DIRECTOR and producer Josh Mills joins us on Close-up Culture to talk about his film Muse, working with Kate Mansi and his passion for directing.
Q: Can you tell us about your involvement in Muse and your experience on the project?
A: MUSE was originally brought to me by writer and director John Burr as a short film. Burr was about to graduate with his Masters, and he was using the short film as his thesis for the Stark program at University of Southern California.
I read the script and immediately asked if he had a feature length version of the story, which he did. Immediately, we agreed to collaborate on the feature and it did not take long to secure the financing needed to green light the project.
Q: What was it like working with director John Burr and the cast?
A: JOHN and I had been friends for several years before the film, so that made the opportunity a bit more exciting. I was not sure what to expect because he and I had never worked in a professional capacity.
It did not take long for us to get comfortable in our respective roles and drill down on what needed to be done. The producers meshed well together and the great synergy between our director of photography Damien Horan and John created an efficient shooting environment.
Overall this was a young cast and crew – and I was impressed with how well everyone handled themselves. We were fortunate to have such a talented ensemble of actors that worked long hours, dedicated to each and every scene.
Q: What are the challenges for a producer putting together a film like Muse?
A: EVERY film seems to come equipped with a basket of ‘curveballs’. This was no different. An independent feature with limited financial resources keeps you on your toes. Fortunately, we shot most of the film in a single location in the arts district of downtown Los Angeles.
In addition, we had roughly 17 days to shoot out the entire 88 minutes. So scheduling had to be flawless but remain flexible. A good portion of the shooting days were at night. This also made it challenging on the cast and crew. In some cases, the cast were working on other projects that overlapped with our scheduling.
Kate Mansi was a great example. She is a dear friend and an amazing actress who at the time was contracted to be Abby on NBC daytime soap Days of Our Lives. She would literally put in a full day at NBC, then make her call time for Muse at around 7pm, working through the night. It is refreshing to be surrounded by such a dedicated cast. I am happy to see she has returned to ‘Days’ after her Emmy nod last year and has continued her success.
Q: What has been the response to the film at festivals?
A: INCREDIBLE. I never expected our project to create such a buzz on the indie festival circuit. I lost count, but I think we have been selected to screen in almost 30 events internationally. I have worked on projects with much larger budgets, and with veteran marquee casts that did not get half the attention from the festival voters. I think our most recent selection is the Cape Fear festival in Wilmington next month.
Q: You are the grandson of Frank Mills – a legendary figure in Texas television. What influence has he had on your career in entertainment?
A: LOTS. I have several old black and white ‘stills’ of my grandpa on stage hung around my office. He had a scholarship for theatre at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and used to do a radio show with Ronald Reagan before heading to Texas to raise his family and excel in broadcasting.
He has been noted as ‘the first voice heard on Texas television’. He covered the Kennedy event in Fort Worth the morning before the President’s motorcade rolled through Dallas.
My dad actually did theatre as well when I was a kid, performing every year at the Scott Theatre, Spring Show in Fort Worth. I loved watching top notch local productions of the likes of Guys and Dolls, Mary Poppins and Chicago.
Q: Before moving behind the camera, you were an actor. Can you talk about that part of your career and how it has shaped you as a producer?
A: TO be honest, I enjoy producing but my passion is directing. I did some stage work in college and when I moved to New York to work for Warner Brothers’ reality division, I had a blast during my spare time as part of a comedy duo called Redneckowitz.
My sketch partner was Jewish and I was from Texas, hence the clever name. When I got to LA about three years later, I caught the bug. I could feel the same familiar sensations envelope me as I drove down Hollywood Boulevard that I had experienced as a child watching my father flipping a cane and a top hat to a famous show tune.
The energy was amazing. I threw myself into acting, enrolling in every class from classics such as Meisner to Stanislavsky, Strasberg and Stella Adler. I think this has given me a more comprehensive understanding of the filmmaking process. I am able to relate more with the actors as both a director and a producer.
Q: What led you to start up Desert Wind Films in 2008?
A: I NEVER stopped moving my feet when it came to production, even as I explored my ‘thespian’ side for a few years.
I continued to do freelance production and collaborate on small projects. Sometimes I would do background work on large studio films, spending the day taking notes and watching the production at work.
You would be amazed at what you can learn as a human prop when a 50mm movie is being shot around you. Just pay attention. My end goal was to always open my own independent production company. I knew this would give me the freedom to occasionally work on projects I am passionate about – with people I enjoy working with.
This October, we will have been open for 10 years!
Q: What direction do you want to take the company – and your career – in the coming years?
A: HAVING worked on several pilots in the last 12 months, we will spend the majority of our time and resources focusing on Television IP. We have several amazing features in development but our focus for now will primarily be television.
Q: What type of filmmakers do you aspire to?
A: I THINK the Cohen Brothers sit on top of my list. Of course icons such as Lucas, Spielberg and some other epic productions from Eastwood or Mel. I have a long list – Tim Burton or comedy geniuses such as Mike Judge.
Q: What is next for you?
A: I HAVE three pilots funded that we are currently working on. Stay tuned.