The Mighty Dragon is so proud to support independent filmmakers on this blog and this week’s interview is with the multi-talented Director, Producer, Writer and much more! Andrew Froening.
Andrew is an award winning independent filmmaker based out of New Jersey. With many short films under his belt already, his new web series, The Connection, has just launched on YouTube and I am delighted he agreed to some interview questions to delve behind the making of the series.
I have so much respect for Andrew’s vision, loyalty and dedication to his work. I hope too that this interview helps those starting out as independent filmmakers, it certainly sheds some light on the changing viewing habits of audiences worldwide.
Vikki: You have just released the trailer for your new web series, The Connection, what’s the series about?
Andrew: The Connection is my take on the post-superhero genre. It’s a super-powered modern day noir set in a world where people are born with, let’s say mild abilities. They’re not jumping off buildings and saving cats. It’s very grounded. They still have to earn a living and pay rent. That’s where our main character comes in. You very much get the feeling that he would not be using this power if he had a choice. Max can tap into your emotions after a traumatic experience and root around inside your head for clues as to what happened. It’s a new take on the classic film noir detective who works outside the law and does things his own way. Wynton is his go-between for hiring other people with abilities. Wynton is the guy who everybody gets along with and Max has sort of made his way onto his blacklist. Max is not a people person. He’s very much a misanthrope that needs to work with others to accomplish his task. That’s his core and the source of some of the more amusing moments in the series.
Vikki: What are the benefits of web series for audiences over more traditional viewing methods?
Andrew: This is actually my first scripted web series, we did a collection of improv comedy skits called YouDirect and learned a lot from that experience; mainly that online audiences want shorter videos. 3-6 minutes was fine, but once you got closer to 10 the views steeply dropped. People have less time these days and want to spend it wisely. There are too many hour and half-hour TV shows out there for any one person to watch. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift. Netflix is now accepting 11 minute shows. Companies are starting to explore new media and what it has to offer. To me a web series is more than a shortened TV show. The opportunity exists online for a creator to actually communicate with their user base. We may be at the forefront of a new level of audience interaction. If enough quality content emerges from this model, I can see audiences speaking directly to the creator and dictating exactly what content they want to see.
Vikki: You wrote and directed The Connection, to have total control over your story must be incredibly fulfilling – would you allow it in someone else’s hands?
Andrew: The most important thing you can do at the start of your career is showcase your undiluted voice and vision. Audiences and studios alike are always looking for something new, and when they have it they want to push it into a familiar box. It’s actually how our brains are designed; to store information by association. When someone comes onto a project they project those notions onto it in order for them to jump in and orient themselves. What’s most interesting to me is when you go deeper and spend time with the material, analyzing those associations to see what’s similar and then purposefully diverge from it. So if it were in someone else’s hands I would want to know that they’d approach the material in the same way.
Vikki: What are the challenges facing a writer/director creating a web series?
Andrew: As a writer I found it incredibly freeing. This was a period where I was devouring screenwriting books and really agonizing over structure. I finally gave up and just wrote something for a shorter time frame, without trying to hit all the beats. It was an exercise really at first, then I found my own structure. Everyone said you need at least 12 minutes for a web series, and I was like “no, this is six.”
In directing, the challenge was orienting everyone. The style of this show has a lot of intercut scenes that play out at different times, but inform one another. It can be another level of obfuscation added to the fact that you’re not always able to shoot chronologically.
Vikki: How did you pull the cast together?
Andrew: I’ve worked with two leads Damian Gaeta and Ithamar Francois for the last few years now, they’re terrific actors and human beings. I really wouldn’t be where I am today without their patience and creative drives. Kelsey Hoffman was literally a last minute addition, I had worked with her on a short film I shot where she ended up winning Best Actress. We had a different actress back out, so I reached out to Kelsey and we shot all her scenes in one adrenaline-fueled weekend. Ilene was also a gem, we met on a Facebook Live show called “Life With A Twist” promoting different local projects. Alex Alessi and I are working together on his second feature film “When Everything’s Gone.” He’s a hugely talented actor I wish we made more use of. The rest of the cast I had worked with on some level or another, or met and had good feelings about. It’s all about who you know.
Vikki: Your IMDb credits are so impressive as an all-round film-maker. What part do you enjoy the most?
Andrew: The role that I enjoy most is Director of Photography, essentially being responsible for the frame. What to show or exclude, setting the tone of the scene with lighting. Even if there’s dialogue you have to tell the story visually to contrast or support what they’re saying. Plus you’re on set with a time limit so there’s no endless time to tweak like there is in post. I enjoy that.
Vikki: What types of genre interest you – anything you haven’t tried yet?
Andrew: I enjoy most everything, especially high-concept Science Fiction and new ideas. Countering that, I would love to make a Western.
Vikki: What films do you watch and what has caught your eye recently?
I watch whatever catches my eye, new and older movies. I’ve been on a Criterion Collection binge for about a year and a half and discovered some great cinema. I’ve really enjoyed the character-based approach toward superhero movies recently. I can watch those with my kids which is also a bonus. Paul Schrader’s “First Reformed” is the last movie I saw that I’m still thinking about. For me if I’m still thinking about it, it was probably a great movie. I really enjoy the longer-format of TV series too, where the storytelling can have the depth of a visual book. I can’t take my eyes off HBO’s “Chernobyl.”
Vikki: I have spoken with British film Director Simon Rumley about the joy of short films and see too that you have many in your IMDb credits. What genre do you feel are best suited to shorts?
Andrew: A short is a great way to test out an idea or explore an emotional situation. In my experience the audience reacts best to Comedy in any form. Whether it’s a riff off pop culture, serious subject matter, or just something completely wacky. I find the short format too brief to tell a properly character-driven story, though I suppose that depends on the story. I’d love to be proven wrong on that.
Vikki: How can we see The Connection?
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