mean, I was really happy to make this short, but I think Lauren and I are both anxious to jump in and make a feature.
Yes, we will co-direct it.
It’s an interesting thing. Lauren and I get asked that a lot. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everybody, but we work really well together. We understand the films we want to make, and both of us direct on our own as well. We both sort of like to do everything, but since we are on the same page creatively, it’s actually quite easy for us. I think that we’re very lucky, because it’s an unusually pleasant collaboration. We’ve never really argued about stuff, so we’re able to come up with creative decisions quickly. We respect each other, and we respect the vision, and allow each other that kind of freedom.
New Brighton, Pennsylvania
Writer / Director