"I want my audience to get lost in the stories I create"
The year was 1986 when Sean Rosa experienced his first science fiction film. After sneaking in to a theater, Sean found himself watching Aliens. Intrigued by the terror that consumed his young mind, it was at that moment Sean knew that film making was his true calling.
After years of trials and tribulations, Sean's moment came in 2017 when he finally completed his first horror film, 'Apollyon'. His passion of taking viewers on an unforgettable journey and evoking pure emotion is what fuels Sean as filmmaker. Coupled with his unwavering work ethic, Sean is fixated on perfecting his craft as he looks to cement his legacy within his beloved industry.
The film recently won 5 awards at Festigious, including Best Picture, Best First Time Director, Best Mystery Film, Best Score (Michael Damon) and Best Cinematography (Stephen Brevig, Anthony Realmuto). We asked Sean and Kurt Weichert (Producer) to join us for an interview.
Sean, you grew up in the Bronx, NY, and you began your journey as a devoted admirer of film: sneaking into a theatre, you watched ALIENS! Did you know right there and then that you wanted to make films, or were there other movies that helped you reach that decision?
Sean: Well there were several films that inspired me and cemented "film" as my calling. When I first saw "Aliens", I was nine years old. My cousin bought tickets for another movie and then he snuck us into Aliens. At that point in my life I had seen a handful of movies. But Aliens had a profound effect on me. It took me on this journey that evoked so many emotions. At one point I screamed so loud that the grown man in front of me, jumped up so high from his seat, because at nine years old, my voice was like a mermaid. I remember him being so upset and looking at me and my cousin for about 30 seconds. "Like who is this kid and why is he in here?" I apologized to him and then put both hands over my mouth for the remainder of the movie. Aliens sparked my obsession with movies. I remember later that year, they opened a video store across from the apartments that I lived. While other kids would go ride their bikes and play, I would go to the video store and read the summaries of the movies and look at all the cover art. I didn't have money to rent movies, so that was the next best thing. One day the owner saw me sitting Indian style in one of the aisles, writing down the movies that I wanted to see on a notepad and paper. I told him that I was writing down the movies I wanted to watch. He told me to go get my mother and create an account with them, and that he would give me five movies to watch for free. I guess he felt bad for me. My eyes grew big and I ran straight home and returned with my mother. The owner was true to his word. Once my mother set up an account I was able to go home that day with five movies to watch. I watched over 200 films that year. Other films that sparked my fire was Star Wars, Aliens, Indiana Jones, E.T., Terminator, The Shawshank Redemption, Godfather, Braveheart and City Of God.
Kurt, you formed Weichert Media in 2015. Can you share a little bit about your background, how did you get into the business and why did you decide to start your own production company?
Kurt: I wrote a series of scripts for television in the 1990s when I was in my early twenties called "The Sportfan". Despite the positive response to the project I decided to take a very long break from writing for personal reasons, mainly I needed to feed my family. I then had a sucessful 20 year career in real estate but always regretted not being able to continue my career in writing. When the real estate market tanked in 2008 I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I knew this would be my one opportunity to get back into the field. With renewed interest and enthusiasm, I tried to reach the agent who was encouraging me to do Sportsfan Chronicles twenty years earlier. Regrettably her infamous legal problems kept her from being an agent. So then I decided with no agent to convert the scipts into books and I was lucky enough to get a large audience. We then pitched the books to NBC and during that process my friend Chuck aka Charlie from "Smothered by Mothers" contacted one of the Baldwin brothers and told him about my story Smothered by Mothers. Lots of people got excited about "Smothered by Mothers" so then I decided to start Weichert Media and brought in some very talented consultants including a former vice president from Miramax. After the company was formed I dove right in and I heard about "Apollyon" from one of my other producers, Jonathan Yaskoff. Jonathan showed me that the filming of "Apollyon" was shown on an episode of Bravo's "Real Housewives of Miami. Apparently Adriana De Maura was a castmember of the reality show (so was Jonathan). Adriana also has a good role in "Apollyon". I thought it was funny when Andy Cohen was in the middle of a fight between Adriana and another cast member... they were fighting about the filming of "Apollyon". I liked what I saw and I wanted to back director Sean Rosa in his first movie and I was glad I was able to help.
Both: What makes you passionate about storytelling?
Sean: I love how I feel when I'm wrapped up in a good story. I feel nothing but pure joy and I want to be able to do the same with the movies I release. I want my audience to get lost in the stories I create. I want them to feel whatever it is I'm trying to invoke.
Kurt: The ability to create original characters and put them into interesting scenerios and then later get a reaction from the audience has always been very satisfying to me. I thrive on the creative process.
Both: Is this the first time you're working in the genre of Thriller, Mystery & Horror? How is it different than working on a comedy or a drama? Do you find it more exciting?
Sean: This is my first feature film. I've written several screenplays that covered both genres but I wanted to do a horror film first. I saw a documentary on John Carpenter and the making of Halloween. I saw how he got a sweet deal for himself. He was too direct and wanted to have creative control on Halloween and it turned out well for him. So I decided to do a horror film first with the same setup that he had. I fought for creative control.
Kurt: My background in horror goes back to when I was eighteen years old and my brother Ken blew off a full performing arts scholorship at Drake University to go to Los Angeles and start his movie career early. Our parents were ticked off and said he would he be waiting tables for years before he got a role. Ken called back a week after arriving in LA and said he got a role in movie called Silent Night Deadly Night 2 which made our parents even angier. I immediately got in a car drove from Chicago to LA and hung out with brother while they filmed him getting his eyes blown off from battery cables that were being forced into his mouth. Ken was 19 and I was 18 years old and we were way too young to be in LA by ourselves and all we ended up doing is partying, waiting tables and trying to learn how to surf. Those months were a lot of fun but definetely didn't help our careers. Back to the present... I didn't want to interfere with Sean during the filming of "Apollyon" this was his vision and he worked so hard on it for years before I entered the picture. I am filming another horror film called "Ghost Killers" this year with two stand comedians so I guess we can mix horror and comedy.
Sean: Why did you decide to write this story? Was it influenced by true events? Did you have any technical considerations in mind while writing the script?
Sean: I've always wanted to make a movie about serial murderers, like Seven & The Silence of the Lambs, but I didn't want to base my story on any of these murderers that I researched. I didn't want any of the families or people who suffered to relive those horrific events. I also didn't want to shy away from the horrors that those individuals created. So it was a fine balance of mixing true events with my own twist on it. When writing Apollyon, I knew that I had to have handcuffs; that I couldn't let myself go too wild. This was a challenge. I knew that I had to keep the budget down, so I wrote the story about Hayden and the experience he found himself in. I wanted to concentrate on his journey. Would Hayden drive a car in this movie, or would he walk? It depended on who would lend me their car. Haha. That's how the whole movie was. If someone was willing to lend me their house, car, etc., then I would use it in the movie. I was fortunate to have friends and family come to my rescue.
Sean, what can you share about the dynamic of co-writing a feature? You were four writers on the movie did you have any disagreements, and if so, how did you resolve them?
Sean: It was great having BJ Williams, Anthony Abbott and Mario Leone come on the rewrites and help me tighten the screws. I was wearing so many hats and it was a blessing to have three talented writers supporting me with my vision. That's why it worked. They put their egos to the side and supported me with my vision. They provided positive and negative feedback. The three of them are going to be a force all by themselves. Bj and Anthony are also talented directors. We are creating our own rat pack. It was an honor to have their support.
Both: How did you meet each other, and is this your first collaboration?
Kurt: I met Sean while I was working with Jonathan Yaskoff on my movie "Smothered by Mothers". Jonathan asked me if I would be interested in joining them in finishing "Apollyon." I liked what Sean Rosa was doing and I was glad I could help. I prefer to write my own projects but sometimes it's nice just to be an executive producer.
Sean: Kurt believed in our project and invested the funds for the reshoots and we were able to hire the very talented post team which had Michael Damon, composer and Pawel Galazka, visual effects artist. Kurt saved our movie. I told Kurt that without his help I would probably still be at my apartment shaping Apollyon for another 5 years. Kurt came at a time when everything was falling down around me. I lost my fiancé due to this movie. She give me an ultimatum, I had to choose a life with her and her family or a life pursuing my film career. I couldn't have both. I had put everything into this movie and I honestly didn't think that I would find the funding to complete it. But I kept believing that somehow it would all work out; and it did. Thank you Kurt Weichert.
Kurt, what were some of your responsibilities as an executive producer on the film?
Kurt: I came in late helped but I was able to help them secure financing so that they can finish the movie. Recently I also got film consultant Stacey Parks to help Sean with distribution.
Sean: What were some of the inspirations for the movie?
Sean: When I was writing Apollyon. I had seen two movies that lit a fire in me. The Chaser and I Saw The Devil. Both are Korean films about serial murderers. I wanted to create a world where all this evil exists. I wanted our protagonist to navigate through all the dangers, and I wanted the audience to know that no one was safe. I'm happy that I was able to get Chapter 1 completed. I'm ready to get started on Chapter 2.
Sean: What was your casting process like, and how did you work with actor Ty Trumbo to achieve your cinematic vision?
Sean: Well it's kind of a long story, but I'll give you the condensed version. In 2011, I had finished the script for Apollyon and I was so fed up with not having any money to shoot it. I was upset that I didn't go to film school and that I had no clue on how to get my movie off the ground. So I decided to use that negative energy that was festering inside me and do something about it. I decided that enough was enough. I bought a camera and computer and I shot a mock trailer for Apollyon. I used one of my best friends and my ex fiancé as actors, and I shot a bunch of footage with them. Since I didn't know how to edit back then, I used iMovie trailer package, which lets you take your footage and drop it in the order you want it and it creates a trailer with music. So I spent two months shaping that trailer and when it was ready, I submitted a casting call for Apollyon, knowing that I had no funding and attached the mock trailer so that everyone could see what I was aiming for. I had no idea that this was going to change my life. I submitted to Backstage, Craigslist and a few more places. I had over 500 people reach out to me! I told every one of them that I was still looking for funding, and I always got the same response, "But you submitted a casting call...". I know what you're thinking, but I was really desperate. I thought that I could find like-minded people who were tired of not getting a chance to do what they loved; that we could join forces and create our own art and show the world that we belong in this industry. Yeah, that didn't happen but in the process of casting I found three important people that would help me take Apollyon to another level. The first person was Jonathan Yaskoff, who believed in my craziness to get Apollyon made on a low budget. He's one of the reasons I'm having this interview with you. He helped start my career and for that I'll always be grateful. The second person I met was Michael Damon. He saw my mock trailer and felt that he could add something to Apollyon. I fought for many years to finally get him on board. I had other composers wanting to score Apollyon but I never wavered. I stuck with my gut, which told me that Michael was the only person who could do justice to my vision. Although this drove Jonathan crazy, once Michael was on board and he heard the final track he was beyond ecstatic. The third person was Luis Da Silva, who I met before I got funding from Jonathan. Luis played opposite Jodi Foster in The Brave One. He was the main villain. He reached out to me to play the part of Hayden Kroll and I told him the truth; that I didn't have funding. He asked me how much I spent on the mock trailer for Apollyon. I told him I spent no money on it. He didn't believe me. He asked me who did my camera work, lighting, etc. I told him that I didn't have a budget for any of those things because I couldn't afford it. I did it all myself, only shooting near light posts, utilizing car headlights and using my creativity to make the shots look legit. He was impressed and told me that I had a future in this industry, and that's all I needed to hear. His words cemented my confidence and that helped me whenever doubt would creep in. After we got the funding we started a real casting call and I was lucky to find the cast featured in Apollyon. I remember when Ty submitted his audition, I knew I found my Hayden Kroll. At first Ty didn't see my vision. He liked the mock trailer, which brought him on the project, but it wasn't until the second day of shooting that I made him a believer. After shooting the altar scene, we watched the playback and he got so excited. His excitement made me even more excited, and I could see that he was willing to trust me more after that. Ty brought his A-game and it shows.
What were some of the challenges you encountered during production, and which parts were you worried about but went surprisingly smoothly?
Sean: I think the making of Apollyon could be a movie on its own. We shot this guerrilla style, which means each day was a challenge and a mission. We got lucky so many times that I was sure that I had a guardian angel with me. I'll give you an example. I hope this doesn't get me in trouble. On day 19 we needed to shoot the motel scene and found a motel that would let us rent a room for the night for $600. When we arrived to the motel the owner suddenly decided that he would change it to $600 an hour, which we didn't have. As the crew was packing the gear back into the cars, I ran across the street to another motel and I asked if they had any rooms available, but of course they didn't. This also happened to be the week of Miami Ultra music festival so pretty much all motels/hotels were booked. I suddenly remembered that a friend of mine who worked at a motel told me that there are always some rooms that don't get rented due to not meeting certain conditions. So I asked the guy if they had any rooms that were under maintenance and I would take it. Surprisingly he did. He told me that the room was really shitty and he charged me 50 bucks. The motel scene came out great. We had a lot of crazy scenarios like this happen throughout our shoot, but we always made it work.
Sean, Apollyon is your directorial debut. What an amazing start! What do you wish you had known before approaching this project? Were there any valuable lessons you can share with our readers?
Sean: I never had the means or resources to go to film school. Apollyon WAS my film school. On the first day of shooting, I knew that if I could capture what I saw in my head, I would be ok. Although I did not know all of the ins and outs of how things worked, I was willing to learn. I spent several years shaping this project into its final product that you see here today. Everyone saw that I had a clear vision, and they helped me achieve it.
Kurt, you've worked on several features before, including Sportsfan Chronicles, Ghost Killers and the memorable Smothered by Mothers that won Festigious for Best Director, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Ensemble, Best Narrative Feature, Best Original Story..., See, we're not surprised at all that your next movie wins Best Picture! What are you up to nowadays? What can you tell us about Cocaine Congressman, the pilot you're developing?
Kurt: "Cocaine Congressman" is comedy I've been developing with my son. Log Line: Kevin McCoy's compaign for congress is what happens when a populist from Chicago with addiction issues runs for polictial office. The resulting misadventures are sometimes absurd, obscene, often funny, and equally horrifying. We also have a couple of famous actors that we hope to attach to my comedy "SportsFan Chronicles". We are planning on filming Cocaine Congressman in Chicago and Washington DC. Then we hope to film "SportsFan Chronicles" and "Sports and Riches" in Lincoln Park, Chicago area. SportsFan Chronicles is about a bunch of friends who win the lottery and try to buy a professional football team. But they can only buy a professional football team if they can persuade the other lottery ticket holder to combine his fortune with theirs. The catch? He happens to be their hated ex-boss.
Both: How do you like to spend your time in-between productions?
Sean: I love shooting cinematic music videos. I'm currently working with the very talented Yannique Barker aka YNIQ and his team on several music videos. YNIQ wrote and helped produced with Vinny Venditto, Ceelo Green's new record. "Brick Road". I also met Phil 'Success" Hardy on the Bad Boys For Life music video also written by YNIQ for the new Bad Boys 3 movie with Will Smith and Martin Lawerence. Phil introduced me to Ceelo Green and Ceelo came to my apartment for a screening of Apollyon. We are trying to work out a deal to have Ceelo come on as executive producer for the following chapters. Through YNIQ I was able to work with the very talented Satori and Hollywood J. If you haven't heard of them, you soon will. I'm so addicted to creating and researching future projects. That's alI do.
Kurt: When I am not filming I am writing. We have a little time before we start filming Ghost Killers. My assistant Keila and I decided to film our first documentary while we wait. So I got my comedian friends Carl Rimi and Stacey Steele to help. I also was able to get Emmy documentary winner John Scoular to film our first documentary. It's a really low budget documentary series but it's turning out very entertaining.
Both: Is there anything you wish to add?
Sean: I want to thank Jonathan Yaskoff and Kurt Weichert for helping me complete my vision. I also want to thank you for recognizing all of our hard work. From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Kurt: I really was happy I got to work with director Sean Rosa on "Apollyon". I think he has a promising career. I also want to thank you for recognizing "Apollyon" and Sean Rosa.