Gabriel Theis Interview on The Curse of Professor Zardonicus

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Gabriel Theis

Gabriel Theis is a Director, Actor, Producer and Writer from Houston University. He was born on April 16 1998, in Houston, Texas. He is best known for The Dilemma of Winston Kirp, Nitelife and his First Feature film The Curse of Professor Zardonicus.

Greetings Mr Gabriel Theis, I’m Mayuresh Manchkar on the behalf of The Movie Culture and we are thrilled to have you and I hope you are doing well.

Q. To start with this interview, we would like to know about your first feature film The Curse of Professor Zardonicus and what was your vision behind this?

Gabriel Theis: The Curse of Professor Zardonicus is a micro-budget dark-comedy film that follows an eccentric young man who recruits a film student to help him prove the existence of an urban legend, the titular “Professor Zardonicus.”

The framing device of the story is that the audience is seeing the film through the in-universe lens of the film student’s camera. That decision was made because I knew we wouldn’t be able to shoot Zardonicus with a full crew, given our totally limited resources. So, I wrote a screenplay that could turn our weaknesses into a strength, and one that would take any blemishes and have it actually add to the realistic, grounded tone of the film.

While I was initially convinced that we were shooting a comedy, what with the film centering around a myth named “Professor Zardonicus,” the end product was darker and more tense. Many films evolve and transform with every stage of production, and it was amazing to watch Zardonicus go on that journey.

The lead character, Darren, is a firm believer in the Zardonicus legend, often using mental gymnastics to rationalize his frankly strange beliefs. To me, this was the comedic engine of the film, watching someone try to hold onto such a strange, ridiculous concept. But, by the film’s release, Qanon had become a household name, and conspiracy theories in general had totally become ingrained into the zeitgeist. That really affected the audience’s relationship with the film, and really brought the characters into people’s lives.

While I had very much intended for Zardonicus to have themes centered around the nature of belief, faith, delusions, and alienation, I had intended it so in the context of a dark comedy. People see those comedic moments still, but now it’s in the context of an otherwise dark thriller.

And that’s no complaint! Watching a film evolve is probably the most rewarding experience for a filmmaker, because that means the story has taken a life of its own, that it no longer exists as any one person’s vision, but as its own creation.

Q. Being a young self-dependent filmmaker, how was the journey from making the Short Films to your first Feature film?

Gabriel Theis: My journey is basically one of forcing things into existence. And that’s all it really comes down to, no matter who you are or what resources you’re working with. Your options may be limited, but I don’t believe that there’s anyone who just can’t pursue filmmaking.

For me, it was just taking a step back and realizing that nobody was just going to “offer” me the chance to produce films. I just had to go and get started. My first few shorts were only a minute long, and one was me just being killed with a pencil.

After a few of those micro-shorts, I felt comfortable enough to make a five-minute horror film for a class project back in college. It wasn’t, let’s say, “good,” but making it forced me to really practice some key techniques, namely shot composition, lighting, and editing.

And that’s all any of this really is for a while, “practice,” I’d hate to contradict Allen Iverson, but “practice” is really most of what we do, and I’m not ever sure if it really stops.

After making a few more shorts, I ended up directing a micro-feature mockumentary, The Dilemma of Winston Kirp. During production, I worked with the team that would help me produce Zardonicus, including my lead actor Alec White, and my Director of Photography/Editor Lucio Vasquez.

None of us realized at the time, but Winston Kirp was really a dress rehearsal for Zardonicus. We had practiced the mockumentary-style, we had managed to secure locations and actors with a limited budget, and most importantly, we learned how to solve last-minute projects.

So, with the Zardonicus screenplay having been written, I approached my team and proposed that our next project would be feature-length, and that we would crowdfund $3,500. I wasn’t sure if they said yes, but they did. And, after a long and winding road, we released Zardonicus a little over a year later.

Q. How did you get into filmmaking and who is your inspiration?

Gabriel Theis: The people most responsible for that inspiration were my parents. My dad was the film critic and the Houston Press, and watching classic films was a constant activity for us.

The film that really sparked my imagination was Sam Raimi’s Spiderman, which I saw eight times in the theater. Just like how Star Wars inspired an entire generation of filmmakers upon its release, Spiderman had charted my entire future for me. As I’ve grown up, more films have shaped and influenced my own taste and style, but it all goes back to Sam Raimi.

Q. While filming the movie were there any funny Anecdotes that you might wanna share with us?

Gabriel Theis: Producing a film with virtually no-budget pretty much guarantees that you’ll walk away with some, perhaps, colorful anecdotes. Some are amusing, like when we filmed at a restaurant for Winston Kirp, and were asked, very politely, to order something more than just coffee. And some are tense, like when a security guard walked in on us shooting the climactic scene for Zardonicus. If you’ve seen the film, you know why our operation might have seemed rather suspect.

The most amusing, and the most relevant, would be when we had to shoot one of the more suspenseful scenes of Zardonicus, and we had planned on shooting in a basement on campus. The location was perfect.

Except for the fact that it was brightly lit. And there wasn’t a light switch. Literally, we couldn’t turn off more than two lights. That just killed the atmosphere of the scene, and I was about to give up and find another location when Alec said that he had some trashbags in his truck. And a ladder.

I might have audibly scoffed when he said that. But, sure enough, he busted out the ladder, grabbed a trashbag, and…

It actually worked. So, we spent the next two hours literally covering every light source with trashbags. At one point, I had to resort to literally making a wall out of trashbags to cover the light that was flooding in from outside.

Watching the film, I don’t think you’d ever notice. The lighting came out exactly as we’d hoped. But just about every square-inch of darkness you see on-screen is literally a trashbag.

Q. Which role would you prefer (Director/ Actor/ Producer) going forward in your career and is there any Director/ Actor/ Producer that you would like to work with?

Gabriel Theis: I actually see myself as a screenwriter. I’m surprised to say that, because I’d always hoped to be a director, and I started writing screenplays as a means to give myself some material to direct.

But after having written more than I’ve directed, probably because screenwriting is a one-person practice, it’s something I’ve had more affinity for. I can safely say that I’d rather watch somebody else produce a screenplay I’ve written, rather than me direct somebody else’s screenplay.

Not that you can’t be personally expressive as a director, Martin Scorsese can explore compelling themes in a style entirely unique to his own. For me however, I feel more personal satisfaction expressing certain themes and exploring topics through the written word.

That being said, I would always consider a directorial opportunity. I’m currently working on several projects of which I am not the screenwriter. So I hope it’s not a choice I’d ever have to make.

Q. What is your dream as a filmmaker?

Gabriel Theis: I have many screenplays that I would love to direct, including a loose trilogy of horror films, a Charles Manson biopic, and a period drama set in Soviet Russia. I would also love to be able to work with previously existing materials(always wanted to see a Silver Surfer movie on the, well, silver screen). Except, I’d rather do that after I’ve established my own identity as a filmmaker in the public eye.

Q. Any future projects that you would like to share with us?

Gabriel Theis: Without going into too much detail, I can say that I’m excited for the future. Currently, I’m helping to develop a science-fiction/thriller screenplay with Brad Rushing and Shaun Paul Piccinino, and I’m also helping to produce an independent feature that will be launching a crowd funding campaign.

Finally, I’m in the early stages of developing my next directorial feature. Details are under wraps, but be on the lookout.

Q. What is your advice to the aspiring young talents?

Gabriel Theis: You’ve probably heard this many times, because it’s just that true: just start doing it. Go out with whatever camera you have, it could be your iPhone, and make it with whatever resources you’ve got. It probably won’t be good, because it doesn’t have to be good. Your work isn’t being shown to an audience of millions, this is a chance for you to understand the basics, to get the mistakes out of the way, and to develop your own voice.

If I would’ve waited for that perfect idea, or the “right” opportunity, I never would have gotten Zardonicus made. Not even sure if I would have been set down that path. Because I just would’ve been waiting for someone to give me a chance.

There will be people who support you, people you will thank for making this all possible. But nobody can give you the chance. And you certainly can’t wait for it to happen.

Go out, meet people. Watch YouTube tutorials. When you watch your favorite movie next time, take notes. But never stop creating. Out of everything I’ve produced, there’s only a fraction that I’m truly proud of. But, I never would’ve gotten to that fraction without the rest of the equation.

Q. Thank you for your time and we wish you all the very best for your future endeavours and also where can we find The Curse of Professor Zardonicus to watch?

Gabriel Theis: You can find The Curse of Professor Zardonicus on Amazon Prime. Thank you for this interview, and for supporting independent filmmakers!

The Movie Culture Synopsis

Young and talented filmmaker Mr Gabriel Theis all over from Houston, Texas, we couldn’t help but appreciate and acknowledge his way of thinking. Throughout the interview, we could sense the boldness and Dedication he has for filmmaking. At the end of this interview, he gave some good advice to the youngsters who wait for the opportunity instead of making one.

The Curse of Professor Zardonicus is available on Amazon Prime Video to watch.