Nathan Leon, writer and director of the new movie ‘’Prodigy’’ (released in December on VOD), formed his own production company after realizing that producing his own material was the best way to get films made in this day and age. Wanting to make a sci-fi film that doubled as a character study, Leon put pen to paper on ‘’Prodigy’ where a thoughtful movie about a young boy who believes the world will end in a matter of days.

Nathan discussed the process of making this film and more via an exclusive interview on November 4, 2018.

Filmmaking, plots, and scenes

Meagan Meehan (MM): So, Nathan, what inspired you to become a filmmaker and how did you launch yourself into the film industry?

Nathan Leon (NL): It was something that I always felt I had to do. It was my calling. It might sound a bit precious or cliche, but it’s the truth. The way I imagine stories as an artist and storyteller have always been through images. From a creative standpoint, it became obvious that my ideas would best be served with film as my canvas. I loved that filmmaking was a way to combine all of the creative arts into one profession.

Writing, painting, photography, music, sound design, costume design … Movies have it all! What could be a better job than that! When I saw Spielberg’s films growing up, I remember thinking, “Someone gets paid to do this job? Is that really possible?” From that point on I had to learn everything I could about what it would take to become a filmmaker.

My first interaction with anyone in the film business was through a mentorship called Act One in Hollywood.

Before that, I didn’t know anyone in the industry. Act One focused the program on writing but also introduced me to other working professionals. I learned the writing, directing, and management side of the movie business. Over time I started getting into the top 10 list of many prestigious screenwriting contests and yet no one was knocking at my door offering me a job or payment for a screenplay. It was an epiphany for me to realize that I needed to become more than just a writer/director.

I needed to understand how to produce films. So that’s what I did. I started my own production company Visionary Film Productions with my wife. Relationships with investors grew from there. Overall it became apparent I needed to stop waiting for someone to give me an opportunity to make movies. I had to make that opportunity for myself.

MM: Do you remember the first time you actually got paid to go out on the scene and shoot something?

NL: You bet! I had just started my production company, and I was paid $400 to shoot a reunion video for a client. Nothing to write home about but I was a bartender at the time making $200 a night.

So, for me it was amazing. I had just doubled my paycheck doing something I loved! Something I had created! And better yet, I was my own boss. It taught me that I could be self-sufficient and that was a liberating feeling. When it comes to equipment, one size doesn’t fit all. It’s all dependent on the budget and size of the production. I’ve shot on everything from Canon DSLR’s like the 7D to the Blackmagic up to the RED Cinema Cameras. Lately, as we’ve progressed into feature work and we primarily shoot on the RED.

MM: If you couldn’t make movies anymore for some bizarre reason, what would you do for a living?

NL: I did a brief stint as an EMT when I lived in LA. There was a time when I almost gave up the dream of making movies. I was preparing to become a Paramedic. I thought it would be great to help save lives and figured it would be an exciting job that would keep changing and never get boring. I sat in class one day, and the science of what I was learning was beyond my comprehension. I remember thinking, “This isn’t what I do. I’m an artist. What am I doing in here?” I stood up and walked out and never looked back. That being said, I admire paramedics, firefighters, doctor’s, and police. Anyone who risks or gives so much of their own life to save someone else is doing a commendable job.

I wouldn’t mind being a part of that.

MM: How did “Prodigy” come to you and what appealed to you about the plot?

NL: I wanted to make a sci-fi genre film that also doubled as a character study. I had the idea to explore the father/son dynamic but wanted to place it in a bigger world then a straight drama. I had the idea about a boy with the supernatural ability to receive prophecy, and I felt that could be an interesting take on the relationship of a father and son. What kind of problems would that create? What would this do to their relationship? I could easily see the conflict in every scene, and that’s always a good sign.

I liked the idea of taking a family drama to places I hadn’t seen before. It always starts with the character for me. Then I try to figure out how I can reverse expectations and add something new. I’ve seen a father/son road movie before. I’d never seen one where the main character thinks the end of the world is going to happen by the end of the week. There are bits of me in every character, and I was excited to explore the deeper aspects about what happens to us when we die and how we might handle knowing that that day could be very close. How might it change the way we are living our lives? If I could get audiences thinking about those topics, I felt it might facilitate the rekindling of broken relationships within their own family.

To me, that’s personal and also a worthy ambition.

Casting, advice, and the movie business

MM: How much of opinion did you get in casting and what has been the most rewarding thing about working on this project and in the film industry in general?

NL: Yes, I did the casting myself. I knew that the movie would live or die off of the performances. I had a very specific quality and looked that I was searching for with each character. Also directing is 90 percent casting. Get the casting right, and you might have a shot at creating a great film. Get it wrong… well… it’s going to be a long and bumpy journey.

As an indie filmmaker, I’ve also grown accustomed to wearing a lot of hats and needing to do things on my own. It didn’t feel like too much of a stretch to learn more about the casting process.

So far, the best part of working in the movie industry is that it’s always changing and allows me to be creative every day. As the saying goes… “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I can honestly say I never feel like I’m working when I’m on a movie. I also don’t take this job for granted. I worked a lot of jobs I despised for A LOT of years in order to get to this point. It wasn’t easy, and I’ll never forget what it took to get here.

I also love the idea that I can write a story from a basement in Omaha and, through a lot of hard work and persistence, that story can reach a wide audience across the country. To be able to speak to people on such a global scale, that’s a great privilege.

MM: Career-wise, where do you see yourself in ten years, what is coming up next, and can you offer any advice for upstarters in the movie business?

NL: I’d love for our production company Visionary Film Productions to continue to grow. I’d like to see us working on multiple feature films and changing the landscape of the types of genre films that are available to audiences.

I have a feeling we will be hired out for projects by other producers and doing collaborations. But feature films have always been my primary goal. Forging more relationships with other producers and distributors, getting our movies into theaters and across bigger platforms is the next endeavour.

We have quite a few screenplays we plan to put into production in the coming years. In particular, a drama called NIGHTFALL and a high concept sci-fi genre film. It’s a bit early in the process to talk about it, but I always encourage people to check out our website at visionaryfilmproductions(dot)com to stay up to date on our latest projects.

I have a feeling it’s going to be an exciting year in 2019!

My advice is to learn to be a jack of all trades. The industry is changing fast and constantly. With the advent of digital technology and VOD platforms, the movie business is a fiercely competitive field. You have to love it. It has to be nearly an obsession. It used to be enough just to be a writer or a director. And for some, you might get lucky, catch a break, and find yourself writing for Warner Brothers. But for most of us, that isn’t the reality. As an independent filmmaker, you need to know how a movie is made from script to screen to marketing. Believe in yourself and your stories. Believe you can do anything if you pour your heart into it. If anyone has ever made a movie independently from scratch, there’s no reason you can’t become one of those people. You just have to be willing to work extremely hard and pursue it with everything you are.

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