"You're carrying around some old man on your shoulders. Some demon's got you deep in its clutches. He'll follow you to the end." For Max Bornstein, the end could come prematurely, as his heroin addiction, withholding of secrets from his family, and illegal dealings within the pornography industry take a terrible toll on his body and mind in Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale.
Set in 1970's-era New York City, Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale is based on a true story. With production successfully wrapped on the film, and an Indiegogo campaign recently launched to aid in the post-production process, we caught up with director Tate Steinsiek to discuss being drawn to Max's real life story, shooting a period piece during the winter in New York City, transitioning from makeup effects work to the director's chair, and much more.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with us! Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale is your full-length directorial debut. How did this project come about and why was Max's story the one you wanted to tell for your first feature film?
Tate Steinsiek: Thanks for having me! So, Dynamite came about in an oddly synchronistic way. I've long been haunted by the number 34, since I was a young kid. I've been afraid for most of my life what was going to happen on my 34th Birthday. I'm thinking death, dismemberment, alien abduction... all doomsday stuff. On my 34th B-day I got a call from my agent. She said, "I have a script and the producers are interested in you to direct." I read the script and saw a lot of potential. An old NYC drug and crime story about a guy named MAX, rooted in the true life story of a man that made it out and to the other side. I moved to NY years ago and have witnessed that dark side of the city.
I felt really close to the subject matter so my manager put us on the phone. It just so happened, that the person she put me on the phone with was the REAL Max, the man himself. We talked for over an hour, and it seemed like we had been friends for years. What sealed the deal was I got this sense of a black sort of presence that had followed Max through his life, less about addiction and more about a demon that was in his tow. Apparently that resonated with Max because of an experience with a Medium he had earlier in life. The Clairvoyant told him he had an "Old Man" on his back, a presence plaguing him. Mind you, that WASN'T in the script. It was a conclusion I drew, and ended up being closer to true than I ever imagined. I instantly said, "Max, that HAS to go in the script." We continued to vibe our way through a re-telling of the story, and after bringing on my close friend and insane writer Jason Noto, it all came together.
Directing is new to you, but working in the movie industry is obviously not. Having worked on movie sets, both big and small, in the past, what made you interested in jumping in the director's chair?
Tate Steinsiek: My head has always been full of intense and highly detailed Universes. Entire alternate realities and characters with intricately dark origins. My Art and Makeup FX have allowed me to realize the characters, but writing and directing allows me to take the worlds they live in and bring them to life. Monster making is an amazing job, but creating the worlds that they live in is what I feel a closest kinship to.
What directors have been your biggest inspiration? How did their experiences shape how you approached directing this movie?
Tate Steinsiek: Oh man.... Directors. From my earliest days, Tod Browning. Fritz Lang became a favorite with M, and Metropolis. I had an odd hypnotic result to watching Kubrick as a child, so he certainly made an impact. Then somewhere around my teens a weird dichotomy of cinema overtook me, splitting obsession between more whimsical films like Beetlejuice and the mind-melt of Lynch and Cronenberg. Overall, life is my biggest inspiration.
I've been blessed with a lot of strange and adventurous opportunities in my life. I've seen more and been to more places than I ever imagined possible as a kid. In those travels I've seen some wild shit. See, monsters and creatures and things that go bump have never scared me. Even as a kid I felt closer to them than people. People are what scare me, and I take a lot of influence in the places around me, and the places I've lived and traveled to. In fact, every one of the scripts I have written is rooted in an experience that is real to me. For Dynamite, I simply called on some of my less pleasant experiences in my 10 years in NY to guide me, then tried to take Ian [Harding] with me.
What was your biggest challenge on set and how did you overcome it?
Tate Steinsiek: What, shooting a 100-page script in 18 days in the middle of winter in NY on an indie budget is a challenge? Did I mention it was a late ’60's/early ’70's film? No big deal, right? The very concept of this film WAS the challenge. The biggest obstacle, though, was certainly the lack of advance preparation you get in the indie world. Don't get me wrong, we had a solid 5-week pre-pro. Full production team every day in our office banging out calls and emails and boards and looks and more, 12-14 hrs daily. It was intense. You think you've covered every base, locked every location, satisfied every actor's contract, made sure every department is running and has the budget they need... and then, like you NEVER lifted a finger in preparation, you'll find yourself with no location for the day, an actor that dropped out, picture cars booked for the wrong day, a costume or prop that disappeared, and a crew of 50 people standing there waiting for orders.
There were literally days that the DP Till Neumann and I were footing it around Brooklyn in the snow looking for locations we could sneak in to and shoot for the day! It was absolute guerrilla madness. But I loved it. It's almost addictive. "What kind of ridiculous titanic feat can I pull off today, and make it look like a million bucks on camera." If it wasn't for the absolute blessing of a crew that I had, and their 24/7 dedication to the project, there's no way we would have gotten the entire film in the can.
How would you compare the difficulty of working on makeup effects to directing a full-length movie?
Tate Steinsiek: I've been doing MU Professionally for 12 years now, so there is a calm I have about that world of processes. I've got years of experience to reflect on that keeps me cool even when things are at their craziest. Directing a feature is NOTHING BUT madness. It requires a constant sense of troubleshooting and trust in your team, which is the newest thing to me. I'm always in complete control of my FX dept and team. I know exactly where things are at on set and how to fix any potential disasters. As a director you have to allow that need to control to be dispersed amongst your department heads. It requires a ton of trust in your team, and compromise, in the better interests of the film as a whole. So I guess I could say FX is a lot more PHYSICALLY taxing, but Directing is a MENTAL workout like you wouldn't believe.
An Indiegogo campaign was recently launched to support the film's post-production process. Can you tell our readers about how the campaign funds will help the movie and about some of the cool perks you're offering?
Tate Steinsiek: Yes, we launched our Dynamite Indiegogo campaign a couple of weeks ago to help with some finishing funds for post-production. The film itself is all shot, and the edit is behind us. We just need to raise a decent budget to attack the final things like Visual Effects, Soundtrack and score. Writer Jason Noto and I created some extremely visually surreal moments in the film to escalate Max's addiction. We did some insane practical FX to achieve a lot of this, but I want to introduce a lot of technical post-production effects that match the quality of what we captured on camera.
The campaign, if successful, will allow us to treat our post-production with as much artistic passion and attention to detail as we did the shoot itself. Our perks right now are pretty phenomenal... from personal SKYPE calls with myself, Ian, or Evanna, to lunch with the stars, to being a Producer on the film itself! I recently called in some favors and we now have a HUGE Walking Dead incentives list with personally signed photos from Norman Reedus, Jon Bernthal, and Scott Wilson. For the music lovers out there we have the contributing musicians to the Dynamite soundtrack, offering up autographed CD's. Frank Iero of My Chemical Romance, James Dewees of Reggie and the Full Effect and Get Up Kids, and Steve Austin of Today is the Day have all put up really cool signed items as incentives.
Provided the campaign is successful, when do you expect the movie will start screening? Are any festival screenings already planned?
Tate Steinsiek: A successful campaign would allow us to fast track things into a summer release in the festival circuit. The time involved with the process we have left isn't immense, it's just the cost involved. That being said, if we can get the funds needed from the campaign, we can get the film out soon.
What's next for you? Do you already have your next directing gig lined up?
Tate Steinsiek: Next, I'm back at home with my artwork for a moment. I have a couple films I'm attached to in the new year for FX, and am excited to get back to creating horrible creatures. I've also been on an international workshop run the past year. I've been doing FX Makeup crash course workshops all over the world, kind of a Face Off on wheels. My partner Ali Gordon out of Dublin, and I, teach everything from life casting and sculpting to silicone prosthetics to gore and FX gags. Last year we held classes in Ireland, London, Mexico, Puerto Rico and all over the states. This year we are slated to hit Spain, London, Ireland, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and Italy. We have a Facebook page under Ill Willed FX Workshops Europe if people are interested in seeing our student results.
On the directing front, I have a couple of exciting things in the pipeline. One being a feature adaptation of Clive Barker's SON OF CELLULOID, that I wrote based on my favorite story from his BOOKS OF BLOOD series. I read Son of Celluloid when I was around 13, and I still hold it responsible for twisting me beyond repair. To be able to option the story and have Seraphim Films behind me on it is a literal dream come true. I also have a short film planned for the summer, based on a fever dream of mine. I've had this one in my pocket for over a decade, and it's time I bring it to life. It just might be the most disturbing family story since The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's called LION HATT, and I'll definitely keep you posted on the progresses of SOC and LH.
What advice would you give to aspiring directors and makeup effects artists looking to break into the industry?
Tate Steinsiek: The only advice I can give to the aspiring upcoming crop of filmmakers and FX artists is be true to your art, yourself, and your vision. Take direction, but always infuse yourself into your work. There is no one path to follow to a career in this madhouse industry, but with today's advancements in technology, networking has never been easier. Don't be afraid to work for free to get yourself an industry education. Be respectful on set and understand the symbiosis that is happening, and understand the importance of your gear in that machine, and oppositely the destruction it can cause if your gear isn't performing. Lastly, expect the best and plan for the worst... always have a plan B, and make sure you surround yourself with a team or crew you trust and get along with. And MOST important, more often than not your Director or Producer is going to be an annoying, entitled, insecure, tiny little diva... make sure you are prepared for a career of dealing with these lovely people in volume.
"Tate is perhaps most well known as a SFX and prosthetic makeup artist, having been featured on SyFy’s “Face Off” and worked on films like “The Amazing Spider Man”. He was also a guest at the NY/NJ Walker Stalker Con in December 2014. Tate is currently in post-production on “Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale”, his directorial debut, a film starring Ian Harding (“Pretty Little Liars”) and Evanna Lynch (“Harry Potter”).
Based on a true story, Max Bornstein had the wit, looks, and charm that would carry him beyond the typical man's troubles. Yet, the typical man's troubles were the least of Max's worries: he was a full-time dope fiend and a part-time father working within the underground, highly illegal pornography industry.
Even in the wake of a federal investigation, Max's truest worry was his wife and two young children: a family kept in the dark about Max's reality and the walls of it caving in around him."
To learn more about Dynamite: A Cautionary Tale and its Indiegogo campaign, visit: