I would never have been successful as an entrepreneur without being a good storyteller. In fact, I would say that if you look at the most successful people in almost any industry, from doctors and lawyers to scientists and engineers, the people who rise to the top are those who can tell stories well. The human brain is wired to latch onto narrative, so being able to communicate in this way separates you from those you are only good at technical details, for instance. Since I was young, I have been pretty good at figuring out the essence of a complex problem and creating a story to explain it that is easy to understand.
Once I got into “meat and potatoes” directing–casting, shooting, being up against deadlines, making fast decisions, leading people–that part felt very natural and I felt quite comfortable. I learned being an entrepreneur is actually wonderful training to be a director.
Were there particular suspense films that inspired you to explore the genre on your own terms?
One of the films that informed my writing was George Sluizer’s 1988 classic “The Vanishing,” which is just so chilling and original. From that film, I learned you can spend lots of time getting to know the bad guy in long flashback sequences, and the audience will go with you as long as you are truthful about the motivations of the killer and have lots of conflict. Also, Park-Chan Wook’s “Oldboy” is a classic and something that has always inspired me in terms of how to motivate an original villain that has an almost unbelievable plan.
What benefits does Chicago provide a filmmaker, both in terms of aesthetics and production?
First, we have such a beautiful city with fantastic architecture and parks. So much character in neighborhoods that translates onto screen. Beyond that, there is so much deep talent in all aspects of shooting – actors, producers, crew, production design, wardrobe, post production…we really have it all in Chicago. I also was happy about the Illinois film tax credit, which helped recoup some of the budget before getting distribution.