How much do our backgrounds influence who we are and what we do? Whilst few of us are lucky enough to realise our childhood dreams, a personal youthful desire to be a marine biologist was rudely shaken from me upon my realisation that my brain doesn’t work well towards maths and science. The trajectory our lives can take is often a direct result of what we have done, combine that with a dream and the know how to, and a perfect fire of creativity is born. London Rocks Festival has the privilege of showcasing Cory DeMeyers, a man with a career many will be enviable of as an award-winning stuntman, a professional athlete, a producer for various sports-based content and co-direction of a documentary ‘From Here To There’. He has worked for directors revered by most of us and we are proud to introduce his first narrative short ‘DANNY BOY’.
A Los Angeles based heist film with dark and enticing visuals, jarring dialogue and a delightful unexpected turn.
S.S: Where did the inspiration stem from for this hard-hitting first narrative short?
C.D: The thing that set it all off for us was the fact that both myself and writer Sammy Horowitz are stuntmen. We had been looking for a creative project to do together to showcase other skills we possess outside the department that we have been working in for years. Sammy had started writing a lot and wanted to shoot one of the concepts and I had been shooting action sports as well as an action previs on features for the stunt department, but I wanted to challenge myself with dialogue and working with actors in non action oriented scenes, the story then flowed from there.
We wanted a simple setting to highlight the dialogue and relationship of our characters. I wanted something that felt real raw, the shit two guys in this world might talk about on their way to a heist, and for the pacing and style we both thought it should emulate the royale with cheese conversation from ‘Pulp Fiction’ but also be its own thing. I think we achieved that and as we continued the plot thickened, surprising twists were developed and both characters became very unique individuals.
The shoot itself came together in what was 48 or 72 hours. I called a DP & Camera Op I have been friends with and worked with for years, they were both down to come out and play. One of them had a route that would look great and we could drive relatively unbothered, we had no permits and some lights and other camera gear we could use. I decided to use my old stunt cop car that I had given to Actor Jett Jansen Fernandez, who plays Danny. We felt that was a fun look, the criminals were driving an old detective car as cover, then we brought on Brian Perez for sound who I had done a few events and promos with. We got the cast together in an AirBnB I was renting in LA along with Associate Producer Sari Sanchez, who by the way is a killer actress herself. We rehearsed one night for a few hours until the actors were off book and had breathed their own life into the characters, then I ran around for a few hours before the shoot and bought the last few props and wardrobe items we needed and we were as ready as we were going to be!
S.S: You have shot various sports related films and obviously with your incredible background, what were the challenges moving into narrative form?
C.D: Because of my position in the parkour and freerunning world I had shot several cinematic sports videos that then lead into shooting mountain biking & pro wrestling. Being a movement artist and having an interest in filmmaking meant I had an intuition that was fine tuned for understanding movement, so we could dance with the camera and counter the action to make things fun and exciting. Rarely did we shoot dialogue on its own, if we did it was in the moment because it was a docu-style piece or it was a simple sit down interview with 1 or 2 camera coverage so this is where I really struggled with the directing of ‘Danny Boy’ as I have grown accustomed to having very dynamic camera movement in my sports pieces.
Thankfully with this short the two went hand in hand and we kept the coverage very simple and mostly static locked off over the hood in a wide two shot or single, we didn’t need trick shots to keep things interesting as the dialogue is enough to draw you in but we did make sure that the edit matched the pacing of the story so you were never bored sitting in one shot to long.
Keeping it simple with our camera angles helped dramatically because it gave more attention to the movement in camera. For example, in the car, the camera does a slow push in immediately after the jarring twist occurs, this now has emphasis and meaning.
S.S: How much influence have the numerous big names you have worked for had on you?
C.D: I think they have all influenced me in one way or another, whether it is how they select shots, the styles in which they work and collaborate with the actors on their team or even the little tricks they use while trying to command their sets and keep things moving. When I have these opportunities to be on set with the masters, I usually find a place out of the way so as to not interfere and sit back quietly observing. I think in this way you can see the big picture and analyze the work being done. There is always something to learn, sometimes it is what to do, other times it is what you may not want to do when it is your turn in that position, but either way I consider it a win if at the end of day I have learned something I didn’t know when I showed up that morning.
S.S: I love your dialogue, I’m currently re-watching the Sopranos (I won’t tell you how many times i’ve seen it all) and I felt those motifs within your characters and their chat. Talk me through the line you drew between what you had originally scripted and the actors breathing their own lives into the characters.
C.D: It’s funny you mention the Sopranos because that is one of Sammy Horowitz’ favorite shows. I’m sure there was a bit of influence there, but also I know Sam draws from the people he’s come into contact with over the years which keeps the characters a little more grounded. I trust Sammy and his writing so much, therefore I never really wanted to change too much, as the words that are written have meaning and there is a reason they are on the page. That being said, during rehearsal I noticed two things. Firstly, Danny’s character needed a secret, he needed to also be hiding something from Francis as Francis was hiding something rather large from him. This led us to explore the idea of Danny not only being a defender of the people and modern ideals, but also carrying the burden of hiding the fact that he doesn’t live a lifestyle that his partner in crime would approve of. That’s the beauty of having a team that you trust, things move a little faster. Secondly, there was a line at the end of the film, a call back to the earlier about the donut. Once we watched the actors perform in rehearsal I felt that the line had to go, but Sam felt that it would stay. He felt it was a strong punctuation and from the perspective of the writer it was a nice bookend that brought it home. We trust each other so I told Sammy that we would shoot it the way it was written and then I would get an ALT without the line as back up, we could then try both in the edit and go with whichever felt right. Ultimately, the delivery of that line always felt a little too funny to me and although there are some dark comedic moments in the film, overall it is a drama. We decided that the line would go and it was a more powerful ending if Danny just really said nothing at all.
S.S: Sammy is brilliant in his portrayal of Francis, how did you come to cast Jett Jansen for Danny did you not fancy featuring yourself?
C.D: Sammy really is brilliant, he has a great look for Francis, he knows the story intimately and he is larger than life. I felt like Jett was a great contrast to Sammy, not only would his subtle style of acting work great against Sam’s big characterization, physically he is smaller, Sammy was going clean cut and hair slicked back, Jett was leaving it long and is a stocky hairy guy. I felt like they really could be each other’s yin & yang on camera and I think we got it right. On top of all that, Jett comes with a more classical style and stage experience so I felt like he could handle the material and be off book quick which was very important for this project.
I love acting but I have never actively pursued it. I have done a decent amount over the years, but I would rather focus on directing and let someone more talented than me bring the characters to life. I like sitting outside, seeing the big picture and guiding it from that perspective. For ‘Danny Boy’ my ultimate goal was producing and directing, I didn’t have a good look for the character or the pseudo period that we implied through our wardrobe and dialogue and at the end of the day Jett was the perfect choice. I must say though, Sammy’s characters speak to me and I often act out while reading these characters. We have discussed me playing one of his characters down the line so I think it will happen, but It has to be right.
S.S: Why did you think it was important to talk about the taboo in certain worlds towards LGBTQ norms that are so prevalent these days?
C.D: I’m not an activist by any means, but I am a human being with a very wide array of life experience and to answer your question in its simplest form, I think it is important to reflect life in cinema. What I enjoyed and think is important was allowing a character to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community in our film but never talking about it until we had to, to me that is real. People largely do not just go around shouting their sexual preference out and making it the topic of conversation, they are going about their day and making their ways through life just like any other human being sharing this experience. I think in making the choices we did with Danny as a character we actually were lending to his authenticity, he became more real and relatable. We want to tell a fictional story, but the more you can connect with the individuals and sympathise with them the more invested you become. This gave Danny heart, it gave him layers and in a sense made him more human.
As far as the importance of talking about the taboo towards LGBTQ+ individuals, I have several friends in these communities and for me it is fun to break convention in the crime drama and introduce a character you may not think of typically working in this world, representation does matter, and the way that we highlight that and talk about it in the film is one that is unique and fun in the context of film. I think it really highlights how wild and silly that school of thinking that Francis subscribes to is. Furthermore you could frame several ideologies here and they would all be highlighted as equally absurd. The truth is it does exist, and in cinema Guy Richi had done it with Tom Hardy’s character in Rockn’ Rolla, but they took a more comedic angle that helped to drive the narrative. We are happy with the choices we made & proud of what ‘Danny Boy’ and Danny stand for.
S.S: The production value is so streamlined and high end, do you think this was because of your connections in the industry and do you think you could have made ‘Danny Boy’ without those?
C.D: We shot on RED Gemini and RED Monstro digital cinema cameras with Kowa anamorphic lenses. The monstro and lenses belong to my friend George who is an awesome filmmaker and directs music videos & commercials in LA. He is always down to come out and help me in any capacity on my projects, the other camera is one I own for stunt previs. The vintage Japanese lenses we used really lended a beautiful touch of nostalgia to the piece, it really was just what we needed.
As far as anything else, I think you will be surprised to know that we shot the entire project in 4 1/2 hrs in 1 night and when it was all said and done post production and photography came out to around $4,600 USD!
I would absolutely contribute the production value to my connections in the industry as well as my relentless spirit for perfection. I could not have created ‘Danny Boy’ in the same way without having kept great relationships over the years, but to tell you the truth, if I couldn’t make it the way we had, I wouldn’t have made it at all.
I know the level of quality I am capable of and if I can not line up the pieces and put my absolute best foot forward I won’t do it at all, it can be both a blessing and a curse. I know just getting out there and making things is important and I truly believe in that, but I think since I am already established in the industry as a stunt performer and coordinator, there is a level of expectation set if you are trying to cross over. That internal dialogue is what makes me strive for only the highest quality even if our budget is limited.
S.S: Your shoot and entirety of the project was phenomenally fast – how long did you work on the edit and how did that go?
C.D: We were able to shoot fast because the actors were off book and well rehearsed, that prep was key. Not only that, we started with the wide master of the two of them in the car, once we had that the rest of the coverage was really easy. As far as the post goes, we started the edit at the end of February with Jeff McEvoy, whom I met during the production of ‘Project Power’ for Netflix. Jeff had not only edited Power, he had also done ‘Nerve’ & ‘The Lincoln Lawyer’ so I knew he would do a great job with ‘Danny Boy’. I learned a ton from him during this process an he really was a great collaborator and cheerleader for the team. The edit, VFX, tile design, color and finally sound design and the post mix took us up to the end of May, beginning of June. Once it was locked we started submitting it to festivals. I love the post process, and really have a lot of experience here so I stepped in as the post supervisor and managed the entire process.
S.S: What do you hope for the film moving forward and what are you working on next?
C.D: I hope that the film will continue to be well received by audiences and spark conversations, that’s all we can really ask for, for the film to be viewed and appreciated for what it is. As individuals, I hope it gives us a platform to launch others from. I hope it becomes something for Sammy to stand on as a writer and actor and I hope as a director/producer it gives me a calling card to start other conversations with individuals we haven’t worked with before in order to continue growing and creating. But, It’s a wild industry and honestly I’m just trying to enjoy this ride.
In the future, I’d love to do a few more shorts and we do have some in the works, more crime and drama, but also some action and sci-fi. Currently, I am developing a feature with Sammy and his writing partner Adam Pasen titled ‘Musket & The Rat’. We just finished shooting a proof of concept for that so getting into post now, but features can take years so hopefully I get to perform and coordinate in the stunt department a bit more this year, I still love that and am very passionate about it. Any opportunity to continue contributing and creating in the film space is welcome by me!
‘Danny Boy’ is screening at London Rocks Film Festival on Friday 5th November at 11 pm