DEEP DIVE INTO 'ENTER THE ROOM'
In conversation with Steve Long Director of the Global Film Exhibition
'Enter The Room' Won Best Triller at the 2023 Global Film Exhibition.
Steve: 'Enter The Room' scooped the Best Thriller award at this year's Global Film Exhibition. I'm keen to delve deeper into the inspiration behind this masterpiece. Can you tell me about it?
Harry: My relationship with my roommate during the first semester of my freshman year of college is what gave me the idea for “Enter the Room”. Almost all of the various things that Brian was getting on Jeremy’s case during the narrative were actual things that my roommate accused me of. (And there were other things he said/did to me that I wasn’t able to fit into the film)
Living with him was a very unpleasant experience for me, and I felt that I needed to get it off my chest by telling this story. In addition to Brian being based on my college roommate, I added a disturbing and tragic backstory about him and decided that he and Jeremy being brothers would make for a more interesting narrative. While I am not nearly as uptight as my college roommate was, I can be a bit neurotic, so I took “pieces of myself” which I injected into Brian in order to make him more layered. In general, I believe that creating complex characters often requires giving them flaws that can make them unlikeable at times, and I always do my best to try to walk in the shoes of the anti-hero or villain in order to portray them in a more genuine manner.
Steve: Making a movie isn’t a walk in the park. What were your challenges and your 'Aha!' moments?
Harry: It starts from a place of anger and sadness for me, which I have heard is generally the case with many storytellers. My relationship with my roommate during the first semester of my freshman year of college is what gave me the idea for "Enter the Room". Almost all of the various things that Brian was getting on Jeremy's case during the narrative were actual things that my roommate accused me of. (And there were other things he said/did to me that I wasn't able to fit into the film) Living with him was a very unpleasant experience for me, and I felt that I needed to get it off my chest by telling this story. While I felt like a huge rock was lifted off of my chest while making this film, I expected that telling this story would be painful, when the opposite actually became true. The level of excitement, joy, and satisfaction of creating “Enter the Room” from start to finish was truly mind-blowing to me and I have never looked back since, as I have continued to thoroughly enjoy telling stories based on my own personal experiences.
The main issues and themes that I want to incorporate into my work involve conflict, sadness, loss, tension, revenge, redemption, and catharsis. Generally speaking, I love to tell stories that convey complex character arcs and display a wide range of emotions to the audience while also staying rooted in themes that most can identify with.
Steve: Tell us about the creative process behind your film. What challenges did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Harry: First, I come up with the idea in my head and obsess over it for a long period of time. While many of the projects inside my head never become complete enough for me to put into production, the ideas that resonate with me from start to finish are the ones that I decide to go through with, “Enter the Room” being near the top of that list. After the idea really worked in my head from start to finish, I began to write the script. While I rarely run into writer’s block since I already have the idea pretty well cemented in my head at this point, I often overindulge and repeat myself too often while writing.
Once the first rough draft of the script is complete, I review it over and over, cutting it down and fine-tuning it until I feel very confident that it is ready to go into production. Once the script is ready, I create mass postings through various websites on the Internet. First, I hired my assistant directors, production managers, and production assistants. Then comes casting, sending countless emails, reviewing tons of actor/actress submissions and holding many auditions, calling back the top actors/actresses, casting the best ones for their respective roles, holding rehearsals (I usually hold 2-4), hiring the best cinematographer, gaffer and location/sound experts, scheduling shoot dates, capturing all of our footage for the shoot and locking down the picture in Post-Production.
I edit for a living, so I take care of post-production for my films, which is my favorite part of the filmmaking process. Once the film is complete, I begin sending it out to film festivals as I am now doing with “Enter the Room”.
Regarding challenges that I faced during the production process, as this was my first professional film, while there were a lot of obstacles that I faced, the toughest one had to be scheduling the shot list. While I think I had a decent knowledge of cinematography at the time, I didn’t fully grasp the importance of saving time by tactically picking and choosing the order of shots that would be captured throughout each day. This mistake led to more lighting and camera setups throughout the shoot than was necessary. Fortunately, my Assistant Director, Mo Nazar, was on point during the entire shoot and really helped to keep things moving quickly. Because of this, we were able to finish the film in about 2 2/3 shoot days even though we had initially scheduled 4 days for the shoot.
In general, properly scheduling a shot list is something that I have struggled with and stressed over consistently, and if I am ever able to direct films with a larger budget, I will prioritize using some of that budget to hire someone who can specifically help out with this in order to keep the film shoots flowing efficiently and smoothly.
Steve: Any filmmakers or movies that ignited your passion for this project?
Harry: Christopher Nolan was the first film director who I specifically followed. I first watched one of his earlier films, “Memento” at a friend's house in 7th grade. It was actually his parents' recommendation, and I was a rebellious kid, so I was skeptical. I was quickly proven wrong, and while I was confused by the twist ending, I was also very intrigued and immediately wanted to watch it again. I forgot about the film for some time, and about 2 years later, I stumbled into it at a Blockbuster. I became so obsessed with the movie that I watched it 5 nights in a row, learning something new every time as Christopher Nolan dropped so many Easter eggs throughout the film. In general, I really prefer to watch new films and I often get tired of repetition, but "Memento" is one of the few films that I can revisit over and over without ever becoming even slightly bored with it.
Due to the ingenious plot structuring, smart script, incredibly complex characters, and insane twist ending, "Memento" is the first film that I became obsessed with and is still my favorite film to this day. When I saw “Batman Begins” in theaters a few years later, I was blown away by the darker, more serious tone that the film went with and saw Christopher’s name in the credits as the Director shortly after the film ended. That was the moment that I learned of the influence that a director can have on a film and have followed Nolan closely ever since.
There are so many other directors who I follow, but I would say that some of the others who have definitely had an influence on my work include Danny Boyle, David Fincher, Gaspar Noe, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, Akira Kurosawa, John Carpenter, Satoshi Kon, Michael Mann, Brian De Palma, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller. I have had a number of family, friends, and acquaintances compare my filmmaking style to David Lynch after watching “Enter the Room” which I take as a gigantic compliment.
Steve: Every shoot has its moments. Any memorable behind-the-scenes tales?
Harry: During filming for the most intense scene of the film, the big fight scene between Brian and Jeremy with the red color graded background, I decided to have Peter and Rich go improv for the end of the argument. We ended up not using live audio for the part in which the camera shakes since you can't see the characters' mouth movements due to the camera technique. This led to Peter and Rich ad-libbing some of the funniest material that I have ever witnessed on set, which made the whole situation very ironic, considering that the most lighthearted and fun part of the film shoot is arguably the most provocative and tense scene of the film.
Steve: How did you find the perfect cast for your story?
Harry: My friend and the Producer of the film, Lance Eliot Adams, made posts about the film on Breakdown Express (Actors' Access for Actors) and Craigslist. After the talent posted for our project, we auditioned a handful of actors at a theater one night and Lance, the Assistant Director, Mo and I came up with the conclusion that Rich and Peter were the best fits for their respective roles in addition to being very talented actors.
Since this film, I have produced my own films and led casting, expanding on everything that Lance taught me, and posting to a handful of different casting websites. I try to bring at least one casting expert on board to help me find not only the actors/actresses who have talent, range, and seem connected to what they are saying but also those who are the correct fit for their roles and seem professional enough to work with.
One interesting note about our casting process during "Enter the Room" is that while I realize that it is normal to have talent read lines for the auditions, Lance decided to have them perform their own monologues. In my films, I will have the initial audition involve monologues and the callbacks will involve the actors/actresses reading sides with each other.
As for working with the actors to bring out the best performances possible, this has definitely been a work in progress as I don't have a film background or any real acting experience, but I have had multiple actors tell me that my extensive written notes help a lot. Each actor/actress I cast receives a few pages giving a backstory on the character, I include a "Scene by Scene" analysis, and I give written notes after each rehearsal. Holding a few rehearsals before my film shoots has also really helped my cast feel prepared once we begin filming, and I have rarely run into any acting hiccups during shooting."
Steve: Your film has a global stage now. What sets it apart in your eyes?
Harry: I was recently reading the "Things not to do when making a short film to submit to film festivals" article and was surprised to see that 7 out of the 10 rules that the article stated were being broken by my film. From my experience with the festival circuit, "Enter the Room" is considered to be a Horror Film by standard festivals, but is considered to be more of a Psychological Thriller/Drama by Horror festivals. While "Enter the Room" has the tense, eerie mood that many horror films do, the film is much faster paced and more dialogue-heavy than not only many horror short films but most short films in general. I also use certain camera and editing techniques that I believe help the film stand out, even if a few of my techniques are sometimes frowned upon by filmmakers and critics who can be sticklers for certain technical rules of filmmaking.
Steve: What do you hope viewers take away from your film after watching it at the Global Film Exhibition?
Harry: I hope that people who watch "Enter the Room" feel a wide range of emotions (many of them being negative) and are challenged intellectually. I expect them to be angry at me but also have empathy for Brian and his unfortunate situation.
Steve: Tell us about the locations and settings used in your film. Did they play a significant role in telling the story?
Harry: The only location of the film is a studio apartment that I currently live in. As this was my first film, I wanted to pick a location that would save time and prevent certain obstacles that could occur from shooting at many different locations. I wouldn't say that the location is a big part of "Enter the Room", but I think the location works and it fits the sense of loneliness and dread that Brian feels throughout the duration of the narrative.
Steve: As a filmmaker, what do you find most rewarding about having your work featured in a global exhibition?
Harry: Just the thought that a personal story of mine can have an emotional impact on someone gives me plenty of joy and satisfaction. Seeing the reactions on others' faces as they watch my films is a truly incredible feeling, and for me, the stronger the reaction, the better.
Steve: What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers who dream of showcasing their work on a global platform like this?
Harry: First and foremost, I would not recommend becoming a filmmaker unless you absolutely love doing this and breathe it day in and day out as I (and a handful of filmmakers I have met) do. It is a long, expensive, and stressful journey that often doesn’t come close to giving you back what you put in from a financial/recognition perspective. But if you truly love doing it and receive the level of satisfaction that I do from working on and completing your films, I think you should continue to push forward, and hopefully, things will work out. Even if they don’t, you will always have something to be proud of and no one can take away the satisfaction that you receive from completing your passion project.
Second, understand how competitive this industry is, never expect anything, and never act like you are owed something. Unless they had some incredible connection, even the best and most successful filmmakers on planet Earth had to start at the bottom and grind it out in order to get to the top. Be professional, kind, and courteous to others, and always do what you say you are going to do. The film industry is very oversaturated and you need to do everything in your power to present yourself in the best light
Third, just do it. I slowed my career down at times by stressing over trying something for the first time and not taking initiative, giving myself various excuses. Of course, you should plan ahead as much as you can, but studying is never the same as actually getting out there and doing it. Accept the inevitable fact that you will make mistakes, be flexible, and move forward and you will learn from your mistakes and improve as you go. And last, just remember to enjoy the process and don’t focus too much on the endgame. I am currently editing my first feature film “The Corridor Crossing”, which I shot last spring/summer, and post-production is taking me a lot longer than I initially anticipated it would. I could obsess over this fact and make myself go insane, but I have instead decided to understand that this was my first feature film, so it is okay that I couldn’t properly estimate how long it would take to edit the film and simply enjoy the journey, which has been an absolute blast so far, despite all of the unexpected hurdles that I have faced to this point.
Steve: Can you share any upcoming projects or future plans you have as a filmmaker?
Harry: I actually just shot my first feature film, “The Corridor Crossing” last spring/summer. The film is currently in the early/mid stages of post-production. I have another short film, “Bay for Blood” that is in the later stages of post-production. I hope to have that one completed in the next month or two and plan to submit it to festivals around then. And I am hoping to begin production for my next feature film idea, “Incautious” as soon as I finish my festival runs for “Enter the Room” and “Bay for Blood”, which should hopefully be in the fall/winter of 2024/2025. I would be happy to submit a couple of my future films to this festival once they are completed.Art
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