For those of you who were reading through our reviews last month you might have stumbled across my little write-up for the independent film Green Eyes For Anastice. It’s a low budget sci-fi yarn about a man who discovers his own personal time machine and asks the audience questions about the ethical decisions that come with changing our own past for personal reasoning. I gave the film some very positive feedback and have been in touch with the director, Michael R. Steinbeck, and have asked him to give us a few words about the creation of his film – what it took, what inspires him and what he plans to work on in the future. The guy is an interesting fellow, and I have to agree with him about M. Night, the guy probably hasn’t been given half the credit he deserves.
Green Eyes is a beautiful indie film that shows off a whole lot of talented people at work; hopefully some of you will go out and pick it up. Have to show support for those of us guys out there willing to get up off their rear end and actually make a movie, rather than talk about them… Err, not that there’s anything wrong with that either.
RC: Hello there Michael! Getting right into things, cinematically what are some of your influences? Favorite directors, films and any particular works that speak to you. Basically, what makes/made you want to go out and grab the camera?
MS: As far as directing and visual style, I’d have to say that my greatest influence is M. Night Shymalan. I love all of his work, especially Signs and Unbreakable. M. Night tends to throw the supernatural/sci-fi in the middle of a realistic setting. For example, he doesn’t do an over-the-top, “War of the Worlds” style alien movie; he does one from the point of view of a small Pennsylvania farm family, where you don’t even see the alien until the last scene. That’s the approach I was trying to take with GEA. I didn’t want to make the time traveling over the top; I wanted to give it to a normal everyday guy with everyday problems.
M. Night also inspires me because he began as a young filmmaker in his mid-20s, much like me. I can only hope that I can achieve bigger and greater success with every film as he has done.
I’m also a big sucker for twist endings, as long as they don’t second guess the film’s plot. I also love many films involving time-travel, if it’s done right. In my opinion, in order to make a good time-travel film (or any film for that matter), you have to set up your own set of rules, and then stick to them. Don’t bend or change them in order to squeeze your plot point across. There are a lot of decent time-travel films out there, but I’d say that the Back to the Future trilogy is definitely my favorite movie saga of all time.
RC: Definitely, mucho props to Dr. Emmett Brown. His legacy shall live on forever… every time I hear the term “1.21 gigawatts”. So, obscure references set aside for a moment: How did Green Eyes for Anastice begin in the writing stages? What sparked the flame, so to speak?
MS: For many years I have been making short films, gathering what cast and crew I could, which consisted mostly of friends and family. In late 2002, I decided I wanted to make a full length feature film to showcase my true talents. I have always been a huge fan of time travel, so I felt it appropriate to make my first feature film a time travel film. I came up with a short treatment for the storyline, and I wanted to bring on a screenwriter to write the script based on that idea. I contacted the University of Michigan screenwriting department and had them post a notice to their students. I got several responses, and decided on a 4th year screenwriting student named Brad Bowman. Brad wrote the first two drafts of the script, which was very helpful. It still wasn’t quite what I wanted, so Nicholas Richards and I did a heavy rewrite, which replaced about 60% of Brad’s draft, but kept the basic storyline structure in place.
RC: Did you ever find the topic of time travel to be a daunting task to take on with a limited budget?
MS: To be honest, I never thought about that too much. I really wanted to do it, and I just knew I’d figure out a way how. When writing the story, we did work to keep it “realistic” enough to keep it within the budget. For example, no ridiculously elaborate sets required. Once we started shooting, we were also able to get a TON of help from generous people who volunteered their houses to use as sets, and volunteered their time to help out during the bigger shoots, like the downtown scenes where Anastice gets hit by the car. These people helped us pull off a lot of things that would normally cost much more to achieve.
Our Producer Tom Porps is a brilliant, generous, and friendly man. Whenever we needed something he could make a few phone calls and it was done. As far as pulling off the special effects, Tom Porps also used his electrical knowledge, and rigged up the time machine to light up and spin. The time machine, by the way, is actually a modified West German weather machine from the 1950’s. Regarding the visual effects, I have a Multimedia degree and an extensive background in computer graphics. I was able to create all the computer generated effects myself during post production.
RC: [Writers Note: And believe it or not, the FX work in the film is really solid. Much better than the computer graphics one would normally expect from your average independent film. For one man’s work, it’s pretty nice to be comparable to some major television work that I’ve seen] Moving on, if there was one thing you can think of that you were hoping to achieve with GEA, what was it and how successful were you?
MS: I’d say the main thing I was trying to achieve with Green Eyes for Anastice would have to be to get my foot through the door on making a full length independent feature film and get it out there for people to see, all the while learning something along the way. I believe I’ve definitely achieved that goal. We held a theater premiere with 150 guests, the film was accepted into several film festivals around the country, has a listing on IMDB.com, and is available for sale on Amazon.com. I feel that I’ve learned a lot from making this film and I plan on funneling that into my future projects.
RC: Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like working on the film? The schedule, how everyone got along, etc.
MS: I actually had quite a unique shooting schedule for making this film. I live in Michigan, and we were shooting in Wisconsin. So I would make the trip to Wisconsin usually over a long weekend, and we’d shoot a few scenes. Then I’d head back to Michigan and review the footage. We’d take a 1-2 week break, then I’d then make another trip out and we’d shoot some more. It was nice because I got to let the finished scenes sink in, and if I didn’t like something, we could do a reshoot. This actually worked best for everyone involved. Filming went on in this manner for about 7 months and then we wrapped it up.
Everyone got along great during filming. We’re all friends and we’ve worked together in the past. On the set, everyone had the right mixture of fun and seriousness to get the job done.
RC: What exactly is your relationship with Nicholas P. Richards (star, cinematographer and co-writer of GEA), how do you two know each other?
MS: Nicholas is my best friend, and married to my cousin, so he’s family as well. He’s a great guy. We’ve known each other for years, since he started dating my cousin almost a decade ago. We’re always involved in each others projects in some way.
RC: Very cool, it seemed the two of you really feed off one another’s creativity, hope to see the two of you continuing your work together. About the rest of the cast, how have they taken to the film and where are they now? Who are you interested in or plan on working with in your future projects?
MS: The cast has told me they love the film. Nicholas wants to concentrate more on his behind the scenes roles instead of his acting. He just finished directing his first feature film titled Transcendence, on which I served as Executive Producer. Samantha Porps is awesome and she did a great job for her first time in front of the camera. Hopefully she’ll stop in for a cameo in my future films. Tom Porps is stepping up as Producer once again for my next film. I couldn’t have done GEA without him. John Ivan and Joe Sheehan are great friends of mine and are always helping me out with my films in whatever way they can. John Ivan is a brilliant musician and co-wrote/performed the musical score for Green Eyes for Anastice, and plans on helping me out with my future films. Joe Sheehan is also a musician, the lead guitarist in a very successful band, Bascom Hill, which is getting bigger by the day. They begin touring the country soon.
For my upcoming short film TREE, I’m working with Bill Elverman, who’s an up and coming Hollywood actor who’s been in several independent films. Bill is also writing the screenplay. I’m also in the process of casting in the Chicago and NY areas for two other roles in that film.
RC: Can you tell us a bit more about TREE and any future plans for Drop Shadow Productions?
MS: With TREE I’m shooting in HD and we’re scheduled to shoot in September of 2006. It will most likely be out in film festivals late 2006/early 2007. TREE is about a small town farmer, his relationship with his family, and how their lives are affected by an old oak tree that may or may not be able to predict their future. I’m also in the planning stages of shooting another feature length film sometime in 2007.
RC: As an up and coming director, any advice for anyone else out there about to tackle their first feature length film?
MS: It’s a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of fun; and definitely worth the pay off once it’s all finished. You don’t need a big Hollywood budget to make a great film.
Very true and Michael, as well as all the fine folks involved in his previous work proved. It was a nice payoff and I’m sure TREE will just build upon the talents already demonstrated. I’d like to take the time to thank Michael for allowing me to interview him and review his film. For everyone out there, pick up the film from amazon.com or take a spin by the official site over at Drop Shadow Productions. These guys deserve our support, and we support them in whatever future endeavors they take on. Rock on guys and good luck.