Interview: Wes Kotansky Jr.

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I interviewed “The Missouri Strain” Director, Wes Kotansky Jr about his latest film and his inspirations.

Q: Where are you from?
A: I’m originally from a little town ironically named Hollywood in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Q: What is your connection to Baltimore?
A: My wife is the main reason I’m connected to Baltimore. She was living in Reisterstown when we met through mutual friends. Long story short, I accepted a director position at WJZ and moved in with her. Making Maryland my new home.
Q: How did “The Missouri Strain” come about?
A: “The Missouri Strain” came about through mutual friends. Ryan McLaughlin, the writer and creator, had completed the short script and sent out a message on Facebook to see if anybody was interested in producing it. A good friend and colleague of mine at WJZ was friends with Ryan and forwarded his info to me. We connected shortly after and he asked if I would be interested in it. Normally, for this kind of script, I would have said no immediately. Just because zombie type movies never interested me in the past. Sure I’ve seen a few here and there but that was never my niche. I agreed to direct it because it was different than the usual zombie flick. It was about emotion, heartache, and the fear of not surviving. Ryan and I agreed to go forth with the film and the rest is history. Only a few months after we wrapped on filming, Ryan, sadly, passed away before he ever got the chance to see the finished product. The film was dedicated in his honor and his family received a Lifetime Achievement Award from one of the local film festivals.
 
Q: Why did you want to film in Maryland?
A: I had a lot of connections in Maryland and that helped seal the deal with shooting it here. At the time of filming, I lived in Carroll County, which, is visually beautiful with it’s forests, farms, and wildlife. I decided that would be the best place to shoot the climax of the film.
 
Q: How many cast/crew members were local? 
A: 100% of the cast and crew were local. All from the DMV area.
 
Q: Would you film a project in Maryland in the future?
A: Absolutely. The only gripe I have for filming in Maryland is that there are not many incentives to do so. Film funding from the state has been drastically reduced so there’s really no motivation to film in Maryland. Some of the bigger productions like House of Cards and VEEP still film in Maryland but there was a time it was unsure if production would continue. 
 
Q: Who/What inspired you to become a director?
A: From a very young age, I’ve always had a love for film and television. Luckily, for me, my high school had a telecommunications course and my mother pushed me into it. I was hooked right from the start and was surprisingly very good at it. I filmed a few films in high school and learned that I love every aspect of filmmaking.
 
Q: Favorite film of all time?
A: It’s always tough to narrow it down to just one. There are so many good films. One of my favorites is Titanic. Mostly because of James Cameron. He is an amazing director and storyteller. Some of my other favorites would be Back to the Future, Jurassic Park, The Shawshank Redemption, Terminator 2, and The Lord of the Rings. I could name hundreds.
 
Q: What was it like working with Jessica and Kai? 
A: Jessica and Kai are fantastic to work with. Both are incredibly talented and are genuinely nice and down to Earth. They play the exact same character that they play in real life everyday, telling people the news. Jessica was in the first Transfomers, briefly, so that helped me decide to approach her about being involved with The Missouri Strain. Kai is also an avid filmmaker and he wanted to help anyway he could. I’m very thankful to have had both of them involved.
 
Q: Favorite memory from on set?
A: One of my favorite memories would be how positive and professional everyone on set was. All were 100% committed to the film and it shows in the final product. The entire climax of the film was shot in one day and despite it being one of July’s hottest days, everyone did a great job of overcoming the heat and doing an awesome job.
Q: Are there any actors or directors you’d like to work with in the future?
A: Hollywood directors? Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, and, I know most either hate or love him, Michael Bay because I hear he’s a beast on set.
 
Hollywood actors? Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Hugh Jackman, Vin Diesel, Ben Affleck, and Will Smith. Just to name a few.
 
Hollywood actresses? Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Sandra Bullock, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Jennifer Aniston, Emma Watson, and Jessica Alba. I could go on forever.
 
DMV Directors? Ed Sanchez, Erik Kristopher Myers, Shannon Lanier, Michael Merino.
 
DMV Actors/Actresses? There is a huge amount of talent in the DMV. It’s hard to narrow it down to a few. I’d love to work with as many as I can.