Serge Levin is no stranger to the film industry. He’s an American film actor, writer and director. His work includes Abysm (2016), Jack Goes Home (2016), Antihuman (2017), and Welcome to Willits (2017). He is also the founder of the New York based Isle Empire Pictures and Isle Empire Releasing – producing and distributing original and thought provoking content.
In addition to those talents, Serge Levin has also ventured into the world of composing.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with him about one of his films currently in post- production Welcome To Willits where he’s both an executive producer and plays the role of Jackson.
Deep in the Northern California woods, in the heart of the notorious Emerald Triangle, lies a remote cabin. The residents struggle to fight off the repeated attacks and abductions by mysterious creatures that have plagued them for years. When a local pot farmer is caught up with a wayward group of campers the situation quickly escalates into total carnage.
The film was written by Tim Ryan and directed by Trevor Ryan and stars Dolph Lungren as Derek, Thomas Dekker as Klaus, Rory Culkin, as Possum and Sabina Gadecki as Peggy. The film also stars Chris Zylka, Garrett Clayton, Serge Levin, Bill Sage, and Anastasia Baranova.
It’s scheduled for a release in the fourth quarter of 2016.
DB&B:Serge, You’ve credited your love of film to your stepfather Sam Hollis whose script writing captured your imagination. But what motivated you to become an actor?
SL: The inherent urge to express myself. Everything that I did as child, whether it was composing music or doing martial arts, it was really all about expression. The actor has the privilege to express oneself, harness every single emotion and put it to work. now, I think that’s special.
DB&B: Many, but certainly not all, directors attended a film school. Did you have formal training or did the love of film making motivate you to get behind the camera?
SL: My approach to anything I do needs to be comprehensive. If I was to understand script writing, I had to understand the rules of storytelling. If I was to understand acting, I had to study what happens on the other side of the mirror and know the process of production. Yes, fundamentally my love for film in general gave me the stimulus to direct, yet I also believe it’s part of my overall strategy to walk all ground in order to perfect and excel in anything something specific.
DB&B: You seem to enjoy working in the horror genre both as an actor and director. Did you grow up watching horror films and if so, do you have a favorite(s)?
SL: Absolutely. one of the first films I ever watched was Alien, which was an immediate inspiration for me. Although young at the time, I didn’t feel scared, I was more enthralled with the craftsmanship that it took to design such an immersive and believable universe. Although I watched it on a small TV set, I was completely out there with the crew, in outer space. My imagination was on fire and I was hooked.
I definitely have an affinity for Sci-Fi and intelligent horror from the standpoint of science and art but I also love emotional dramas and impactful action films. My favorite horror films are: Videodrome, Scanners and Beyond the Black Rainbow. in the Sci-Fi genre: Blade Runner and Brainstorm.
DB&B: Let’s talk about Welcome to Willits. Can you tell us about the story, any challenges you faced during its production and it’s release date?
SL: Welcome to Willits is sci-fi / horror film that’s based on a short that was screened at SXSW. The story is so unique and outside the box that if I revealed even a small crumb of its story arc I would be doing the future viewer a disservice. But, stylistically it’s throwback to the 80s when all of the effects had to be practical. This was one of the things that appealed to me about this project. This same aspect obviously posed a challenge because the audience of today can’t simply accept built puppets, no matter how crafty they may be, without some CGI enhancements to make them look absolutely real. This is a post-production issue but all of these factors need to be taken into account while shooting.
My involvement in the film was as an actor where I played Jackson, a rookie cop partnered up with Derek, played by Dolph Lundgren. Another challenge was filming all of our scenes in Los Angeles while the rest was shot in Louisiana. This was mainly due to scheduling issues but it did raise some interesting challenges where we had to coordinate with our “away team” to match the shots so that they all glue together nicely at the end. The film has many visual effects so it’s hard to gauge when the polished version will be ready for its world premiere. We will keep everyone in suspense.
DB&B: Your experiences in the entertainment industry have led you to writing, acting and directing. With your love of music, have you had the opportunity to compose?
SL: I really appreciate this question just because it’s so timely. Yes, I just finished co-scoring my feature film Abysm, which I wrote and directed. The song “Emotions” was written in collaboration with my friend Johnathan Ladino of the band Dreamshore. Music is a huge part of my life and of filmmaking in general. I take great pride in every piece of music that I select for my movies. My most favorite films scores as of today are: Blade Runner, Drive, The Guest (2014).
DB&B: As an actor you’ve had the opportunity to work with some very talented people. How have these experiences helped you hone your own talents?
SL: I have had a privilege to work with, direct and be directed by very talented actors. Working with Michael Ironside is the highlight of my film career thus far. He carries and projects such powerful talent and wisdom that you learn so much by simply being next to him.
In the film Jack Goes Home, I was directed by Thomas Dekker who is a super talented actor himself. There’s so much energy and enthusiasm despite his relativity young age, I was blown away. In one of the scenes I had to perform, Thomas has sparked something that I didn’t even know existed within me. It was a surreal but pleasant revelation that led to a performance that I can be proud of today.
Yes, working with talented and experienced artists always brings out the best in you. I also think talent is not enough. Hard work is what really makes the difference in the end.
DB&B: How has your martial arts training benefited your abilities as a writer/actor/director?
SL: I started practicing martial arts at the age of 7. It has benefited me in many ways and in various stages of my life. As for its contribution to my film endeavors, it’s a tremendous asset, both physical and psychological. I feel that I have more confidence and agility as both an actor and a director. The style that I practice is Kyokushin Karate which is considered to be the most uncompromising in its combat techniques and very profound in its spiritual teachings. It’s a formidable resource to my career goals and ambitions, and I aim to continue dedicating myself to understanding and perfecting its discipline.
DB&B: What advice would you give to young adults who are considering entering the entertainment industry?
SL: “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it”
DB&B: Can you tell us about some of the projects are you currently working on?
SL: I’m currently working on several sci-fi/horror action dramas: Antihuman, Lorenz Fractal, Racing to the Altar, and Moto Anjos (Moto Angels). We are partnering up with veteran producers and talented cast to realize these projects in the near future.
I’m also developing an emotional action/drama named – War on War – together with my writing partner Joe Tripician. Our goal is to shoot the entire film in the Amazon rainforest. the story is about an Israeli soldier that goes after a clandestine crime organization that was responsible for the death of his family. It’s not a traditional revenge story so many interesting twists are to be expected. Stay tuned!