Damien LeVeck on his career, future goals, and “The Cleansing Hour”

"...Writers should always try to challenge themselves to create characters that stand out in ways that surprise the reader..."

Damien LeVeck’s career has centered on the art of video editing. As an Editor, he has worked on TMZ on TV, E! News, Heroes of Cosplay, and Top Gear USA. LeVeck has recently taken the leap and produced a short horror film called, The Cleansing Hour. This fusion of The Exorcist and modern vlogging culture has already been widely acclaimed. Wanting to learn more about LeVeck’s career, his thoughts on the industry, and The Cleansing Hour, he allowed me to interview him for ScifiPulse.

To learn more about Damien LeVeck and The Cleansing Hour, check out TCH’s homepage, like the film on facebook, and follow it on instagram and twitter at @cleansinghour, and you can follow LeVeck on twitter at @damienleveck.

Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, when did you realize that you wanted to have a career in the entertainment industry? Do you think there was a specific movie or novel that pushed you in this direction?

Damien LeVeck: I’m one of those people fortunate enough to know what he wanted to do with his life from a very young age. My story, however, I think is pretty cliché. I grew up watching Star Wars and Steve Spielberg movies, being completely captivated, and knowing that THAT is what I want to do. I wasn’t sure what “that” was, but I knew that I wanted to make movies—or at least be a part of making them.

Yanes: You graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. How do you think it prepared you for the realities of the film/TV industry?

LeVeck: Sadly, I don’t think USC prepared me for the entertainment industry at all. I got a world-class education in cinema. I learned film history, theory, genre, and even got to meet Steven Spielberg in one of my classes! It was an exceptionally memorable moment where I cried like a baby in front of 400 students. That’s a story for another time over a cocktail. But I digress.

USC teaches you about films and filmmaking. It doesn’t prepare you for the reality of working in the business. I learned more about how movies got made interning in development than from any class I took the four years I was in school. I recommend that anyone interested in working in entertainment, first, seriously evaluate if going to film school is worth it—I’m of the opinion these days that it’s not. Second, get your degree in something practical and useful, like business for instance. You’ll gain knowledge that you’ll easily apply to all aspects of your life when you graduate, and, most importantly, give you something to fall back on if you don’t get that directing job right after accepting your diploma. Next, intern at production companies, studios, or on sets while you’re in school. That’s how you learn the business.

Yanes: You worked for TMZ on TV and E! News. While many dismiss these types of programs, how do you think working on these shows helped you become a better media producer?

LeVeck: Ultimately, everything you see on TV, from news to the next hot HBO series is about telling a story. Every show I’ve worked on has made me a better, more well-rounded, and economic storyteller. My entertainment news background specifically has improved the way I think about how information should be delivered—the order of facts, dramatic turns, and exploring alternate viewpoints. This skill, combined with editing something that is visually interesting, crosses over into all aspects of my work from web series to filmmaking.

Yanes: You were an editor for Syfy’s Heroes of Cosplay. How important do you think it is for popular entertainment properties to have characters that are cosplayer friendly?

LeVeck: I don’t necessarily think that a writer needs to prioritize creating cosplayer friendly characters in his stories. However, I think that it would be helpful exercise for us writers to imagine our characters as being so unique and incredible that a cosplayer might want to portray them. Writers should always try to challenge themselves to create characters that stand out in ways that surprise the reader. From how they look to what they wear to where they’re from, a good character is always a memorable one.

Yanes: Now to your latest work, The Cleansing Hour. What was the inspiration for this short? When you say The Cleansing Hour’s elevator pitch, what films do you compare it to?

LeVeck: TCH was born out of our culture’s obsession with a reality-television culture and our society’s readiness to believe anything it watches on a screen. In fact, there have been many stories in the news these past few years about “exorcisms” being recorded then streamed online. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination that there would be a live-streamed show that does that very thing.

Additionally, it’s a commentary on the moral and societal ramifications of living in a technology-obsessed culture.

Yanes: For just a short film, you managed to get three leads – Sam Jaeger, Heather Morris, and Neil Grayston – who have large fan bases and incredible portfolios. How did you go about recruiting them into this project?

LeVeck: Sam and I became very good friends after I worked with him on his first feature, TAKE ME HOME (check it out on Netflix). I had also edited Heather Morris’ short film, THE ELEVATOR, and another one she starred in called ANDY MADE A FRIEND. So getting them on board was as simple as sending them the script, calling them up and saying, “Hey, wanna make a movie with me?”

I was put in touch with Neil through my composer. We met to discuss the project, and he got on board. It was a fairly painless process. I’m very grateful to have had such incredible acting talent right at my fingertips. It made the creative process of bringing the film to life all the more enjoyable.

Yanes: Film shorts are frequently made with tight budgets. How did you go about stretching every dollar you had? Did you have to borrow anything big? Also, was there anything you had to cut out because of budgetary reasons?

LeVeck: I have to give credit to my two incredible producers Natalie and Shirit for helping us to stretch our budget. Unlike most shorts, we paid everyone, so that was our biggest expense. We saved most of our money by calling in favors at rental houses. Our film was also awarded the Panavision Young Filmmaker grant, which gave us access to a free camera, lenses, and camera support. The only cuts that I recall having to make were shots during production. I had a detailed shot list, and there were some that we just didn’t have time to pull off.

Yanes: What are your long term goals for The Cleansing Hour? Specifically, do you see this as a stepping stone to directing other projects or as a pitch for a full length movie?

LeVeck: We are making THE CLEANSING HOUR into a feature film. The script is currently going through re-writes to get it “just right.” Once it’s ready, we’ll shop it to production companies interested in making it. I will direct it.

TCH is most definitely a stepping stone for me as a writer/director. I currently have numerous other film and TV projects in development. And I have also been considered to direct various projects at other companies around town. None of this would have been possible without TCH under my belt.

Yanes: When people finishing watching The Cleansing Hour, what do you hope they take away from it?

LeVeck: Aside from being ridiculously entertained, I hope that people take a minute to reflect on the film’s subtext. Think about the message we’re sending about the way technology shapes our lives and our relationships with family and friends.

Yanes: Finally, what are projects you are working on that people can look forward to?

LeVeck: I don’t like giving away specifics, but I will say that all of my projects in development involved demons, exorcism, and the supernatural.

Remember, you can learn more about Damien LeVeck by following him on twitter at @damienleveck, and you can stay up-to-date on The Cleansing Hour by checking out TCH’s homepage, liking the film on facebook, and following it on instagram and twitter at @cleansinghour.

And remember to follow me on twitter @NicholasYanes, and to follow Scifipulse on twitter @SciFiPulse and on facebook.

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