Interview: ALLEN EVANGELISTA, Project Almanac

Allen Evangelista made a name for himself starring as Firewire in “Zoey 101” from 2006 through 2008. He next appeared in an impressive 81 episodes of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” from 2008-2013. You may also have seen him in “Mozart and the Whale” or “Balls Out”.

On January 14, 2015, Allen chatted with me briefly about his latest film, “Project Almanac”, which comes out later this month. It’s a big-budget science fiction time travel adventure, produced by Michael Bay and his team at Platinum Dunes. Allen was kind enough to give us a sneak peek at what the film has in store and even defends the controversial use of “found footage”.

GS: The film was temporarily put on hold, so you’re now seeing it in theaters almost two years after you wrapped shooting…

AE: Yes, about a year and half. It’s been a long wait for us, and we’ve all been really anxious to see it, but it turned out really well. The reason for the delay was actually because of Paramount; they didn’t expect the movie to turn out the way it did, with it testing so well, so they wanted to revamp their marketing strategy and brought in MTV and others who could help capture the right demographic. It was a good surprise for Paramount. I saw the film again a few days ago, and although I’m my own worst critic, I actually enjoyed it.

GS: The early reviews seem to be very positive. Playlist wrote “the movie is smart and knowingly acknowledges both its place in the time travel subgenre and its formal limitations as a found footage movie.”

AE: It’s crazy. I feel like a lot of people will be surprised by the movie. It hits its marks and does what it’s trying to do.

GS: Can you comment on the found footage aspect? For many people that’s a big turn off.

AE: Yeah, I understand what you’re talking about. Obviously, this is a sci-fi movie with time travel. With those films, it’s easy to go over the top sometimes. The found footage actually helps ground the movie and make it relatable. Our director, Dean Israelite, uses the concept well, as a tool. In this day and age, with everyone recording everything and with such great cameras in our phones… that’s what teenagers do: document everything and post it on social media. What makes this movie work with the found footage is that it focuses more on the relationships between these characters. For any movie to do well, you have to actually care about the characters and know who they are. Otherwise, what’s the point? Obviously the cameras were big movie cameras and not handheld, but we fake it pretty well. The found footage helps us think these kids might actually be able to do what they do. We focused on the right things, and took a long time to build this thing.

GS: Even though the cameras are studio cameras and not really cell phones, does it change the way you interact knowing that these are intended to be small, handheld devices?

AE: Yeah, we had to go through these lessons on how to “pass the camera off”. Most of the movie is filmed from the perspective of the younger sister, played by Virginia Gardner. So she’s behind the camera. But it’s really cameraman Dana Morris who is back there. It makes for some funny interactions, because Virginia plays my love interest but I’d actually be looking at Dana, a guy. There are “passes” with the camera where we put our hands out and make it look like we’re holding a phone. We hide it pretty well.

GS: The film’s plot features one kid trying to win the lottery with time travel, but as with any film where you mess with time, things don’t always go as planned. Can you give an example of the missteps?

AE: As we’ve learned from other movies, if you change one little thing… you have no idea what ripple effects you will cause, or what events were tied to something seemingly unrelated. We definitely start out having fun, winning the lotto, having concerts, getting second chances. I can’t give away too much of the plot regarding the bad things, but it’s just wild to think about how one little thing can affect so many people.

GS: You’ve been acting professionally for several years now, but this was director Dean Israelite’s debut feature film. Although he was at the helm, were you able to help guide him in any way?

AE: This was Dean’s first big thing, you’re right. The best thing about working with him was the freedom he gave us, and maybe that was due in part to his knowing we had worked before. Some of us more than others, and we know what we’re doing. But more so, I think he was looking to generate chemistry between us, with us improvising a lot of scenes. The writers had outlined the scenes, so we knew where we had to be by the end of each scene, but he let us get there in our own words. There were many rehearsals where we would just go with it and the writers would jot down what we came up with, modifying what they already had. It just worked out. There’s a reason that Dean was given the remake of “WarGames” and was given a deal with Paramount. He knows what he’s doing. He knows how to edit himself, do post-production stuff… I’ve seen how long he spends in those rooms after we’re done shooting. He knows what he wants, he’s really smart, and he trusted us. We learned to trust him right away.

GS: Just to get into your role a bit, who is your character and how does he fit in with the bigger picture?

AE: My character’s name is Adam. As far as computers go, he’s the smartest of the group, the most tech-literate. He’s also the cautious one, looking after everyone and making sure we don’t mess up, because we’re dealing with things we’ve never used before. We have no idea what could happen, so he’s second-guessing, looking over the footage… and, again, this is the reason we’re filming everything. It helps us see the changes we’ve made. But he’ll learn to have fun, too, because it’s a time machine with limitless possibilities.

GS: As we wind this down, any other upcoming projects you would like to get out there?

AE: Yeah! I just shot another guest spot on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”, and it should be airing this month. Tune into them; not only is it an award-winning show, but they’re one of the nicest casts I’ve ever worked with, to be honest. Really cool people.

GS: Awesome. And that airs on Fox, so we’ll check it out.

AE: Thanks, Gavin. Talk to you soon.

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