Monday, April 18, 2016

A Thin Line Between Thrills & Laughs in Short Film "Fatal Premonition"

Genre: Comedy / Thriller
Length- 13:22
Company:  Mind Palace Pictures

Landon (David Esposito) is a young businessman on the rise, and his best friend Ed (Ryan Crepack) is a little bit jealous.  It doesn't help that Landon's a bit of an arrogant four-letter-word about his new promotion.

The thing is, Fate's about to serve Landon a cold slice of Reality Pie in the form of a nasty little nightmare of his own murder.

Will he recognize the dream for what it is, and most importantly can he stop this "Fatal Premonition" from coming to pass?


David Esposito co-wrote, co-directed, scored, edited, and of course starred in the lead role of this short. Crepack also wore multiple hats, sharing writing and directing duties.  Stephen Lo Biondo puts on the Director of Photography hat and also takes a turn in front of the camera as the woefully underappreciated character of Anthony.  Dominik Zdzioch is credited with the role of Oz.

That's three guys in the crew, plus an additional actor.  No one else is included as running sound, so I'm assuming Esposito, Crepack and Lo Biondo were doing their own sound, too.  That's a lot to try and manage on set all by themselves . . . and the audio is all professionally captured, by the way.  Not distracting, tinny or masked with the annoying echo of many amateur productions.

Many jobs.  Three guys.

That's how it is with low budget films, though -- if a film's completed, more than likely someone, and probably multiple someones are taking on numerous duties.  In this case, I have to say that despite having to no doubt run back and forth between in front of the camera and behind, the picture is remarkably clear and the shots are well composed.  I'm not entirely sold on a few of the directorial choices and some of the transitions seem rushed, but considering how messy it could have been, the film rolls pretty seamlessly.


So how's it play?

As a comedy, most of the laughs sputter in the beginning, and the tone of the film is too muddy -- we're never sure if we're supposed to be laughing or taking it seriously.  Probably from the midpoint onward, though, the jokes start to noticeably improve.  Crepack has a real John Krasinski vibe to him, and he makes for a good straight man to Esposito's banter.  I particularly enjoyed their final conversation -- that got a real laugh-out-loud from me.

Now, for the thriller side . . . the film never really got to me.  The supernatural angle, the premonition -- it didn't feel real, it felt forced and the shots of the dream came off as silly.  BUT, as the film progressed, there was a real world matter of factness to the events unfolding that was surprisingly effective.

The choreography at the finale wasn't bad, either.  It was slow and forced, but as a fellow filmmaker, I understand how hard it is to deliver a fight scene that feels like a real fight scene.  It wasn't bad, and it did what it had to do.  Good job, guys.


OK, here's some thoughts for improvement down the road: Landon comes off as WAY too big of a jerk to be remotely sympathetic.  He never shows a single redeeming quality the entire film.  Ed seems like a decent enough guy, if a bit of a pushover . . . so why on Earth is he hanging out with this guy?  I mean, now Landon's his boss, so I guess you could say he's intimidated, but Landon wasn't always his boss.  At one time, there must have been something to this friendship.  Ed must be getting something out of their relationship, but I cannot figure out what that would be.

Without knowing why they're friends, or at least understanding the dynamics of their relationship, we really don't care about what's going on in the movie beyond the surface level of, "Human beings normally should not murder each other."  But we should care about Landon and Ed's relationship, and how it's being changed by the new promotion, and most importantly, we should care about what Landon's death would do to Ed.


Writing: 2 / 5.  Not bad jokes, a few that were legitimately laugh-out-loud funny, and some moments of tension.  The character of Landon is too obnoxious to be taken seriously, and the plot as a whole has a definite "been there, done that" feel to it, but it's not bad for a watch on the Internet.
Directing: 3 / 5.  Crepack and Esposito manage a stable visual showing that's entertaining despite both being onscreen almost the entire time, no doubt with the help of Director of Photography Lo Biondo.  A crew of three, they've accomplished a pretty polished piece of work that's an enjoyable to watch to boot.
Editing: 3 / 5.  Some transitions are a bit rushed, and the pacing lurches at times but by and large the film's cut together well.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  Esposito scored "Fatal Premonition" as well, and helps to wring out some extra tension from the darker scenes.
Acting: 2.5 / 5.  Crepack and Lo Biondo do a respectable job with what they're given.  Zdzioch doesn't have much to do but stand around and look vacant, which he does admirably.  Esposito is very hit or miss, unsurprising given the histrionics of his character -- half of his dialogue is completely unbelievable.

Final Grade: 2.7 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "Fatal Premonition" on Facebook!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

"Take Your Shot"! -- Prolific Character Actor Timothy J. Cox EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW!

Since moving to New York City fifteen years ago, Timothy Cox has racked up an astonishing 117 appearances in short films and major TV series such as "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" and recurring character Detective Ken Clancy on "Watching the Detectives".

A successful character actor by anyone's standards, it all began for him on a fateful day in 8th grade when he took an acting role simply as an excuse to get out of class . . . and realized he loved it.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Check out my interview with Tim below as we chat about what it means to be an actor in today's digital workplace, how to market yourself, the secret to his success and much, much more!

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FCSFR: You've cited acting giants like Jack Lemmon, Spencer Tracy, and contemporary character actors like William H. Macy and Paul Giamatti as influences.  You've picked actors who, by and large, have enormous ranges -- they can play anything.  When do you think their talent became apparent to you as a young person?

TIMOTHY J. COX: What struck me about all of those actors early on and what I think they all have in common is the one thing that I think is important for all truly great acting, and that is truth.  For these particular actors, in every one of their performances, they always convey blunt, honest truth, whether they're likable characters or not.  Even if you don’t like them or their motives, you care about them because they are so, at times, heartbreakingly honest and truthful.  You feel for these guys, because they look and feel so familiar up there on screen.

From the moment I saw Jack Lemmon in Days Of Wine and Roses, I became hooked on acting.  It was such an honest, revelatory performance and yet he, as Joe Clay, did a lot of things in the film that I detested.  I had the same feelings for Harry Stoner in Save The Tiger and especially for Shelley Levine in Glengary, Glen Ross.  They were incredibly flawed men, but I cared about them, because they were so truthful.

These were men who were lost and desperately clinging to an ideal or a dream that was just never going to materialize.  To play that on a stage or on film would be heaven.

Tim with the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in
Promo Pic For 2002's "A Soldier's Death"
FCSFR: You graduated college in 1999 and moved to New York City in 2001 with the hopes of becoming an actor, and worked pretty consistently in theater for the better part of a decade.  What about those years of doing theater as an unappreciated young actor, just starting to get a couple of critical nods, sticks with you today?

TJC: Those really were the best years because, in the beginning, you're hungry.  You're just hungry for any opportunity, for anyone to pick you for anything and I did anything that was thrown at me.  I worked at the 13th Street Repertory Theatre in the West Village of New York for two and a half years and in that time I did everything I could to get on stage as much as possible.  I did children shows.  I did Line by Israel Horowitz, which has been running at the theatre for over 40 years.  I did original works and staged readings.  I had a ball.  It was a great opportunity to learn from so many different actors, writers and directors, playing a wide range of parts.  I miss those years.

FCSFR: What about working in theater led you to pursue film?  I understand it wasn't treating you all that well.

TJC: I wouldn't say that the theater was treating me bad, not at all.  You know, for me, I always go where the wind takes me.  When I came to New York, I never thought I'd be a film actor.  When I graduated from college, I thought to myself that if I am a good supporting actor in the theater -- doing the classics, the Chekhov’s, the Shakespeare’s, the Ibsen’s -- I'd be a happy guy, but as time went on, I started to really get into film and get comfortable and confident in front of the camera and from around 2010 on, I've done more film.  I still love the theater because nothing beats that live reaction, but for me, right now, the wind is pushing me in the direction of film.  But that may change tomorrow.

FCSFR: You've done a lot of classic theater as you've mentioned, and a lot of films with very modern sensibilities.  Some other actors with similar backgrounds sometimes carry that around as baggage.  I'm thinking of the Shakespearean actors, like Patrick Stewart for instance, whose acting style is loud and boisterous like he's still trying to be heard from the back of the theater.  Your performances, on the other hand, are much more reserved, more particular to the individual character you're playing.  Where do you think that sensibility comes from?

TJC: I wish I knew.  Seriously.  I really can't put into words how I come around to that way of doing things.

I will say that it was a difficult transition from being primarily a stage actor to then go to film almost exclusively.  When most actors come out of the theatre, it's all about making things as small as possible on film, to almost do nothing and as stage actors, we're trained to project, to use our face, body and voice fully.  On film, everything has to be small.

I think as time has gone on, for me, I've tried to focus on doing as little as possible.  Not acting, but being.  I like to think that I've become more of a re-actor than an actor and to focus as much as possible on listening.  Listening, listening, listening.  That's everything.  That's what made actors like Lemmon and Tracy so extraordinary to watch.  They were great re-actors [and] listeners.

FCSFR: So take me from that period to when you met writer/director Sean Meehan.  

TJC: Sean put out a posting for "Over Coffee", which was the first film we did together in 2010.  We met in a bar in Chelsea and he told me what the project was about and told me about this obnoxious boss character in the film, Hamilton Rice.  The part clicked for me because he was in real estate and a few years before, I had worked in real estate, so characters like Rice -- bombastic and entitled -- were the kinds of characters that I had encountered, so finding Rice and finding those beats within the character was not difficult at all.  It was quite fun to play.

Sean also happened to write a really funny, charming script and when we got on set, I liked his energy and his enthusiasm, the way he interacted with the actors and his crew. After watching him, I had a feeling in my gut that said ‘’This guy’s good, stick with him.’’  So, that’s what I’ve done ever since.

FCSFR: You've worked with Sean on five different film projects, you've appeared in 13 shorts in 2013, 12 more through 2015, and you've got 9 more projects coming this year -- and it's only MARCH.  Tim, by anyone's standards, that's incredibly prolific.  Talk to me about going from a couple shorts here and there to being in demand, and even appearing on TV.

TJC: That’s the magic word right there, prolific. An actor needs to be prolific to enjoy any longevity in this work. I also like to work and try to do so as much as possible, whether it’s a film, play or something on television. I’m an actor. That’s my job.

FCSFR: A lot of actors who are just starting on this career path could learn from your example.  How can an actor grow his brand in an increasingly digital market?  How did you do it?

TJC: Years prior, I resisted having a website and putting things on Facebook because I was always of the feeling, "let the work do the talking," but it is a business and getting your face and name out there, within reason, is important and for me, it’s been very helpful.  It’s tricky though and I try to be extra careful to not make it sound like I’m bragging on my website or my Facebook page.  Believe me, I’m not.  The way I look at it, it’s a journal of my adventures.

Plus, the website has helped me get jobs, so I’m going to stick with it.

FCSFR:  After appearing in so many different projects over such a short time, what's it like to attend an audition with Tim Cox in 2016?  Is it easier than when you started, or is it still the same anxious game?  What gets you through?

TJC: The process has always been the same.  I usually go into an audition with few expectations.  It takes the pressure off.  All I can do is go in and audition as best I can.  If it’s not to be, that’s fine.  Life goes on and the next job is always around the corner.

FCSFR: Now, to draw back from an earlier question -- a lot of your heroes show tremendous range as an actor, but so do you.  Over the years, you've transformed into quite a few characters, from the lunatic in "Simple Mind" to the con man in "Mallas, MA" to Teddy Roosevelt in this year's "Mysteries at the Castle" for TV.  Is it a conscious decision to try to walk a little bit in the shoes of Macy, Giamatti, and even Lemmon?

TJC: I like to push myself, do things that are unique and different, roles that scare me a little.  The talent has to be in the choices an actor makes, the kinds of parts they play.

FCSFR: You've stated in the past -- specifically in an interview over at Movie-Blogger -- that one thing that attracts you to a role is a little bit of danger.  What makes a role exciting and dangerous?  Is there a particular role you've played thus far that would embody that statement?

TJC: When I first read the script for "Simple Mind", the danger and the excitement came from the fact that he was so incredibly quiet and vulnerable, which I think is one of the most difficult things for an actor to convey.  The more I read that script and the more I thought about the character of Bob, not really thinking of him in terms of the serial killer angle, but as this quiet, still, incredibly vulnerable and simple man, the more exciting and clear to me the character became.

FCSFR: And on that note, when you sit down with a role, how do you determine how you're going to play a character?  "Simple Mind", for instance, could have been played very on the nose, but you chose to go for subtlety, which definitely made the movie.

TJC: When I get the script, the first thing I do is map out intentions, objectives and actions for the character.  What is the character fighting for?  What do they want?  It sounds like a simple question, but it's very difficult and it should be difficult to answer.  I write key words and phrases in the margins of my script, little buzz words to help me.  For "Simple Mind", once the character of Bob was clear to me, I knew that I did not want to play him as an over the top, grinning maniac, but as just a normal everyday guy, so I focused on stillness and quiet as much as possible, as to me, there is more menace in the silence, the stillness and the slowness in how he moves, how he carries himself.

FCSFR: One short film with Sean that we haven't mentioned yet is "Socks & Cakes", which I wanted to bring up because of one particular conversation in the film between yourself and Kirsty Meares in the kitchen, which turns out to be the emotional crux of the film. The two of you had terrific chemistry.  How did you prepare for this role?

TJC: Actually, that project was written and directed by a very gifted filmmaker named Antonio Padovan.  I credit "Socks & Cakes" as the film that changed everything.  It was the first film that I did where I knew it was going to be solid.  I just had a hunch, even when we were making the film that this was going to be something special, and to get the strong reactions that the film has received over the years has been wonderful.

I was attracted to the writing, which was so fresh, honest and revealing.  It weaves beautifully between funny, dramatic and sad . . . a lot like life.

Harry was a character, someone that, at that time, I knew I could play. It was the right part at the right time in my life.  I knew this guy.  I was this guy.  Sometimes, a character clicks just right with you and all you have to do is trust the material, trust yourself and trust the people around you and then just do it.  The scene in the kitchen with Kirsty, who's just wonderful in the film, was very difficult for her, as she goes to great emotional heights in the scene.  For me, I had the best seat in the house.  I got to watch, react and listen to this amazing performance.  When you have a scene partner who is that good, you just get swept into the scene.  You're not acting.  You're not Tim and Kirsty.  You're Harry and Amanda.

FCSFR: And on that note, what has been your most challenging role so far and why?

TJC: I think they've all been challenging and they all should be challenging.  Sure, there are some roles that sometimes fit like an old jacket, but once you get into it, there should be challenges.  There must be.  The actor must constantly push [him or herself] and try to bring something different to the table as much as possible. It keeps things interesting, fun and yes, dangerous.

FCSFR: How often do directors contribute to your performances or how you see a character, or have they pretty much let you run with your imagination?

TJC: Having a solid collaboration with your director is everything.  For "Here Lies Joe", director Mark Battle would send messages to me with little tidbits about the character of Bill and these little tidbits would trigger something in me.  Bill is in one scene in that film, but Mark wanted to make him a real, living, breathing character, so I really appreciated the attention he paid to the details.  Details are everything.  They help add color to the character.  Sean does the same thing.  Zachary Lapierre, who directed "Dirty Books", did the same thing.  They'll say a word or a phrase and a switch goes on and I'm off to the races.  Everything is clear.

FCSFR: Is there a particular genre you haven't tried yet or a kind of project you'd love to work on but haven't yet had the opportunity?

TJC: I was never really a fan of westerns as a kid, but over the last couple of years, I've come to really enjoy them, especially the Sergio Leone westerns.  Those are epics.  One western that I really enjoyed was Will Penny, which I think was the best performance Charlton Heston ever gave.

Stories like that, of everyday people, living and fighting in a lawless time . . . that would be exciting to experience.  I don't think I'd be a gunslinger, though.  I think I'd be the Thomas Mitchell or Edmond O’Brien part, the town doctor or newspaper editor.

FCSFR: Last but not least, if you could go back in time to when your younger self first moved to New York City and offer one piece of advice, what would it be?

TJC: Take more chances. Risk more. If you don’t take your shot, how will you know?

* * * * * *

Thanks go out to Tim for taking the time to sit down and partake in this interview -- we'll have to do it again sometime soon!  

My apologies to Sean Meehan and Antonio Padovan for the mixup regarding the writing/directing of "Socks & Cakes".  Both men are incredibly talented filmmakers and you owe it to yourself to check out their work! 

If you haven't had the chance, check out Tim's performances in "Mallas, MA", "Simple Mind", "Socks & Cakes", "Over Coffee", "Total Performance" and "What Jack Built" by clicking on their respective links!

Monday, March 21, 2016

"What Jack Built" A DIY Short Film Take On The Monster Movie Genre

Genre: Horror
Length- 11:16
Company:  N/A

There's something out there in the woods.  Is it an animal?  A force of evil?  We don't know, and perhaps not even Jack (Timothy J. Cox) knows, but he's determined to catch it anyway.  To do this, he's got to use every last bit of ingenuity he can scrape up because it's not going to be easy.


"What Jack Built" is a bare bones project directed, edited and scored by 17 year old filmmaker Matthew Mahler.  He even co-wrote the script with Ross Mahler.  He clearly took the bull by the horns here and created his own vision, and you have to admire something like that out of a new filmmaker, particularly someone so young.

And what we have here is an interesting amalgamation of horror influences.  I detect elements of Sam Raimi's early, wild eyed directorial style and John Carpenter's intensely streamlined storytelling and thumping score.  There's probably more that we could peel out of "What Jack Built", but the point is that Mahler's wearing influences on his sleeve, which is perfectly healthy for a new talent.


Where we falter in this short film is in the writing.  There's not much of a story going on -- if you were to describe the story to someone, you could sum it up in two words.  "Jack builds."  That's what you're going to see for 85% of the running time -- actor Cox running around retrieving parts and putting them together.  It's mildly interesting for the first few minutes, but it gets kind of tiring after a while.

One way this period of the film could have been enhanced would have been with the occasional flashback, or a voiceover -- something describing the origins of the monster, or why Jack's obsessed with it in the first place.  As it is, we know nothing about anything, and that stops any kind of emotional involvement we have with what's going on before our eyes.

Bottom line: audiences these days have too many reasons to not watch your movie to begin with, so if you're going to tell a story, we need to know more.  We need a reason to care about the characters.  We need mystery, yes, but we need something to go on WITH the mystery.


Writing: 1 / 5.  There's not enough story here to pad out the running time, which feels excessively long because it's almost entirely just Jack building a trap.  
Directing: 2 / 5.  I liked the camera movement, but there wasn't a sense of dynamics -- we were pretty much running around the entire time, and it never let up.
Editing: 2.5 / 5.  Fast cutting throughout, but the transitions were good and the fade ins and outs worked nicely within the context of the movie.  Alternating longer held shots with some of those fast cutting periods would work wonders to give some dynamics to Mahler's filmmaking.
Sound/Music: 3 / 5.  I liked the nifty synth score Mahler's come up with -- reminded me of the sort of thing John Carpenter wrote in his prime.  But I have to say that it suffers a little from, again, not enough variety.  It's very upbeat throughout.  If we're going to have tension, sometimes you have to ease up a little.  Let the music breathe.
Acting: 3 / 5.  Cox plays his part well -- a little bit mad scientist, a little bit determined backwoods MacGuyver.  It works.

Final Grade: 2.3 / 5.

Don't forget to check out "What Jack Built" on Vimeo and check out the cast and crew on IMDb!

Thanks for reading! I'm a screenwriter and script consultant. Most recently, I've worked with LMC Productions and Mad Antz Films in Australia. I helped mold Goodybag Productions' award winning screenplay "The Teacher" and Michael Maguire's feature length script "The Wolfpack", which is still in development.

Check out my blog and let's get in touch!