On Saturday, April 13, New York Film Academy (NYFA) hosted a screening of new sci-fi/drama Encounter, the award-winning directorial debut of industry vet and NYFA Screenwriting instructor Paul J. Salamoff. The screening was followed by a Q&A with actors Anna Hutchison, Glenn Keogh, Vincent M. Ward, Christopher Showerman, Wendy David, and Peter Holden, and co-moderated by writer/director Paul J. Salamoff and Chris Showerman. The film also stars Luke Hemsworth (Westworld, Thor: Ragnarok) and Tom Atkins (Lethal Weapon, Escape from New York).
Salamoff has been working for almost 30 years in film, TV, video games, and commercials as a writer, producer, director, executive, comic creator, storyboard artist, and make-up FX Artist. He is the author of On the Set: The Hidden Rules of Movie Making Etiquette (now in its 4th Edition) and the graphic novels Discord, Tales of Discord, Logan’s Run, and issues of Vincent Price Presents. His short stories and essays have been included in acclaimed anthologies including Midian Unmade: Tales From Clive Barker’s Nightbreed and The Cyberpunk Nexus: Exploring The Blade Runner Universe and he is a two-time Bram Stoker Award Nominee.
He was recently named one of The Tracking Board’s Top 100 up & coming Screenwriters and has developed projects with Mosaic Media Group, Hollywood Gang, Blumhouse, Wigram Productions, Silver Pictures, Valhalla Motion Pictures, Vertigo, Unstoppable Entertainment (UK) and Eclectic Pictures.
Encounter has already picked up several awards, including Closing Night Film at the Other Worlds Austin Film Festival, Best Director at the 44th Boston Sci-Film Festival, and the Audience Award and Best Supporting Actor (for Tom Atkins) at the Miami International Sci-Fi Film Festival.
Salamoff began the Q&A with a discussion about the unique way each of the actors became involved with the film. Some were actors that Salamoff had known and written roles specifically for while others were ones that he had admired and wanted to work with.
The most notable story was from Glenn Keogh who got a call three days before filming to replace one of the actors who got stuck in the UK because of a work visa issue. Salamoff remarked how generous it was of Keogh to step in so late and how remarkable a job he did, and in hindsight he “can’t even imagine the role being played by anyone else.”
Showerman followed up with a question about Salamoff’s mature directing style despite being a first-time director. Salamoff cited the fact that he has been a fan of movies since he was five years old and still sees “tons of movies” as well as jokingly claiming to be the reason why Moviepass failed. He went on to say that he was heavily influenced by directors such as David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan, and most recently Denis Villeneuve.
When asked about the story itself, Salamoff discussed his desire to tell a story “where the science-fiction and fantastical aspects are important, but it’s more about the characters.” He cited films like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris and Stalker as well as the films of Brit Marling (Another Earth, Sound of My Voice) as having influenced the screenplay.
The big takeaway from the Q&A was that Salamoff tried to create an environment on set that was highly collaborative with his cast and crew. Wendy Davis pointed out that even though the film was on a tight schedule, “it felt very safe and free for the actors” and that Salamoff would “allow us time to play and discover things.”
Peter Holden added that “If you’re going to try to pull things off on a shoestring, then you better have people be on your side,” which prompted the cast to reminisce about how well they were taken care of especially in regards to food.
A number of the film’s producers owned local restaurants and supplied them, according to Anna Hutchison, “with as much crab legs, steak, and oysters as they could eat.”
Vincent Ward followed that by saying “they never had to worry about anything” and could just focus on their craft.
Keogh went on to say that they’ve “all worked on projects where the camaraderie was not there,” but it was there on Encounter because Salamoff set the tone from day one.
Salamoff remarked that this was always the plan and “at the end of the day, I made the movie that I wanted to make,” before adding “but it’s always interesting the road it takes to get there.”
New York Film Academy would like to thank instructor Paul Salamoff and the cast of Encounter for sharing their experiences and advice for filmmakers as well as details about the development and production of the film.