There’s this moment in the trailer for “Along the Roadside,” writer/director Zoran Lisinac’s debut film, when the main character, Varnie, played by YouTuber Alphacat, discusses seeing girls for a fleeting moment in cafes and at stoplights and how he wants to bring them further into his world. I want to do the same with Zoran, the Belgrade transplant who, with his older brother Vladimir, started their film company Metakwon Filmworks and began work on “Along the Roadside.”
Zoran’s first feature film “Along the Roadside” blends NMR friends like Iman Crossan (Alphacat), Daniel Grozdich of the Gradual Report and Brock Baker, as well as several other big names in the YouTube community including SuperEd86, hiimrawn and ExoticJess with “mainstream” actors like Michael Madsen (“Kill Bill,” “Reservoir Dogs”) and tells the narrative of two people from different walks of life travelling to a music concert across the country. While the film has been playing at film festivals around the world, it gets a theatrical release in February. But for now, the trailer is up on YouTube, and it’s got the whimsical vibe of a European-style “slice of life” film in the spirit of “The Dreamlife of Angels” or something — artistic but sage, if you catch my drift.
Zoran, who attended a prestigious film school in Belgrade, Serbia and fell in love with filmmaking via the works of Oliver Stone and Milos Foreman, is now firmly in America and now firmly in the filmmaking business. And since he’s got such a crossover appeal with the YouTube crowd, I thought I’d hit him up to see what it was like working on a feature film with YouTubers as well as what he’s got coming up next.
How did you go from working in a hotel in Santa Monica to making films?
Zoran Lisinac: Well, my beginnings of storytelling through visual means date back to an early age of drawing comic books, which I started publishing when I was aged 9; upon finishing film academy in Belgrade, I moved to the US with an idea to make films. The first job I got was behind the front desk of a hotel, and I stayed there until the pre-production of “Along the Roadside,” my debut film, since I discovered that there was no better day job during which I could utilize screenplay writing. The first years were tough since I was still learning the language.
You utilize both YouTubers and mainstream actors in your film. Are YouTubers natural actors in your opinion or did they have to work harder at it?
I am super-impressed with “YouTubers” and their work ethic and, really, the level of professionalism they’ve showcased. I only wish all “mainstream” actors showed up on set that prepared. YouTube is a legitimate platform for talent, in my opinion. Since I tend to put everything in historical perspective, YouTubers are a bit like late 19th century expressionists, banging out a vlog a day. And with every platform comes some adjustment to the other medium — in their case, “letting the camera come to them.” I think that mainstream talent might have a harder time adjusting to “YouTube” acting though (haha).
What made YouTuber Alphacat the natural choice for the lead in your film?
Iman (Alphacat) has “stolen” the part from a “legitimate” Hollywood actor with whom we were in the midst of contract negotiation, and he did it fair play — by submitting an extremely strong audition. I mean it really knocked our socks off … and the level of commitment that we believed it held since he edited it and turned it into something of a short film (later, Iman revealed that he just loved to edit).
We are very happy that we entrusted him with the part and till this day we’ve heard nothing but praise of his performance. Iman stood his ground opposite some Hollywood stars (Michael Madsen of “Reservoir Dogs”), international ones (Palm D’or-winning lead Lazar Ristovski), as well as his co-star (a theater star in Germany, Angelina Haentsch). I remember one critic approached me after a premiere in Europe and whispered, “I never seen this kid before, but mark my words — he will blow up!” and I guess that’s already happened with Vine (haha) but I know he’s got some great rolls ahead of him.
Do you feel that something like YouTube is going to overtake the Hollywood system or will Hollywood just integrate into YouTube and merge the two?
Tectonic shifts are happening in the way we consume media so that’s a really interesting question. I doubt YouTube will “overtake Hollywood” since the need for a “collective experience” is not likely to cease to exist from our DNA, but I do believe that bridges will become wider and tighter. Hell, my company is trying to do just that — bridge the two.
You’ve already begun production on a second film — what juicy details do we get to know about that one?
We are in the pre-production of a feature film which, on one hand, is a big love letter to both YouTubers and their audience, and on another, an exploration of relationships forged in a modern day society held together by technology. The movie is also “cross-media” cast and is set to star Daniel Grozdich from GradualReport, Timothy DelaGhetto and Kathleen Victoria Elliott aka Katers17 and even some Oscar nominees. I can reveal the tagline: “Don’t Change Your Act. Find Your Audience.” — something we can all take away from YouTubers.