INTERVIEW: NJ Native & Filmmaker Mike Doto

VoxPopNJ not only promotes social media at the Jersey Shore, but we also strongly support independent film and local filmmakers and festivals.  This month, the Garden State Film Festival comes to Asbury Park, NJ from March 25th to March 28th.  As part of this event, NJ native Mike Doto’s new film The Legacy will have its world premiere.  The short film follows a young boy who discovers that his dad is really a famous superhero.  VoxPopNJ spoke with Doto recently about his experience in film from college to his current production.

VOXPOP NJ:  How did you first become interested in film as a career?

MIKE DOTO: As a child, movies had a profound influence on me. You’d most likely find me playing with my action figures or dressing up as my favorite movie character and imagining what it would be like to live in that world. I didn’t have a camcorder at the time, but I think this was the start of my interest in filmmaking. I first got serious about filmmaking when I was at Sparta High School. We didn’t have a film or video program there at the time, but my friend and I decided to make a movie on his camcorder and we got all of our friends involved. Not surprisingly, that film was about a superhero. It was then that I decided that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.

VPNJ: Who and/or what are the major inspirations for your films? 

MD: For “The Legacy” I wanted to make a film based on the types of movies that inspired me to be a filmmaker to begin with. When I grew up there were a lot of films about a young character who is pulled into a larger-than-life scenario and has an opportunity to become a hero. Films such as E.T., Star Wars, Goonies, Wargames, The Last Starfighter, and Back to the Future. These films continue to inspire me today
and I hope to recapture that magic in the films that I make.

VPNJ: You went to Emerson – a number of my film students have gone there too. How do you think your college experience prepared you for the work you’re doing now?

MD: I can’t say enough good things about Emerson. From my first week there, I was already holding a camera and making my own films. I feel like I learn the most by hands on experience and this is exactly what they offer. The types of students that go there are the ones who are heavily involved in extra curricular activities and really take advantage of the opportunities afforded to them. Because of this I have forged very strong friendships and professional relationships with my classmates from Emerson. To this day I continue to work with my former classmates out here in Los Angeles and I have collaborated with quite a few of them on my films.

VPNJ: You both wrote and directed “The Legacy”. Do you prefer taking both roles on a film, or do you prefer one over the other? Is it easier/harder to direct your own work?

MD: My passion is directing. If I like the script and the characters, I don’t care if I wrote it or not, I want to make it. Directing your own work is different, but I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder. When you direct your own work you have to be very sure of the material because you don’t have a second opinion. You have to make sure that you’re writing the film for an audience and not just for yourself. When directing someone else’s script you automatically have a second opinion and you’re able to ask questions about the writer’s intentions behind the characters and story, but you ultimately have to create your own vision of the story and trust it.

VPNJ:  How did you come up with the concept of “The Legacy”? Did you find taking the mythology of a superhero and incorporating that into a film grounded in reality difficult? Did you choose the name “Kryptoman” for the obvious Superman reference or other less obvious reasons?

MD: When I decided to do a film like the ones that inspired me as a kid I thought about what type of film I would have written when I was 10-years-old. It didn’t take long to realize that I probably would have written a film about being a superhero. I wanted the film to be grounded in realism with a hint of this larger-than-life character. I decided that it would be more effective to write a film about the relationship between a boy and his father; a father who may or may not be a superhero.

“Kryptoman” was a legal way of getting around the name “Superman.” I needed a hero that people knew of because the backstory is key to the plot. With a short story I didn’t have enough time to develop a completely original superhero so I hinted at one that most people were familiar with.

VPNJ: Do you prefer the Golden or Silver age of comics? 

MD: Actually, I wasn’t very big into comic books. I was into superheroes from cartoons, movies, and tv shows, but didn’t spend a lot of time reading comics.

VPNJ: You’re a NJ native who moved to LA. How did you find the transition? Have you ever thought of filming here in NJ?

MD: There were a lot of challenges transitioning to Los Angeles. Breaking into the film business was the hardest one because it’s an industry that is driven heavily on who you know and I didn’t know anyone. What I had in common with a lot of people was that I was a dreamer and there’s a lot of us out here. You’ll find that most people in Los Angeles are from somewhere else and they like hearing about where you grew up and what unique perspectives you have. I was also fortunate to have a lot of my friends from Emerson make the trip out with me and we have become a family away from
home.

I would love to shoot a film in New Jersey. While I was in college, during the summers I interned at the New Jersey Film Commission and I saw first hand how diverse New Jersey is and how many great locations there are. I also saw how well filmmakers and film crews were treated.

VPNJ: Your film has its premiere at the Garden State Film Festival. Why this Festival? Will you be at the Festival yourself? If not, have you considered a Skype interview after the showing? 

MD: My last film “Peace” screened at the Garden State Film Festival back in 2006 and it was one of my favorite festivals. They flew out my lead actor, Kurtwood Smith, for a Q&A session and I was very impressed with the venue and the staff. So I’m very happy to be premiering my film “The Legacy” at the festival this year and it’s certainly an added bonus being able to premiere the film in my home state with my family and friends. I will be in attendance along with my producer Jed Hammel. We will be doing a Q&A after the screening.

Check out the trailer for “The Legacy” below.  The film will screen Saturday, March 27th at 11:00 a.m. at The Showroom in Asbury Park, NJ.  Tickets can be purchased online here.  Visit the Garden State Film Festival website for information regarding tickets, showtimes, and venues for other showings.

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