Exclusive interview with award-winning film producer Mike Montagna.

Hailing from Pavia in Italy, Mike Montagna is an award-winning producer and director based in the heart of Hollywood. He began his journey in filmmaking through his love of storytelling and cinematic culture. His stories center around human nature, existentialism and the deep connection we have as human beings.

His latest masterpiece, ‘Sunrise Boulevard’, is a film noir movie set in a 1955 clinic. The picture has been exceptionally well received by critics and film festivals.

Film News caught up with Mike to talk about ‘Sunrise Boulevard’.

Congratulations, we loved the movie! Can you tell us about the project ‘Sunrise Boulevard’?
Yes, ‘Sunrise Boulevard’ is set in 1955 and follows an in-crisis famous actress who enrolls in a Clinic that helps artists to find inspiration through a pioneering sorrow therapy. The therapy doesn’t work with her. The other artists start to take inspiration from her sunny presence. The only way to bring the Clinic back to a painful and productive atmosphere is to turn her smile off forever.

How did you come up with the concept?
The concept emerged from a fascination with the post-war era's burgeoning psychological and artistic movements. I envisioned a clinic that helps artists regain their inspiration through pioneering sorrow therapy, reflecting the period's exploration of human emotion and creativity. The idea stemmed from the juxtaposition of the 1950s' clinical, scientific approach to mental health with the raw, emotive world of art. I imagined a place where the burgeoning field of psychotherapy and new medicine intersects with the existential struggles of artists, providing a fertile ground for a gripping narrative. This setting allowed me to delve into themes of pain, creativity, and the human condition, all while embracing the aesthetic and moral complexities of noir. The clinic, with its unique therapeutic methods, became a metaphorical space where characters confront their deepest fears and desires, making it the perfect backdrop for a story about redemption, loss, and the quest for artistic and existential rebirth. And, to be honest, beside all of this… I just wanted to try to make a good film!

Did you have to research the era – clinics, wardrobe, and suchlike?
To create an authentic movie set for a clinic in 1955, I conducted extensive research encompassing various aspects of the period. I started by studying the social and cultural context of the 1950s, analyzing photographs, films, and architectural styles to understand the visual and structural details. One of the biggest influences about production design and wardrobe had been Rebecca (1940) by Sir. Alfred Hitchcock: we wanted a Clinic that mostly recalls a picturesque rich house, instead of a hospital.

Props and costumes were meticulously chosen to reflect the period accurately, informed by fashion trends. Collaboration with set designers ensured that the set was both historically accurate and functional for filming.
This comprehensive approach ensured an immersive and believable portrayal of a 1955 mood.

Why did you choose to complete the film in black and white? Did you film in color?
The choice about black and white was to enhance the authenticity and atmospheric quality of the film, a drama-noir set in 1955. Choosing black and white allowed me to pay homage to the classic noir films of the 1940s and 1950s, which are renowned for their stark contrasts, shadowy lighting, and dramatic compositions. This aesthetic choice helped me evoke the mood and tone of that era, immersing the audience in a world of mystery, tension, and moral ambiguity. Additionally, using black and white film accentuated the thematic elements of noir, such as the interplay of light and shadow, creating a visually striking and emotionally resonant experience that truly brought the story to life. Shadows and light played crucial roles, with dramatic chiaroscuro lighting creating a sense of unease and highlighting the moral ambiguity that defines noir genre. The biggest inspirations were the works from Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and Hiroshi Teshigahara.

We shot in RAW with a Sony Venice; this allowed us to play with contrast and lighting in post-production.

As producer, executive producer, director, writer on the movie – how did you juggle so many roles?
Since I was the project's producer, director, and writer, I had total control over it and could accomplish 90% of my initial vision (100% is perfection, and if your name isn't Orson Welles or Akira Kurosawa, perfection doesn't exist). Even though I was in complete control of the project, I always kept an open mind to learn from and receive comments from more seasoned coworkers and artists in the community. This helped me improve both personally and creatively. Collaboration was crucial, and I will always be grateful to the entire team, beginning with my DOP Rocket Scott, who captured exactly what I was thinking on screen, and the entire incredible cast, including my lead actors Leota Rhodes, Rebecca Ritz and last but not least, Joseph Lopez, who, in addition to being an incredible performer, is also an amazing person who has helped me to evolve both as human being and filmmaker.

I also had the good fortune to work with Roy Shellef, who produced the film with me, which allowed me to concentrate on the artistic aspects that my roles as director and screenwriter demanded.

Where did you film the movie?
I chose an outstanding baroque mansion (the Clinic) in Chatsworth, Los Angeles, owned by the welcoming Farah Tarrah.

When can people see the film?
As soon as the film will finish its festival run (around the end of 2024), we will officially release it!

What are you working on next?
I’m working on the script for the feature film version of “Sunrise Boulevard” and I’m currently in the pre-production of my next film “Mom”, which revolves around the morbid relationship between a guy and his mom, joined together by their unhealthy relation with food. I would like to communicate the difficulties of building a new life outside the comfort zone made by your own house and your own family. I also would like to talk about the difficult relationship that a human being can have with food. An addiction too often underestimated because, at first sight, food it’s a daily thing that people use to feed themselves, and it can’t be dangerous. Addiction not only about food but in general as a way to fill an existential void. I would like to explore the way of thinking of Freud and Pascal and tell the story thanks to their thoughts. I’m going to start the crowdfunding campaign very soon.

How can people get in touch with you?
I can be contacted through my IMDb and Instagram.