Q&A With 17 Year-Old NYFA Grad And Filmmaker Dylan Greenberg

January 23, 2015

Dylan Greenberg

NYFA: Hi Dylan, would you mind telling us a bit about your background and what drew you to filmmaking? How long have you been interested in film?

Dylan Greenberg: I grew up with a television producer for a father. While I don’t feel his work in television was a direct influence on me at all, we both shared an appreciation for visuals that he definitely encouraged in me. I’ve been interested in film since before I can remember. I’d always loved movies and started making them on an old VHS camera by the time I was five years old.

NYFA: Would you mind giving us a brief synopsis of the plot of Wakers? Were there any films, genres, or themes in particular that you found yourself drawing from? 

DG: Wakers is about a story being read to a little girl by her father. The story is about a rebellious teenager named Blessing who lives in a dreary, dark version of New York with her unstable mother. She finds solace in her friends who introduce her to a mysterious substance that when inhaled, causes beautiful hallucinations. However, the hallucinations prove deadly when Blessing witnesses her friend’s murder while under the influence. She discovers the cause of death is not the substance itself, but a supernatural force living in the hallucinations. As Blessing’s friends start disappearing, the force manifests itself into a living being, which torments Blessing in the real world, forcing her to face her fears head on.

I was inspired by a lot of stuff when making the movie, especially Guy Maddin and Ryan Trecartin. I also drew heavily from one of my favorite super-mainstream horror movies A Nightmare on Elm Street. I guess I wanted to make a slasher-art film.

NYFA: Both of your films, Wakers and Glamarus, are rather surreal journeys that seem to incorporate a wide range of influences, styles, and character types. How would you describe your writing process in assembling such a hodgepodge narrative world? How much of your process is influenced by your collaborators and the production process itself?

DG: My writing process doesn’t exist. I do not use scripts. Rather, I ad lib everything. I have a basic idea of what I want in my head, I bring the actors I know I will need, and I just shoot the movie. My actors ad lib a lot of their lines, so I consider them the writers as well. Often, I’ll give them a very basic prompt: (“You’re threatening him. You’re scared because he’s threatening you.”) and my actors work with it.

NYFA: You have completed and released two feature-length films, Glamarus and Wakers, and you have been making your own films since you were five. How do you obtain the financing, equipment, and PR needed to get your films to a wider audience? What have you learned from both your successes and failures that have helped with the process, assuming it gets easier (or does each production have its own unique set of challenges)?

DG: The equipment is practically non existent. I have a camera, and an editing system. This is all I feel I need to make a film. I will use what props I have, many of which I have found on the street or bought at a novelty shop. I have one movie light, which is from the 1960s and was found in the gutter by my father. The financing, aside from the money it cost to buy the camera, does not exist. It cost more to rent the 750 dollar theater Wakers premiered in than to make the movie itself, including the cost of the camera. I happen to be okay at PR, and I just kind of squeeze myself into whatever publicity I can find. My main failures as a filmmaker were unfinished film projects. I wrote two feature length scripts, both of which were never filmed, and I began filming on a script-less project called Ghost Capturers that was never completed. I also wrote and recorded the music for and was in pre-production on a musical film called Shock and Roll Terror, but opted to make Glamarus instead. I don’t really know what I learned from this: Try not to f*** up, I guess. Once I made Glamarus, which was by accident, I kind of figured out how I would go about making a more fleshed out feature film, which is what Wakers was. In turn, I think what I learned from that is the best things happen spontaneously. For me, at least, when I plan something too much, it doesn’t get done, it sucks, or it takes too long. My successes have always been in completely spontaneous projects.

NYFA: You also have worked as an actress in such movies as the fantastically titled Werewolf Bitches from Outer Spaces. Do you see yourself pursuing more acting roles in the future? As many of the actors in your own films consist of friends of yours, how do you determine which actor is ideal for a particular role? With Wakers, you approached a number of experienced actors—not limited to Troma Films legend Lloyd Kauffman, Matt Katz-Bohen from Blondie, Robert Prichard of Class of Nuke Em High, and Reverend Jen. What made you decide to go after these particular actors for Wakers and what advice would you give to filmmakers your age in approaching and securing more established actors?

DG: I do see myself pursuing acting in the future, though not full time. I occasionally act in short films and stuff. It’s fun to see yourself in other people’s work. I actually was supposed to be an extra in a Martin Scorsese film but I got fired when they found out I was under 18. I determine which actor is ideal for a role by basing the role off of them a bit, even if the finished result is a character nothing like them. I usually have the actors in mind when I am coming up with the plot. It’s also based on availability. I wouldn’t advise getting too hung up on who’s playing who, but with people who aren’t professional working actors, try to give them a role that comes natural, or one you’d think they’d find fun. With the more experienced actors, my approaching them was based in availability. Aside from Lloyd Kaufman, I knew most of the experienced actors. Reverend Jen is my good friend and unofficial godmother, and she was in Kaufman’s film Terror Firmer. I was able to use this connection to talk to Lloyd Kaufman, and it also helped that he makes himself very available. Matt Katz-Bohen and I had talked a bit before and he had given me his contact information, so when I approached him with Wakers he was pretty into it. The main piece of advice I have is use Facebook. A surprising number of well known media figures are on it, and the “seen” feature lets you know when they’re not going to respond to you so you can move on to someone else. Luckily we live in a time when you can easily instant message very experienced people. Another word of advice is try to keep their shooting time to a minimum. If you’re dealing with someone who is very busy, shoot their scenes in an hour. Figure it to where they’re only in one location, and just record as much as you possibly can. An hour is a lot of time. If they need to interact with someone else who can’t show up, use a body double. That’s what I did with Lloyd Kaufman.

NYFA: Also, as a quick follow-up, have Troma films been a particular influence on you and if so, which ones are your favorites?

DG: Troma films have definetely been an influence on me! My favorites of theirs are Terror Firmer, The Toxic Avenger 2 and 3, and Tromeo and Juliet. Although I don’t use a ton of gore, their unconventional humor and horror fusion is very influential to me.

NYFA: What filmmakers currently working today are you particularly inspired by and drawn to? And outside of the world of film, what artists, writers, and musicians do you find yourself incorporating—whether directly or abstractly—into your films?

DG: I am influenced by everyone from Guy Maddin to Godfrey Ho and my script-less style of filmmaking is influenced by Scott Shaw’s Zen Film philosophy as well as the no wave Cinema of Transgression style found in filmmakers such as Nick Zedd and Richard Kern. Some additional filmmakers that inspire me are Dario Argento, Bruno Mattei, Harmony Korine, Richard Elfman, and Ryan Trecartin. I was inspired by Itallian progressive rock band Goblin in some of the scores I composed for Wakers as well as Brian Eno, who is a big influence on my music. Richard O’Brien’s musical Shock Treatment was also a big influence, both musically and visually, and the song I wrote and recorded for the end credits is very inspired by the music from that film.

NYFA: What is next for you as an artist and filmmaker? Do you have any parting words of advice for young filmmakers seeking to create their own feature length films?

DG: I plan on making another feature film soon that’s a sort of follow up to Wakers. It’s about puberty, vagina aliens, the Bible, and Mae West. I think. Currently I am working on making some music videos for my album “really secret elevator” I just released on Amazon, Google Play, etc. and I have two out for my singles “My Respiration” and “Call Our Losses”. I think “Call Our Losses” has some hit potential and the video was my first big foray into hand-drawn cell animation, which I incorporate myself into via greenscreen. I am also working on another album of much less poppy, more innovative musical material which I also plan on directing some really good videos for. Eventually, I want to make a bigger film that is a musical, and I want to direct a darker art film starring Corey Feldman.

My parting words of advice to young filmmakers are: Just make a movie. You don’t need money, you don’t need a script, and you don’t need a crew. You need some friends who are willing to show up, a camera, an editing system, and some imagination. And by a camera, I mean any camera, including a phone. There are apps that allow you to edit movies on a phone now, or you can get a cheap older camera and edit the thing in a VCR. I’ve done that. Don’t try to be Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg, because you’re not: You’re better