Like many young guys in their late twenties, Mr. Mikhail Tot has a lot on his plate right now. In addition to his paying job as a photographer/videographer, he has written, directed and edited six feature-length films including one that will be screened on September 15th at Atlas Cinemas Lakeshore 7 in Euclid titled, “In Guns We Trust” which has already garnered some criticism from a few people who say “the violence is too real” as if such a thing could make sense.
It really does not to Mikhail who was born in Eastern Russia in 1989 and spent the first part of his life in a town named Dalnegorsk which was run by gangsters and corrupt government officials. To this day he remembers the bombings that frequently took place.
He also remembers that when it came to protecting him and ensuring her son a positive future, his mother was like a “bulldog who would not give up.” First of all, in order to get Mikhail away from the turbulence of Dalnegorsk she sent him to live with his grandmother in Siberia for several years when he was 10 to 13 years of age.
Generally, Mikhail enjoyed his time living with his grandmother who he describes as “neat” as well as the Siberian countryside which he described as incomparably more “relaxed” than the city from which he came. Thus, he was able to attend the equivalent of our middle school and make some friends.
Meanwhile, Mikhail’s mom worked to arrange their migration to the United States before Mikhail turned eighteen and would be subjected to compulsory military service. Putting together the necessary paperwork and having it approved was a slow, tedious process but due to his mom’s persistence, they were finally allowed to immigrate to the United States in 2004 when Mikhail was almost fifteen and they settled in the shores of New Jersey.
Unfortunately, upon his arrival in the United States, Mikhail knew no English and it took him two years to master it to the extent that he could fluently converse. His mother arranged for him to take special classes but Mikhail found these to be ineffective. Instead, he mastered English largely by watching films and playing video games.
As far as attending high school, Mikhail admitted that he wasn’t very popular at first but this was only short-lived because young women believed that his Russian accent was quite appealing and, when the other young men saw that he didn’t lack for a girlfriend, they came to admire him too.
On the athletic field, Mikhail excelled at tennis to the extent that he was offered a scholarship to Bowling Green State University here in Ohio so he decided to take them up on it thus, in 2008, he stated to attend courses majoring in Russian.
Yet, he was growing increasingly attracted to the filmmaking process and started taking classes and engaging in activities that allowed him to flex his muscles in terms of screenwriting, directing, editing, and acting. By the time he graduated in 2013, Mikhail Tot knew that he had found his passion.
Not everyone thought so, however. While in college, Mikhail had made a film titled “Blackout Avenger” which was noticed by certain people in Hollywood who believed that the young filmmaker might have potential. Thus, they toyed with him for a while before they came to the conclusion that as good as the kid was, he just was not good enough for the big time.
Far from being discouraged by the unfortunate experience, Mikhail emerged with more resolve than ever before; if the studios didn’t want him he would do his own thing in his own time.
After all, as of 2011 at age 22 he had become a U.S. citizen and he appreciated the fact that he was in a good place to realize his ambitions because here one can try out new things and if met by failure initially-then it was simply a process of pulling oneself together and choosing a different path to reach the same goal.
As for his love of gangster films, Mikhail recently watched all three of “The Godfather” films in one sitting. Certainly, he is open to the suggestion that what he witnessed during his early years in Russia may be a motivating factor in his interest in the crime film genre.
This also points to a key difference between the U.S. and Russia in terms of opportunities to excell. Of course, here in the United States connections are important but from what we have gathered it seems that in Russia a person almost has to do a favor for the equivalent of Marlon Brando/Al Pacino in “The Godfather” if she/he wanted to rise above her/his station in life; whereas in the U.S. integrity, talent, drive, the willingness to work hard, refusal of discouragement, and the possession of a genuine vision regarding one’s work and one’s future are the prevailing ingredients of success especially for a young artist like Mikhail.
And it seems like Mikhail is persisting quite well since he is quite proud of several of the films he has made thus far like one filmed in 2016 titled “Cleveland Allegories” which is a gangster picture containing four different stories inspired by “Pulp Fiction”.
Mikhail also likes one he did in 2017 titled “In Production” which is a movie about making movies that had about 200 people in it. To be sure, Mikhail told us that due to the logistics, “In Production” was an “insane” production but he grew as a filmmaker for having experienced it.
As for “In Guns We Trust”, Mikhail considers it his “cleanest” production to date in terms of technical expertise and he has high hopes for it.
Needless to say since we, ourselves, majored in Radio/TV and Motion Pictures at Cal State Long Beach, we could really appreciate Mikhail’s love of film and enjoyed conducting the interview with him. We spent time talking about films that we both admired and even though Mikhail has never seen “The Wild Bunch”; after we told him how masterfully edited the final shootout was, he resolved to watch it ASAP.
We asked Mikhail who his favorite filmmaker is and he told us that he just loves the films of the great Martin Scorsese (i.e. “Taxi Driver”, “The Departed”, “Casino”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”) so when he mentioned that he lived in New Jersey, we couldn’t resist asking him if it was a lot like the milieu depicted in “Good Fellas” but instead Mikhail said it was just the opposite; from his perspective the people of New Jersey were among the “nicest in the world.”
Mikhail has also worked with other filmmakers in the Cleveland area and it came out in the course of our interview that he knows and has worked with our good friend, Mr. Johnny Wu, the founder of Media Design Imaging (MDI), a branding and video production firm. We emailed Johnny and asked him if he could provide us with a quote on Mikhail and so he replied with this statement:
“I’ve know Mikhail for over three years through filmmaking, he was one of the few with a lot of potential and talent, not only does he have the eyese for artistic creation, he is also a talented actor. I’ve had him in front of the cameras for two of my films…and he excelled. Definitely someone I would help and be friends with for years to come.”