Juvenile Diabetes Foundation’s “Lancets of Hope” (web video)
1) What was your first professionally directed work and when was it?
My first professionally directed work was in 2014 for a music label in Tokyo, Sweetsoul Records, and their biggest sponsor, Denon Electronics. I pitched a creative campaign through a translator to Denon’s marketing team in Tokyo, and we were shooting the next day. It was amazing.
2) How did you get into directing?
Around 2000 or 2001 when the first iMovie came out, my dad called me into the living room at our house and showed me how I could take footage he shot and edit it with music. I was 12. It was honestly love at first sight. There was this magic being able to create a world filming my friends and making a story out of it. A year or two later, in 8th grade, my guidance counselor at school made me write a letter to myself to receive after I graduated from high school. I remember on graduation day I opened the letter, and it read: “I want to direct movies for my life.” I feel very lucky and fortunate that I have a family and wife that supports me fully.
3) What is your most recent project?
I’m currently co-writing my first narrative feature film with my producing and writing partners Rasha Clark, and James Brennan. It’s a deeply personal film for me. It’s based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where I grew up.
Logline: A former Sudanese refugee living in a rural Pennsylvania town befriends a local woman with bipolar disorder. One entrenched in community, the other deeply isolated; they each cope with being restricted from seeing their children.
We’re also developing two documentary web series—one that we just started is about an incredible soul singer in Ferguson, Missouri, who is bridging cultural, racial, and economic divides in St. Louis through creative activism.
4) What is the best part of being a director?
The feeling of community that is created while on set. So many elements of modern society are making us more and more isolated from each other, on a macro and micro level. I am a massive believer that we need community to survive. I love directing because while doing it, I’m creating something meaningful with people that I care about deeply. That’s what matters most to me.
I think the other best thing about directing is being consistently surprised at the beauty of human life. When you’re looking into the monitor and witness something you didn’t expect, or a seeming contradiction of character, or just something simply poetic—man, it’s all just magic to me.
Also, because I direct a lot of “real people” stories, I’m just constantly humbled by how people just survive day to day—I think it’s important to be constantly humbled.
5) What is the worst part of being a director?
Definitely more of an observation, and not a complaint, but It can be an unbelievably lonely and isolating lifestyle. You write treatments alone, job gets awarded, work for a few days on set which is a rush of excitement, then back home and everyone else is working a 9-5. But honestly, how lucky to be able to do this for a living. There is absolutely nothing to complain about!
6) What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre—comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I don’t like to think about these categories so separately. I can say that I’m focused on projects that move me deeply, and I only feel I can bring value to a project if it moves me on a visceral, emotional level. I just want to keep collaborating with people I can learn from, and in general, do great work.
I feel really lucky that I’m able to move between branded content, film, and commercials. They all have their benefits. I don’t think that a set running time or format should hinder any director from telling a great story. I want to do more of everything.
7) Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates with you?
More than a mentor, I’ve been influenced by my parents, sister, wife, and friends. They are all such giving people. I’ve learned through them that the secret to all that is life is to give the good of yourself to others. From a filmmaking perspective, I’ve always wanted a mentor, thanks for reminding me—maybe I’ll start looking again.
8) Who is your favorite director and why?
I don’t have one particular favorite. There is a small group of filmmakers working in America right now that I have so much admiration for—names such as: Kelly Reichardt, Ramin Bahrani, Roberto Minervini, Jeff Nichols, Matt Porterfield, Tim Sutton, Paul Thomas Anderson, Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden, Bennett Miller, and So Yong Kim.
It takes a whole lot of guts as a filmmaker working in America not to get sucked into making bad superhero movies for the money. I respect the names above so much because they’re making the films they want to make, without sacrificing their visions. Also, these filmmakers don’t escape reality in their work, something American cinema is obsessed with doing. I think it’s important in American cinema that we continue to face and discuss our own realities.
9) What is your favorite movie? Your favorite television/online program? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Again, I can’t name just one. I remember as a kid, a few films that had a huge impact on me were It’s A Wonderful Life and The Hurricane. Half Nelson and The Wrestler have left profound impacts on me. One very recent film that I thought was mind-blowingly great was Roberto Minervini’s The Other Side. This is an American film made by an Italian, and I think it’s so American that it would scare the hell out of many American citizens. Everyone needs to see this film.
10) Tell us about your background (i.e. where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, one mile from an Amish Farm. No, I’m not Amish.
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