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Filmmaker Spotlight: Alex Cherney, Director of Upcoming Film, "The Have Not"

By Tammy Reese

Since 2012, Alex Cherney has written, directed, and produced 5 feature films along with award-winning shorts and commercials. His short film Pick Me Up! Has won several awards on the festival circuit, and his latest feature The Have Not is currently set to begin its festival journey. Cherney’s primary genres are comedy, drama, and thriller, and he commonly infuses real people and scenarios into his work. His favorite film is Harold & Maude (Hal Ashby), and his favorite filmmakers include Kubrick, PTA, and Sean Baker. When not making movies, Cherney produces big brand marketing videos and writes/records music as ‘Alex Cherney’. He resides in a self-designed & built tiny house, in Upstate New York.

About The Have Not:

After a failed relationship, a deadbeat man tries to live off the land in a beach town on Long Island.

About The Cast:

Born and raised on Long Island, Duke Williams is an NYC-based actor who appeared in a number of theater productions, and feature & short films in Buffalo as well as NYC. He currently holds a bachelor's degree in Economics & Finance as well as a minor in Theater Arts from Buffalo State University. He has trained under Wendy Mckenzie & James Price of The Acting Studio-New York LLC. He currently trains under Christopher Marshall.

Jessica-Brittany (JB) is a multidisciplinary artist currently based in New York. She began pursuing voice and acting in high school, attending Stella Adler’s teen conservatory summer programs. For her undergraduate experience, she studied acting, receiving a BFA in Drama at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Since graduating in 2013, she has appeared in a wide array of film and live performance, including the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Netflix’s Friends From College, iHeartRadio, Joe’s Pub, Salgado Productions’ Zuccotti Park: The Musical, Miss Julie at the Lincoln Center Festival, Paper Choreography at the Watermill International Summer Program, and Macbeth at the Park Avenue Armory. At the same time she co-founded NYU’s Black Alumni Network, for which she now serves as Co-President to empower, connect, and celebrate the Black community within the greater NYU network. Such leadership led to Smith receiving the 2019 Michael Parkes Distinguished Alumni Award. Most recently, she creates music tied to visual elements under the name Jaibee. No matter the medium, Smith seeks to create that which will continually inspire others to move, think, and change.

Heart of Hollywood Magazine readers, please enjoy my interview with Alex.

What sparked your interest to become a filmmaker and how has your journey been so far?

Thanks for sitting down with me Heart of Hollywood! I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t completely infatuated with filming things and making movies. When I was a young boy I used to make horror & comedy shorts starring my grandpa (shoutout to Camilo Del Toro… what a champion) and then when I was a bit older skate videos with friends, school projects, short films and now features. I just love everything about it lol. Capture the moment in all of its beauty. The journey of life has been amazing, I’m really excited about my latest film ‘The Have Not’.

What has the experience been for you from pre through post-production working on “The Have Not” film?

An absolute whirlwind. The filmmaking process for The Have Not was unlike anything I had ever attempted before. I knew I wanted to make a film starring my really talented friend Duke Williams, so I approached him with this idea of taking a character and going out into reality to see what happened. We developed the idea together and went for it. It was crazy. It was just him in character and me with a handheld GH5 camera and cinema lens, a little shotgun mic on top. We needed to be stealth so people wouldn’t suspect much of us or clam up on camera. The process involved 3 additional photography productions. We took what we had after the first go, then decided how we could build it into a feature from there. We brought on our dear friend and amazing actress Jessica-Brittany Smith, who also helped us write the story further, and I spent over 10 full months over the course of 3 years ripping my hair out in the editing suite to find the right sequencing and story.

What was your first reaction when you saw the movie completed in its entirety?

There’s a special energy in this film beyond what we had set out to do.

How did Duke Williams and Jessica-Brittany Smith get involved with the production? What’s your take on their performances and what was it like to work with them?

I had worked with them both before on my previous feature Santamaria. Duke and I became pretty good friends, we developed this project and he recommended JB for the role of Sky in The Have Not. They are famous actors in my eyes. It’s just inevitable because of how magnetic their stage presence is and I just feel lucky to have been able to work with them. They are both very open collaborators, very intelligent, and always about going through lots of ideas to find the right one for the story. Duke and I have an almost non-verbal communication when it comes to the filming process. It’s a certain trust.

From your expertise as a writer/director, what do you think makes a great actor?

Good question. There are so many different ways to get there, but I think a great actor is able to exist in the moment completely uninhibited. Honesty. You put in the work before, you question the subtext of each line before, you memorize.. but when you’re in the gladiator pit you just have to throw it all away and exist, trusting in your prep and in the director to help guide your essence. Non-trained actors can be great actors. Your Aunt Linda could be an amazing actor. That’s why I’m so drawn to my hometown friend’s dad’s lol and casting people that belong on screen.

When, where, or how can our readers see “The Have Not” film?

Hopefully, at film festivals in the coming months! Follow us on Instagram @thehavenotmovie to stay up to date on the film, we will be posting stills, reels from the film, and BTS anecdotes.

Who are some directors you’re inspired by and why?

I’ve been really inspired by Sean Baker lately. His similar DIY attitude, wanting to make the movie on his terms, infusing real people into the cast. I think it’s just a lovely way to do it. Richard Linklater is a very inspiring filmmaker, always trying something new and I respect that. Plus he did School of Rock, one of most quotable, just amazing films ever. I’m also inspired by my friend Calogero Carucci. He’s another filmmaker from Long Island and he’s just so damn talented his films all have such a specific vibe. He’s also inspired by the characters on Long Island. You can check out some of his work on Prime.

What advice would you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Aside from the obvious ‘just go out there make it’ (which is true.. it’s the only way to get better in this art form). I’d say always work on a project that your heart is dying to explore. A story that you feel you can tell better than anyone, and that you’ll still want to tell months if not years down the line. Dare to be original, make something that might fail because you tried something new.

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Tammy Reese began her career as a theater actress performing in 60 live stage shows a year with The Media Unit TV and Stage Production Company. She also directed the weekly live TV show Rough Times Live.

Eventually, she went to Empire State College to obtain her degree in media studies. After graduation, she did more theater and wrote and produced her own videos to spread awareness on social issues through the arts.

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