Mars, 2024




William, tell us a bit more about yourself. Where does your desire to be director come from?

It was always a dream, it seems. My first theatrical experience was a second run showing of E.T. sometime in 1985, when I was around four years old. This was particularly special considering how rare a treat it was to see a film in the cinema. My family just didn’t have the money. So I was absolutely captivated, entranced. I found myself lost in the world of E.T. I was roughly the same age as Gertie, played so perfectly by Drew Barrymore. There was this girl, my age, and she as growing and having her formative personality development in the storm of this troubled family, caught up in the magic of hope. I was caught up in that magic as well. Cinema can, and does, give us hope.

The first time I saw through the cinema into the artistry and orchestration of film…that moment when the complex innerworkings that created the final film caught my eye…it changed how I saw film permanently. I began to see every element. E.T. started this for me, and remains this magical creation that lives in my heart. Other films began to force me to look beyond the final product and into how it was made. “Jurassic Park”, “The Departed”, “The Matrix”, “Inception”, “Amelie”, “Wild Tales”, “Holy Motors” and, in particular, “Mulholland Drive” were primary examples of this immersion into the world of what goes on behind the scenes to create what we see.

It became a fascination. Once the pandemic hit, I started watching the films I’d always wanted to experience. With every film, this passion to know, to learn, to do, grew stronger. Finally, episode 5 of Mike Flanagan’s “The Haunting of Hill House” solidified it for me. I decided it was “now or never”. My wife, Xxena N. Rush (magnificent producer) encouraged me. In fact, Mike Flanagan himself encouraged me.

I reached out to Stephen King’s office and requested the rights to “One For the Road”, pitching my ideas for it. Less than two days later I had a written contract with King’s office. I had one year to write, cast, direct, edit and finalize the film. I did it, and it was pretty good.

In the back of my head I knew I could do better, I knew I had a better film in me. I had been writing “Group”, I finished it in short order. I wrote three additional features in 2024. I finished “Group”, shot “Immersion” and am scheduled to shoot “Fetish” in September.

I truly believe every film I ever enjoyed planted a blossoming seed into my mind that fueled this desire in me. All I want to do is be a good husband, a good father, and make films.

What is your background?

I grew up in severe poverty in the farmlands of Upstate New York and completed my undergraduate university studies in Syracuse before moving to Philadelphia to study law. I was the first person in my family’s history to ever attend university, so it was new territory for me. No one had any expectations I would achieve anything with my financial background. Having had academic and professional successes still feels strange to me.I have always felt this pressure in everything I do; that everything I have been able to achieve has been a fluke or accident or luck. Strangely, this also has the effect of a regretful hindsight. Since I shouldn’t have any successes and by some miracle I have had them, I feel that that everything I have ever done should have been done better. It’s as though I haven’t lived up to the potential a beautiful few people saw in me along my journey. I cannot shake this feeling, but I try to use it to drive me.I stayed in Philadelphia for my law career and have been here ever since. I love it here. I have an incredible wife and three outstanding daughters, all of whom I absolutely love and adore with all my heart. Everything I do, no matter what, I do with the hope of making them proud.

You were originally a lawyer before turning to cinema in 2022. How did your previous career help and enrich your filmmaking?

I think it has helped in a number of ways. As a trial lawyer, I have seen a lot of horrible things. Certain things I have seen or witnessed haunt me still, to the point that I don’t speak of them. Most every day I saw humanity at its worst, its most raw. So much of the profession is trying to help someone through the absolute worst event of their life. To compound that, it’s one of the few professions outside of professional sports where your career is literally defined in terms of wins and losses.This gives me a lot of experience from which to draw. Much of what I write amounts to an emotional bloodletting of the memories and images that haunt me.However, it takes humanity to help someone following the death of their loved one, or a terrible custody dispute, or imprisonment. It would be heartless to merely fight for these people, you have to show them that you care. Not only about their case, but about them.I am a highly visual person, blessed with a strong memory. I have seen too much reality to deviate from that sense of realism in my art, but I try to use my long-suppressed artistic heart to present my stories in a visually interesting way.

William you won Best First Time Director at the RED Movie Awards, what does that mean to you?

I’m in shock. You cannot imagine what this means to me, personally. The cinema of France has been my greatest artistic inspiration. My wife and producer, Xxena, feels the same. Among the many portraits of our daughters throughout our home are photos of Chantel Ackerman, Agnes Varda, Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Bardot, also Gaspar Noe and Michael Haneke (though not French, they have made incredible French films) and more. I find Julia Ducournau to be an absolute master (“Raw”…and Noe’s “Climax”…were the first films I watched with my wife). I believe the two best romance films ever made are “Blue Is The Warmest Colour” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”. My favorite romantic comedy, by a wide margin, is “Amelie”. In fact, “Delicatessen” is probably my favorite black comedy film.The cinema of France has moved me beyond what I thought possible. To be recognized, let alone awarded, by members of the French film industry is unimaginable to me. I cannot understand or comprehend this honor.I have yet to visit France. COVID and life events prevented it, so we have been looking for the right time. My dream is that the first time I step foot on French soil it is to attend this festival.

Your film deals with mental health after various traumas. How do you believe cinema can help individuals facing this issue?

I think there is a profound benefit to anyone who can see themself, their issues, their struggles, portrayed sincerely and sensitively on the screen. As a white male, it’s easy to see someone like me in film after film after film. Many films insist upon having a perfect protagonist instead of a protagonist with relatable flaws, or with everyday issues that aren’t cinematically exaggerated. For example, someone, who for reasons partially beyond their control and partially caused by their flaws might miss a mortgage payment. Or a protagonist has a child with a major medical issue that causes them tremendous heartache and stress. These are relatable things.Society tends to stigmatize mental health issues instead of accepting the people that suffer from the illness. They mock instead of offering help. If cinema is escapism. relatable characters can help others escape by seeing someone like them on the screen and feel accepted for a couple hours. What I mean to say is, if someone can see a character like themself portrayed genuinely, that person may feel seen. That is my hope.

What was the biggest challenge in this shooting?

This is where my career as a lawyer helped the most: preparation for a single event. Intense preparation. For months we worked and worked and worked, considering every detail. All of this shot-listing, blocking, camera preparation and so forth was so meticulous and thorough because to make the schedules of forty plus people work to make this film, it meant we only had three days for principle photography. Everyone had to be perfect.Facing that incredible obstacle was nerve-wracking, terrifying. But I knew I had five great actors out of thirteen. I knew Chris Rivera…just a brilliant actor, director, and an incredible casting director…would get eight brilliant actors to set, and he did. Absolutely everyone was sublime. Everyone brought their best to set and gave everything. Three days, and we had more film than we could have hoped for. To shoot a feature in three days is unheard of. To do so with a tiny budget is impossible. Our team did it. I am still in awe of our cast and crew. Xxena N. Rush pulled this production together and did everything to make it happen. What this team could do with even half a million dollars and two weeks of shooting, I think the potential is limitless.

Do you have an anecdote to share with us in particular?

I had a second crew doing establishing and second unit shots for our next film while shooting “Group”, and I diagramed the shots, gave my direction, and so forth. I sent our crew out and went back to directing “Group”. Then, the oddest thing happened. Our producer took me aside and told me there was an issue with one of the shooting locations.In particular, someone wanted to make sure we signed various contracts stating we could film some horses at a large stable, but not all horses. I was perplexed but had no time to argue. Between takes I ended up editing a release for the horses we were allowed to film and agreeing not to film the, I don’t know, private horses. So we were filming and then I was negotiating horse image releases and gathering signatures then back to filming. It was just the silliest thing, getting physical descriptions of these different horses we could and could not film and then going back into the emotional world of “Group”. Three day shooting schedule, no time to spare, and I am dealing with my own “Turin Horse” crisis.

We noticed that you are sensitive to inclusion, with several members of your team being LGBTQIA+. Do you think today’s cinema does enough to include minorities?

No, not yet. At least in the United States. Although it has improved, more must be done. I think cinema should be aspirational. It should shatter stereotypes and challenge the unaccepting. The film “Bros”, released a few years back with Billy Eichner was a big deal because it featured primarily LGBTQIA+ characters with a gay couple as the lead. When we regularly see films with gay romantic leads, or women of color as final girls, and no one is surprised by it, then I would feel comfortable saying we have done enough.

What is your next project?

I took a very brief break after shooting “Group” and then filmed the feature “Immersion”. That film is nearing the end of post-production, and I expect it to hit the festival circuit by June. I’m very proud of it, as it’s been described as a feminist ghost story, which excites me. My third feature, “Fetish”, is scheduled for filming this September and I’m very excited to see the audience response.