Quantcast Gregory Zymet interview

Writer/Director
Gregory Zymet!!!
In many genre films today, horror and/or science fiction, emphasis is placed on special effects or a shock effect alone, often with nothing behind it to reinforce its affect.  Somehow yet often, people forget that a solid story, character, emotion and depth will hook an audience faster than any digital effect.  Gregory Zymet's profound, affecting film APARTMENT 206 understands just that.
 
Screened to a sold-out crowd at last month's New York City Horror Film Festival after several added festival screenings and awards, the film is unsettling, but manages to shift rapidly yet precisely through emotion rarely seen in genre features, let alone shorts.  Zymet, an NYU grad, sits down with guest journalist Adam Barnick to discuss his inspirations, passions, frustrations, and future as an independent filmmaker!
- by Adam Barnick. 12/05

What are your earliest memories of the horror/sci fi genre, and why does this area of storytelling appeal to you particularly?


My older brother Matt was always into movie monsters and science fiction. When your older brother thinks something is cool--so do you. I was fascinated by the monster books he had in his closet. My parents use to leave me home with him babysitting. We saw all the things they didn't want us to--The Shining, Phantasm, Friday the 13th, Halloween, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark...

One of my earliest memories of the genre is the night my parents were up in their bedroom watching TV and me, Matt and my cousin Robin were down in the family room watching "Salem's Lot." Robin and I were too young to understand what was going on, but when the undead brother comes scratching at the window--Matt flipped out, screamed and ran upstairs, causing Robin and me to flip out, scream and run upstairs.

I've always had a very overactive imagination. I use to wake up every night from nightmares. My mother would have to come in and hold me. Sometimes I'd be screaming in her arms with my eyes open. I use to be terrified of the crawlspace under the basement stairs, more specifically that some wretched hand was going to reach up and grab my ankle. My mother use to make us go down to the basement to fetch canned foods from the storage shelves and the trek down those stairs and back was sheer torture--not to mention we had a freaky old rocking horse stowed down there that would look at me whenever I went down there.

My next film is horror. For some reason as an adult, I have this demented excitement about everything that scared me as a child. I would love to lead the audience through the horror that my seven year old imagination gave me when I turned out the lights and went to sleep.

When/why did you decide filmmaking was the area you had to become involved in?

I grew up in the golden age of Spielberg. My family went to the movies a lot... Close Encounters, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, I remember wanting to see "Clash of the Titans" more than Raiders because of the stop-motion monsters--but wow, was Raiders so much better! I told everyone I wanted to be a "moviemaker." I enjoyed being in these worlds and wanted to create my own. I did my fifth grade and ninth grade career projects on it. When they filmed part of "Fatal Attraction" in my town, I snuck onto the set and accidentally spoke to the director (who I thought was a PA). He told me to "keep with it, babe." Seriously!

Tell me about your NYU experience, types of films you did, etc.

Since I knew I wanted to go into film all my life, my parents sent me away to film school in the summer (instead of summer camp). When I was fourteen, I took a video class at Cornell (with 28 year olds). I had to live in a hotel off campus because I was too young to stay in the dorms. When I was 15 I took a super 8 class at the School of Visual Arts and when I was 16, my parents met a photography teacher who taught at NYU who was able to pull strings and get me into Sight and Sound over the summer--which is the most amazing, intense class. During that time filmmaking was so pure and fun. Now its a little more work, but still fun.

When I got accepted and finally went to NYU for college I had a completely different experience. Because I'd been making films, I was put ahead. During the 3 years I was there, I was going to class, walking the halls, making films, but somehow I felt like I was missing the whole "NYU Film School experience." It's very hard to put into words. There's something odd about NYU that you can't quite touch. The school gave me lot of freedom but not much guidance. The undergrad film school is very big and I felt a little lost in it. Basically, when I graduated, I wasn't sure what I learned. I couldn't quantize it. I didn't have much practical information or understanding of how the film industry worked. What it did was give me a good experience in NYC and the opportunity to MAKE film. When you MAKE film, you learn--so that part of it was helpful. But the actual classes were hit and miss.

What were you involved in in the intervening years after NYU and before you came up with the idea for Apartment 206?

After I finished my thesis film I made the pilgrimage to Los Angeles.  I got a string of freelance jobs. I was Pauley Shore's stand-in on "Bio Dome". Then, two producers hired me to re-write an awful low-budget action film. I remember telling one producer, "this story doesn't make sense" and his response (in broken English) was: "no need to make sense. Put more explosions." I met so many people who were deluding themselves and trying to delude me. I met one guy who would sit and come up with titles like "Black Out" or "Smash Up" and tell me they were going to be great movies one day when he found writers to write them. I remember I was the assistant to one low budget producer who told me if I worked for him long enough he was going to let me direct one of his B-movies. Meanwhile every day, letters were coming in from different lawyers with clients suing him for a zillion different reasons.

I decided to not get a job in the industry, but to support myself through other means, write my own movies and sell a script. I worked for years on my writing, joined a writers group and got out a lot of really great stories. Writing is SO hard to do well. It was the area I needed to work on most and I did--for 10 years. In fact, I'm still working on it, and when I see the writing of Charlie Kaufman or Alexander Payne, I'm reminded of how far I have to go.

It was hard getting people to read my scripts because I still had very few connections. The few times I got a script somewhere, it ended up in a reader pool. I was beginning to feel like a number. I was beginning to feel lost. I'd call my parents and grandparents. My grandmother would tell me I was more talented then all the other people trying to make it and she felt it in her bones that something was going to happen to me. Then I'd hear from my next door neighbor that HIS grandmother told him the same thing. It was a very confusing time.

It came to a point when I gave one of my scripts to a friend who worked at a production company. He read it as a favor and told me later, he would have put it down after page 5 if he didn't know me. He told me, "I don't think you have any idea what people want to see." WOW. I took a breath. WOW. After I hung up the phone, I thought--who could ever say such a thing to ANYBODY? Who was HE to tell ME what people wanted to see? I already knew from living in Hollywood that people who work in the industry chase success, they rarely create it from scratch. And then I had the realization: why am I trying to get into the game of people who are "chasing it"? I wanted to be someone who was "creating it." If I wanted to write and make film, I'd have to just do that--at any level. Someone once told me that the people who rise to the top don't get there just because they're lucky. If everyone starts off in the same pool, the leaders will automatically (by instinct) start managing the others and the higher ups will see this and promote them. The same is true for filmmakers. If you're a filmmaker you just start making film--it's as plain as that. People see this. They like your work. They hire you--or give you money for you next film. All the greatest filmmakers do this. They don't wait for someone in Hollywood to help them--they go out and make it on their own and Hollywood comes to them. From that point on, I was an independent filmmaker.

I had planned to make a feature, but it was way too big and expensive--and I still had no connections, so a friend who I respect convinced me to start small and do another short. After my NYU thesis, I swore to never make another short, but I had no choice--so I started searching for ideas.

What is the genesis of Apartment 206? Was it a certain type of story you wanted to explore, or an incident that inspired it, etc?

From a strategic standpoint, I wanted to make a fantasy that explored death--as this was going to be a showcase for a feature that dealt with these themes. I tried to come up with ideas. I even wrote 2 drafts of a script about the Black Dahlia but it had no soul. I knew I had to do something that was completely inspired and original if I was going to get noticed.

When I came home to NY for Thanksgiving in 2001, my friend Sarah and I explored the city one day and we came upon the Chelsea Hotel. The second we walked into the lobby I felt something heavy press down on my chest. It was hard to breathe. I had had this feeling before and I told Sarah immediately, "this place is haunted." Sarah, though slightly nervous, wasn't going to give in to my theory. We hung around the lobby looking at old newspaper clippings about the hotel and the history. We finally rode the elevator up to the top floor. When the doors opened, we came out and I saw that amazing stair shaft that dropped down 13 stories. Sarah had weak knees and stayed back but I hovered by the banister and looked at the depth and though I'm not at all suicidal, I honestly felt like testing it and JUMPING. And that's when I knew--someone had jumped there.

We walked down the stairs, exploring each hall, finding private staircases leading up to hidden apartments, old bathrooms and a closet filled with books and odds and ends.

Down around the third floor, Sarah found a bullet hole in the glass partition that divides the stairwell from the corridor. I told her I wanted to go down the hall and see what was around the corner. We walked to the end and looked around the corner in both directions but there seemed to be nothing odd so we walked back.

Right before we returned to the bullet hole, I noticed a door to the left painted a bright mint green. It pounded--BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG! Sarah looked over and casually said, "I like that door," but as we passed and I asked about the pounding, she said, "what pounding?" She never heard it. And then we both saw that this door was next to the bullet hole...

I couldn't stop thinking of the incident that night and the next day. Was there a ghost in that apartment that wanted to be heard? Was it alone, trying to get someone--anyone's--attention? Did it compel the owner to paint the door green so people would notice it? And that's where the premise came from. What would it be like to be a ghost, trapped in an apartment, trying to communicate with the living? And when I started to wonder HOW it would communicate, the television seemed to be the most practical (and visual) way. I knew immediately I had the story.

Give us a brief synopsis, for readers who don't know the film yet.

Two victims of a deadly traffic accident wake up in a mysterious run-down apartment surrounded by darkness. Scared to venture out into the unknown, they turn back to the two televisions where they see their lives continue on without them. When they plug in to the televisions with a headset, they jolt into a comatose state where they are "mentally" transported into the TV to haunt the things they can't let go of. Over the course of 60 years they go from squabbling rivals to codependents and eventually help each other face the dark and move on.

How long did the script's development/writing take? Not only is there a lot more depth in the writing than most modern genre work, but the attention to detail and character is something we don't see enough of these days.  Each scene manages to keep the story moving and shift between an unsettling mood, being humorous, heartfelt...

I was inspired by what happened so it just poured out of me. I wrote it in a few days and presented it to my writer's group who gave me a few helpful comments. From first draft to last, it took about a month (a record for me!) I'm extremely detail-oriented.

I think one of the things that gives it depth is its supposition of what's beyond. I had to create a mythology for this interpretation of the afterlife--that is, when you die, if you can't move on--you go to a dingy apartment and watch the things of your life progress without you until you go nuts and leave or stay there forever. But there are hints of a lot more going on. First, this apartment is connected to our world. Second, it is connected to worlds beyond. When Conrad ventures out into the void and finds his mother's voice, he discovers that she too was watching him when he was down on earth (so we can assume that SHE must have been in some Apartment 206-like setting). More so, it also implies that she is STILL watching him, so wherever she is beyond the level he is at, she is still connected downward to him, but he can't look upward to her. It's very much central to my own feelings of faith and religion and God which is very intertwined in everything I do.

I'm also drawn to getting to the heart of something human. I get very excited when I feel like I can tap into an idea words can't describe--like the moment at the very end when Sandra turns back and sees her son in real life--that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. The primary theme of "Apartment 206" is letting go. It explores this through the mother-son bond. I wanted to get to the heart of what it felt like for a mother to let go of her son, knowing he was safe. When I tried to imagine what that emotion was like, it felt to me like a very deep sorrow mixed with relief and I think that is the feeling you get in the end. It's somewhat cleansing and grounding.

Re: characters--I always base them on people who are familiar to me--or people who I've run across in my life. This way I write them truthfully. Sandra is loosely based on my grandmother and Conrad was an amalgam of friends I had who went to a private school near where I grew up. When we cast, however--the characters changed slightly as the actors brought their own contributions to the roles. One thing I feel very confident about as a writer is tone. Because I was confident with the tone, I didn't mind playing with it and shifting genres from comedy to suspense to sentimentality. I took a psychological approach to the material. I tried to show the story unfolding from the character's perspectives--so as they felt happy or sad or scared--so did we. I used pinnacle moments to transition the mood. When Conrad gets angry and throws the coffee can out the window it gives him the idea to throw out the trash--which brings the movie into a lighter tone. The music helped with a lot of the tonal changes too.

I also had to do a little tap-dancing with the writing. The characters spend 60 years in the apartment. I chose to portray five different days over those 60 years. First I outlined all the things that I wanted to happen, then squashed them across five days. Though a real relationship takes hundreds of days to play out, I didn't have that luxury so I cheated and chose pinnacle moments, "bridges" if you will, that would transition me from one stage of their relationship to another.

How long was your process of casting and rehearsal? Nicola Hersh and Troy Bishop are so solidly cast I wouldn't want to see others in the parts. Can you talk about working with them?

I was very lucky to get such good actors, considering that we didn't hire a professional casting director. We used an actor friend of mine, Charleen--who was so amazing and hard working that she later became a producer along with Jon. We put out the announcement in Back Stage West and Breakdown Services and got about 600-700 headshots submitted. This is how we found Nicki (who was primarily a theater actor up to that point). I found Troy in the Hollywood Players Directory and contacted him through his agent. He was actually a child actor (he was Debra Winger's son, Tommy, in "Terms of Endearment.")

First I took them both out to lunch to get to know them. We had 4-5 rehearsals prior to shooting. We started with table readings. Rehearsals were used to iron things out (so everyone was on the same page as far as character motivation and interpretation). Since we rehearsed in an apartment with the same layout as our location, we were able to do some blocking to see how certain scenes would play out.

Nicki and Troy were both very easy to work with and very professional--and most important, talented and dedicated. They also both had different training and methods of acting. Nicki is a very organic actor (I think perhaps because she comes from the theater). She's very honest in her acting. One thing we all realized in casting was how well she listened and reacted to other actors. She especially did well on long takes where she could jump in and really be in the moment. On several instances where I wasn't getting what I wanted, I would ask her about moments in her life to provoke a certain emotion. One time when I wanted her to be angry in a strong, intense way--without getting big or shouting, I asked her to tell me about a time when she witnessed a great injustice. I hoped this would stir up a certain type of anger which I was looking for. Troy on the other hand, had a film background and was very technical and savvy with the camera. He liked to work up to his emotional state himself so I tried to give him the space to get to where he needed. In the film he plays a repressed character who emotionally "breaks out". During these break-out moments, Troy was very aware of over-acting and, once I gained his trust, I worked on pushing him toward bigger performances. Once he got there, he could deliver it take after take. One of the things that shocked everyone was how many times he could naturally break down into frustrated tears in that hallway scene where the camera is pulling back. I'm very hands on with directing actors. Most of the time I have an idea of what I want and I try to steer the performances in that general direction, but I also try to remain open to see what they do. There were many instances where both of them gave me performances that were much better than anything I could have imagined. In the end, I'd much rather have performances that are different than the script and truthful, than force something that isn't real.

Another thing is--I like to cast actors who look like real people, not overly glossy, good-looking Hollywood types. If I write a movie about glossy people, I will cast them--until then, I want the cast of my films to look like they've been plucked out of real life.

How did you raise the funds needed to make the film?

I didn't. I saved some money from work--then quit my job. I put half of the film on 3 credit cards (which I'm still paying off) and borrowed money from my family and the producers. I ran out of money after production and (except for editing) had to do all of post myself. Post took 2 years because I did each piece back to back--music, sound design, mixing, special fx, website, DVD, presskit, publicity--I'm also very meticulous (and obsessive) and wasn't going to skimp on quality and I knew I couldn't pay for it--so I realized early on it was going to be me and the computer and lots of long nights. The good thing is, I learned a lot about sound, special FX and technical things which will help me on my next film.

Now that the film is done, I'm still spending money on promoting it and putting it in the festivals. It's hard to do all this, work on writing your next film and make enough money to continue to live. I don't know how other filmmakers do it.

Why did you decide to work with HD as a shooting format?  I loved the washed out color scheme, which felt like a sharper version of the ghostly images we see on the TVs they watch... was this achieved in-camera, or in postproduction?  Had you worked with your DP Bradley Sellers before?

I think, given a choice, I would have shot it on 35mm. But we didn't have the $$$. That said, I was extremely happy with HD and how the film looked and would definitely work in HD again. Our DP Bradley was very against it. He wanted to shoot in 16mm. I had shot in 16mm several times. It always felt small. I wanted "Apartment 206" to feel big. I had to convince him. I told him the pristine look of HD would also mimic the clean look of TV and give it an almost hyper-real feel. He finally acquiesced. Bradley and I had never worked together before. I saw his reel and knew he was talented. That's why he got the job. I went over the look with him (and Ernie, the production designer) and showed them visual development boards. I usually make visual presentations while I'm writing a film. It helps me visualize and they become a useful tool for communicating what I want the film to look like.

From the start, I told Bradley and Ernie I wanted a washed out, blue color scheme. In fact, I experimented with the look while I was writing the script. I downloaded images of old apartments and TVs from the internet and colorized them in Photoshop. The washed out blue was inspired by the light a TV makes when it's left on in a dark room. I wanted the audience to feel bleary-eyed, as if they had been up all night, staring at the screen. The washed out blue also made the apartment and characters feel cold and dead--like they were living in a freezer box.

We lit the fill mostly with kino flos, highlighting with smaller lights. Kino flos were easy and didn't take too much electrify to run (which meant we could plug directly into the location and forego renting a generator).

I noticed Sandra and Conrad's journey parallels what we go through when a loved one dies, though this time we get to see that process from the other side: at first they don't believe it. They're afraid. Denial, can't confront it, apathy, etc.  They move, very slowly, to a point of acceptance where they can move on.

I didn't intend to do this. I based the characters' actions and reactions to their evolving situation on what I thought each given character would logically do at each point in time. I think what a person experiences when a loved one dies is similar to what a person experiences with any tragedy or shock. There's a progression of emotions that people go through (I forget the order)--something like: Shock, Denial, Anger, Fright, Frustration, Acceptance. There's some acronym that speaks to this. I forget what it is.

I love the idea of limbo being a dingy, transitory apartment. Did you have a specific reason for using that as their in-between point?  I felt it's so disgusting because of the cluttered mental state the characters are going through.

It was definitely a conscious decision. I wanted their sparse, rotting surroundings to be a metaphor for what they were going through. I wanted it to hint at their impending fate if they remained. Because it is dingy, derelict, antique, forgotten... I realized it was going to look like a haunted house which seemed appropriate as they are ghosts. I think the apartment definitely contributed to the character's mental state, though more from the claustrophobia, the coffee, the constant TV light and not being able to rest than the dinginess of it all.

Are the TV sets their lure to stay connected to their former world, stay absorbed and distracted instead of moving into their uncertain future (the black void)? It's an interesting comment on us today- many of us stay indoors and watch TV instead of going out into the world... it's our choice and it's safe indoors, but it's the same thing every day... and they pin their attention/hopes etc. on something which won't last forever (Sandra's son, and Conrad's manuscript).

Not my intention, but while we're on the topic, I believe all media is doing this. But while it sometimes physically keeps us apart, it's bringing us together--like you and me. I would have never met you if it hadn't been for Bunni Speigelman's blog and our swapping films and correspondence.

I used TVs because they were visual and much more interesting than telephones--and I needed a way for the dead (our main characters) to actively "participate" in the lives they were haunting.

In Apartment 206, the TV is the strongest light source. It is the hearth. It keeps the characters going and makes them feel safe and important. In the beginning, when the characters are exploring and open the door and find the darkness outside, both of them are afraid of it and turn back to the apartment. At this point the TV reception comes up. This was done to show the characters had a choice and chose TV (or viewing their life) over God.

I think it's more a commentary on us being obsessed with ourselves, than with media.

The television footage evokes memories of my father's black and white television he held on to.  You had to get a certain type of camera to achieve that look, didn't you?

If you're creating fantasy worlds, you need to be very attentive to details. One of the realizations was--"Damn it all to hell! I need to get all that footage that plays on the TV!" We ended up holding a separate casting session with different actors and had a 2 day shoot 3 weeks prior to the main shoot where we made all the playback. A few weeks prior to this, I realized the footage itself had to be of the world of Apartment 206 (not our world). In other words, the image had to look like it was being broadcasted from many miles away, over an old TV tube.

To get the footage needed to allow our TV FX guy to recreate the look I wanted, I snuck into the Museum of Television & Radio in Beverly Hills with a video camera, ordered up some old TV shows from the early days of television, and trying my damndest to ignore the great, big signs everywhere that read: NO FILMING OF ANY KIND ALLOWED--I taped what I could in 6 minutes before I got kicked out.

That 6 minutes was what we used to emulate the TV footage.

I'd say 60-70% of the look was created in After Effects. The other 30-40% was there in the original picture. We used a vintage video camera to shoot B-roll. I wanted the raw image to be half way there before we manipulated it. I think people overestimate what effects can do. By starting with an old-looking image I knew we'd pull of something realistic.

Question: Where the hell do you get a camera to shoot old video? Answer: Well, I live in Hollywood so all I need to do is call up some camera rental houses and... WRONG!

No one in Los Angeles had video cameras pre-1990 that worked. Is that incredible? I had one rental guy after another tell me they had the perfect camera and when I went down to their rental house, time and time again it was a modern camera (maybe 5 years old) that shot a perfect digital (not analog) video image. I found a few analogs, but the picture was still too good. I wanted a crappy image dammit! (How often do you hear that said)?

One guy wanted to sell me a 1990 Eclair video camera for $500, another guy wanted to rent the same camera to me for $500/day! Some of those rental guys are leeches--trying to suck money from anyone they can. Turned out the Eclair didn't give me the image I needed so it didn't make a difference.

The best moment was when I had an honest-to-God VINTAGE VIDEO CAMERA being shipped to me from Vegas two days before the shoot. I got it the day before and it was the wrong camera! They shipped the wrong @#%! camera!!!! What was I to do? The shoot was TOMORROW! Desperate, I went on E-bay and did a search for old, consumer video cameras that were selling in the Los Angeles area and whose auctions were ending THAT NIGHT.

For $30, I ended up buying the EXACT RCA video camera that my dad bought when we were kids--the first camera I ever used. Is that crazy? It was in pristine condition. I brought it home, relieved--but then realized--wait a minute, where do you put the tape? How do you plug it in? This was before camcorders--so I needed a separate 80s style VCR that had the female end of a 12-prong pin. I was sunk! Where was I going to get that in less than a day?

I called a video camera technician who I became an acquaintance with during the search and he told me if I could get a diagram of the plug that described what each pin was, he could rewire the camera to work on a DV Camera. Sure enough, some crazy-techie person had a diagram uploaded to the internet of the RCA 12-prong pin. I gave the camera tech guy the diagram and he hotwired my friend Hal's DV camera to the RCA video camera. I got it back at 10pm, the night before the shoot.

Question: It's 10pm the night before the shoot. Do I dare test it?

I did.

It didn't work.

I called back the technician, he actually came to my apartment and at midnight, 6 hours before call time, he figured out that if he reversed the signal so it went from the DV camera, to the video camera, then back to the DV camera it would record on the digital video cassette. So in the 9th hour we got it to work. The picture was grainy and blown out. It zoomed from ten feet away to seven feet away. The 2nd unit camera man wanted to strangle me for making him use such a monstrous hunk of metal and wires that gave him such a crappy image--but it worked!

I love the dynamic between Sandra and Conrad. They start out as rivals and reluctant roommates, then become friends, then dependent on each other, and then they care enough to let the other go. Was it always intended when you were developing the story that it would involve a mother and son who would sort of fill in the opposite gaps in each other's lives?

When the story hit me I thought I'd have three different characters all attached to 3 very different things. The night after I explored the Chelsea, I walked by Pete's Tavern on Irving Place and thought of a bar owner who built a bar that became his life's obsession, but when he died the people who took over, drove the business into the ground. It was fun and funny but I wasn't really connecting to it. I ended up focusing on the most emotionally identifiable storyline of the 3 characters--which was the "mother not being able to let go of her son" storyline.

When I boiled it down, I realized I had to drop everything extraneous. I then built the story up again and added the Conrad character (who I designed to be opposite Sandra). If she was having son issues and he was having mother issues--they could become each other's surrogates and help each other get over their problems and move on. So the story I wanted to tell designated the characters, and then the characters changed the story. The writing process is very much like that for me. I tend to explore when I write. It's very organic.

What's written on the wall in the kitchen? Looked like German- "verdammen." Damnation? Did I read that right?

I think it's "Ort der Verdammten" or something like that. You're right. It means "Place of the Damned" in German. The idea of doing that came to our production designer, Ernie, in a dream. I told Ernie that I wanted some signs around the place that others had been there throughout time. We had a lot more cool things that showed hints of some of the past occupants but they were cut or you couldn't see them on camera. I really liked Ernie's idea of having the writing on the kitchen wall in another language. It somehow better defined the apartment as being a place where anyone could end up.

Tell us about your on-set experience.

Excellent. I had such a nightmare on the set of my NYU thesis that I made it a priority to have good people work on "Apartment 206." When I interviewed people I made this as important as talent.

I read some philosophy books right before I started, books that reiterated that by putting out the good and treating people with love, it would come back. I opened up and tried to be close and friendly with everybody and that seemed to trickle down. It seems like when the keys (director, DP, assistant director, producers) are positive people, everyone else takes that vibe and goes with it. Of course we had a few problem people (I think that's unavoidable)--but overall it was an extremely good experience.

We shot out of sequence. We shot the void sequence on a soundstage first, then we came to the apartment location and shot all the bedroom scenes, then all the hall scenes, all the kitchen scenes, and finally all the living room scenes. My poor make up and wardrobe people worked their asses off to stay on top of it. Because makeup and wardrobe progressed with each day in the story, they were constantly making the characters look worn out and brand shiny new--back and forth, back and forth.

I'm very storyboard-heavy. The entire film was visually planned out before hand and about half of the blocking was covered before we shot. Of course things changed and I got new ideas. For example--In the scene were Conrad and Sandra are becoming friends (the scene where her son is getting married on the TV), I had a hard time feeling the bond between the characters. Aside from directing the actors, I shifted the camera from a straight on angle to a two shot with Sandra in the foreground and Conrad in the background over her shoulder. This caused her to have to look back at him and him to lean forward. It gave an incredible sense of them visually COMING TOGETHER.

How has the festival circuit been, and the reception to the film?  At the screening I saw (at the New York City Horror Film Festival), people were genuinely moved... there were even a few sniffles in the audience.

The festivals were very disappointing at first. The film was rejected from everywhere. Seven months into the festival circuit, we had applied to sixty festivals and were rejected from 90%.

I was confused and depressed. I felt the film was good and was proud of the work and didn't understand why nobody wanted it. Furthermore, when I went to festivals and saw many of the films they WERE accepting--it just didn't make any sense.

In the end it got rejected from all the top American Film Festivals and rejected from every European Festival we entered (about 15). It also got rejected from every spiritual theme festival I entered. I half expected the film to get rejected by the horror, sci-fi folks too but thankfully they embraced it.

I think there's a bias toward genre work in the main festival scene--hell, I know there is because of some things that happened to me along the way. I also learned that knowing people behind the scenes at the big festivals really helps. Then, once you get in, some of the big festivals make you change your work. Two friends of mine who got their films into a top festival had to cut their films in order for them to be accepted. One had to cut it in half to be shown! That's another thing we had against us--our length. When I confided in festival directors at festivals where it got in, I asked them about it and all of them agreed--a thirty minute film is usually not considered. So my advice to filmmakers--make a movie less than 10 minutes or over 90 minutes or it won't get seen in the festivals.

My experience taught me that much of the festival circuit is as messed up as Hollywood--at least all the big ones are. Festivals definitely have an agenda. There is a lot of politics involved. The most pure-hearted festivals are the small festivals run by people who just want to see good film. Sometimes when you go to a small festival where there's a lot of love, you will meet the most amazing people who will inspire you. I felt this way after Sedona. Sedona was my first festival and my experience there brought me back to the days when film was all about the love.

Thankfully, the film found life in the ninth hour. This past September and October the film was in 15 festivals and won Dragon-Con, Shriekfest, got 3 awards at Shockerfest--and won best short at San Diego Flim Festival which was the biggest festival we got into. San Diego actually did more than all the others did. It helped me meet a few people and thanks to the buzz, get some phone calls from production companies.

Re: people being moved. That's great. I'm a sentimental guy--but boy do I get slack for that in today's climate. I want my movies to have many emotions in them--when necessary, sentimentality included. But I believe sentimentality, like everything else (including a happy ending)--has to be earned. I hate when filmmakers force it. But if it's there in the story (as it was in "Apartment 206") why should I avoid it because people today think its uncool to be sentimental? I think it's uncool to be overtly manipulated. Some also think being emotional is being non-intellectual which is completely absurd. But I do love it when people are moved at the right moment. It makes me feel like I connected.

What is missing in genre films these days to you? Character and emotion (besides fear) and depth are three things I find in Apartment 206, which you wouldn't often associate with horror/sci fi these days.


Thanks for such a wonderful compliment! I agree--character, emotion and depth are often missing. It's hard to put these things in any film.
I think the writers of genre films are usually very much in-love with the things that make their genre a horror or a sci-fi or a fantasy. Good characters, emotions and depth are all good to layer on top, but aren't always a necessary requirement for genre fans. I think a lot of genre writers don't cultivate this in their writing because it's not their main focus.

I'm fascinated with the human condition and exploring it. I think I'm drawn to stories that deal with people going through an experience that tests some aspect of their being. When people are tested, a lot of who they are boils up to the surface.

I noticed you composed the music- have you always done that? Did you train as a musician as well as a filmmaker?

I'm kind of the "Hollywood Piano Orphan." Before I had my electronic piano, I would wander around, sneak into places that had grand pianos and play them when no one was looking. Security guards always say I play beautiful right before they give me the boot.

I've been playing piano since I was six and composing since I was 10. Music is a huge part of my life. As I write a script, I'm composing the theme music that will accompany it.

For me, playing piano is a catalyst for dreaming. When I play the theme to a movie I want to make, my mind begins to fantasize about this movie that I will one day make. Music is the closest thing that gets to the heart of the mood, genre and emotional core of my films.
I took classical piano for 10 years. I won a scholarship for composition and went back to school at UCLA extension. At UCLA I learned orchestration and conducting.

For "Apartment 206," since the TVs were such a huge part of it, I wanted the score to emulate television sounds through the first part. In fact the movie opens with the humming of a television over the credits. It builds to the sound of a car crash and then the movie smash cuts into a close up of an eye awaking over loud TV tone. Throughout the first half I mixed musical chords with low vibrations and high frequencies, weaving sound design closely into the musical score.

As the movie's themes broadened out and the characters got more emotional, I snuck in the orchestra and the music got more musical. I always tried to keep it simple and let the characters lead (and the music support). I had two themes. The main theme (which encompasses the second theme) plays for the first time over the main credits. I felt that was the only time where something big enough happened to allow me to present a full on theme without sounding manipulative. Theme music seems dead in films today. When was the last time you remembered the theme to a film? I would love my films to have real theme music in them--but only if the material calls for it.

Subsequently, composing is my favorite part of filmmaking. If you strip everything else away, music is the emotional and tonal through line of the film. It's really exhilarating for me to score my own films.

What do you have planned for the future? I know you're preparing a feature.

I have so many movies I'm burning to make. My next film is a haunted house movie. I've always wanted to make a truly scary and amazing ghost story and figure--since horror is the easiest genre to make your money back on--and a lot of young directors break out with horror, I should lead with horror coming out the gate.

It's in the Victorian Gothic style but it is not a period piece. It's very realistic in tone. Very suspenseful and psychological and blows out into a rollercoaster ride at the end. It has elements of "The Shining" and "The Tale of Two Sisters." It's based on some real life ghost stories and experiences I've had--thrown into the taffy pull of my imagination.

I would love to get to the heart of what a violent haunting really is like and how it affects the people who are living with it. In the end though, I'm making it because there's a little devil inside me that wants to scare the hell out of people in a way no one else has. I honestly can't wait for it to happen, but at the moment everyone's waiting on me. I'm working to finish the script, then I have to hand it off to people who will hopefully find the money for it.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed.


Explore Apartment 206 at www.apartment206.com

Bunni Speigelman's analysis of the film can be found at
http://misslapin.blogspot.com/2005/10/let-bodies-hit-floor-apartment-206.html


Special thanks to Adam Barnick.

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