Exclusive Interview Joshua Marc Allen – Writer/Director
Joshua Marc Allen is an American writer and director, with multiple scripts in the festival circuit winning awards around the world.
After serving as a Korean linguist in the US Army, Joshua was honorably discharged in 2008. He moved to San Francisco to study at the Academy of Art University, focusing on acting. While attending, many classes built an entire film set rotating actors through every job on set. This both allows teachers to run a mock set in most classes; but also allows the students to see how their work influences each job. While in San Francisco, Joshua appeared on stage as Beane in John Kolvenbach’s ‘Love Song’.
Joshua graduated with a BFA in Acting in 2012 and moved to Los Angeles. One of his teachers, Doug Campbell, was working on ‘The Surrogate’ and invited Joshua to visit the set. The day in question was shot on location in a local home and was mostly quiet exposition based scenes. At the end of the day; Doug apologized for the day being boring. Joshua quickly interrupted and began listing observations and things he had learned. A little surprised; Doug asked if he wanted to come back the next day. Joshua quickly agreed. The next day, Joshua returned dressed in the all black uniform the PAs had been wearing. The Key Set PA greeted him as he arrived on set and asked what he was doing. Joshua responded; ‘Come once, you’re a guest. Come twice; you work there.’ The Key Set PA laughed and put him to work. A couple hours later; Joshua signed a work agreement, and returned to PA on every remaining day of the production.
After the wrap on ‘The Surrogate’, the production company’s next project was to be ‘Dirty Teacher’; and this time Joshua was invited from the beginning. This working relationship continued through five features. After the first two; Joshua also worked on ‘The Perfect Boyfriend’ and ‘Missing at 17’, with everything coming full circle when he landed the Key Set PA job on ‘The Cheating Pact’.
Joshua used the time on set to build working relationships across a variety of departments, and in 2013 went independent to focus on his first short film. He shot ‘5 Hours Later’, building his crew from friends he had made across the feature projects. He released four more short films in the following year and a half, then began focusing on his first independent feature film; ‘Fixer’. Joshua wrote the script, and would go on to direct it in 2015.
Given the independent nature of all of these projects; Joshua was also involved either partially or fully in their production – necessitating a full time job off-set as well. After the completion of ‘Fixer’; Joshua opted for a short break to focus on his personal life and well being.
These good intentions can only go so far; and he quickly returned to writing. In 2017; Joshua completed six feature scripts. One of these; ‘Escape’ would go on to be the next independent feature, produced and directed in 2018. This along with his efforts on Youtube would dominate his attention for the bulk of 2018 and 2019.
Just as Joshua was prepping his next project; the entire industry shut down in the face of the global pandemic. Joshua relocated to Atlanta and used the time to social distance and return his focus to writing. In late 2021; Joshua began pushing his scripts into the festival circuit and had won more than 40 awards internationally before the new year.
Ready to dive back into working on set; Joshua is hard at work developing his next project, writing new scripts, and periodically appearing on stage at award shows near you.
NY Glam: Tell us a little about yourself, growing up and your passions.
I grew up on the west coast of the United States, in a family of five kids. My older brother was into sports, my younger brother favored electronics and mechanics, I wound up as the creative kid. I’ve always felt like an outsider, bullied from a young age, even by my older brother. Escaping into the fantastic worlds of Tolkien, Asimov, Heinlein, and later the Marvel Universe and others like it was one of the few places I felt like myself.
At times; I tried sharing my love for these worlds by reading aloud to any audience that would sit still. Later I discovered Dungeons & Dragons. I was a natural fit as game master and led massive campaigns that I spent countless hours developing. Little did I realize that this was all laying the perfect foundation to carry me forward into the film industry?
NY Glam: Did you have any specific influences growing up that lead you towards the film industry?
I think things started with my father’s own obsession with film. The vast majority of time I spent with him was either watching movies or discussing them. It was he that taught me to not only discuss whether I liked a film or not, but specifically what led to that feeling – and what I would have done differently if I had creative control. This instilled a very early instinct for analysis, critique, but also proactive thinking during writing and production during my own projects.
NY Glam: What are you currently working on?
I always have multiple scripts gestating, but two worth mentioning are Inferno and Future Mutants. Inferno is my first full length horror project, centering in on a man who was convicted of a horrific crime he claims he didn’t commit. Yet; within days of his release; he is discovered standing in front of a dead body once more.
Inferno is intended to examine how apparent circumstances can influence how we treat each other – and how sometimes there is far more going on that can at first be perceived.
Future Mutants is a perfect midpoint of my passions and is allowing me to reach out to the dance community, circus community, acrobatics, stunt performers and more – and to find people that can not only deliver an exceptional physical performance; but also one grounded in truth and emotion as well.
I want to use the exceptional physical conditioning of these performers to tell a very grounded superhero story. Something that can be done as much in camera as possible. (Without the use of special effects) Yet; what if this evolution is labeled as proof of the degradation of the human genome and evidence of the end of humanity. This would create a marginalized minority that could be hunted, imprisoned, sterilized – all for the ‘good’ of humanity. Within that; I want to examine how we have treated minorities in this country, and find a way to tell a soft allegory that might make people more willing to relate to people different from themselves.
NY Glam: What were your main responsibilities on this film?
Both scripts are still in progress. I’m the only screenwriter on both projects.
That said; I’ve also been reaching out into all the assorted movement disciplines and we’ve been working together to build a movement language for the film. It’s exciting to go out and discover something physically; then take that home and find a way to sneak it into the script.
NY Glam: Can you tell us about your experience in working with your team in this film?
It’s a funny question to contemplate. A lot of young filmmakers end up wearing a lot of hats on set, doing a lot of jobs themselves. One of the biggest lessons I have ever learned is; don’t. There are dozens of jobs on set, and there simply isn’t enough time to master them all. So surround yourself with the best people you can; and let them make your film better. Let them shine and your movie will only look better for it.
In particular; on Escape, there were several ambitious ‘oners’ in the film. (Shots executed in a single unbroken take) This includes the climax of the film in a scene that involved some very intense acting along, a fight scene, and some swapping of props with a carefully choreographed dance of people hiding on set and everyone behind camera moving as a single entity. It took a lot of work and trust, but the end result was undeniable. The protagonist is able to take a glass snow globe from her nightstand, and in an unbroken take; apparently shatter it on her attacker’s head. It’s jaw dropping.
NY Glam: What was the most important thing for this movie to achieve from a narrative and character standpoint?
Going back to Inferno; it’s a difficult story filled with people that have broken pasts, have been accused of terrible crimes, and possibly are even continuing their crimes. In a film full of this sort of character histories; building humanity and sympathy is key. If your audience can’t find a way to identify with your protagonist; they will disconnect from the story and not care about the outcome.
Equally; (in Future Mutants) in such a clear allegory of minority relations you need to focus on building justifications for your antagonists. If this was a question of race relations or gender equality or even sexual orientation; I think the vast majority of the world is on the same side. So, by using mutations; I can explore a more ambiguous debate and try to present a situation where everyone is justified in their beliefs. If you can sympathize with both sides, it is a far more interesting prospect than a one sided debate with paper thin villains.
NY Glam: What makes a film interesting for you? What are three qualities that you look for in a movie?
For work? It starts with the script, whether I wrote it or not; do I think I can bring something to the visual interpretation of what has been written?
After that; who am I working with? Even at this early stages of my career; I’ve had the opportunity to work with actors that brought life to the script that wasn’t there without them. In Escape, I wrote the lead as vulnerable and it was easy to see how she could be taken advantage of. Yet when Joey Urbina (of Snowfall) got involved; she flipped the dynamic. She wasn’t weak, she was trapped by her weakness, and this brought out a radiant defiance and inner strength. In Fixer; I worried that I had underwritten one of the clients and was considering removing the character from the script. Luke Loving (Criminal Minds) auditioned and instead of broken, he brought someone lost and desperate. Someone willing to take any path presented if it could bring change. Never underestimate your team!
Third; I want to look at the bones of the project. Am I being offered the tools and financing I need to execute my vision? Can I find a way to do the story justice with what is available? Will I walk away satisfied that I brought my best to that intersection of script, team, and tools?
For fun? It’s a little easier.
Is there anything new out? (I’ve seen so much that I’m prone to looking at new releases)
Who is involved? (I’m a big believer in the idea of if I liked them before; I’ll like them again)
What is the movie about? (Interesting concepts can arch me as much as a loved familiar face)
NY Glam: What project helped you launch your career?
I don’t think I’ve necessarily launched a career quite yet; but I’m hopeful. In the meantime; I’m grateful for how each project has propelled me onward into a bigger and better project each time. I look forward to the day when this can transform into a career for me, but I’m not there yet.
NY Glam: What criteria do (use when building) your team?
An easy one! For one; what projects have they done before working in similar roles? For two; what do they want out of the project? An examination of these two and how they discuss them with me can fairly easily identify whether we will be cooperating or competing if we were to move forward – and of course; I want a team that coordinates and cooperates. Of course everyone can still bring their own insight and experience to the project – but I’ve found sets that work in harmony are wildly more successful than their competitive counterparts.
NY Glam: What are you most proud of? Describe your biggest accomplishment to date?
A wise man was once asked; ‘How do you make it in Hollywood?’
He simply responded; ‘Don’t leave’
It sounds overly simple; but it’s the truth. Regardless of the job you pursue in Hollywood; in the vast majority it’s not going to be easy. Regardless; it’s also short term, so even if you are one of the lucky working few; before you know it you’re back on the couch looking for your next job. Rejection is a daily reality. There is always someone bigger, better, stronger, prettier, with a more prestigious degree, and richer parents. It’s easy – even common to give up.
I think the thing I’m proudest of is that regardless of my situation, regardless of where I live, regardless of the world getting locked down for a global pandemic I never left. My dreams alternate between frustratingly and tantalizingly just out of touch – but I’ve never let that affect me. I’m still chasing it, every single day.
NY Glam: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
I guess what I would want to highlight is the idea of character growth. If your lead character doesn’t change over the course of his experiences, then what was the point? The way that I’ve manifested this is very early in the character development I ask myself; ‘What is the lie this character believes?’ To use an easy example, say you are writing a romantic drama. A good ‘lie’ for your lead to believe is perhaps ‘I’m going to be alone forever’ or perhaps ‘I don’t deserve love’. This gives you a firm mental perspective that you can clearly evolve from. So in the end, after boy meets girl, and they go through whatever hurdles the script lays out, you can see a clear change in the end. All the drama of the script, all the struggles your character goes through; this is just window dressing. It is the internal character evolution that will create a lasting response within your audience.
NY Glam: What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I look forward to one day being able to give it up. No; seriously! I do love writing, but it is secondary to my true passion for directing. I’m always happy to contribute to the writing process, but my real love is creating the actual visual execution of the script, helping actors create moments of truth, and ultimately bringing scripts to life in a way that leaves a lasting impression with the audience.
NY Glam: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re super excited about?
Keep an eye on Future Mutants. (I’ll add the social link below) It’s a terrific project that is bringing the worlds of dance, acrobatics, parkour, martial arts, and of course acting together. The founder of the project; Trevor Dow (an incredible dancer and visionary in his own right) is working to build a viral movement on social media and he is allowing me to explore a narrative component within the world. I’m crafting a script that focuses on combining people at the peak of their training in delivering both a physically astonishing and emotionally compelling performance – and harnessing that into a world where I can tell an important social message as well. I’m excited by the potential of the project, and can’t wait to see how it evolves.
NY Glam: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to enter the film industry, especially as a film director?
I always loved James Cameron’s take on it; “No matter how small, no matter how cheesy, no matter whether your friends and your sister star in it. Put your name on it as director. Now you’re a director. Everything after that you’re just negotiating your budget and your fee.”
The only thing he misses here is your own evolution as a creator. That said; the best way to learn is on set. The only way to experience finding solutions is to face the problems and to overcome them. Later, when you see the final project, you see how your innovation affects the final project. It’s through these successes (or failures) that you learn and evolve and make your next project even better.
NY Glam: Can you discuss any future projects or direction you are taking in regard to filmmaking?
While I will always pursue traditional cinematography; I’m currently exploring new media outlets like TikTok and the potential of shooting vertical oriented, serialized shorts. New doesn’t mean better; just different. Explore every tool presented. I prefer the massive scope of an IMax theater, but can’t help but consider what happens when a film ends up being watched on your phone. I do believe traditional widescreen formats will remain the standard; but am enjoying the exploration of this new medium.
NY Glam: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more?
Facebook – www.facebook.com/joshuamarcallen
Instagram – @joshua_marc_allen @future_mutants
TikTok – @joshuamarcallen