Local filmmaker Michelle Iannantuono talks all things script, actors, and sound 

Behind The Scenes

click to enlarge Gunner Willis stars in Livescream where he and his friends find a video game all too real

Provided

Gunner Willis stars in Livescream where he and his friends find a video game all too real

About this time last year, Crimson Screen Film Fest, South Carolina's outstanding horror film festival premiered Michelle Iannantuono's tale of a video game streamer playing a haunted game through the POV of the streaming site itself. Livescream won the Grand Jury Award, the runner-up for Audience Choice, and a Best Actor Award. Since then it's acquired more awards and noms for Iannantuono. Rather than rest on her laurels and bask in the joy of a feat many would be satisfied with, Iannantuono and her company, Octopunk Media, have pressed forward, recently releasing another feature, Detroit Evolution, for free on YouTube. Iannantuono chatted with us about her work and the filmmaking process in general.

What inspired you to get into film and filmmaking?

I don't have a really good inspiring answer for this question. I've just always wanted to make films. If anything, watching Star Wars as a kid was the closest I came to being fascinated with the spectacle of filmmaking. I can remember it being the first film that I watched and being given the motivation to try to make movies myself, even at 7-years-old, even with nothing more than my grandmother's camcorder.

What was your writing process like on this film? What inspired you to take on this premise?

I was immersed in Let's Play and streamer culture for about four years before writing Livescream. Specifically I remember watching a 3-hour playthrough of Xbox One's UNO game and thinking if I could watch four guys play UNO for 3 hours — a feature-length production — then maybe I could make a feature in the same format. A lot of screenwriters go through months of drafts and revisions but I had a final draft of Livescream within just a few passes. It only took a few weeks of actual writing after several months of contemplation. I knew exactly what I wanted this film to be.

How did you come to cast Gunner Willis in the lead role of Scott?

Gunner and I have a mutual director friend named Michael Whaley. I discovered Gunner through Michael's work and thought he might be good for an audition. I ended up auditioning about a dozen guys for the role but Gunner shined immediately. He had such an organic performance and was so believable.

What is your favorite scene in the film? What was the most difficult scene to film?

click to enlarge Michelle Iannantuono recently released a new feature film, Detroit Evolution, - on Youtube - PROVIDED
  • Provided
  • Michelle Iannantuono recently released a new feature film, Detroit Evolution, on Youtube

My favorite scene is absolutely the Japanese RPG Maker level. I think there's a lot of manic humor to that level and it's also the most unique and unexpected chapter in the film. The scene that was the most difficult to film was probably the puzzle level, just because that level was very difficult to build in Unreal Engine.

What do you feel is the least appreciated aspect of a film and why should people become more aware of it?

Some of the most underrated roles are in pre-production. Although Livescream did not require me to hunt down locations or write call sheets or source catering, these are all things that I've had to do as a producer on other films. In some cases these jobs have taken two to three months of work before the film even shoots. But having good pre-production ensures a smooth shoot. And the more you prepare, the more the film you shoot will resemble the film that you wrote.

What should filmmakers expect more of from audience members, and what should audiences expect more of from filmmakers?

Making a film creates a social contract between you and the audience. The filmmaker owes the audience a sensible narrative, and for the film to open in a way that tells the audience what they should expect to see. I think an audience owes a filmmaker the benefit of the doubt, especially if that filmmaker is showing them something that's never been done before. The most common thing said to me about my movies is "I didn't expect them to be as good as they are." I wonder how many additional people would have felt that way, had they only given my movies a chance.

In your opinion, what are the key elements needed to make a good movie?

Good script, good actors, good sound. Everything else can be forgiven — weak camera work, weak effects, weak fight choreography. But if you can't hear it, can't believe it, or can't understand it, you're probably not going to have a good film on your hands.

In Livescream, the game layout is pretty impressive. How did it come about and how difficult was it to achieve?

I designed all of the levels myself in Unreal Engine which is an open source game engine produced by Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite. The engine is relatively easy to learn, and being able to buy the assets and models was helpful. I didn't have to step foot in a 3D modeling program. I just had to learn basic programming and build the sets.

It's been two years since Livescream first premiered at Crimson. What has changed since then?

My entire life. Livescream allowed me entrance into a vibrant film community. And my later Detroit fan films — elevated with the help of professionals I met on the film fest circuit — allowed me a beautiful and engaged fanbase. I'm now supporting myself fully off film and content creation, which was a pipe dream before Livescream.

You recently premiered the film Detroit Evolution for free on YouTube. Can you talk a little about this film?

Detroit Evolution is a cyberpunk gay romance about a detective who falls in love with his android cop partner. A friend of mine dubbed it "Brokeback Blade Runner," however I refuse to bury my gays — everyone gets a happy ending! It's basically a proof of concept that romance fanfiction can be deftly adapted for live action, since both shipping fanfic and film have been outlets for me throughout my life. We hit 350k views in the first three weeks and also trended No. 1 on Tumblr for a bit, so it's been a great success, I think.

In these uncertain times, are you able to find inspiration?

I have more ideas than I'll ever be able to make. I just keep pounding on the schedule I've got laid out for the next two to three years. Some things have been pushed back because of the virus, but I'm never short on things to do.

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