"Shutter the Doors", starring Ian Buchanan and Billy Wirth, captures a moment in time of a man struggling to deal with an unimaginable loss in his life." The award winning short film is written and directed by Sheri Sussman.
Sheri Sussman was born in New York, grew up in Cincinnati, and moved to Los Angeles when she was 18 years old, where she studied at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Soon after, she became a working screenwriter in Hollywood. Sheri was a writer on the critically acclaimed independent feature film, "MacArthur Park", directed by Billy Wirth, which premiered at Sundance and is distributed by The Sundance Channel. She has written, directed, and/or produced award-winning feature films, documentaries, and shorts having her work shown at collectively over 50 film festivals. Sheri is a judge for the prestigious PAGE International Screenwriting Awards. She's fortunate to have worked with a vast array of respected veterans and upcoming talent in the entertainment industry. Sheri is also the founder of Spiral Gate Productions. We had the pleasure of speaking to Sheri about her latest project.
What was the inspiration behind the making of your film?
The inspiration behind making this film was the desire to write a role for Ian Buchanan, who I know and is just such a mesmerizing actor to me. I'd always had an image of him sitting at a bar with a glass of Scotch as a character that was a bit broken for some mysterious reason. Then I added Billy Wirth, my friend, who I also have worked with before and had envisioned a certain type of role for him that worked perfectly for this film. Then it was just diving in and being in the moment of my "emotional state" at the time.
What is the most challenging aspect of working in this genre?
Short films are challenging to create a complete world, emotion, and feeling with as little plot as possible but keep the audience interested. Short films can be the longest few minutes of an audiences life as well as being the most compelling! This genre was a classic style film that had to have any sense of unnecessary drama stripped away. There was the risk of choosing not to shoot inserts or cut away from the actors and just sit still in the scenes, which is counter intuitive to many short films nowadays. Shooting it all in one day because of Covid and budget ( or lack of!), was also a challenge, as well as doing post production remotely.
When did you realize that you wanted to work in media and make films and what was the first film project that you worked on?
I always wanted to be in the film industry as far back as I can remember. The first project I worked on was a country music video that I produced for a friend that we shot at Paramount Ranch when I was 20.
How did you choose the cast and the crew of the film and what was the most interesting aspect of production?
Ian Buchanan was the actor I wrote this piece for who I've always been inspired by and in awe of his talent. Billy Wirth and I have worked together for years and I thought the two of them would be magic together on screen. Justin Janowitz, our DP, and I had talked about working together for almost ten years and who I have the utmost respect and admiration for his work. Mostly, we chose the crew by hiring people we had worked with before and trusted personally and professionally. We purposely put together a team on set that would make the day as calm and quiet and respectful as possible for the actors to work. Justin hired his crew from people he'd worked with before. I have producing partners, Antonio Cortese and Adam Rex, who've produced my films with me for years and made sure everyone was safe as we shot in March 2021. Andy Kantos is my sound editor/designer and we've worked together for 15 years, as well as Scott Harvey my editor we go way back.
What genre of filmmaking fascinates you as a director and which genres do you prefer to continue working on?
My style of film is minimalist dramas about the human condition - exploring people's frailty that is ultimately our commonality. Dramas that are poignant, not preachy, and that present the vulnerable and often dark side of humanity. I write about "the back of the head idea that you catch and hold it up for examination" to the audience. My theme is that everyone has skeletons in their closet and I write about how far one will go to cross the line within themselves that may be too far and what are those consequences. I also write inspiring human stories of human victory over seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
How can cinema change the world and have an impact on society?
Cinema does change the world as it reflects the collective consciousness and gives individuals an insight into the world - good and bad. It opens up conversations otherwise not had by most people. Cinema saves some people from feeling isolated in their "thoughts" just by seeing that someone else out there feels the same, which often inspires and validates people to go on and to be who they really are. Cinema also usually gives us a safe place to go and escape everyday life to dream and experience things we have no other access to. It did for me anyway. The bigger impact is a call to action socially that can hopefully make the world a bit of a better place to live - but that's super idealistic. On a good day it just can make us laugh, which brings some joy to a lot of people who may need it! I definitely believe in the power of cinema to simply "entertain".
What is your next film project?
I am putting together my first feature film that I will direct. I have two features I wrote - so whichever gets financing first is what I will do. One is a satire about Hollywood called, "Just Another Day in Hollywood", in the vein of "Adaptation" & "The Player". The other one is the feature to this short film that Ian and I collaborated on the story, called "Sam's Place". Ian will star in it and is partners on the project as well.