A champion spoken word poet must fight his darkness & depression before his overwhelming desire to end his life wins the battle.
Interview with Director Justin Sandler & Mary Lou Sandler
Congratulations! Why did you make your film?
Thank you! We made this film to change lives… to change the lives of those watching it, to change the lives of those who helped make & support it, and to change our lives as well. I wrote this script and showed it to Mary Lou. She loved it… she had tears in her eyes after reading it. I then let some friends read it who were interested in collaborating with us, and they didn’t like it. I felt dejected. I had never written a film script before as my past experience was writing TV commercial copy and song lyrics. So I shelved it. I guess I thought maybe I wasn’t ready to make my own film. Meanwhile, I was waiting for the phone to ring with auditions and opportunities. And the phone wasn’t ringing. And the opportunities weren’t coming. Here I was, sitting on a script that could potentially inspire people or maybe even save a life… and I wasn’t making it. It took a wake-up call from Mary Lou to realize that we needed to make this film.
One day as I was complaining about my lack of opportunities, she turned to me and said, “You wrote an amazing film and we own a production company. We are always helping others make their dreams come true… let’s make our own dreams come true.” She then said… “If you want the phone to ring, you have to make the phone ring!” I was convinced and wanted to make the film right then and there. So I pulled the script back out and started doing my first edit and about 3 months later we were on set and shooting! Overall, making this film was equally about getting the message out as well as about creating opportunities to grow! Essentially, we made our film because we had to.
Imagine I’m a member of the audience. Why should I watch this film?
You are sitting in your comfy theater seat while throwing back freshly popped popcorn and sipping on your favorite tasty beverage. You came to the movies to be entertained, to laugh, to cry, to escape, to feel, to learn something, to be inspired. Over the course of 15 minutes & 36 seconds, “Welcome to Where You’ve Always Been” will take you on a journey through all of those. This film is raw, edgy, dark, and hopeful all at the same time. I think you will like it.
How do personal and universal themes work in your film?
The main character, Devyn Duncan, is a brilliant poet who is suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts and he is blind to the blessings around him. This theme is both personal and universal as much of it comes from my own personal struggles. Universally, many people share the themes of this film… things like being depressed for no reason, being unable to feel or see the good in the world around you, and even feeling like you just wanna end it all. A large population of our world experiences those themes by themselves and in combinations. I personally would find myself feeling depressed or hopeless and usually for no reason in particular. I often found myself playing small and living in the victim mentality.
Furthermore, my life is so very blessed, yet the victim in me decided to ignore those blessings and only see the hardships. This was a story though, and I knew that I had to make some major changes to move my life in the direction that it needed to go so I could become the person I was meant to be. In order to spark that change, I finally learned hope. Not hoping for, but rather having the positive realizations that I can do anything and live my life happy just as easy… actually easier. And with that, the theme of hope is very strong in the message of the film. Hope is the thing we all need to have in our lives. And if anything else, the theme of this film really comes down to hope… for a better life, for a better world.
How have the script and film evolved over the course of their development and production?
When I finally decided to pull my script off the shelf and start editing it, the film itself truly began taking on its shape. We decided to make this film no matter what, so it was time to work on this script until it was ready to be shot. I added a very important new scene and then showed it to a few industry friends for some feedback. This time, I was not going to let any negative feedback get me down. I took all feedback as constructive and positive and I continued to tweak the script until we did a table read to help bring it home. At that table read, the cast was present but we had not cast the female lead yet. Michelle Lombardo volunteered to come to the table read to help wherever needed, so we had her read the lines for Ashia, the wife of Devyn. She nailed it and had a lot of experience, so we offered her the role and she killed it. The other supporting actors, Christian Calloway, Naomi Nektare, and Lawrence Hilton Jacobs were all playing roles that were specifically written for them and they all did amazing jobs. It was a neat group from the start and as we pulled the crew together, we really saw this project taking shape.
After the table read with input from the cast, I further developed the script and added one more important aspect. We were ready to go and once the shoot began, we really breathed life into the film through the beautiful visuals and emotions. As the writer, director, editor, and actor, I certainly had my work cut out for me. But the experience of being on both sides of the camera was also amazing. Mary Lou was not only our Director of Photography and Producer, but also our Co-Director. That was very important, especially when my character had to go into the darker and heavier emotions. She was instrumental in helping me go even deeper with my character while relieving me of some of my directorial duties during those scenes. After a 5-day shoot, it was time to go into post-production and create the 3rd and final version of the story. Here we learned a lot good things ‘for next time’, so to speak. With our limited shoot schedule and budget, we couldn’t quite get all of the shots we needed. So the story got to evolve even more, but I thoroughly enjoyed the processes of editing it as took on a life of it’s own and flowed into its final version.
Now after reading that, you may think that making this film was all roses. I assure you it was not. As far as the overall production goes, we learned A LOT! This was actually our first film as a studio, so all of the growing pains were there. Obstacles and challenges appeared at every step of the way and we just took them in stride. We lost our producer a week before the shoot was scheduled to begin. We needed to push back the production by a month and Mary Lou and I quickly learned how to produce a film. This turned out to be the good doings of the universe however, as it was because we pushed the film back that we got to welcome a partner in Gene Blalock and Seraph films. This was an incredible asset as it allowed us to shoot the film with much better gear and work with some new and incredible people. Having Gene’s experience and wisdom on set was truly a blessing.
As we got closer to the new shoot date, more challenges arose. Our script supervisor was on a feature that had to extend production, so she had to stay on and honor that commitment. And with less than a week to go, our 1st AD was offered the same position on the show “Daredevil” for season 2, so he had to take that gig. With only 3 days to go before our 1st shoot day, we were interviewing new people and ended up adding crew right up until the last day. It was stressful yet exciting. And when all was said and done, our cast & crew were made up of approximately 75% women! I guess it is no surprise though, especially with all of the amazing work Mary Lou is doing to support female filmmakers. And I gotta say, I was impressed with and extremely proud of each and every person who worked with us. In line with the film, we learned that anything is possible and that just like in life, obstacles will always come. It’s our job to overcome those obstacles, to continue pushing forward no matter what, and to learn and grow from every experience. As a whole, we all learned so much about filmmaking and about ourselves. When our film was complete… Over 200 people had rose to the occasion to help us make this film. We are beyond humbled and grateful.
What type of feedback have you received so far?
The feedback has been incredible. And it started before the film was even shot. People saw our fundraising video and were supporting this project long before we called ‘action’. The amount of love and support was amazing and people were behind the message and our reason for making the film. As a fairly unknown company preparing to shoot its first film, we were somewhat surprised to see so much support come from every direction, and it was beautiful. Once we hit the festival circuit, everything took off. We are about to play in our 21st film festival and we have won 3 awards with several nominations to go. It’s been really special getting to interact with people after our screenings and answer questions about the film. It’s through those interactions where we really started to get the feedback from people who could relate to the character and his struggles. Many people have openly discussed their own darkness and struggles with us. And we are often met with gratitude for making this film and for spreading the message. It is very special feedback when it comes from people whose lives we have touched.
Has the feedback surprised or challenged your point of view?
If anything, we were simply surprised by the amount of positive feedback and support overall. We were shown love far and wide and it was a very pleasant surprise. Our views have been validated in that we need to keep making movies that matter.
What are you looking to achieve by having your film more visible on www.wearemovingstories.com?
We are excited to share our film with ‘We are Moving Stories’ and spread our message to your beautiful audience. We are wrapping up our festival tour and getting ready for a release of the film. Everyone should stay tuned to our website: www.welcometowhereyouvealwaysbeen.com Furthermore, we are the owners of 3 cubed studios, LLC… a photography & film production studio. We are always interested in producing projects for indie filmmakers. If you like what you see, you can find us here: www.3cubedstudios.com Also, for the females in the biz please check out Mary Lou’s group: www.femalefilmmakers.org
Who do you need to come on board (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists) to amplify this film’s message?
As we are about to wrap up our 21st and final festival on our film fest tour, we are strategizing for the next step in doing a release. There are many ways to go, so we are interested in speaking with distributors as well as journalists to help get our film and its message of hope out to the world.
What type of impact and/or reception would you like this film to have?
Every morning of our shoot, we stopped the work to hold a brief team meeting with everyone. We liked to start the day all connected and giving gratitude to everyone who is working so hard. Every day we said that if we saved even one life… if we inspired even one person to change… then this was all worth it. We just want to share our art, entertain, and inspire.
What’s a key question that will help spark a debate or begin a conversation about this film?
Messages are everywhere… What would it take for you to wake up to the blessings that surround you?
Would you like to add anything else?
We are grateful for the opportunity to be featured on ‘We are Moving Stories’. Our festival journey has been wonderful and we’re excited to truly get our film to the masses and then get started on the next one! Thank you!!!
What are the key creatives developing or working on now?
Mary Lou Sandler is the DP/Producer/Co-Director. Justin Sandler is the Writer/Director/Actor/Editor.
Mary Lou and Justin have been growing 3 cubed studios, LLC and are now developing 2 documentaries as well as writing a feature film.
Mary Lou recently completed production on a documentary short called “The Empty Womb” where she was the Cinematographer/Co-Producer. She is also the founder of www.femalefilmmakers.com, which is dedicated to women in the industry where the motto is: “To Empower & Employ Each Other”.
Justin is currently starring in an FDA anti-smoking commercial campaign called #cigarettesarebullies. He recently signed with new theatrical representation and has a supporting role in a short film coming to festivals in 2017. See more of him here: www.justinsandler.com
Interview: January 2016
We Are Moving Stories embraces new voices in drama, documentary, animation, TV, web series and music video. If you have just made a film - we'd love to hear from you. Or if you know a filmmaker - can you recommend us? More info: Carmela
“Welcome to Where You’ve Always Been”
A champion spoken word poet must fight his darkness & depression before his overwhelming desire to end his life wins the battle.
Director: Justin Sandler & Mary Lou Sandler
Producer: Mary Lou Sandler & Justin Sandler
Writer: Justin Sandler
Key cast: Justin Sandler, Michelle Lombardo, Lawrence Hilton Jacobs, Christian Calloway, Naomi Nektare
Looking for (producers, sales agents, buyers, distributors, film festival directors, journalists): Buyers, Distributors, Journalists
Funders: We were blessed to have many people contribute to the funding of our film. I can’t name them all here, but I would like to give a shout out to our executive producers who really stepped up in a major way. First, to Monica McCormick who believed in us probably more than anyone. It was her financial support of our film that made it possible to come so far. Also, Jake Ehrenreich who was the first person to believe in me long before we even decided to make the film. He was the first EP on board and that meant so much. All of our executive producers are remarkable, including: Leslie Shapiro, Kayvan Ardalan, Juliano Angeliano, Traci Smith, Nick Somers, Eric Goranson, Robert Chase, and Costie Payne.
Made in association with: Seraph Films
Release date: World Premiere was March 2016. The public release is TBA.
Where will it screen in the next month? Idyllwild Film Festival in Idyllwild, CA. This will be our 21st film festival and the final festival on this tour. It will screen Monday, 1/9 @ noon and Saturday, 1/14 @ 5pm.