The Movie Waffler Waffling With... <i>CLOSER TO GOD</i> director BILLY SENESE | The Movie Waffler

Waffling With... CLOSER TO GOD director BILLY SENESE

Writer-director-producer Billy Senese chats about his new movie Closer to God.

Closer to God has had great reviews. Is that important to you?

Yes, it’s very important. With an independent film like mine, trying to make a sale, trying to launch my film career, every bit of good press helps in this regard. I think when you become more established, then maybe you can not care as much whether someone gives you a good or bad review, but until that happens, I need all the help I can get.

Do you regularly do google searches or take a peek in forums to see what people are saying about the movie?

I try my best to avoid doing this sort of thing. It’s just asking for trouble. Especially YouTube comments – don’t ever look at those. Those are some pretty crazy, off the wall comments! And at some point, once the film is out there, I think you just have to let go and hope you are connecting with audiences.

Any criticism against anything in the movie?

So far, we’ve gotten mostly great reviews with very little criticism. We’ve been really surprised at how well people have responded to this film. I had a chance to engage directly with audiences at film festivals across the country and abroad, and we’ve had such great responses and conversations everywhere we’ve gone. I think this subject material strikes at something in the center of all of us, one way or the other. The little bit of criticism we have gotten from people who weren’t as happy with it either wanted it to be all-out horror film or an all-out sci-fi film. They were perhaps disappointed by the cross pollination of genres. But what are you going to do? You can’t please everyone.

Why the topic of cloning? Why was it something you wanted to explore?

Actually, I didn’t set out to make a movie about cloning. I was way more interested in making a movie about the inevitability of progress and the inevitability of the possible consequences of progress. And I believe I did just that. In my film, the lead character, Dr. Victor Reed, gives a speech, and he says, “It’s not a matter of whether we go down this path, because we are. It’s how we meet this future.” In my research, I ran across a really great TED talk from a geneticist, and he said something that really stuck with me. He said, “Make no mistake; if it can be done, it will be done.”

How long ago did you come up with the idea? Did it change much before it went before the cameras?

Well, I’ve always been very drawn to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This was a big book for me when I was young, and I love the James Whale movies from the 1930s, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein. So, I always wanted to do my own interpretation of this story, kind of reinvent those same ideas and themes into a modern reality, one that we might actually face in our lifetime. So I’ve had this idea for a very long time, but didn’t really start forming this particular story until I started writing the script in late 2011.
The script didn’t change much before it went before the cameras, but it did change quite a bit when it went into post-production. I remember when we had our first rough-cut viewing. Let’s just say, it was a dark night. The film wasn’t very good yet. And one of the hardest things to do as a filmmaker is to admit when something isn’t working.
So I went to work. What we found was that all the pieces still held my intent just fine... it’s that most of it was merely in the wrong order. For instance, in the original script, the tension points – like Ethan and the protesters – came too late in the piece. So we kept moving those up to the front the film. We wanted to make the film a real pressure cooker, a tight suspenseful ride. Essentially, like what Hitchcock would say on how to create suspense: Don’t just blow the bomb up, tell the audience that the bomb is going to go off. In my case, the big bomb was Ethan.

Can you tell me where you found your lead actor – quite a find!

Jeremy Childs is awesome, isn’t he? It’s more like we discovered each other. We are both artists in Nashville with very similar ideas and sensibilities. We worked together on several projects leading up to this one. So when I was writing the script, I always had him in mind for the lead. Jeremy is an extremely talented, perceptive, and hard-working actor. I think he was perfect for this role. We’ve gotten to be close friends over the last few years, which has been great.  Jeremy’s a working actor here in Nashville – he stays busy with ABC’s Nashville, along with various stage, TV, and music video projects.

And was the movie shot in your area?

The entire movie was shot in and around Nashville, Tennessee. And the entire cast and crew (save Thomas Nola, the composer) is comprised of Nashville people, too.

How important is the internet as a marketing tool for independent films like this?

It’s very important in the current world of independent cinema. You have to be more than a filmmaker nowadays. You have to also play a role in the marketing. You have to put yourself out there, let people know who you are as an artist. And the internet/social media is a powerful tool to do just that. We don’t have the budget for a huge media buy like the studios. The internet is where you can have even the slightest chance to compete with the bigger movies.
I’m an independent filmmaker. I’m not a part of the big studio system. We barely got this film made – it was a real struggle. A very rewarding one, but still a struggle. So please, if you like the film, let other people know about it – spread the word! You will be supporting independent artists trying to make a go of it.