Other Worlds Austin Interview: Zack Imbrogno And Maxxe Sternbaum Of APT 3D

The sci-fi film had its world premiere at Austin's first science fiction festival, and Eric was there to get the scoop. 

Apt 3D had its world premiere this weekend at the Other Worlds Austin film fest. This small, no-budget science fiction film is director/writer/actor Zack Imbrogno's first feature length effort, and his first time directing. Weirdly it's not in 3D, apart from what the title may lead you to believe. It was filmed almost entirely in Imbrogno's apartment, with some minimal exteriors around his New York neighborhood. I had the chance to sit down with Imbrogno and actress/editor Maxxe Sternbaum and ask them about all the little things that go into writing, directing, editing, producing and acting in your own film.

Both Imbrogno and Sternbaum have had some experience with acting and film making. Imbrogno has a few shorts under his belt, as an actor writer and producer, in addition to attending NYU and Sternbaum has experience as a child actor before making Warpaint, which is a feature length documentary Imbrogno produced. The two got along really well and decided after Warpaint that they wanted to work together again and go for their first feature length narrative story. “You audition, and that feels like playing the lottery,” Imbrogno said. “After a while you want to make your own work.”

I always find it interesting to know what grabs someone and makes them want to create work themselves. There is always that defining moment, that movie or television show that makes them think that they have to be involved in some capacity with film making, whether it be acting, writing or directing.

“For me it was Jurassic Park,” said Imbrogno. “I was a huge fan of dinosaurs, and [Jurassic Park] really takes you to another world. As a kid, that was a huge moment. After that it was all horror and sci-fi.” Jordan Lewis, the actor that plays the neighbor in the film, was a childhood friend of Imbrogno's. “We spent nights hiding from aliens in the closet, and making Godzilla movies on our family's camcorder.”

Sternbaum had a different experience altogether. “I started acting when I was 6, so it was more or less my parent's choice. I mean they didn't push me into it, I was at the mall one day and someone came up to me and asked me if I would like to try out.” Her parent's didn't force her, but Sternbaum said they definitely pushed her to work hard. She had some success as a child actor, even getting onto the television series The Power Rangers. There was a two episode arc where all the Rangers were turned into children. “They had to fight the Putties and stuff, and I was the Pink Ranger,” she said, laughing. After a few years, she gave up acting at age 12. Sternbaum was very modest about her childhood acting experiences, but those roles exposed her to entertaining, and after college she found that it was something she wanted to do as an adult. “Entertainment was the only thing I found that was interesting and exciting, and not mind numbing.”

In regards to Apt 3D, Sternbaum and Imbrogno both acknowledged Mike Cahill's Another Earth as the film that really showed them that a great science fiction film can be made on a very small budget. “Another Earth was a big influence on us. Seeing what an awesome job that creative team did, wearing so many different hats: writing, directing, acting,” Imbrogno said, “and seeing how you could take a really cool, high concept sci-fi and do it on a relatively small budget was huge for us.”

When creating a science fiction narrative, world building is a very integral part of the process. In Apt 3D, Imbrogno uses sound coupled with editing to turn a run of the mill apartment into another world. “When you have a low budget you look to things like sound that can become their own voice and their own character.” Imbrogno said. Sternbaum also spoke about the importance of music in relation to the other worldly sounds and noises of the film. “It was really important for there to be a connection with [Sternbaums character] and what was going on around her,” she said, “and music was naturally that sound element that provided that connection.” With sound being so important to the film, Imbrogno looked to other movies that use not just music, but environmental and ambient sounds deliberately as a sort of soundtrack in themselves. He mentioned The Hurt Locker as one of those films that use sound design in that manner. “Hearing that it was conscious choice, not just having it because you have to have the sounds of war but using it rhythmically.” He and Sternbaum tried to use that approach when putting together Apt 3D.

As if the worries of trying to write, direct, act, film and edit a movie aren't enough, the production on Apt 3D was halted midway through due to Hurricane Sandy. New York was hit very hard by the storm, and the set for the film, Sternbaum and Imbrogno's actual apartment was no exception. “There was one point where the first floor of the apartment building was under 6 feet of water,” Sternbaum said. There are also some instances in the exterior shots where signs proclaiming damage and closures from Sandy are visible. Despite the hardship, Imbrogno and Sternbaum continued on, and managed to get their movie completed.

Imbrogno spoke very fondly of his experience with Other Worlds Austin film festival and about his experience in Austin in general. “We didn't know what to expect,” he said. “This is truly a low budget indy film, but there has been so much interest, and we've had so much opportunity to share our story with everyone.” Both he and Sternbaum were so happy with their treatment at Other Worlds Austin. “I couldn't imagine [the premiere] anywhere else.”

Other Worlds Austin is just the beginning for Apt 3D. “We definitely wanted the festival to be a jumping off point for the next phase,” Imbrogno said. He also expressed how friendly and accepting the science fiction community has been to his film, acknowledging that fans of the genre while critical at times really just want to see more of what they love.

Both Sternbaum and Imbrogno are staying active, and they are looking to collaborate further. Imbrogno has just finished another sci-fi horror script entitled Lifter. “I'm fascinated by new technology and even something as simple as a new app.” Imbrogno said. “The way it changes the way we behave and the decisions we are willing to make.” He says the film will deal with a seemingly innocuous new app and how it can easily be turned to darker purposes. “Suddenly an app comes along and says 'oh, just go ahead and make those decisions our mothers' told us never to make it's an app, it's safe.'”

Apt 3D proves to us that you don't need millions of dollars to make your own movie - all you need is an apartment, a camera and the dedication to survive a hurricane.