An Interview with David Moscow, Director of DESOLATION (2017)
We reviewed DESOLATION, the directorial debut of actor David Moscow a while back, and we were lucky enough to get a chance to ask him a few questions about the film and his career. I’d like to thank David for not only a fast reply but some insightful answers about not just the movie but the state of the country as well.
1. Could you give us a little background about yourself and how you got into acting?
My first taste was in school plays in 5th and 6th grade. My best friend and I were the leads in a mystery. I think I was hooked from the audience ‘ s first laugh. That same year, my mom saw an open casting call in the local paper for FIVE CORNERS, a Jodie Foster film set in the Bronx (where I lived). I was a pretty rambunctious kid and my mom was trying anything at that point to keep me occupied. I did well enough on the audition that they passed my name to an agent at J . Michael Bloom, which was a good agency for children back then. I remember going into the office to meet everyone. They handed me a scene from a movie that was playing around that time for me to read. It was a scene from STAND BY ME.
2. It must have been a huge shock going from doing a couple of episodes of KATE & ALLIE to auditioning for Robert De Niro and working with Tom Hanks. Can you tell us a little about how that felt?
I don’t know if it ever dawned on me what was going on. This was before TMZ and the 24-hour celeb news cycle. I hadn’t really watched many movies and was only allowed to watch 1 hour of TV a week. So we were not a very media sav v y fam. I don’t even think I knew who Tom Hanks was when I got the part. It all just seemed like fun. The first time I really got struck was when I went to do some ADR wild lines for BIG after production had ended. The producer and same crew were shooting WORKING GIRL in the city at the time. So my mom took me to that set. They recorded me saying some lines and then asked if I wanted to meet Harrison Ford. I didn’t put the name with the face until I walked upstairs and saw Han Solo. At which point I bugged out and almost lost my mind. One of the few times I’ve been speechless in my life.
3. When and why did you decide to make the move behind the camera by becoming a producer?
I was involved with a theatre company in NY with my friends Tom Everrett Scott and Mike Kelly among others. My dad called me up and said that his business partner ‘ s kid (who I knew from riding the school bus as a kid) had written about 20 minutes of a musical in college and they were looking for help putting it up. This sounded like a recipe for disaster -- where I would end up ruining my dad’s friendship but, against my better instinct s, I agreed. The recent grad came down with his friends and put on a little show for me. About 10 minutes in I said, “Lock the doors, this thing is amazing !” I workshopped it for a year, helped develop it into 90 minutes and found the financing for it. The play was ” In The Heights,” and the kid was Lin-Manuel Miranda.
I realized that after 30 years of acting where I had to wait for phone calls, as a producer I was now able to make the phone calls. It was an extremely liberating feeling to be able to create work without running the agent/manager/audition gauntlet. Having been used to my situation from the age of 11, I never thought it could be different. Of course, somehow or other, things changed and I never received any credits for my work on “In the Heights,” but you’ll have to talk to Lin-Manuel about that. In the event, it wasn’t until 2008 that I was listed as an executive producer or producer.
4. Your first film as a producer was THE END OF AMERICA, a political documentary which you were an executive producer of. Were you afraid such a polarizing genre might hurt your career?
I am not famous enough for it to hurt. But even if it might have I think, as citizens of America and this world , it is our duty to stand up and fight for our beliefs. I continue to look for ways to use my connections and knowledge this way. While waiting for the post-production to finish on DESOLATION, I helped producing and directing some Bernie Sanders digital campaign ads. I am as fulfilled by that work as by the commercial stuff. We are certainly in a much worse position now but I will say the cat is out of the bag now. The Republicans are going to have a hard time walking back these racist, anti-immigrant, sexist, homophobic beliefs that have been a puss -filled wound for years in their party , but that Trump has ripped the scab off.
As the marches this last weekend proved, folks are not gonna sit still for this. This doesn’t represent the America most of us want.
5. You’ve made your directorial debut with the horror/thriller DESOLATION. Your first film as an actual producer was HELLBENDERS and you’ve appeared in genre films like DEAD AIR and VACANCY 2. Are you a fan of the genre, and if so what are some of your favorite films in it?
I am a fan of good films. All genres. But I do believe that horror or thriller is a great genre to flex one ‘ s muscles as a director. It ‘ s a lot about creating mood and tension and emotion when most of that is not on the page, but in between the lines. I love JAWS, ALIEN, TERMINATOR, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and old Polanski. Hitchcock. And a lot of the new stuff is great. Scary as shit. Anything by James Wan.
6. In general, what are some of your overall favorite films?
7. How did you get involved with DESOLATION and what attracted you to it?
My good friend Matt McCarty wrote the script years ago. He had been hitting the pavement in Hollywood for a while and was pretty disgusted with the biz at that point. I just thought it was great. With a real twist that made sense. But he refused to sell it to me. It kept getting optioned but not made over the next 5 years. Then after the rights finally came back to him I said -- I might not be able to make it for 10 million dollars but I’ll make it this year. So he said okay. Three years later we are coming out. So it took a little longer than I said.
8. What were some of your influences in making DESOLATION?
I watched THE TENANT, ROSEMARY’S BABY, THE SHINING, THE CONJURING a bunch. I wanted it to have a classic feel at the top and then slowly break down into a more modern tale. So we started on a dolly and then moved to sticks and then finally went handheld. The progression ending in chaos.
9. Was DESOLATION meant as a kind of comment on Hollywood and show business?
This town is a wonderful place to be. As a New Yorker, it ‘ s hard to ever say that I am an Angeleno but there is more creativity going on here than just about anywhere. Most every actor, singer, writer, and musician lives and work in LA. (Watch, all my New York friends are gonna kill me) Ten years ago it was different but I think NYC just got a little expensive. My hole-in-the-wall theater company is now million dollar Chelsea lofts. Also, the weather is ridiculous. But on the flip side, there is a desperation and a strange caste system that exists here. And this sometimes twists people -which is what Desolation explores.
Whether you are on the top or the bottom, the industry pulls, and unless you are really strong it can hurt you. What shocks me about the downfall of many of the Hollywood titans recently is how out in the open it all was. The “casting couch” has been an inside (and outside) secret for as long as I’ve been acting. It was all just business as usual.
Secondly, I also think it speaks to us, Americans, as the audience for this type of “content. ” Enjoying watching people be hurt is huge business and what’s going on in this film isn’t far off from what’s happening on cable/the web right now.
10. Now that you’ve done all three, which do you prefer; acting, producing or directing?
I like ‘ em all, and each keeps me creative and flexible for the others. All three are constant problem -solving.
Thanks again for taking the time to answer our questions, David. Good luck with DESOLATION and all of your future projects.
Parade Deck Films will open DESOLATION theatrically in NYC + LA January 26th with nationwide dates to follow.