And producing a film?
Producing, on the other hand, sucks. It is a miserable, thankless, never-ending job that I wouldn’t wish on my enemies. Truly, it is the worst job on a film set. Any task – from insurance contract negotiation to garbage collection – that isn’t explicitly assigned to someone else on your crew is your job as the producer. And now that we are 15 months past the world premiere of Dave Made A Maze, I am still packaging and shipping DVD and Blu-ray orders, tracking payments from foreign distributors, filing tax returns for our investors, negotiating new contracts, storing props, and promoting on a daily basis. All for zero pay. I am immensely proud of what our team accomplished with this movie, but I’m not certain that I would do it again if I knew from the outset that it would be an unpaid seven-year (and counting) commitment.
Why are you involved in acting and producing? Do you want to be involved in all aspects?
One can be a successful actor and “work” as little as 20 days a year. It’s true that there are many other tasks that an actor must handle during the off-time – auditions, classes, head shots, meetings, rehearsals, etcetera – but I decided pretty early on that I couldn’t handle not working 345 days per year. I’m not very good at being idle. When I first dabbled in it, producing seemed like a task that kept work on one’s plate without overwhelming one’s schedule or availability. That might have been true on the two-day short film shoots I started with, but it was definitely not true about a feature film involving 254 people, 26 hand-created rooms, 30,000 square feet of cardboard, 1,000 origami cranes, eight puppets, two animation teams, and a working zoetrope.
What makes “Dave made a maze” so original?
I think the laundry list above helps to answer that question – how many other movies have you seen with cardboard sets, puppets, animation, zoetropes, and human actors? But Dave also sets itself apart with its original story and premise. Writers Steve and Bill did an amazing job of creating a whimsical metaphor for a serious topic, and keeping it fun and bizarre and fresh from beginning to end. Quite simply, I’ve never seen anything like it. And seven years ago, I had never read anything like it. And as exhausted as I am from seven years of work on this movie, I love it deeply and I always will.
How would you recommend it to cinema fans?
The pitch that lured me in as producer seven years ago seems to also work pretty well on movie fans: “It’s an adventure comedy about a frustrated artist who gets lost inside the cardboard fort he builds in his living room.” Upon hearing that, your brain instantly launches into a dozen possibilities for how it could go, and all of them are funny. And almost everyone has a story about building forts when s/he was a kid, so it’s instantly relatable as well. If that doesn’t do the trick, then I also mention “Minotaur.”
“Dave made a maze” has been seen in famous European festivals like the Sitges, a city near Barcelona, also near from where our own festival is based, and in Paris, in France. Also, in Germany. Are you happy with this European screenings?
I am over the moon about our festival run. To date, we have been selected by 56 festivals in 22 countries on five continents. The movie has already been translated into eleven languages. If you had told me in 2014, when I was struggling to raise our minuscule budget, that this movie would be embraced around the world, I’m not sure that I would have believed you. Director Bill Watterson and I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to roughly half of our festivals thus far, and we’ve had amazing experiences, from South Korea to Switzerland to Spain to Brazil to Boise Idaho. Watching the movie with audiences – especially non-English speaking ones – has been one of the greatest rewards to come from this entire journey.
As an actor, you have worked in some TV series. Why do you think that TV series are so popular these days globally. In Europe, we get all of the American ones and they have huge followings. Which is the key of the success of some many TV series?
Oof. That’s a big question that I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. Certainly I think that Hollywood (and America generally) has created a cult of personality for itself, and somehow managed to keep it alluring to overseas audiences for more than a century. Beyond that, I think it probably also has to do with the volume of work created here. Trust me when I tell you that you’re not getting every American show in Europe (and trust me again when I tell you that that’s definitely a good thing). We make a LOT of shows in this country; some of them are amazing, and some of them are crap, but if we’re producing 2x or 10x what any other country’s industry is churning out, then it stands to reason that we’ll land more time slots on broadcast schedules. Finally, I suppose being an English-speaking country doesn’t hurt (especially in Europe), as it is the most commonly shared language across borders. Also, robots and boobs and explosions. Those help.
The key of the TV Series success is it in their scripts? Or maybe in the money Netflix, HBO and other companies invest in them?
I wouldn’t get too carried away thinking that America has a monopoly on great writing. Plenty of our shows are re-launches of already-successful franchises from the United Kingdom and elsewhere. And if you look to film, then I’d argue that European scripts are usually more interesting. Yes, there are a lot of great TV shows created here – personal favorites of mine include Breaking Bad, Bojack Horseman, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – but again, I’m here to tell you that there is plenty of mediocre content created here too. Yes, budgets definitely help, as does the fact that our country has 330 million residents. If advertisers’ dollars will justify spending $2M per episode of a show, then that’s what a TV studio will do. And $2M buys a lot more robots and boobs and explosions than, say, $300K does.
You played Giuseppe Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries”. What can you tell us about that experience?
That was a strange experience, because the character had existed for years before I played it. “Giuseppe” was the father of the show’s two lead characters, and another actor had already played an older version of him long before I was hired. As a result (and also because the show had a rabid teenaged fan base), I got a lot of attention for what was ultimately only a four-day gig. It was a lot of fun.
What makes vampires so interesting for actors?
Eternal life! What does every actor want? To be remembered forever! Ha, ha, ha. Actually, Giuseppe Salvatore was a vampire hunter, not a vampire. So I wouldn’t know from personal experience. But it seems to me that there is a lot of fun to be had in playing immortal, nocturnal, blood-sucking demons who almost always seem to be surrounded by beautiful women.
How an actor prepares himself to be a vampire?
Stay up late? Avoid the sun? Work on garlic tolerance? Ha, ha, ha…
What do you know about European modern cinema? Do you follow or enjoy the films of any European director or actor?
Almodovar, Gondry, Inarritu, Jeunet, and Besson are all names that come to mind. That said, I’m more of an obsessive over certain films than I am over certain directors. European movies that I’ve absolutely loved include Amelie, Life is Beautiful, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Rust and Bone, and Biutiful. I have enormous respect for European actors Matthias Schoenaerts, Marion Cotillard, Tom Hardy, Vincent Cassel, Audrey Tautou, Brendan Gleeson, Hugo Weaving, Pete Postlethwaite, Helena Bonham Carter, and Javier Bardem.
I don’t know if you want to talk about other matters, but as an American, do you get asked a lot about Donald Trump when you travel abroad?
Honestly, not that much. I can’t say that it hasn’t come up, but it seems to be tiptoed around in polite conversation when I’m overseas. Election results notwithstanding, I think that most Europeans assume that Americans with a genuine interest in other cultures and countries are not generally the problem.
What do you think about him? Do you think actors should talk openly about politics?
Hoo boy. You are going deep in this interview! I love it. Okay. So. First of all, I spent ten years working for a political media strategy firm in Washington DC (before I started acting), researching and creating campaign advertising and strategy for Democratic candidates and progressive causes. So no, I’m not a Donald Trump fan. He is the most uninformed, backward, dishonest, tyrannical, boorish leader this country has ever known. He is doing serious damage to the environment and the economy, and the repercussions of his horrible decisions will be felt around the globe for decades to come. He is the singular worst person we could have possibly elected president. In a free society, it is the right of every citizen to speak openly about his or her opinion. I believe that it is also the obligation of any informed citizen to do so. Opinions from actors are no more or less important than those of anyone else. We should neither be ignored nor given greater deference as a function of our profession. Everyone’s voice matters.
Do you have any final comments about “Dave made a maze”?
Watch it! Enjoy it! Laugh at it! We here at DMAM headquarters hope that you love it as much as we loved dreaming about it. Thank you for bringing us to Calella! Thank you for this interview! This was a lot of fun.
Interview by Alex M.Franquet