Douglas Taurel: Getting to know the filmmaker and his career
Douglas Taurel is a producer, director, and writer for the television series Landing Home. On top of this he also stars in the series. Taurel has been a professional actor for quite some time, however he’s now caught the “filmmaking bug” and is just as excited and passionate about working behind-the-scenes as he is in front of the camera.
We had the fantastic opportunity to ask Taurel some questions about his career so far, what comes next, his project Landing Home and a little bit more.
Here’s what Douglas Taurel had to say. If you want to stay up-to-date with Taurel and his work you can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or YouTube.
Can you describe your history as a filmmaker?
As a filmmaker, my history goes back to the short films I used to make of my family on vacations for YouTube. It’s where I gained a lot of confidence in the technical aspects of filmmaking. But my first professional film was a short film called Siesta. It’s a film I made with two good friends over a weekend. My friend told me he had a script while we had coffee, I asked another friend to play my wife, and we shot the whole project over a weekend.
It was a film shot on a real shoestring budget. I think the entire project cost us $300, but it taught me so much about perseverance, initiative, and the opportunities that come to you when you create your own projects. Siesta was accepted to seven film festivals and was accepted to the prestigious Atlanta Short Film Festival.
Landing Home is my first project as a director with a full cast, crew, and a decent budget. I aimed for it to be a smaller project than it actually became, but the project just kept growing. The project gained a lot of support from veterans and audiences, so it had momentum. And after the last frame we shot, my cinematographer Robert Cauble turned to me and said, “buddy, you’ve just shot your first feature!“
What drew you to filmmaking?
I’ve always had a passion for movies, but I think my love of photography drew to producing and filmmaking. There is something so irresistible about a picture and wondering what the story is in the image. And having the opportunity to tell the stories that inspire and move me drew me to filmmaking.
What was your career before you found filmmaking?
I’m still a professional actor in New York, but like the acting bug, once the filmmaking bug bites you, it’s hard to stop. Making a film demands a lot of energy, perseverance, and time. It’s hard work, but the power of having your voice come through a story is very addicting. It’s like a drug. I think I just revealed something myself.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest project Landing Home?
Landing Home is a seven-part series that takes the audience into a combat soldier’s mind and pulls back the curtain on the lasting damage of war to the human psyche. It helps the viewer understand that returning home can represent only the beginning of a different kind of war for them and their families.
I play an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. While he decides to leave the military to be with his family, he soon realizes that this is much harder than he ever imagined. Something as simple as a birthday party for his five-year-old daughter can quickly become overwhelming.
The cast and crew include more than 20 veterans and some of New York’s most well-known actors from Ylfa Edelstein (The Knick), who plays opposite me as his wife, Carolyn. J.W Cortez (Gotham and a Marine Veteran), Robert C. Kirk (Ray Donovan), Denny Dale Bess (Red Redemption), Leo Farley (Army Veteran), Ed Heavey (Army Veteran), James Randolph (Marine Veteran), Mary Jo McConnell (Army Veteran), Jennean Farmer (Army Veteran), Carson Cockrell (Marine Veteran) and Tony F. DeVito, Arash Mokhtar, James Padric, Natalie Roy, Belle Caplis, Jenna Krasowski, Sarah Allyn, Anna Clare Kerr, Dennis Gagomiros, Kaylin Lee Clinton, Stella Taurel, Austin Taurel, Catherine Martin, Whitney Andrews, Teren Carter, Laurie Ciavardini, Na’Jee Jones and Jesse S. Martin.
What inspired you to make Landing Home? Where did the concept come from?
Landing Home was inspired by my Off-Broadway play The American Soldier, which I have toured throughout the country for six years. It’s a play based on veterans’ and their families’ letters from the Revolution through our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve been lucky to perform the play throughout the country, including notable spaces like the Kennedy Center, Library of Congress, and Off-Broadway a couple of times.
I wanted to tell a version of the play cinematically to keep shining a spotlight on veterans’ experience[s], but hopefully reach more people. The series has helped me honor veterans and their families to a larger audience than I could have imagined with my one man show.
What makes Landing Home an important film?
It’s vital for us to truly understand what “Thank you for your service” really means. To learn about the invisible wounds of war that are almost impossible to erase. They put their lives on hold for us and give up their freedom mentally and physically so that we may have ours. How ironic is that?
We need to support our veterans when they return home, so they don’t shoulder the burden alone. It’s our responsibility as a community and as a nation.
Is there anything you’d like people to know before watching Landing Home? Or to think about while watching?
To think of a family member or friend who is serving or has served as they watch the series. And imagine the heroism and sacrifice made by so many families over so many generations.
Every production has its difficulties, what was one of the hardest challenges you faced in making Landing Home?
The biggest challenge was holding onto my voice as a young filmmaker and telling my story. Early in the pre-production stage, I had a few team members who came on the production and wanted to tell a different story. And it was hard sticking to my guns and telling the story that I wanted to tell.
If you feel someone is trying to override your vision, you need to let them go. Hold onto your voice as a filmmaker because people have their own agendas. And if you are not careful, you’ll be making a film that is not the one you intended. I was fortunate to find a cinematographer and editor who listened to my voice as an artist and helped me tell it. They both inspired me, challenged me but never tried to take my voice away.
Can you talk us through your creative process?
I’m a very visual person, so I will look at images online that spark my imagination. For Landing Home, I saw an image of a veteran sitting at the kitchen table alone with his thoughts, and his family looking at him helplessly. That inspired me to write the script and tell the story around that picture.
Again, images really spark my imagination. After I wrote the script, I storyboarded the whole film to see the story I had in my head on paper. Storyboarding is your homework as a director in my opinion. I would have been dead in the water without my storyboards.
You’re very hands on with your projects, how hard is it to wear all the hats?
It all comes down to your organization and preparation, really. All the hard work is done in the pre-production phase. Your research and preparation are vital to your success and allow you to wear many hats while filming. Preparation will save your ass when things go wrong, and things will go wrong.
I was very hands-on with the acting, and I made sure I worked with my acting coaches to be crystal clear in knowing what I wanted. I made sure that I rehearsed all the major scenes with my lead actress, and those rehearsals gave us rapport together and allowed us to film our big scenes quicker so that I could get the most of each shooting day.
I never set out to wear all the hats in Landing Home, i.e., writer, director, producer, and actor, but what forced me to was money. Every role is so expensive, so you try to take on what you think you can handle to save money. The money you save allows you to spend it on areas that will most benefit your film. For me, it was on a cinematographer. I did not want to skip on how the film looked, and that was worth the work for me to take on one more hat.
While you’re writing what kind of music do you like to listen to?
I listen to pretty much everything. From Frank Sinatra, Beethoven, Johnny Cash, Stan Getz, or Depeche Mode. I love writing while listening to motion soundtracks and some of my favorite soundtracks to write to are Cinderella Man and Thin Red Line.
What’s your filmmaking mission? Name the most important thing you want viewers to experience when watching your movies.
I guess to tell stories that provoke audiences, inspire me as an artist, and always finish every project I take on. I care about telling stories of individuals on the edge of life and giving a voice to a part of society that we have forgotten.
All I can ask that audiences hopefully enjoy my films, maybe learn something but most importantly, enjoyed the time they gave me.
What’s your favorite film of all time, and what did you learn from it?
I can’t say my favorite because there are so many notable films. If I see The Shawshank Redemption is on TV, I’m hooked, and I’ve seen that film a lot. The voice-over in the movie is so perfect, and it inspired Scorsese in Goodfellas. The Godfather is also another film that comes on, and I can’t turn it off. It’s a perfect script, and seeing how Brando transformed himself as the Godfather is so inspiring. It shows how much we can create as artists with your imagination.
He is my favorite actor of all time, by the way. Brando did a lot of improvisation a lot in the film, and I made sure to implement improvisation when I was directing Landing Home. It’s a potent tool for actors and directors.
Twelve Angry Men, directed by Sydney Lumet is another film. Mr. Lumet moved the actors around the camera and not the other way around. So within one shot, you would have a closeup, a medium, and a wide. It’s pure genius. I didn’t want to be a lazy director and I wanted to challenge myself with Landing Home. So when you watch the series, you will see quite a few scenes where me and Ylfa Edelstein, who plays my wife, move around the camera in our scenes. I wanted the scenes to feel like we were living the characters’ lives, and the longer you can live in the scene, the easier it is to feel it.
Do you have any advice for people considering a filmmaking career?
Don’t let your fears stop you from sharing your voice with the world. Do your research, be very organized, as your ability to be organized will give you clarity and focus as a filmmaker. You will have many sleepless nights during pre-production and definitely when you’re filming. Remember that it’s all part of the process and that you will get through it.
People you depend on will let you down, and you will have moments when you will feel completely overwhelmed, but as crazy as it sounds, be grateful. You’re getting an opportunity to make your film. It’s an endeavor, it’s expensive, and it’s a lot of hard work, and I can’t emphasize hard work enough, but you don’t know when you’re going to get another opportunity to make a film. I had plenty of challenges, and I got through it, and so will you. We all have everything inside us to get it done
And always make sure you finish your film, too many films live on people’s laptops and never come to life. Your number one goal from day one should be sure you complete your project no matter how long it takes you.
Who or what would you say your current filmmaking influences are?
Everything, from movies, books, images, my friends, world affairs, has all influenced me. I’ve been so lucky to work with so many incredible directors, filmmakers, and actors, and they all have influenced me. There is just so much. Our art comes out of our life experiences.
What part of filmmaking do you find the most exciting?
I love directing and being able to help and direct actors. It’s a complete joy for me. I’ve been acting for 20 years professionally, and I’ve learned some amazing things from some incredibly talented directors as an actor. And I’ve also been on sets with directors who didn’t know how to direct actors. They were not kind. So both experiences have given me a feel of how I want to talk and direct my actors.
Are you able to tell us about any upcoming projects? What are they?
I’m working on writing season two for Landing Home and talking to people about raising money to turn my play The American Soldier into a film.
When you’re looking for inspiration what do you do?
I’ll look at images on the web or watch scenes of some of my favorite movies. I’ll listen to music, and even watch famous horse races. There is something very inspiring and exhilarating about watching a horse explode around a track. I’d suggest for anyone to watch some of Secretariat races on YouTube. We are pretty lucky today to have access to so much inspiration at our fingertips.
Have you worked with mentors in the past? How would you recommend people go about finding them?
Yes. I have, and I highly suggest it for first-time filmmakers. Just call up directors you respect, trust, and have more experience than you. Take them out for a coffee for lunch, and pick their brains. I was fortunate to know quite a few directors who were so generous with their time.
Matthew Bonifacio, who has had many successful films, gave some excellent advice. He gave me the great advice of always thanking everyone on set every day and come to set with positive energy. No matter what has happened during the production. As a director, you are the captain of the ship, and everyone’s energy feeds off of yours. Talking to others with more experience will give you confidence and help develop your voice as a director.
Don’t be afraid of asking for help.
And finally, a fun one, cats or dogs?
Dogs! I have a Vizsla named Biscuit, but I also love cats.