Filmmaker Q&A Josh Knoller

by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

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DCP:

When did your love or enjoyment for cinema/filmmaking begin?

 

Josh Knoller:

I guess my love for filmmaking and cinema in general really started with my Dad and I just watching movies. He’s always been very into film and we would, either just us two, or as a family with my mom and brother, sit down to watch great, classic movies together. What really drove me to actually be interested in pursuing it in any way I guess, was just wondering how a film like “The Graduate,” could be so meticulously and perfectly crafted to cause such a variance of emotion throughout its running time. I’ve always been fascinated by film and the different aspects from the words heard, to the visuals shown, to lighting, to wondering what grips and gaffers do. It was my non stop questioning and intrigue of what I was seeing that led me to want to pursue filmmaking and screenwriting.

 

DCP:

What are some of your favorite films (of any genre) that has impacted your life and has influenced your work as a filmmaker?

 

JK:

There have been a whole lot of films that have impacted my life. For instance, “Reservoir Dogs,” the first movie that my Dad and I watched that absolutely blew my mind, or “The Graduate,” the first film I watched that inspired me to want to make films, or even a film like “Finding Nemo,” that is so dense with raw, emotional, and relatable character relationships, that it made me want to learn how to move people to tears and connect with individuals through filmmaking. “The Graduate,” was the one film that had the greatest impact on me, primarily due to the simplicity of Mike Nichols’ camera and directorial choices, creating what I feel is a beautiful and simplistic movie that combines visual storytelling and acting direction flawless. To a more technical influence, Michael Mann’s film “The Insider,” which utilizes similarly framed shots with different focal length lenses cut together, creates the illusion of a stationary camera, while the distance between object and subject change drastically based upon the length of the lens.

 

DCP:

Who or what inspires you?

 

JK:

One inspiration of mine is definitely my Dad. He has been a strong role model for me in terms of how to act professionally not only on sets, but in life situations. He’s always in the back of my mind when I'm writing or making something, partly because I want to make him proud, but also because I know that without his guidance, I would not be where I am now as an individual. Another constant for me is my interest and pursuit in telling stories that have some sort of stronger message of social awareness or advocacy. I have always believed that film and storytelling was the most effective way to get messages of social advocacy across, which is why one of the driving forces of my interest in film, writing, and storytelling is having scripts or films that I make, or want to make, have some stronger message that bring awareness to a controversial and prevalent issue, or help others understand the issue to a greater extent.

 

DCP:

Your directorial debut of your short film "Talk To Me", which you co-wrote with Sarah Evans, was a powerful one! Can you talk to us about the genesis of the story and what inspired it?

 

JK:

Well the story really started as something completely and utterly different, frankly an idea that I cannot even remember because it was so long ago. Essentially, I had been working on plotting out this idea for months until I finally said to my producer and team that the idea just doesn't work in terms of the availability of resources that we had and the overly ambitious ideas and plot-lines within the script. That is when I sat down that day after my classes and, for two and a half hours, sat down and just brainstormed. That is when I got to thinking about suicide in high school. As a high schooler, I have unfortunately met multiple people who have not only experienced suicidal thoughts, but also are survivors of attempted suicide, and even some who have succeeded in the act. Keep in mind, these people are all high schoolers; fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, and eighteen years old. That is really the crux of what inspired me to write “Talk to Me.” I wanted to tell a story that showed that suicide in high school, and throughout the rest of society, is a prominent issue and that people cannot stand idly by as more and more young people crack under the insane and unrealistic pressures put on them by teachers, administration, family, and most importantly themselves. I wanted to tell a story that not only realistically depicted suicidal thought and emotion, but also paint an accurate picture as to how to help those struggling with suicidal thoughts. Then “Talk to Me” was born. I came up with the idea, and then over the next month and a half, both I and Sarah worked endlessly to write draft after draft, finally ending on draft number seventeen. After finalizing the script, I corresponded briefly with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to make sure the story well represented the most effective ways of preventing suicide, by stressing the importance of having that one person who is willing to talk to you, and be that support system. “Talk to Me” was a story that we all hoped would make a difference, and in one way or another, let people know that without open communication and true compassion, suicide in teenagers and adults could still go unnoticed.

 

DCP:

Can you tell us about your casting process and how you chose your actors? Their performances were spectacular!

 

JK:

The casting process was amazing and interesting for us. For the role of The Father, we never held true auditions of the role. Shane Johnson, who portrays “Cooper Saxe” on the Starz series “Power,” had been working with my Dad for sometime on the show, and having seen his work multiple times, I felt he would be perfect for the role of The Father. My dad had brought up to Shane the fact that I had been working on a film for an three quarters of a year, and he was interested in reading the script. After promptly sending him the script, Shane said that he would love to help out anyway possible as he loved the story we wanted to tell, which at that point, I asked if he would play the lead role. Much to my excitement, he agreed, and without him, the film wouldn't be nearly as powerful as it could have been. For Cameron, we initially started with an opening casting call for any actor who was willing to play the role for no reimbursement or pay, as we had barely a budget to provide them with compensation. A good amount of young guys showed up for the role and they were all great, but I felt there was something missing from the table. We had heard of this young actor from one of Sarah Evans’ family members who was just starting out as an actor, Reese Bailey. I, along with Sarah’s family member, emailed Reese and asked him to audition for us over video as he couldn't make it to our casting session. After watching his tape, I felt he was absolutely perfect for what I saw as Cameron, so I called him up and just like that, we was our man. The casting for the role of April was a much simpler process as Sarah Evans had a desire to play the role. So after hearing her read for it, we gave her to role as we felt she would do a very good job with the character.

 

DCP:

This having been your first time directing a film, what were some important lessons you learned during the making of it?

 

JK:
One of the most important lessons I learned from the experience is the importance of kindness, respect, and honesty towards others on set, especially as a Director. Without those three imperative aspects, I truly feel you have failed as a director, regardless of your final product. My parents have always raised me to respect others and lead an honest life, and I never saw why that had to change while directing, if not be more important than anywhere else. As a Director I learned that without the complete trust of your actors, and the complete faith you place in them, there is a lack of connection and personal relationship between partners. Being a director is not just “directing actors,” but more importantly being a friend, brother, and companion to the actors to create that imperative bond of friendship and trust, and that trust can only be achieved by respect for others abilities and time, kindness towards all on set, and a complete air of insightful candidness and honesty. This not only goes for the director and actors relationships, but for the director and the rest of the crew as well. When the entirety of the crew holds a mutual respect for all those around them, you come closer together and create not only a bond that makes everyone a stronger piece of the puzzle, but create strong bonds that bring a trusting and safe environment to all that are working in it. That simple idea of kindness, respect, and honesty towards everyone is the most important thing I will keep with me in everything I do in the future and how I'd hope to conduct my life.

 

DCP:

Do you have any advice for all those aspiring writers and directors out there trying to break in?

 

JK:

Well I would say I still am an aspiring writer and director trying to break in, seeing it as I’m only eighteen and just beginning college this September! However, I would say this. Find something you love, find a story, or a message, or people you love to work with, and go out and make a movie that makes you proud, go out and make a film the can make a difference in the world. Don’t let anyone say that you can’t do it because you are young, or in high school, or that those ideas are too mature for your age. They are wrong. If you find a story that you are passionate about, then take the time to write draft after draft and make it as strong as it can be. Plan and find people you love to tell the story with you to the best of their ability. It’s immensely scary doing a film on your own, but you aren’t alone. If you are passionate about your idea, and you put in the work, people in the film industry want to help! They want to help young aspirating filmmakers! Don’t ever be afraid of pursuing something you love, because that pursuit is what will make you a better filmmaker and a better individual. Be brave, be confident, and go and tell stories that will make a difference!

 

DCP:
Can you divulge any upcoming projects you may have on the horizon?

 

JK:
Unfortunately, I don’t have any projects that I would say are anywhere near the horizon. I do plan on wiring a feature script in the coming year as I have already begun work on one of my ideas. I do plan on making some short films while I attend college at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as well as continue to write and work on my feature ideas. As of right now, however, there are no projects coming directly downtime pipeline.

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