Michael is an actor/writer/director/producer originally from the Midwest, with a reputation for taking chances – penning the controversial feature film Little Boy Blue in 1997 and after a long break, returned with the daring short Dress Rehearsal in 2017. He continues to test different genres with his first romantic comedy Jesus Rides A Harley in 2019 and delving into dark comedy with 2021’s Velvet Crush. SKAT (2022) marks Michael’s first adapted screenplay of the 2019 book of the same name.
Let’s start with the appreciation for your short film SKAT. You have done a great job here with this film. What’s something special we should know about SKAT?
Well, thank you very much. I’d start with this was my first film adaptation of someone else’s work… and that would be Ms. Sara Sepulcri’s very personal book that entails a meetup between two characters from literally two different worlds one night in a Queens, New York apartment. We added to the premise by bringing these two to another location to extend their beautiful relationship.
Would you share your profile details with our readers, such as your educational background and your origins?
I grew up in Massachusetts, Mississippi, and Oklahoma… three completely different and in their own way, special environments, before migrating out west to California… again very different in their own right and have been here the longest. I fell in love with acting in college and transitioned into screenwriting as well with my journalistic background providing some discipline, I would say.
Tell us about your inspiration as a filmmaker.
I get inspired a lot! I love film and how powerful it is. And love its uniqueness and the boundaries attached to it to tell a story. So, I look for this when watching long or short films. I love writing dialogue and how different characters talk in different ways but am really starting to see the beauty in cinema itself in its own way, i.e., holding on to a shot and letting what’s in the frame tell us something without the written word. It’s a balance and quite frankly, I find myself using this more and more as I move forward.
When and how did you begin your filmmaking career?
As a filmmaker, not just as a writer, it started six years ago with Dress Rehearsal, a 21-minute short, that I based on the area I worked in at night, just observing cross-dressing prostitutes in the Hollywood area and the violence associated with it. I fused the life of an out-of-work actor into the story, actually as the main character. I found an amazing young cinematographer and he actually put the crew together and it worked out beautifully. I was extremely fortunate.
How many films have you made and which would be your favorite?
I’ve made five and would always hope to make at least one per year – but seriously, wish I could make three or four. It’s just that I have to work so so much to pay and plan for the productions so really, I truly am a slave to my passion, haha, so where can I find the time. It’s a tough balance. And they’re all my favorites in some way, I think. My films are very uncompromising, an inspiration from Scorsese, so if I pull that off that’s a big favorite element to me but if I can entertain with humor and it works, I’m really happy as well. Dress Rehearsal, though it scared a lot of festivals off, is probably regarded as my finest but I’m proud of them all. I think, however, I identify with the character Skat more than the others, I must admit.
Tell us something about that first experience with that very first project. It would seem to be something very special to you that you’ll remember forever?
Awww, yes, definitely! Much of it was filmed in public, right in the middle of Hollywood Boulevard on a Friday night, no less! But it was an adrenalin rush, and let’s not forget that I was wearing a dress with high heels but it was a dream come true and the cast and crew had my back all the way. Months later when I saw the reaction from audiences on the big screen and how they shared that it touched or affected them, I had goosebumps knowing that I connected with other human beings in that way. It was special and I’ll never forget it.
How do you describe work as an independent filmmaker and isn’t it more challenging?
It is but I truly love it and the freedom it allows. I know the story I’m trying to tell and it’s very intricate so the outside influence is not there to compromise. I’ve done it before the other way and I can handle such, like with a team of writers, but I tend to write very personal things. SKAT became very personal to me, and I lived through some of that myself, so I like the responsibility of making the choices. I know what should be hanging on the wall, what bad habits the main character may have, and if there’s a moment that affords for improv, it’s there for the taking.
What’s the most exciting thing for you in filmmaking?
The acceptance from an audience and working with really talented actors that really really care as I had with Shannan Leigh Yancsurak and Heidi Luo on this film. It’s a beautiful feeling.
What new projects are you working on, and any other future plans in the industry?
I’m working on so many… really like ten stories. I just need to rob some banks or something. I’d love to bring them all to fruition. And, of course, a feature-length film. I’ve been advised to seek funding on the latter but it’s so intimidating, I must say.
Where can our readers follow you and see your film work?
I’m considering some forums, such as a YouTube channel, but most of my work is festival only with the exception of Dress Rehearsal, which runs on Sofy.tv. They can find me on Instagram as well for updates. Thank you so very much for this opportunity to talk about SKAT and thank you for honoring our film!