Movies & TV / Columns

Michael McCartney On His New Film Roommate Wanted, Balancing Comedy & Horror

October 13, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Roommate Wanted

The 411 Interview: Michael McCartney


Michael McCartney is an actor, writer, producer, and director who has been working in movies and TV, according to imdb, since at least 1998. McCartney has acted in such movies as Halloween: Resurrection, Bandidos, Dealing, and The Last Survivors, and such TV shows as Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Conviction, The Office, and The Millionaires. He has directed such short films as Cultifice, Beyond the Shelf, and The Rap, and has directed multiple episodes of The Millionaires. McCartney is also an acting teacher and full-time faculty member at the New York Film Academy. McCartney’s first feature film as a director is the horror-comedy Roommate Wanted, which had its world premiere at the 2020 Salem Horror Film Festival. In this interview, McCartney talks with this writer about making Roommate Wanted, what makes the movie a horror-comedy, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Roommate Wanted to be your first feature film as a director?

Michael McCartney: I’ve been working for years to get a feature off the ground and have drudged through development hell to no avail. After my mother died I pushed myself forward with the memory of her encouragement and decided I wasn’t going to wait around anymore so I conceived something that I knew I could do on a very reasonable budget. I knew I wanted to work in the horror and comedy genres because, although I adore horror films, I don’t particularly care for violence so I need a little comedy to soften the edge. I love character driven stories and I love actors so I wanted to create something scary, funny and full of terrific, relatable characters. I also wanted to keep it young and worked hard to capture the voices of the range of millennials I am lucky to know.

BK: What was the inspiration for the story and script? Is it right to call Roommate Wanted a horror comedy or is it more of a comedy thriller?

MM: I asked myself the question: Who am I most afraid of these days? Who is the monster to me? The answer came in the form of the entitled, typically white, male, who is nationalistic, xenophobic and hateful. We see this guy rearing his ugly head these days, prideful of his hate and wanting to attack anyone who disagrees with him, or who is different than him. On the other side, we live in a rich, complex and massively diverse world that is unstoppable. There are a lot of us that thrive in diversity and seek it out. Unfortunately, it sets off the rage of the xenophobe who feels threatened and it creates what I believe is the very present day conflict of the film. After formulating these ideas I asked, “How do I make this funny?” and started to develop the premise from there. I discovered that if I juxtaposed the idea of having the worst roommate ever and being stuck in a house with a killer I could find both humor and terror. I totally understand the criticism that this may be more of a thriller than horror but to me it comes down to the basic premise of a horror film which is a group of people stuck in a house with a monster. I just gave my monster a more three dimensional character and a voice rather than a guy in a mask or a ghost.

BK: How did you balance the comedy aspects of the script and the horror/thriller elements? Was that ultimately something that you worked out ahead of time while writing the script or did you have to sort of figure it out while actually filming?

MM: I definitely worked hard in the script to build both comedic and horror/thriller tension but of course it evolved as we went into production and through post. I wanted the typical horror tension to always be a bit quirky and off. Although there are times in the film it gets dark as the pathos of the antagonist starts to lose control but for the most part I wanted my killer to have a sense of humor. It’s a difficult thing to balance for sure and some things that worked great in table reads or on set we found dragged down the tension in post. I do believe the tension in a horror film and in a comedy derive from similar places. That moment where we know something is going to go horribly wrong.

BK: Where was Roommate Wanted filmed? Did you shoot in an actual house?

MM: We were lucky to film the entire movie in one location in Toluca Lake, CA. It’s actually the house of my ex-girlfriend’s mother and I’m lucky she doesn’t hate me. The owner and her son were tremendously gracious to us and supportive of me and the project. The house was big enough where they could hide out and let us shoot although I’m sure they were inconvenienced at times. Thankfully we never let one of their dogs escape the gates and we all co-existed for the 17 day shoot. We couldn’t have done it without them.

BK: How did you cast Roommate Wanted?

MM: I had a wonderful casting director named Paul Hertel who sorted through the thousands of submissions we got and picked a few gems. Then, the ones I liked, I invited for coffee to just talk, even before we started auditioning. It’s important to me to get to know an actor and hear how they tick before I put them through the ringer in the casting room. I’ve been an actor for a long time and casting rooms can be so cold and tense. I wanted to do it differently. Ironically, Angelique and Jack met me for coffee on the same day, one right after the other, and I clearly loved them both. I also know a ton of young actors having been an acting teacher for a while so I called some of my favorites to read as well. Then we did a lot of auditioning and paired things down from there.

BK: How long did it take to make Roommate Wanted, from finishing the script to completing post-production?

MM: This process was amazingly quick considering how long these things can languish. I’ve had films I’ve been trying to make for over a decade! This took about two and a half years. I’d tried to get it off the ground about a year earlier and had done a crowdfunding which gave us a little bank but far from enough. Then I got an opportunity to work in Australia and had to leave the country for three months. When I returned a lot of the components of the original production team had collapsed so now I had to figure out how to rebuild. It was very stressful because I had this modest amount of money people had donated to me to make the film but we’d lost some major elements. Things finally came together when Gill Holland and GRLwood came onboard. I’ve known Gill for years and we’ve always admired one another but he never really worked in genre. He has a record label named sonaBLAST! that I love and I’d been listening to one of the bands GRLwood while writing the script. When GRLwood came to LA I went to the show and texted Gill that they needed to do the music for my film. He asked to see the script and thought it was great so he stepped in to help make it happen. All amazingly fortunate.


BK: What was the hardest part of making Roommate Wanted for you, as a director? What was the easiest?

MM: I think the hardest part for me was trying to pare down my big ideas to the realities of budget and time .I’ve directed a lot of shorts on very little budget but on my first feature I wanted to push the envelope. Unfortunately, sometimes reality gets in the way. The easiest thing for me was working with the cast and crew. I was so lucky to have such an amazing group of talented people supporting me and I had a blast playing with them.

BK: How was making Roommate Wanted different from making one of your short films? How was it the same?

MM: With the exception of my web series The Millionaires, most of the shorts I’ve directed have been developed through the college where I teach and are consequently student driven. In that process I guide but I say to them that I am there to help them realize their film not mine. Roommate Wanted is my film and I led the project as a producer and a creative. With that though, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself if things go wrong.

BK: You’re also an actor. Do you want to continue both acting and directing or is directing something that you want to focus on going forward?

MM: I will always be an actor. In fact, I’m in Montana doing a small part on The Last Son of Isaac Lemay starring Sam Worthington, Machine Gun Kelly and Heather Graham. It’s an incredible cast to be a part of. But I love writing, producing and directing as well. I just want to make stuff.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

MM: So many! I love Cronenberg as all his films are filled with complex characters and human stories. Carpenter and Wes Craven for teaching me about horror and scaring the holy hell out of me. Demme is such a well-rounded director who can balance many different tones. Polanski, if you can look just at the work, is an extraordinary filmmaker. Tarantino is one of my favorite writers/directors and I am always enraptured by his films. And Billy Wilder can do no wrong in my eyes. He was a genius.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

MM: On The Last Son of Isaac Lemay now and working to get my breakout script, a cannibal horror/comedy called Smokehouse off the ground. That project has been through so much development it needs to get made. It’s a bigger budget and I used to want to act in it. Now it’s time I directed it. Who knows, I may play a part in it, too.

BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Roommate Wanted?

MM: I want people to have a good time. I like making films that are fun and take an audience on a ride but hope that when they leave they have also have something to think about.

BK: Would you be interested in a Roommate Wanted 2?

MM: Definitely! I already have the concept. Let’s make it!

BK: What do you look for in a roommate?

MM: I like a roommate I can hang out and watch films with for sure. And, definitely,
someone who won’t kill me!



A very special thanks to Michael McCartney for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.

Check out the Roommate Wanted Facebook page here and Twitter page here!

Check out my review of Roommate Wanted here!

Check out Michael McCartney’s Facebook page here and imdb page here!

Roommate Wanted images courtesy of The Group Entertainment. Michael McCartney image courtesy of Michael McCartney.