Royce Gorsuch, director of the new sci-fi film Mad Genius (7/3), explains how ‘directing epic action figure movies’ on a VHS camcorder as a kid led to a career making bonafide features.
TMS: When did your film career kick off, sir?
RG: I’d like to think it started when I was making epic action figure movies on my VHS camcorder as a kid… Hah, officially, professionally, I started as an assistant editor for director Yarrow Kraner while I was in college, circa 2007.
The project that got me started as a commercial director was my short Wounded Warriors documentary in 2009 that won an award from the Annenberg Foundation.
TMS: When did the journey on Mad Genius begin?
RG: The idea for Mad Genius was inspired from a series of articles and books I had been reading around 2012, concerning the real-life efforts of scientists to digitally map the human brain…
I’ve always had a fixation with the power of technology and it’s implications on the human condition. The main trait separating humankind from the animal kingdom is our ability to create tools. And in a very short time span, since the dawn of the computer, our tools have become exponentially powerful, and soon, self-enhancing, and self-evolving.
As I read the articles, I immediately started thinking, “What if you could rewrite the human brain like computer code, and fix all of the human problems happening around the world…” Then, being a storyteller, I thought… “What if that power was in the hands of a mad man?”
My goal with the film was to make an entertaining commentary on “playing god,” and the moral dilemmas of being a creator of any kind.
TMS: It’s a film that’s hard to label as a straight-up genre film- and that might be because it’s grounded in realistic performances and a structure that isn’t over-the-top. Was it important to you that the film be realistic?
RG: Well, it’s funny you touch on that. The actors’ realistic performances blew me away. Initially, I envisioned the characters as sort of psychological archetypes, but in almost like a caricature fashion. Ultimately, I wanted Mad Genius to be like a secret graphic novel, hidden on the shelves of the comic book store that aims to unlock the viewer’s imagination, thrill them, entertain them, and possibly open their mind to new and interesting concepts that get them to think about the world in a different way.
TMS: And I suppose it takes good performers to also evoke that sense of realism? How important were those main roles?
RG: I had a directing teacher once say, “Directing is 80% casting.” It’s so true. Ultimately, who the actor is, what they bring, what they do, is 100% of them. As a director, you can guide, pinch (metaphorically), persuade, but ultimately they are the person on screen, and they have to believe in what they are doing. Every actor in the film blew me away and I was privileged to have them.
TMS: Was there anyone in the cast that truly surprised you?
RG: I can say I was certainly surprised by the level of talent we got. Everyone of the actors. As you may know, the film’s budget was classified as SAG ULB, which means Ultra Low Budget. So these folks were getting paid far below their usual quote. I asked our amazing casting director Tineka Becker, “How are we getting such great actors?” She said, “It’s because of the script. They are usually auditioning for a medical or cop show. This is something so cool and unique.”
TMS: Tell us about working with visual effects. Was this new terrain?
RG: I had been working as a commercial director for several years prior to Mad Genius, so I was versed in the possibilities and techniques of visual effects. I made sure to bring that knowledge to the film, but also relied heavily on our VFX supervisor. We tried to make the VFX shots as cost effective as possible. We did learn some lessons, and could have done a few bits better next time. In the end, it comes down to discussions with your VFX team as to what is possible, and how they want it shot VS. budget and creative constraints.
TMS: What’s next for you?
RG: I have a new TV script that we are about to be shopping. Similar genre elements as Mad Genius. Very exciting.
Thanks for the interview Movie Sleuth! – Royce For more Mad Genius movie details and upcoming informational essays by the filmmakers check out: www.madgeniusmovie.com and http://madgeniusblog.com/.