Filmmaking | Interviews

Chasing the Past: Writer/Director Jonathan Salemi on Inspiration, Production and Distribution

1 May , 2014  

Written by Sarah Blood | Posted by:

Director and producer of several films, writer/director Jonathan Salemi takes us through his process making i>Chasing the Past, which debuted at the Boston International Film Festival and won the Best Cinematography award at the festival.

Originally from Revere, Massachusetts and now living in Los Angeles, filmmaker Jonathan Salemi shared some background on his inspiration for the new short film Chasing the Past, which debuted at the Boston International Film Festival. Chasing the Past centers on a man who is coping with the loss of his fiancé, and in his grief, stumbles upon a time traveler. Salemi has directed and produced many films, including Sidewalk Symphony (winner of the Boston International Film Festival), Ante Up, and Open Road.

Sarah Blood: How did you begin the story development for Chasing the Past? What was your inspiration?

Jonathan Salemi: The story started when the lead actor Adam Marcinowski approached me to make a movie together with himself in the lead. The acting world is difficult out in Los Angeles, and a lot of times actors don’t get the roles they want or deserve as there’s so much competition and you really have no control if a director or producer will cast you or even if the role is rightly suited for you. You literally have to make your own movies to get the parts you want.

So we started talking ideas and came up with a platform to jump off from – something in the sci-fi realm with an aspect of romance. I began my usual search of finding what emotions I’ve recently experienced or anything that I was drawn to at the time that I wanted to write about. At the time, I recently came out of a period in my life where I was very introspective. After seeing the third of my grandparents pass away and experiencing the break-up of my long-term girlfriend in the same month, I was hoping to make a movie based off of those feelings of longing for the past as well as seeing how precious life is. I was basically seeing how I’m not getting any younger nor are the people around me and the loneliness you can feel sometimes in seeing the people you love leave you. I didn’t have the story fully developed until I watched a 1920s F.W. Murnau silent film called Faust. It was a love story about a man who would risk his own life to be with the woman he loved. It was after watching that, I knew the complete story I wanted to tell. It was really cool how that all came about at the right time.

SB: Where did you film and what was the time duration for the film (from pre-production through post-production)?

Salemi: Filming began in September of 2012. We had a four-day shooting schedule originally scheduled but ended up shooting about seven days as we were probably a little too overly ambitious with our schedule, and I didn’t want to compromise too much on the vision we had. I saw the movie we could make if we had the extra days so with Adam aboard as well as the cast and crew, we schedule extra days. One day, we shot with a skeleton crew of about six people up in the high desert for four hours and then drove 90 minutes back to LA where Alyssa and the whole crew as well as other cast were set up and waiting for us for the next shots that took place at my house. I love shooting like that, the challenge is exciting. We completed that day and kept the day close to 12 hours which was great! Everyone knew the plan and the shots turned out great.

For post-production, I tend to take my time as I really like the manipulation and crafting that editing and sound editing allows. You can literally create moments and story you never imagined before or draw things out or cut them faster so you can create more suspense and tension or whatever emotion you’re after. Michael Mastre was fully aboard with how I wanted to draw out emotions and he executed awesomely. My good friend for close to ten years J.D. Ryan was the second editor aboard and we had a blast cutting in his kitchen on the AVID while his kids would sleep at night.

SB: What part of production was particularly challenging for you?

Salemi: The most challenging thing for me on this film was telling a story using a different part of my voice. I think in the past I’ve relied more on the feelings and emotions I keep at the surface or just below the surface. On this one, I wanted to tell the story that was deep inside of me. It was showing a side of me that many people never saw. It was scary because I didn’t know if I’d pull it off and if I would fully give it the justice and truth it deserved. I held onto those emotions and feelings throughout pre-production, production and post-production which was difficult as well. It wasn’t until I was wrapping up score and color that I began to let the story go. Hopefully when people watch the movie, they see that part of themselves that can sometimes feel alone or lost but in this case, there’s hope on the other side. That’s what I wanted to show and I hope it came across in not only the actors but the score, cinematography and what’s behind the words and images as well.

SB: What was the most satisfying and rewarding part about filming Chasing the Past?

Salemi: The most rewarding part of the movie was this last weekend when we won the Best Cinematography award at the Boston International Film Festival. I’ve been working with the DP Josh Fritts since my first movie and for him to win that award meant a lot to me. I wanted him to win it before we shot the movie and seeing it now come to fruition is truly awesome.

SB: Any particular director who inspired you with this specific film project?

Salemi: This particular project was inspired from ‘80s fantasy movies but with a bit of a darker tone while trying to let the images and actions tell more story than the words. I’m a big fan of Terrence Malick and I believe Josh is too so we were trying to do many things almost on the level that Malick does but in our own voice. He has this great way of storytelling in which it is not so much the dialogue but the feeling and emotions in his movies that elicit the story. I wanted to achieve that type of storytelling but staying within my own parameters.

SB: Do you have any future film projects in development right now?

Salemi: Right now I have a few projects that I’m working on. I have an action feature that I’m developing with my cousin and writer Steve D’Arcangelo as well as a great stunt coordinator Carl Ciarfalio who’s been working in the action and stunt field since The Fall Guy, a coming-of-age feature that I’m currently writing that I hope to shoot back in my home state of Massachusetts. I’m working on acquiring scripts from writers that already have finished projects so I can pitch them or package them with other pictures.

SB: Any dreams of working with specific filmmakers?

Salemi: I had the good fortune of working on this movie with my friend and editing mentor J.D. Ryan. He just got off working, for close to three years, with George Lucas side by side at Skywalker Ranch. JD would call me on his rides home from Skywalker and tell me stories of working with George, the ways he approached editing, and stories he would tell JD about his directing friends’ styles of editing and storytelling. Fast forward a couple years after Lucas got bought out, JD moved back to LA and now I was working with my buddy again and his editing style was almost completely different than when I last worked with him before he met George. It was incredible. It was like I was almost first hand watching the editing style of George Lucas and the way his mind works in post because now JD was channeling him in some ways. I learned a lot from working with JD last year and I brought it forward with me on other projects I had in post at the time. I think one of the greatest things I learned was how much more you can manipulate shots in post and a new way of looking at shooting and what to look for within your frame on set. It showed me a whole new level of filmmaking and has changed the way I’ll shoot and edit from now on.

SB: In the next months, what are your hopes for Chasing the Past? Any distribution plans?

Salemi: I plan to screen Chasing the Past at festivals for the next year so I can let it play around the country or world and see what kind of audience it gets as well as attention. From there, I’ll then take it to ShortsHD as well as other distributors that I’ve worked with in the past to help expand the film’s viewing audience, i.e., national television in the States as well as in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia, iTunes Movies, Amazon and more before I put it online. Hopefully it finds an audience and people like it. This will help me make it into something larger like a feature or television show if I choose that route. But at the very least, if it gets the actors, crew and myself more work and open-doors, it’s a success.

More information on Chasing the Past can be found on Facebook: For more info on director, writer, and producer, Jonathan Salemi, please visit

More information on Chasing the Past can be found on Facebook: For more info on director, writer, and producer, Jonathan Salemi, please visit