I'm absolutely certain Neil Breen's Fateful Findings is one of the best films of 2014. Many critics would vehemently disagree with me on that belief. Some make Breen himself a target because he's a director/writer/actor "who looks to be in his 50s but casts himself as the contemporary and love interest of much younger, attractive women." (Jay Stone, Canada.com). Others simply offer more general, but lazier, assertions that it's "the worst movie ever made." (Mike Hodge, Film Threat). One thing all of Fateful Findings negative reviews fail to distinguish is the film's extreme disregard for convention, that childlike wonder of a filmmaker who stubbornly clings his vision no matter how strange it might seem to everyone else. And it is STRANGE, emboldened in capital letters for a reason -- there isn't anything else like it out on the market. Some have unfairly compared Neil Breen and his film to Tommy Wiseau's The Room because they share a similar outsider perspective and unique creative voices, but what separates Fateful Findings is Breen's dedication to the filmmaking process. Wiseau was, and to extent still is, an alien force transported from another planet. You're never quite sure if it's all an act with Tommy. Neil Breen, on the other hand, is completely serious. He's just some guy who wanted to make movies, another avatar for that irrational American ideal of chasing your dream, everything else be damned. That's what makes Breen's films so interesting. A lesser filmmaker would've encountered the obstacles Neil did and gave up, but Neil didn't. He's soldiering on, moving forward in pursuit of that strange creative vision.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity to discuss this and number of other topics with Breen. He didn't disappoint.
NEIL BREEN: I actually still am an architect. To keep a long story short, growing up back east where I was born and raised, filmmaking to a little kid ten years old is just an impossibility. It’s not like I was raised in Los Angeles, or anything like that.
C: Where were you raised, Neil?
NB: I don’t really want to get into the personal life stuff, only because there’s a lot of identity issues and so on and so forth.
NB: So I was raised on the east coast, went to college. I have no architects in my family, or anything like that, but I just thought that being an architect was interesting from a creative and a technical point of view. I went to college, graduated in architecture, became a licensed architect, and by now I moved to the west coast, to California. All the time I literally had a passion for filmmaking even though I never did anything about making films. As a little kid, like all of us, we grow up thinking movies are magic. All the time in the back of my little head saying, “Someday I really wanna be a filmmaker.” To make an even longer story short, I never went to film school, so obviously I read filmmaking books and tried to do as much homework as I could. I never really made experimental films or shorts. Eventually, one day, and because I was not in the Los Angeles filmmaking, networking loop, I had virtually no friends in filmmaking. They’re all in other aspects of professional life. Bottom line is, I was intentionally saving the money I made as an architect to fund my film. My first film was Double Down. I made it, I wrote it and produced it, directed it, acted in it and paid for it 100% myself.
C: Your films are self-financed?
NB: They all are, but let me finish this train of thought. Double Down, my first feature, which I think I made in 2006 (editor’s note: it was 2005), was literally my film school. Like I said, I had done my homework, I thought, but I was ready to jump into it. Obviously a low-budget feature, but a feature I had wanted to do with as much professionalism and high-quality standards I could afford. I made Double Down low-budget, then I just submitted it to film festivals all around the country. It got picked up by some film festivals and all of a sudden it became this crazy cult thing. All this time I was practicing as an architect. I never stopped practicing as an architect, therefore continuing to save my money. I then went to to make two to two-and-a-half years later my next film, I Am Here....Now, which I self-funded, wrote, produced, directed, and made all the props. I just did everything, then released that to the festivals and got a lot of attention. It just kind of perpetuated this cult filmmaker image. But I kept going, still as an architect, saving my money, and I made my third feature, Fateful Findings. Well, by now, I had some cult status, good or bad, that had occurred by doing the prior two films, but Fateful Findings, like all my films and the market has proven this, is 1000% better than the prior two films. My next film will be 5000% better than Fateful Findings. That’s my progress and my evolution. Anyway Fateful Findings, when that hit the festivals, they went crazy. Now the festival market people realized Neil Breen was not just somebody doing one film then disappearing, this guy’s for real.
C: Do you see yourself as a visual filmmaking, or are you someone more concerned with the story?
NB: Oh, both! Absolutely both. In fact, the next film will be visually more interesting and from a storyline more interesting. The visuals, that’s where my head is. Some of that has to do with architecture. Visuals are very important, as well as the content. The storylines of my films are very important to me. Nothing against them, but I’m not interested in making Transformers 17 or the next teen coming-of-age movie. I don’t relate to that.
C: So no blockbusters from Neil Breen?
C: There are no Hollywood blockbusters in your future?
NB: The next one, you’ll be surprised. The next one, you will be surprised. But yeah, I’m not interested in making gang movies about drug dealers in downtown Brooklyn. I don’t get that. I understand it, I appreciate it but it’s just not me as a filmmaker. All of my three films, I really don’t repeat anything. I don’t repeat characters, none of them are sequels and none of them really have common themes, but what’s common in my writing is a sense of entertainment, a sense of paranormal or mystical elements and a sense of social commentary without being judgmental. In other words, I don’t tell the audience, “Well, this is the right way and that’s the wrong way.” I just want to plant a seed of thought in the audience without getting too heavy. That’s what interesting, most of the festivals and the distributors immediately picked up on that. One of my favorite quotes or reviews is, “Neil Breen’s films are genre-defying.” In other words, they don’t fall into a specific niche or plot. It’s not a horror film, it’s not a slasher film, it’s not a political film, it’s not a love story; it’s kind of a blend of a lot of different elements.
C: The cult that has been built up around your movies, how do you feel about that?
NB: It’s interesting. I wasn’t the one who started that. I never set out to make a cult film. It’s the film festivals that labeled it a cult film. I honestly have no problem with it. I totally understand where they’re coming from. It’s a low-budget film, and some people may think it’s good while some people literally hate it. Some people laugh at it, but others say it’s the best thing they’ve ever seen. I get it from all ends. It doesn’t bother me at all.
C: You see yourself finding a wider audience with this next movie beyond the film festival circuit?
NB: Big time, yeah. The next film will be leaps and bounds above Fateful Findings, and I’m very proud of Fateful Findings, not to take anything away from that. I get a lot more positive comments about Fateful Findings than anything else. I’ve got like 8000 followers on social media. Bottom line is, they all appreciate what I’ve done. In other words, how many filmmakers are literally a one-man show like myself? More and more audiences are appreciating the fact that I do that, knowing how hard it is to make a frigging feature film that’s in theaters. This is not a short film featured as a webisode, or something like that. I take a lot of pride in that.
C: Related to that then, how do you respond to the negative criticism of Fateful Findings?
NB: It doesn’t bother me at all. Whether you’re an artist, if it’s a painter or a sculptor or a filmmaker or an architect, you’re never gonna please everybody. Some people say, “Neil, I hate you film!”, then I’ll get an e-mail two minutes later saying, “Neil, you’re God. It’s the best film I’ve ever seen this year.” There was a list published ten days ago, I don’t know if you saw it or not, but they listed the top ten superhero films so far this year. Superhero! (Editor's note: Devin Faraci, Editor-in-Chief of Badass Digest, ranked the film number four on his list of Best Superhero Films of 2014 on Twitter.)
C: And Fateful Findings was included?
NB: It was number four among all of these hundreds-of-millions of dollars of film budgets. They had Fateful Findings as number four, and another one had it as number five! And they weren’t joking. Like I said, it doesn’t hurt me. I totally understand some people are gonna get it, some people aren’t gonna like it, some people aren’t gonna appreciate it. You can design a car and 50% of the people are gonna say, “I love the car.” and 50% of the people are gonna say, “I think it’s an ugly car.” What’s the car designer supposed to do, commit suicide? No. It’s all part of the creative process.
C: Last question, which of your films are you most proud of as a filmmaker?
NB: [Fateful Findings] is the best on a technical and a storyline level. It’s got the highest production values of the three films. Fateful Findings is obviously the best of the three, but every film you do is a learning process. The film after that will have to be, I would think, better than the prior films. Fateful Findings is the one I’m most proud of, to date. And I’ll say that about the next film, you know what I mean?
Fateful Findings will screen every fourth Tuesday in Philadelphia, beginning tomorrow, August 26, 2014, at PhilaMOCA. Admission is $10.
Neil Breen's exploits can be followed on Twitter at @NeilBreen.