Above is filmmaker Michael Knowles best known for his film The Trouble with Bliss starring Michael C. Hall, Brie Larson and Peter Fonda. I got the chance to talk to Michael about how he got started with filmmaking, his vision as a filmmaker and ultimately why he loves making movies! It was an absolute pleasure and he gave lots of noteworthy expertise about the film industry and even some thought on life in general.
Hi Michael, when did you get into filmmaking and where does the passion stem from?
It started out for me as an actor. I did the senior play in my high school, Our Town, and absolutely loved it. I think it was the fact that everybody paid attention to me, when it was my turn to say my lines, everybody had to listen. It was an awesome feeling. From there, my passion gradually morphed into realizing I had the ability to express what was going on inside of me through characters; the character I was playing. I found this to be incredibly freeing and liberating, which, in turn, led to me writing. I enjoyed writing about what I was feeling and trying to get that out through the characters and story. This then led on to directing, it just all made sense.
So, it’s really about falling in love with telling stories?
Exactly, that is what ultimately came clear to me. However, it did take a while to realize what I was doing and why the hell I was doing it, but I finally realized that I just love sharing stories. It allowed me to express how I feel about things.
Your films are very much about human relationships, are they personal to you?
Yes, my scripts are very personal and ultimately a lot about relationships. A lot about the relationship we have with ourselves. This is evident in my new film Old Friends/New Beginnings. It’s also about your relationship to a significant other, and then the relationship between you and society. So, my filmmaking is a lot about relationships and communication.
Could you tell me some more about your new film Old Friends/New Beginnings?
Yeah, so it’s coming along really well. I couldn’t be happier. We made this movie for very little money; it was shot on a micro-budget. I wrote the first draft of the script back in 2005 when I was studying screenwriting. My writing teacher always encouraged us to write about what we were afraid of and one of my biggest fears was about being lazy. So, I wrote about what it would be like if I become lazy, and this is the character I play in the movie: David. Because of his financial situation, David has lost his ambition and passion to create, which ends up affecting his marriage. His wife Julie, feeling undesired, invites an old friend and his new girlfriend to spend the weekend with her and David to hopefully stir things up but she never could have expected what happens over one long weekend.
You worked with a small crew on this project. Do you feel that working in a small crew allows everyone to more clearly express the same vision?
Definitely. I really enjoy working with a small crew, which I did on my first movie, Room 314. The second movie, One Night, got a little bigger and the third, The Trouble With Bliss, even more so. But, with this movie I’ve gone back to the stripped down model, and I love it. You know where you are with everybody, there isn’t a chain of command where you have to wait five minutes to hear back from the person you need to actually get something done from. I love that intimate feeling on a small set, it’s cozy and warm and you feel as though everyone is really in it together. We’re all there for the same reason.
How do you manage all your roles; you work as a writer, director, producer, cinematographer and editor?
It’s hard work but I love having the knowledge in everything. It informs me on all the other aspects I do. So, editing has helped me to become a better writer, a more efficient writer, and directing has helped me to become a better actor and visa versa. It all feeds into one another and informs the storytelling process. It helps me to understand, just keep it simple.
Producing for me was something that was necessary to get things done – it just made sense. If I needed something done I could do it myself or try and convince somebody else to do it for me, it was easier to do it myself.
Which filmmakers and films influence your work?
There are so many films out there, but I ultimately just love all movies and actors. Just watching great performances mostly inspires me; for example, Daniel Day Lewis I could watch all day and this motivates me as a storyteller. He makes me want to write better just so I could work with him one day. Woody Allen’s stuff is great and he is obviously a big influence. I find his work hilarious as well as dramatic.
As directors, I also love Sydney Pollack, Robert Altman. Their the kind of directors who work with ensemble type casts, who work on character driven pieces, I love those type of directors. For example, I love the fact that Steven Soderbergh can do so many different things.
Do you feel a director who tries out different genres is more masterful than a director who just hones in on one genre?
I don’t think about this too much, I don’t really care who is a master. I feel like Ang Lee is amazing that he can do so many different styles, but if you look at his stories there is still a similar theme. I love that he can tell the stories he is telling in all these different ways. I would find it to be a little bit boring if a director continued to do the same genre over and over. I don’t know how anyone would want to do that.
Does anything inspire you outside of filmmaking; you’re also a martial artist?
Oh yeah this inspires me big time. It’s a huge influence. Martial arts is everything to me. First off, martial arts introduced me to meditation, which helps me tremendously to get focused and grounded, which ultimately helps me to see things clearly. Another important thing I learnt is about the exchange of energy that happens between people. Just like with characters in a movie. For example, the way that two characters wrestle, I apply this the same as when martial artists freestyle, it’s the same as signing a contract, it is ultimately about dominance and submission. We see this in real life all the time. Martial arts have helped me to see this clearly and have no doubt been a big influence on how I see the world.
What marital art is it you practice?
It’s called Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, it’s a traditional Korean karate.
Is it similar to Hapkido and Taekwondo?
There are things in those martial arts that have similar moves to Soo Bahk Do. But, just to be clear, why I do martial arts is to find inner peace. This is why I want to tell stores, I want to help more people find inner peace.
And this is your vision as a director?
Absolutely one hundred percent. I want people to feel something and know that there are other people who feel the same thing, which gives a bit of peace knowing they are not alone. If you watch my movies, you will see that I try to remove all judgment, I don’t try and say what is right or wrong, or who is good or bad. I’m trying to tell stories and trying to help people understand that we are all doing what were doing because it is ultimately what we thinks best. I don’t judge any of my characters.
Do you have any advice for young filmmakers starting out in the industry?
The things that I’m reminded of all the time, is to keep trusting myself. So, I would say to anyone who is up and coming to just keep trusting that gut feeling you have. No matter what anyone says to you, if your gut is telling you to go left, then go left. Even if at that time it seems wrong, just go with your gut feeling and see where it takes you. This is the biggest thing I’ve learned.
Also, for the most part, no one is going to do it for you, you’ll have to do everything for yourself. You are your biggest cheerleader, don’t wait for other people. However, if someone comes along and helps you, fantastic, thank them and thank them again. But, you will eventually have to keep pushing in and doing a lot of stuff that other people don’t want to do until your famous, and then everyone will be your best friend!
So, ultimately it’s a case of just getting out there and doing it?
Yeah, just start making movies. Don’t wait.
It’s been great talking to you, thanks Michael.
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