As a writer, creator, producer, director, editor, and more, Mikeal Burgin is a man of many talents. With his own production company, Okapi Pictures, Burgin has crafted multiple films by a combination of passion and talent. One of his latest endeavors, “My Friend Max”, stars Doug Jones and Burgin’s daughter Kaylynn Burgin. “My Friend Max” tells the story of a young girl, Thea, whose best friend Max just so happens to be imaginary. However, when Thea begins talking to a cute boy from her school, everything begins to change in Thea’s world. “My Friend Max” is a dramatic comedy coming-of-age tale about the importance of life changes, friendship, and the acceptance of loss. The short film, running at approximately half an hour, was officially released to the masses via YouTube on October 7th. The film can be watched by clicking HERE.
Doug Jones Official’s Diane Shreve messaged her friend Mikeal Burgin requesting a brief interview, and Mikeal was more than happy to acquiesce.
Diane: Hello, Mikeal. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with me today and answer some questions about your film “My Friend Max”. First, congratulations on the public release of your film! How does it feel to finally be able to put Max out there for mass audiences to enjoy?
Mikeal: Thank you for asking me. It’s quite an honor. Any time anyone asks to speak with me about anything film-making wise, I’m always honored, so yes, thank you. It feels wonderful [to have the film released]. It’s been over two years in the making and finally having it available for people to watch and appreciate is really mesmerizing. Honestly, the response from audiences has been nothing short of spectacular. It’s what drives me and motivates me to keep making movies, is having the audience appreciation more than anything.
Diane: Though this is the first time My Friend Max has been released to the public, the film has played before at numerous film festivals and won some awards. Would you mind telling us where the film has played, and what awards it has won?
Mikeal: I’ll just give you a handful. We played at Comicpalooza – actually it debuted at Comicpalooza – and Doug Jones won the best supporting actor award. It won ‘best Iowa film’ at Snake Alley Film Festival in Burlington, Iowa. It won best domestic film at Red Phoenix International Film Festival. It was also up for other awards at other film festivals, but those were the three big ones that we won awards at. It’s great to win awards, and that’s wonderful that people feel the need to recognize our film in that capacity, it certainly is an honor. But the big drive is when audiences tell me how much they appreciate it and how much they love the film. That really is the big motivator. Film festivals are just a means to get it out in front of audiences, and if they want to award us, that’s fine, I’ll accept those awards, but they really aren’t the reason I make films.
Diane: My Friend Max is a very touching, very moving and heartfelt film. What was your inspiration for making something so emotionally charged?
Mikeal: Most of the stories I work with are in the horror genre, or thrillers, or they have supernatural elements to them. Max has a bit of supernatural elements to it with Doug’s character being an imaginary friend. But ultimately it is a coming-of-age drama, through and through. I think my love for the movie ‘Drop Dead Fred’ was a big inspiration, and I wanted to make something that had the same charm as ‘Drop Dead Fred’ but was a little bit more focused on a young girl and having her go through some changes. We watch her get to a point in her life where she no longer needs the imaginary friend and it’s something that’s her choice. Though, naturally having my daughter involved, Kaylynn, was also a big inspiration. I think it was just a precursor to some of the growing up that she’s done over the last two years. She’s kind of touched on some of the elements that her character Thea had to deal with in the film.
Diane: Max, one of the main characters, is played by Doug Jones. This is arguably one of Doug’s more sentimental roles. What drew you to having Doug play Max?
Mikeal: I have been a huge Doug Jones fan in my personal life for many years. I loved him in Hocus Pocus, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy… Even though Doug is seldom seen [in feature films] in his human glory, he is a phenomenal actor even without all of that heavy makeup on. He is a true professional. It just seemed like a role that he was destined to play. He was who I was originally wanting to go after as I was writing the script. I think once he read it – and he absolutely loved it – that it was just meant to be, for some reason. He’s SO talented. He’s so much more than people give him credit for. He deserves to be recognized for his amazing emotional acting talents without a bunch of heavy makeup on. I’m glad that we were able to help facilitate that in “My Friend Max” for Doug.
Diane: What was it like working with Doug Jones on set?
Mikeal: It was probably the easiest directing that I’ve ever had to do [laughs]. Doug is an amazing, AMAZING human being. He’s just full of so much love and respect and generosity that you don’t feel like you’re working with him. You feel like he’s your brother, or your father. He just seems like somebody who wants to see you succeed and he wants to be involved in helping make that happen for you. He came to set prepared. He always knew all his lines. He and I talked a few times in references to scenes and how he was perceiving the script and he was just a treat, a real joy to work with. It’s definitely understandable why everyone speaks so highly of him. I can’t say anything negative about him whatsoever. I tell everybody, if you ever get a chance to work with Doug Jones on a movie, jump at that opportunity, because you’ll never have another experience working with an actor like you do working with Doug Jones.
Diane: Many people claim that there’s an energy to Doug that’s unlike anyone else they have ever met. Do you agree with this statement?
Mikeal: When Doug just shows up on set it’s like… it could be the rainiest, cloudiest day ever and it’s like the sun suddenly came out. He makes everybody energized, he makes everybody smile. Nobody ever argued on the set of “My Friend Max” when he was around. Everyone was very joyful, and I think that Doug was the catalyst for all of that. Doug is a very loving person, and just a personal note of my own, I am not a touchy-feely person. I am not a hugger or lots of embraces or personal touches. I knew going in that Doug was like that, and I kind of prepared myself mentally for that before working with Doug. Of course, I endured many, many hugs from Doug. It wasn’t until about the second day that he found out that I am not a touchy-feely person, and he kept apologizing to me for hugging me. I said ‘it’s alright man, I knew that’s how you were going in’, but ever since he found out he never hugged me again. To me, that’s just remarkable that he had such respect for me as a person to be so cognizant of that. And I really, really appreciate that. Not everybody reacts the way that he does. Again, he’s just a truly remarkable person.
Diane: Finally, what is the overall feeling or message that you hope audiences take away from My Friend Max?
Mikeal: Wow, I’ve done a lot of interviews and I’ve not been asked that question yet. You know, I think the big driver is that in everybody’s life there’s going to be challenges that they have to overcome. There are things that play out in life that you have no control over, and everyone has a different way of dealing with those things. I think if everybody could just take a step back and put yourself in somebody else’s shoes when they are having a bad day or when they are down about something, that everyone would realize that they don’t know everything someone is going through. We just need to respect other people, respect everybody. When we know that someone is dealing with something, we can offer to be of some sort of comfort to them, not unlike Doug would probably do – we can try to help them out. The character Thea was somebody who lost somebody very dear to her very early on in her life and she dealt with it in a way that worked for her. As she grew up she realized she didn’t need to deal with it that way anymore. And that is truly healing for all people – if you can move on from something truly devastating in your life and be a better person because of it. I think that’s the true message of what “My Friend Max” is, is to evolve as a person, become better, and move on from things that were challenging.