Aquarians” is a new movie by Michael M. McGuire which was created in conjunction with Indie Rights and Organically Grown Productions. The film, which was shot in the mid-west, follows the story of Danny Sullivan, a seminary student who returns home to his snowy town to assist his father, pastor Father Rob, who is terminally ill. Danny subsequently reconnects with Jake, his estranged brother.

Director Michael M. McGuire recently discussed this film and more via an exclusive interview.

Movies, plot, and family drama

Meagan Meehan (Q): How did you start creating Movies and how did you get the idea for “Aquarians”?

Michael M. McGuire (MM): I worked on and off as an actor for several years, and after a number of experiences working with what I deemed to be inept producers and directors, I felt I should step into that role, so I started experimenting by making short films and directing theater.

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I got the idea for “Aquarians” from a dream in which my younger, hippie brother was a recently ordained priest, and set out to write it. In the ten years that followed, I earned my MFA in producing from the American Film Institute and began producing indie films and commercials, and finally got to a point where I felt confident in my ability to bring “Aquarians” to life.

Q: What is it about the plot of “Aquarians” that makes it compelling?

MM: The plot of “Aquarians” sets up a number of questions, such as “why is this guy uncomfortable in his home town?” and “what’s up with his brother?” that give the film some trajectory and gradually reveal more and more about the characters, so I think that helps audiences engage.

And, also, I think that brothers at odds are very relatable characters that resonate deeply on an emotional level. And it helps to have skilled and entertaining actors like Chandler and Shane bringing them to life!

Q: The story focuses on family drama, was any derived from personal experience?

MM: Absolutely. I grew up as the oldest of three boys in a household torn by divorce. My brothers and I were all arrested at some point in our lives so there was no shortage of drama. We would at times try to kill each other and at other times be the best of friends and strongest allies.

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And my family experienced a tragic loss similar to one excavated in the film. So those dynamics and experiences heavily infuse the world and characters in “Aquarians.”

Q: How did you manage the filming process—was it tough to work in such a snowy location?

MM: I grew up in snow and love it, but knew I had to prepare and protect the majority of our cast and crew who came up from LA or did not grow up in wintery conditions. We bundled up and stayed busy, and to a large degree, the weather cooperated by snowing when we wanted it to, and not staying too freezing cold.

I think it helped that I and my producer Brian Bell kicked off pre-production with a Polar bear dive in Lake Michigan on New Year’s Day to set the tone!

Reviews, scenes, and other film projects

Q: What has the distribution process for “Aquarians” like and what have the reviews been like?

MM: We had a good festival run and a lot of positive response, but it’s been slow getting reviews despite all that and having a great cast. We’re hoping our Amazon release builds on the positive feedback and generates a few reviews.

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In terms of distribution, I always thought that this film was a bit out of the comfort zone of most distributors in the way it addresses faith and guilt; it’s not a “faith-based” film, and it’s not an exposé type film like Spotlight, but one that gives a bit of an uncomfortable (yet entertaining) tug of war over these sensitive, personal issues in an unvarnished way. Therefore, I was prepared from the beginning to self-distribute, at least theatrically, and see what happens. We got the film into 13 theaters across the Midwest in November, and partnered with a distributor called Indie Rights to access the streaming/VOD market. It’s satisfying to be in the captain’s seat during this part of the process, since so often filmmakers have little to no participation in this distribution process once a deal has been done.

Q: What’s your favorite scene in “Aquarians” and why?

MM: I think the scene where the brothers set out to cut firewood encapsulates the film quite elegantly, so that one might be my favorite. It snowed lightly for us that day, so it’s shot in a beautiful setting, and comes off as a very simple scene even though the logistics took a ton of planning. And I get personal satisfaction from the sawing bit at the end of the scene because it’s almost exactly what happened when my brother and I had a wood-cutting venture gone awry a few years back.

Q: What other film projects are you now anticipating and what are your big goals as we head into 2019?

MM: I’m currently working as the line producer on SpectreVision’s “The Color Out of Space” written and directed by Richard Stanley, which will shoot in Portugal (where I am now) early next year, and I just finished a draft of my next script, a contemporary western called “A Dying Breed.” I’m hoping to wrap “Color” then come back to LA and find a manager who can help capitalize on the momentum behind Aquarians to get me into the game as a writer and director.