Writer/Director Reed Shusterman
Writer/Director Reed Shusterman’s award-winning short fantasy film, Goblin Queen, has recently toured the festival circuit with rave reviews and is available free on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/210151270. The film features Winona, an overbearing mother, struggling to parent her daughter, Amber Lynn, a.k.a the Goblin Queen, who keeps disappearing to rule a magical land. A knight arrives in Winona’s home to beg Amber Lynn to return to the magical land, but a dangerous goblin appears and kills the knight. Amber Lynn leaps into action as the queen that she rightfully is and Winona must confront the reality of who her daughter has become. In Reed’s own words, “Goblin Queen is sort of Narnia from the mother’s perspective.” With a feature-length screenplay for Goblin Queen ready to shoot, Reed is currently seeking financing to capitalize on the success of the short and continue the adventure. Goblin Queen is the first film in what will assuredly be a long career of noteworthy work for the young filmmaker. In a recent interview, Reed goes in-depth into his process and perspective as writer and director, as well as, his overall opinion of how fantasy and genre-oriented films can both be popcorn entertainment and have the caliber of character and story of an Oscar-worthy film.
We’re not blanketing Hollywood with billboards or anything, but we’re just hoping to get it out online. We made the movie for people to see it. I like entertaining people. The point of this is to get as many people as possible to see it. I hope that enough people will watch it so we can go and make a feature length version of it. We have a script and a business plan ready to go. The big thing missing now is money. Please let me know if you or anyone else knows someone that has half-a-million dollars lying around that’s dying to spend it on a fantasy movie.
Are you confident that half a million is going to be enough considering the scope of the idea?
I think so. I designed the script to be low budget. Like the short, the feature takes place all in the house. It’s a fantasy action movie, but it really follows the mold of the trapped-in-the-house horror movie a lot more as far as structure and keeping things contained. I see many low budget films that try to compete directly with Lord of the Rings where they have crappy CGI and fights that are supposed to have a thousand people, but are clearly the same three guys in the background every single time. That’s not what we want to do. We want to make something that looks and feels real. It has a smaller scope, but can really stand with the giants of fantasy cinema.
That harkens back to an old school Hollywood idea where you show more on the screen while alluding to more action off the screen therefore allowing the audience to use their imagination.
Exactly. Particularly with this film where all the stuff that happens off screen in the fantasy world still sort of has the regular elements; there’s a chosen one, battles, etc. It’s stuff that anybody that likes fantasy will know intimately. To me, that’s not really something I have an interesting take on, but I always wondered how these kids in the novels that I always read would go and rule a world and then come back to planet earth. How can you possibly live your life after being a king or a queen and then go back to high school? That’s what the feature is about and that’s what the short is about.
It sounds character driven within the concepts of fantasy whilst maintaining a real-world frame. How do you keep that energy and focus on the characters without bogging it down by narrative? What was the challenge?
The challenge was to ask myself how do I tell this whole story off screen, but still get it across to the audience. I think the key is to trust that the audience can imagine most of the story by just giving them enough hints that they can connect the dots with whatever grand adventure that they want. Also, it’s important that we don’t use rest of the time talking about that. We must focus on the characters, how it feels, what it means, and what would these people do if Lord of the Rings came into their living rom.
What was your influence to write it with the mother/daughter character dynamic?
Many of the fantasy books that I read growing up always have some teenage boy at the center. Most of the fantasy movies; Lord of the Rings, Warcraft, The Hobbit, and Harry Potter revolve around a boy. As a guy, I like that. However, as someone that really wants to make a movie that stands out, I think that I always wanted it to be a mother/daughter dynamic. The sort of traditional dude method would be to just go in, blow everything up, and swing your sword as fast as possible. We don’t have money to do something like that. Beyond it being a practical thing, I really wanted to make something unique. The characters lend themselves to being smarter, more thoughtful, and really deepen how they feel in the moment as opposed to think about it much later, which as a dude is sort of my tendency.
Was it in the moment while writing the script that you felt the inspiration or was it something that you took more time to research before deciding how all the characters behaved?
Trial and error. I spend two years writing the 15-page short. It went through so many variations. The first variation was a father and son. It just didn’t work. As I developed, the thing that I kept coming back to is a daughter leaving a mother who is just trying to be a parent and relate to her daughter. She just has no idea what kind of world that her kid is living in. As the script developed, I had to figure out what’s funny, different, and/or interesting. How do I hint at this larger story without spending any money on it? Then the script came together. We spent two years before we had actors come on board and it changed a hundred times. Then we spent another three months before production with the actors where it probably changed another hundred times. Once you have people bringing words to life, it totally changes everything. You can see where the humor, humanity, and emotions reside for the audience to feel something. I think many fantasy short films are about the story rather than the character and the feeling. That’s something that I really wanted to avoid. I didn’t have money for the big story, sword fight, or battle.
With a background as a professional script reader, you had a choice in the writing. You have seen a variety of different themes and methods from so many writers that that probably allowed you to understand what message you were most trying to convey and how to convey it. You could have easily gone a cynical route, but it feels like you use the love-conquers-all message.
I like movies that challenge, make you think, and really make you feel something other than triumph and happiness, but at the end of the day, I really don’t like living in that too much. I really wanted to make something that would be fun and exciting. When it ends, you’re having a better day for watching it. I don’t want to make something that depresses you for three months afterwards. Those movies are great and I respect people who do that. It’s not something that I can do. I think most of the time people want something that’s going to entertain them. You don’t want it to be all bubblegum, but there’s nothing wrong with some candy every now and then as long as you brush your teeth afterwards.
What are the kinds of movies that you want to make starting with Goblin Queen?
Lord of the Rings is the quintessential fantasy movie for me and I don’t know any other version of that story that isn’t a copycat. So much fantasy is derivative of Lord of the Rings. I want to make something with big creatures, magic, and battles, but not derivative of Lord of the Rings.
Oh yeah, because nothing is derivative of Lord of the Rings such as Game of Thrones, Narnia, The Magicians. There is never anything like the Lord of the Rings, right?
(Hahaha) Never anything, of course, no one ever has had any ideas similar to that.
Beyond fantasy, do have any interests into writing for other genres? Not to pigeon hole you into one. Even though the idea of generalizing something into a single genre is cliché, Goblin Queen feels like it goes beyond fantasy into elements of other story genres like romantic comedy or family adventure.
I think that just doing a big fantasy movie right down the middle demands that it be operatic and melodramatic in a way that I feel is relevant to many audiences today. I think that the stuff that people really like is where there’s a high concept or big story that you’re telling, but you focus on the people and the feelings. With Goblin Queen, it really focuses more on the mother parenting than the daughter going back and forth. Both the short and the feature do that. It’s the same fantasy story that’s been told of the other world and traveling back and forth, but no one’s ever told the story of the mother in that. Therefore, I think that’s the key of whether you’re doing this or a time travel movie or anything like that. It’s finding a new story to tell that’s similar to, but different than the story that people already know and love. I’m not going to make something that’s balls-to-the-wall original. There’s space for that kind of movie and that’s wonderful, but I want to direct big movies, appeal to the whole family, and get them out on a Friday night. I think the key to that is telling simple stories in relatable ways that have not been told quite that way before.
When I was a kid, I used to watch cartoons and see a character dig a hole and there’d be a dirt mound next to the hole. They’d move on, then come back to the hole, and suddenly the dirt mound is gone. I was always asking what happened to the dirt mound. Everyone would say pay attention to Tom and Jerry, but I wanted to know what happened to that dirt mound and the nuance.
That kind of detail is what separates the functional stuff that people know. Not that Tom and Jerry is only functional. I could only wish to be so good at physical comedy, but that’s the kind of thing that takes it from functional to detailed and unique. Somebody digs a hole and there’s a mound and then the dirt’s gone and figuring out why that dirt left is something nobody cares about in the original version of that story. It’s not important, but there’s always people like that who see that and ask that question. I think that answering those kinds of questions is an interesting way to find new takes on story. That’s what the mother’s perspective of this other world does.
You could use that metaphor in so many ways, whether it is a business opportunity, drug addiction, or something in reality where people separate from relationships to leave someone behind. In this perspective, it is the daughter going to another land and her mother, house, and life are still there waiting for her. When she comes back and faces all that stuff, an audience member really stays in connection with the mother.
Exactly. It’s such a great metaphor for a teenager’s relationship with their parents. The parents just don’t understand as Will Smith said. Kids are in their own world. They’re seeing things totally different, experiencing things that their parents can try and relate to, but as much as you try, you can’t really understand it. This is the most extreme version of that and that’s why we’re able to make it relatable. It’s a feeling that everyone has had in a situation that is unique to them.
That is fascinating. So many parents probably want to keep their children in that innocent state of wonder, fantasy, and play pretend, but then they become teenagers and want barely anything to do with their parents. However, in your story, not only does the daughter stay in the world of pretend, but also she becomes the queen of that world.
I certainly spent much of my life wishing that I could become a king in a magical land. I think that anybody who has ever read any of those books has had that idea.
It’s no wonder why so many people go on from whatever their childhood fantasy is whether it be comic books or fantasy into careers in those fields. Did you have that experience at the festivals where the audiences and critics related to that aspect of it?
It was interesting and depended on the festival. Most of the ones we made it into were genre based. Some of them were sci-fi and fantasy. Some were just fantasy, but the audiences who would react to the other world and jokes about fantasy stuff are the ones that you really only get when you’ve grown up reading fantasy books and watching fantasy things all the time. We were in a couple festivals, particularly the Catalina festival, that was a general film festival and our movie screened with a bunch of different films. One was just a straightforward teen drama about drug addiction and there were films like that, but the audience there reacted to Goblin Queen’s character story much stronger there. I thought that was very interesting. That audience didn’t really think about magic and the rules the way that I do. I could go on for hours on the rules in this magical world that you never see. These people were just not into it like that. They focused on the character stuff and the relationships with the broader audience. From seeing the way that they reacted to it, I have hope that the feature will still be a nerdy fantasy thing, but there will also be a bigger audience than just the people who obsess over fantasy.
It must be simultaneously frustrating and relieving that no one really considers films like this very often as Oscar contenders per se when they are fantasy or sci-fi based. However, that also seems like a challenge to those genre filmmakers to make films that they are passionate about and be award-worthy.
On that point, I’m really curious if Logan gets any award nominations. It was such an arty movie with genre stuff like mutants, but it was very much not about that. It was so much about the characters, their experience, and their feelings. I am so happy that that movie is doing so well. That’s the kind of thing that’s really going to push genre films out of the popcorn bubblegum exclusive land where you can make a popcorn movie, but it can also have a deeper level. You can make a sci-fi or fantasy film that’s really about the character and a deeper idea. It’d be great to see these films get the recognition that they deserve. I’d love to win an Oscar someday, but I’d much rather have a million people see my movie than however many people saw Moonlight. I’m sure it was a great movie, but that doesn’t get the kind of audience that the bigger movies have.
If you think about it La La Land is definitely a fantasy film and it probably got a much larger audience.
Yep, it’s always hard to get people to watch something intellectual, poignant, and depressing. I think those films are so important that they are made and recognized. AMC does this Oscar thing where they show all the Oscar nominees and I thought about going, but I looked at the schedule and thought about spending twelve hours of my life just being depressed after depressed after depressed from all these people’s terrible problems. I don’t know, it just didn’t seem worth it.
That’s ironic. There’s definitely a degree of true creative passion and intellectual design for films that aren’t even considered when it comes to the Oscars. I thought Deadpool was very well written despite the action and the comic book tongue-in-cheek style. It still should have gotten some recognition.
If nothing else, it should’ve been nominated for a writing award. The way that they told that story and used that character’s quirks to tell a complete, emotional story was rather incredible.
A film like Manchester by the Sea is so far from Deadpool, but also driven by a character with underlying darker issues. They are comparable in their own respects, but the latter film is not given the time of day because it’s not considered high brow.
Maybe someday people will get over that. The big awards will always go out to the ones that for the people who give them out feel smarter and more important than giving it to something like Deadpool. However, Return of the King was so good after two other movies that were amazing that somebody finally had to pay attention.
What was it like, in fact, to have your actors nominated for awards at a couple of the festivals?
Winona, our lead, was nominated at a festival in Britain and Amy, the daughter, was nominated as a supporting actor at a festival in Utah. They did so much work and carry the whole story on their shoulders through their acting. It was very nice that they were able to get that recognition. They did a lot of hard work carrying that. They played these emotional scenes in what objectively is a silly situation and commit, believe, and really sell it to the audience.
Did you have more faith in your writing or your directing?
I’ve been writing for longer than I’ve been directing. I know what I can do as a writer. I’ve been directing on and off for awhile. This was my first big thing where I didn’t have time to re-shoot anything. It wasn’t just me and a couple of friends screwing around. The best thing that I did as far as directing was the casting. 90% of the work the actors did once they were on set. I didn’t really have to build them up. It was really just steering them toward my goal and they were doing it on their own quite well, particularly Stacey Mosley who plays Winona. She’s in almost every scene and brought it every time. I wish I could be more articulate as to why she was so awesome, but she just kept surprising me and doing things in new ways. It was very subtle and brought the words to life in a way that I’d never have imagined.
As a professional script reader, were you able to develop ideas or get advice from the people that you were working with before you started this project?
Not so much. The reading I do is mostly TV specs for NBC. The bosses I have are usually very busy. I’ve probably read about 2,000 scripts since I began doing it over the last five or six years. From just reading that many scripts, you know instantly on the first page whether this is going to be good or this going to have problems. I’ve never read a script and thought that this is going to have problems and then have it turn out to be an amazing script. However, I have had scripts that start out great and then sort of fall off. Reading that many scripts, you know what works and what doesn’t. You see the patterns that either draw you in or turn you off. That was very instructive.
Can you define problems?
It’s how you put the words on the page that’s interesting and clever and makes your eye want to keep going down the page. Writing is a very artistic thing, but on a practical level, you want to make it easy for someone to keep reading. You want to make it as easy and as fun as possible. That’s something that I’ve always been good at. When I’m reading scripts, I have to write a summary of it afterwards. Whether it’s good or not, I have to read the whole script. If it’s bad, my mind will start wandering off and then I’ll have to go back and remind myself that I was here and this is what’s happening. Then just on a technical level, I have to figure out where I stopped paying attention and why.
Budgetary didn’t come into your focus at all?
Not in the course of reading. I wrote a script that I knew what would be expensive and what wouldn’t. Action would be expensive, but two people talking to each other would not be expensive. I tried to keep as much talking and as little action as I could while still being honest to the story and keep it interesting. I also spent two years as director of submissions at a short film festival and probably watched nearly 1,000 films, but not in their entirety. Many of those will have people with big ideas but you’ll just have people talking. I get it. It’s hard to raise money and do things right. To a certain degree, it’s better to make something that you can film than something that’s going to look bad on film. The whole conceit to Goblin Queen was to make the Lord of the Rings story that I wanted to tell in an affordable way. That’s why it takes place in the living room as opposed to Middle Earth. I think we found a balance. It’s grounded, but there’s enough of this other stuff that you’re able to imagine the story.
It took many years to get this idea down. What was the impetus that finally got you just to do it?
It got to the point in my life to shit or get off the pot. I’d been talking about it for awhile. I hadn’t been writing too much. I got married, bought a house, and I didn’t really have too much else going on. If I didn’t do it then, I didn’t have any right to say I was going to do it later. I was able to find the money to do it and find Cindi Rice who is just an amazing producer. She really made the short happen in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do without her.
Where did you go to find the money for the film?
Mostly family. I blew most of my college fund.
What would you suggest to other filmmakers who want to start and how do they keep going?
I was lucky that finding money wasn’t a problem and that could be tough for many filmmakers. I think you just have to find out what you can afford, whether that $1,000 or $100,000. Anybody can scrape together a couple bucks and a camera if you want to make movies. You’ve got to make sure that the script is right or you’re just going to waste time and money. You have to make sure that the people working for you believe in the story and are willing to put in extra time. Something that was so great making this film was that the whole cast and crew really gave it their all. They put in the extra work and made Goblin Queen as polished and professional as possible. The smartest thing after hiring Cindi Rice (my producer) was letting her hire other people who were all more experienced and talented than I was at the time. That’s really why I think it turned it out so well. I found people that I trusted who made it better than I could have with good and clever ideas to fix problems.
What was the process itself to go into production? Were there any problems or surprises?
We only had four days to shoot it including a big sword fight that destroyed the house. Therefore, we had to do everything else first. Then because of how expensive it is to have a goblin in full makeup on set, we only had one day to do the sword fight. It was a challenge to get all that action in a reasonable time. By the end of the day, most people were on set for 22 hours. I felt weird asking people to do that, but everyone was committed and I’m really grateful for that. Everyone was able to fight through how tired and sore they were at the end of that long day. You learn a lot about what you can do at the end of a 22-hour day and I’m really proud of what we got.
As far as fantasy genre films go, the goblin itself really stands out in your film.
That was the only thing that we had really. We had a knight too in some armor, but the goblin was the only thing that was otherworldly. Despite trying to do everything inexpensively, we had to make the goblin look amazing. We had Michael Dinetz who is an incredible make-up artist. With very little money, he spent so much time making this creature. It was really his creation. He made sure that it just didn’t look like a Star Trek-alien mask where the face doesn’t move and there’s no expression in the creature’s face. He really made sure that you could see that the creature felt real, believable, and scary. We got compliments at every festival that the goblin looks great. It was truly an amazing creation.
As the director, did you feel that people were open to your ideas?
Yeah, I think that people were. I just had to be confident to know when I was right and to know when other people were right. If somebody comes up with an idea that’s a better idea, then I go with it. Firstly, that makes your film better, but also I think that’s why I was able to get people to work so hard for it and put in that extra effort. Everybody knew that their contributions were being listened to and becoming a part of the film. It’s not about me coming up with the best idea, but everyone coming together to make the best film possible. If you hire nice, smart people, and respect their input, it’ll work. People don’t get in this business because it pays really well, especially on an indie level. People do it because they like it. If you respect people and listen to them, you’ll get what you want from them.
Did you anticipate the challenge going in to this process?
God, no, I didn’t, absolutely not. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I don’t know if I would’ve ever done it. I knew it would be hard, but there’s a difference between the general ‘this is going to be difficult’ feeling versus actually doing it and you have 500 things going on and you don’t have enough time or money. You only have one more day to finish, but get all this stuff crammed into 8 hours when you really need 16. It’s crazy and hard, but I loved it. I want to do it again. It’s a drug. It really is.
It takes a certain kind of person to go through that experience and realize that that’s what they want to do. You sound committed to directing and writing.
I like storytelling. Writing is so solitary and some degree of problem solving, but it’s so lonely and you don’t get to get your hands dirty. It’s fun to be on set and see swords swinging around, break things, and have big lights. It’s a puzzle. I like puzzles and it’s a storytelling puzzle.
Directing goes so much beyond just directing the actors.
The acting is probably 10% or less for a director, but really it’s about hiring people who are good at their specific job and then be able to give your opinion and manage them, as well as, look at the overall picture. To be a good director, you need that bird’s eye view of the situation.
How did you cope to maintain your vision?
Part of it is that I was living it in my head for two years. I had the script and story so deeply engrained in my head that whenever there was a question, I could pull out an answer for it. In addition, I had my wife on set and she took care of me, making sure I stayed hydrated and ate lunch. It’s important just to make sure that you’re as prepared as you can be and trust your gut. Making the wrong decision is better than not making a decision.
What were you looking for in a take when you finally felt satisfied to move on?
It’s really just a gut feeling. You have to be able to look at it and know if that’s going to work or not. You have to know what you have, what you’re going to have later, and what you need to get the story together. In addition, it’s important to be able to shift what the story is going to be as you put the pieces together in your head. It’s never going to be like you saw it in your head. It’s important to be able to go with the flow.
How was it working with your director of photography?
John Gardiner was our DP and he really did such a great job interpreting my inarticulate descriptions of shots and making them real and beautiful. The lighting was also done so well. They made the shots work in a way that helped our schedule to stay on time. So many DPs are artists of light and camera, which is great, but when you’re on an indie budget it’s not always practical. I could only dream when I have a whole week to film a fight with a fully made up goblin.
How was it in the editing room? Did you feel torn as a writer, director, and editor in that space?
Someone once told me that your movie never looks as good as the dailies and never looks as bad as the rough cut. I’m so glad someone told me that because when we got the first rough cut, it was just a mess. It was exactly what I had written word for word, beat for beat, what I had on the page, and it was terrible. It didn’t work at all. It was boring, slow, not funny, or exciting, and you didn’t care about the characters. It was really a question of almost re-writing the story entirely at that point. I had to find the pieces of the movie we had that worked and build everything else up around it. We had to make sure that the result with the characters is something that made sense. The actors did so much on their own and brought their own feel to it. Therefore, of course, it’s not going to be what I wrote on the page. I didn’t write the actors on the page. Having that whole perspective changes the dynamic and the rhythm. I might’ve written that somebody glares at another character because when you’re reading the script you need to know what the characters are doing, but on the set, the actors would do something different. That’s great and what you want, but working with those changes felt really minute in the moment. It really changed the feeling of the scenes in the moment. Working with those changes in the editing bay was a challenge, but our editor did a great job of interpreting the script and finding what we had and didn’t have. He wrote the movie almost as much as I did in the end.
It must have been interesting to be self-reflective for your own original script to have to go that far and determine what to cut or keep.
It’s difficult. We had to cut a whole section of the fight. It looked good, but it didn’t accomplish anything. It just slowed down the story. There was a lot of shouting, breaking, and clanging, which is cool, but it didn’t serve the story. I spent money and a couple of hours of time on that. I knew how much had gone into it. It was difficult and interesting to cut that stuff, but really doing it to serve the story. It was definitely a learning experience.
That goes back to your original idea of having it be less about the bubblegum candy and more about the heart of the characters.
Exactly. I was so glad that I had Cindi and our editor, Matt, in the room with me making sure that I didn’t just keep things because I thought that they were cool. We all like that in movies. However, in a short when every second counts so much, you can’t waste any time. In a feature, you can get away with having things just for the sake of having them. Having to cut that kind of stuff and really focusing on the characters was important to do and I’m glad that we were able to do it.
Do you feel that you were fighting the fanboy in you?
So much! The fanboy in me just wants explosions, creatures, and fights, but then there’s the director in me that realizes without the character and the story that no one actually cares about that.
How many cuts were made before you were satisfied? What was it that made it satisfactory for you?
I think we had four or five cuts. The big change was between the first and second cut. The first came in at 16 minutes, but the second came in at about 12 minutes. By just cutting all the empty space and fluff is where I really can see the structure and the bones for the finished film.
When you finally saw the finished film, was it because you ran out of money and time or was it because that was when you felt absolutely satisfied? On the other hand, is it always going to be a work in progress?
I think we got to the limit of what we could get with the shots. There were a couple of places where we were polishing that we needed a single shot of Winona, the mother, and we just didn’t have it. We had to go on and find a shot with her and another character and paint out the character in post. Once we got to that point where we were dealing with minute details and having to fake things that we didn’t have, we hit a point of diminishing returns and there’s only so much we could do with it. We were 99% of the way there. I don’t think that anything I ever make will get 100% of the way there. I don’t know him personally, but I bet Steven Spielberg watches movies he’s made and wishes there was something that he could’ve done differently. As a creative person, I think there is a danger of getting too critical of yourself. It’s good to see where you can improve, but I just try to grade myself on a scale of does this suck or not. The short does not suck and I’m really happy about that.
What did you feel that you learned overall from beginning to end of the cut?
I learned about shooting action and that I need more time than I had. I learned about so many practical, little things. In writing the feature after finishing the short, I was able to hear and see it in my head better than I had before. I was able to skip some of the steps in the development of the feature script. I knew that this was going to have to change or this is how I’m going to have to write it to make it practical to shoot. I think that was a big thing. You can write so much on the page that reads well as part of a complete screenplay, but it doesn’t work on set. As the edit came together, I know how I can frame myself better for the next time that I go in.
What compelled you to go into the festivals instead of straight into raising funds for the feature and using the short as a proof of concept?
Partly because the feature script wasn’t ready and I didn’t want to put that out into the world fully without being ready to strike while the iron was hot. It was partly a delay tactic. The feature script took another year after the short was finished. It was a difficult battle to get the story into 90 minutes without feeling as if you’re cheating the audience. Also, I like festivals. It’s nice to be able to see it with audiences, travel around, and see people’s response after all the work that I’d put into it. I hope to see it with friends or family in the area, but to see it with new people who don’t know me and can appreciate it on its own merits is the payoff. For all the hard work, to have a stranger come up afterwards and say that they really like it or they liked the goblin, swordfight, or made them cry a little bit just feels good. When I was 13, I read a story in class. It was dumb, but everybody laughed. Since that day, I’ve been trying to recapture that feeling where I’m standing up in front of people and they were laughing at me in a good way as opposed to how they usually laughed at me.
Do you think that the younger fantasy fanboy Reed would enjoy Goblin Queen?
Totally. I used to play Dungeons and Dragons with my friends in middle school and high school and I know I would’ve been obsessing about it and hoping for more.
How did your parents respond?
They’re very happy with it. They spent a lot of time believing in me when there wasn’t much to believe in. It’s nice for them to have something to show people. ‘See look, he did something.’
Do you feel that you have it in you to be a producer to move forward with your projects or other people’s projects to get your goals as a writer and director? How do you feel about the producer role itself? It sounds like you had to do a lot of that work as well.
Cindi helped a lot with that. I think that she’d argue that I’m more of an executive producer more so than an in-the-trenches producer, which is probably right. It’s difficult. Fundraising is probably the hardest part of making movies just short of actually making the movie. Getting anyone to give up their money is hard. Goblin Queen is a great piece that shows what we can do with a limited amount of money. It shows that we have an idea that’s commercial. Enough people want to make movies that are financially prudent as much as any movie can be financially prudent. I have some places that we can go for money. There are gap financing and foreign sales. I think the biggest hurdle is that first block of money.
How important is it what other people think of your work versus what you think of your work?
The right answer is as long as I’m happy with it then it’s fine, but I want to have a career and in Hollywood you don’t have a career without making stuff that other people like. It’s not good to measure your self-worth on that, but it’s important to me to make stuff that people are excited about seeing. It’s so hard to make a movie with so much time, money, blood, sweat, and tears that I don’t see the point in doing it without trying to entertain as many people as possible.
How grateful are you to your wife’s support? What was her response to the film?
She is the reason that this happened. She’s been very supportive without being judgmental about the fact that I hadn’t done it yet. She’s been very excited about helping it. She’s as much of a nerd as I am if not more. She’s prettier than I am, but she’s a bigger nerd. She’s been so encouraging. She broke her foot about six days before the shoot and still she came to set every day, took care of me, and was part of the team that made it happen in a way that only probably Cindi helped it to that degree. She loves the film more than I do. I see all the things that I would do differently and she just likes it. She likes showing it off to her friends. If I had made a family drama that didn’t have any magic or fantasy in it then she’d be happy for me, but she wouldn’t be excited about it. I think she likes the magic, the goblin, and the sword fights.
Many directors move forward in their careers and keep much of the same crew and people that they started with involved in their future projects. Do you find yourself to be more of a ladder climber that’ll take whatever is given to him or do you find yourself to be more of a family-oriented type that will bring the people that came along with you into your career?
Pretty much everyone but the boom op, I think I’ll take with me. I very much believe in working again with the people that I’ve worked with before. I’ve worked with them once. Therefore, I know that they understand the way that I think and I know that I can work with them. One thing I was so happy with the crew was that there were no egos on set. Nobody was angry or yelling or thinking that they were more important than anyone else was. I think the reason that the film turned out so well is partly just because everyone was good people on the set. I think that having those people that you trust and are talented and getting to work with them repeatedly is how you really get better. It’s practice and teamwork. Just like a band or a sports team practices together, the more you work with them the better you get. You get shorthand with them and develop a rhythm.
It sounds like everybody did a great job.
Everyone was doing such a good job, with one exception that I won’t name, but you work with what you have. Even when there are problems, everybody not part of the issue was able to rally around that and come together to overcome any issues that were created. It didn’t fracture the set. It really brought everybody together.
You said there were no egos. Did you meet Michael Dinetz?
(hahahaha) He was great. He was on set longer than anyone else was. He had to get there early to put the makeup on and stay late to take the makeup off. Mike kept me laughing the whole way. He and I look weirdly alike. My favorite picture from set is one of the goblin looking at the camera while he and I did a Wonder Twins high five over the goblin.
Why did you go with a goblin and not a troll, orc, elf, or reaver?
Orc was too derivative of Lord of the Rings. The goblin we ended up with is really more orc-ish than traditional goblin. It was just what we can do that was more affordable. When I think troll, I think something that is done with special effects or an eight-foot tall guy in a special costume. I wanted to do something recognizable, but not expensive or in a way that everybody else does it. For example, elves, every fantasy movie seems to have elves. However, having it be a dark elf just doesn’t work. There’s no way to make a dark elf with makeup in a way that hasn’t already been done before. With the goblin and changing it from the traditional small, lithe, limber thing into this more muscular person, I think that we were able to make something unique.
Reed Shusterman truly understands how to make a heartfelt character driven piece of art with the energy of an epic fantasy landscape just breathing and beckoning for its reveal inches off-screen.
Check out Goblin Queen
on Vimeo today at https://vimeo.com/210151270 and please follow up with Reed if there is any financial interest in seeing this magnificent film brought to feature length in the near future.