“If I had my way, I’d be shooting in the Midwest for everything I did,” he says.
Screen this slice of life with Seldera:
We moved to Wisconsin in ’81 from New York City. I felt like I didn’t sort of fit in, so I ended up doing a lot of these countercultural sort of things like skateboarding. That’s where all my closest friends became, high school and even junior high. It was something to do because we didn’t play football, so we’d skateboard.
My parents always wanted me to be a doctor or something like that. I always wanted to do something different that no one else was doing, and I attribute that to skateboarding. It forces a sort of creativity out of you when you’re doing that.
When I got to high school I was really exploring music a lot. I played jazz. I actually went to college as a music major. I was a saxophone player. I quit the music major after a year. I switched to English. Something about studying music really took the fun out of it. The way I used to learn was I’d listen over and over to jazz records and then kind of scribe everything by hand and by ear, and then write it as sheet music because I didn’t know how to get it otherwise. And once I started learning theory and all of that, I was like, oh, this isn’t for me.
Wordsmith turned director
I thought I was going to be a novelist. I thought I was going to be the next Raymond Carver. I went to grad school at Emerson right out of college. I was a creative writing major. My first class was a screenwriting class. I was 22, one of the youngest people in the grad program. I learned to be humble and listen to people who were more experienced. I learned discipline -- sitting down and writing every day. My teacher was a produced screenwriter and he pulled no punches.
The first thing I did when I graduated was start writing my first screenplay. I just loved the visual style of screenwriting. I moved back to Chicago and for the next 10 years I was a screenwriter. I started acting, then directing sketch comedy at Second City and I really got a taste of working with actors. I was pretty green about it, but I really loved doing it, shaping a vision. Some of it would be my own writing, but we had a group of other writers so I’d be directing other people’s work as well.
Behind the camera
Around 2000-2001, one of the guys in the sketch group, my friend and I decided we were going to make our own TV shows. We shot this thing, and it was terrible, but my friend really liked the idea of it so he put down a bunch of money to make a real pilot, which the three of us co-directed and co-wrote. That was my first taste of being behind the camera and that’s when I fell in love with it -- wow, this is great. This is what I want to do. Behind the camera is less stressful to me than being in front of the camera. I know how to get people to places I want them to get to, and we have fun doing it.
A lot of people with bigger budgets will use (crowdfunding) as development money. They’ll get $20,000 from Kickstarter so they can use it to continue to develop the script, go out and start location scouting, pay for flights to places where they’re going to shoot. You can fund full movies, and we’ve seen that happen, particularly with some of these bigger-name actors. I think Spike Lee did one, and Zach Braff. I’ve used it twice. I funded at least half of a budget two times from Kickstarter or Indiegogo. The second movie was fully funded, but I kind of feel like that’s the limit. You hit up the same people twice, they’re not going to want to give any more money a third time.
Making movie news
The market is so saturated because of the internet, and all the channels and media out there, getting your movie out to be seen and stick out from the rest, that’s one of the more difficult things. That’s why you’ll see a lot more independent films with like name actors because those tend to get them noticed. Just punching through that dense amount of films that come out every year now, that’s fairly new --... I’d say in the last seven or eight years. But that’s basically the biggest, most difficult problem. How are you going to exhibit your movie? How are you going to get it to the most eyes?
Growing your circle
It’s all networking. That’s all you do. You spend half your time going out for a drink with some friends, you meet someone and he might be into producing. So you get to know him. You do lunch or drinks or coffee with that person. Next thing you know you might be working with him.
You find somebody you trust. I tend to work with a friend I went to USC with, Nicolaas Bertelsen. He produced “End of Fall.” He’s got a couple of movies at Sundance. We worked on several things together where he produced and I directed. We try looking for projects to do together. He loves producing. That’s all he wants to do. There comes a point where I can give it all over to him and then just focus on what I need to focus on, directing or writing. It’s really a trust thing. It’s who you can work with.
Filming on location
“End of Fall” was exciting and really strenuous. We didn’t know where we were going to shoot it until 10 days before I left to drive back out to Wisconsin. We had a certain number in mind for a budget and it kept coming down and down and finally I’m like how much is the minimum amount we need to make this movie? And we came up with a number and literally (Bertelsen) was on the phone calling family and friends and I was doing the same. We got about a third of the way through (making our budget) and I’m like, “OK, we can do this.”
We got (the rest of the money we needed) from a couple of local kids -- two brothers that I went to high school with, Jake and Matt Polyock. Jake has a very successful grain elevator business out there in Linn and Matt’s a farmer. They visited our house in preproduction, and they really liked the action of it all. They’re a big reason why we were able to shoot this film because they donated money and connected us with people that let us use their farmhouses, trucks, wardrobe. We easily cut thousands of dollars off our budget.
The rewriting is always the most difficult. As a screenwriter I learned not to be scared of digging in and paring scenes apart, literally throwing them in the trash and rewriting them two or three times -- sometimes to find out that original one was probably the best one. It’s difficult to do that, but after a while, you figure out that it’s just part of the job.
My favorite film in the last 10 years is “Fury Road,” the George Miller film. I love big action. I grew up on the “Road Warrior” movies, too. Just a few weeks ago I saw “Rogue One” and loved that movie. I like movies that tend to be a little bit darker with some comedic elements in them. Also movies that kind of make you think. I’m kind of done with the whole superhero thing because they’re all the same to me. One of my favorite movies to this day is Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven.” Mainly because that shows a change in him, a story about redemption, it’s not just a gun-slinging movie.
My parents were both doctors. They retired recently. My mom’s still over at Aurora (Health Center) in Lake Geneva for another year or so. It’s funny because up until the point when I told them I was applying to film school, my mom was still trying to get me to be like a medical technician. They’re both very practical. They came straight from the Philippines, so it’s a cultural thing, but my dad was telling me, “You know, there’s a very low percentage of people who get into these film schools. Be prepared.” A few days after I got in he calls me up. “Hey, do you know George Lucas went to your school?” He’s all excited. Now they’re super cool with it. They are people who, emotionally they say very few words but you know they’re proud. As long as I’m fending for myself and not living on the streets, they’re all for it.
A Midwestern sensibility
A lot of times people ask me, why LA? We all have this image of what LA is supposed to be like, right? It’s sunny, people driving Lamborghinis all over the place, skinny women. But most of the people I do my stuff with here are from the Midwest or they’ve been through the Midwest. It’s one of those things. I don’t shoot most stuff here.
Most of what I tend to write is based in the Midwest. I think it’s a point of view that people don’t really understand or get. People here that are born here or on the West Coast, they literally see the Midwest as a flyover state. No one stops in Chicago, Milwaukee or Minneapolis. They go to New York. There’s a different point of view and different lifestyle and it’s a whole part of the country that people don’t understand. It’s such a huge part of the country and such an important part of the country. That’s why I like it. The people that come from the Midwest, they’re the best. They’re genuine. They’re nice. I’ve had friends from the Midwest come out here and they only last for six months or so because they’re too nice. You really have to have a thick skin to come out here. And you don’t have to be a jerk, but you have to know how to handle people.