Behind Dark Specter: An Interview with Bruce Nachsin
Filmmaker Bruce Nachsin has been generating buzz on the convention circuit with his short films. He had already picked up a plethora of awards including for his work both in front and behind the camera. Some of his features include “Dark Specter,” which has won a whopping 20 awards and the workplace comedy “Lunchtime is Over” has won 3.
Dark Specter gives a twist on comic book tropes by focusing on a strangely relatable supervillain. The story gives depth to a character that without context many would just be a stereotypical villain. In Dark Specter 2 he is struggling to balance his work life and his home life. The shorts are a fun way of showing how even supervillains have personal lives and are deserving of empathy. With his work gaining recognition and potentially the start of a much bigger and better things, I contacted Bruce to get to know a little more about the creator.
Hello! Thank you for talking with me today. Can you tell me a little about yourself?
You know, I never know how to answer a question like this. I mean what does anyone really want to know about me? I suppose I could delve into the litany of childhood traumas that have made the wildly unstable world of film making seem like a viable life choice but would that really be fun for anyone?
I’m someone who doesn’t fully fit anywhere so I have never been a full-fledged member of any particular social group, I was always just a little bit on the outside of any clique. I could connect to any of those social circles if I wanted to, but only as a passerby, I guess you could think of me as an anti-social butterfly. Of course, part of this might stem from the fact that my sensibilities have always been a little off from the norm, just not far enough outside that I would qualify as legitimately strange or bizarre… Just unique. I’ve always followed my own path to one degree or another. Thankfully, I was fortunate enough to have a very supportive family growing up, so I don’t mind taking a risk, making a mistake or abjectly failing, you can learn a lot that way. Oh yeah, I also make a great apple cake.
What inspired you to get into filmmaking?
The fact that I am a hard type to figure out and most casting directors or agents don’t seem to know what to do with me. Just like in real life, I fall in between the cracks.
But let’s backtrack a moment. I originally got into acting because I wanted to learn to be less shy, back when just talking to more than three people at a time would freeze me in my tracks. I found that aside from the benefit that I could now talk to people, I enjoyed performing and I was having fun. During this time, which was mostly spent in community theater, I met a wonderfully smart, beautiful and talented actress named Anniina with whom I was doing a play and I found out that she, for all her desire to be a professional, never tried because she was afraid to fail. I took that as a challenge and I decided to become a professional actor myself.
I quickly got my union card and moved to Los Angeles only to have nothing happen aside from day job hell. After a while it dawned on me that if I didn’t start producing my own movies and create characters that I would be great at playing, I would never get anywhere. That realization led to my very first attempt at film making, which was Under the Doghouse. Me being me, I thought that a 10 episode multi camera sitcom with 7 locations, a cast of 40 and a crew of about the same would be a nice start… I’m ambitious, not bright.
The first film I watched of yours was called Lunchtime is Over. The choreography was fantastic! How hard was that to put into action?
I glad you enjoyed it, we did put a lot of thought and effort into it. The choreography was designed by Thekla Hutyrova & Katie O’Donovan with additional input from the producers for things we wanted like the Jackie Chan inspired round robin bit that was my producing partner Gilbert Feliciano’s idea or the pen combat bit which was mine. On set Katie ran the action with an assist from her assistant Coordinator Peter B. Kim.
The cast of Lunchtime is Over were classmates of mine from the XMA Action Stunt School so we had a lot of experience working with each other before we even began production. There were about 6 rehearsals where we covered the choreography in detail though we only had one session where everyone was present at the same time. But we were well drilled and knew what we were supposed to do before we got to set.
I’d say the biggest challenge was the time constraint, we had 2, 12 hour days to get everything. That is a lot of action for that small amount of time. However, we had a killer camera crew led by DP Ted Endres capturing our combat choreography. We were able to move fast and get what we need. Shockingly without actual injury… Well, maybe a bump or two.
You let me preview Dark Specter 2 and I have to say it was amazing. Can you tell me how you came up for the idea?
It’s funny, the story of Dark Specter 2 has very little in common with the original short. I mean, they are the same characters and the story still fits, but Dark Specter started as a skit in Fred Willard’s MoHos Sketch comedy team which I had been a member of. And that’s all that it was at first, a sketch. The characters weren’t real people, just comedic tropes and the situation’s only goal was to get laughs from the audience. As it turns out, the sketch went over amazingly well, Judy was her usual hilarious self as the mom and I knew I wanted to film it and play the Specter so that I’d have something cool to show for myself. The premise of the sketch was about a villain who brought his mom to a superhero fight and how she misinterprets what is happening. During the production of this short, someone asked me a very life altering question: “If the answer isn’t that the villain is a loser, why would the mother be there?”
That little question launched me into what became the story of Dark Specter 2. I’ve always been fascinated by someone’s dreams versus their reality. It seemed to me that if Lilly had to be at that fight, she couldn’t have been anywhere else which led me to the realization that she isn’t safe to be left by herself, and so it was the Dark Specter’s responsibility to have his mother close by so he could keep an eye on her. Even if this dynamic wasn’t reflected in the sketch itself, it was the answer that made sense to me and that opens up Dark Specter to a very human story. I have a lot of friends who had dreams and desires in their life that they were never able to pursue due to various responsibilities and poor choices that they had made and I wanted to explore that through the lens of nearly unlimited power.
What are you hoping happens with this series?
Right now, Dark Specter is just two shorts. My goal, my dream… my desire is to make an actual television series out of it on either cable or a streaming service like Netflix, or Amazon. I’m working with my production team to develop a pitch. We’ve written a series bible and a pilot episode and are hoping that our successes on the festival circuit will help in selling the idea.
What would you say was the hardest special effect to pull off?
Oh, do we have stories. On a very technical level, fire is very difficult to pull off and if I had known that at the start, the Dark Specter might not have been a fire thrower. However, the truth is; the hardest effect to pull off was having them in the first place. Our VFX odyssey took us through 5 different vfx houses and included such things as loss of original personnel due to insane work hours and newly minted fatherhood, incompetence, irresponsibility, actual fraud and the director living off ramen for a year to hire someone who we could trust. It was insane.
These films are beautifully produced and I can tell you put a lot of time into them. How long does it take you to go from conception to completion?
It varies wildly. Dark Specter 2 took over 2 years because of all the VFX shenanigans. Lunchtime is over was about a 4 month experience. I don’t take long from conception to shooting, I generally decide I want to do something and I’m shooting within a few weeks to a month. That doesn’t mean we skimp out on the preproduction, we take pains to plan the shoots extensively since they are more ambitious than what usually happens around the low budget filmmaking range so we need to be on point. Where we tend to get stuck is in the post production process. This is partially due to the fact that my post people are working on other projects that are effectively their day jobs and they have to work in my stuff when they can. I’m not complaining since they are amazing at their jobs and it is well worth the wait to get their results. After all, they are a very large part of what makes everything look and sound so beautiful. It also helps that I am a recovering perfectionist, I have a minimum level of quality that I will accept. I’m not insane about it, once it is good enough, I will move on.
What else have you been working on?
Right now there are a few irons that have been jabbed into my fire. The most important being finishing up the Dark Specter series pitch. I also have a web series that we filmed a pilot episode of called Nothing Personal about a young assassin, her mentor and how their work creates interest in their personal life. We still would like to complete the series, but we are also rewriting the story as a feature film that you can think of as a John Hughes movie about professional murderers.
I also have another project in development with Richard Tatum & Heather Dowling about the relationship between two extraordinary people and how social media norms impacts it. Otherwise I’m working on a little comedy project with Jake Newlander of Celebrity Sweat.
Beyond that, I’ll be helping my Glamour Goth Dillon Bonnee with a horror short later this year to showcase her amazing makeup skills, this one is more a labor of love from various people who know her and want to show the world her skills in a very concrete way. I’m always looking for things to do because as you can tell, I just don’t have enough on my plate.
Do you have any plans for a theatrical release or showings at festivals or Conventions?
While we haven’t planned for a theatrical release, we are all over the festival circuit and the conventions, Dark Specter 2 has won 20 awards since it entered the festival circuit and Lunchtime is Over has won 3. We will be all over the country with both films and in various other countries. In the past month we’ve been in at least 7 different festivals and we have at least 5 happening in March, including the West Coast International Film Awards, The Pasadena International Film Festival, Miami International Science Fiction Film Festival, The Indie Short Fest & the Golden State Film Festival. After that, we are submitted to many more so we just might be showing in your area soon.
Who is your favorite superhero and why?
As a kid I was very much a Captain America fan, I related to him being a man out of his time and as I was always a big believer in being righteous, he spoke to me in a way that others didn’t. Later on I enjoyed Batman but that was based off the Kevin Conroy portrayal in the cartoon series and Justice League, it’s the clear intelligence of that interpretation that I really enjoy.
Do you have any hobbies you would consider nerdy?
You mean getting dressed up in a red cloak and throwing fireballs at people while my mom ain’t looking isn’t nerdy enough for you?
Let’s see, I’m usually running at about 100% trying to make things so I don’t have a lot of hobby time these days, I still enjoy the occasional comic book and have recently decided to buy a few independent comics a month to help support the comic artist version of people like me. I still play Guitar Hero / Rock Band when I have a few friends over and even bought new internals for my RB controller so that it played more consistently.
I don’t get to watch much TV or youtube but when I do it tends to be informational stuff like 8-bit guy, How’s it’s made, or I”ll even catch an old Modern Marvels so I can feel really dated and 4/3 in my aspect ratio. When I can’t stare at a screen anymore, I’ll trying to learn some music theory since I want to do something creative that has no professional pressures attached to it.
I don’t know if this is nerdy but I think it’s important; I help out a few of the dog rescues in Los Angeles by doing emergency transportation for them. In fact, just today I helped rescue a 1 day old cleft palette puppy and ran it nearly 300 miles, to the woman who will tube feed her every 3 hours for the next month or so. That’s why this interview is so late. BTW, everyone should check out Road Dogs Rescue, The Labelle Foundation & Josh and his Critters. They all have Instagram pages.
How can we keep up with what you are doing?
Here’s my digits people!
Dark Specter page: https://www.facebook.com/thedarkspecter