Michael E. Berg

Michael E. Berg is an award-winning director, producer & editor from central Iowa. He has two feature-length screenplays published as script-books that could make for entertaining movies.

Your project has entered in our festival. What is your project about?
A neo-noir dramedy about a desperate man past his prime who has a chance encounter with an
unhappily married woman at a bar. They conspire over drinks and deception to arrange a contract killing of her husband. But when she arrives unannounced at the man's motel room, their cover stories quickly unravel and the consequences play out in unexpected ways for both.



What are your ambitions with your project?
Just to see the film play at multiple festivals. It was a three-year effort with lots of setbacks. Now that I finally have it done, I’m casting a wide net in submissions with hope it’ll interest some.

Tell us something about your shooting? What pleasantly surprised you?
We were on the tail-end of national COVID concerns when filming started so that automatically
created added anxiety over the fear someone could get sick while on set. (Thankfully that didn’t happen.) I had a fantastic crew. Despite the long hours, I was impressed everyone remained focused and worked diligently to get 2/3 of the script captured in one day. We had so many scenes to get done, there’s only a handful of shots that have more than 3 takes.




For what group of spectators is your film targeted?

Adults who can enjoy a story with a smooth, steady burn and relate to the desires of the two
characters. I think it’d play to the Nightmare Alley and Bad Times at the El Royale crowd – just a shorter time commitment. I tried make a film that would both intrigue and entertain. It was a challenge to do when it involves just 2 characters and 2 locations.

Why should distributors buy your film?
It’d certainly validate our efforts and justify the costs. I know my writer, cast and crew
would be over the moon if that were to happen.

How would you specify your work? What characterizes your film?
Independent filmmaking at its finest. Always short on time and funds – having a team accomplish a lot in the confines of those two realities. There aren’t any quick cuts, CGI spectacle or major action so I feel like we’re a throwback movie from another era.



Why did you decided to become a filmmaker?
I’ve been obsessed with movies since I was a kid. After taking a crack at screenwriting for several years and unable to make any headway, I finally took the leap in self-producing a couple short films. Looking back, I’d definitely call it my mid-life crisis moment: spending lots of money to fulfill a questionable personal ambition.

Who is your role model?
I’m inspired by David Sandberg’s career. If an unknown from Sweden can get into the business, why can’t an unknown from Iowa? Despite his success, he comes off as very humble and shares his experiences in the studio system on YouTube and social media. I’m also a big admirer of Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve.

Which movies are your favorites? Why?
I’d have to list them by genre, there are too many. I’m an 80s child so several in my top 10 are from that era: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Karate Kid & Back to the Future. More modern favorites are Moulin Rouge, Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood – but primarily for DiCaprio’s performance. If DiCaprio hadn’t been cast in the movie, it wouldn’t have been nearly as good. I’m a sucker for movies about movies. Whether it’s a full on making-of documentary or a film that has moments of filmmaking in it as a B-story. The Disaster Artist, Hitchcock, and Hollywood. If I can’t be out making movies, I can live vicariously through the dramatization of others doing so.

Where do you look for inspiration for your films?
The script is the launching pad for any movie. I find inspiration from what’s written on the page and go from there. For Counterfeit I liked the roller-coaster of emotions for my lead actor and was fascinated by the idea of being able to showcase the bygone symbol of an old-school neon motel sign. It’s truly a character in the film as much as the people.

Which topics interest you the most?
Philosophy, religion, history, myth and movies.

What do you consider your greatest achievement in your career?
Every short film I’ve directed has played at one or more International Festivals: Iran, Ireland, India,
Australia, England. I’ve also won several Best Director awards.

What do you consider most important about filming?
Collaboration. There so many skillsets (both artistic and technical) that need to meld together: props, lights, edit, camera, actors, stunts, costumes, etc… Even if I personally don’t enjoy the story, I can still appreciate all the individual efforts it took to create the final product.

Which film technique of shooting do you consider the best?
I’m a big fan of the Dolly Zoom. I’ve been forever fascinated by the technique since seeing Jaws. It instantly informs the audience something major is happening in the story. I wanted to do one for Counterfeit but we didn’t have enough time – only later learning I could’ve cheated one in post had I prepped for it. A new favorite of mine has been the tight over-the-shoulder shot. I use that for much of our bar scene. I think it’s more intimate compared to POV because both characters are still in frame and the audience is essentially eavesdropping in on the conversation.

How would you rate/What is your opinion about current filmmaking?
Filmmaking needs another renaissance – now more than ever. There are too many sequels, remakes and prequels. Leave well enough alone. Studios buy an IP and milk it to the nth degree -- most Star Wars related projects and spin-offs have ended up being major disappointments. Do we need every Disney animated movie be turned into a lesser live-action version?

What can disappoint you in a movie?
Not having authentic performances or breaking the world rules. A strong performance can carry a
weak story over the finish line and be entertaining. At the same time, you never want to see something happen that feels completely left-field just because the writer willed it.

Who supports you in your film career?
Many friends and family, but most importantly my wife. I wouldn’t have any “career” to speak of
without her.

What are the reactions to your film? (opinion of spectators, film critics, friends and family)
I’ve had very enthusiastic responses from some who’ve seen it. Others have been notably silent. (You know the whole adage: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.) Since we just started the festival season, it hasn’t been widely shared yet.

Have you already visited any of the prestigious film festivals?
I’ve just started submitting in the Spring of 2023, but we’ve been honored by a few smaller ones. It’d be a real joy if I could make a couple of the more well-known festivals. Have to be judicious on my funds: festival submission fees can add up really quick.

What are your future plans in filmmaking career?
I’m coming to terms this may be the last film I direct. There isn’t a lot of directing opportunities in
Iowa – it’s fairly common for people who independently produce a project to also assume the director role. That’s not a job that tends to be farmed out. I am making a conscious effort to get myself “out there” more to garner another directing job. If not locally, maybe in another state? (I’m willing to travel!) I chose to include some self-promotion in the credits. The more festivals I can get Counterfeit in, the greater chance someone may look me up on IMDb and give me a shot.

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