When asked to write an article about my own personal influences, I nearly had an anxiety attack trying to think of all the right things to say. The first feeling came from the sheer thought that anyone would deem my work admirable enough to even wonder what my influences are. So thank you, Tyler, for that. But I think rather than break down the directors and films that have influenced me most (which would take forever because there are way more than just a few), I’ll just break it down into categories—-to make it more digestible. And to give a small disclaimer to this article, I’m going to attempt to inject as many relevant points about my work as much as possible, so this is less a generic “hey, this is the shit I like” and more a piece about the work I’ve done and hopefully you can see the correlation (if anyone is reading this).
While there are many directors that I admire, there are very few I would actually say ‘influence me’, truly. I’m influenced by many things, which you’ll realize more as you get farther into this article, because I am and always have been impressionable. Like most young filmmakers, the first thing I did when I made the cold hard decision to make movies, was research and imitate. Even my first two films, Madison County and Roadside were basically me imitating (and failing) at recreating ideas and scenarios from my favorite films/directors.
Example: Madison County was influenced by Tobe Hooper, Alex Aja, Eli Roth, Joe Lynch, Adam Green, Dave Parker, Wes Craven and every low budget horror director that had an “in the woods” or “slasher” movie sitting on the shelves at Blockbuster. Sadly, my goal with making Madison was to achieve that status. When I set out to make the film I thought “hey, I think I could make a feature good enough to sit on the shelf at Blockbuster. And I did. Don’t aim so low, kids.
Ironically, as time has gone on and I’ve become more objective about myself and my work, I’ve realized that the directors I admire have very different styles than I and their influences are rarely (if at all) noticeable in my films. For instance, David Fincher happens to be my favorite director. I could say very confidently that he hasn’t made a bad film and that he is one of the most disciplined and versatile directors working today. Sure, his films have a very distinct style, which makes his stamp very recognizable and therefore arguably ‘one-dimensional’. But having the ability to jump through genres like he does is remarkable. From the brooding nature of SE7EN to the mystery in The Game and the obsession in films like Zodiac and The Social Network. The guy that made all of those films also made The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Not to mention he also crated the overarching blackly comedic moments that make Gone Girl work so well. His sarcasm and wit is detectable in all of his films, which I think is what I admire most. It’s also one of the single biggest things I admire about one of my other favorite directors: Alfred Hitchcock.
Sure, Roadside is a very “Hitchcockian” rip-off, but I would venture to say his style is almost completely absent from my film. It’s like a little kid running around in a Batman suit. Same idea, different execution. Once again, the dark humor and discipline are astounding to me. Films like Psycho and Rear Window. Hell, Dial M for Murder, and Strangers on a Train are two of my favorite films of his. And Rope… A dark comedic masterpiece! The execution is masterful—just like Fincher. But the directors that influenced Roadside were guys like Ti West (with Trigger Man) and Adam Green (with Frozen). Both sophomore efforts (technically Green’s 3rd) from those directors. I admired their careers and status within the genre, so I tried to follow in their footsteps. I liked their careers and reputations, so I tried to imitate, hoping I would be lumped in to their circles. Once again…What works for one person doesn’t always work for another. Go your own way.
Among guys like Fincher and Hitch, I also place guys like Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Craven—whose obvious passion for psychology shows through in his films…Something I find very fascinating as well—and even Michael Bay (yes, I said it) is up there in my favorite directors. While I don’t find Bay to be an artistic genius, I do find him to be one hell of an entertaining storyteller…And that’s what movies are, entertainment. It’s also a business, a business first, in fact. And few people understand that better than Michael Bay. Again–his movies are filled with dark humor and a very strong/recognizable visual style. Those two traits are things I hope people will start to recognize in my own work as time goes on.
My favorite films of all time are Scream, Psycho, True Romance, and Fargo…I’m sure I could add a few more to that list, but those are the core four. But until Get the Girl, those influences hadn’t really shown through in my work. Now it’s been widely publicized that my favorite film of all time is Scream, which is true. It’s a masterpiece in my eyes and I dream of one day making my own “whodunit” slasher film and fulfilling a childhood fantasy. But because I haven’t attempted to make my “whodunit” yet, it’s had very subtle influences in my own work.
But a myriad of other films have inspired me. As I said, I was a child of the Blockbuster education (especially while living in LA during film school) and my goal was to be a working horror director. So the list is endless as to which films I’ve watched and said “I could do something like that”. But very few times have I tried to inject moments from my favorite films into my work, or allowed their influences to show. Maybe because I believe them to be sacred or unattainable? Sure, there’s a Psycho shower scene homage in Madison County and the gunman’s voice in Roadside is very Scream-like. But they were just touches. I think in Get the Girl, people will see more of these influences than any of my other films. Hopefully that’s a good thing. [Editor’s Note: I think it’s a great thing]
But for Contracted, I was really influenced by one of my favorite directors, Darren Aronofsky and his films like The Wrestler, Black Swan, and Requiem for a Dream. It almost sounds laughable to say Contracted was influenced by oscar nominated films and their various directors–but it’s true. I wanted to tell a very subjective and visceral story with Contracted that had very gritty camera work, but somehow felt like an art film. Whether I succeeded or not is up to you guys—but that was my goal. Contracted was also the first film that I was aiming for much higher targets than just landing on the straight to DVD shelf at the local video store. I also looked to films like A Horrible Way to Die. Same idea: Interesting, vulnerable characters with very subjective points of view from the camera. Prestigious release, festival play…things like that.
Every time I see a great film, I get inspired. Hell, sometimes the film doesn’t even have to be that great. Like, I hated Cabin Fever when I first saw it… It pissed me off so much. It was so bizarre, but that’s why the film works…And why I love it today. It evokes a response from me as a viewer. That’s what I want to do as a filmmaker. Stir up emotions. Filmmakers like Aronofsky do that better than most. That’s why I chose to use him as a model of how to approach Contracted.
“The Industry” for me means many things. It means my representatives (manager, agent, etc), sales agents, distributors, film festivals, other filmmakers, etc…When I see a film, I get inspired. When I grab drinks with my filmmaking friends, I get inspired. When I get good news, I get inspired. When I get bad news…I usually make a movie. That’s how Contracted happened and that’s why “the industry” is an influence to me.
Madison County was almost too easy to get distribution for. In fact, we had offers before we ever shot the film. Why? Because it was a marketable concept…A guy wearing a pig head? Easy. Done. Throw it on the shelf. Me, being a 22 year old “artist,” I didn’t want to be the director of a low-rent slasher film (although I inevitably would be and there was no way to avoid it…But I was young and stupid) so I tried to make a more “dramatic” slasher film. I thought if I laced it with dialogue, my characters would be more relatable… Guess what? That doesn’t work. Film school 101…Just because your characters are talking, it doesn’t mean they’re saying anything. And just because they’re doing something, that doesn’t mean what they’re doing is interesting. But hey, you live and learn. But when Madison was marketed and released as a cheesy slasher film with mediocre reviews, I was angry. I wanted my first film to be like Cabin Fever or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre…That’s how I was gauging myself and my career. Big aspirations. Little understanding.
Roadside did little to help matters. We essentially made a dramatic thriller with no famous actors to sell the film off of. Is it thrilling? Yeah, to a degree. More mysterious than anything (even I’m surprised at how well the ending works on people). But still, if you don’t have an iconic image to put on the cover of your film, it’s a tough sell… So what did I do? I got angry.
Sex sells. I knew that. Horror sells. Roadside wasn’t horror. Great. Sex and Horror. I dug into my “movie ideas” folder on my computer, brought up Contracted. Anyway I wrote. I felt like I was writing the biggest “Fuck you” I could muster to the “industry”. You want marketable: Here you go. You want sex: Here it is. You want horror: You bet. Thankfully, my frustration turned out to be the greatest thing that ever happened to me…But if nothing else, it proved to me that you can never take “No” for an answer…And when life kicks you when you’re down, keep getting up. It can’t kick you forever…And I promise, you’re going to get the chance to kick it back. When Contracted was a finished film and everyone that watched the private screening before it was picked up by IFC said they didn’t like it or “it’s too weird.” Then when it was released and all the buzz was happening, those same people seemed to like it. Some even went as far to ask me if we had shot new material and re-cut the film… As if we had the budget to do such a thing.
This influence topic may sound a little narcissistic, but I promise it’s not…I influence myself simply because I try not to repeat myself. For better, or for worse, I avoid similar shit like the plague. If you look at all my films (even from the limited exposure I’ve given GET THE GIRL on social media), you can see that they’re all extremely different from one another. In tone, in color palette, in story, in structure, in sub-genre… In almost every way (except for when I’m a shitty writer and re-use crap that worked from my previous films). But I don’t do it just for fun or to be eccentric or mysterious…I do it because I almost have to. I like the challenge of doing things people say I can’t. When I was a kid, I was never the best athlete. In fact, I was usually underwhelming. I had horrible anxiety and could perform so well when I was in my zone…But the moment I started thinking about my performance, I choked. I wasn’t performing to the level people knew I could. But I would bust my ass to fix it. The anxiety wouldn’t let me leave it alone. It was a scab I had to pick. I was at war with myself…And sitting at my parents house are probably half a dozen trophies for “most improved player” from over the course of my athletic career because I would work so damn hard to prove that I had what it took. I find myself doing similar things in my film career.
After CONTRACTED came out, I was approached for multiple projects and interviewed and pitched for a few great ones. A couple of those were on the more comedic side of things and comedy was something I had been wanting to explore as it was different from the stuff I had done. Ironically, comedy was something I cut out of my first couple of films entirely because I wanted to be taken “seriously” as a filmmaker and to me, humor in genre films was cheesy. God, I was stupid. Thankfully, Ace Marrero (actor/producer) told me to ease up and let the humor roll… He was right. Thank you for that.were on the more comedic side of things and cbeen wanting to explore as it was different from the stuff I had done. Ironically, comedy was something I cut out of my first couple of films entirely because I wanted to be taken “seriously” as a filmmaker and to me, humor in genre films was cheesy. God, I was stupid. Thankfully, Ace Marrero (actor/producer) told me to ease up and let the humor roll… He was right. Thank you for that.
But when I didn’t get the jobs because “Contracted wasn’t funny” and “we don’t think you can do humor”, I instantly went to work coming up with ideas that I could do in that space…thus, Get the Girl was born. Is it a comedy? Not entirely. But it’s funny as shit and dark as hell. Was going out and doing something very dark and thrilling the right move for me? Not sure. The script got rave reviews and so far, the film seems to be appreciated by the few that have seen it. But only time will tell. For me, I just want to continue to show what I can do and be influenced by the things around me. That’s the exciting part about being an artist. Being in this business. You don’t know the future, but you know that as long as you’re living life, you’re going to be influenced or inspired. For me, those things are my favorite filmmakers, my favorite films, my favorite people and the world/business around me…I don’t want to let it control me…But hopefully it continues to open my mind and allow me to create. And hopefully, after reading this, you can look at my work and understand it, and me, just a little bit better.