Its 12:49 am
Welcome to my first “8 Questions with…..” in quite a while. I had to catch up with my film reviews and a couple of interviews didn’t pan out but oh boy,I am so happy this one did!! I have been wanting to review film director Brandon Slagle for quite a while.
I met Brandon years ago on Twitter when I noticed he was a indie film director and quite busy. But what caught my attention was how nice he was with his many followers on Twitter. He never failed to answer film making questions and what was coming from Brandon.
But what started us on becoming friends was when I went looking for any films that Brandon had directed and only found one,”House Of Manson”. I passed on buying it and that led to a great conversation on Twitter with Brandon where we talked about Charles Manson based films. The discussion was honest and frank and I came away with a whole new of respect for Brandon and his process. I knew coming away from our talk that I would interview Brandon sooner or later.
In the meantime,Brandon helped make film history when his film “Crossbreed”,which he also co-wrote with Robert Thompson,when Vivica A. Fox was cast as the first African-American oncreen President. His films have slowly gotten bigger and have started to win some festival awards. “The Dawn” won Brandon a “Best Director” award and he has been nominated several times as well.
Despite being a prolific director who also promotes his projects passionately along with his wife and an award winning actress in her own right,Brandon is also a very private man who likes to focus on what is next on his agenda. Of course whith the pandemic raging out of control here,a lot of projects have been halted in their tracks. But while many would be content to ride it out,Brandon is taking this time to do some serious writing of which I am sure we’ll see on the big screen soon.
But for now….I hope you’ll really enjoy reading his interview as I ask Brandon his long awaited 8 Questions……..
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your current project?
I’m Brandon. A couple decades ago I played in Industrial and Nu Metal bands. Then I was an actor. I retired from that in 2014 to focus solely on directing. I like Cats.( <— best interview answer ever) Riveting isn’t it?
Unfortunately due to the pandemic, there is no definitive current project. A number of things that were in the works before Covid were delayed indefinitely or cancelled outright.
I guess I was lucky enough to have two theatrically released films in 2020, so that’s pretty cool, right? The first was pre-Covid, a “paranormal psycho-thriller” called “The Dawn” that was released in tandem by Vertical Entertainment and Lionsgate. It was a tough production, having been shot in subzero temperatures mostly in Minnesota, but played really well (in my opinion) on the big screen. The second was DURING Covid, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see it theatrically. It was called “Attack of the Unknown” and is a sci-fi action romp about an alien invasion in Los Angeles.
The Dawn was my own production with partners Devanny Pinn and Ryan Kiser, starring the two of them as well as Stacey Dash, Jonathan Bennett, and Teilor Grubbs. Attack I was hired to do by the Mahal Brothers (Party Bus To Hell) and starred Richard Grieco, Jolene Andersen, Douglas Tait, Robert LaSardo, and Tara Reid.
There was a feature recently that was offered to me as restrictions had been lifted and refined, but it was just “put on hold” as Covid cases have spiked the past few weeks. There’s another one that’s also very early but isn’t to the point I can say much about it yet.
How have you been handling the pandemic and the wildfires so far?
By behaving. It’s really not that difficult to be mindful of cleanliness and to be respectful of other people – same with fires and not doing anything that could potentially incite them. Also, I’m older than people realize, and very tired and sleepy so behaving comes pretty naturally.
How old were you when you got the acting bug? What steps did you take into becoming an actor?
I’d say, like many Gen-X kids, when I saw Star Wars as a strapping young lad, I wanted to be Luke Skywalker. I also wanted to be a Ninja (after watching Enter the Ninja on HBO). I guess I went through all the usual channels available to a kid at the time, pre-internet. I was in every school play, mock trial, anything that required performing. I also directed a play my Junior year in high school.
I don’t know how “good” it was, but somehow I managed a ton of cast, a ton of humor, and had to the step into the lead role when and actor got food poisoning.
This was over 25 years ago now, but my memories of it are that it was just bonkers. The humor and insanity I definitely carried with me into numerous projects decades later like Attack of the Unknown and some of my other recent movies like Crossbreed and Escape From Ensenada.
Back then there wasn’t immediate guidance that you could get on a computer with a few keystrokes, you had to really hustle to figure out where and how to be seen for television and movies. Check out casting calls in the entertainment section of newspapers and backpages with the classified ads – whatever worked.
What was your first audition like? What went through your mind when you won your first role?
The first “non-school” audition I can remember was for the role of “Josiah” in Children of the Corn IV, I believe it was. There were a few other auditions I had around that time for Walker: Texas Ranger and a number of TV movies, but this one I remember most vividly.
This was around 1993 or 1994. The main thing I can remember was how entitled the kid who went before me was acting to his mother. In the actual room with the director and producers, I thought it went well – I was actually pretty confident. I probably did a little too much, though. I’m sure it came off forced. At the time though I thought it was great and couldn’t handle the ultimate rejection.
To combat that rejection, in and post-college I ended up playing in numerous bands that did label showcases and didn’t get signed. Suddenly the rejection from Children of the Corn IV didn’t sting as much as being rejected by Warner Bros. Records numerous times.
Sidenote: I don’t recall ever speaking about that in any interview ever before. I like Cheetahs. (<—- best answer ever!!!)
Why did you decide to go behind the camera? Was it something you had planned to do during your career?
It was something that was always inevitable, I just didn’t know when and where that would happen. It’s hard to describe my decision process in outright dropping acting and focusing only on filmmaking. I had done a bunch of Syfy-Channel style movies and popped up in a mostly deleted role in “Argo” — then all of a sudden I felt like I was done.
It didn’t interest me anymore. I’d mentally moved away from it just as easily as I’d decided I wanted to do it back when I was a kid. Bizarre, isn’t it?
Your directing debut was “The Dark Avengers” in which you co-directed. What was that experience like and what five things did you take away from it and apply to your future projects?
“The Dark Avengers” was a comic book that childhood friend Remy St. Paul and I drew on our desks in middle school when we were getting bullied by kids that probably grew up to be worthless ass holes. Basically a “what if superheroes were real” story about two vengeance driven vigilantes trying to really be superheroes.
At the time it also served the dual-purpose of generating my own material to throw together an acting reel, as that was my focus at the time. I had no idea at the time I’d eventually leave acting altogether.
I’m not really sure I can break down five specific takeaways from that project as there’s probably dozens. I haven’t seen this or even laid eyes on a copy of it for years, but from what I remember there were some creative shots such as panning quickly with throwing stars (which I created by creating a stop-motion sequence of a throwing star spinning and compositing it over a whip pan/blur), or the camera pulling back from an object as a throwing star spins towards its target (if that makes sense, also done with stop-motion).
I guess this stuff forced me to be creative with no money, which I still try to do today even though there IS money.
What attracts you about directing a movie? Have you ever turned down a job because of script or casting choices? What is more of a challenge to you? A subpar script with a great cast or a great script with relative unknowns?
It’s a combination of marketability and finding something beneath the surface that interests me.
At this point, I want what I do to have strong domestic and international sales potential. I really lean towards action and science fiction but if there’s a something interesting in the characterizations in the script or my shooting style would match it, I’ll consider it. For instance, I’d love to do a HELLRAISER or JACOB’S LADDER type movie.
I turn down scripts left and right – I may be too picky sometimes, usually because I try and think of what the next job would be AFTER the script being offered to me, if that makes sense.
As per the challenge – a film full of unknowns can be just as challenging as a script full of name actors. There’s no real formula for what makes one any more workable than the other.
Of course, name cast tends to bring more budget, but it doesn’t necessarily always make for the best movie. You can mess something up that cost 10 cents just as fast as you can mess up something up that cost 10 bucks, trust me.
Has being an actor helped you become a better director? How do you approach directing a “name” performer in comparison to a newcomer?
I’d like to think that being an actor in the past myself helped with my approach with them. I try and approach both “name” actors and unknowns the same. We’re all just people, no matter the stature. It’s all about making them feel involved and that their ideas are being heard. I particularly like improvisation so that’s always one thing that seems to break the ice, at least for me.
What have been your five biggest challenges as a director and how did you overcome them?
Lack of Money – This is a given for any filmmaker, but of course it also forces you to do things more creatively and on the fly. I really learned filmmaking nearly a decade ago making “The Black Dahlia Haunting” and “Vivid”, both of which only cost a couple grand and there are still lessons I learned that I apply to much, much bigger projects. I tend to think big, maybe too big, and didn’t want to necessarily compromise that unless I had to, so I had to learn how to convey scale and scope without much money to do so.
Having too much control – I have a habit of “if someone messes up I’ll just do it myself” – unfortunately that sometimes meant I ended up making it worse. That being said, if you don’t know how to do your job, I may not take any bullshit and fix it.
Sales/Marketability – You have to be able to sell your movie, otherwise you’re a hobbyist. Years ago I started paying attention to sales trends in film markets and came up with various formulas I apply both in selecting my own productions or what I look for in projects offered to me.
Speed – We all want more time, but that’s not always a luxury we get, so any filmmaker needs to learn how to cover what’s needed to tell the story in a finite amount of time. I particularly love coming up with new angles and such on the fly, but in recent films I’ve stuck mostly to the shot list and don’t veer much from it.
Communication – Similar to what I said about control earlier. The DIY attitude can often lead to grave mistakes, but luckily over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work with some talented crew I really trust, so I guess the way to overcome that is to “find your tribe”.
What do you love most about your job?
Quite simply – when it connects with an audience. Sometimes I’m successful (in my opinion), sometimes I’m not as successful (once again, in my opinion), but when it works and the audience emotionally connects with what you’ve made, it’s a pretty amazing feeling.
What are three things you want to improve on in your craft? What are your three strongest strengths as a director?
All Directors at every level should be wanting to improve. It’s really the only way to do it.
At this point, I think I could do better with the pacing in the final product, and I’m always looking for ways to work more harmoniously with the team on every film. Not to mention learning more first hand about lighting. I really lean hard on my Directors of Photography here, but feel like I could know more myself because you can never communicate too well.
As for my strengths, I’d like to think my composure/camera movement, blocking, and sense of rhythm is pretty snazzy – but I could always improve those things too.
Who are your 5 favorite directors working today and what makes them so special?
Ridley Scott – I love his framing and choices of lenses. Ditto his brother Tony Scott, Rest in Peace.
Michael Bay – Yeah, the internet says I shouldn’t like him, but every movie he does is unmistakably a Michael Bay movie. I also love explosions.
David Fincher – I admit I love pre-Social Network Fincher more – there was something about the way he framed actors, plus he made nihilism deliciously entertaining.
John Woo – Really the most influential director in history to me and who made me want to do action movies.
I’ll have to end it there because the fifth should have been the aforementioned Tony Scott.
In the wake of the pandemic, do you feel movie theaters can comeback and why/why not?
I’d like to think so – we have to remember this is still a relatively new medium. Everything sprouted up in the past 100 years or so, and the root of the business model we’re in now (big blockbusters, etc) has only existed since the 1970’s.
If anything, it’s going to only to continue to divide the outlets for budget levels. Not too many mid-budget movies (comedies, drama, romantic comedies, etc) get wide theatrical releases anymore and are instead going straight to Hulu, Netflix, etc. I think ultimately once the smoke clears, it’s just going to continue that way.
The cheetah and I are flying out to observe you direct your next movie but we are a day early and now you are playing tour guide, what are we doing and seeing?
Unfortunately you’d probably see myself fire myself for not focusing on work and the ten million last minute things that need to be addressed before the start of production. Then you and the Cheetah would be full on strapped in and ready to ride the rollercoaster of production. Hopefully your hair (and the Cheetah’s) would still be the same color afterwards.
I like to thank Brandon for taking the time to do this interview with us during this most hectic time. The cheetah and I will be reviewing “The Dawn” pretty soon. Brandon’s newest “Attack Of The Unknown” is out now and is available at Walmart and Best Buy as well as online. We also will be reviewing that film as well.
You can follow Brandon via his media pages.
Thank you all for supporting Brandon and this interview. If you missed any of my other 120 interviews,you can catch up by clicking here.