The Cabin: Interview with producer Alec Trachtenberg

New York-born Alec Trachtenberg made his debut on the short film “Too Far From Home,” which premiered in 2013. He has since produced Alien Invaders and Maid for Murder under his banner, Coast Art Productions. The company’s latest release is “The Cabin,” a frightening U.S/Swedish co-production that makes its North American VOD in December of 2018.

Alec discussed this film and more via an exclusive interview on November 20, 2018.

Producing, directing, and inspiration

Meagan Meehan (MM): What inspired you to become a producer, sir?

Alec Trachtenberg (AT): Ever since I was a kid I was always loved telling stories and consuming all types of entertainment (books, , television, etc.).

I also had a real entrepreneurial side to me that resonated with the world of business and sales. In my first year of college in Santa Barbara, I wrote my first short film “Too Far From Home” and decided to produce it with a group of friends. It was during that shoot I realized that producing was my calling in life. The act of connecting storytelling and business was something that really interested me. Not to mention the fact that you’re always working on a new project with talented people and you get the opportunity to travel all across the world.

MM: And like filmmaking, are their manuals and courses one can do to learn the tricks of the trade?

AT: In college, I actually majored in general Communication Studies, having never taken an actual filmmaking course. With that being said, I don’t believe it’s necessary for one to have to attend film school to be able to make a feature film successfully.

It’s really all about learning from everyone around you and actually going out there and getting it done.

However, I’ve always been an avid reader and have read every book imaginable on film finance, film production, the entertainment industry, and everything else relatable to film producing. One thing I recommend is also reading the autobiographies and biographies of other film producers and filmmakers to learn what they’ve done in their career.

MM: Why producing and not directing and what was your first production like?

AT: I’ve always liked the idea of starting something from the ground up. As a producer, you’re literally planting the initial seed and responsible for making sure that plant grows to it’s fullest potential. I always like to think that the producer is ultimately the CEO of the film. He’s the one that’s overseeing all the different departments on all phases of the process. I like to collaborate with everyone and build towards a common goal; all while being the one in charge of making sure we all accomplish that goal.

My first production was a short film called “Too Far From Home” which I did my freshman year of college in Santa Barbara. The funny thing about it all is that I wasn’t even enrolled in any film production classes but had a group of friends who took the classes.

I dabbled in writing a little bit and decided to write the screenplay, especially since this would be my first production. We shot the film for a series of 4 weekends all around Santa Barbara and the surrounding Santa Ynez mountains, which was absolutely beautiful.

I did all the casting in Los Angeles and hired a great casting director to help us in our selection of actors. We even had Aldo Gonzalez as an actor, who is a co-star on TV shows like Anger Management and Sons of Anarchy.

We all learned a lot on that film set, and I’m grateful for that opportunity. We submitted it to a few film festivals, and we premiered the film at the 2013 Oceanside Film Festival in Oceanside, California. Seeing our film up on the screen in front of all those people gave me the “high” to keep going and to produce more films.

MM: And how do you think you’ve improved as a producer since then?

AT: In the beginning, I was really immersed in trying to understand the logistical and technical aspects of film production (cameras, lighting and sound equipment, locations, casting, etc.), but as I went on, I started really to hone in on the business and finance part.

At the end of the day, you can have all the ideas in the world to make a film, but if you don’t have an idea of the targeted audience and the financial components involved, there isn’t going to be a movie. Understanding the marketing, distribution, and finance strategies are imperative.

MM: How did “The Cabin” come to you?

AT: Johan was actually my sound guy on “Too Far From Home” which is how we initially met. He moved back to Sweden and continued his filmmaking endeavors out there while I was doing the same in Los Angeles. One day I get an email from Johan giving some background on the film that he and our writer Erik Kammerland were writing. He mentioned that it would take place in Sweden on this beautiful property with a lake, a cabin, and a surrounding forest. I told him that I was very interested in hopping on board as producer and help to facilitate the casting, scheduling, budgeting, distribution strategy, and all other duties of the producer. I did the casting in Los Angeles, and that’s how we got our two main leads, Christopher Lee Page and Caitlin Crommett.

MM: It was shot in Sweden, I believe?

AT: Yes, it was. We shot the film in Kilafors, which is about 3 hours north of Stockholm. I highly recommend visiting Sweden if you’ve never been there. It’s a beautiful country, and everyone is SO nice and welcoming.

The movie industry and horror films

MM: Does it help to have a great fondness for horror films if you’re going to produce one?

AT: I would say that it’s always important to work on something that you’re passionate about. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have a passion for horror films. The story is centered on a couple who are going through some emotional tension and who need to overcome that to be able to survive from the external threat (our antagonist). I’d say that my passion tends to stem from the dynamics of the characters and the internal and external battles they are facing because, at the end of the day, that’s whom we, as an audience, can relate to.

MM: What do you like most about the movie industry, what are your future plans, and what sage advice can you offer?

AT: The ability to take an idea and turn it into a full-on tangible thing that people can watch and feel. Film producing is just like entrepreneurship. You’re taking an idea, taking that idea and putting a plan to it, and then ultimately creating a product that people can enjoy.

In ten years I’d love to have a corporate office for my production company Coast ART Productions, making studio blockbuster films with budgets in the millions of dollars, and to hopefully to win an Oscar for one of those films. I want Coast ART Productions to be up there with other major independent film studios like A24, Neon, The Orchard, etc. We’re in the process of developing a psychological thriller and even a romantic comedy film called Old Man Desperado (which I’m actually one of the writers for alongside Chad Kojouri). We should be going into production for our next project summer of 2019.

My advice is don’t feel like you need to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on film school. There are so many tools out there including YouTube videos, books, and the opportunity to go out there and do it yourself. It’s all about action. Don’t worry if you’re not doing it correctly when you first start out – that’s how you learn. The worst thing you could do is sit around and plan to make movies but never get around to doing it. Always be curious and learn from those around you, especially people who’ve done this for years. And lastly, don’t forget to have fun. At the end of the day we’re storytellers, which in my mind, is the best job in the world.