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An Interview with Director Neil Breen

Ever on the hunt for the next great “cult classic,” I recently stumbled upon Fateful Findings (thanks Alan Cerny and Alamo Drafthouse).  Written, directed, produced by, and starring Neil Breen, it only took about a minute into the film for me to discover that I was watching something special that had more to offer than the typical film billed as “The next The Room.”  I urge you to check it out for yourself now, because in a year or two, everyone will be talking about it and you’ll be able to say that you were one of the first to see it.  You could say that anyway, but if you didn’t actually see it early, then you’d just be a liar and you know darn well that Tracy at your office won’t date a liar unless there are career advancement opportunities in it for her, which she already fell for once.  And, believe you me, you only get one shot with Tracy at your office. 

by Jason Howard

Wanting to explore even deeper, I had the opportunity to speak to the man responsible for all this, Neil Breen himself, about the many hats that he wore during production, how it compares to his previous films, and where the film lands as a political statement.  At the end of the interview, look out for info on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that you yourself can have to probe the mind of Neil Breen.  I drop you now into the middle of the conversation as Neil, in good humor, clears up one of the biggest myths about himself…

Neil Breen:  I try to clarify this in every interview.  I’m an architect.  I went to college to be an architect, I’m a licensed architect, etc…  While I was an architect, I also got my real estate license.  When I did my first feature, Double Down, six or seven years ago now, somebody did a search on me and found my business card for the real estate license.  They never picked up on the fact that my primary business is being an architect.  So, the myth was created years ago that I’m this wealthy real estate guy, which is not the truth.  I kept that real estate license active for only a year.  I have never made any serious money through real estate.  So, what I’m getting at is that this myth of real estate mega guy has been perpetuated for no reason.

Jason Howard:  I apologize for my own purchase into the myth perpetuation!

NB:  No, it’s okay.  I’m an architect and the way that I self-fund my films is with the money I made and saved as an architect.  It has nothing to do with real estate.

JH: Was filmmaking always a goal for you?

NB:  Oh yeah, it was always a goal.  I can remember, like everybody, when your 10-years-old and you see your first movie and think, “this is fantastic.  How did they do this?”  But, the reality is, especially me growing up back east, Hollywood was a million miles away and it was literally a dream.  But, it was really something that I was passionate about.  So, I knew that I needed to get and wanted to get a real job doing something creative and fun and that I could make money at, while never giving up the dream.  That’s when I went to college to become an architect.  Graduated college as an architect, practiced as an architect, but still never gave up the dream of being a filmmaker.  Never being a part of the Hollywood insider’s group, I knew that I needed to self-fund my movies.  I was willing to make that sacrifice and that’s how I got to this point.

JH:  Speaking of the self-financing, do you find that those limitations help to stimulate the creative process because you are forced to find interesting solutions that bigger-budgeted pictures might be able to just throw money at as a solution?

NB:  Absolutely.  In fact, when I talk to young filmmakers, who obviously are doing things on a limited budget, I think the most important two words are, one, you’ve got to be “passionate” about it.  You’ve got to be willing to make sacrifices – personal sacrifices, professional sacrifices…  And the second word is “resourceful.”  As a low-budget filmmaker, you’ve got to be very, very resourceful.  What I mean by that is you’ve got to come up with solutions to big problems that are popping up every day.  And, like you said, the big studios or big budget films can throw money at those problems.  An indie guy can’t, so he needs to be resourceful enough to resolve those problems and issues and challenges within himself and within the team he is working with.

JH:  I’ve seen two of your three films.  From what I’ve seen, they don’t seem to fit neatly within just one genre.  Is that something that is intentional on your part?

NB:  Absolutely.  In some of the very first reviews of Fateful Findings; in fact, the Seattle Film Festival gave it a really nice review, the word they used, which I loved, is “genre-defying.”  In other words, the film doesn’t fall into, like you said, a specific genre.  It’s not specifically horror, it’s not specifically science fiction, it’s not specifically romance, it’s not specifically political…  I love the term they used, and others have since picked up on – it’s “genre-defying.”  It’s got a little bit of paranormal.  It’s got a little bit of political.  It’s got a little bit of romance.  It’s got a little bit of this, a little bit of that.  I’ve never made a genre-specific film.  Even my fourth-film that I’m writing right now is very genre-defying.  That’s me and that’s what I like doing.

JH:  Sure.  I’d say genre-defying is a very apt term.  Besides not fitting neatly into a genre, your films, Fateful Findings in particular, seem to have a message and a purpose behind them.  Do you feel that films today don’t do enough of that?

NB:  Well, it’s not my place to tell other filmmakers what to do or not to do.  I just know, for me, I like the combination, and all three of my films have reflected this, of, for lack of a better term, the mystical or paranormal side of life, coupled with issues that have some sense of social responsibility.  Obviously, Fateful Findings has a political conclusion in that, as we all know, the government is failing us on many levels and the politicians are a disaster.  I Am Here Now had more to do with the environmental issue.  And, Double Down was sort of the rogue CIA agent understanding that the system was failing society in general.  Even in the fourth film, there’s a mystical paranormal twist, coupled with another very socially relevant, socially responsible topic that I’m touching on, which is really the focus of the film and I haven’t addressed in the three previous films.

JH:  Fateful Findings certainly calls out corruption in the government, big banks, insurance companies – I don’t want to give away too many of the twists and turns.  Are those issues that are pretty important to you personally?

NB:  Well, I think it is to everybody.  I think our government reflects it.  I’m not a political radical or a revolutionary, but that’s why he (Jason’s note: lead character, Dylan) gets up in the end and says, “it’s time to act.  It’s time to act now as an individual and make some sense of things.”  And, acting now could be interpreted 100 different ways.  From just getting out to vote, to being a revolutionary, to being a financial contributor, to burning down a building, to assassination – it goes on and on and on.  I’m not proposing those things, but I’m saying it’s open to interpretation.  I do that on purpose in my films.  I try not to give the audience one way for them to interpret it.  In other words, there’s no right or wrong in my films.  If you ask three audience members who just viewed the film, they may have three different interpretations, and that’s fine with me.

Let me back up and touch on something else.  I keep saying I’ve made three feature films and went to college to be an architect.  But, I have NEVER gone to film school.  Making Double Down WAS my film school.  That was a learning experience for me.  I obviously have made one or two very small and very amateurish films before that, but I had never gone to film school or anything like that.  So, I’m passionate enough about filmmaking, from a time and money point of view, to teach myself.  Not that I’m adverse to film school or anything like that, but I’ve never been in a position to do that is what I’m trying to say.

JH:  Absolutely.  And, sometimes by learning on the job as you’ve done, you avoid the trappings of feeling like you have to do exactly what the books tell you to do when making a film.

NB:  You’re absolutely right.  Obviously, prior to making films, I read every book on filmmaking, but just never had any formal filmmaking education.  But, that’s where the whole resourcefulness thing comes into play, you know?  When you’re out there on the set making films, you need to make your own answers.  That’s part of being resourceful and professional and so on.  That’s the other thing – there’s been a couple of comments over the years that “this is just a group of friends that got together and made a film.”  But, all of my films have been done totally professionally.  Everyone, cast and crew, on all of my films has been paid.  There’s no deferred payments.  I’m not asking people to do things for free.  I try to maintain all those very professional standards from a production point of view so that it’s not just a group of friends working in the backyard kind of thing.  Everyone’s been paid.

JH:  Fateful Findings is starting to get the rumblings of “cult film” or “outsider cinema.”  How do you feel about those terms?  Are they appropriate?  Did you set out to make it that way?

NB:  Well, I just set out to make the best film I could, within the context, and this is very important, of what I had to work with.  In other words, I would have loved to have done a lot of other things, but I knew what my budget was.  I knew what my geographic restrictions were.  And, that’s part of being an independent filmmaker.  I wrote the script within the context of the budget I had.  That’s part of my producer hat.

I didn’t intend to make a cult classic, though.  Obviously, the other films, Double Down and I Am Here Now, achieved a cult classic status, but certainly not as much as Fateful Findings has.  But, I’m not surprised by it.   I finished the film and knew that it needed to get some exposure in the festival circuit to attract distributors, which is the normal routine.  So that’s what I spent 2/3 of 2013 doing.  The film was in the festival circuit and through social media, it garnered a lot of attention.  Through that attention and the festivals only, that’s how I got distributors approaching and I begun negotiating.  It just came out in theaters for the first time this year.  So, social media, from an independent point of view, is free, great, instantaneous, real time…  I can send out a tweet about a screening tonight, for example, and get a lot responses back immediately.

JH:  Exactly.  And, I think it also gives the fans more of a personal touch to the film.  You seem pretty accessible.

NB:  Oh yeah.  Fans are what it’s all about.  I love hearing that people are enjoying the film, going to the film, telling their friends…  I’m just a regular guy.  I’m happy to talk to anybody.  If somebody sends me an email, I’ll answer it.  There’s no pretense involved here, you know, from my point of view.

JH:  Lastly, you mentioned that Fateful Findings began showing in theaters in January.  Can you let our readers know the best way to find out about screenings and how to see your previous films?

NB:  As far as the previous films go, I think it’s common knowledge now and I’ve told a number of people, that I’ve taken I Am Here Now and Double Down off the market.  There may be some copies out there that people bought two or three years ago or whatever.  But, I’ve closed those sales websites.  The reason I have is because I want to focus on Fateful Findings.  It’s such a better movie than the two prior ones that I don’t want people to get confused.  Those other two movies haven’t been for sale for a couple years.  Fateful Findings is not available on DVD or blu ray yet, and won’t be until the current theatrical run is done.  One website – www.fatefulfindings.biz – is the homepage for the film.  On that homepage, it shows how they can contact me directly through Twitter, Facebook, or email.  There’s also a link that they can use to contact the film’s U.S. and Canada distributors.  Now, on Facebook, I’ve got my own page and they are more than welcome to send me a friend request there – they just look for “Neil Breen.”  Fateful Findings also has its own Facebook page.  That page shows where the screenings will be.  It generally shows the next two weeks of screenings.    That’s the best location.

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