Interview with Independent Filmmaker Michael Bonomo
Michael Bonomo is an independent filmmaker hailing from the sometimes gritty and seasonal Northeast United States. Specifically, New Jersey. In a brazen move to avoid shoveling snow (his words, not mine), Michael moved West to sunny California after completing his studies in college. Since then he’s had an array of odd jobs, one of which spending several years promoting DVDs for major companies and now works at an app-creation company creating content for app stores across all platforms.
The path for many up-and-coming independent filmmakers is similar to that of Michael’s – chasing dreams all the way to the “holy land” that is Hollywood. Some might even say that it is a traditional path any filmmaker might one day undertake or is even expected. However, Michael chose to create his own path towards filmmaking, as well as what some might call an unorthodox approach to film school. Does any of this make a difference? None whatsoever. The drive and motivation, no matter what path is chosen, is certainly there.
Independent filmmaker Michael Bonomo sits down with Reelybored Horror to discuss a little bit of his upbringing and his latest short film Assassins which he is slated to direct a feature length version of the short. After you’re done checking out the interview, be sure to watch Assassins below and show your support by donating to the making of the film.
Reelybored: How long have you been making films?
Michael C. Bonomo: Since 2010 I’ve directed eight short films and two music videos. I’ve actually worked on film sets on and off for longer, but as someone directing and creating, that’s been going on for just about two years now.
Reelybored: Can you recall your earliest memory of picking up a camera and making your very first film? What was that experience like?
Bonomo: Ah. This question is something I’ve seen reading interviews with other filmmakers. Usually they talk about how when they were 8-years old, they picked up their dad’s camcorder and went outside with their friends to shoot weekend epics. I didn’t do that. I always had the interest to be a writer, but filmmaking hadn’t yet occurred to me. Now as for watching films…. I watched tons of movies as a kid. I went through a phase where all I’d watch were the goriest horror films. Then it was all action. I was all over the place. That was my film school. I watched tons of films.
When I moved to California, I decided that I’d like to take a crack at making a few short films to see if I’d enjoy it. Problem was, I did. After getting into the indie world, and watching the people around me making films, I wondered if I could make one as well. So, in 2010, when the company I was working for went under, I found myself with the time I needed to really try and tackle something that has slowly been building up inside of me: making my first short film. The very first day of our shoot for Porcelain was insanely nerve-wracking. We were trying to shoot eight pages in a single day, and we had a full crew move from Van Nuys to Pasadena, and back. We got lost and wasted an hour going in the wrong direction. We had only shot four pages when we decided to call it a day and it would be about four months later before we would shoot the second half of that shoot. To say I learned a lot about time and planning would be an understatement.
Reelybored: What inspires you as a filmmaker?
Bonomo: I’m inspired by stories. Really, that’s all there is to film. It’s just a story and each filmmaker tells a story in a unique way. Without a good story and interesting characters, you could have the most beautifully shot and edited film in the world, but it would be boring. So, when I see a solid, moving story, I tend to be inspired by the little things that really make it pop. I’ll come back to it time and time again, but Pan’s Labyrinth has one of my favorite stories ever in film. It was magical and whimsical with a huge descent into darkness. That is the kind of story that inspires me and that’s the kind of story I’d like to make.
“I’m inspired by stories. Really, that’s all there is to film. It’s just a story and each filmmaker tells a story in a unique way.”
Reelybored: Tell us a little about your film, Assassins?
Bonomo: Well, there are two Assassins films. One is the short film that you’re showing here for your readers. That was shot a year ago and was finally completed after a nightmare search for the right editor. We finally found Heather and couldn’t have been happier. The feature of Assassins is being shot this summer. We’ve taken the concept of the short, rewritten it and used it as the catalyst for a story about Bill Oberst Jr.’s character from the short and his cat and mouse game with a bounty hunter, who’s every bit as psychotic as he is. In between the two of them is a young man who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
Reelybored: Where did the idea for Assassins stem from?
Bonomo: Well, the short of Assassins came from me wanting to write a short that was based mostly in dialogue. Anyone that’s seen my other shorts knows that I tend to keep the dialogue to a minimum (or, none at all in the case of Unsaid). What happened after that was Mr. Oberst came up to me after he saw a rough cut of the short and asked if I’d be interested in expanding it into a feature. I’m not one to turn down a challenge, so here we are today.
Reelybored: Would you compare Assassins with another film?
Bonomo: I wouldn’t compare our feature, Assassins, with any other films out there. I approached Dave, my co-writer with what we were going to aim for, he saw the short and ran with it, crafting a tense film that I wouldn’t really compare to many other films. All I can say is that he did an amazing job creating a story that works really well.
Reelybored: What makes Assassins different from other crime/drama films?
Bonomo: What we’re doing with Assassins that makes it different from other crime/dramas is we’re playing with genres. What I mean by that is there will be a constant feeling of pressure; a continuous tension on the young man, Chris, who’s caught between the assassin and the bounty hunter. We will shoot the film with an eye towards creating an almost horror-based tension throughout. The underlying sensation of terror is what is going to separate Assassins from other crime/dramas.
Reelybored: Tell us a little bit about the casting process of going with actor Bill Oberst, Jr. to play Nathan, the stone-cold assassin in your film?
Bonomo: To tell you the truth, the part of Nathan was written specifically for Bill to play. Yes, we had him come in to read, just for the hell of it (he creeped me out so bad when I read opposite him in the audition room), but those lines were written for Bill, and Bill alone. After seeing him in so many low-budget horror films I knew he had better acting chops then he was being given, and he has such a wonderfully demanding presence I knew that I had to work with him.
Reelybored: What excites you the most about Assassins and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
Bonomo: The thing that excites me the most about Assassins is that I’ll be directing my first feature film. There’s so many awesome things that come with it, but to actually be able to direct feature films is where I want to be, career-wise, so this is a really big deal. Obviously it’s not a massive, mega-budget production, but if we can get solid distribution domestically, and get the film out to as many other territories as is humanly possible, I think the team and I will be happy.
Reelybored: Any funny or memorable moments that occurred while on the set?
Bonomo: I can’t say anything exciting happened at the short. In fact, nothing outrageous has happened on any of my shoots. Just like not having any coming-of-age filmmaker stories for you, I also don’t have any wacky hijinx. But, during the casting of our feature version of Assassins, we did have one very lucky situation play out. Andre Tenerelli came in to read for the part of Tommy, the brother of the man caught between the assassin and the bounty hunter. He was good, but David Pesta (who will be playing Chris in the film) told me to go grab Andre and bring him back to read the part of the bounty hunter. I don’t know if Andre was in a hurry or thought he just didn’t do well, but he was already out of the building and almost to the street when I caught up with him. Out of breath, I asked if he’d be willing to come back and read for another part and quickly gave him the run down. Five minutes later he came in to read and nailed it. He blew us away and pretty much locked down the part right there. So, sometimes those little moments really turn out to be big things.
“… to actually be able to direct feature films is where I want to be, career-wise, so this is a really big deal.”
Reelybored: What are some of your favorite films and directors? Why?
Bonomo: This question is extremely loaded since there’s a constant shift on new films that I’ve finally seen or directors making new work. That said, I obviously have my favorites. Harakiri, Chinatown, Casablanca, Let the Right One In, Murder, My Sweet, and Battle Royale are just some of my favorites (they just tend to sit at the top most of the time). On the directors front: Chan-Wook Park, Joon-ho Bong, Guillermo del Toro, Wong Kar Wai and David Cronenberg are just a few of my favorite directors.
Reelybored: What’s next for you?
Bonomo: Another loaded question. This one is not as easy to answer. We wrote Assassins, the feature, because we knew we could do it for a lot less money than our intended first feature film, Muse. If all goes well, and Assassins gets noticed we’ll begin a major push to Muse made (as it’s a pet project we’ve had waiting in the wings for almost three years). We’d also love to do a sequel for Assassins, and my co-writer, Dave Grant, and I are both hard at work coming up with treatments and ideas for future projects so we’ll never run out of anything to make.
Reelybored: Any words of wisdom or advice for aspiring filmmakers?
Bonomo: Here’s advice every filmmaker is going to hear: Just go make it. That’s right. I was told that very line by friends, family and anyone whose ear I chewed off talking about how I wanted to make films. Living in LA I hear constantly that “I’m a filmmaker” or “I’m an actor”, but then these very people aren’t making anything, or they’ve written a script and are just sitting and waiting for someone to make it. My short films cost almost nothing. Anyone can tell an amazing story with a cheap camera and a solid idea of what they want to say. Everything else just takes a little work. Stick with it and don’t give up.