Award-winning screenwriter Michael Carnick has recently made his directorial debut with Manny Fantasma which he also wrote and produced. His first written production Rolling Romance won Michael three awards – Best Film, Best Original Screenplay and Best New Screenwriter at a number of film festivals. We caught up with Michael who tells us about his new comedy series Manny Fantasma, what he’s currently working on and his process of scriptwriting.
Can you tell us about Manny Fantasma?
Manny Fantasma is a half hour comedy series about a paranormal psychiatrist. In the world of the show, classic movie monsters like vampires, ghosts, zombies, and werewolves all exist, and they’re all fully integrated with society. Manny is a therapist that is specially trained to deal with supernatural beings, but even though they’re different, these non-human creatures end up having very human issues.
One example is a ghost couple that needs marriage counseling even after journeying to the great beyond. The husband argues that he’s no longer tied to his wife because their vows specifically said “until death do us part”. They actually still love each other deeply, and Manny has to help them realise that.
How long was this production in the making?
The first draft was written around 2010, so it was sitting in the tank for a few years. Rewriting, raising financing for production, finding the right cast and crew – it all can take a very long time. My first feature film, Who’s Driving Doug, also took about a decade before it was produced.
When and where will it be released?
The pilot episode will screen December 8th at the Santa Monica Film Festival. More info on the event can be found at smff.org.
We are meeting with networks to pursue distribution. A trailer can be found through the film’s social media sites:
That’s the best place to tune in to see updates on future screenings and any other developments. If you’re interested in requesting a personal screener, please contact my agent.
Were you involved with the casting?
Yes, that was the very first thing I concentrated on, and I took my time with it. Since Manny Fantasma is pretty dialogue heavy, I needed the right cast to carry the roles. Many of the characters are complicated and damaged, so they required actors that are truly dedicated and talented. My first Manny actually dropped out a few weeks before filming, which had me in a bit of a panic. Fortunately, Mig Feliciano stepped up to fill the gap and pulled off an amazing performance. He’s a terrific actor and turned out to be way better than the first guy. Sometimes these things happen for a reason.
Everyone in the cast was great, and super easy to work with. I really couldn’t have asked for a better group of actors. It was one of the most fun I’ve ever had on a shoot.
How would you describe the character Manny?
Manny is a Mexican immigrant that moved to LA after receiving full scholarship for med school. He decided to become a paranormal psychiatrist when he first saw a ghost while attending pre-med. His father disappeared under mysterious circumstances when Manny was just a boy, and much of the show’s arc revolves around him tracking down his missing father – whether dead or alive. Manny was hurt by his father’s absence, and often numbs these feelings of abandonment by turning to alcohol. This makes Manny less available to his own son, which keeps the cycle of abandonment going.
Although Manny puts up a tough, cooler than you attitude, he’s really pretty damaged. This makes him empathetic toward his patients, especially the ones dealing with isolation and feelings of loneliness. Manny desperately wants to connect, and often finds these meaningful relationships with his patients rather than his own family. This ends up getting him in hot water after he gets a little bit too close to a female vampire under his care named Arianna.
Who was the easiest character to write about?
Arianna was the most fun to write for. She’s a vampire with a typical bad girl attitude. Like Manny, this is mostly just a mask she wears, and deep down she’s dealing with some pretty nasty feelings of self-loathing. Her fundamentalist parents kicked her out of the house after they found out that she voluntarily had an ex-boyfriend turn her into a vampire. She’s been living on the street ever since, and ends up on Manny’s couch after getting arrested for biting a man at a bar.
What is your process of writing a show?
It usually happens early in the morning, around 1am – those quiet, peaceful moments, when everyone else is asleep – that’s when I write the first draft, which usually sucks. I read it the next day and wonder what the heck I was thinking. That begins the process of rewriting. Nothing ever feels like a “final draft” to me, and I’m usually tinkering right up until the day of principal photography, much to the chagrin of my crew.
Even after the filming is done, I still feel like every script is left a bit unfinished. Although it sounds cliché, those screenplays seem like living creatures that organically grow over time, even after the cameras stop rolling. That’s what’s so great about a long form TV series. You can continue to grow and change with these characters over a prolonged period. At the end, you feel like you’ve lived with them for a while and they were really part of your life.
How long have you been writing, directing and producing?
I started writing stories as soon as I could sit up and hold a marker. I continued to write short stories and plays throughout high school and college. I wrote my first screenplay when I was an undergrad at UCSD. It was called Who’s Driving Doug, and it ended up winning first place at the 50th anniversary of the Samuel Goldwyn Writing Awards. In 2014, production started on Who’s Driving Doug, and two years later it was released to major streaming platforms alongside a small theatrical run.
Manny Fantasma is my directorial debut, so I haven’t been doing it quite as long as writing, to say the least.
How did you get into it?
I didn’t expect to win the Samuel Goldwyn Writing award, but my screenwriting professor Allan Havis convinced me to send it in. I’m pretty glad he did, because that moment changed my life forever. After that, I got into screenwriting full time.
Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m currently developing a feature film about an Ethiopian rabbi that was airlifted to Israel during Operation Solomon. I’m also working on adapting one of my screenplays into a young adult fantasy novel.
Had you ever considered a different career path?
Only whenever I experience rejection in the film industry. So in other words, pretty much constantly. But that sort of comes with the territory, and persistence is the key to success. I have my moments of disillusionment like everyone else, but I’ve often found that if you just keep at it, something ends up coming along. It might not be what you originally wanted, but it can turn out to be just as good, or even better.
That being said, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to work in the field of psychology. I have a strange fascination with talk therapy in general, which is what led me to write Manny Fantasma.
Were you given any advice before your career took off?
My screenwriting professor Allan Havis’ opening line to the class was something along the lines of: “Screenwriting is easy. Just follow these simple instructions and you’ll make millions of dollars”. It had a nice ring to it.
How did you feel winning the Best Screenplay Award for Rolling Romance?
Rolling Romance was the first film I wrote that was produced, so it really bolstered my faith in myself. It told me that I should keep doing what I was doing. More importantly, I met some really amazing people while filming it, who I still collaborate with to this day. Accolades are nice, but in the long run it’s all about the connections you make. Awards come and go. Films and TV shows come and go. Good and honest people last a lifetime.
What are your work plans for next year?
Produce my next feature, work on my novel, try not to die. You know, the usual.
Thanks for the interview, TresA!
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