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August 13, 2012

Interview: Director Todd Freeman (Cell Count, Pray for Hell)

by Osvaldo Neto

01 – How has the filmmaking disease infected you? And when did you realized this was going to be your life?

So funny that you used the word disease and infection when referring to filmmaking.  My brother, sister, and I were all “infected” with the disease of “film” very early in our lives.  Our dad collected 16MM prints of classic films and would sit us down in front of the screen and told us of the harrowing tales of how the filmmakers made the film.  Our father is a Baptist Minister as well as an avid film lover... so the combination of the two is where we find ourselves in the film medium.  I would go to church 3 times a week and then on Friday nights we would sit down and watch Night of the Living Dead and hear about how George Romero and company sacrificed in order to make their dreams come true.  A truly amazing, and albeit strange, way to be raised.  I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. 
 02 – Can we say your brother Jason was always with you since the start?

Yes.  Jason actually started making movies when he was around 10 years old and I would be the actor in his early movies.  He made a movie when he was 20 on 16MM, as did I, and then we spent a couple of years at film school together.  Then we moved to Portland about 10 years ago... and we’ve been feverishly making movies together ever since.  He usually writes and directs his own movies and I co-produce and co-photograph them with him and then he does the same for the movies that I write and direct.

03 – Talk about your biggest influences reagrding making movies.

Well my favorites are the films of Brian DePalma, John Carpenter, FW Murnau, and Woody Allen but influence is a strong word.  I would say as a writer I am most inspired by Westerns and Film Noir but as a director I am visually attracted to every genre under the sun.  I would say that I’m influenced by every movie that I see... and I try to see as many as I possibly can.

04 – Your father, Dale Freeman, is a respected writer.  Can he also be considered a huge influence into the work from you and Jason?

Absolutely our dad is the biggest reason we make movies.  He likes to tell people that he’s the most important person on set since he is the actual Producer of the Directors. 

05 – Your first released movie was a full length feature, a horror movie called Reynard The Fox. Horror was always one of your favorite genres?

Horror movies and Thrillers are probably my favorite films as well as Westerns and Film Noirs.  I like characters in danger... anti heroes... and strong antagonists.  Movies that make you sit on the edge of your seat and never let you feel like you are in control... movies that take you on a ride and let you know early on that no character is safe and that the rules are thrown out the window. 

06 – How is the relationship between you and your brother during the entire process of making a movie… from the pre-production to the final cut?

We normally write both of our own personal features at the same time.  Then we move toward financing and then preproduction.  Our last two movies, Cell Count and The Weather Outside, were shot back to back over the course of 3 months.  We produce and photograph each of the features together.  I directed the screenplay I wrote “Cell Count” and Jason directed the screenplay he wrote “The Weather Outside.”

07 -  “Wake Before I Die” is the first of your co-directed movies with Jason. We are going to see more of this in the future?

We are actually adapting another one of our dad’s book’s into a screenplay right now.  It is in development and will be the next feature film that we make.  We hope to co-write and co-direct many of our father’s book adaptations... but “The Rest of Us” is next. 

08 – Do you like to work with pretty much the same crew of your other projects?

I think as our budgets grow we are finding that we need a bigger crew.  To fully realize our vision on the screen it’s going to take a bigger and, in some cases, more experienced crews.  But yes... absolutely... we have a very close knit group of people that we hope to work with for many years to come.  It’s an overused cliche in the film business... but we really are a family that love each other very much.  You have to love each other in order to be stuck in a prison for 23 shoot days in the dead of winter.  

09 -  After Reynard the Fox, you wrote and directed two gritty crime dramas, Two Fisted and Pray for Hell (aka Come Hell or Highwater). How was the experience of doing them?

 These were my first experiences making what I’d call “Narrative Feature Films.”  I really wanted to learn how to better tell a story from beginning to end and have the audience along for the ride.  Believe me... if you’ve seen those films... you won’t necessarily believe that this was my goal but it taught me everything I know today about the narrative flow of storytelling.  I got to work with professional actors for the first time and I am very grateful to the people who believed in me early on in my career.  I was an excited little puppy dog and was encouraged to believe I could do anything when it came to making movies.

10 –  Cell Count is your return into fantastic cinema. Let me add I’m looking forward to it since the first time we got in touch in 2011 and showed me a little teaser. You can describe how was the creative process of writing the script?

Yes.  It is my return to Fantastic Cinema... where it all began for me.  About 8 years ago my mom was diagnosed with Cancer... a tumor had exploded and basically spread throughout her chest cavity.  All I could think is what if there was something that could be put inside her... something that would eat all of the disease and rebuild healthy tissue.  I was in shock... and this was how I decided to deal with it.  Examining my feelings about an incurable disease, the hopeless feelings involved in it, and inventing my own way of curing it.

My Producer friend, Doug Baum, at the time referred to the film idea as “The Thing 2” project and it was put on the shelf for a few years.  In the last couple years I knew it would be my next project because this good friend and Producer passed away and I wanted to make, what he called, “The Thing 2” a reality and celebrate the Fantastic in his honor.

11 – Judging from the official trailer, the acting is one of the strongest points of Cell Count. Finding a dedicated and professional team of them isn’t easy as some people may think. We can also notice two very seasoned actors in the supporting cast: Ted Rooney and Daniel Baldwin. It was a different experience for you as a actor’s director, considering your earlier projects? 
Yes... the performances in Cell Count had to be great or nobody would care about the movie.  It was so important to me that every actor in the film was absolutely perfect for the role.  I wrote both of those roles for Ted and Danny as well as a number of the other roles.  We casted for the characters of Sadie Carpenter and William Wallace but all of the other roles were written with certain actors in mind.  I’ve always considered myself an actor’s writer and director.  I love actors and respect their craft more than I can ever explain.  Each and every actor in the film Cell Count is 100% responsible for any success that the film sees.  They are the reason it works as well as it does. I’m forever in their debt. 

It should be noted that I starred in my first feature film Reynard the Fox... the more movies I make though the more I realize that I have to hire people who are just as passionate as I am to take over certain jobs.  Acting was my first job to let go.  Our next features we are hoping to find a cinematographer that we meld with as well as possible editors.

12 – The visuals of Cell Count are also a great attraction from the feature. It was shot on HD? 

We own a Red One Mysterium X camera and are very proud to have used the camera on both of our most recent feature films.  A truly amazing camera and experience in general.

13 – Everything seems to going well about Cell Count’s world premiere to be in Brazil, on Fantaspoa. You were so thrilled about it when you gave me the news and you are still thrilled every single time we chat about it.

It is our World Premiere... what are you crazy?  Of course I’m thrilled!  We do not have an exact date yet but hope to very soon.  I couldn’t be more excited about showing the film around the world... since at the end of the day I believe the film is for an International audience of moviegoers.  To say I’m excited to be there in person presenting the film to its first audience in Porto Alegre would be a vast understatement.  The festival programmers Joao and Nicolas have been amazing and I’m very much looking forward to screening in Brazil at their world renowned festival.

This is my love letter to our late Producer Doug Baum... who absolutely loved International Fantastic Cinema from around the world.  Hopefully it does his memory proud. 

14 – What’s next for Todd Freeman and Polluted Pictures?

We are adapting our father’s book “The Dinetah Tapes” and will make it for his company Highland International Pictures.  After that we are both working on our personal features again.  Mine is a modern day western.  Jason’s is a modern black comedy.  Both films... like Cell Count and The Weather Outside.... are gonna blow people’s minds and hopefully “infect” moviegoers worldwide with the “disease” of film for generations to come.

15 – This is it. Here is your space for addressing a message for the readers and every single independent genre cinema lover in Brazil.

Movies were created to be shared.  Can you imagine if Lumiere had kept his camera a secret or if Edison had not projected these images for anyone but his close friends and family?  If they kept motion pictures a secret and never shared them with the rest of the world?  What is amazing about movies is that it's one of the few things in the world... that was created... to share worldwide.  It doesn't matter what color your skin is or what language you speak:  Motion Pictures are made for us all and are created without borders.  Too many times people make movies for where they live and just show them to their friends and to their families.  But the experience should always be pushed to be something so much more.  It's my responsibility as a storyteller to share movies with as many different people across the globe as I possibly can.    I am proud to be showing my film first in Brazil, with subtitles in Portuguese.  Cinema is a language all of it's own... and I'm so happy to be able to communicate my film Cell Count to my fellow cinema lovers ALL over the world... but first with my brothers and sisters in Brazil.  I cannot wait to meet you all... I truly am very excited to show the film for the first time.  Hope to see you there!   

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