Joseph A Mauro and Ezekiel N Drews

Ezekiel N. Drews, after a twelve-year hiatus from acting, came back and acted like he had never left the scene. He founded Lucid Films, Ltd. Co. with Joseph A. Mauro in November 2022 after some heavy drinking and never looked back. In love with acting and filmmaking, Ezekiel has a number of acting credits he's working to increase and is looking to create a booming filmmaking community in the Midwest, where plenty of talent resides but is often overlooked. He wrote, co-directed, produced, and wore 40 other hats for the award-winning dramatic feature film "Happy Birthday" in 2023. His dream is to work full time in the industry and, perhaps, work with Tom Hiddleston in a Marvel work.

Joseph A. Mauro is a filmmaker based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Joe works as a director, cinematographer, and actor on local independent film productions in Wisconsin, but his full-time job is as a battery engineer. Joe has a passion for creating things for others to enjoy and is inspired by thought-provoking storytelling. He is currently taking courses in cinematography and acting online. Mauro directed the award-winning dramatic feature film Happy Birthday in 2023. Joe enjoyed his drama classes in High School but put his art on the back burner, finally rekindling his artistic spark. His dream is to direct an award-winning psychological thriller one day, and he is currently building his body of work as a director. 

What is the story behind your film?
"Happy Birthday" is a commentary on isolation, PTSD, survivor's guilt, mistrusting the authorities, the importance of family, and the perseverance of the human spirit.
We first started this project as a short film, but soon realized that the story we wanted to tell needed to be a full feature. We clearly took inspiration from the global pandemic in 2020 and ran with a much darker outcome from what actually happened in real life.

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What should people take away, gain, and realize after watching your film?
From watching this film, people should realize that many people all felt the same way during the lockdown and maybe even to this day. Many of us felt alone and isolated and I think many of us feel like the world still hasn't gone back to what it was before 2020. I hope they know that they're not alone and that no matter what, any day someone could come around and change your life.

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Do you think that films can change people for the better or for the worse?
I think film has a huge influence on society as a whole for both better and worse. If a film is done correctly, it should make people ask questions and should start conversations.

What creation style did you use in the production of your project? What cameraman elements did you use?
This film is a classical narrative told through the perspective of the main character, with interjections of flashbacks telling the majority of the story. We used many camera tricks due to being a low-budget film, needing to find ways to film scenes out of order when some key people weren't available, and not always having an actual camera operator behind the camera.

How did you select the actors for your project?
We had a standard audition process for our film. We asked for headshots, filtered those into who we were interested in seeing self-tapes from, and from there, we had Zoom callbacks with everyone we wanted a final look at. A huge requirement came from committing 2 months in advance for a shoot date, due to a contract we had signed for a location with limited availability to film at. Other than that, we had standard acting contracts and talent release forms.

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Why do you think your film should appeal to distributors?
Our film has the raw potential to appeal to general audiences everywhere, due to its ability to relate themes we all experienced during COVID-19 lockdowns. We all felt isolated from loved ones, like we could barely trust our governments, and above all wanted to make it through so we could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Our film is a love letter to the world, and what it means to be human.

At which festival has your film been screened?
At the time of answering this, we won Best Drama Feature at the Clout Film Fest in California, USA, and Best Feature Film at the Athens International Monthly Art Film Festival in Athens, Greece. Our film had a version premier at the National Independent Film Awards in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, USA back in September of 2023. The final version of the film has yet to premiere, but we are excited to host one after some festival restrictions have passed.

How did your acquaintances react when they first saw the film?
Not many people have seen our film yet, but those who have seen it have had a very positive reaction to it! Most people can't believe this is our first film and can't wait for what we create next.

If you could change something in your film, what would it be?
One thing I would change is some of the early scenes we shot. We learned so much through filming each scene that by the end of it we were significantly better and more knowledgeable, but you have to call a project done at some point and move on to the next one and take what you learned into the next project.

Which movies are your favorites and why?
Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" has been a favorite of mine since it first came out. I get a large amount of inspiration from the world-building and character development throughout the movie, as well as the diversion of expectations. I always appreciate incredible storytelling especially when themes and layers inside of layers are portrayed flawlessly.

What topics do you like to address in your stories?
There are not really any specific topics we like to address in our stories. We try to create interesting stories with interesting characters and let the story be told for itself instead of forcing topics into the film. When we are addressing touchy subjects, we try to create thought-provoking dialogue and multiple stances instead of pushing our ideologies onto our audience.

What is your motivation for making films?
We first met on set while acting for an indie project, and after multiple projects from other filmmakers fell apart, we decided to take matters into our own hands. We decided to start our own production company, Lucid Films, Ltd. Co. Two weeks later, Ezekiel started to write our first film, "Happy Birthday", and the rest is history.

Which contemporary filmmakers motivate you the most?
As stated above, Christopher Nolan is a huge motivator, but to add to the list, I would say, Jordan Peele, with his film 'Get Out,' and John Krasinski, with his film 'A Quiet Place' are huge motivators as well. We plan to make a horror film in the future, maybe not next but definitely eventually.

What projects do you plan to shoot in the future?
We're currently collaborating with some other smaller indie companies on a few projects to kind of catch our breath while keeping busy. We ran the gauntlet on "Happy Birthday" and essentially finished writing, casting, filming, editing, and producing in about 7 months. That being said, who's to say that we won't start writing our next film two days from now? The plan will be to branch into some comedy, horror, and psychological thriller genres.