What happens when the dreams you cultivate come into conflict with the real responsibility of life? Many people find their greatest talent cast aside in the face of life’s daily pressures and discover there’s rarely an easy answer forward. —Tagline for the film 8 AM
It’s a question that’s all too real for artists—one that Michael Tourek (’16 MFA and ’12 BFA Theatre) tackles in the short film 8 AM, which he is developing with fellow UNCG alumnus Thomas Mendolia (’12 BFA Theatre):
“This script has been on my desk for a long time. It’s my white whale that I’ve been chasing. I finally decided it was time to stop being afraid of going forward with it.”
Tourek says the story is about his oldest childhood friend, a poet, actor, painter, and photographer:
“He does all these artistic things, but there are forks in the road, obstacles that come into his life and steer him further and further away from his art. His love for his family and the choices he makes for them are never in question, but he does wonder what his life would be if he’d made different decisions. Then, by living in the fantasy of what could’ve been, he sees the poetry in everyday life, which winds up bringing him back to his art.”
Like the main character in 8 AM, Tourek has been faced with obstacles and decisions about where his art would take him:
“When I got to New York, I struggled. I was in and out of the City for ten years. It’s been a challenge to stay on the path—to figure out how to balance and to navigate those choices in life. That’s what’s at the root of this movie. I don’t have the answers, but I do have a very supportive wife and family. There’s never been a time when I didn’t have people in my corner. I’ve been fortunate to do one or two gigs a year, and some of those gigs have had some traction and recognition. I’ve had some awesome opportunities.”
Tourek is modest about his career, but he has worked consistently in film, theatre, and television and has a long and impressive list of credits. Some of those “gigs” he refers to include recurring roles on the shows Ozark (Netflix) and The Walking Dead (AMC). He also teaches acting in UNCG’s School of Theatre.
With 8 AM, Tourek is adding the roles of screenwriter and executive producer to his resume. (He will also play the lead character in the film.) He didn’t have to look far to find the director he felt he could trust with such a personal project: fellow UNCG alumnus Thomas Mendolia.
Mendolia is a Los Angeles–based filmmaker who has directed the short films Overnight (2019 Flyway Film Festival “Best Student Short”), When Trees Fall (2018 Semi-Finalist Los Angeles CineFest), and Lethe Avenue (NYC New Filmmakers Festival). His most recent project, Mr. Thisforthat, is a psychological thriller about a little girl from a broken home who meets a creature in her closet who will grant her heart’s desire…at a price. It is currently on the festival circuit. Mendolia is also directing a Sloan Science Foundation Granted Short Film called This Wild Abyss.
“The theme of 8 AM is something everyone can connect with when faced with the decision between art and stability,” says Mendolia. “Unfortunately, art does not guarantee the latter. Beyond connecting with the story, 8 AM gives me the opportunity to work with several people I haven’t gotten the chance to work with in a long time:
“Mikey and I go way back. In my final year at UNCG, I directed a short film that he produced and acted in. We’ve been friends ever since and have been looking for another collaboration. The planets aligned for us to shoot 8 AM while I’m in Greensboro later this year to film the School of Theatre Acting students’ showcase reel. I’m looking forward to working with Mikey again and our Cinematographer Harvey Robinson and First Assistant Director Donna Smith, both of whom worked on that first film I directed so many years ago. Creating that family again is what I’m looking forward to the most.”
For Tourek, the professional respect is mutual: “I love Thomas. His artistry and filmmaking ability to tell a story is inspiring. And there’s the added value of working with fellow alumni. There’s a comradery. We trained at the same place. We have a similar aesthetic with regard to creativity and collaboration, because we all worked together for so long. With that shared experience comes a level of trust.
“That’s the benefit of an alumni network—like-minded people who come from the same place with a mutual respect and love for that place. You’re going to help out your own. It’s never a bad thing to have people in your network who may have some level of success. But it’s not about ‘what can you do for me?’ It’s about ‘how can we help each other?’”
Mendolia agrees: “Filmmaking is about telling a story. And behind the scenes of creating that story, you’ve really got to create a family. We’re all going to be with each other for long hours and getting cranky because it’s past our bedtimes, so one of the most important things about choosing a crew, to me, is choosing a crew that you’d like to be cranky with.” He laughs and adds, “I’m really not that cranky.”
8 AM is currently in pre-production, a stage that Mendolia explains is the bulk of the work:
“It’s pretty much 75% of the filmmaking process. This is when all the conversations happen so that when we’re on set, there are fewer opportunities for confusion or questions and if and when problems arise, we’ll be as prepared as possible to deal with them. That involves extensive storyboard and shot-list sessions, and decisions about costumes, props, location, food, casting, etc. Once the film is shot, it’ll go into post-production, we’ll lock the picture, then work on the score with the composer while simultaneously working on the sound design and finally wrapping everything up with a mix and color grading session. Then the film is complete, and the work to put it out into the world begins.”
Tourek notes that pre-production also includes raising money for the film. He’s started a crowdfunding campaign, with a minimum goal of $14,000 to begin production. He hopes to begin shooting the second week in December in Greensboro, possibly with some scenes on the UNCG campus. What he hopes to wind up with is a 20-minute family drama short to take on the film festival circuit.
“This film has a very relatable message. It’s about choices, dreams, and sacrifices. There have been times when I’ve looked a job and thought that’s not going to suit me or my family or my life right now so I’m going to have to say ‘no.’ The key for me in balancing dreams and career v. family and necessity is the willingness to say and stand by the word ‘no.’ If you can’t do that without feeling guilt or regret, then either you’re in the wrong business, or you should have said ‘yes.’”
Story by Terri W Relos
Photo provided by Michael Tourek