Welcome back, readers! As the ongoing adventures in the independent film world march on, OneFilmFan.com was offered a chance to screen and review the new project from New York-based director Ed Hellman, the neo-noir short film “Dime Crimes #34”. A thoroughly enjoyable romp, we had the chance to then interview Mr. Hellman, who in turn was open to another idea–arranging for this newest interview with one of the films’ cast members, actor/writer/executive producer John Michael Wagner. We appreciate his willingness to take the time and provide some brief, but definitive, answers to questions regarding his own path to film, the multiple “hats” worn for “Dime Crimes”, a certain actress he’s “always had a thing for”, and of course, his favorite film of all time! Therefore, let’s get to it with John Michael Wagner!
One Film Fan: A child of the Capital, Washington, D.C. and now in New York. How were you first drawn to the writing / acting profession? When did it become evident that they were going to be your career path?
John Michael Wagner: I first moved to NYC with the intent of becoming a professional actor, but had been juggling my focus between acting and writing for some time. I started off at College of Charleston as an English major, transferred to AADA for acting in NYC, and now here I am finishing my bachelors in Creative Writing at Hunter College. It’s been an expensive journey, but rewarding in the people I’ve met and the skills and stories I’ve acquired along the way.
O.F.F.: How did you further learn the industry (ie: mentors, influences, and schooling)?
J.M.W.: I went to AADA for my professional training in acting, but afterwards felt more drawn to writing again and soon found myself at Hunter with a new draft of “Rebel, rebel” (“Dime Crimes’” working title) that I sent to Jaime, the DP, who sent it to Ed. I would say I really learned to write a screenplay from Ed. Rebel went through 13 drafts before it became Dime Crimes, and Ed read and gave notes on every draft.
One day I’ll have to go back and read them all. Also, John Hickey was a bit of an inspiration to pursue acting. A friend of my mom from highschool, I first got the chance to meet him backstage after “The Normal Heart”. He poured me some vodka then said he shouldn’t have done that and took most of it back. But just seeing his performance and career was both intimidating and inspiring.
O.F.F.: In moving to New York to further your career aspirations, it has to be one of the more “brutal” atmospheres to try and “make it” in writing and acting. True?
J.M.W.: Well, it’s certainly the most expensive way. But yes, I would say it’s difficult, especially for actors. The sheer amount of competition is overwhelming, it seems impossible to get through the muck of bodies that want everything you want. But it’s rewarding in just getting to do what I love.
O.F.F.: So, onto your recently completed project, “Dime Crimes #34”, on the festival circuit currently. As the writer and an executive producer on the film, plus acting in it to boot, how was it to take on all those hats?
J.M.W.: It was a lot. I’d had no experience producing a film and wasn’t entirely ready for the work load and the fundraising, particularly because I was taking 5 classes at Hunter through the entire process, but having a finished product makes it all worth it.
O.F.F.: Having screened the film and reviewed it, I must say that your character, Jack, really had that kind of weasel-like quality to him, very apathetic, or at least unwilling to act on something even when it’s staring him in the face. Was is difficult to play such a wimp? LOL
J.M.W.: I wouldn’t call Jack a wimp. While Bug is openly flirting with Doll (played by actress Ashlee Mundy), I think Jack trusts Doll enough to know she’s not going to cheat on him with such a phony. Of course, he doesn’t know about the gun, and I think Doll is overwhelmed by the adrenaline of the gun and money until Bug smokes the cigarette and can’t handle it and she realizes he’s just a creepy child.
O.F.F.: How was it working alongside fellow actors Ashlee Mundy and Jimmy Dalton? Any shenanigans to report from the days filming?
J.M.W.: Ashlee and Jimmy were both great, committed actors. We had a rather long rehearsal process before production and they were both happy and willing to work.
O.F.F.: Asked everyone this one. How was your experience working with director Ed Hellman? I am pretty much giving up on anyone saying it was a positive experience. HA! Seriously, though.
J.M.W.: Couldn’t have done it without Ed. He balanced everything and everyone and was 100% committed to this project from day one. Truly above and beyond.
O.F.F.: What other projects are on the horizon or would you LIKE to be involved in?
J.M.W.: Well, first I’d like to graduate college! (laughs) But, I’ve started playing around with more “Dime Crimes’”, though I would honestly like to write and produce a play next.
O.F.F.: In mentioning wanting to write and produce a play next ideally, do you have any existing ideas and/or overall concepts in mind for the story you’d like to tell in that medium?
J.M.W.: I think my problem probably is that I’ve got a few too many ideas floating around and they get all jumbled up and I get overwhelmed and hurt myself in the confusion. Yes, I made a “Pokémon” reference. More specifically though, I’ve been playing with the idea of Salinger’s “Franny & Zooey” adapted into a play about my family and an adaptation of King Lear called “Prince Lear” in which the storm and tempest that Lear experiences is not insanity but alcohol and substance abuse.
O.F.F.: As you progress in the industry, who would be on your dream list to work with in the industry, whether with indie films or full out, Hollywood feature films?
J.M.W.: I’d like to work with my friends, really. I mean, I’ve always had a thing for Emma Watson, but if I have full-control of the film, I’d prefer to work with people I know and trust than people who will sell tickets (though of course I like selling tickets too). I’ll probably stick with indie films, just because I would want a lot of control over the script and casting. But, if I’m able to do that with a Hollywood film on a Hollywood budget, certainly wouldn’t complain.
O.F.F.: So if it comes down to it in the future, is New York your permanent home from which to conduct business or would you consider the West coast and SoCal?
J.M.W.: New York is wearing on me. I’d like move to the West Coast, maybe for grad school, maybe after, but eventually. All of my connections are NYC-based though, so that will be a tough transition career-wise. I don’t know if I can handle another winter here! (laughs)
O.F.F.: What advice would you give to someone looking to get into the film industry in general?
J.M.W.: I think you gotta be reckless and ruthless, to be honest. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, but your ruthlessness should not be in competition with others, but in competition with yourself. Be an individual, be yourself, and people will notice.
O.F.F.: All readers know this is the final question that needs to be asked as a fellow film fanatic! What is YOUR favorite film of all time? Why?
J.M.W.: “Dime Crimes #34”. No, I’m kidding (no, I’m not!). My favorite film, probably “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and I was a big “Lord of the Rings” fan back in the day. This year, “Whiplash” was my fave, the writing was just–just amazing! I won’t spoil it, but for the first half I was thinking “this is one of the most pretentious films I’ve ever seen” and then literally WHAM (if you saw it, you know the moment I’m talking about) the film becomes conscious and is just a roller coaster of audience control.
And so sayeth J.M.W.! Another amazing, and hard-fought, journey that continues for this man of many talents who we get the feeling is currently only scratching the surface of what is to come, be it writing, producing, and/or acting in the indie film sphere or beyond. We haven’t heard the last of John Michael Wagner, and the industry will be the better for it! One more heartfelt “Thank you!!” extends to Mr. Wagner for this interview! If you want to know more about “Dime Crimes #34”, watch for it at a film festival this Summer and take in this wonderful piece of short film work. Also, check out the film at the following locations:
The Website: Here
Thanks again for reading, spread the word, and stay tuned for more interviews from “Dime Crimes #34”! Until next time!