For actor and writer Dana Abraham, neon lights is a project close to his heart. Primarily inspired by the COVID pandemic, the film offers a cerebral look into the mind of tech mogul Clay Amani (Abraham), who retreats to an off-the-grid place in search of meaning and peace after a collapse in a interview. With estranged siblings and their offspring, he is caught up in a chilling slaughter in his new domain. Abraham spoke to Bleeding Cool about working with the director and writing partner (Ruzbeh Heydari), the importance of casting Kim Coats was to make the project work, and how by Christophe Nolan The black Knight also in the form of clay.
Bleeding Cool: What is the inspiration behind ‘Neon Lights?
Dana Abraham: Rouzbeh and I were developing the script where we really wanted to encapsulate all the different themes that were really prevalent at the height of the pandemic: mental health, childhood trauma, and financial failure. At the same time, we wanted to create something entertaining, exciting and shocking.
BC: There are so many psychological aspects just to convey it on screen. It must have been something for you, right?
Abraham: When you factor in the pandemic and you don’t know when you’re going to be closed on any given day, it was really difficult. To give you a quick idea of timelines, Rouzbeh and I started working on it since June 2020, and we sought funding through Red Hill Entertainment, our banner in July. By the time we actually met the first phase of investors, they were really interested in the project. We had started sending the initial offer to Kim Coates’ team, and when he jumped on board, that’s when things really took shape. We had the name we needed and we had the distribution opportunities we also needed to release the film at the final stage of the film. We had to shoot in 15 days because of insurance constraints. They weren’t sure if we would be closed mid-November or December with the new policies. It was really exhausting and difficult, because we had to finish it as quickly as possible. Post-production was where we had fun. We got to see the movie and make things build. Designing is probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Next time, if we ever have a pandemic again, knock on wood; I’ll just stay seated. I will not produce projects [laughs].
BC: There are a lot of tense moments in the film. Was there one in particular that stood out from the others?
Abraham: I think they were all very tough. I am going to tell you something. I don’t think I’ve said this publicly before, so you’ll get this one. Yet the ax that everyone sees in the trailer and everything else in the teaser, when you watch this whole scene from beginning to end in the film, we had already filmed it a few days before in our Steadicam. There were some technical issues, and it wasn’t as stable as we hoped. No one told me because they knew I would be really upset. We had a very long day ahead of us, shooting this scene again at 2am. It’s the only shot that took us about 50 minutes and three minutes to shoot from start to finish. We went through about five takes because something always came back. All of a sudden, we spent two and a half hours filming it over and over again. I had to make sure I was doing that performance at that time. I wanted to make sure that I was authentic and true. Each time, I just tried to give my best, and it really paid off. I’m really glad we did it, and I’m really glad Rouzbeh forced me to do it, let’s put it that way [laughs].
BC: So for the casting, did you work with Rouzbeh, or did you already have people in mind? Was Kim already in pencil when you designed this?
Abraham: Kim is someone I’ve wanted to work with for a very long time. The two shows he did that are really big in my neighborhood are “Bad Blood” and “Sons of Anarchy.” I started riding because of “SOA”, so it was someone we wanted, and we weren’t going to stop. I think his agent Gayle [Abrams] I was going to get an injunction with the number of emails I was sending [laughs]. Still, once I finally spoke to her, she kind of gave me a hint that he wanted to work with his daughter, and if there’s a way to get him involved, that would be great. So we integrated the character of Brenna Coates into the script. So the first cast members were actually Brianna, Kim, and myself. So to fill out the rest of the cast, Rouzbeh and I did it ourselves. We sent out casting calls because it didn’t make sense to any casting director since there were only four or five other roles, and we had three actors, and we wanted to see that experience.
BC: You said the pandemic inspired a lot of that. Was there something like growing up outside that also helped bring this story to life?
Abraham: Joker by Heath Ledger [from 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight’] is definitely there. What’s the movie I watched where I thought, ‘Wow, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.’ I have never been so drawn to an antagonist, like most, as I was to his Joker. When it came to creating Clay, not to say I pulled from that character himself, but I pulled from the performance and ability of that character and brought him to life. It was my inspiration in many ways; then you have “American Psycho”, and you take into account all the other aspects of this creative world and these experiences. That’s what really made Clay who he is and someone I got to portray throughout the film.
Moose Pictures’ neon lightswhich also features Brit MacRae, Stephen Tracey, Rene Escobar, Erika Swayze, and Lauren Howewill be available on-demand and digital on July 12.