Mike Marino in His Own Words

Mike Marino has directed a great short film, a comedy called Titans of Newark. It's part of the Shorts From Around Here: Take 3 collection, screening Sunday, November 10 at 10AM in the 16th annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival. I emailed a series of questions about himself and the making of his movie. Marino's email response was so well-written that I've decided to publish the whole thing pretty much as is with only a few minor edits. Marino is scheduled to participate in the Q & A session at Rehoboth Beach. Here's a preview in his own words.

Re: Questions About Your Movie
By: Michael J. Marino

"I actually was born in New York, but my dad was transferred for work when I was 5. I grew up in Phoenix, MD, which is about 10 minutes outside of Hunt Valley in Baltimore County. My family and I used to do big family trips to Bethany Beach and Ocean City even before I moved to Maryland, however we didn't get a house of our own until I was about 11.

That same year was when I saw Scream for the first time. At that age I was absolutely terrified of horror films, yet somehow fell in love with the movie. First of all, the beginning 15 minutes are an absolutely perfect short film. Second, the film taught me about genre conventions and how to play with them. Scream was not only a horror movie, but it was a horror movie making fun of horror movies while also trying to be one! The writer Kevin Williamson knew exactly what was expected of his film by an audience, so he found ways to both mock the genre and twist it unexpectedly. To me as a kid, it was genius. In a lot of ways I have tried to apply the same methodology to Titans of Newark. People watching the film can probably predict much of the storyline based on the genre, but the fun is seeing how we try to exploit those expectations or unexpectedly twist them. There are dozens of other movies (such as Clash of the Titans) that have inspired me, but I don't want to rant for hours.
In 2008, I received an undergraduate degree at Temple University in Philadelphia for Film and Media Arts. While there, I shot a short children's film that went on to a few of my first film festivals. After that, I spent a year working on some of the various Hollywood films that came to town, including Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and Law Abiding Citizen. However after awhile, I realized that I still had a lot to learn about directing and didn't want to give up on my ambitions as a filmmaker.
In 2009, I started to attend Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, which was a graduate conservatory in Orange, California where I solely studied directing. The experience was overall amazing. We got to shoot a variety of short films, study the nature of directing actors under industry veterans Martha Coolidge (Real Genius) and John Badham (Saturday Night Fever), and make use of resources ranging from sound stages, motion capture rooms, Foley stages, etc. I graduated in 2012 with Titans of Newark to show for it.

Duke Valenti as Zeus in scene
from "Titans of Newark"
As a small kid waking up every weekend morning at 7 AM so I can watch my precious television, I fell in love with films like The Odyssey and Ray Harryhausen's Clash of the Titans. Greek mythology introduced me to mankind's original superheroes and their amazing adventures across both land and sea fighting monsters and armies. However even as a kid, I always asked myself the question 'Where did these gods go in modern times? If a society once believed that they were real, where are they? Did they go into retirement?.' Thinking back on that question is the foundation for Titans of Newark. It took re-watching National Lampoon's Vacation a couple of years ago to wonder why Clark Griswold had the worst luck in the world. Maybe it was because of the Greek gods!

Though Titans Of Newark was not my first short film endeavor, it is the one I am most proud of. The film was produced as a graduate thesis while I was studying directing at Chapman University in Los Angeles. I got to work with some of the most talented and supportive people I've ever met. Despite some colleagues believing we had unreal expectations shooting a fantasy epic, both the crew and I aspired to reach for the stars. Only together were we able to create a Mt. Olympus set on a sound stage, experiment with both practical and digital effects, find an amazing cast led by TV-regular Joel Brooks, etc. We even spent two days filming on the 'New York Street' at CBS normally used for their CSI shows! The cast and crew showed so much ambition in making this film, which is the true reason it turned out well. Since completion, the movie has screened at 19 film festivals, won 5 awards including Best Humor Film at this year's Comic-Con International Film Festival in San Diego, and was nominated for Best Casting in a Short Film by the Casting Society of America against the film's of Bryce Dallas Howard and Olivia Wilde. It has been a really exciting year!

Joel Brooks as Levi Katz in "Titans of Newark"
Titans was written in 4 months back in May 2011, shot in October for 9 days, and post-production was completed in March. Overall, it was about an 11 month process to make the film. To help us cast the film, we worked with a wonderful casting director named Pamela Guest. She reached out to many of the actors, while others she had previous working relationships. Joel Brooks was a perfect embodiment of [the character of] Levi and he was kind enough to reach out to his good friend DeeDee Rescher as a recommendation for [the character of] Marnie. Previously, they had acted together as husband and wife in a John Ritter film called Skin Deep. Everybody who read the script was incredibly excited by both our level of ambition and the lengths we were willing to go for strong production value. As I said, we built all of our "heaven" sets on a stage and shot in locations ranging from CBS to an old abandoned hospital called Linda Vista.

Maintaining our strive for production value was also the most challenging aspect of production. Because many of us had never handled special FX, most of it was experimentation and very time consuming. Additionally, the locations were all fantastic, but very spread apart in terms of distance. Most film sets are made easier by being able to 'soft wrap,' or leave equipment out at the end of a shoot day to help with making a simple setup the next day. However, every day was a new ambitious location, which meant we had to spend a chunk of every day's schedule unloading and packing. Yet, in many ways, our biggest challenge was also our biggest success. The movie is often complimented for its ambition and the various elements we were able to pull off!
The Rehoboth Film Festival has always been a lifelong dream of mine to be a part of. While I was growing up, I had consistently followed the festival's entries and studied the film program. Sadly I've only been able to attend the festival once for a short film program 3 or 4 years ago. Every year, the festival has had such an unbelievably impressive lineup and it is getting better each year! Many of the films at this year's showcase are some of the same that I saw at Sundance and Cannes! It is amazing.

In terms of my current plans, I just spent all of last fall and winter living in Bethany Beach while writing a psychological horror feature film. Though I am still in developing mode, it is my dream to shoot this movie next year around both Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach. As you can ask any local, the coast becomes a completely different environment between the bustling summer and quiet winter months. The area caries such an enticing allure due to being an incredibly beautiful and tranquil place, yet it can be off-putting for an outsider as psychologically damaged with dark motivations as this script's main character. Though I don't want to go into too many details on the plot, the movie is in many ways a love testament to my time spent on the coast. It is a project I have been excited about for years and would love to get off the ground!"

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