Interview With Michael O’Shea, Writer and Director of The Transfiguration

Awhile back, I had the chance to watch and review the amazing vampire film The Transfiguration (read my review of the film here) from writer/director Michael O’Shea. I absolutely loved the film, so I reached out to Michael and asked him for an interview. Thankfully, he accepted. Check it out!

PopHorror: What made you want to become a filmmaker?

Michael O’Shea: I was 16 when I decided I wanted to make movies. I had a tough time when I was a teenager, starting from around 12, and movies were what got me through. Movies just sorta showed me there was a world outside of my current situation, and that there were people out there who were as weird and crazy as I was, which was very important to me as an alienated and lonely kid. So by 16, I had decided this thing that was such a comfort to me was something I wanted to create as well.

PopHorror: What directors and films inspired you the most?

Michael O’Shea: In terms of contemporary filmmakers, I’m most inspired by Gaspar Noe and Lars Von Trier. Because they’ve had successful careers while remaining uncompromising. When I was a kid, Videodrome was huge for me. Also, Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. The way Romero weaves politics into his films subtly was a big influence on me and my writing.

The Transfiguration itself – the writing was very influenced by Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer, Martin, Larry Fessenden’s Habit, Candyman and Fresh… for the directing, I was very influenced by what I guess I’ll call the new American neo-realists of whom I’d include the Safdies, Kelly Reichardt, and my friend Aza Jacobs who watched multiple cuts and was very helpful and supportive during the post process.

PopHorror: How did you come up with the idea for The Transfiguration?

Michael O’Shea: I was thinking about a what kind of horror movie I could make for not a lot of money. So while thinking about this, I saw The Pleasure of Being Robbed by the Safdies and Escape from Tomorrow by Randy Moore and those were both influential on me in that they were using real locations a lot of the time with real people as sorta unwitting background extras and I suspect often stealing locations and shooting small and fast and I thought “I’d like to make a horror movie in this style.”

I decided soon after that a portrait horror movie would be the best choice for this style, like Henry or Martin or Willard. And I was already thinking that I wanted location to be a major element of the film, for him to live in one kind of place and hunt in another kind of place. At around that point, a friend told me that her friend’s kid was obsessed with vampires and was getting bullied for it at school, and I started to think that it would be cool to use that as a springboard for a sort of coming-of-age story of a young person who is obsessed with vampires who believes that he is in fact transforming into a vampire.

PopHorror: Eric Ruffin and Chloe Levine, who play the leads Milo and Sophia, are absolutely flawless in their respective roles. How hard was it to find young actors that could pull off these damaged characters so perfectly?

Michael O’Shea: We had Eric and Chloe before we had money or casting on board. It was incredibly important to find the right people for those roles, so we were looking well before we had any money and were lucky enough to find both of them and then lucky enough that they were both still available when we did find money and were able to go forward with the movie.

PopHorror: What was your experience like shooting The Transfiguration?

Michael O’Shea: It was a difficult shoot. We were shooting in a lot of live locations with little controls of what was happening in the environment, and that’s hard for both cast and crew, though I think very rewarding in terms of what you capture on screen. This was my first movie, and being given the opportunity to make it was literally a dream come true, but it was also very stressful. We really wanted it to be good, so it was a pretty intense shoot for me and my partner, the producer Susan Leber.

PopHorror: Are you a fan of vampire films? If so, what are some of your favorites?

Michael O’Shea: I’m pretty much a fan of the same films as Milo: Martin, Let the Right One In, Near Dark, Shadow of the Vampire. In addition I’d add The Hunger, Jean Rollin’s Requiem for a Vampire, Park Chan Wook’s Thirst and Vampire’s Kiss. Oh and Andy Warhol’s Dracula.

PopHorror: If you could work with anyone in the horror scene, who would it be?

Michael O’Shea: I’m a huge fan of Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Frankenstein and have a signed photo of Udo Kier from Dracula framed on my wall, so I think he’d be my first choice.

Working with Lloyd Kaufman and Larry Fessenden on The Transfiguration is already pretty huge for me. Both are legendary NYC filmmakers to me. And considering how much of Habit was an influence on me, not just about it being a sorta neo-realist vampire movie but also how it was a combination of a personal story and a horror movie and how one could do that – so being able to meet and work with Larry was really amazing and wonderful, and I’m so appreciative he agreed to do it. Though it was very intimidating for me to direct him (laughs).

PopHorror: Any upcoming projects?

Michael O’Shea: I’ve got a bunch but none with any money yet. Fingers crossed.

About Charlie Cargile

Central Illinois based film journalist. Lover of cinema of all varieties but in love with films with an independent spirit. Elder Emo. Cat Dad. Metalhead.

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