The Minute You Wake Up Dead Director Discusses the New Film-Noir Thriller

Jan 2, 2023

In the new film noir-inspired thriller, The Minute You Wake Up Dead, a stockbroker (Cole Hauser, Yellowstone) in a small southern town is targeted after an investment opportunity goes sour, resulting in many of the townsfolk losing vast amounts of money. As he seeks help from the local sheriff (Morgan Freeman) and a dubious diner waitress (Jaimie Alexander, Blindspot, Thor), the situation quickly spirals into a web of double-crosses, deceit, and murder.

The Minute You Wake Up Dead was directed by Michael Mailer, who has spent most of his three-decade-long career as a producer. He moved into the director’s chair with 2016’s Blind starring Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore, followed by 2021’s Heart of Champions with Michael Shannon. The shift from producing to directing was an easy transition for Mailer, thanks to his years of experience working with novice filmmakers. “I’ve worked with a lot of first-time directors,” said Mailer. “In many cases was handholding quite a bit. So, it wasn’t as a natural transition as it might be for others. I worked with one renowned director who had a narcolepsy issue and would literally fall asleep during night shoots. I would step in and finish the shoot. I remember the lead actress saying to me, ‘You know, I just wish he wrote shorter scenes.’ The thing about being weaned on the independent film environment is that it’s so intensely collaborative. The lines between roles often get blurred. It was a form of baptism by fire.”
Mailer shared co-writing credit for penning the screenplay for The Minute You Wake Up Dead with Timothy Holland, though he credits the first-time screenwriter with developing a bulk of the story. “It’s Tim’s script really,” he said. “He set the ball rolling. I just came in and rewrote a few scenes and changed some dialogue, but this was Tim’s. He deserves credit for creating the story. I was immediately attracted to Tim’s initial draft. I find that it’s so hard to find a good script. Typically, you read 100 before one remotely looks good.”

Returning to Film Noir


For Mailer, the draw of Holland’s script was the timeless nature of the film noir genre. “I sort of grew up in the film noir space,” he said. “I loved the books of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as well as my dad (renowned writer Norman Mailer), who wrote Tough Guys Don’t Dance, which he then turned into a film. When Blood Simple came out, it just kind of rocked my world. It was an eye-opener for me. I’ve been wanting to do something in the noir genre.”

“What draws me to the noir genre, in general, is that we live in a flawed universe,” Mailer continued. “I think the characters who populate this universe, with their flaws, quirks, and nuances need to be brought to life. There’s also the element of the absurdity of the Divine Comedy and the Human Comedy, and when you meld those two things, it just leads to a milieu where things happen, and someone’s good in this scene and sort of evil in that scene, and the moral universe is gray. Everyone’s trying to survive ultimately. There’s a heightened surrealism to this environment and these characters. It’s a great breeding ground for plot twists.”

Related: Morgan Freeman is a Small Town Sheriff in The Minute You Wake Up Dead Trailer

Working With Seasoned Vets


Mailer has had the benefit of some pretty stellar casts for his early directorial efforts, The Minute You Wake Up Dead being no exception. “Morgan came on first,” said Mailer. “He kind of set the ball rolling. To my pleasure, and our benefit, he responded to the role. Once he came on board, Cole, who was definitely at the top of my list of actors for that role, quickly came on, He had a prior relationship on a film with Morgan (2013’s Olympus Has Fallen), so he was eager to get back into that pairing. Jamie came on last. It was tricky finding someone who could really pull off that role of the hometown sweetheart who has gone to seed. There’s no sort of genetic malice to her. It’s just a situation of desperation that gets more and more out of control, and then ultimately, alters distinctions between good and evil.”

While only three films into his directing career, Mailer has quickly found a comfort and an ease working with seasoned actors like Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, and Morgan Freeman. “Well, it makes your job a hell of a lot easier when you’re working with good actors,” said Mailer. “And these are all great actors. My process is really talking to them about their roles and where their motivations and where their characters are coming from. I grew up going to actor’s studios as a kid with my dad, and I was kind of steeped in the idea that one analyzes a play the way one analyzes a great work of art or literature. You just really break it down and figure out what it is that essentially creates the being of that character. I love doing that stuff.”

Related: Exclusive Clip: Morgan Freeman Investigates a Murder Mystery in The Minute You Wake Up Dead

That’s not to say that the director/actor collaboration was always necessarily smooth. “When you’re working with very talented people, they bring their own interpretations and colorations and nuances to a role,” said Mailer. “It’s a very collaborative form. When you’re working with someone like Morgan, he’s like a Stratovarius. You don’t alter the music, you just fine-tune it. You’re in there when it’s needed, but regardless of what he does, you’re getting great stuff. The only issue with him was that he doesn’t like to do too many takes. I’d say, ‘Why don’t we try something a little bit different?,’ and he’d say, ‘Pretty sure the first one was pretty good.’ Call me greedy, but everything that comes out of Morgan is brilliant. I just want more of it. So, he reluctantly agreed to give me another take. It was just great. I mean, he’s a bucket list actor you dream to work with.”

Mailer will continue to split his time between directing and producing; he is currently producing a film called Savage Lands about Davy Crockett, and he is developing his next directorial effort, a drama called Cut Man, about a heroin-addicted mother who befriends an ex-prizefighter. And while he’s excited to be playing in different genres, right now, he’s happy to be presenting this neo-noir thriller. “There is a certain giddiness the audience should feel as things spin out of control,” said Mailer. “My goal was to make the characters empathetic enough that we are fully vested in the ride even as the wheels grind off. And true to the noir genre, there is a slight undercurrent of humor underlying the darkness. It’s as if we are in some divine comedy played out in hell with the Devil in the audience.”

The Minute You Wake Up Dead comes to us from Lionsgate and is currently playing in select theaters and on demand & digital. The film will also be available on Blu-ray and DVD on December 13.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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