New York Film Awards' Best Picture winner (October 2017) tells the story of a high profile painter and art gallery owner, who suffers from an intense version of “artist’s block.” However, his passion reignites when he has an idea for a new controversial project. To his surprise, he receives an unexpected visit from an intimidating yet oblivious policeman, Detective Marks, who interrogates him about the disappearance of several young fashion models. Frederick and Marks play a game of cat and mouse, culminating in a mysterious yet frightening exhibition.
We asked the creators, Josh Mann (writer and lead actor) and Traci Hays (director) to join us for an interview.
Josh Mann as Frederick
Tell us about your background. Did you always know you want to work in film?
Traci: Growing up with dyslexia, I struggled to read and comprehend at the same level of the average child. Instead of reading a book, I would look at the pictures to put the story together – to me, the images were the story.
I took my first film class when I was 15 and remember after using a 16mm camera I fell in love with the process of filmmaking and didn’t want to do anything else.
Josh: I first wanted to be a therapist, then I decided I wanted to be an actor. I started in theater in New York, but as my career evolved, I got into film.
Do you have any role models? Who is your biggest influence? What inspires you?
Traci: My parents have and always will be my biggest role-models, they have always supported me and my endeavors. The acting teacher, Larry Moss, is the most profound influence in my life and how I approach my craft. Music, food, art, and traveling continue to inspire me – my curiosity is endless. I want to learn as much about new cultures and new experiences to help me become a more well-rounded human being and filmmaker.
Josh: My biggest role models are Daniel Day Lewis, Anthony Hopkins, and Gary Oldman.
Their depth, versatility and brilliance inspire me. Gary Oldman has a different voice in every movie he’s done. Daniel Day Lewis’ work ethic is extraordinary. Anthony Hopkins can turn any bland sentence into magic. I also love Al Pacino’s work.
Tell us a little about the creation process of Frederick; Josh - what made you write this story?
Josh: The story is based on a short story I wrote in college regarding an obsession. The short film evolved. It started with my fascination with this odd character, however, my love and passion for visual art shaped it into a piece more focused on the world and process of an artist.
Traci - what about this story made you want to tell it?
Traci: As a coinsurer of art, I was delighted at the opportunity to dive into an eccentric artist’s world and bring it to life.
Frederick - Trailer
What was your favorite part in the process of making Frederick?
Traci: It’s hard to pinpoint one aspect of the processes, but I loved getting the script off its feet in the rehearsal process with the actors.
Josh: Playing the role and researching the art world.
What were some of the biggest challenges in making this film?
Traci: On the last day of filming at one of the locations, I caught wind that the owner was furious because they claimed the production damaged one of their paintings. To make matters worse, I was informed the actress who was supposed to be in a major scene the following day dropped out due to a scheduling conflict. Not only was I trying to select a new casting choice, I was simultaneously working with the AD to keep us rolling while the homeowner wanted us gone.
Josh: Dealing with all the curve balls that are constantly thrown at you when making a film. Coordinating the locations was challenging, since we lost one a week before shooting!
Josh Mann as Frederick and James Morrison as Detective Marks
Josh, what was it like to portray Frederick? How did you approach building this character?
Josh: I loved portraying this role. It was very freeing to finally embody a character that has lived in my mind for over a decade. I approached it in several ways. I worked on changing my movement and body. I started dancing and got back into Alexander technique to help create this different way of being. I also studied other artists and painters. Going to art galleries and studying that world helped with both the writing and acting.
Traci, tell us about your work process with your actors. Do you have specific methods you find helpful in working with talent?
Traci: Every actor has a different approach; therefore I tailor my process to theirs, to find the strongest objective within each scene.
While using truly magnificent artwork, the film deals with strong violent concepts and shows images of brutal violence against women. In a way, there’s also a hint of violence in the harsh criticism of Frederick’s work throughout the film. Tell us about the art-gender-society triangle and the delicate power balance between them that you’ve so beautifully crafted in this film.
Traci: I feel this balance was created through showing the vulnerability of each character: with Frederick, his inability to find originality, with Marks, his rash judgment call, and with the reporter, her need for control. Put them all at odds together and you find the core conflict within the story.
Josh: The character uses misogyny to provoke his audience. He’s playing a game with expectations and how people perceive violence, women, art, and reality. He’s using the triangle against them and manipulating the viewer by also addressing his own demons. The character is not a hero. We have many types of individuals in our society who embody some of these characteristics, and I wanted to make that comparison.
James Morrison as Detective Marks
What is the most important message you’d like your viewers to take from Frederick?
Traci: Knowing how to tell when someone cries wolf. Look beyond the shock value and the noise of social media and the news and come to your own conclusions.
Josh: The power and complexity of art and how important it is to all of us, even though it can be dangerous and unfair in our current world.
Can you give a word of advice to aspiring filmmakers and actors around the world?
Traci: Always go with your gut and never take no for an answer.
Josh: Find your vision and commit to it.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Traci: I’m in post-production on the short film, Dry Spell, for the Production Company Passionflix written by the New York Time Best seller author, Vi Keeland.
Also developing a feature period drama about a man with a supernatural curse who goes on a quest to redeem himself.
Josh: I have a feature: a political thriller that explores corruption in the corporate world. Think Michael Clayton meets Lord of the Flies.
If you could work with anyone in the world, who would that person be?
Traci: Tom Hanks.
Josh: Anthony Hopkins.
Please share with us where people can find you on social media, so readers could keep track of your career.
Traci: To see my work, visit TraciHays.com. I’m also on Facebook @TraciHays and Instagram @Traci_S_Hays.
Josh: @joshsmann, www.joshmann.net. I’m also on facebook.