Interview: Michael O'Shea (The Transfiguration)




Reviewed here on “From Dusk Till Con”, “The Transfiguration” is a unique and dark tale surrounding a boy named Milo whose belief in being vampire bleeds into a reality of love, the danger of the neighborhood around him and the immersion into the obsession to survive. A complete film by many standards, it features a talented cast as well as smart lighting and cinematography. An unflinching build of violence set on a rich score, growing dread and a narrative that pays homage as well as finds its own way through the shadows in this coming of age tale. Written and directed by Michael O’Shea, Jay Kay talks with O’Shea about this “horror portrait” which has received acclaim and praise for its darkness, reality and connection with the viewers on different levels.



Jay Kay: Thank you Michael for taking the time to talk with me about “The Transfiguration”. First, could you talk about the theatrical release for the film and the support of the fans, media, area and peers on this film?


Michael O’Shea: The film is in the middle of a small theatrical release in America and the UK with Toronto/Vancouver happening end of May and I think France in June. The website and Facebook pages has information about the USA dates. I believe the film should be on Netflix/VOD/DVD/etc in the USA at least towards end of summer. 


We’ve had a lot of support from horror press that, as a horror fan, I've really appreciated and loved. The last year I’ve been touring the film at festivals, both genre and non-genre fests, and have loved talking with viewers who connected with the film at both.


JK: Where did this story come from? How personal was it for you and where did your love of vampires start?


MOS: I knew I wanted to do a horror portrait. I had just failed at raising money for a more expensive film, a slasher, and I was thinking about what would be a cheap style that would work within the fabric of the story, so something where “cheap” was an advantage not a disadvantage. I had just seen a film called “The Pleasure of Being Robbed” by the Safdie brothers, which is a portrait film where they occasionally shoot the subject with long lenses from a distance, like across the street, as if they are spying on their subject. Another film I had read about was “Escape from Tomorrow” which was a film where the director stole a whole movie inside Disneyland, and he did it by shooting his actors around real people unaware.


I decided my next script would be based around the idea of shooting along the lines of the above two styles, but also hark back to 70s and early 80s horror auteurs that I loved like Larry Cohen (God Told Me To) or even non-horror directors like Jerry Shatzberg’s “Panic In Needle Park”. 


From there a friend told me her friend’s kid was having trouble at school because he was obsessed with ghosts and vampires, and that clicked in me the initial idea of a kid who was an early teenager that believed he was a vampire and actually could be (I’m also a fan of the fantastic being ambivalent like in Jacques Toureneur’s “Cat People”).


Once I understood I was doing a kid and doing vampires, a lot of personal stuff came out of me from being a sort of outsider and having a lot of trouble as an early teenager. And my love of horror movies also came bursting out in the script because Milo is obsessed with vampire stories and movies and I could relate to being a kid and being obsessed with horror, though Milo would quickly correct me and say that he is obsessed with “vampire movies”, not “horror movies”…haha!


JK: “The Transfiguration” is a very dark, human drama surrounding the lore and belief that the lead character Milo (Eric Ruffin) immersive himself in vampirism as a way to survive and cope in his fractured life. Can you talk about that immersion of vampirism and the different levels of vampire lore? 


MOS: Milo is someone that has read and seen everything he can find about vampires. And, since he understands himself to be a vampire, he likes any works that come from a framework he defines as “realistic” and hates anything that is way too “magical” or “supernatural”, since that’s not the reality of his life. So, Milo loves Romero’s Martin and a lot of older books and hates anything that’s very special effects driven, which is funny because as that’s my favorite stuff for the most part as well, though for different reasons than him.


A terrible tragedy befalls Milo and his brother that puts Milo in charge of his household, it builds on the pressure that adds to him being an outcast and isolated.


JK: Can you talk about Milo’s room and the set design for it? How key is his lair to his character?


MOS: We worked a lot on his room and his notebook pages. His notebook pages I had actually written back when we were raising money, they were what made up our
“lookbook” to raise money for the film. I wrote the text and my friend Jamie Favaro did the handwriting and drawings. Other drawings you see in the film are by the actual kid who I mentioned above, and they are his drawings from the time he was interested in this stuff. And other drawings are by the woman who sings the “chapstick song” that appears in the film, she also makes lovely and dark art that is in the room.



And then a ton of the room is the work of me and our Production Designer and Art Director, Danica Pantic and Amber Unkle, who were very talented people who made that room the reality that it became. I think the room is incredibly important in defining not just his current character, but his history, and we spent a lot of time on it.







JK: Can you talk about the relationship and companionship between Milo and Sophie played by Chloe Levine as they develop their whole relationship against the backdrop of an urban area within New York? What was the audition like for Sophie’s character? What did the dynamic of the interracial relationship, dependency and love story bring to the narrative?


MOS: We first met and read Chloe as Sophie two years before we shot the film. We were doing a proof of concept short film to raise money for the feature, and I wasn't sure yet if I was going to use Sophie and Milo or just Milo in the film. In the end, we just used Milo but I remembered Chloe’s fantastic audition and when I saw Eric Ruffin on the TV show “The Good Wife”, I called him in and had him read as Milo with her as Sophie. I loved their interactions and I was pretty sure I had my Milo and Sophie before we had financing or traditional casting in place.


I don’t know about the other part of the question. I’m a big fan of the movies “Heavenly Creatures” and “Let the Right One In” and Larry Clark (Another Day in Paradise, Bully) and Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia) and I shot where Milo lives where I grew up so I had all these wonderful and lonely and abandoned locations in mind as well as stories and feelings and relationships from my own childhood and early teenage years there... that wasn’t a completely coherent thought but I hope it was helpful.


JK: What was the set like off camera? How did you create the bond between cast and crew?



MOS: I have a very close relationship with the Director of Photography, Sung Rae Cho, and his talent is a big part of the film's creative success. Shooting in live locations like I was doing was very hard on the crew and I’m very much in debt to the ones that stuck with me the whole way through. Yeah, not everyone did. But I understand, it was a very hard shoot.







JK: What role did the city and surrounding boroughs of New York play? On a more personal note, what did it do for you, producer Susan Leber and those associated with the production to create this story in a place that was familiar?


MOS: Setting Milo’s hometown as Rockaway, where I grew up, was very helpful in that I had a lot of in roads to different locations and had ideas of where all these places were already.


Having ideas of many of the locations before we had money was very important to getting the unique locations we had. I don't think even a film with tons of money could have gotten such unique locations if they had been out of towners new to a city. Also, our very small crew size helped us shoot in places that may have been more difficult for larger crews with a giant footprint. 


I think a sense of location and using location to establish mood and commentary is something that The Transfiguration does very well and I'm very proud of the film in that regard. 


JK: We see some recognizable faces and names that are a part of “The Transfiguration” on both sides of the camera including Lloyd Kaufman and Larry Fessenden. Having support of your peers as well as resources from the area to work with, what was does that do for you as a filmmaker?


MOS: It was very exciting and thrilling to have Lloyd come on as well as Larry, though both were a bit intimidating for me as a first time director to direct them. But of course, they were both great about it.



Larry has subsequently seen the film and liked it and since his film Habit was a huge influence on the inception of this movie, this was a really big deal for me and I’m blushing even typing this. 







JK: Was “The Transfiguration” meant to be filmed in a documentary style like “Collateral”? The planning, Cho’s camera work on the Canon C500 is so smart and allows action to develop in many of the scenes. What technical element played the most into the visual feel of the film?


MOS: It was definitely meant to be filmed handheld, and to use live locations to create frames that had a lot of documentary-like authenticity inside them. 


JK: The opening of “The Transfiguration” offers a snapshot to what tragically is ahead for the viewer. Each attack and kill grows in more intensity, viciousness and slowly becomes chaotic. What was the choreography, blocking and direction like on the various kills for Milo? How did you decide on the story placement for the kills and what did not make the film? Can you talk about how you wanted Cho to capture his Milo’s body movement, facial expression and eyes?


MOS: All the kills made the film. I wrote in the script a murder every 20 minutes, and that was intentional. I understood I was making a genre film, and I felt I owed a fan like myself a kill every 20 minutes, even though I was doing lots of other things that was not traditional for the genre.


Take a read of the film review here on “From Dusk Till Con” and watch the trailer by clicking here. Thanks to Michael O’Shea for taking the time to talk “The Transfiguration.”


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