Interviews: Director Shannon Alexander Talks About His Darkly Comedic Drama The Misguided

Shannon Alexander's darkly comedic drama The Misguided is out now on Cable and Digital VOD from Early Autumn and Indie Rights. Alexander has assembled some of Australia's finest new talent for his feature directorial debut, including Caleb Galati, Steven J. Mihaljevich, Jasmine Nibali, and Golden Globe nominee Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) in her first film role. 

University dropout Levi is chronically incapable of holding down a steady job or relationship. Having suddenly become single and homeless, he ends up in the home of his drug addict brother Wendel. Shortly after, Levi begins a romance with his Wendel's ex-girlfriend Sanja, and plans to start a new independent life for the two of them in a new city. But when he learns of a deadly predicament Wendel faces, his loyalties between those closest to him and his sense of familial duty are at odds, and his loyalty assist his brother results in a tricky scheme of subterfuge. 

We had a chance to speak to Shannon Alexander about his film.

TMS: First off, can you provide us with a little bit of background information. Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking? What type of training or schooling did you have?

SA: I had an interest in watching a wide range of films early on, as well as photography. And during the time when digital image recording was about to begin its revolution and supersede film, it offered us the technical ability to create work. I wanted to pursue a job as a camera operator so I unintentionally got involved in filmmaking by writing, directing, editing and cinematography when I bought my first 8mm video camera and made backyard movies. From there I ended up studying screenwriting and film at college years later. Did you have a lot of support when you decided to get into filmmaking? The personal projects I’ve undertaken so far have all been self-funded, albeit within the ‘no-budget’ range and I’ve had side jobs to support the habit. 

TMS: What’s up with The Misguided? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie? 

SAThe Misguided is a realistically styled and 100% independently made, dark comic story of the family unit of two brothers who are doomed to a life of struggle due to obsession, addiction, far-fetched dreams and begrudging loyalty to one another. It features excellent new acting talent and is available now on Amazon Prime, Vimeo On Demand and other platforms to soon follow. 

TMS: What was the inspiration behind this story? 

SA: I approached the production similarly to making a run-n-gun type of documentary which I felt it aided the narrative in its realism and true to life characters. This urgent style was merged with a scripted melodramatic “movie” like narrative influence I drew from SENSO (1954) and THE HEIRESS (1949). These films share the viewpoint of leading women, deeply in love, who were ultimately betrayed by the men they gave their hearts to. As the film was shot on no-budget, a lavish style wasn’t possible, so I experimented with a more BUBBLE (2005) simplified like approach. And for The Misguided I experimented with switching viewpoints to that of the male love interest and perpetrator. Understanding his difficulty and dilemma forced upon him creates ambivalence, confusion and nervousness of acting moral in immoral situations. And the girl he loves would be on the receiving end of a tricky scheme of subterfuge in order for him to save his brother, another agent of addiction in the story, from a dangerous situation. 

TMS: Did you do research into drug addiction in preparation for the film? Did it change any decisions with the script? 

SA: Most of the conflict that occurs in the movie – Wendel’s memory, impotence, and financial debts are a result of drugs that adversely affect him and those in his inner circle. It’s an anti-addiction movie set in Perth, Australia which is the most isolated city in the world with a powerful mining industry that, similar to many other places suffers from a drug problem. There was an economic boom there several years ago, and the remnants of those party days still linger, yet for many the cash has already flown. I researched the day-to-day lives of street level dealers, and people with various types of addiction not only drugs, but plutonic and romantic love as well. 

TMS: How long did it take to get out that initial draft? 

SA: I was working on several concepts and scripts at once, and this required the least resources to produce, a minimal cast, no effects and cheap locations, so probably between three and six months for the first draft. 

TMS: How much did the script change over the course of the next few drafts? 

SA: The script was changing as we were shooting. Mostly dialogue considerations and discussions with cast in tweaking the lines and trying to get it to sound real for what it was, and have a movie like construction and snap to it. 

TMS: Is there anything you found more challenging when penning the screenplay? 

SA: The questions of how to strike the balance between the truth of the scenes and how far to embellish them, all the small moments and their residual outcomes. Whether or not to be clich├ęd or truthful at the sake of entertainment or verisimilitude, and maybe it should’ve been more or less of one or the other. Writing is hard. 

TMS: This is a very dialogue heavy film, which is common in independent cinema. However, it never feels like filler. What were the inspirations for the dialogue? 

SA: Thank you, it’s definitely cheaper to do in indie film. I love hearing cinematic dialogue with meaning and wittiness that artificially sings yet sounds like real talk laced with an occasional speech error and repetition. I looked at films with discussions between men who are close to each other, that’s filled with aggression and vulnerability by David Mamet, Schrader, Barry Levinson, Woody Allen, Sam Peckinpah, Patrick Hamilton to name a few. 

TMS: How long was the shoot?

SA: The shoot was brief but was spread out over the course of around a year and half, gathering the scenes piecemeal. All up it was probably a two to three full week shoot. The actors were very dedicated and came back for tweaks and completion in between their day jobs and busy lives which was inspiring to me. 

TMS: Can you talk about some of the initial ideas for casting? 

SA: The casting was done by instinct. I wanted to model the cast around the Levi character played by Caleb Galati by selecting those who suited Caleb as his older brother and girlfriend the best. I wanted to experiment using a mixture of actors with some experience, and some fresh faces with zero screen acting experience as well. I was restricted to using local acting talent only due to budget constraints, so I hope the viewers find the characters believable and relatable. 

TMS: How were the main actors selected?  

SA: For the lead it was important to me to find someone who got the character as someone stuck in life, going nowhere and knew what it’s like to be the younger of two brothers, who’s dependent on others in relationships and wants to finally create his own life of independence. I felt Caleb had the right screen presence, a strong voice and had interior life. His brother needed to be the lively, flamboyant, vile type to offset the quietness and mild mannered behavior Caleb displayed, and Steve could play that well. The two physically look like brothers and had great chemistry. 

TMS: Was there any rehearsals prior to the shoot? Did you adjust any of the script after the actors were there? 

SA: Rehearsal is my favorite. I jokingly say when we’re done, can we just leave it there? Do we have to shoot this thing now? The script also evolved during rehearsal as actors were given free rein to add or change lines. 

TMS: In terms of directing choices, anyone that you try to emulate? Or ones that have influenced you?

SA: Definitely directors that can get the job done with little resources like Steven Soderbergh, and the way he uses wide angles to let the scene unfold by taking an observational uncluttered and precise style. Scorsese’s great dark comedies GOODFELLAS (1990), AFTER HOURS (1985), THE KING OF COMEDY (1982). The way Woody Allen let the two brothers in CASSANDRA’S DREAM (2007) simply perform and say their lines, as did Hitchcock with the two killers from ROPE (1948). I definitely tried to emulate that in the scenes between Levi and Wendel. For example, when they’re walking around the supermarket plotting, and when they’re on the street next to a wall and Levi’s having second thoughts on carrying out the scheme. And for logistical inspiration, no/low budget fare like BAD TASTE (1982), FOLLOWING (1998), THE EVIL DEAD (1981), NEWLYWEDS (2011) etc. 

TMSLow budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories? 

SA: This was an impossible task, and there are literally dozens and dozens of amusing, strange and dramatic events, that worked in our favor and I’m seriously considering writing a book or screenplay on the making of… It might be self-indulgent producing yet another behind the scenes account of a film, but I think people will respond to it. 

TMS: If the movie was playing as one-half of a double feature at a Drive-in theatre what would be the perfect support feature? 

SA: SENSO (1954), which would be the main attraction.

TMS: If you had a choice to remake a genre movie, what movie would you like to remake? 

SA: I might not feel right trying to remake a classic, something that no one will ever truly recapture or match, although off the top of my head I’d say THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) and shoot all the car chase scenes for real on the streets of New York in the same way, FREAKS (1932), NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947), THE BIRDS (1963), I’d like to find the next Jackie Chan and remake the POLICE STORY series, and the YOUNG AND DANGEROUS franchise, also THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN (1978), THE GREAT SILENCE (1968), BAD LIEUTENANT (1992) even though it’s been redone… too many. 

TMS: Can you tell us anything about the other projects that you are working on or planning on working on? Or, anything else that you would like to plug? 

SA: I’ll return to the other concepts and scripts I’ve had in mind for a while now. They’re more genre based at this stage. I want to do something with potentially wide appeal. 

You can read our review for the film here.