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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018)

Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018)

Writer/Director Michael Gallagher's recent feature “Funny Story” (2018) is a road trip dramedy about “good people who do bad things,” set in the lush forest backdrop of Big Sur, Californa. In this “Sideways” reminiscent tale that demands its viewers to laugh and cry simultaneously, womanizer father Walter (Matthew Glave) travels to a weekend retreat to visit his estranged daughter Nic (Jana Winternitz) in hopes of mending his relationship with her; but, it all blows up in his face. Along with a group of Nic's friends and her best friend Kim (Emily Bett Rickards), they undergo a chaotic mess of a weekend during which each of them discover secrets about each other so unbelievable and destructive it unhinges their lives and potentially their relationships forever.

The film held its world premiere at Slamdance Film Festival and most recently Sonoma International Film Festival where it sold out every screening and won the Audience Award. The film was written and directed by Michael Gallagher and co-written by Steve Greene. Produced by Michael Gallagher, Jana Winternitz, and Michael Wormser. Cinematography by Greg Cotten and edited by Brian Ufberg. A Cinemand production. It is being repped by Evan Silverberg of Management 360.

I interviewed Michael after the festival. Here is what he had to say:


Were the happenings in the story based on real events?

MICHAEL: The events in this movie are fictional but the people all come from a very real place. My favorite movies are about the messiness of life, following characters who don't have their act together and are desperately trying to keep their world from falling apart. Whether it's The Graduate or Sideways, I love stories about good people who do bad things.


The chemistry between the cast are electric. Was it difficult to cast?

MICHAEL: Finding the perfect Walter took a little time-- we needed someone who could be charming, oblivious, deeply narcissistic-- but deep down have a good heart. Matthew Glave is such a great person. His soul shines through, even when doing despicable things onscreen, which gives Walter so many emotional layers. And he is a terrific actor with the best sense of humor.

MICHAEL CONT'D: Casting for Kim was quite delicate. We needed an actress who could speak volumes without saying a word. The kind of actor whose heart shines through their eyes. Emily Bett Rickards has these qualities. And she also happens to be a tremendous human being with such heart and wit. So I knew that by casting Emily, when Kim made tough choices, the audience could see that deep down she is a good person who is just lost at this moment in time.

MICHAEL CONT'D: We wrote the part of Nic specifically with Jana Winternitz in mind, who I have had the pleasure of working with for over 10 years! Jana was our secret weapon. I knew how deep and vulnerable she could get as a performer and really draw the audience into her life. Nic is a very grounded and confident character, more powerful and emotionally intelligent than any other role in the film. Jana has a natural ability to just exist on camera-- you never see her acting, she just lives in the moment.


Did it take a long time to get the film funded and up and running?

MICHAEL: We had developed “Funny Story” for about three years and tried to get it financed traditionally but it's hard to find companies who are brave enough to finance movies for adults. Luckily our production company Cinemand has had enough success over the last four years producing other features and digital content that we were able to fund the film and make it completely independent of a studio.


How were you able to shoot the whole film in such a short time?

MICHAEL: I cut my teeth making sketch comedy and web series content, which is always done in a very short amount of time. We knew our budget / time constraints going in, so we decided to embrace our limitations and embed them into the aesthetic rather than fight them. For example, I collaborated with Greg Cotten (Director of Photography) and we agreed to lean into a natural lighting aesthetic, as we couldn't afford to bring in many lighting units and generators, nor could we spend an hour or more on each setup. That helped us tremendously to move quickly and still achieve the quality we wanted. While I don't recommend people to make a movie in fifteen days, the short shoot really helps make everyone present and focused since you don't have time to over-think every setup or decision. You go with your instinct and move on. It's liberating and a little terrifying but luckily we work with such a tremendously talented crew who can pull off miracles.


Were there any memorable difficulties or funny incidents that occurred while shooting?

MICHAEL: Yes! Our movie is set on the California coast, including a trip up to Big Sur. Three weeks before we began filming, Big Sur had a giant landslide that completely blocked the highway we were planning to use! So we had to drive up the freeway past Big Sur and drive in through Salinas / Monterey area. It all worked out in the end.


How have audiences reacted to the film?

MICHAEL: The response has been electric. People really seem to connect with Walter, Kim, and Nic in ways I never imagined. What I thought were small and specific character relationships seem to be universal themes that families everywhere are dealing with. I'm just glad to have been apart of creating something that has moved people and spread joy-- that's all you can hope for when telling stories.


Is it harder than ever to make indie films today? Do you think this will get easier or worse? 

MICHAEL: I think making independent movies has never been easy. But if you love storytelling and you have one that needs to be told, you will find a way. And with the affordable technology, anyone can technically make a good looking movie in HD. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what equipment you use to make a movie-- audiences don't really care about the tech stuff-- it's about creating characters that people identify with and a story that resonates. That's it. You don't need $150MM to achieve that. 


What other kinds of films is your production company Cinemand producing?

MICHAEL: We recently wrapped production on a thriller that should be finished later this year. We have a slate of projects across all genres-- the thru line is that every project is helmed by a passionate director with a story that needs to be told.


You recently attended the Sonoma Film Fest. How was that experience?

MICHAEL: Fantastic! We had a blast at the Sonoma International Film Festival. Kevin McNeely and the whole team really puts on a quality festival that makes sure the emphasis is on the films and filmmakers-- and of course, the great wine! It was so fun to walk around town with Matt & Jana, as new fans of the movie would run up and just have to tell them how much the movie meant to them. 


What will you be working on next?

MICHAEL: Right now my focus is getting Funny Story a proper public release-- which is a full time job! You can stay up to date with screenings on our site


Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018)

Director Michael Gallagher making magic on set.

Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018) Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018) Interview with Writer/Director Michael Gallagher for “Funny Story” (2018) "Funny Story" production stills.


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