Michael O’Shea’s directorial debut, The Transfiguration, is a complete revelation that has been making the festival rounds since premiering to great critical success at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Most recently, it was screened in this year’s SXSW Festival Favorites section. The art house feature is photographed in a cross between cinema verité and neo-realism, with O’Shea and his skeleton crew shooting amongst real people in the streets of New York City. The film tells the story of Milo (Eric Ruffin), a lonely, vampire-obsessed teenage orphan who begins to leave a modest trail of victims to satiate his apparent thirst for blood. At the same time, he begins a tentative relationship with his equally isolated and lonely neighbor, Sophie (Chloe Levine). With its naturalistic tone, art house aesthetic and fresh approach, The Transfiguration is, ultimately, an indie coming of age film presented through a genre lens; O’Shea himself teases that the movie is “a character-based drama with a lot of murders.”
Despite the film’s interesting premise, it’s the director’s background that has really grabbed the industry’s attention. Graduating from SUNY Purchase in the 90s, Brooklyn born O’Shea began working in the industry as a production assistant, production manager, assistant director and even director. He soon realized that he didn’t want to compromise his creativity with a secure job in the film industry that wouldn’t let him fully explore his projects and vision as a filmmaker. So, in the years that followed, he worked an array of random jobs whilst still consistently writing scripts. He quit working in film and worked as a cab driver, a temp for numerous corporations, and a bouncer, among many other professions. Before The Transfiguration, he’d spent the past eight years doing tech support and fixing computers for wealthy clients in New York City’s West Village.
Frustrated with the slow progress of his film career, O’Shea gave himself ten years to make a successful feature. During this period, it was his long time partner, producer Susan Leber, who encouraged him to continue writing scripts and to delve into horror. By the sixth year, O’Shea had found enough money to finally make The Transfiguration and the rest is history.
Michael O’Shea’s story may seem like the exception to the rule, but as we’ve seen over the years, many directors have achieved overwhelming critical and commercial success by choosing unconventional paths.
Diablo Cody (born: Brook Busey-Maurio) is an American screenwriter, director and author, best known for her brilliant Academy Award winning script Juno. Starring Ellen Page as the titular character, the film is about a teenager dealing with an unexpected pregnancy. After the incredible critical and commercial success of Juno, which earned Cody an Oscar and BAFTA for Best Original Screenplay, she went on to create Showtime’s memorable series, United States of Tara, starring Toni Collette as a mother with dissociative identity disorder. Cody also wrote and produced the cult film, Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox as a boy-eating teen. She followed up with the indie gem, Young Adult, featuring Charlize Theron as a delusional 30-something year old writer.
After graduating with a degree in media studies from the University of Iowa, Cody worked at a law firm and a radio station, all the while updating her blog. One day, she decided to attend amateur night at a Minneapolis strip club called the Skyway Lounge. The experience impacted her so greatly that she quit her day job and became a full time “feminist stripper.” This career helped catapult Cody into the limelight, as she wrote her first memoir, Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper, at the age of 27. The book describes her experiences as a stripper and phone sex operator. After its release, Mason Novick, who would later become her manager, encouraged her to write a script that would become the beloved coming of age indie, Juno.
Harmony Korine is an American director and screenwriter best known for writing Kids, the harsh coming of age film that has become a cult classic. The movie helped establish him as somewhat of a wunderkind, having written the script at the young age of 19. After briefly attending NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, Korine dropped out to pursue a career as a professional skateboarder. During his senior year of high school in 1993, he met then “it girl,” Chloe Sevigny at Washington Square Park and eventually photographer Larry Clark, who asked Korine to write a script about AIDS and New York City teenagers. Three weeks later, Korine delivered a harrowingly gritty portrayal of the city’s forgotten youth framed within 24 hours of drug and sex fueled madness. The film shocked critics and viewers alike, jump starting Korine’s unique career.
He went on to make surreal and, often times, disturbing experimental films like Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely and Trash Humpers, which were generally received with mixed to bad reviews and little profit. Yet, Korine has constantly received praise and support by cinema’s greatest auteurs such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Werner Herzog, Gus Van Sant and many others. His latest feature, Spring Breakers, had been his biggest and most successful project, thus far. It features “Disney stars” Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Ashley Benson, as well as the director’s real life wife, Rachel Korine. It tells the story of four college friends who rob a store to fund their spring break vacation in Florida, only to get arrested and “saved” by eccentric rapper Alien (played by James Franco in an iconic role) who leads them into the dangerous world of drugs, money, sex and violence. The film’s “sensory” feel and disregard for traditional plot devices make Spring Breakers a wild experimental ride that somehow received a wide release and baffled viewers who weren’t aware of Korine’s unique auteurship. Its success garnered him new fans from all over the world.