filmmaking

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I head back to Madison, Wisconsin for this Q&A to catch up with the producers of Madison’s 48 Hour Film Project. I met these two talented and hardworking individuals last year, when I came on to the RGBeasts team for the very first time.

An unforgettable experience, to say the least, but thanks to this particular opportunity, I have an expectation of how the film life works for future projects. Now I get to sit down with the masterminds that are working towards bringing Wisconsin on the competitive map for the film industry.

Let’s open this interview with a story. How did you two come together as business partners? How long have you two been business partners? 


Michael Keeney: Ooh, pick me!

Kat leans backward in her chair, clearly giving Keeney the floor.


MK: I’d been hired to launch and operate a boutique film festival for a convention that was coming to Madison. I knew I could get films and filmmakers involved, but I also knew I didn’t know a darn thing about scheduling … anything.
 I’d met Kat at a different convention, where she was the Director of Operations, overseeing a five-day event with 1,500 attendees, more than 70 scheduled panel discussions and other timed events that completely took over one of the largest hotels and conference centers in town.

And so I asked for a meeting. To be honest, I was hoping to make my pitch, and she’d suggest one of her interns who might be willing to take on my little two-day, 20-film, one-room event.

We met, and I explained what I thought would be the upsides and the challenges. About half way through her questions and answers, Kat used the word ‘we.’ As in, ‘Well, we could go through Brown Paper Tickets for ticketing ….’

I did my best to look calm and cool while I quietly picked my jaw up off the floor. Again, I was hoping for the name of an intern.

At this point Kat rolls her eyes and leans forward again.


Katherine Thompson: I had been looking for a new challenge, and his timeline happened to fit with an opening I had between shows and it sounded like fun.

MK: That was … seven? years ago?

KT: Six.

MK: I immediately began utilizing her skill sets more and more for Key Media Entertainment projects, and before too long, Key Media Narratives became an official thing — Key Media Entertainment had been working in film and commercials for a number of years before that. We did more in the first 18 months as Narratives than I had in the five years before on my own as Entertainment.

 

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Thompson’s roots go deep in performance arts production and management, while Keeney has been a professional writer for most his life. Here they work out script changes on “The Other Shoe,” one of their own films.

 
How long have you two been producing the 48-Hour Film Project in Madison,WI?
 


KT: This will be our third year at the helm as Producers. We competed successfully as a team off and on for a few years before that.

For prizes, you open opportunities up not just on a local level, but the winner gets a spot in the film festival, Filmapalooza, to compete against other 48-Hour short films. You both were just there supporting last year’s winners for Madison, The Porchetta Paradox. How was the experience for you both?


MK: It was pretty great. Filma is a combination film festival-slash-competition- awards ceremony. There were approximately 150 City Winners from around the world that were screened. In addition to that Festival aspect, there are a number of mixer and networking events, as well as classes on filmmaking and programming specifically for us as City Producers. The chance to find common ground and discuss common challenges with other filmmakers and producers was tremendous.

KT: The ability to watch award-winning films, made by filmmakers just like us, with the same challenges we face was a wonderful opportunity. You learn something about different cultures around the world, and how they use the medium. You would think that with everyone having the same rules and the same restrictions, the films would have the same feel. But they really didn’t. Yes, there was much they had in common, but it was very interesting to see how different cultures use film differently.

It was was very rewarding to see ‘The Only Logical Conclusion,’ which is The Porchetta Paradox’s City-winning 2018 film, really reach a genuinely international audience.

MK: In fact, David and Matthew were one of the few teams chosen to be interviewed afterward. They held their own, and the humor of ‘Conclusion’ holds up. We were proud, and Madison should be proud.

It was also an amazing chance to see what it takes to make it to Cannes. I really think we have teams right now that have a shot at making it all the way.

Let’s open the picture up a bit for those wondering the role of a producer requires. Can y’all describe your days working together or separately and what comes with organizing these types of events? 


MK: Lots and lots of Tylenol.

KT: Far more goes on behind the scenes than on the screen. We are responsible for every aspect of producing the Madison event from planning to covering the costs. We negotiate with the theaters and any local sponsors we recruit. We set up any meet- and-greets and educational seminars. Most of the correspondence with filmmakers comes through us. The 48’s international team does provide us with some templates, but almost everything you see leading up to Kick-Off and through our Awards Ceremony is our responsibility. All those graphics you see on our Facebook page, for example, Michael does those. The trivia contest we had last year, that was all him.

MK: It’s really a team effort. Kat let’s me play. She does all the work. I get to focus on doing one thing, knowing she’s got the pulse of everything. Then I do the next thing she says needs to be done. I don’t need to worry if we have an e-mail scheduled. She knows. I may write or edit it, but she makes sure everything is actually going out. If you think about the 48 as a railway, I get to be the cool engine and blow steam and smoke and it might look like I’m the one getting the passengers and cargo down the track, but really, there’s whole lot more to it than that. Who makes sure there are passengers and cargo? Kat. Who makes sure there’s a staff working the train station? Kat. Who makes sure I don’t just steaming off down the tracks and run into another train? Kat. And while she’s doing all that, she’s also still very involved with the theater scene, so she’s networking with actors and stage directors and crew, letting them know about this opportunity. I just do one thing.

 

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Keeney & Thompson are responsible for virtually every aspect of the Madison 48, right down to designing the T-shirts and posters.

 

I am sure you guys provide work in the film industry past the 48-Hour Film Project. Can you give us an insight on the tasks and other projects y’all do when the 48-Hour Film Project is not going on?


KT: Key Media Narratives is in Pre-Production on a short that I’m really excited about. As usual, Michael wrote a wonderful script. And we’ve had a feature we’re slowly assembling for a while now. Again, Michael wrote that. I think he’s got five or six stories in his head at any time.

MK: I’ve got a desk drawer with 13 treatments in it right now, waiting for the stars to align.

KT: See?

MK: Stories are not a problem. But those are the passion projects that we do, because we love them. We also work on a couple of commercials and significant films every year. You’ve seen our work, whether you realize it or not.

We’ve been a part of commercials for the Wisconsin Lottery, Johnsonville Sausage, ESPN, Kwik Trip and more. We worked on the Christopher Nolan ‘Batman’ series; spent the summer on ‘Public Enemies,’ traveling all over. We did Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut ‘Lost River’ with Matt Smith and Christina Hendricks. We just wrapped up ‘Deliver Me’ in Chicago — actually most of our paid work is in Chicago in film or television, sometimes Detroit.

We also do a handful of local commercials and industrials. We’re in talks right now with a scientific instrumentation company with offices on six continents and instruments and employees on all seven. I work as a writer and script consultant on other people’s stories as well.”

KT: I’m on the Board of Directors for the Madison Theater Guild, and I continue to stage manage a handful of live theater.

MK: She’s also a fitness instructor and mother of three, all of whom have been and are very active in the Performing Arts. So, really, she has three full-time jobs.

A lot of other awards, opportunities, and experiences can come with participating in the 48-Hour Film Project. Can y’all share what could possibly go right for an inspiring filmmaker, even if you don’t win Best Picture and head to Filmapalooza?

MK: It can literally launch your career. The truth is that that no, most films do not go on to critical acclaim, and most filmmakers are doing this purely for the love of the Cinematic Arts. But it does happen! Eight years before becoming the director of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gareth Edwards made his first film in a 48.

KT: Last year one of the 48 films at Cannes was offered and signed a distribution deal, and one of them from this year is negotiating to be a television series in Europe.


Are y’all working on any projects currently or is your focus merely on the film project event right now?


MK: Thirteen ….That I’ve told her about.

KT (Sighs): We’ve got a couple things in the works. We anticipate posting some cast and crew auditions soon. Schedule permitting.

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The duo wear many hats in the Midwestern film scene, from 48 Producers to working on major studio productions to running their own company, Key Media.

 

Last year,you had an astounding 30 teams, plus a waiting-list for this year’s film project. What was the reaction and experience for that kind of turnout on your end? Are you expecting a similar turnout this year?


MK: More Tylenol. Actually, it was … very gratifying. When we came in the 48 was on a bit of a downward trend. There had been some concerns — which we knew, because we had them ourselves when we were competing. And we’ve worked extremely hard to address them.

KT: There is a huge difference, logistically, in 30 teams versus the 16 we’d had our first year. We have the best problem ever — we’d outgrown the spaces the 48 had been used to. So we literally began planning 2019 the day after the 2018 Premiere. By the time our Awards event rolled around, we’d had our new partnership with Marcus Point Theater virtually sewn up. We just couldn’t announce it yet. We’re not sure if 30 is our high-water mark, but we’re preparing to make things bigger and even better.

MK: We’re one of the smallest cities in the 48 community, and when other cities find out that we had 30 teams, they tend to want to give us advice, because they have 40 or 60 or so. And then I ask them how big their city is, and get, ‘Oh, Philadelphia is 1.5 million,’ or whatever, and then they ask how big Madison is and I get to say, ‘247,000.’ Suddenly they’re asking us for advice. We’re proud of our film community.

KT: I’m extremely proud. Madison is very engaged in the cinematic arts.

What has been the biggest highlight for Madison’s 48-Hour Film Project over the years?
 


MK: I’m going to go personal. For me, personally, the biggest highlight is a tie. Our first year as competitors, I was the team leader and producer, and I really didn’t know if we could do this thing. I’d worked my tail off and I was afraid it going to crash and burn all around me. And then we got to the Premiere, and I got to sit in a real theater with my friends who’d busted their butts with me and for me, and I got to see our film, a real film, that hadn’t even been an idea just a few days before, let alone a script, much less a complete film, on the big screen, and I got to watch all those people see their work, and be proud of their work and then see their names on the end crawl. To watch their faces when they saw their own names and heard the applause is just … transformative. To this day, whenever we’re screening one of our films for the first time, I stand quietly in a corner at the front of the room, so I can watch our people experiencing our film.

And it’s still a tie. Just as wonderful as that moment is, having someone type their own name in to IMDB and see their first listing, for the first time? It’s … just as good.

KT: The biggest highlight for the 48 is still to come. We’re going to have films in the Cannes Film Festival. One of our actors is going to get discovered. Someone is going to get a picture deal. And it’ll all have started right here.

MK: Okay… Yeah, that. Put me down for that, too.

What has been the biggest highlight in your careers in the film industry, separately, or as a team?


MK: To the public, it’s probably my work as a stunt driver, with Oscar-winners lives literally in my hands. Or working on Oscar-nominated films.

If you’re asking me, not the public, there’s no replacing those firsts. Those firsts I’ve already mentioned. The first time I walked around on a set that had only existed in my imagination before we built it. The first time I had a script optioned, and getting to be there as the amazing talents I get to call my friends experience those firsts for themselves. It gets no better than getting to make those things happen with one of my best friends as my business partner.

KT: This is why he’s the writer.

What is the one thing you are looking forward to most with this up and coming film project here in Madison this year?


KT: Turning off the microphone after greeting the crowd, and sitting in a theater full of area film-makers and film fans and just being a film fan myself, watching the amazing productions that our community made, in just 48 hours.

MK: I was going to say, ‘Declaring registration closed, because we were full, but, I want to take her answer, again!

I heard there are a few changes for this year’s project. Can y’all reiterate the changes that are coming up this year that the incoming filmmakers should be enlightened about? 


KT: The biggest changes should be ones that the teams and fans will barely notice —

MK:— But please do notice them!

KT: — and that’s that we’re in a new theater on a new day this year. Our premiere will be July 29th at Marcus Point Theater on their Ultra-Screen. The 29th is a Monday. The Ultra-Screen as a few more seats, but we often sell out, so it’s always a good idea to get your tickets through Brown Paper Tickets in advance.

We’ll have that information to you as soon as possible. In the mean time we have a brand new Join-A- Team program and a Talent Directory where would-be participants can post about themselves and what they would bring to a team, and Team Leaders, and would-be Team Leaders can post what they’re looking for to fill out their team.

Do any of you two have last minute tidbits of information to share with the readers and anyone interested in joining the 48 community?

MK: Registration for new teams will open on May 1st. Simply go to 48hourfilm.com and follow the prompts to find Madison. The best thing is to just jump in and do it. The Madison filmmaking community is on the rise, and that break- out star could be you!

MV5BMjIwMDIwNjAyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDE1MDc2NTM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,631,1000_AL_The third installment of How to Train Your Dragon was a huge disappointment in my view. My expectations for the closure of the trilogy and Netflix series was high. The story felt rushed and for me the comedy itself was lacking in The Hidden World.

I wish the story was more invested in the journey of the hidden world or more invested in the new dragon hunter, rather than rushing both storylines with the addition of Toothless finding his mate. Honestly, it felt two films were being squished into one poor edit.

It hurts to write this as How to Train Your Dragon is one of my top favorite animations, because who doesn’t love a good story on dragons and vikings?? I was even a fan of the series on Netflix!

Come to think of it, this story-line would have been better as a last season for the series rather than as a film for theaters. That way it could have been more polished on all three story-lines and a more successful closure to the brand.

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Life Itself is one of the most beautiful performances I’ve seen in film today. In my opinion, Oscar Wilde and Antonio Banderas did wonders carrying this film and bringing the beauty of the stories to life. This is one of Banderas’ best performances in his whole career, in my opinion.

It’s a sophisticated story-line that you have to pay attention to find how two worlds end up colliding. It has a lot of similarities to the approach and direction as the films Babel and Crash does. So if you are not a fan of those directives, this will not be a film for you.

Unfortunately, there were also a few failures to this film. I felt for this film was that it was a bit uneven in the delivery, as the first half of the story being more of an unfiltered dramedy and the second half more of a heartfelt drama. I feel the setup at the beginning with the opening scene and Samuel L. Jackson narrating failed. I feel the film itself could be balanced more to bring a more smoother transition rather than hoping for the narrations to do the transition for you. Unfortunately, this film could have done without the narrators.

Overall, the message and the performances itself was beautiful and meaningful to the point of the necessity of Kleenex.

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I interviewed this guy with two other essential individuals last year for Coffin II. Now, I sit alone with Johnny Alonso in this interview where we talk about his upcoming film projects, his philosophy in life, and the tricks and trades that has kept his longevity and freshness in the film career, as well as, his life in general after twenty years of hanging tough as the individual he is! (smiles)

You started 2019 already with one impressive schedule. You just got done shooting your promotional video for your new mob film, The Driver, out east this week. Along with that production, you are also preparing to head to the Sundance Film Festival, not only to be apart of the Click on This! crew, but also the showing of your film What Death Leaves Behind. You must be excited for how the year is starting off. Yes?

Johnny Alonso: This year has already started off like a rocket to the moon, and I love it; however, I’ve been planning for 2019 for the past eight months. I’m more than ready for this inhuman schedule, Sundance, Click on This!, What Death Leaves Behind, The Driver, and The Riddle House. This is the short list of what’s happening in the next four months.

In this industry you need to keep moving forward and not worry about what everyone else is doing. Focus on yourself, period. Make a better you without relying on others. For the past six months, I’ve been pushing the motto, “2019 is about change and about being positive.”  I have a saying, “Never listen to anyone who has never done anything.” and that includes change.

This isn’t your first trip as a Click on This! host for the Sundance Film Festival, is it? Who has been some of your favorite artists to interview at the Sundance Film Festival previously, and who are some of the artists you are looking forward to interviewing this year?

JA: I love Click on This! I’ve been with Elena and the revolving cast and crew for ten years. TEN YEARS! I’ve been through two jeeps in ten years! I’ve interviewed so many great people on the show. It’s hard for me to say who’s my favorite interview. If I had to choose, I’d say it’s between Kevin Bacon, Keanu Reeves, and Kevin Smith at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015.

Another favorite memory of mine was when I ran into Rachel Leigh Cook randomly at Sundance, our interview was like two friends trying to catch up at the mall, while your friends are trying to pull you away from each other (laughs).

Add the guys from Steel Panther, because they were just hilarious and wore as much patchouli as I do.

To top off my favorites, my most recent Gotham interview with pretty much the entire cast. Robin Lord Taylor kept telling Gotham producer Danny Cannon “Johnny Alonso is Gotham alumni!!” It was so rad and an unforgettable moment for me.

Is What Death Leaves Behind your first film project to be featured at the Sundance Film Festival?

JA: Yes, What Death Leaves Behind is my first film to screen at the Sundance Film Festival. I’ve always covered the festival with the Click on This! crew and nothing more until this year.

I’ve always loved the opportunity to work with Elena Moscatt and company, but this special screening at Utah Film Studios is going to be so rad. In fact, I did a couple interviews, I think back in 2015, at Utah Film Studios for Click on This!, so it’ll be cool to be back, but this time on the red carpet, and then getting interviewed on the panel.

Can you share a small synopsis of What Death Leaves Behind?

JA: I can say this, it’s a nonlinear film like Memento, Dunkirk, and Manchester By the Sea. The What Death Leaves Behind story-line is not spoon fed. It carefully jumps from one idea in the time line to the next systematically forcing you to pay attention.  It’s dark, intelligent, and it’s one of my favorite projects I have worked on to date. That is all I can really share, other than the link to the trailer. So below this answer is the trailer for the film, What Death Leaves Behind, for the viewers.

You are known as an extrovert in this field of work, but you must get exhausted from all the travel and demands that comes with it. How do you stay grounded with your type of schedule? What are some outlets you lean towards to re-energize yourself when you do get burned out?

JA: Honestly, I have never been an extroverted guy, especially with typical choices like sports. It’s my lot in life to be exhausted (laughs).  I do find great downtime with snowboarding and horseback riding. Unfortunately, I don’t get enough time to do those things as much as I would like, so it’s just that much better when I do find the time to disconnect, escape, and snowboard or horseback ride.

My brothers and I go bowling. That’s another way for me to decompress. We bowl several games, order bowling alley pizza, and drink gross bowling alley beer. That is the Alonso recipe for success (laughs).

Otherwise, I’m a musician by nature. So, another way for me to decompress is to play music. I love writing and playing music. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been interested in making short films and recording in the studio. I have hundreds of short films that I’ve shot through the years, but these are just for myself. I’ve never shot these short films for anyone or written music for others. It helps me know where I am in a film on set, to be a force without being forced.

On the downside, you’ll have those who have to say, “…but, how is anyone going to appreciate what you’ve done?” Here is my answer, I appreciate what I’ve done, and I like looking at my work for myself. So, when there’s a time when I must perform or show my work, I know you’ll like what I’ve done, because I don’t put myself out there like everyone else. I don’t need that recognition. I do it for me.

Where does this drive and passion for your work root from? 

JA: A lot of my drive and cloaked ways comes from my upbringing. My parents are super driven in their lines of work. They’ve built their empire on relying on no one else, but themselves. I get a lot of my lone wolf qualities from my old man. He’s never really ran with the crowd. When all his friends were finishing their residency in Boston, as surgeons, my dad said he was going to go on to be a plastic surgeon. They all laughed at him and said, “Cool, we’ll see you when decide to drop out and hang back with us at the hospital.” He didn’t listen to them and signed up for another several years of school, residency programs, and being bossed around by doctors you know you could dance rings around. All that hard work and perseverance has helped him where he’s at today. With that, he continues to be the best at what he does.

As for my mom (laughs), if there was one person in this world my brothers and I get our artistic, non-conformist qualities from her. I don’t mean that in a bad way. She too built her career as a well-respected pediatrician, where she has cared for baby patients that grew up to become mothers and fathers who wanted their kids under the care of my mom. That’s a very valuable skill in life, and that commands respect.

My mother, when we were kids, would play classical piano at the old house and persuade us to play instruments. She has a voice, so she also encouraged us to sing. Her entire family is very artistic with the lively arts. To this day she’s still a little off center when it comes to being in the “norm”. We never really subscribed to being in the norm, but that’s a good thing. That’s where I get my “art weird” from. I could go on about this for days… (laughs)

(Laughs)… Alright continuing on. You’ve been working in this line of work for over twenty years. Inquisitive minds must know, what motivates you to keep up in such a fast-paced life? How do you keep the longevity in your career?

JA: Holy God has it been that long? I’m just getting my stride! (Laughs). I was an individual who was coined an outcast back in my early adolescent days, but I took it was a compliment and just ran with it. It was all that i knew. I didn’t care about the crowd. Fuck everyone. I really enjoyed being an individual, and not follow other’s flaccid ways.

Even within the outcast crowd I still would find myself an outcast within this group. I really believe this has helped me to come up with my acting choices. You know, being a little off center. I never go with the usual choices. I can’t. It’s not me.

As for the longevity and remaining youthful, my brother, James, says that I live in Peter Pan hour and can’t find my way out. In all seriousness, a lot of it’s genetic. I have this surfer build that I’ve always sported. I also work out and try to stay healthy, so I can stay toned with my body.

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Screenshot of Johnny as “Peter Gunn”

Rumor has it, there is still no sign for you slowing down this year. In fact, you have another production lined up for your return to Los Angeles after the Sundance Film Festival in February? Can you share some details about it and what your role(s) are for this project?

JA: I’ve never felt like I’m going too fast. I’ve set a standard and this is the speed I’m cruising at. Like i mentioned earlier, in this industry, you have to line up your work and not just any work, but legitimate work that’s going to help you advance your career.

The production I have lined up is called, The Riddle House. It is a new horror independent film that is going to knock your socks off. With one of the most solid casts I can’t wait to work with. This new haunted house horror is going to be the one to break us through to keep producing films and television projects.

I will be playing one of the main characters, Peter Gunn. I also am a producer for the film. We recently produced one of the coolest concept trailers ever. The way we shot this thing it looks like the film has already been shot. It’s sick. I’ll want you and your readers to chime in and give us feedback.

Are there any other projects in the works for you in the producer field?

JA: I’m currently producing another project, aside from The Riddle House, in Los Angeles. The other project is a television series a writer and I have been throwing around for a while. We’re not waiting for one project to happen. We’re trying to make things happen, so all these projects will happen. One will springboard the other, so to speak. My good friend, Irv Becker, has always said that I’d make a good producer.

You have some returning cast and crew members from previous film projects joining you for The Riddle House like Robert Mukes, Richard Siegelman, etc. There must be some comfort already knowing how the work flow will progress throughout the production with these individuals.

JA: Yes, of course! If I could produce and cast every awesome actor I’ve ever worked with, my film would look like the carnival end scene in Grease. (Laughs) There’s a comfort working with actors you admire and trust. A lot of the actors I admire are power actors. What that means is the actors really go against conventional thinking to get to the level of acting they show on screen and on stage. I like real risk takers; actors that have put in the time have lived through the battle. Those are people I respect and will work with again and again. So yes, working with repeats means we have an admiration for each other’s work.

Is there anyone who haven’t worked with that you are looking forward to working with?

JA: Vincent Young was on that list. I always admired his career and how he handles his craft. He also comes from the dark method acting some actors, including myself, need to use to get to our characters. After we worked on What Death Leaves Behind, Vincent calls me and said he’s preparing for his new film Escape Plan II with John Travolta. He continues to tell me how he’s getting mentally prepared, but this also requires him getting physically prepared. We talked for hours about his routine. We compared notes and laughed at how we both do similar things to change and become serious character actors.

Another individual I am looking forward to working with is actress, Tracey Fairaway. We’ve known each other for over seven years. We really know each other way too well. This is one of the main reasons I’m dying to work with her.  I cannot wait to see how she’s going to test me and make choices I’m not going to be able to catch. Of course, I must do the same to her.

I told Tracey, “When I’m on set and when it comes to my dialogue, I punch and I punch hard. I hope you punch back, Fairaway.” Her reply was “Go for it. Let’s see what you’ve got, because I’ll break you, Alonso!”

It’s like a game of chess. You’re always thinking several moves ahead. Tracey is always ahead of the curve which gives her those Jedi qualities. So, when we become our characters in The Riddle House, you will see a tug of war like no other. And that’s what gets me motivated to act.

So, I’ve mentioned two actors off my (not-so) secret list. The other nine will remain secret. You’re just going to have to wait and see. (smiles)

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Vincent & Johnny

Speaking of Vincent Young, you got to work with him on What Death Leaves Behind. What was it like to work with another prestige seasoned actor?

JA: Vincent Young and I became good friends since working on the project, What Death Leaves Behind. I remember meeting him at a pre-production meeting a few weeks before filming in Philadelphia. We were getting wardrobe measurements, hair and makeup tests, producer questions answered, etc. I remember saying to myself, “Christ, this guy is as hyper as I am. We’re going to get along really well!”

I was familiar with his work so I was a fan from jump, then we got a few drinks, smoked cigars, and the next thing you know, we’re talking about four film projects we can each find our way into. (laughs).

There are some actors you meet that you gel on and off screen with. I really dig his character in What Death Leaves Behind. I’ve always described his character Andrew as the small town, blue collared guy that everyone has known or met in their past.

Andrew is the type of guy that you remember from when you were growing up. He’s the type of guy who would mow your parents’ yard, deliver appliances to the house, check your oil when filling up. It’s not easy harnessing that into a character. It goes beyond and it should always go beyond with what we just see visually on screen. That’s what I love about all the characters in What Death Leaves Behind. Everybody came prepared. Our performances force you to watch the film and take us seriously. I am very proud of this project.

So, you mentioned the dark method acting technique. Can you describe to those not familiar with acting techniques, how one would get into a character by using the method that only a few are drawn to use?

JA: For sure! For example, if you watch me in Coffin, Coffin 2, or What Death Leaves Behind, I walk, slouch, and twitch. I also don’t use my left dominant eye, or left dominant hand. I also lower my voice register, and slow my reflexes. The trick of all of this is done consciously and unconsciously. That’s just for starters. It’s a mindset we have to create to successfully deliver to the viewers. Physically, we’ll lose weight or even gain weight to make an internal statement. I know for the next project, Vincent and I work on we’re going to go in full force with the dark method technique, and I can assure you, it’ll be a mental and physical ride.

With the Johnny Alonso brand that’s developed over the years, you seem to be drawn to the horror, thriller, and suspense genres more. Were those genres always preferences from the get-go, or did it create itself naturally?

JA: It was more created naturally. The Johnny Alonso brand was created out of necessity. I, as a person, am not interesting enough to just walk on stage and play these dark, macabre characters without little theatrics behind me. So, through the years, I’ve learned to create a version of me that is acceptable for camera that would be interesting enough for people to understand and to enjoy on screen. Like any organic acting, it just takes shape, whether you want it to or not. I don’t like to dilute myself or my acting like other actors. I do this for me.

Are there any roles or genres you haven’t done yet, that you’d like to challenge yourself with?

JA:  I’d love to be in a chick flick/light-hearted romance like the film, Serendipity. Come on! Who doesn’t love Serendipity? (laughs) I don’t see myself in a film like that, but I am totally game to challenge myself, and love to try my hand at more of a light-hearted film and acting. I believe I could do it.

Are there any other announcements you can share as we head our way into February?  Do you foresee it to be a good year for the Johnny Alonso brand?

JA: I’d love to share one project that’s happening in the next couple months, but I’m under contract not to mention it publicly yet. When I’m allowed to say, the whole world will know in fifteen minutes. That’s how exciting the news is!

In this business we never stop working. It’s a continuous cycle. I sincerely enjoy what I do. Seriously, the best is yet to come. (Smiles)

Thank you, Johnny, for taking time out of your chaotic schedule to sit down for an interview with me, yet again! If any of my readers are at the Sundance Film Festival, make sure you make some time in your schedule to head to the Utah Film Studios on Saturday night, January 26th, to watch the Sundance premiere of What Death Leaves Behind, and capture the cast and crew, including Johnny Alonso, at the panel! 

unnamed (1)This is certainly a first. A film recommendation becomes a two part with a interview feature with the director and writer, himself! Saul Pincus, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and discuss the world of film! It’s truly an honor to be able to do this with you. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

How long have you been working in the film industry? What or who influenced you to dive into the film industry?

Saul Pincus: I’ve been doing this for the better part of four decades, roughly four fifths of my life. The first ten years were comprised of a lengthy string of experiments on Super 8 – experiments that grew and grew in challenge and complexity, thanks in part to the fact that it was the heyday of Super 8, and there was a lot of advanced gear available to get you results not possible with just a consumer camera and projector. I would cavort around Montreal, my hometown, with my camera, having a blast.

My dad, an astronomy buff, had played ball with William Shatner when they were in high school together, but no one in my family was in the entertainment field. The original Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind opened when I was seven. I went to the library to research how these sorts of films were made – but there was nothing available, only a book on “trick photography” with still cameras. But I was hooked – and at just the right moment, because for the first time in the history of cinema, science fiction was no longer a ghetto genre. We got rafts of films with new visual achievements every six months, and some of them had great stories, too.

For me, the thought of making films professionally was never much of a question. But when I left Montreal for Toronto in the mid-90s, I was starting from scratch.

What were some of the greater aspects working on the production of La Femme Nikita in the ’90s? What are some things on the production end that were difficult to do then, that might be easier now to do? What parts of the film industry hasn’t changed since you started in your career?

SP: LFN was a cool show, in part because it a show with a large international audience that was produced by American and Canadian minds hand-in-hand. It was also well-budgeted for an off-network show of that time, so it could look the part and not often look silly doing so. That was unique, and it helped lend the show the kind of character it has.

The difference between any series or film now, versus then, is the ease with which you can lend scale or realism to the images after the fact. But if you take a look at season two versus the first season, you can already see an improvement in the visual effects, which is less due to the artistry in this case, and more due to the availability of new tools – tools which were still evolving. The first season VFX seem a bit too “video-ey.”

But other than technology, the basic process of producing a series really hasn’t changed since the advent of the medium. You still need money, great writing, a great cast, a great crew, a supportive broadcaster and a loyal audience.

Could you go into detail on how your day went while you were an assistant editor on the show?

SP: When I was there, two assistants would alternate odd and even numbered shows, which meant we’d work with one editor though the season. LFN was shot on Super 16mm negative film, which meant that the previous day’s footage would be have to be first processed by the lab in a chemical bath overnight. Then it would go to Magnetic North, a post facility, and into the hands of Bill Holley, who would transfer it with care and a keen eye to Digital Betacam tape. This process would take till the early afternoon, so I’d arrive at work around 4pm.

I generally worked with Dave Thompson. When his episode would be shooting, I’d check his dailies and feed them into his Avid, ready for him to edit. There are many checks and triple-checks when dealing with film transfers to video, especially at that time, when you’d be shooting @ 23.98fps and wind up with 29.97 video. And it wasn’t just a one-way street, because Warner Bros. would want to archive a cut negative of the finished show. So you had to be certain the metadata of each and every piece of camera negative was correctly transferred to tape, and in turn, made it into your Avid intact. Otherwise you couldn’t instruct the negative cutter with confidence. Today, that process is much simpler, because we rarely use film.

It’s a technical job, yes, but it’s also a political job. And creative – though how much depended on the project and the editor.

So, you are not from Toronto, but from Montreal. What helped you decide to relocate to Toronto, from Montreal? Was it for work purposes? What helped you to decide to stay in Toronto, instead of returning to Montreal?

SP: I left Montreal largely because my girlfriend was returning home after going to school there. She and I later married, so I guess I made the right call!

But the other reason was the political climate in Montreal, which was in the throes of Quebec’s second referendum on sovereignty in two decades. It was not a healthy environment in which to seek gainful employment or a predictable financial future.

I always believe you can read a city by its food. Toronto was just starting to get interesting food-wise. On several levels, Toronto of the mid-90s was transitioning, getting more inviting.

You are still based in Toronto decades after shooting LFN. I understand access to budget for films in Canada differ than the access here in the United States. Could you share the difference between the Canadian film industry compared to that of the US and can you share the process that is done to get budget for a film project in the industry up there compared to what is done here in the U.S.?

SP: Well, that’s a really big question with a week-long answer. In a nutshell, the English-speaking film/television world is driven by the U.S. market. Traditionally this had meant we in Canada have taken the scraps, or produced alternative programming in a bid to secure what we consider to be our Canadian identity in broadcast or theatrical form. There are government agencies set up to ensure projects with a Canadian identity get made. But as with any project anywhere in the world, the total project budget comes from several sources. Cobbling all those sources together is the big challenge.

The US isn’t as concerned with its cultural identity per se in large part because the machinery to export American movies was set up over a hundred years ago, and is still functioning at top efficiency, in great numbers, with well-worn distribution channels allowing access into nearly every country on the planet.

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Mary, Ted, Chris, Me, Dave, Natalie, & Saul

I actually had the privilege to personally meet you with numerous cast and crew of LFN back in May 2017. When you walked into the reunion convention, what was your first expression and/or your whole experience like all weekend spending time with the fans and your previous coworkers?

SP: I was amazed, in part that so many had traveled so far to celebrate it. But I’ve gotten on planes to see the late Jerry Goldsmith and then John Williams (both widely considered the greatest film composers of our time) conduct concerts, so I get it.

I’ll admit though, that the first time I was approached to autograph Chris Heyn’s book on the show, it was a strange feeling. Strange because I didn’t create this show, nor was I a key creative force. I was more like red shirt #28576 at a Star Trek convention. But it’s all about love, and that’s a beautiful thing.

Do you feel there is more expression freedom in the art of film in Canada as a whole compared to the film art expressed here in the States?

SP: Not necessarily, because if someone trusts you with a million dollars, no matter where you live, very few people on this planet are going to ask you if you achieved maximum artistic expression. They just want to know if what you’ve made is exploitable and whether it will bring returns. It’s probably healthier to find an exploitable concept, but carefully craft it and then lace it with artistic expression that does not undermine the exploitable aspect.

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Still frame from Nocturne.

Your most current project is the independent film, Nocturne. Was there a specific person or event that influenced you to write the story for Nocturne?

SP: Nocturne was borne from my desire to make a silent film about characters that struggle to communicate. Obviously it’s not a silent film, literally – but it’s a story lends itself to visual language and I hoped to stress that. It’s about an insomniac who falls for a sleepwalker, and how they eventually must come to grips with the fact that their intimate, almost myopic “relationship” has larger implications for them both.

How long did it take to create a film project like Nocturne?

SP: About a year to write, a few months to shoot, and several years to finish. The reason is because it was entirely self-financed, but also because the film contains five minutes of hand-drawn animation playing in tandem with the dominantly live-action portion of the film. That took a year to actually produce, but before doing so, I had to cut and shape the live-action very precisely to know exactly how much animation I really needed. So it took time to finish, for sure, but once we started getting invited to film festivals in the US, Canada, and in Europe (Nocturne had its World Premiere in the Free Spirit Competition at the Warsaw Film Festival), won awards for best feature film (at the New Jersey International Film Festival and at Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival, with an excellence award from the Rincon Film Festival), and landed our distribution deal with Random Media, it left me feeling gratified.

What was the difference between working on La Femme Nikita and your work with Nocturne? Do you feel you had more control as an editor or as a director/writer for a project?

SP: LFN was Joel Surnow’s vision; Roy, Peta, everyone – we were all hired to execute it. Your own project is just that, and you work with or hire people to help you execute it. Depending on what your arrangement is with your investors, you are answerable to them to some degree. But in the end, we make things for audiences, and you are always answerable to them on the basis of the work itself!

What is the difference between working on a film, compared to working on a television series in general?

SP: In the late 90s, you worked on a TV show for the better part of a year, there were semi-regular hours, each episode took roughly eight days to shoot, and you shot six to ten pages of script per shooting day. There were distinct limits as to how many locations you could visit in that eight day schedule, what caliber of guest stars you could cast, etc. And each episode had to run a specific length.

Even low budget features of the day shot for at least four weeks, often months. So you shoot less per day, meaning you can introduce more detail into the story and take a bit more time to craft the result. But the hours were crazier.

Today, the lines are a bit more blurred. A season no longer equates to a definitive number of episodes, and even the duration of individual episodes doesn’t matter as long as they remain under a certain length. In general, series work is much better funded across the board, with broadcasters (including the likes of Netflix and Amazon) having realized that to compete with features, their product must be as good as features traditionally were.

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Still frame from Nocturne with Actress Mary Krohnert

 

Do you have any new projects you are currently working on or a part of whether it would be in pre-production, production, or post-production phase? Can you tell us what to expect from you in the near future when it comes to projects or work?

SP: Well, oddly, Nocturne is still very active. Earlier this year, Nocturne was released on special edition DVD – which means that the two lead actors, Mary Krohnert, Knickoy Robinson and I, went into a studio to record a screen-specific audio commentary that describes how we made the film. And we had fun – but we were serious about it, too. If you’re curious about movies, it’s a great way to learn – sort of a film school in a box.

Also exciting for me is that Tribeca Shortlist, the digital arm of the Tribeca Film Festival, has just licensed Nocturne for a two-year run in the US. Tribeca Shortlist is a real home for the kind of “filmmaker’s film” that Nocturne has often been called. It’s also available on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox and certain broadcast networks in more than 50 countries across the globe. This is the thing about movies – they can go on for years, even after they’re done!

And yes, I have other projects in the works. Sorry for being coy, but that’s all I can say at this stage!

The film industry isn’t an easy career to pursue in general. What helps keep you motivated in your craft to help keep you focused and allows you to keep pushing forward in your career?

SP: The simple answer: it’s just what I like to do, and has been for as long as I can remember. I like to build things.

What is some advice would you like to share, based off of your own experiences, for those who are in film school or interested in the film industry?

SP: Another simple question! But seriously, the real trick is just knowing yourself, what you want to eventually be doing, and chart a path from there. And remember, it’s not so much about where you see yourself in a year, but where you’d like to see yourself when you’re fifty or sixty. Pick an area that will keep you passionate on little or no sleep, in horrible weather, even if your health fails. I’m being dramatic, but also truthful. If you can’t do that, walk away!

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In Between Scenes with the actors of Nocturne

I don’t know about you, but I would love to see what other film art you have the ability to cook up in that articulate mind of yours. Any last words you’d like to share for the following readers before we conclude this interview?

SP: Well, I’m going to put in another plug for Nocturne. From the story, through the performances, through the crafting of the film, I never approached it as a date movie, never frivolously, but made it hoping it would satisfy in a similar fashion to the way you return to good book that’s been waiting patiently on your shelf, tempting you to return to it for another read. And when you told me you had to watch Nocturne twice, but still found that second viewing rewarding, you gave me hope that my plan may not have been in vain.

*Disclaimer – All photos are of courtesy and rightfully owned by Saul Pincus.