Recently I had the distinct pleasure of talking with writer, director and chief of IM Filmworks, Nathan Suher! He has directed fourteen short films. Among these works is the brilliant silent film homage from 2014, “Right There”. Suher is also credited with acting and composing the screenplay for three of his works. He will be premiering a “double bill of horror” with two new shorts on December 6th!
Welcome, Nathan! Can you tell us about yourself?
Glad to be here Andrew. I’m a filmmaker out of the New England area and I’ve been working professionally for about 7 years now in various forms of media production. I’ve produced and directed music videos, wedding videos, infomercials, virtual tours, corporate videos, and book trailers. Lately I’ve had the good fortune of being able to focus on narrative filmmaking projects that I’m very proud of.
You have two 20 minute shorts premiering back to back on December 6th. They are ‘Scary Little F*ckers: A Christmas Movie’ and ‘Next/ Door’! Congratulations! What inspired you to make these films?
I suppose the main thing that inspires me when I’m contemplating producing something is if it’s an interesting story, and is it something that challenges me creatively. Between 2007-2011 I dabbled in filmmaking working on short little comedies. Many of them I was running a crew for the 48 Hour Film Project under the moniker, IM Filmworks. In that time we produced 5 films that for the most part turned out well, but I was hungry to challenge myself and explore different genres. A few years ago, I took a big step out of my comfort zone when I directed, ‘Right There’, a silent film paying homage to the films of Charlie Chaplin and some early European silent cinema. It was a big success and earned me some indie cred and exposed me to a larger network of writers, producers, and actors. ‘Right There’ was a great crowd pleaser, so I did what any director should do. I decided to make a vulgar horror/comedy that completely offended the sensibilities of my previous audience. I read the script in early 2014 and I knew immediately that there were risks involved, but this was something I wanted to do anyways. Making a movie with the title, ‘Scary Little F*ckers’, was going to be extremely polarizing. It’s a crazy, offensive and outlandish story and I received a fair share of advice that producing this film was a mistake. Thoughts occurred to me that some day I could be applying for a “real” job and all you’d have to do is Google me and see my name attached to this offense titled film. Then it would occur to me that maybe that isn’t such a bad thing after all.
‘Next/Door’ is a very different story. In a lot of ways I was attracted to it because it reminded me a lot of ‘Right There’. Both are stories of unrequited love, which is a subject that fascinates me. Where ‘Right There’ is a sweet romance of sorts, ‘Next/Door’ is the flipside of the coin. I liked being able to tell the same story, but from a disturbing and twisted point of view. ‘Next/Door’ is the first psychological horror/suspense film I’ve directed which is a genre that I’m very interested in and have plans to work in on upcoming projects.
What was the shooting process, budget and schedule like for each like?
For ‘Scary Little F*ckers (A Christmas Movie)’ [I’m going to abbreviate it as SLF] there was several months of pre-production. Everything from finding the right house to film in, designing the creatures, auditioning, rehearsing, and shot listing it was a full time gig making sure that we were fully ready for production over two weekends in December 2014. This was the first time I’ve ever done a movie like this with creature effects, gore effects, stunts, and a crew of 25 people. The house we primarily filmed in was incredible, but it was difficult to work in because we had so many people moving around in small rooms with lots of equipment that constantly had to be moved from one side of the house to the other. The budget was very small. We raised via Indiegogo about $2500 to get the film in the can. I have to point out that none of this would have been possible with out my co-producer on SLF, Richard Griffin. Richard and I have worked in the New England area and shared actors and crew over the past several years. Richard is best known as for his production company, Scorpio Films Releasing and is the most distributed filmmaker working in New England. Richard brought a lot of cache to the production, which I’m forever grateful for. He not only co-produced this film with me, he helped out in practically ever department we had, and even brought in home made chili one day for the cast and crew.
‘Next/Door’ had a very different journey. We had similar challenges once again working in a small apartment with a decent sized crew and lots of equipment. Filming took place over two days in early June 2015. Even though ‘Next/Door’ was inherently a “smaller” production it was much more stressful. Unlike SLF where the actors and the script pretty much carry the film through a combination of physical comedy and sight gags, ‘Next/Door’ was more precision filmmaking. We were making a psychological horror/suspense movie with large chunks of the film with no dialogue. Each and every shot had to be meticulously choreographed to sell the mounting tension. ‘Next/Door’ was produced on a shoestring budget that in all honestly isn’t even worth mentioning. Despite our non-existent budget we landed a phenomenal cast and crew. Since, we were basically all there for the love of filmmaking and not for the money, I knew that this production could only sustain itself if we could do it all in one weekend.
Lenny Schwartz wrote ‘Scary Little F*ckers’ and Brian Pickard wrote the script for ‘Next/ Door’. How well do you think you accomplished capturing these writers’ vision on-screen?
Honoring the vision of the screenwriter is one of the most important things to me. I rarely have the time and patience to write much of my own material these days. I’ve also discovered that there are others out there that can write a lot better then I can. That said, I feel that both of these films we’ve encapsulated their vision wonderfully.
What can you tell us of the plotlines for both of these shorts?
SLF is essentially a send up of mid-80s Steven Spielberg-ian produced family comedy/adventure films. Think Gremlins and E.T., .but featuring vulgar and completely dysfunctional people. Here’s the plot: It’s Christmas eve in 1984, Saul, a functioning alcoholic brings home to his adolescent son a gift he hopes will mend their faltering relationship, a Fookah, a devilish and disgusting creature that soon escapes and wrecks havoc on their lives.
‘Next/Door’ is a treacherous and toxic love triangle links three people together in a way you will not expect. Otto is obsessed with his neighbor, Patty. She lives in the adjacent apartment in a multifamily home. One night Otto is thrust into a situation where he has the opportunity to fulfill all is desires with his attractive neighbor.
What do you feel are these shorts’ strongest attributes?
SLF is full of jokes, sight gags, gore, and some damn funny dialogue. However, I don’t think any of that would have mattered if at its core it didn’t have a heart. Underneath the vile humor and blood and gore is an honest to God heartwarming story about a father trying to reconnect with his son. It’s explained early on that there was a tragedy in the family that drove them apart. Then we throw them in a crazy situation with little creatures stalking them and they need to figure out how to make amends and join forces to survive. SLF is a great showcase for our actors to flex their comedic chops. Rich Tretheway (Saul), I think is exceptional portraying a functioning alcoholic. Most actors would attempt to tackle this role by stumbling all over the set. Rich completely submitted to this role in ways that would make most actors blush. Josh Fontaine (his adolescent son; played by an actor twice the characters age) had me in stiches every time he opened his mouth. Anna Rizzo portrayed Kyle’s girlfriend, Peggy (an 80’s video game nerd but with an unsatiated sex drive), was brilliant as well.
Brian Pickard wrote ‘Next/Door’, and I absolutely fell in love with what I call the “spaces in-between” within his script. There are big chunks of no dialogue, but Brian was extremely detailed in painting the atmosphere and the unbridled tension. It is those moments between dialogue when the actors are just working within the space is when the film is firing on all cylinders. David Ryan Kopcych portrays Otto the main character. I knew during the casting process finding the right actor to portray Otto was the lynchpin to the success or failure of the film. The whole movie hangs on how well we can sympathize and associate with Otto. His character arch is a complicated one and traverses to some dark places. I know we choose the right actor because at the end of the movie despite everything Otto has done, I think the audience will still be conflicted if he’s a good or a bad person.
In 2014 you made a film called ‘Right There’. What can you tell us about this film?
‘Right There’ actually has a long history prior to be produced. Ian Taylor, a fantastic writer who I’ve worked with on 5 films now, originally conceived the concept back in 2009. We had just worked together for the first time on the 2009 Providence 48 Hour Film Project. He pitched an idea to us and we actually dismissed it as being too simple a concept. It was designed to be a 60 second short that features a man who over the course of 30 days attempts to give a girl that passes him by on the street a bouquet of flowers. Each day was going to be show in rapid succession and we would see his bouquet grow larger and larger every day until the 30th day. I believe that’s as far as the concept went. It was a neat idea, but at the time we were looking for more fleshed out ideas. Time passed…we worked on several more short films. Then I got very busy with other types of filmmaking. I was very busy working on corporate films, music videos and various commercial projects. I started to really miss directing narrative films. I started digging through my file cabinet of incomplete scripts I had started and film ideas that I would one day get around too. Then I remember this short film idea that Ian pitched to me years earlier. I decided to change some things to give it more traditional story arch. Instead of 30 days whipping by, I fleshed out 6 of the 30 days and expand the story to a 10 minute movie. The kernel of the original idea if definitely still in there. At the premier of ‘Right There’ I remember receiving a big compliment from Ian saying that he was honored that I took his simple little concept and made something better then he ever imagined. Then he asked me when he would receive his first royalty check.
Have you always wanted to be involved with movie making? If so, when did you know it was what you wanted to do?
I think I’ve been saying since I was in my early teens that I wanted to be a filmmaker. When you’re that age you really don’t even know what a filmmaker is though. I knew that I loved movies and that there were people out there that somehow made these amazing things. My involvement in filmmaking has happened to me in stages. I don’t think I realized that it was an attainable career path until I was a senior in high school. I applied to several good schools with a communications program and ended up at Boston University. I took many TV and Film Production courses. After graduation I landed a job at a health insurance company. Very far away from Hollywood and my aspirations of becoming a filmmaker. A few years slipped away and I started hearing about some big films that were being produced in Boston. This was around 1998-1999 and some huge movies were coming through the area, Amistad, The Perfect Storm, State and Main to name a few. I reached out to these productions hoping to land a gig as a production assistant. I never heard back from them, but I did land an unpaid gig as a location manager on a small independent feature that was filming in the nearby town of Waltham, MA. For a month I was on set everyday and it was a fantastic experience. It lit a fire in me to take my career more seriously. So with reckless abandon I moved out to Los Angeles the following year, which was both the greatest and worst experience of my life. In L.A. all I managed to get involved in was a lot of reality television. This was back in 2000-2003 when reality tv was really just beginning to boom. In my three years there I learned everything that I didn’t want to do for the rest of my life, and that was work in the entertainment industry. In 2003 I moved back to Massachusetts with my figurative tail between my legs. Another 4 years slip away. I held down a steady 9-5 job and for a while it was all I needed. But around 2007 I started getting that itch again. My day job wasn’t feeding the right side of my brain that needed creative nourishment. I started attending networking meetings for filmmakers and creative types. I soon launched a production company that specialized in wedding videos and corporate videos. As I got busier and busier my thirst for getting back into narrative filmmaking was heightening. I once again realized what my calling was. Soon I launched another production company with my then producing partners, Incredible Machine Productions, later on shortened to IM Filmworks. It rolled off the tongue better. The rest is history.
Do you have a favorite movie? Also, do you have one you turn to for inspiration?
I have so many favorite movies, but if I had to name the ones that I think are most influential to me they would be Jaws, The Natural, Alien, Midnight Run, The Graduate, Dark City, Metropolis, L.A. Confidential, Rear Window, and Casablanca. I’m sort of all over the map. If you asked me this question tomorrow I’d probably name 10 different films.
Are there specific directors or writers who inspire you?
There are several filmmakers and writers that I absolutely adore for different reasons. Oddly most of them are contempories. My favorites directors and my favorite films Woody Allen (Manhattan, The Puple Rose of Cairo), David Fincher (Se7en, The Game), Martin Scorsese (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver), Ramin Bahrani (Goodbye Solo, Chop Shop), Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Psycho), Jim Jarmusch (Down by Law, Stranger Then Paradise), and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelié, Delicatessen).
What do you look for in a horror film?
I’m actually quite picky with my horror tastes. I’m intrigued with a horror film if they are doing something fresh. Which is why I was a huge fan of films like Cabin in the Woods which turned the whole slasher genre on its head. Horror for me has to be severely laced with elements of other genres for it to be palatable for me. Films like Rosemary’s Baby or The Exorcist are more then just horror films. They play out like mysteries, and play games with your mind. I like that. Horror films that have a strong comedic element are appealing to me as well. Then there is the horror/suspense genre, films like Ti West’s House of the Devil I found to be fascinating demonstration on how to build tension.
How have you grown as an artist since your first short, ‘Deadly Rendezvous’, 18 years ago?
Wow…’Deadly Rendezvous’. I made ‘Deadly Rendezvous’ while still at BU. It was my senior project. I was and still am a huge fan of Robert Rodriquez and his films El Mariachi and Desperado. DR was my version of Rodriquez’s Desperado set in an urban setting. It was a rag tag group of friends and students that needed course credit. At the time I thought it was a masterpiece. It obviously wasn’t good, but it was a fantastic learning experience, which pretty much doomed me into believing that filmmaking was a wise career choice. Ironically, just a few months ago I produced an event in Providence, RI, ‘The First Reel Showcase’ and I curated a bunch of first films from some local directors and we screened them all one night and all had a great time laughing at ourselves.
I can’t talk about ‘Deadly Rendezvous’ with out also addressing that I made a sequel (technically a prequel) two years later titled, ‘Deadly Rendezvous: Dawn of Deceit’. In 1999 I had already graduated college and I was working a dull 9-5 job. It occurred to me that there was really nothing stopping me from making another movie. I basically retrofitted a story that would explain the events prior to the DR. I borrow my parent’s camcorder and asked all my friends to help me produce it. What I didn’t think about was how I was going to edit the film afterwards. I no longer had access to BU’s fancy AVID, and I didn’t have a computer that could handle the workload necessary to do this. So all that raw footage just sat there on a shelf for 7 years until I was able to get my hands on an early version of Adobe Premier. In 2007 (8 years after the movie was shot), I finally finished it.
What other interests or hobbies do you have besides creating cinema?
Despite all these projects we’ve talked about I do somehow manage to hold down a day job. I work at the Weston Media Center, it’s the public access television station for the town and I am the Technical Director. It’s a great job because even when I’m not working on my films, I get to spend my days producing, directing, and editing television content. I’m an avid concert goer. I try to get to as many concerts that I can. This year I spent a fortune crossing bands off my bucket list. I finally got to see Van Halen, Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton in concert. I also got to see another one of my all time favorite bands, Rush, for the second time. As I balance this rock and roll lifestyle I also love spending time with my wife Lori, and our four-year-old daughter, Chloe. Both of them make brief cameos in ‘Right There’ if you pay close attention.
Let’s talk about IM Filmworks. How long did you have the dream to create a company such as this?
Well when I got my second wind back in 2007 realizing I wanted to rekindle my career in filmmaking it was really the only thing I thought I could do. Nobody was going to hire me to direct anything so I had to produce my own content. IM Filmworks was launched originally as a platform for myself and my producing partners to showcase our work.
For those of us who always wanted to start a production company ourselves can you give us some insider’s tips on how it is done?
I think if you are starting off from scratch the most important thing isn’t to necessarily start a production company, but more importantly to focus on yourself. If your goal is to direct then get as much practice in as a director that you can. If you want to write, then start writing as much as possible to hone your craft. A production company is only practical if it’s operated as a real company. If you have collaborators/partners that wish to share the responsibility of producing content.
You are also co- directing the upcoming I am Monroe?, released through JP Productions, with Jocelyn Padilla. She was in the great 80’s style slasher film Jonah Lives. She also co-drected, wrote and starred in this film. What can you tell us about this feature which is slated to come out in 2016?
Well Jocelyn and I have been friends now since 2011 when we met on the set of a PSA I was producing. We had great chemistry together and stayed in touch. I was also able to cast her in a commercial I produced for the Hampton Inn a couple years later. I believe at the time she was mostly focused on her acting. Over the next year though she completed her script for I Am Monroe? and ultimately asked me if I would be interested co-director the film with her. When I read the script I was completely blown away. It was like nothing I had read before. It was extremely ambitious. It had lots and lots of characters, and lots and lots of locations. Despite these issues, there was something about her total commitment to the project that made it appealing to me. We went into production in early 2013 and filmed for a couple of months until the film ran into several devastating issues that derailed the production for an entire year. During those 12 months Jocelyn and I spoke very often about how to get the film back on track. Changes to the script were made, new locations, new actors were cast and for the most part an whole new crew was brought on board when we went back into production in the late summer of 2014. I can’t lie and say that co-directing this film was easy. I learned more on this set then I’ve ever learned on any set before because for the first time in my career I was involved in a film that had some major obstacles to overcome. Overcoming obstacles is a major part of being a well rounded director, and the things I took away from this film experience have helped me immensely in the following productions.
Speaking of 2016: you have your first IM Filmworks feature, which you also produced and directed, coming out that year. It’s called Higher Methods. What can we expect from this feature?
Higher Methods is going to be my first independently produced/directed feature through IM Filmworks. It’s a script written by Lenny Schwartz (‘Scary Little F*ckers’). It is a return to the psychological horror genre.
The plot synopsis is as follows: Higher Methods is a dark psychological horror about fame and the price one pays to achieve it. Matt, is an actor whose sister goes missing years prior. His search for her leads him to a fanatical theatre group whose leader employs horrifying methods in sharing the art of performance. What follows for Matt is a descent down the rabbit hole until he cannot determine what is real and what is fiction. We are in the fundraising stages for this film. The plan is to film Higher Methods in the summer of 2016 in the New England area.
You have also acted in 3 of your earlier features, was a cinematographer for 5 and even an art director. What are these experiences like compared to directing?
These days I mostly focus on producing/directing but I have dabbled with other roles. Those films that I acted in were just little bit parts. I did take an acting class in college and I had some struggles with it. I was about to point out that I haven’t acted in over 15 years, but ironically just a few months ago I was asked to play the role as the Head of Security in an sci-fi short from Providence Lynceum, titled ‘Device’. I actually have a few lines in it and I had a blast being on the other side of the camera. I’ve have DP’d some films that I also produced. It was great experience to focus on that role and not so much on performances and other director duties. None of these other hats are my specialty, but it’s always a great learning experience is helpful to me as a producer knowing more about how these departments function.
What advice can you give those of us who always wanted to make our own film on how to get started?
In this day and age there really is no excuse to not get out there and start practicing. You don’t need anything. You just need to find like minded people that want to learn with you. My first independent short we shot in 2008 (‘Machination’) was mostly a group of complete strangers that I gathered together to participate in the Providence 48 Hour Film Project. I would say to simply go out there and start meeting other filmmakers in your area. Facebook, Twitter is a hotbed of activity for filmmakers looking for people to collaborate with. Research when and where there are filmmaker meet ups in your area. I also feel you need to have a lot of patience. Network with other filmmakers, volunteer to work on their productions, build up as much good will as you can. If people like you and trust you then when you start to make films they will come out of the woodwork to help you. Start small. Don’t make a feature your first film. In the past 7 years I’ve produced a dozen short films, and dozens of other commercial projects, yet it isn’t until now that I feel that producing a quality feature is possible. Patience and perseverance will pay off in the end.
Where and at what time can we catch the premier of your double bill of new films on December 6th?
Both ‘Scary Little F*ckers (A Christmas Movie)’ and ‘Next/Door’ will be making their theatrical premiere on Sunday December 6th at 8pm at the Route One Cinema Pub in North Attleboro, MA. Tickets are $9 at the door, but I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance, as I’m quite sure we are going to sell out the 140 seat capacity theater. I should mention that we will also be showing a sneak peak of the first 5 minutes of the up coming feature I co-directed, I Am Monroe? as well as another short film that IM Filmworks produced that is getting it’s proper release.
Do you have any final words for us?
I think we’ve covered it all. It’s been an absolute pleasure sharing with you and your audience what’s been happening over her at IM Filmworks.
Thank you for your time!
Photo was taken by Dan DiPalma.