An Interview with Dan Marcus – By Brian Morton

Last month, I had the opportunity to sit down with a short film, Wake, by indie up-and-comer, Dan Marcus. Wake is such a wonderful, powerful short that I couldn’t help myself but wonder about the guy behind it. What made him tick, what got him interested in film and what we might expect from him down the filmmaking highway.

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BM – Thanks for taking the time.

DM – My pleasure.

BM – How did you get started in filmmaking?

DM – Well, "Wake" was my introduction to filmmaking. Prior to that, I had been a huge aficionado of cinema. My step-dad introduced me to movies at a very young age, and I guess I sort of became infatuated with it. I would watch the behind-the-scenes featurettes on DVD’s for my favorite films and I saw the filmmaking process unfold. I sort of figured out, in my mind, what a director did, what a writer did, and what a producer did, etc. I was seventeen years-old and I had come back to Chicago, where I was partially raised, and I remember hearing about Christopher Nolan doing a few short films when he was in college. I did even more digging, and I found out about more filmmakers who were doing short films, and that was my first exposure to the idea that you can do a short film, and that you don’t have to start off with a feature-length film, which is what I had previously thought. So I decided to get my feet wet and make a movie, and that’s how "Wake" came about.

BM – Was Wake your first film?

DM – It was. I had no prior filmmaking experience before "Wake". Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing. I chose not to attend film school because I wanted a practical knowledge of filmmaking. When I was 16, I got my GED, because I was over school, and for about a year after that I looked at various colleges, like the New York Film Academy, Full Sail, Columbia College in Chicago, and Florida State University. I came to the self-realization after doing that research and talking to friends that a lot of film school is film theory and that you don’t actually get to make your own films until much later in the academic process, and because I was, and to a certain extent still am, very naive and stubborn, I knew that wasn’t going to be for me. So I talked to my mom, and I told her about Kevin Smith and Quentin Tarantino, two filmmakers who had never gone to film school, and I convinced her that I could learn the practical way by actually just going out and making my own films, and that’s what I did.

BM – How did you get the idea for Wake?

DM – "Wake" was a very personal story for me. I don’t know who it was, but I remember reading or watching an interview with some filmmaking professional and he said that your first film should come from within. It should feel real and intimate, because only you know how to tell your own story. So I figured going into my first film that I should probably have some real emotional connection to it if I wanted it to feel emotionally believable, so I looked at my own past. The real epicenter of the story revolves around the main character, Max, and his relationship with his estranged father, Albert. At the time I did the film, I had a very complicated history with my own father, and so I literally took elements of my own life and sort of extrapolated them into the story. There’s literally a scene with Albert consoling Max that was taken nearly word-for-word from my own past experiences with my father, so that made the story and the film that much more real and tangible for me. Around that time, my grandfather had passed away, so that was kind of fresh, and I knew what it felt like for a teenager to be at a funeral. I just remember feeling very out-of-place. Everyone around me was very sad, but honestly, and this is going to sound insensitive, but I wasn’t that sad at all at the time. I think, because I was so young, and because his death was so fresh, it just didn’t weigh on me until much later. However, I figured it would be thematically interesting at the very least to see a story told from the perspective of a young person who has just experienced a great loss. I don’t know who I was talking with, I think it was one of my friends, but I believe an early iteration of the story had the Max character experiencing and dealing with the death and loss of his grandfather, but my friend said that wasn’t dramatic enough, so I made him lose his mother instead. I figured that was something that could be devastating enough that could provide for some interesting drama. I mean, your relationship with your mother is the most important relationship in your life, but it’s also probably, on some level, the most complicated. I was having some issues with my own mother at the time, and so I thought about having a teenager who just lost his mother, and maybe didn’t appreciate his mother like he should have. To me, that seemed to summarize life in general. We don’t know when someone we love is going to be taken away from us. Life is very unpredictable like that. Sometimes it takes a tragic incident or something unexpected to force us to realize the things that matter most to us, and I think at the core that is what "Wake" is all about.

BM – Wake appears to be filmed in a real funeral home. How difficult is it to get local businesses to work with you and allow an indie movie to film on their premises?

DM – I was very lucky with "Wake". Fortunately for us we knew the owners of the funeral home and I had asked them if I could use their funeral home while I was conceptualizing the story, so I knew from the onset what we would be able to shoot there, and furthermore, while I was writing I could visit the funeral home and look at the location, so I knew exactly what we had to work with, and where certain scenes would take place. Honestly, in my experience so far, it isn’t that hard to get local businesses to work with you when you have an independent production. However, I can understand how some businesses might be more reluctant than others. I think you have to be up front with them and tell them that you’re a small, low-budget production, but also tell them what using their location can bring to their business. I view it like free advertising in a way. Their business will be featured in something that could be seen across the country via film festivals, or over the Internet via YouTube or what not. Your film might not have that appeal, but don’t talk it down, talk your project up. You have to be as enthusiastic as possible when it’s an independent production because a lot of times you’re working with people who are doing this or helping you out for free. You’re the number one fan of your own project, and you are the hardest working person on the film as well. It’s your job to have the capacity to charm and entice people to work on something you’re doing, and to involve as many people, businesses and professionals as much as humanly possible.

BM – The #1 complaint of all indie filmmakers seems to be funding. How do you fund you films?

DM – With "Wake" I was very fortunate and lucky to have people that supported me and loved me. They believed in what I was doing and they wanted to see me succeed. Those are rare instances where you either know people or come across people that have the capacity and willingness to help you achieve your desired goal. However, I haven’t been that lucky with all of my films. We had budget problems on my second short film, "Fallen", and right now we’re struggling to come up with completion funds to finish the project. I’ve been trying to get this other short film made, entitled "Closure", and we had a budget in place and were nearly ready to go, but like many independent productions, the budget fell through and we were back at square one. I’ve learned that fund-raisers are a great way of amassing a lot of people and helping monetarily supplement what you’re doing. There are wonderful websites now like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo that are great tools that can be instrumental in helping young, aspiring filmmakers get the funding they need. I think the biggest part though, for an independent filmmaker, is amassing as many connections as you can. The more people you know, the more connections you have, the easier it is to find people who will be willing to help you, whether that’s monetarily or just helping you on set for free. I think that’s my biggest advice to any fellow filmmakers out there looking for ways to get funding. Talk to as many people as you can and work on as many film projects as you can. After "Wake", I served as a production assistant on a documentary, and it was jarring to go from the top position on a film set to one of the least appreciated, but it gave me perspective, and furthermore, it gave me the ability to get to know even more people in the industry. It’s all about knowing the right people, as stereotypical as that sounds.

BM – What would you tell someone who’s thinking about making a film of their own?

DM – I would tell them to go for it. That’s what I did with "Wake". I mean, prior to that film, I had no connections to the industry, I didn’t know any professionals, and like I said before, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. I just went for it. I had a concept in my mind, I wrote the script, and I basically found a way to make it happen. I surrounded myself with incredibly talented people who knew more about it than I did, which was extremely helpful in the learning process. Fortunately, these days you can make impressive looking films with very little knowledge and money. I think if you have a drive and an ambition, then I say just absolutely go for it. You can sit around and think about it all you want, or you can just do it. You can start writing, start thinking about shots, about how to get equipment, how to find people, and just do it. That’s one of the biggest things I learned with "Wake". You have to be aggressive and you have to be relentless. You are going to face pitfalls and obstacles but that’s a part of the filmmaking process. It’s especially a part of the independent filmmaking process.

BM – What are you working on now?

DM – I’m in post-production on my second short film entitled "Fallen". Like I mentioned before, we’re trying to secure completion funds so we can finish that project. I’m in pre-production on another short film entitled "Date of Loss", which will be the second episode in a web series entitled "That Time of the Year". I shoot that in Ohio toward the end of the month. I’m also planning on shooting "Closure" after that, which is another short film, and I think we’ve nailed the script and the budget problems. Most of all, though, I’m in pre-production on a feature-length film called "The New Society". We have producers and investors interested, and we’re hopefully looking to begin production on that soon. It’s a passion project of mine, similar to "Wake", and it’s very close to my heart. So I’m very excited about everything that’s coming together.

BM – Well, I can’t wait to see ‘The New Society’ and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for ‘Fallen’ too. Thanks for taking the time.

DM – Thank you.

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You can follow Dan and his find out more about all his movies by going over to Dan’s a great guy, very talented and we here at Rogue Cinema wish him the best and can’t wait to see more movies from him.