A college dropout is tricked into smoking laced weed by his new neighbour and must survive a drug trip with life or death consequences.
Hi Spyder thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times?
Hey, thanks for having me on. You know, all things considered, I’ve been real good. I’m lucky to live by the beach. Lots of surfing. A little writing here and there. Can’t complain!
Has this time offered you both any creative inspiration?
It sure has. A different kind of creativity though. Not in the hammering out pages kind of way (which I’ve always been a fan of). Rather, where is the movie industry headed. What kind of movies are audiences going to be interested in seeing now and when this pandemic one day passes (I’m an optimist). I think an era of smart thought-provoking cinema is going to emerge out of this. Just a hunch.
Congratulations on the news of Mouth to Mouth which has Tobin Bell attached to star in, the response to this news on social media has been amazing. What has this reaction meant to you?
Mouth To Mouth has been a passionate project of mine since I started writing in college. It means everything. Momentum is finally returning to a lot of films now that safety protocols are being designed to handle production. And I can not wait to see Tobin Bell in an outrageous summer comedy. His role is... well, I can’t say much more. But you’re in for a treat!
You've just released your debut feature film Spiral on YouTube, with such a project like this have you had any apprehensions about handing it over to the public?
My biggest concern with putting Spiral online was audiences’ attention span. The movie requires you to be glued to the screen. You miss a line, you may miss the flow of the whole piece. I was so thrilled when reactions started popping up about theories on the ending. People who had caught tiny little Easter-egg clues I had hidden for the expert watcher. After the initial release and hearing the first batch of feedback from the internet, I felt what I could only describe as fulfillment. I made the movie I wanted to make.
How did this film come about, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
The inspiration... hm... there’s a bit of personal elements to the story obviously. I was inspired a lot by the great filmmakers and their stabs at making their directorial debuts. Christopher Nolan “Following”. Darren Aronofsky “Pi”. David Lynch “Eraserhead”. I studied these movies and the behind the scenes on them. It wasn’t about creative influence. I respected their sheer will power to make their movie when no one would grant them a budget. I was in a similar place. I had a few TV movies made at this point. But no one would finance me as a director. At some point, you wait by the phone your whole life or you go out and get messy. Make it no matter what. That’s the route I chose.
"With Spiral, this was not the case. It was a giant puzzle piece of a story to crack."
As a writer do you draw from your own life and experiences when you are writing a screenplay?
I believe in drawing only a little bit from your personal life. Too much and it can become boring. Stale. Sterile. To me, the human experience and dialogue doesn’t translate as well onto the page as you want it to. I think the infusion of it brings a nice realism. But screenplays to me have always been about a heightened reality. Even dramas.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
The most challenging scene was shooting David Steen out in Palm Springs. David is a real pro. One of the most talented actors I know. He’s worked alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained. He’s been in a laundry list of iconic movies. We had a moving train shot we wanted to hit a one take in. No cuts. The train came every 45 mins. It was a lot of pressure. But everyone delivered. That scene is the soul of Spiral. Everything about the movie is summed up in the dessert.
Where did the inspiration come from to film Spiral in black and white?
Black and white was a creative choice when the script was in an early draft. It seemed the best way (both for budget and originality) to create a world far beyond ours. A nightmarish drug realm. We kind of treated it like a living Film Noir Hell. No sun. All at night. Following a lost soul. I also just loved the idea of representing the trip down the rabbit hole through colours. Black and white was the only way to tell this story.... With a splash of colour here and there!
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking for you?
Collaboration is everything. Filmmaking is a team sport. I had a small team (skeleton really) but loyal and extremely talented. The movie only turned out the way it did from a bunch of creative voices bringing their passion and nuggets of brilliance to the story. For anyone else looking to embark on making their movie (with a small budget) make sure you have a squad. Don’t go to war without people you trust!
Does your screenplay change much once you start production?
Normally, a script doesn’t change much. Changes only come about from location issues, etc. With Spiral, this was not the case. It was a giant puzzle piece of a story to crack. I would be rewriting scenes an hour before our shoots sometimes. Thankfully my two stars Samuel David and Dash Dobrofsky knew how to memorize fast! They had the skill set this specific movie needed. An ability to perform and dive deep on the fly. Rehearsals went out the window. But we all had the motto: “Story Is King”. Whatever the story needed, we all were committed to doing.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I have loved video cameras since I was a super young kid. Long story (for another time) but I was on the Jay Leno show at 13 for filming exotic cars. Was running a worldwide car website - “Car-Parazzi” - that got something like 400k page views a day. Submissions from all over the world. It was about capturing the coolest cars on the road (speeding preferably haha). The passion for framing and camerawork was there. It just evolved into stories. That’s why I actually felt comfortable being the cinematographer on Spiral. I had 10 years of experience: videotaping cars.
Would you say your style/approach to your films has changed much since your debut short?
I don’t think my style has evolved. I think I’ve learned that every story demands the filmmaker to find the style that fits that specific tale. That’s the challenge. What aesthetic. What pace. What “genre-mash” are you making and why. What’s so scary about this is I know exactly how to shoot Spiral...My next project I will once again be completely blind. You have to trust the process.
Do you think filmmakers should push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
If you’re not breaking rules, knocking down boundaries and asking big questions - I don’t see the point of making films. I may differ with a lot of creators here. But I got into storytelling to tell NEW stories. Not to regurgitate and mimic. Life’s too short, right?
What would you say has been the most valuable lessons you have taken from making your short films?
The film festivals we got into actually labeled us a feature film. We made an unconventional feature film at 52 minutes! But there has been a lot of confusion about whether it’s a short or feature. The academy says 45+ is one. But hey, if the story hits you - that’s the goal. The most valuable lesson is to make your movie no matter what. To not get caught up in the flash and glitter of filmmaking and to tell the story. People will forgive a shot that’s a little static, but they will not forgive a meaningless tale. Or a lazily written character. Or a self indulgent performance. Also, clear audio is vital (Shout out to Technicolor for our post-production sound!) Know what’s important: the story. More dynamic sets come with money. Find a tale you can tell now. And do it with every ounce of passion in your body and soul. Leave nothing behind. And have a great time making it. Nothing like making movies.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Spiral?
What I hope people take away from Spiral is said perfectly by one of the characters. “Interpretation, my man. It is up to you”. Whether you’re ready or not, the second you hit play - you’re going down the rabbit hole with Ben. You will see some shit. Some funny, some horrifying. And you’re going to return to reality at the end with a seed of knowledge or wisdom.