How did you get into directing?
My entry points were Goonies, The Dark Crystal, Bad News Bears, and Star Wars. I wore those VHS tapes OUT! But it took me a really long time to figure out that making movies could be an actual job. (There were not a lot of filmmaking role models in South Carolina when I was a kid.) I tried fiction writing, and journalism, and I moved to New York. I spent a lot of time at Kim’s Video. After I found Badlands, I quit my job and went to NYU Grad Film.
What is your most recent project?
I’m in post on a new short film, The Edge Of The Woods, starring Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men) and featuring creature VFX by Framestore NY. It’s set in a windswept, Andrew Wyeth-inspired farming community, and it’s about a girl trying to convince her parents to let her keep the weird little monster that lives in their attic.
What is the best part of being a director?
Happy accidents; Collaborating with people who consistently elevate the material and surprise you; License to be bold and explore the world.
What is the worst part of being a director?
Well, directing is pretty badass work when you can get it. NO COMPLAINING!
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’m focused on movies and commercials. I love drama, thrillers, grounded sci-fi, stories driven by abnormal psychology, crime, and anything that manages to feel like a strange dream.
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 most with you?
I don’t have a proper mentor but I’ve always liked the Daniel Burnham quote “Make no small plans, they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Who is your favorite director and why?
It’s so hard to pick one, but for me there is just no getting past Kubrick. He was a visionary with the camera, great with actors, had perfect taste in material, and never made a bad movie. I also love David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson, Claire Denis, Andrew Dominik, and Jane Campion.
What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Badlands is still my favorite. I find it endlessly watchable. Love is strange! For me the performances are incredible and the writing is just out of this world. It’s gorgeous to look at and the story is so…what is it? Odd, beguiling, tragic, naive, repellant, dream-like. The whole movie just casts a magic spell on me. “I mean, if I could sing a song about the way I feel right now, it’d be a hit…”
In commercials, I thought Cary Fukanaga’s “Go Forth” spot for Levi’s was pretty excellent. I remember watching people noticing that ad when it would come on TV—words and images that were so strong that they pulled people into the screen and spoke to some forgotten place in their hearts.
Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I was born in Atlanta and grew up there and in Wadmalaw, South Carolina. I worked at a gas station and had a firewood delivery company as a kid. After college, I worked as a journalist for a while. I wrote about wheat farmers in Montana, wildcat gold mining in Mongolia, real estate speculators, and what it’s like to actually have a three martini lunch and then try to go back to work afterwards. (Not easy.) I went to NYU Grad Film after that and studied directing. The Chair is my thesis project.