Stuck” is a new musical film that is set in modern-day New York City—specifically in the city’s famous subway stations—and chronicles a group of six commuters who find themselves trapped together on a broken-down train. Although each come from different backgrounds, they share stories and inspire one another; leading to a day, none of them will either forget. The movie hit theaters on April 19th, 2019, and is coming to VOD soon.

Recently director Michael Berry discussed his experiences working on “Stuck” via an exclusive interview.

Directing, films, and NYC subways

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you get into directing Movies, and how did you get involved with “Stuck”?

Michael Berry (MB): I came to directing through acting. The majority of my training and experience is as an actor. I have been fortunate to do a few really great Broadway shows and work with some amazing directors and actors. The first film I ever directed was a short that I made with a fellow actor during a National tour of a show we were both traveling with. He knew that I had directed a number of stage-plays and suggested we try to make a short film together.

We were performing the show for two weeks in Philly, which was about a two-hour drive from my house that is just outside of NYC. He and I and some of the actors from the show that had agreed to act in the film would jump in a car right after the show, drive out to my house, get up early shoot till 3pm, jump back in the car and drive back in time to do the show that night in Philly. We cut the short while the tour was in Chicago between shows and late nights. We submitted the short to some film festivals and were surprised when the short film started winning awards.

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The way I got involved with “Stuck” was when I was visiting my wife (who is also an actor) at an out of town show she was performing in. One of the other actresses in the show told me about her friend who was looking for a director for his show that was going to be produced at the New York Musical Theater Festival (NYMF) about six people who get stuck together on an NYC subway. I was immediately interested because to me, it is a perfect storm when people/characters of different backgrounds, beliefs, cultures are forced together through event or happenstance and basically have to figure it out.

She put Riley Thomas (writer/composer of the stage musical the film is based on) and I in touch, I read the script and libretto, loved it and we met up at a studio in the city where I went on a rant about how I saw the characters and what I thought the show meant and how I thought we could present it theatrically. Fortunately, Riley liked my ideas and asked me to come onboard and direct the play. He and I had a great experience collaborating on the show and I kept thinking during rehearsal that it would make a really cool film musical.

MM: How would you describe the tone of “Stuck” and what most appealed to you about the film?

MB: Unexpected humanity found in a harsh and unforgiving place. “Stuck appeals” to me because it is a story of strangers who discover to their surprise, compassion and humanity in people that they have initially summed up at a glance. People they believe they have nothing in common with and yet they connect. I guess I identified with something of myself in every character. I cared and felt compassion for every one of them, and that made me want to tell their story.

MM: How involved were you in the casting process, and what was it like to work with big stars like Ashanti?

MB: I was fortunate to be very involved with every aspect of casting and worked closely with the Producer and casting director throughout the process. Ashanti is a dream to work with. She is a pro, comes in prepared, is crazy talented and great to hang out with. Fact is, I loved working with my entire cast. I was told to keep my answers succinct so I can't really go into how truly magnificent Giancarlo Esposito is, or how Amy Madigan possesses the beauty, grace, and generosity of a woman yet has the energy of a girl.

Or how Omar Chaparro is a brilliant cross between Charlie Chaplain and a bad ass action hero. Or how Gerard Canonico was cast two days before we started production and crushed his character and his song on the first day of shooting. Or how to describe the astonishing delicate beauty of Arden Cho juxtaposed with the smart, pragmatic, tough, and capable kid sister that she has become to me. Yep, I liked working with my cast. Every one of them was a gift.

MM: The film is based and set on the NYC subway, so did you secure filming on location and what was the trickiest segment to film?

MB: We filmed on a subway set that was built specifically for “Stuck,” and we also spent several days shooting on a real MTA subway.

We started on the set which was built to the exact specs of a real subway car, so we learned a lot about what we could and couldn't do, which I think prepared us well for our several days on the real subway. It was actually really fun and effective to shoot on a real subway car and platform and the crew handled all great, but those days to me were hands down the trickiest days of the shoot.

MM: What is your favorite scene and a bit of dialogue in “Stuck” and why?

MB: Hmn…. The Ramon song that Omar sings wrecks me because I am a Dad with three kids, so I relate to that struggle. But I guess if pressed I would say that my favorite moments are when Sue (Amy Madigan) and Lloyd (Giancarlo Esposito) are seated across from each other at the end and the things they say to each other before she gets off the train.

Audiences and future film projects

MM: What do you hope audiences get out of “Stuck” and how is this film thematically different from others you’ve directed?

MB: I hope that audiences will feel and relate to one or all of these characters. I hope they are inspired to remember to choose compassion rather than snap judgment when met with people that they believe are different from them. Although my previous film “Frontera” was a border drama set between Mexico and Arizona with horses and vast exteriors. Even though no one sings, “Frontera” is a story about people finding humanity and compassion in others who are different from them and come from a different culture.

So, I suppose thematically, the two films are more consistent than they would appear at a glance...

MM: What are the most rewarding things about being a movie director and what other film projects are coming up for you in 2019?

MB: Most rewarding thing about being a director to me is that I get to be a storyteller. I will never take that part for granted. My current project is titled “The Shadow Of Freedom.” It is based on the true story of a man named Tchicaya Missamou. Tchicaya was born in the Congo and was forced to be a child soldier but later escaped the Congo and found his way into America as an undocumented immigrant.

Tchicaya joined the United States Marines and fought for America in Iraq and was then granted his US citizenship. Immediately after with new US passport in hand, Tchicaya returned to the Congo with the intent of rescuing his ill mother. He was arrested as a "traitor" as soon as he arrived, beaten and shot. He finds a way to contact his Marine squad and…You will have to hope that I get the movie made and come and see it find out what happens after that…. LOL.

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