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NewFilmmakersLA Spotlight: Interview with Director Michael Morgenstern

This week's Filmmaker Spotlight focuses on Director Michael Morgenstern whose film is showcased at Sunset Gower Studios as part of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. Learn about his film, Michael Morgenstern as he discusses goals and reminisces about making the film, lessons he's learned and where you can catch him next.  

Name/Position: Michael Morgenstern, director
Film: Shabbat Dinner

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it.

Shabbat Dinner is a labor of love that I began over a year ago with my friend Aidan Levy. I was developing a television pilot about growing up gay in Los Angeles in the 90s. Back then, fewer teens had the role models or family support that they do now, so options were much more limited.

I started the project because I wanted a strong narrative sample for film school applications. I decided to quickly throw something together with whatever actors I could find and film it. After talking a bit more with Aidan the project got bigger, until I was writing a script. With six weeks until filming, we began searching for cast, crew, and locations—and setting up a Kickstarter. Our goal was $2500 and we raised over $3700, which was absolutely mind-blowing and incredible. A few days after we raised the money, we started filming.

I did post-production myself and it was arduous. Around February the film was ready, and I traveled to Hong Kong to attend the premiere. Since then it’s been over 35 film festivals, where I’ve made so many incredible friends.

And I ended up getting into every film school I applied and not deciding to go!

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

Oh, wow. You might as well ask me, “please list all the people in your life.” If you’ve spoken to me more than twice, then thank you for listening to me talk on and on about this short. Thank you to my friends who gave money, which is harder to fake than words of support. Thank you to those who watched the film and gave notes and gave me smiles when things were going poorly. Thank you especially to my interns Alejandro, Daniel, and Patrick, my roommates Dan and Tim, and the incredible cast and crew who gave their all for the weekend for not very much money.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?

So awesome! 35 film festivals in, we haven’t actually screened publicly in Los Angeles. I’m from LA, so I’ve really wanted for my friends there to see the film on the big screen. Of the many festivals in LA, NewFilmmakers is a prestigious and well put-together one, so I couldn’t think of a better place to screen right now.

What inspires you?

I want to create positive change in this world. I have no idea how to do that, but I think movies are a start.

I did sales for a summer and my boss kept saying “ABC: always be closing.” I think “ABC: always be creating,” and sometimes I’ll just say “ABC” to myself as a reminder. If I keep creating, I will keep getting more creative.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

I tend to enjoy stylized films that push the borders of reality. Darren Aronofsky, Baz Luhrmann, Edgar Wright. Ang Lee is a favorite director of mine; I’ve had the privilege of working with him and he is an inspiring person as well. I’ve worked with, really admire, and have learned a lot from Ted Hope.

Aung San Suu Kyi is my desktop background right now. To me she exemplifies the ultimate victory of a beautiful purity and conviction over less savory attempts to build power.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

Go out and do it. In 2009 I built Ted Hope’s blog, and within months I was employed all the time building websites. “But I want to make films,” I moaned to myself. And then it clicked, and three months later I was directing a music video.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

I have a friend crush on the team that made Martha Marcy May Marlene.

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome?

Next question. :-)

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

I was interning for some very difficult people, and one night I stayed at the office until 3am working. I was furious and upset about being treated poorly and staying so late, and complained to a friend. He asked if they had demanded I stay, and I realized that they hadn’t. Then he told me that I was the only one who made me stay, and nobody was forcing me to but myself. I think we often blame others for our inability to stand up for ourselves, and it was very helpful to see that.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

One of the greatest moments of the past year was at the premiere screening in New York City. All the Kickstarter backers who could make it were there, as well as many other friends. For some it was the first time seeing it, and they loved it. Others had seen it more times than they could count, and they politely sat through it. And what made me happiest was that I was not grasping onto their reactions and compliments for my high mood that night, that I was happy because of what we had accomplished and because of the amazing friends I had who supported me in it. And that’s my advice: to the extent that it is possible, because it’s really difficult, find the satisfaction in yourself and make a film that will make you happy. That’s how to really connect with an audience, I think. I hope.

Where can we expect to see you next?

I’m looking for new projects to direct, so if you’ve got something, maybe I’ll see you in your office!
I’m spending the next month or two in Tucson, hiding away to write a second feature and several other scripts. I expect I’ll be shooting some music videos and short projects as well.
And then online! I’ve been collaborating with Blue Kid singer Lydia Benecke to create three music videos, and the second one might be up on Vevo by the time you read this.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects. 
Blog on Huffington Post:
Twitter: @mikemorgenstern

For more information, visit:

About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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