"Be loyal to your vision, but stay open minded. Your cast & crew might be very helpful as a
Michael Vaynberg is a Russian screenwriter and director. After a successful career in the Russian film industry, he moved to NYC where he taught a Theatrical Directing Program at New York Film Academy. Most recently, Michael wrote and directed a psychological thriller/drama “9.8 m/s”, which has premiered at Cannes Film Festival, has been selected to Sundance International Film Festival, was sold to 4 European countries and won two awards at LAFA.
Currently, Michael is in pre-production for a new TV show produced by Netflix and two Independent Feature Films with A-List Hollywood actors.
Meet a super-busy filmmaker who doesn't have a tip about dealing with stress and busy schedule ("If I knew the right answer, I think my hair would've begun to turn gray only now and not when I turned twenty").
Michael, congratulations on winning Best Editing and Best Actor (Short Film). Very impressive work! Let's talk about your background. When and how did you get into film, and what were some of the important milestones of your career so far?
First of all, I wanted to thank you very much, I am very flattered. It’s really important to receive support from the community, especially when you do something so subjective and unparticular as filmmaking is.
Regarding my professional path, I’ve been working as a film director for almost 20 years. When I was 14, I accidentally got into TV and fell in love for the rest of my life. But before I began to build my career as a film director, I finished my Master’s Degree in a Conservatory as a composer and then as a graduate from the Academy of Art as a theatrical director.
After working for several years in different theaters (in parallel, I was already working on TV and making my dreams come true), I decided that I needed to move on. And I moved to New York City, where I attended the NYFA. From that moment I use to be a pretty experienced “man of theatre and TV broadcasting”, and as I thought the difference between what I know about directing on the set and what a real film director knows is only the editing and cinematography - because others rules and tools looked from my point of view practically identical (of course, I was wrong, but nobody couldn’t convince me), - so I graduated NYFA as an editor and started my new career.
Unfortunately, for family reasons, I had to return to Moscow and continued working there. Only four years ago we eventually came back to the US. I hope, this time forever.
Who are your role models?
Every self-made person, who reached success in their profession, and saved humanity, didn’t lose it along that non-easy way. Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, and Matthew McConaughey to name a few, I'm one of 121 million followers of Duane Johnson's Instagram too!.
You're an incredibly busy filmmaker, with extensive experience directing for television, including shows like Metod Freyda, Mama-detektiv and Test na beremennost. How do you deal with the stress and the intense schedules that come along with your work?
If I knew the right answer, I think my hair would've begun to turn gray only now and not when I turned twenty. :) Seriously, I still have no right answer for this question.
Let's discuss your latest work, 9.8 M/s² , which screened at Cannes Film Festival 2018, and also won the Los Angeles Film Awards. What drew you to tell this story?
When I lived in NY, I’ve quite often drove on the George Washington Bridge, and once I noticed many stickers, attached to any reachable part of the bridge. I was intrigued. It turned out that these are phone numbers of a hotline for those who want to commit suicide. And this bridge is a “record holder” in the number of attempts to part with life. So, I began figuring out what could have happened with these people, who decided to finish their life journey in such a tragic way. And this is how that story came to me.
What was the inspiration for Danny's character and what was your casting process like?
Just my life experience, Danny isn’t a particular person, which I’ve met someday, but he is a combination of several people, characters who crossed my path.
There wasn’t a casting for this role, because when I was writing the script, I knew who will play Danny. I’ve met Pasha many years ago and had no doubt he would be the best Danny for this story. Despite Erick’s character, because I needed a very recognizable image, a character of a contemporary New York type – rich, handsome, confident, successful, selfish (sometimes), athletic, an age around 35-37 y/o, and … vulnerable. As you can see this is not the easiest combination of humanity. But when Michael Sirow auditioned, all doubts disappeared. His performance showed me an amazing quality of professional skills, an incredible accuracy of acting and an absolute readiness to cooperate with directions and fellow acting partners.
In your opinion, what are the main ingredients of a good screenplay?
The Intrigue, the Timing, the Tempo-rhythm, unpredictable Twists, the Developing of characters (they have to change during your story), the Possibility for the audience to associate themselves with the characters.
What were some of the visual inspirations for the story? Which movies that influenced your vision?
The City of New York itself, and my vision of this great Babylon.
What was it like working with your wife, Lyanka Gryu? Is combining set life and personal life a good idea?
To work with Lyanka is a blessing and a pure joy. I’m not kidding. Just imagine, you are on set with an incredibly talented, super professional (just in case: her career as an actress launched when she just turned 4) and absolutely gorgeous actress! Moreover, you understand each other like… that’s quite a shorthand you two have and in the same time you’re definitely on the same page, for any reason. Isn’t that the director’s happiness?
What were some of the challenges you and your team encountered during the shoot?
Time and money. Both of our cameras had broken on the third shooting day, but not at the same time. They did it gradually, one by one. It means we had been shooting a half shooting day (actually at night) by one unstable-working camera and then there was the second camera's turn. And the next morning we couldn’t exchange them in the rental house, because of Veteran’s Day. It was a long weekend and practically all rental houses were closed. Only one or two of them gave offers to us, but the price was insane! Unreachable for our budget. On the other hand, I couldn’t stop shooting for a couple of days and just wait, when our rental house opened, because of our actors' schedule. Pasha and Lyanka participated in others projects and found their very busy schedule just those 5 days for shooting. So, it was a miracle and thanks to my talented co-producer Mario Chioldi, who, eventually, found two others cameras for an affordable price and we continued shooting.
What's the most important lesson you've learned from this production?
New York (especially Manhattan) is a very film-friendly city.))
After 18 years of working on feature films and TV, what are some tips you can give to filmmakers who just got out of school?
Be nice with people who you work with, but be loyal to your Principles and Ideas and your own Vision. At the same time don't be a stubborn idiot, filmmaking is definitely a team sport. The visualization of your dreams and human complexes is a result of many factors, and the main one is your crew, your co-creators. They too know something about this life and might be very helpful as another point of view! And, the most important thing– don’t stop learning. If you learn, you are alive as a filmmaker.
What's next for you, and what's next for 9.8 M/s² ?
Now I’m working on three different projects, two of them are feature films and the third one is a series. Regarding my short film, it’s still at the festival journey: we won 25 awards and got 28 nominees so far. I hope this is not the end.))
Where can our readers follow you and your work? (Social media links, etc).
The official Instagram of the short film is https://www.instagram.com/theshortfilm_9.8ms2
My IMDb-page link: https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3111697
My Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Mikhail.Vaynberg