Raisler at the opening of his film at The Downer Theatre in
Photo by Paul Williams
love of making movies harkens back to his childhood in Wauwatosa.
took me to see a making-of ‘Star Wars’ documentary at Discovery
World. I was totally fascinated by the miniatures, the special effects
and movie magic. I wanted to be a pyrotechnician when I was 10,"
has realized his movie-making dreams, as executive producer of
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" — this summer’s
blockbuster indie film — which tells the story a young girl dealing
with the aftermath of a hurricane that turns her Louisiana island
world upside down.
Raisler admits a
fascination with Spike Lee’s "Do the Right Thing" changed
his world. "That film opened my eyes to whole tradition of film I
hadn’t discovered yet," he says. "I fell in love with a
lot of ’90s independent and foreign films like "The Ice
Storm" and "Run Lola Run." A graduate of Pius XI High
School and then New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts,
Raisler still loves the magic and emotion of movies — especially how
films speak to an audience and communicate ideas about the world
through imagery. He also revels in the making of films. "Keeping
everything in balance while trying to execute the vision for the film
is a really invigorating challenge," he confides.
In addition to
his own film producing, Raisler is creative director for Cinereach, a
New York-based not-for-profit film production company and foundation
that "champions vital stories, artfully told." The
organization awards grants for numerous projects, receiving about
3,000 proposals a year. Subsequently, he watches lots of movies.
parents were in his court from the start, sacrificing, as he says,
everything for his younger sister, Kelli, and himself. "They only
ever asked one thing of us, ‘Follow your dreams and never settle,’"
he says. His sister just graduated from the Art Center College of
Design in Pasadena and is now pursuing design work.
Raisler shooting behind-the-scenes footage for "Beasts of
the Southern Wild."
Photo by Paul
Coming home to
Milwaukee for a "Beasts" preview this summer was a dream
come true for Raisler, who saw his first independent film at one of
his favorite theaters — The Oriental. "I thought it would be so
amazing to have a film shown there. To have that happen already so
soon in my career was so amazing," he emphasizes.
excited when moving to New York at age 17; he knew the Big Apple wasa
tremendous opportunity, so he met it head on. "It can be a bit of
a tough town; it’s a little different out here than it was in
Wauwatosa," Raisler chuckles about his adopted home city.
While in school
at NYU, Raisler’s friend Philipp Engelhorn, Cinereach’s executive
director, told him about his idea for a nonprofit that would make
movies from a noncommercial standpoint. "It was 2006 and there
was a lot going on in the world, both politically and in the
independent films’ space," he says. "All the studios had
specialty divisions that were churning out these commercially minded
‘indie-style’ films but there wasn’t a lot of support for
cutting edge, daring filmmaking that was trying to engage with the
current climate." Engelhorn was so convincing that Raisler had no
problem joining the endeavor.
like "Beasts," the Cinereach team gets involved at the
concept or script stage. "Usually we’re responding to something
specific that compels us to get involved in a major way," he
says. "We’re opportunistic that way ... we don’t have to
produce any set number of films every year, we only do it when we feel
we need to. With ‘Beasts,’ we wanted to make something really
adventurous, really unique."
For films in its
grants program, the organization is less directly involved. The group
is supporting someone else’s dream, so there has to be a lot of
faith. "We’re not risk adverse, we love it," he says.
"I love when a filmmaker is trying to do something that a
commercial financier would look at and say "You can’t do that,
it won’t work."
mind, that’s why Cinereach is here, to push those boundaries. It
doesn’t always pan out, but it does more often than not and it’s a
beautiful thing to see, he asserts.
creativity is being able to problem solve and communicate. It’s
about being compelled to say something, to express something, and to
do it with whatever tools and skills you have — whether that’s a
guitar, a paintbrush or a camera. He realizes that film is an
extremely collaborative process, pointing out that "filmmaking is
not literature. It’s not painting. It’s generally not one person
sitting at a desk creating a world. It’s a team of people coming
together to execute a vision."
currently has three films in the works and several upcoming grantee
projects. Among them, Raisler is acting as executive producer for the
next piece by Tom Gilroy called "The Cold Lands," about a
young boy who navigates the forest of the rural Catskills of New York
after losing his mother.
Look for it on
the Big Screen, brought to life by Milwaukee’s own Michael Raisler.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild" is the gripping story of
how a 6-year-old Hushpuppy (played by Quvenzhané Wallis) leaves
her Delta-community home searching for her mother, while also
confronted with her dad’s fading health. Compounding the
problem are environmental changes after a hurricane that
releases a pack of prehistoric, pig-like creatures called
says the numerous challenges involved in the creative process
was what made "Beasts" so much fun to make.
"Filming on water is a huge challenge, but it totally paid
off,"he explains. "There are few things as
nerve-racking as putting a film camera on a boat, to say nothing
of working with kids and keeping down costs.
just have to be able to problem-solve on the fly and always keep
the vision of the film in mind. You have to protect that at all
times, or everything will be for naught," he warns.
was written by Lucy Alibar and Benh Zeitlin, and won the 2012
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize, along with a
cinematography award for Ben Richardson. The critically
acclaimed movie is currently making the festival scene and
rounds of special screenings.