Michael, congratulations on winning Best Romance Film! We loved the message of the film, "The Millennial Condition." Before we talk about the film, let's roll back to the beginning, please tell us about your background, and how did you get into filmmaking?
I got into filmmaking halfway through college back in 2012-2013. I always had an obsession with movies, though. As a kid I used to pay attention how they were shot and always look them up in the TV Guide that would come in the mail once a month. I was always known as the “movie guy” in middle school and high school. When I got into the program in college, I immediately fell in love with it. I codirected my first short film in 2013 and then solo directed another one in 2014 that I also wrote. Been writing and directing projects ever since.
Alongside your personal projects, you also work on several live/live to tape tv
broadcasts. What is your biggest takeaway from these gigs?
These gigs are so different from the set life on films, but i do love them. One of the biggest takeaways from working live tv is knowledge from the directors. Oftentimes I am operating a camera for the director and even though it is very different from filmmaking, I still learn a lot from them in terms of communicating and being specific about what they want. I’ve had the pleasure of directing a lot of live events as well, and bringing my creative film side into it is pretty fun sometimes.
Who are your favorite filmmakers, and what do you like about their work? In your
opinion, what makes a film great?
My favorite filmmakers include Stanley Kubrick, Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Spike Lee, and Martin Scorsese. More recently Ari Aster and Damien Chazelle have been climbing my ranks. I can’t wait to see what they do next. I love how all of these directors tell their stories. From Nolan who blows your mind with an intricate screenplay to Fincher who shoots his films in such a precise way and crafts the characters so well, these directors are big influencers to me. Several things going into making a film great, but for me the main two things are well crafted characters and a compelling story. That is the beauty of storytelling; if done well, it can be fantastic at any level. It isn’t always about how pretty the movie looks, it’s about grabbing the audiences attention and taking them on a journey within the script.
Although you're relatively young, you've got a lot of directorial experience under your belt. The Millennial Condition, CMA Music Festival Riverfront Stages, Music Midtown Festival, and No Time To Waste to name a few. Tell us about your directorial process. How do you usually come up with the vision for your film? What are the first decisions to make?
Typically, I gather my thoughts as I am writing a new script and I immediately visualize how I would shoot it. It’s funny because that jumps several steps in preproduction, but my mind runs with the idea and displays every shot in my mind. I always think of certain things I will need from my actors as well. Some of the first decisions I make are who fits the roles I’ve created and when to set up auditions, and when to start storyboarding with my DP.
Let's talk about The Millennial Condition. Was the screenplay inspired by your real-life experience? What sparked the idea?
The Millennial Condition is a very special film to me. I originally wrote it near the end of 2017. It focused on a couple who were going through issues due to the girl cheating on the guy. I wrote it that way because that is what happened to me in the past. I liked the script but I ultimately shelved it to work on other projects. I had a relationship in 2018 and when that ended, I took a solo trip to Miami, hoping to clear my head. When I was down there I found this inspiration to work on the script for The Millennial Condition again when I got back home. I wanted to change the story from cheating to a relationship falling apart due to the lack of self-love because that is what I had just went through in my recent relationship. Some of the scenarios in the film are close to what happened between me and my ex girlfriend. My overall goal was to make something that was very relatable and compelling. I think the lack of self-love aspect combined with the commentary on the “millennial” aspects with social media makes it relatable to almost everyone who watches it. So yes, it is inspired by my life experience and that’s why it is so personal and special to me.
Tell us about working with cinematographer Grant Towsend Moore, who also edited the film. Is this your first collaboration? What were some of the visual inspirations for this film?
Grant is fantastic. He’s actually my best friend as well so we’ve built a nice working relationship over the years. I met him in college and he worked on some of my first short films. When we started discussing how we’d shoot the film, we came to the agreement that the story is very simple, so let’s keep the cinematography that way. No crazy movements or anything, just tripod and dolly. I think there are only two steadicam shots in the entire film. We made it a point to absolutely nail the final scene in the film from a visual standpoint. It is so crucial and the facial expressions and close ups help with the tension so much. I couldn’t have made this project without Grant. Very talented DP.
Lindsay Ross, Mashuan Martin, and Alex Bowling were great in their roles as Allison, Robert, and Taylor. How did you go about casting and what, in your opinion is the best way to communicate with actors?
So I considered going the whole audition route, but I ended up running the project by them and going from there. I always saw Lindsay in the lead role, I think I even sent her the original version of the script years ago. Mashaun I had recently worked with on another short film. I thought he was talented and I really liked the idea of how him and Lindsay would look as a couple on screen. Alex always brings good ideas to the table and I thought she’d fit the friend role well for this one. I’ve been working with her for about 3 years. For me, communicating with actors has gotten easier over the years. I always am very direct about what I want, but I also let them give their thoughts on the scene and the dialogue. I like to see what they can bring to the table. I do my best to understand the character they are portraying. Trusting your actors is huge too.
What was it like to work with associate producer Connor Vandiver and how did you divide the producing responsibilities?
Working with Conor was awesome. He’s another guy I went to college with and he is great to have on set. I gave him the responsibilities of dealing with catering and other miscellaneous needs during the shoot days. During pre-production I had him help with contacting crew members and locking down locations.
What was the biggest challenge in making The Millennial Condition?
This is the first film I have ever crowdfunded. Getting that whole process going and figuring out how it works was fairly challenging. And then getting people to donate to it was another beast in of itself. I am pretty sure all of my friends on social media hated me from sharing the link so much, but we did well raising money for it! Super thankful for that. Other than that, I found it more challenging than ever before to get all my ducks in a row during pre-production. It wasn’t challenging in a bad way, but I think I was more focused than ever before because of how much potential the script had.
What message do you wish the audience to take away from the film, and what was the reaction so far?
I would love the audience to watch this film and walk away from it with some clarity on communication skills in a relationship. Being able to communicate is crucial and there are parts in the film that display just how important it is, especially when one side doesn’t have self-love. I want people to watch it, relate to it, and maybe even realize that they are doing some of the negative things displayed in the film. I’m not expecting it to save dozens of relationships or anything, but there is some good to take away from it for sure. So far, the reactions have been great. Friends and strangers alike have both said it is very relatable, with some even saying “wow, I’ve been in that exact situation.” That’s amazing to me. How well it has resonated with people I know, strangers, and in the festival circuit has blown me away.
What do you wish people knew about your work?
I honestly just wish people truly knew how much passion goes into my work. Filmmaking sets my soul on fire and I wanna do it the rest of my life. It is a stressful process that requires long days, but I love it.
What's next for you, and what's next for The Millennial Condition?
So I am actually in production for my next project right now. It is a short documentary that focuses on how COVID-19 has affected the film, television, and music industry, and what can be done from here. We started shooting interviews last week and plan to have the project out in the next few months. I am very excited to inform people about what all the creatives are going through in this industry. As for The Millennial Condition, It is finishing up the festival circuit soon and then I will be getting it onto a streaming service. I have gotten a few distribution offers so I am excited about that. Can’t wait for people to see it.
Would you like to add anything or thank anyone?
I’d like to thank everyone who donated to the crowdfunded campaign and believed in the project. The Millennial Condition has won over 30 awards in the festival circuit so far and I can’t describe how happy that makes me. There is no shortage of what you can do if you TRULY set your mind to it.