Who says you can’t have it all? When New Trier graduate Sean Ackerman’s second film, The Diary of Preston Plummer, is a well-received independent film with a cast of recognizable faces that was made for $125,000 and ended up getting a theatrical release, further raising his filmmaking profile. Not only that, but Ackerman completed medical school between films and is currently in the second year of his child psychiatry residency. Whether it’s an original feature film or a medical career, when Sean Ackerman wants something, he goes out and makes it happen.
Sheridan Road: How did you get into making movies?
Sean Ackerman: After film school [at NYU], I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t want to be anything other than a director, and probably a writer/director. I started thinking I had somewhere between four and six stories I wanted to tell. Right out of film school, I optioned a screenplay to a big studio in L.A., and I did the thing where you go out to L.A. and meet with famous people and studio executives. I hated it.
SA: I was really hopeful that people were going to help me make the movie that I wanted to make. I guess I soon realized that people—at least with the studio that I was involved with—were only interested in making the movies that they wanted to make. So at the end of that year, the studio basically said, “Either you do what we want you to do or we’re not going to renew your option.” I just said, “Okay, you’re not going to renew my option then.” And then I decided to go think of something to do that I didn’t need a lot of money to make. Straight Line was just an idea I had of a movie that I thought would get attention, but that could also be made on a very low budget. That movie, my goal was to get myself a nice review in a trade magazine so people would take me more seriously and I could make a movie for a little bit more money.
SR: Straight Line got you the review you were looking for in Variety. Why did you go to medical school instead of making another movie right away?
SA: People always ask, “Would you walk away from medicine if you could just make movies?” I think I already could just make movies and make a decent living at it, but I really love medicine and I’m more happy in the hospital than I am on set. I love making movies, but in more of a compulsive way. Making movies is more of a passion, but it doesn’t make me happy. When you’re on set, you’re so stressed out and working so much of the time. People say that doctors are busy, but I don’t think it even comes close to how much stress a film director is put under during a shoot.
SR: How did you land actors like Trevor Morgan (Jurassic Park III, Mean Creek), Rumer Willis (90210), and Robert Loggia (Lost Highway, Independence Day) for The Diary of Preston Plummer?
SA: It’s not easy. Our budget was $125,000, so you have to convince people you don’t know that working really hard day and night for two months for someone they don’t know is somehow going to benefit them. Oh, and you’re not going to get paid hardly anything at all. Really, they have to fall in love with the script. We were just focusing on getting the lead cast, and Trevor was one of the people that showed up. He was just a really great fit immediately. He’s not a huge household name, but because he’s done so much good work, he is well known within the community of actors in Hollywood as being a good person to work with and someone that always turns in a good performance. So once we had him on board, people were like, “Oh. This is a real project now.” We were then able to get more interest from people that were a little bit more well known.
SR: Were there any standouts in the cast that you’d like to work with again?
SA: I think Rumer is portrayed really unfairly in the press. One thing that stood out to me is what a hard worker she is. She did things like swimming in shark-infested waters at night during hammerhead mating season in Florida and not complaining about it at all. She’s really a down-to-earth, hardworking person that’s there to make a good product. And Trevor will always get work because he always turns in a good performance. He has a chance to blow up, in terms of being a really well-known actor. Part of that is luck and timing, but I’m really curious to see where Trevor goes. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I work with doctors. He is ridiculously smart. He’s brilliant and he’s so humble about it.
SR: Did you run into Rumer’s parents (Bruce Willis and Demi Moore) at all?
SA: Demi came to set for a few days. She bought us a lot of Huddle House, which is a fast food breakfast chain in Florida. We had a night shoot schedule, and we’d come home to a spread of Huddle House, which was really sweet of her. She was there to support Rumer for a few days and just to hang out. I really, really, really wanted to meet Ashton, because he has a box at Soldier Field, and I was really, REALLY hoping to parlay my friendship with Rumer into Bears tickets, so I’m pretty upset that didn’t happen.
SR: What’s next for you?
SA: I think I’m going to take another few years off and focus on medicine. I’m writing a couple of things now, and over the course of the next couple years, I’ll see which one I like the most and then I’ll try and get it off the ground. One is a thriller set in the mountains of Montana, another is a drama about a young psychotic man that’s sort of based on some of the experiences I’ve had as a psychiatrist, and then another is a zombie TV series that satirizes the American medical system.
Find The Diary of Preston Plummer on Amazon or iTunes. For more information, visit thediaryofprestonplummer.com. –Jake Jarvi