Though we featured some of Adam Volerich’s still photography in our previous issue, he’s primarily a filmmaker. We’ve been big supporters of his work, through Magnalux Pictures or otherwise, at Secret Cave. His catalogue shines with ingenuity, off-beat humour and a deep respect for the power of location. With the release of his latest short-film, Tyrannosaurus Death!, we jumped at the opportunity to interview Adam about its production.
Below is a cropped sample page from our zine. You can see the complete spread for free at our Patreon, or scroll down for the full interview with Adam Volerich.
How would you summarise Tyrannosaurus Death!?
Tyrannosaurus Death! is a whimsical romp through suburban melancholy, told through split timelines. We follow Russell, a traumatized loner who poetically narrates us through the past and present as he commits a life-altering faux pas and tries to bounce back from it. In the past we see Russell in the lead up to the decision that forever changes him, and in the present we watch him try to right his wrong; but the psychological self-harm caused by this decision has left him unable to take off a dinosaur costume or speak out loud. He is aided on his journey to redemption by his twin sister, Maggie, and their friends.
How has the project grown and changed since its initial conception?
I wrote the script over two years ago, and it’s taken a very long time to bring it to life. While the story itself didn’t change much, my approach to it certainly did. I recognized immediately that, for me to do justice to the film’s premise, I needed to not only grow more as a director but also find a way to secure legitimate funding for the project; its scope was much larger than the stories I was used to telling on my own dime.
When I initially began working on the film, I had written it with specific actors in mind for most of the lead roles. But, as time passed, I began to realize that I would need to branch outside of my immediate group of friends and regular collaborators. I felt very strongly that the film would need to have a cast that was firmly in its late 20’s or early 30’s, as opposed to the early-to-mid 20’s performers I’d originally scripted for. The weight of the story became heavier when I aged everyone up. We afford a certain amount of slack to young fuck-ups, but not so much for fully formed adults in a state of arrested development.
I ended up doing the same with the crew once it became clear just how big the scope of the production was. I brought in an additional producer, Noam Harary, with whom I’d never worked before but would love to continue working with for years to come. I was also lucky enough to be connected with producer Richard S. Schiffrin, who supported the project both financially and personally. With their help, I was able to really focus on just being a director for once. Similarly, I asked my friend, Maximillian Lewin, to come on board — at first as a camera operator, and then as my co-DP.
I found that unlike my previous films, which were small enough for me to more or less comfortably wear several hats, this project required me to fully commit (as much as I could) to just wearing the one. It may sound silly, but the writing of all my films usually begins with the question, “What can I write today that I can shoot tomorrow?” But, with Tyrannosaurus Death!, I really wanted to push beyond that boundary because asking myself that same question over and over again was beginning to lead to similar answers, and very little personal growth.
In what ways does the short-film format lend itself to the story?
I’m actually desperately trying to crack this story open and figure out how to adapt its basic premise into a feature length project. The fact that I’m having so much trouble really helps me understand why it works in this short format. We have a more or less silent protagonist who is shrouded not only in mystery but a dinosaur suit. Asking an audience to stick with this weirdo for more than 10 minutes without a damn good explanation is a really difficult sell. The premise really only functions because it has the promise of a (hopefully) satisfying conclusion in the fairly immediate future.
Music is a very strong element, used to illustrate the protagonist’s instabilities and growth. Is the use of music something you consider from the beginning, or is it something that develops with the piece?
I knew from the beginning that the music used in the film would play a key role. Ron Phippen, who plays ‘Russell’, is a tremendous physical performer, and his nuanced movements and expressions help us see who his character has become; but the music allows us to hear him as well. As with many of my projects, the majority of the music comes from my brother-in-law, Aaron Landy, who writes and performs under the name ‘Faust Ghoul‘.
Aaron is brilliant at capturing visceral emotional states with sparse instrumentation and sonic patterns. Even though these songs weren’t written specifically for Tyrannosaurus Death!, I couldn’t imagine the film without them. Another frequent music donor here is Neil Fridd of ‘Terror Pigeon!’ who, once again, has allowed me to highlight bursts of emotional catharsis with his synth-heavy pop jams. ‘Terror Pigeon!’ can be heard in the background of the birthday party, and again over the final scene.
Where, and when, can Tyrannosaurus Death! be seen?
By the time this issue comes out, Tyrannosaurus Death! will have had its first public screening as part of the Queens World Film Festival and will continue to play at film festivals throughout the year. There will be an online premiere soon after. We’ll be sure to keep everyone updated through social media and the Magnalux Pictures website.
What’s next for Magnalux?
Magnalux co-produced two feature films last year, which I was Director of Photography on, that are wrapping up their post production cycle; Alt-Space, directed by Cody Kussoy, is a near-future set sci-fi relationship thriller, and Life Coach, directed by Nelson Moses Lassiter, is a romantic comedy. Both will be touring festivals and seeking distribution later this year. We also have another short film, which has just completed post-production, entitled Cheese Shop. It’s about a struggling actress just trying to get through the first day of work at, you guessed it, a cheese shop. The film is written and directed by Sammy Zeisel, co-produced by one of my Tyrannosaurus Death! producers, Richard S Schiffrin, and myself and shot and edited by yours truly. Additionally, we’re seeking funding for my feature length directorial debut, Mother of the Night, written by Magnalux co-founder, Dominick Nero. We’re also developing some other projects, large and small, that we can’t wait to get started on.