March 25, 2016 Interview – Brian Ackley
Movies continue to be one of the most popular forms of entertainment, spanning decades, and means of distribution. Progressing from the cinemas and drive-ins, movies now come in a new array of viewing pleasure, including downloads and Video On Demand. This has enabled many writers and directors to make films, without such large budgets, and distributing same to a larger audience much faster. One such upcoming writer/director, Brian Ackley, has taken the art form to task as he creates films in his own light. Working as a producer, actor, and director for over a decade now, Ackley recently wrote and directed the new Sci-fi Drama Alienated, which is receiving a bit of buzz within the cinema world. Recently we sat down with the filmmaker to talk Alienated, working within the film world, his future projects, and more.
CrypticRock.com – You have written, directed, acted, edited, and produced a number of short films, including your first feature film in 2009 entitled Uptown. That is a film you also co-wrote and produced and it won awards. Now, Alienated has met with rave reviews; you have a bright future ahead of you. How has Alienated, in particular, changed your life?
Brian Ackley – Thank you for saying so. Alienated has changed my life by providing me an opportunity to strengthen my skills, particularly as a director, thereby also building my confidence to take on such challenging work. Making Alienated was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever faced, purely from a production standpoint. Ever see Apollo 13 (1995)? It was like that. Every day brought on a new series of creative and practical challenges, all centered around a lack of money and time. So, coming from that experience to where we are now, marketing the film, releasing it to a wide audience on VOD this month, is incredible. It’s provided me with great reflection on the team that I work with, solidifying our compatibility and proving that our methods are working and that our goals are attainable.
CrypticRock.com – That certainly is a great attitude to take along the process with you. How has it been to actually achieve your goal of not only making a successful film, but dealing with recognition and acceptance of your peers?
Brian Ackley – It’s great when you make something that others can appreciate. It’s wonderful when your art translates to other people. It’s a great feeling. It’s part of being connected to the human race. Maybe it’s the same feeling you get when you laugh at something with a complete stranger. You don’t need to know the other person to appreciate the moment that you’re sharing with them. It’s just great to be connected.
CrypticRock.com – There is no denying the internet has changed the way people initiate and maintain contact with each other. It has been an incredible resource for all kinds of artists. Aside from putting your all into your own work, in the past you were also a video instructor for an after school program in Far Rockaway, New York, and assisted in the making of short videos for elementary school children. Not many people take the time to give back, how has this affected you as a person?
Brian Ackley – I’ve worked for after school programs in Far Rockaway and Webster Groves, and largely enjoyed both experiences. It wasn’t a matter of giving back, though. I worked out of necessity. I chose to bring my filmmaking skills to these programs because that’s what I do. And because kids respond to video so well. Kids love cameras – technology in general – and they love being in front of camera – performing. Kids are wonderful to work with because they are often so open to new experiences. They WANT to learn and try things. My favorite thing to do in these programs was whatever would be most empowering to the kids: whatever made the kids feel most inspired and fulfilled. That led to kids teaching their peers; kids leading their own activities, and planning their own events. I organized a video award show in Webster Groves two years ago where a 5th grader was the host, and she was AMAZING. You have to give kids opportunities like this, to both challenge them and inspire them, and others. And yeah, well, also because it’s so much fun.
CrypticRock.com – That’s wonderful to hear, and, no doubt, you have made an undeniable mark on their lives as well. Speaking of working with others, you have noted your production team and crew help keep you on track in terms of ideas and projects. Where do you think you would be without them?
Brian Ackley – I would be dragging along making tiny films without any names or decent production value. Half of them might never be completed, and none of them would find mainstream distribution.
CrypticRock.com – Alienated was a long journey for you, one that certainly made all the hard work for it. Can viewers expect a sequel?
Brian Ackley – (laughs) Some people see Alienated as a sequel to my first feature, a Romantic Drama, but it isn’t really. No, the closest this film will probably come to having a sequel will be a play version that I’ve recently completed. I have no idea if it will ever be produced, but if the world sees it, it will be like a continuation of our film.
CrypticRock.com – Your fans will have to wait and see what you come up with next. You are not someone who gives up easily or runs away from a challenge. How do you think this changes you as a writer/director?
Brian Ackley – My approach to directing character-driven stories seems to be working, so this experience is allowing me to settle into that mindset in anticipation for whatever may be next. It’s comforting to know that I am doing something right. I also have to look at the surprises and disappointments, and understand where they come from. Mistakes are okay. Growing pains are normal. Stress, conflict, fear of failure, and fear of the unknown are all part of the game, and I’m learning not to deny them or beat myself up for feeling them. With making Alienated, I’ve had great practice with confronting each of these things, and regardless of the outcome, I can be proud to have survived. It doesn’t necessarily take any great action or insight to become the person – or writer/director – that you want to be. It takes one small step at a time. Some of those steps for me included being OKAY with stress, conflict and fear. Being OKAY with mistakes and growing pains.
CrypticRock.com – Those are valuable lessons for everyone. You’ve noted the impact your time with Taylor Negron had on you. Being your film was his last, a unique thing, what have you taken away from the experience?
Brian Ackley – I continue to learn the lesson of not taking things for granted. I appreciate the people in my life. If a stranger floats by with an interesting story or new perspective, I take notice, or try to. I try to become better acquainted with my acquaintances. I try to offer people I know encouragement, even if I just barely know them. I try to be genuine wherever I go. Taylor seemed to be this way. He seemed to have mastered life and relationships, as well as one could with what they have control over. He seemed at peace with himself, and in love with the world. I would love to find this balance, where I can continue to explore the world, connect better with nature, be highly creative and engage and entertain a vast number of people and learn something from them all.
CrypticRock.com – Passion for what you do counts for a lot. Where do you see Horror in the future for writers, directors, and fans?
Brian Ackley – I don’t have any great insight into the Horror genre. It’s amazing how popular it is. I suspect it will continue to be popular for some time. I think it’s a great genre for writers and directors to work in because the market is so huge. I would love to see more character development in some Horror films. If you raise the emotional content to match the horrific, I imagine you could do some wildly interesting things. Something like Silence of the Lambs (1991). That’s a terrifying movie, very smart. I also like the direction Scream (1996) has taken the genre. There’s still much more you could do to blend Comedy and Horror, and how exciting that is for a fan, not knowing if you’re being set up for a joke or a scare!
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. What projects are on the horizon for you?
Brian Ackley – The horizon is a bit hazy at this time. Alienated is invading all of North America on VOD starting March 31st! It’s taking up nearly my entire sky (laughs). There will be plenty to talk about after the dust settles, if we survive, but currently I’m a bit too distracted.
CrypticRock.com – It will be exciting to see the response from audiences. What are some of your personal movie related influences?
Brian Ackley – Two movies kept rolling around in my head while writing and preparing for Alienated –Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) and Hurlyburly (1998). Both for their intense character interactions and smart dialogue. One is certainly more intellectual while the other is more emotional, so finding my own balance was a pleasurable challenge. For pace and tone, I returned to Signs (2002) and Unbreakable (2000), always favorites of mine.
CrypticRock.com – Our last question for you is pertaining to film as well. If you are a fan of Horror/Sci-Fi films, what are some of your other favorites?
Brian Ackley – Larry Drake recently passed away, so I’ll mention Dr. Giggles (1992). I loved that film as a teen. I haven’t seen it for a long, long time, so I guess I’m due to revisit it. Also as a kid, I loved, in a terrifying way, Child’s Play (1988). At bedtime, I’d have to leap off my bed and spring to the bathroom, for fear that Chucky might be under my bed. Why did I watch that film so young? I recently saw The Thing (1982) for the first time and thought it was great. I was always a fan of Night of the Living Dead (1968) too. I think my all-time favorite Horror film is From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). It’s a brilliant collaboration between Robert Rodriquez and Quentin Tarantino.
I have my share of Sci-Fi’s I enjoy too. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (2012), Demolition Man (1993), and Total Recall (1990) were some of my favorite Action/Sci-Fi films growing up. I also loved Comedy hybrids like Back to the Future (1985), Ghostbusters (1984) and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989). More recently, I was impressed with Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Then there are some smarter Sci-Fi’s that lean more towards Drama – Contact (1997), Phenomenon (1996), and Her (2013) are all excellent.