Playing With Madness: An EXCLUSIVE Interview With Writer/Director Josh Goodman ("Fear Thy Neighbor")

"All those little or big decisions you have to make in a split second, they all matter," writer/director Josh Goodman wrote to me Sunday evening.  "But I remember there was something in me, a 'now or never' type of feeling.  I felt we just had to do this somehow, and if it doesn't work well, do it a different way until it does."

It's that kind of spirit that embodies today's young and hungry DIY independent film movement, and after watching his latest short thriller, "Fear Thy Neighbor", I couldn't help but want to hear more about this individual production and his future projects.

We talked about the difficulties of working on a slim budget and how tough it is to "kill your darlings", as the old maxim goes, in the editing room.

Without further ado, here is Josh Goodman of Goody Bag Productions!

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FCSFR: So, first of all, I'd like to get a little background info on you.  Did you go to film school?  Has film been a lifelong passion?

JOSH GOODMAN: I grew up in South Florida and went to film school in Orlando.  I've always been a movie buff and filmmaking has always been a passion for sure.  After film school I moved to New York and lived in Spanish Harlem for two years where I got my foot in the door shooting music videos and commercials for local businesses.  And I worked part time at a movie theater where I would watch a movie pretty much every day on the big screen.

After a while, I decided I needed to get away.  I did some traveling and ended up living in Thailand for 6 month teaching English at a high school.  It was great, but teaching wasn't for me and I knew I needed to get back to filmmaking.  I moved back to Florida and got work at a media company shooting music videos and commercials.  That's where I met Chris [Morgan] the Director of Photography and we started making short films.

FCSFR: Thank you.  I asked that because "Fear Thy Neighbor" is a very well realized short -- often with genuine new filmmakers, there will be one shining aspect to the movie but by and large it will be amateurish or, at the least, unprofessionally shot or the sound will be bad.  But pretty much the whole package of "Fear Thy Neighbor" comes together and it really does feel like a complete vision, moreso than just a group of folks trying to make a movie.

JG: Thanks, man.  I really appreciate that.  The life experiences and production experiences on set definately helped.  I can go into the history of how that came about, if you want.

FCSFR: Glad you mentioned it, because that's where I was going next.  If I'm reading you right, when you're working on a film, it's pretty much yourself and Christopher Morgan as the creative nucleus?

JG: Yeah, for the the most part.  He was just in school for animation and graduated, but he also knows a lot about photography, lighting and graphic design.  We were both into similar films and TV shows and [both had a] twisted sense of humor. He's good about telling me which of my ideas are horrible and which are good.  That's super important to me.  We collaborate well.

Kisanti [Hathor] is also part of that nucleus. She's a filmmaker too and had a lot to do with the production of "Fear Thy Neighbor" besides starring in it.

FCSFR: Had you worked with Kisanti before this film or was this your first time with her?

JG: Before "Fear Thy Neighbor", Chris and I took part in a 30 day action short film contest. He knew her previously and brought her in to act in and help in the production. She then brought in Evan [Judson, co-star] to act as well.  I did the cinematography on that and Chris directed.  Kisanti got the actors and her and Evan choreographed the action stuff.

It's always so much collaboration, which I love.  And it worked out well.  She won Best Actress. We wanted to keep the momentum going, so I pitched them "Fear Thy Neighbor".

FCSFR: And what's the story behind the two production companies listed on "Fear Thy Neighbor"?  Who's who in Goody Bag Productions and Quixotica Films?

JG: Goody Bag Productions is me.  My high school friend and fellow cinephile gave me the nickname Goody Bags back in the day.  I guess it almost sounds like my last name: Goodman.  I started using it when I moved to New York for music video work.

Kisanti is Quixotica Films.  She can tell you where that name came about better than me.  She supplied the camera we used, found actors, helped on the script and the final edit and much more, including acting in it.  It's part her production I felt, too, in a way, so I labeled it both of us, working together.

FCSFR: Can you talk a little bit about where the idea for the story came from?  Obviously you don't want to drop any spoilers, but in particular the way you play with preconceptions of mental illness and what people are capable of I believe comes off in a novel way.

JG: I first had the idea when I was in high school about a character who becomes infatuated with their neighbor, who is a serial killer, and finds a pretty dark way of toying with him.  In film school and when I was in New York, I wrote a whole script basically about the character, a lonely soul with a growing personality disorder who is determined to . . . well, I wont give the spoiler away there, I guess.

When I was in Thailand, I lived in a 12 room hotel building in the middle of nowhere.  I was the only tenant except the maid, her husband and the landlord.  I was isolated and bored and lonely.  So the only thing I could do to not go insane was to write about insane characters.  I had it all written out with backstory and character arcs and more characters.  When I moved back to Florida, I met Chris and Kisanti.  I told them about my idea and decided to rewrite the script into a short film with the two actors in mind.

FCSFR: If you don't mind disclosing this information, what was the budget for this picture and how did you go about raising the money to shoot the film?

JG: I think the production of it cost about $1,000, then more in post and submitting to festivals, which I'm doing now.  Maybe $1,500.  I used money I saved up from work and then the rest in credit cards.

Mostly in credit cards.

FCSFR: How did you secure the locations for the film?  Was that a piece of the budget?

JG: Chris and I did some location scouting and eventually found a dingy hotel where it seemed like mostly truckers and prostitutes stayed.  It felt legit, so I booked a room for a few nights.  We got kicked out the second night for too much noise so I had to find a completely different hotel.  That cost me some, for sure.  But it visually worked out well.  It was where we filmed the parking garage stuff and the main character's hotel room.

Hotel stay, food, gas and props were the biggest costs for the budget.

FCSFR: What was the biggest challenge of shooting so bare bones and on location?

JG: This story and character has always been very important to me, so I knew that I would invest whatever I had to get it made.  The biggest challenge was filming in and out of the hotel room without getting kicked out.

The stuff outside was difficult.  I had Evan's character going crazy and screaming in anger all over the place.  We also caused attention outside the hotel with the lights we had and the constant laughter from all the fun we were having.  About 2 AM, the cops came and had us pack our bags and leave.  I woke up the next morning in my bedroom, full of film equipment and props.  I was upset and unsure what to do.

I reserved a room at a hotel I used to stay for vacation when I was little.  Everyone showed up and we got it done.  It would've never happened any other way.

I'm happy we did it.  It was all very surreal.

FCSFR: Are you a fan of thrillers in general?  Do you think you will stick to that vein of storytelling for the immediate future?

JG: I like the crime genre, mostly. My favorite films are Reservor Dogs, Taxi Driver and Magnolia.

This story worked best as a thriller, I think.  My next project, I would like to make something less dark.  While I was writing the film I was hooked on "Boardwalk Empire". The season where Gyp Rosetti is stabbed in the back by Tonino, I printed out screenshots from that and used it for inspiration for choosing shots for the climax.

If I had an unlimited budget, it would be a crime or gangster flick.

FCSFR: And on that note, what's next on your plate?  Do you have a follow-up project yet?

JG: I'm in the process of writing another short film.  It's more of a comedy or love story with bizarre characters and ridiculous sequences.  I'm also trying to keep myself involved in different projects.  I worked with Kisanti on one of her productions that is being edited now.  Chris is putting together a documentary that I'll be a part of as well.

FCSFR: Sounds like you'll be busy then!

JG: Yeah man. all that while working five days a week too.  I haven't slept in a long time.

FCSFR: I completely relate to that!

So, I have two final questions for you this evening.

JG: I'm here all night.

FCSFR: Haha, good to know.

So . . . "Fear Thy Neighbor" clocks in at just shy of fifteen minutes.  Thrillers are tricky especially when put into short form, because we simply don't have much time to work with.

How did you set about making sure the audience stayed on the edge of their seats throughout the film?

JG: Editing and editing and showing it to people and re-editing and editing more and cutting out stuff you really don't want to, but know you have to eventually.  I made a 23 minute version of the film initially.  I showed it to one of my friends and his girlfriend.  She fell asleep.  That killed me, so I hit the edit room again and cut it down to about 21 minutes.  I made DVD's of that version, and sent it to the cast and crew and a select few family and friends.  No one will see that version except them and whoever they decide to show it to.  It's the more raw, director's version of it, I guess.

This version is tighter.  Lots of short film festivals are 15 minutes or under so I knew I had to sacrifice stuff.  I took an extra month to cut it down and make it effective.  I think it works much better and has a bigger shot of getting into a festival.  There's not as many complaints or notes now and no one has fallen asleep.

Showing different versions to different people helped out too, I should also say.  I would send certain versions to different people who'd never seen it.

It's been a long process, and it still is.

FCSFR: Great.  So, my last question: if you could go back to before you began working on "Fear Thy Neighbor" and give yourself one bit of film advice, what would you tell yourself?

JG: Hmm.  I guess it would be tell myself to not worry so much and trust in myself that I have what it takes to make this movie.  I think stress and insecurities can alter your decisions.

I would tell myself to relax more and focus on what's important and trust in yourself that you can work through each potential problem or situation that will come about.

Also, more storyboarding.

FCSFR: Tell me a little bit more about that.  Was pre-production a little more rushed than you would have liked?

JG: Yes. I only had a certain amount of time to write the script and shoot.  Evan was about to move to California, which is where he is now, and I also had an inner clock ticking.  I had to write it quick and get it into production before anyone else loses interest or moves on to a different project, including me.

If I had more time I would have spent it in pre-pro.

FCSFR: How much of the film as shot was storyboarded, would you say?  Compared to how much of it was ad-libbed on the spot?  It really felt like a storyboarded film, much to your credit.

JG: Most of it was story boarded.  Anything that was not inside a hotel room was filmed on the spot. I knew that part would have to be run-and-gun style of filmmaking.  So probably 25% on the spot.  As far as improvised scenes, I would like to give a shout out to Eric Stotts.  I had told him very little about the character when I met him and he really owned the role.  On one of the takes, he accidentally knocked down the 6-pack of beer and it shattered.  I didn't call cut and him and Evan stayed in character.  It was movie magic and a happy accident.  I think he felt bad about letting the bottles fall, but he should know how perfect it was.  He pretty much did exactly what the character would do.

That was the Bobby character, by the way.

FCSFR: That was the friend with the guitar, right?

JG: Yep.  Kisanti thought of the song for him too.  That was all improv on the spot.

FCSFR: Fantastic.  Thank you again for taking the time to talk!

JG: It was great chatting with you.

FCSFR: Likewise, Josh!  Have a great evening! 

JG: You too, man.  Talk to you soon.

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Thanks again go to Josh Goodman for his thoughtful answers to my questions and I hope we'll be reviewing a whole lot more of his work very soon!

Interested in more coverage of "Fear Thy Neighbor"?  How could you NOT be?  Well, we also interviewed actress Valentina Isis (Kisanti Hathor) right here!

If you haven't had the chance to read my review of Josh Goodman's "Fear Thy Neighbor", then do so now by clicking on this link!  It will be touring festivals soon, but when it's live and available to be seen online, rest assured I will be posting a link to it so you can check it out because if you're a fan of thrillers, you owe it to yourself to check out this unique twist on the genre.  

Until then, check out the trailer below!

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!