Would you fall in love in the wild, wild west of romance that is online dating? What if you believe that your betrothed were living in a foreign country only to discover that they are instead a mere stone’s throw away? Would you get jealous? Angry? Violent? Director and writer Zachary Wigon provides his surreptitious take on the ‘romance as app’ generation in what can only be described as a wry, 21st century romantic thriller in the superb The Heart Machine.
Virginia and Cody live in a world where people, and by extension potential lovers, are available at the press of a button. It’s how they found each other in the first place. Exactly which medium connects the two starred-crossed lovers isn’t important. It’s some ChatRoulette/Match.com hybrid where interests are complimented, and people are summed up in bite-sized, infographic widgets. Everyone becomes a Buzzfeed list. On paper, Cody and Virginia are a perfect match, another successful e-copulation born of algorithms and personality profiling. The ying fills in the yang, the yang fills in the ying.
In their very first Skype conversation, things appear to be going well. Their laughs are easy and genuine, their chemistry awash in the emotional distancing and persona creation that only the internet allows. Through the peephole of their computer cameras, they seem to cook up something of a fondness for each other. In the moment of signing off though, Virginia pulls a rabbit from her hat, revealing that she’s living abroad in Germany and won’t return for six months. Not to Cody’s knowledge, she’s totally lying. It’s an instinctual move on Virgina’s behalf, distancing herself from potential emotional attachment, a helpless response to likely adoration. To him, her strange behavior that surrounds this geographical farce should have been a tell-tale sign to back off, but that’s only what we can expect from an emotionally cognizant and mentally furnished partner.
But you can smell the stink of desperation off Cody, a dopey but genial type played to ambiguous perfection by John Gallagher Jr. From the first scene, he’s suspicious of Virginia’s tall tale but has so little going on in his life that he can’t help but get snagged by in its rabbit hole. Gallagher is great as the discerning cuckold, cryptic in his intent and often impossible to get a read on. His is the kind of smiley face that could be hiding a cold blooded serial killer.
No matter his intention, Cody never comes off as the irascible type, even when what becomes a full-blown investigation drives himself towards the deep end. There’s moments where we don’t know if when they finally meet he’s going to hug Virginia or stab her and the not knowing is most of the fun. Instead of confronting her about it (like a normal person would), Cody escapes into a fantasy of himself, letting this new persona of a ragged sleuth take the wheel. As an outdated, wannabe noir detective, he’s inefficient but tenacious. He’s the J.J. Gittes of Brooklyn. But his femme fatale may be the end of him.
Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil) is a salacious soul, a libertine of the new sexual frontier who uses her iPhone like a map to genital gold. Letting it guide her to new and uncharted carnal encounters like a treasure hunter, she comes across as cold and heartless. But while Wigon originally only wrote her as a small part to Cody’s larger quest, her final place in the film is much more substantial and rounded. A lascivious side is accented by her bookwormish other half; the art enthusiast and glory hole hussy all wrapped into one complicated young enchantress. Wigon may pass judgement on her at first, but goes on to attempt to truly understand her. The Heart Machine is not Wigon’s damnation of feminine guile so much as Shiel giving a masterclass on it.
Since the inception of apps literally designed to track down horny people in the closest possible vicinity, the world of relationships increasingly invokes a compartmentalization of love and sex. To have the two worlds wrapped in one risks too much, it dangles too much to lose. To Virginia, sex is a physical act, love the pick me up after your shotgun lover doesn’t want to cuddle. The Heart Machine is about world’s colliding, about the harlot losing her mask and the beau his sanity. It’s a bittersweet game of cat and mouse that brings a much needed 21st century update to the romance thriller and will keep you on the edge of your seat and thoroughly entrenched in the characters. While the internet makes promises of covert encounters, anonymity only works when you keep your circles separate. The question is: Are you secret, are you safe?
Mark Duplass threw his hat into the entertainment mix as a founder of the mumblecore movement before joining up with FX‘s the surprise hit tv show, The League. Since then, he’s associated with filmmakers big and small, working on Oscar nominated films (Zero Dark Thirty) and indie gems (Safety Not Guaranteed) alike. This year, Duplass has been seen on the silver screen in Creep, Tammy, and The One I Love and on television in The League, The Mindy Projectand Togetherness. If you’ve watched a screen at some point, it’s likely you’ve seen the man’s face. So why is he so worried about burning out or becoming irrelevant?
Join me as I talk with Mark in detail about Creep, The One I Love and The League about a gamut of what his career means and where he thinks it may be going.
One of the things I really like about the film was the concept really reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode from way back in the days. Mark, I was wondering when you are creating your characters for this, did you go about it thinking like, “Ok, these guys are both Ethan. There’s one more kind of normal version and then the more idyllic version” or did you approach it as if they were two entirely separate characters?
Mark Duplass: I don’t want to get too much into the specifics because we’re really trying not to spoil the plot- the fact that there are two characters. We watch people watch this movie- those who know that enjoy it a lot less than those who don’t know it. So we are going to try and hold that information, but I will say, as an actor this was a very new type of role for me. Part of this is something I’m very comfortable with and done a lot of, being in sort of like fumbley rom-com mode I feel good- I know what to do there. And then there’s another side of this that I’ve never really done before. So it was at once a little scary doing that but at the same time I did have one foot in the door that I understood.
Mark, you’re obviously used to seeing yourself on screen, but was it like a somewhat new experience being like, “That’s really weird- two of me up there!”
MD: Yeah. It’s interesting when you’re basically approaching a character that has all of these different facets to it. Essentially you are going to be playing something that is very much not like you, you know? Sometimes you approach a role and you’re like, “I’m going to play myself. I’m going to do a very good version of myself in this and I’ll do well.” And I always feel very comfortable watching myself do that. In a movie like “Creep”, which is also here at the festival, it’s uncomfortable for me to watch that. In a movie like “The One I Love,” there are things I do in the film that seem very strange to me- but it’s always interesting to watch.
Can you talk a little bit about what it was like working with Elizabeth and how you built your chemistry together?
MD: It is incredible how she can click in like that. We were a big group of collaborators. There was a core group: Mel Eslyn, our producer that lives in Seattle, and me and Charlie and Justin, our writer, and Lizzy. I would say we were probably the five core team of really getting the thing going; obviously the whole crew was important. Lizzy is first and foremost an actress and very much started that way, but then by day two, by day three, by day four- as we’re discussing character and improvising a lot of things – she started to turn much more into a filmmaker and started to become aware of the filmmaking process and became a co-filmmaker with us. I, on the other hand, I’m always half filmmaker, half actor, started to feel much more confident with Charlie, a first time director. By day one I was like, “Oh, he knows what he’s doing” so then I could start to recede a little bit more to become more clearly an actor in the movie.
Speaking of that confidence with Charlie, what was it about the project or the script or his pitch that gave you the confidence in him?
MD: There was no pitch. We built it together. Really the what it was, I just go on instinct, and sometimes I get screwed because of that, but I really liked him a lot personally, I thought he was really smart, I thought it was really sensitive, was right for this kind of material. We share a sense of humor. I find that those things normally tend to work out, but you don’t know until day one. I had a sense by watching how much he had prepped and seeing the storyboards and seeing things, I was like, “Oh, I think this is going to go well!” Still you don’t know. And our first day went well. “Alright, we’re good.”
That seems to be a similar through-line with your other work, say with Patrick Brice with “Creep”. I spoke with him briefly at SXSW and he was talking about how the two of you collaborated to build the story out. Can you juxtapose that process with this?
MD: Not completely dissimilar, though I would say this film, “The One I Love” was intensely prepped with storyboards. Charlie had every shot in his mind visually and knew how to tell that story. In “Creep”, Patrick and I basically stumbled out of a van stoned and tried to find a movie with an interesting idea and fell into something that was interesting but only half-baked. And then we kept going back and reshooting and testing and reshooting and testing and reshooting, and crafting this movie as we went along. “The One I Love” was built to be executed in a 15 day shoot. “Creep” was an arts and crafts project that evolved slowly through mistakes.
In that evolution process that was “Creep” — where did you tap into the character of Josef?
MD: He was always there. We always knew that at the end of the day, when you come to see “Creep” which is being called a “found-footage horror movie” you’re coming to see a different version of that— you’re coming to see a movie about a very odd Craigslist encounter. That is, a version of: what does it mean when you show up to buy a toaster oven from some stranger, and you walk into their house and you just trust that everything is going to be ok- and they start talking to you about their ex-wife and their physical space is a little bit close and things feel weird- but you don’t leave for some reason. We wanted to examine that very dynamic and take and wring it for everything that it was worth. The more we tested the movie, the more we shot, the more we really wanted to go down the wormhole. Everybody was saying, “Go down the wormhole- we want to see how far you can go.” And that’s what we did.
Was that a chronological process where the footage that we see at the beginning of the film- the idea wasn’t fully formed yet? You didn’t quite know where the shots were going?
MD: Each time we went up we would change the middle, we would change the ending, we would change the front. Because the found-footage form is so easy to shoot and so cheap and fun, you can afford to just keep throwing out footage- to keep making new footage because we’re a small, tight group.
You say easy to film. By easy I am assuming that you mean—
Yes, exactly, but what were some of the hardest things about having to be in that deep, creepy, eerie character and yet riffing for so long within that?
MD: When you watch “Creep” you’ll see. A lot of the movie is on me to try and keep the movie afloat and keep it buoyed, and that made me nervous— I was worried it would look indulgent. There’s also a big challenge to have credibility in a found-footage movie. To keep your conceit strong— “Why is this camera on?” We felt very strongly about keeping that airtight the whole time. From a purely macro-perspective, why does the world need another found-footage horror movie? There are so many, so I felt a responsibility to a certain degree to offer something new that has some genuine laughs and genuine different kinds of feelings inside of that movie. The way I describe it, it’s like every movement— this sounds pretentious but I’m going to try and make it not pretentious— every movement, whether it is art or music or something, it maxes itself out and then it has to reset. Right? You watch painting and it goes from crazy and then all of a sudden some guy is just putting a dot in the middle of the canvas and keeping it simple. “Creep” is an attempt to reset the bar on found-footage horror genre which has gotten so crazy with sound design and craziness— let’s just strip all of that away and go back to the basics. Unsettling human behavior. And that’s what we try to do.
Yeah, very effective. I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed your performance within it, too—
MD: Thanks man!
—especially for something within a genre that’s not known for performance.
MD: I’m going to get an Oscar—
Oh, I’m fully expecting it. Speaking of potentially getting an Oscar, but obviously you have a lot on your plate. You’re doing writing, directing, producing, acting and not only within the films but also in the world of television. Which of those mediums do you think— I know that obviously you’d like to do all of them— but which do you think speaks most to your personal brand of creative process?
MD: I think feel most comfortable and confident curating a small group of people and going out to make a piece of art like “The Only I Love” and like “Creep”. It’s my comfort zone. It’s what I love. I love that Charlie was frustrated making the movie and then we get to do this awesome thing together. It’s his first movie, I could feel his excitement. It affects me and keeps me excited, so I win the most on that process. That being said, my HBO show has been one of the more creative filming processes I’ve had where someone’s given me money to make something and they’re not- they don’t have their hand up my ass the whole time. They’re really being supportive to make exactly the kind of art I want to make. That has been great and if they want to keep making seasons, I’m going to keep making them!
You’ve done a lot of small independent stuff but then you also dipped your toe into some more bigger budget things like “Zero Dark Thirty” or “Parkland” and yet you keep coming back to doing these smaller projects. Is that due to your proclivity for doing things in a small group and the freedom that independent film affords?
MD: Yeah, both actually. Part of it is the freedom but part of it is the impatience I have. I don’t want to write a script that costs 30 million dollars to make because I know it’s probably going to take me five years to get it made in order to get al l of those elements together. I would so much rather call Charlie and be like, “You got a window? Let’s throw something together. You’ve got three months, let’s go do it!” It’s impatient, but again, there is a vitality to it. I was a really rebellious kid, I hate authority, I always have- and this feeling that we’re doing it our own way in our renegade way, that keeps me vital. I’m terrified of burning out or becoming irrelevant. Some of my favorite filmmakers, they make great films for 10 years and then all of a sudden they are just gone. And I think staying around first time filmmakers, keeping it cheap, carrying lights— I think that kind of stuff keeps you relevant.
My readers would hate me if I didn’t bring up “The League.”
MD: Yes! Season 6! I start shooting in 4 weeks.
You guys also just locked down another season as well?
MD: We actually did five and six, the two together. Five already aired, six is our next one, the future beyond that? God knows what will happen.
In terms of that future, obviously you’ve had a bit of unexpected success—
MD: —totally! It’s the first time I ever did it!
And who doesn’t love that show? In terms of your chemistry with the other performers, can you talk a little bit about how that has changed over the season besides what we can obviously see on the screen?
MD: I’ll tell you what has been interesting— we’re all very, very close; we’re like cousins now, we’re like family. As we started to get closer, it made it harder for us to start to insult each other as we do on the show—
And yet you insult each other more and more—
MD: —but now season 4 clicked in, we really feel like family, the chemistry is—we know we like each other, nothing we can do or say can hurt it. So now we have the utmost freedom to just be despicable. So, it’s in the right spot right now.
If you did have the option to continue the show, if popularity stays where it is, and demand is up— do you see yourself wanting to continue doing this for years and years?
MD: I love going to work with those people. I love being able to improvise. And quite honestly that show affords me the ability to do what we do, making these little movies, so it is a great scenario in that realm. Will it be funny to watch me do that in my late 50’s? I can’t guarantee that. It might be a little sad, it might be great. Who knows. We’ll see.
After premiering at SXSW 2014 in the Narrative Shorts Competition, Directors Chris Caldwell and Zeek Earl have been generating a lot of buzz around this mysterious story and the possibilities for a new series. Following it’s online release on Vimeo yesterday, Prospect has garnered a lot of attention from filmmakers and fans alike and the reaction is near-unanimous: it’s definitely good enough to merit a feature.
Prospect takes concepts from various sci-fi: within you can find some Star Wars, a fistful of Gravity, even a touch of Elysium. While the lush green landscape might seem friendly, the goings-on within are anything but. Prospect imbues the film’s scenic indie beauty with an ominous threat, a mystery. There’s something out there that we can’t touch. This is a new frontier, a place full of mystery and madness.
The 13-minute short, which feels more like a preview of something greater to come, follows a father-daughter combination living on an unidentified foreign planet. They seek a mysterious “Orolack,” a goopy gook that perhaps hides some terrific power. Certainly, it has some greater value, but that isn’t what they’re here for. Something deeper spurs them onwards: a dream of a better life back home, who knows? They’re spatial forager, but bigger monsters are on the hunt.
The story is mysterious and just oblique enough to engender a curious inquisitiveness. Earl and Caldwell have created a short story that’s vividly complex. The truth behind everything is hidden beneath a layer of cosmic dust. It’s got that Jumanji feel to it: you’ve come across a strange story in the attic—your curiosity urges you to open it despite an ominous feeling of imminent danger.
“This is not our world. We are aliens here,” says the father. Prospect aims at humanity’s underlying fear, the hidden: where are we welcomed, if not here? What is our home? It may look friendly, but Prospect‘s visuals instill serene discomfort. Floating dust particles create a sense of rift, like this world was torn apart long ago. Maybe an alien race once lived here. Something terrible happened in this forsaken place: ravaged, all that is left is an element whose power is unknown, and the people who risk their lives to discover it. There is something here we have yet to see that needs salvaging; something in the depths and core of this landscape that tremors, leaving behind a world broken and decomposed.
Complete with a forested space-planet, cool space suits and a Cthulu monster, Prospect is absolutely worth the watch. There is much more than meets the eye with Prospect. So believes Director Zeek Earl, who has great passion for the project and even bigger dreams to achieve: a potential feature that might come of it. Read on to learn more about the local director’s genre exploration, filming on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and the endless possibilities Prospect has to offer.
Q: The main thing about Prospect is the fact that it takes place on this “alien” world that we don’t know too much about. There’s this distance between us and them, there’s this strange existence on this planet. How much do you think it was an exploration of the beyond, and how much do you think it was an exploration of our own planet, of our own humanity and interaction?
ZE: I think you’re going the right places. It’s definitely an exploration of humanity. We’re playing around a lot with genre, in a certain aspect. To me, it’s really a Western… My personal definition of a Western is—or at least Western’s I like—there are environments where the absolute extreme ends of humanity end up, and why they’re there is really interesting to me. You have these really hostile environments that people go to for all sorts of reasons. So, in Prospect we obviously have the “prospectors:” people going there to get rich, who are willing to make that risk. But there are all sorts of people in that environment: they’re there for religious reasons, they’re escaping. That’s something that we’re excited to explore, perhaps with a feature version.
Q: A lot of people see Prospect as a Sci-Fi but I didn’t see it as fiction as much as it was an interpretation of reality.
ZE: Yeah. What we associate with Science Fiction now, or in general, are sort of big concepts. “In the future it’s going to be like this.” But our movie, I wouldn’t even necessarily say it is in the future. It’s in a different kind of world altogether.
Q: What kind of moral or ethical questions do you think that raises?
ZE: [Laughs] I mean it’s a short film, so you only get to do so much! I always feel limited. I feel like we started and let’s just think, it could get a lot more interesting. I think the essential crux is that there’s this girl who’s been dragged to this planet by her father, and at a certain point he’s taken out of the picture. Where we kind of get to in the short film is that she’s put in the driver’s seat. She’s in the position where she’s now making the decisions. She decides to go for the gold, and kill this guy, but where does that get her? We just start to tease at that. Again, hopefully in a larger film we can do a lot more.
Q: Why did you choose a girl, choose to have that father-daughter relationship? Obviously that’s been trending a lot currently, with stories like Divergent and the Hunger Games, just an exploration of the feminine side and their handle of social structure and loss. Why do you think you went that direction?
ZE: For us it goes back to the Western angle of it. It creates some more interesting situations, to have a young girl in this crazy environment. A lot of it is hard… [Laughs] It’s hard because there’s this whole feature thing that we’re trying to make too… I guess in a larger world—we only get to tease at it in the short—she’s an unusual character there. You generally have these rough, violent characters, so when they interact with her you can have these surprising things happen because she’s not the norm in that environment.
Q: You talked about these violent characters. One thing that I really liked is the antagonist in this, the kinda “Cthulu” character that you guys had—
ZE: [Laughs] Interesting that you mention that.
Q: What was the process behind creating the design and who this character was?
ZE: Yeah, his backstory. It’s a short film—[laughs] it’s the third time I said that! I just need to own it, it is what it is! [Laughs] We wanted to create this character that had been on the planet for a really long time. You don’t know why. Perhaps he’s not struck it rich as he hoped to, perhaps he got stranded there, perhaps he lost a partner or something. He’s been there too long and he’s turned to desperation. A lot of where our design nods were coming from is that his suit is less fresh; it’s been slowly eaten away by the environment. He has a much more complicated filter system because he’s had to alter it and do all these other things to it. Again, none of this is explicitly in the movie, it’s kind of queued in the production design. We wanted to create this more desperate character. He has that filter, he has a different air system. He’s sick, he’s not well. He’s trying to get off this planet and trying to get rich like everyone else.
Q: I actually thought he might have been the best acted of the group. He did a really good job with the suit and in general giving off that really ominous feeling.
ZE: [Laughs] It was a big endeavor to make that suit, for sure.
ZE: Yeah! There’s not a huge film industry in Seattle, so we got lucky to run into a guy with some really amazing production design experience. I would say that, [laughs] possibly more production design was put into that suit than everything else combined. It probably wasn’t wise even, but we just got carried away, it kept getting more fun and we had more ideas and we got more of this built-out world. It took months and months. The father and daughter, they have space helmets that we bought off Ebay. They’re high-altitude Chinese flight helmets. But, the prospector’s helmets, and everything else is all custom-made. So, you know, we were making molds for his helmet pieces, he has this one “power arm” as we called it—the arm was like an accordion type apparatus—that was all hand-sewn. It took ridiculous time and effort but the two guys who were making it—Matt Acosta and Nick Van Strander—just went all out.
Q: That’s definitely what I’m most excited about if you guys do get to make a feature, to see all the different space-suits for all the different “Sectors” or atmospheres that come together and make this world a different place. You talked about production. $28,000: was that spent mostly on the costumes, was it spent on cameras?
ZE: Pretty much, it all went into production design and production support when we were actually shooting. My producer Chris and I, we run Shep Films which is a commercial company here in Seattle, so we actually have access to all the technical tools for the most part. Cameras and stuff were things that we already had invested in as part of our commercial business. Really, all of that money went into buying materials to make everything, we had to pay location fees, we were putting up transportation and housing and feeding our crew—which ranged from 18 to 25 people for four-five days. It’s funny, things pop up all the time. For example we only budgeted so much for radios, so we got these cheap radios that you get from REI or something, but then we tested them and they worked terribly in the forest. It was really important that our crew be able to communicate over distances in the forest, so then we had to rent these nice radios. Just little things that you don’t anticipate really add up.
First-time actress Callie Harlow plays a rogue Prospector seeking wealth alongside her father on a far-off planet.
Q: What was the biggest challenge? You said you didn’t have much experience in After Effects, or at least making the dust particle effect we see in the movie. Was that the toughest thing or was it more the production itself?
ZE: When I think through making the film, it’s definitely a matter of what stage you’re in. We had really big challenges with production design: making little things, running out of time, running out of money. But then we completed that, so then we went to production. And that challenge was hugely logistical. Getting all these people organized and getting on set, managing time and everything. The weather was an obstacle, so we had to coordinate with all the weather patterns. We did all natural lighting, so that was challenging. And, as you pointed out in post-production, it was very tough to do this dust stuff. It was a very different type of challenge. It involved me sitting down, weeks on end, by myself, in front of a computer, not freaking out in the forest in a matter of hours. We edited in Premiere, color graded in Resolve and the dust and stuff were made in After Effects.
Q: You shot on Blackmagic Cameras. What did you like about that camera, what didn’t you like?
ZE: I really like the camera. We didn’t have the bones to shoot on Alexa, which is my favorite camera. But the Blackmagic is a good second: it has really great dynamic range, a really great texture. They’re crazy cheap for what they deliver. The cost difference between a Blackmagic and higher end cameras is just incredible. We jumped on them right away. I like the color profile better than the RED cameras, which are extremely more expensive. I prefer to shoot on Blackmagic than on a RED.
The challenge with Blackmagic: it has a pretty tight sensor, which turned out OK in the forest because you can generally just keep backing up as much as you need to. In the tent scenes, which were really tight, I felt like we weren’t in complete control of those. Now they make something called a Speed Booster—which we have, but it didn’t exist back then for this model—that widens the whole angle, makes it more similar to a 35mm perspective. That’s really awesome but we didn’t have that back then.
Q: When did you film this?
ZE: Uhh… [Laughs] April of last year. A long time ago!
Q: Well there you can get a perspective of how long it takes to make even a film this short.
ZE: Yeah, interestingly our first short film that we made actually took like two weeks to make and cost like no money. It’s totally based on the type of film you’re making. It’s interesting seeing the comments on the film. There are a lot of people saying, “Why did you make this film? Why did you take so long to make this film?” and they’re right. You can definitely make cool stuff for less money and less time, and we’re hoping to do that with a feature. But we are really trying to do something original with the production and design.
Q: How tough was it to film on the Peninsula?
ZE: The funny thing about filming in the rain forest was that it was supposed to rain the entire time we were there, and instead ended up being freakishly sunny. We had planned for rain including building custom rain gear for all the equipment. With the crazy weather change we decided to film at dawn and dusk instead… so the challenged turned from escaping the wet to having to get up really early. It was a lot of driving and long days, but it was such an incredibly beautiful place to hang out in we didn’t mind at all.
Q: What do you feel you learned the most from this project, going forward?
ZE: Oh man. For us, this was so much bigger than anything we had ever done. It involved so many more people, so much more planning. I can’t believe how much we burnt on every single facet. Assembling a crew, approaching production, approaching post-production, the whole thing just really showed us new stuff on every single level. I can’t even plant it. It was so across the board, we feel much more confident about making a film now than we did a year ago.
Q: What advice can you give to somebody who may be looking to make a short or a feature, who maybe has some lofty goals but doesn’t have money, or the time, or maybe the ambition? What would you say?
ZE: Well the ambition, I can’t do anything about. [Laughs] You’ve got to have the ambition. When you’re making a film, you have to have a tremendous amount of drive and perseverance. It’s not a casual endeavor. Our first short film, which really launched our career, was made for practically nothing. It’s called In The Pines and it was us just hiking around. We had one actress, and we hiked around in the woods for a couple of days. We built a concept around our limitations. We didn’t have money. We had a camera that could do limited things. We had this idea and it was a simple idea and we were able to execute it with practically nothing.
I’ve never been to film school, but you can’t just “Dream Big.” [Laughs] That might be the antithesis of what your goals should be for the future, but don’t dream big. You’ve got to figure out what you can do, and then do that really well within those limitations. People will admire what you can do with those limitations.
Another little bit of advice, the internet has been hugely important to our career. Our first short being a “Picked By Staff” on Vimeo really opened up a world of opportunities for us. Film festivals have been awesome and great but where we really see things happening now is online. Find your audience, find your niche, and make something for that niche. They’ll buoy you up.
Q: You’ve raised a lot of money on Kickstarter, would you like to stay grassroots, raising money online or are you looking forward to working with a budget maybe more studio-financed?
ZE: Both? We built up with Kickstarter, one of the bigger things that we got from it were the volunteers, the people who offered their services, time and connections that were even more valuable. I don’t think we could, very easily at all, raise the money for a feature on Kickstarter. We actually met with some people from the company down at SXSW. What they suggested to do was raise part of the money online, maybe for one element of production. We want to stay in control of our films, and the types of films that we want to make, we can make them very inexpensively from an industry perspective. We want to make a movie on our own terms, and make it in Washington.
Be sure to check out Prospect and other projects from Zeek Earl at ShepFilms.com, and don’t forget to catch the short online.
“The Heart Machine” Directed by Zachary Wigon Starring John Gallagher Jr., Kate Lyn Sheil, David Call, Libby Woodbridge, Louisa Krause, Halley Wegryn Gross, RJ Brown Drama, Thriller 85 Mins United States
Would you fall in love in the wild, wild west of romance that is online dating? What if you believe that your betrothed were living in a foreign country only to discover that they are instead a mere stone’s throw away? Would you get jealous? Angry? Violent? Director and writer Zachary Wigon provides his surreptitious take on the ‘romance as app’ generation in what can only be described as a romantic thriller in The Heart Machine. Read More
“Fort Tilden” Directed by Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers Starring Bridey Elliott, Clare McNulty, Neil Casey, Becky Yamamoto, Desireé Nash, Peter Vack, Jeffrey Scaperrotta Comedy 95 Mins United States
Remember when tying your shoes was an impossible chore? When you could only get places at the discretion of your mom’s minivan? When you didn’t know how to cook yourself a meal so you relied on someone else’s feeding hand so that you wouldn’t starve? These, among others, are lessons that Fort Tilden‘s anti-heroines never seemed to learn.
As helpless as they are hapless, twenty-sometihngs Allie and Harper are two Brooklyn tweethearts utterly incapable of caring for themselves or others. Something as simple as meeting new friends at the eponymous Fort Tilden, a hip hideaway on a nearby New York beach, becomes an endeavor the equivalent of trekking to Mordor. Fort Tilden is their weekend Everest. Their prize a pair of swinging dicks to add notches in their paramour belts. How hard can going to the beach be? In this case, damn near impossible. From bikes to cabs, walking to hitching, this five-ish mile trek might as well be uphill both ways through six vertical feet of snow in the middle of a moonless night.
Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, watching this odd couple mess their way through the “rough” spots of the city is co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ condemnation of an incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitude without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millenials.
In their wake, a trail of broken hearts, pissed off acquaintances, abandoned responsibilities and poorly made iced coffees. Hansel and Gretel left a trail of bread crumbs to follow home, Allie and Harper could follow the bitter glances and stink of disapproval back to their hipster homestead. Completely unaware of how their selfish acts of careless bravado effect the world around them, they are all but reprehensible in their ever waking action. Smug, apathetic, careless, rude; throw all the negative descriptors you want at these two and it’ll probably stick but, through all of it, they’re honest. At least Harper (Bridey Elliott) is. She’s a heartless bitch but she knows herself. She fully commits to her many, many shortcomings even at the cost of others derision and scorn. At least being honest to oneself is an admirable trait, right?
In a bind, Harper phones up daddy in her whiniest, whittle baby girl voice, fishing for a direct deposit without ever mentioning the phrase “I need money”. She knows how to wrap people around her little finger and is downright uncomfortable in any relationship where that’s not the case. Even her best friend (though Harper’s too jaded to ever use that term) is measurably her puppet. Although Allie (Clare McNulty) at first seems the more sensitive and sensible of the two, upon getting to know her better, we learn she’s really no better than Harper. She just hasn’t quite committed to her sins in the same way.
Allie feigns sticking to her moral guns (refusing to abandon a borrowed bike, choosing to rescue discarded kittens, flirting around the point in conversations even where the only goal is clearly to benefit herself and Harper) but one ounce of Harper’s callous pressure is all her emotional fulcrum needs for Allie to throw up her hands in defeat. Though Harper is a devoted misanthrope, Allie’s resistance to such makes her the more interesting one.
As the devilish duo, McNulty and Elliot share outstanding chemistry. They’re two sides of one coin, two faces of the same clueless Janus. Their desperation is pathetic, their ineptide a welcome mat for easy laughs but the two performers never pass along an ounce of judgement for their down in the dumps characters, giving them humanity that they might otherwise lack. Their straight-faced comic dynamics look born from years of working with each other so it comes as a bit of a surprise that both these breakout actresses only met during auditions. The success of Fort Tilden rests squarely on their capable shoulders and even through the thick layer of their disagreeableness, they’re fascinating characters through and through.
Cinematographer Brian Lannin makes good use of the rustic settings and concrete jungles, sun blasting the scenes when needed, adding an extra layer of disorientation and distress to the affairs. The snappy, ruthless screenplay works best when Allie and Harper fail at the most benign tasks but never betrays Bliss and Rogers affinity for their love-to-hate-em characters. And this is part and parcel of what makes Tilden pop.
After winning the special jury award for Best Narrative Feature, Fort Tilden saw a little bit of backlash from the critical public, many of them unconvinced that it was necessarily a deserving winner. But this can be expected of a noncommittal culture, more suited to complaining after the fact than making a decision. But this is neither here nor there (although I personally rather enjoyed the film) and the decision can be chalked up to the fact that a committee of only three are responsible for selecting the winners for any given category.
Regardless of this odd rocking of the boat that Fort Tilden has ushered, it’s a wonderful picture of big city ineptitude. From our review,
“Unfit for a seemingly painless journey such as this, watching this odd couple mess their way through the “rough” spots of the city is co-writers and directors Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ condemnation of an incomptent age of the e-tarded. Destitude without their iPhones, never able to look three steps into their futures and wholly lost without an aiding stranger, Allie and Harper are the bane of the millenials.”
Fort Tilden is at its core an absurdist, girls running amuck in NYC dramedy and is the product of directorial duo Sarah Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers. Here to talk about millennials, discovering the actresses and getting naked at the beach, read on to see how Tilden came to be.
Can you talk a little bit about how you collaborate? How do you divide up all of the duties?
Sarah-Violet Bliss: There isn’t much division of our responsibilities. We sat at the computer next to each other writing all day. It wasn’t one of those, you write five pages and then show it to your partner. You have your every day, nine to five, writing jobs, and on the side, two people with the same thoughts, and also some different thoughts that would collaborate in a way that gave the film a voice of its own.
Charles Rogers: I don’t think it would have been possible to co-direct, without having co-written. I think the process was inseparable. In that way, we both knew what the vision for the film was, even though we might have had a different angle on it, they were angles that would inevitably come together. We both were always on the same page. Otherwise, I don’t know what it would have looked like.
Had you worked together before?
SVB: No. This was our first collaboration.
CR: We’ve been friends, but this was our first collaboration. Nine months ago, we didn’t even know necessarily that we were going to be making this film. We had the idea at the very beginning of the summer, and we wrote it in six weeks, and we produced in that amount of time.
I loved it. Obviously, you guys won, so it’s a great film. I laughed through the whole thing. You guys are older than millennials so how did you get in touch with your qualities of millenials? What do you think they are and how do you represent them?
SVB: I’m technically Generation-Y, but I think I’m friends with millenials. There’s a blend. I’m kind of on the cusp, so I feel like it wasn’t too hard to tap into that.
CR: A lot of it was stuff that we were thinking about in our own issues. Our own issues ended up working their way into the film and that’s sort of what’s hard in the writing process, if you know that going in to it or not. Also, just drawing from friends and people that we knew. We have a lot of friends who do absurd things and I guess there’s a particular kind of absurdity that comes with the millennial generation. That wasn’t hard to draw from, when it’s all around you.
Tell me a little about the production in New York. It looks great. Were you just stealing shots? What kind of channels did you go through and were there any challenges or tricks?
SVB: We tried to permit as much as possible. We had our things covered for a lot of it and then there were a lot of things that we had to steal. There’s always a lot of great stuff to put in front of the camera but that also comes with a lot of challenges.
CR: We met so many characters along the way. The type of people who would come up to me, they were always very specific to the kind of neighborhood that you were in. So the girls go on a journey from home and we sort of also went on a journey. There’s just a lot of different kinds of neighborhoods and every day was a different flavor because of that.
I was just wondering about the two actresses. Were they a comedy team?
SVB: They had never met before we cast them. Ally, the blonde, is one of my best friends from college and she’s been in a lot of my short films and we work together a lot. We discovered Bridy Eliot, who plays Harper, and we took them to dinner when she was in town and it was really good chemistry. We all really got along. They worked phenomenally together and hopefully they continue to. This was their first collab.
When you say you “discovered her,” how did you discover her?
CR: She was concussed on the side of the road and… Bridy Eliot is a comedian and performer in the Upright Citizens Brigade. It’s a major comedy theater in New York. She has a presence in the comedy world but she hasn’t really been in a lot of films. This is both their sort of break out role. It was great to find out on the first day that we cast right. We knew it going into it, because we felt, but when you’re on set there’s that first day where you’re nervous. Getting to see them perform on the first day was like, “We don’t have to worry about this!”
Do you guys want to talk a little bit about your background before you came to this film?
SVB: We both went to NYU grad film school together. We’re still there. That’s where I’ve been making my shorts, through film school. Before that, I was a theater major at Oberlin, which is where I met Claire. I’ve been writing plays and stuff for a really long time. After I graduated, I was actually more interested in film. I became more of a filmmaker than a playwright.
CR: I went to college here and then I went to grad school at NYU. I’m not from New York necessarily. I do a lot of comedy and improv and standup in New York, which is cool because I want to do a lot of comedy and I get to know a lot of the talent pool in New York. I feel like it’s nice when you can see all of your worlds coming together. I feel like this film did that for me.
What were the themes that were most important to you about this idea of challenging friendship or friendships that indicate more about the challenges that you have yourself with your actual relationship that you have with the other person? Were there certain ideas that you hoped would carry throughout the film?
CR: We were drawing from different life experiences. I think one part of the millennial generation – the idea of this age – is that you get to this point in your life where you start to evaluate all of your friendships. Before this point, your friendships are out of convenience or commonalities that are more trivial. And the older you get, you begin to sort of focus in on what’s important to you and what actually matters to you. You begin to realize that the people you thought mattered to you, there’s issues there. Before this age, I don’t think that you necessarily evaluate those things. I was drawing from some difficult relationships that I had, but also there were people that I love, and don’t want out of my life. All relationships are really hard.
SVB: The themes are stuff that we really discovered while writing and developing what we were writing originally. We thought it would be a funny idea to have two characters who were trying to get to Fort Tilden, except their not really good at stuff. As we were writing, we really discovered more of what was actually very compelling to us and about what it means to be 25 right now… and how the older generations, the parents of these millenials, feel like, “Oh you can be whatever you want to be.” And not really thinking about their responsibilities and pursuing that in a really hardworking way, just expecting that it’s going to happen. You get taken by surprise, when you realize that you’ve got to take some control over that.
Sounds like you might know some of these people.
You keep bringing up the comedic elements of this, but there was also a lot of drama to this story. Did it start out as a comedy and then you kind of found these dramatic beats? Or did it start out as more of a drama but then developed into a comedy?
SVB: The original idea we had was: “This is a funny idea.” All the work that I’ve done in my past at least – Charles too – there’s always some more dramatic depth to it. That’s what I think makes the comedy better and the drama better. They are opposites that flatter each other. Really it was just about making something truthful and making the story richer. We never were like, “This is a COMEDY.” It develops into what it develops into. That’s my favorite kind of work to create.
CR: I think the fact that it started with characters, rather than an idea about the tone or the genre, I think it got both funnier and sadder. I don’t think it necessarily started out as one or the other. The more we understood the comedy, the more we understood how that related to drama. I think that the fact that it gets sadder makes it funnier and the fact that it gets funnier makes it sadder. These characters, ultimately, are very flawed. The comedy comes from that, but also the struggle has to come from that too. So I think it sort of started in a simple place, then everything layered outside of that.
I love that they all had their tops off at the beach. I wondered who’s idea that was, or if they actually do that out there.
CR: It’s an unmonitored beach, so a lot of people do end up taking their tops off.
SVB: Knowing that that’s a place where people go to be cool and free or whatever, and then the idea that someone would be put in that situation and feel uncomfortable by feeling like that’s the cool decision to do.
CR: Our actresses were very comfortable with the toplessness. Everything was consensual.
“Arlo and Julie” Directed by Steve Mimms Starring Alex Dobrenko, Ashley Spillers, Sam Eidson, Chris Doubek, Mallory Culbert, Hugo Vargas-Zesati Comedy United States
Anyone who’s ever put a jigsaw puzzle together before understands the acute stages of puzzle insanity. At first, it’s an exciting endeavor, like diving into a new George R.R. Martin tome or deciding that you’re gonna start hitting the gym again. After about twenty minutes of turning over white pieces, you already feel the first tinge of frustration, that beading realization of what you’ve just committed to. Finally, you’ve put together the exterior, that beautiful border to encapsulate all, fencing in that headless herd of jigsaw madness. Cue feelings of adequacy, and perhaps even ecstasy. Then comes the middle bits, the monotony of a sea of monochromatic shades, so unanimously uniform that you may as well piece them together blindfolded. Eventually, parties become frustrated, tensions rise and deep-seated issues simmer up between you and your in-it-to-win-it puzzle partner. Maybe you shout, cry, give it all up. Maybe even a table gets flipped. But what happens when a puzzle gets so out of control that it takes over your life? That’s exactly the question Steve Mimms asks in Arlo and Julie.
The answer? Well if you’re Arlo and Julie, you allow the obsession to take the helm, survive only on the sustenance of delivery pizza, let your career and relationships all but descend into shambles and pace in front of the parcel box waiting for the mailman like a dog for its master. “Mail?” you may ask. Well this cryptic puzzle – a triptych of muted oranges, reds and yellows – randomly starts showing up in the mail, arriving in increasingly larger sealed packets from Mexico. At first one piece is enclosed, then two, four, eight, sixteen and on and on until Arlo and Julie are faced with thousands of little cardboard zigs and zags and dozens of man hours needed to put it all together.
As the puzzle outgrows their cozy dining room table, secrets within their relationship come to light with both eventually wondering how well they know the other party. At first, their puzzly plight is admirable and Mimms’ uncertain direction leaves the floor open for what could be a vast highway of possibilities. Suspenseful elements slip in under the radar, adding a touch of foreboding to the otherwise squarely indie film proceedings. While we wade in the darkness wondering what all these little pieces will eventually add up to, it’s the two titular characters who must keep us entertained, and by the end are the only real components that make it worthwhile.
Julie, played by a geeky chic Ashley Spillers, is defiantly bohemian, perhaps so much so that she doesn’t even know it. Her smooshy facial expressions, shaggy bob and frumpy natural beauty all help to make her relatable. Her gorging on pizza makes her lovable. Spillers plays her well, offering a character you’d expect from an 80s Woody Allen flick with some real depth behind her quirk. Her partner Arlo (Alex Dobrenko) is a bit of a misanthropic dweeb. His mind always in the past (he’s writing what he believes is the great untold biography of Ulysses S. Grant), he’s got the inflated ego to fit his aspiring writer hat but it also makes him a bit of a challenge to really assimilate with. He’s a bit of a flippant kook, his conflated ideas of relevancy definitively hipster. Arlo is a guy you can only take in small doses but beneath his moppy-headed think box is a manchild who’s a bit mystified with the world at large, who treats love like a bit of a puzzle itself.
Cute and quaint, Arlo and Julie might be one of the better second-tier Woody Allen movies that Woody Allen never made. It’s mumblecore deadpan meets Austin angst, big city stressing in the near desert. The dialogue culled from a workshop on the neurotic and maladjusted, everything always feels an arm length from reality. The first two acts throw in enough quirk to keep the adventure light enough and often engaging. With some coincidentally staged entrances and exits, the screenplay seems cooked up by a career playwright. The staged contrivances kind of work but aren’t consistent enough to really sell the stage as a whole.
Undoubtedly the biggest problem that Mimms runs into is that he only gets limited mileage out of the quirky mystery aspects of the piece. By the third act, the tank is running on empty, all the lingering questions have been abandoned or shoddily answered and the film sputters towards a conclusion that’s slight and saccharine, even if it does fit the mood.
“Space Station 76” Directed by Jack Plotnick Starring Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer, Marisa Coughlan, Jerry O’Connell, Kylie Rogers Comedy, Drama, Sci-Fi 93 Mins United States
The 1970s were an age of looking towards the stars. From Star Wars to Star Trek, it was a decade of endless possibilities, a time that saw instant dinners, laser weaponry and hovercrafts around every corner. It witnessed the culmination of the space race, the end of the Vietnam War, and the birth of a new unchartered epoch in the suburban trenches of Americana. Mimicking the uneasy blend of conservatism and forward-looking gung-ho-manship that defined the generation, with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, Jack Plotnick has made Space Station 76a soapy space opera; a smartly satirical smoothie of 70s manifest destiny – ripe with the impractical hopes of intergalactic expansionism – cut with the tedium of suburban ennui.
At the forefront of this final frontier are an unlikely cast of characters, each representative of the many uncertainties and insecurities of the era. There’s the boredom weary housewife, Misty (Marisa Coughlan), who spends her days slurping down Prosacs, “programing” the crew’s meal du jour, and occasionally sleeping around with Steve (Jerry O’Connell). When she’s not confessing her feelings to the on-board robotic psychiatrist, Dr. Bot – whose toy-sized presence and pre-programed wisdoms are always accompanied by fits of laughter – she mopes and gossips. An icon of post-50s feminine guile, her boozy, unscrupulous mannerisms are as sardonically iconic as her down-on-his-luck everyman husband, Ted, played by Matt Bomer.
Having never quite caught a break, and now sporting a clunky robotic arm – a perfectly retro-futuristic brand of low-budget prop – Ted is haunted by his lack of accomplishments, caught in a cycle of self-destructive lethargy lead by his penchant for illegal horticulture and unsure of his place in the world (er, universe). His emotional arc reflects the pathos of those who nervously straddled The Draft, haunted by the withering courage of a fresh faced soldier never to see a day in combat. He’s shaken but for all the wrong reasons.
Enter new co-pilot Jessica (Liv Tyler) who is at her core representative of the shifting winds of the feminism movement, a firmly competent and confident substitute for a traditionally male role. Striking up an affectionate relationship with Ted’s daughter Sunshine (Kylie Rogers, who looks adorable in a nerdtastic pair of specs,) long-gone sparks of tenderness begin to rekindle the purpose in Ted’s life.
Jessica’s maternal instincts juxtaposed against her inhospitable womb is an example of the tragic irony that Plotnick hits on again and again, to such great effect. But it’s Patrick Wilson, who plays Captain Glenn with startling sensitivity, that is the most outstanding of the bunch and the pinnacle of Plotnick’s satirical heights. As the gruff but gay commander, Glenn’s sexuality is a thing of great shame, something he keeps deeply closeted. Glenn’s stern persona is encapsulated in Wilson’s patriarchal mustache, a metaphorical affront to shield others from the shame he buries, a mask to disguise his bleeding soul. The arrival of Jessica, who doggedly seeks the true reason behind Glenn’s last co-pilot (and secret lover’s) sudden reassignment, sets him on a crash course with his own inner demons…and some asteroids.
The stocky sets, “pew pew” sound design and clunky CGI – that look like crafted on a circa 1976 computer – are as kitschy as they come but the human relationships they serve to frame always feel universal and timeless. Through satire, Plotnick has stumbled upon some brave new world. Bold and esoteric, he’s shown that one doesn’t need to look at the future from behind the jaded lens of an iPhone 5, that things may well be all the more interesting if we rewind the clock and only then begin to look forward.
When you think of filmmakers from the sci-fi or horror genre, the first thing that pops into your mind most likely isn’t a young female director. Leigh Janiak though is here with Honeymoon to challenge that assumption. Crafting a modern sci-fi/horror film actually worth remembering, Janiak showcases her razor sharp ability to cull great performances while demonstating a kingpin-level status of economic filmography.
With only a few weeks of shooting (many of which were under threat of rain), four actors and a tent-sized crew, Janiak has wrung all the best elements of a genre film out, rinsed and refused to repeat, offering a genuinely eerie, wholly engaging body snatchers narrative. From our review of the film,
“Though Honeymoon may take place at a cabin in the woods, the camp has been left at home. Janiak’s take is fatally humorless, devoutly sobering. Instead of harping on frights, she’s left us with a steamy atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a butter knife and serve it at as a wedding cake. Even the hollowed out bride and groom toppers wouldn’t be missing.”
Debuting in the midnight section of this year’s SXSW festival, I had a chance to speak with Leigh about where Honeymoon came from, the challenges of working on a tight budget, and whether or not she believes in aliens.
Firstly, I really enjoyed Honeymoon. What was your inspiration for writing this, I know you co-wrote it, was it mostly you that came up with the idea?
Leigh Janiak: Phil (Graziadei), my writing partner, we met when we were freshmen at NYU, a long time ago. When we come up with ideas, we don’t really keep track of whose idea it was first, our process is so intertwined. Basically what happened was, in 2009 or 2010, I saw Tanya Hardinger and Monsters within a couple months of one another. It jolted me out of a scriptwriting process, because we had been spending four or five years writing scripts, meeting people at production companies trying to break into the business that way. Seeing these movies inspired me. “With the next film we write, let’s actually make a movie.” If we don’t take things into our own hands, it’s going to be forever before we actually get hired to do a studio-level movie. You know, years and years and years. We went into writing Honeymoon with this idea that it was gonna be a contained genre movie, that we thought that we could get made. The idea itself grew out of this idea of exploring how something very familiar can become other, or monstrous. Picking this idea of a relationship and destroying it. Connecting to that, we thought about bigger budget ideas that we really loved, and the audience could understand. What we wanted to do was make this small, rounded, intimate version of that.
You work with such a small cast. There are four people credited working on it, but only two are you really dealing with for the most part. How does that effect the dynamic between yourself and the crew, and does it make it more of a collaborative effort between you guys?
LJ: Certainly. An interesting thing: Rose and Harry had met once before in London before they arrived on set. They got to set, maybe five days before production began. The three of us had about four days where we could maybe spend some time working together. I wouldn’t say it was rehearsal, it was more like talking through the characters, making sure we were all on the same page about where their head spaces were at certain points through the script, and really going through that process together which I think was invaluable. Rose approached Bea from a very outside perspective. Really analyzing who she was, how she thought Bea would react in a situation, there was a space between Rose the actress and Bea the character. Whereas Harry is very much more like method and he explored who Paul was from the inside-out. Initially that was a bit challenging, because when you only have two actors and they have such different approaches to their craft, you kind of have to negotiate that difference. But I think ultimately it ended up working really well with the dynamic of the characters because they are slowly drifting apart so to speak. It’s just such an intense environment when you have pretty much only two people the whole time. That took a lot of screen time for both of them and they really didn’t have a lot of down time. We shot six-day weeks so they didn’t have much time off, so the whole thing became very intimate. We all spent a lot of time together. I think it was very collaborative because of that and I just felt very lucky: they’re both so talented and they really elevated everything that they touched.
Their performances were undoubetly fantastic throughout the film. You haven’t yet released an official budget on this and probably can’t because it’s still in acquisition, but I think we can assume it was somewhat modest. Can you tell me some of the biggest challenges you ran into working on a tight budget?
LJ: Any time you’re making an indie movie, your biggest challenges are going to be time. Because you always want more time to shoot. We actually had a really nice schedule. We had 24 days which is a lot more than a lot of indie movies do. I felt that 24 days was quite comfortable except that we were shooting in North Carolina in the Spring, and we only had eight hours of darkness a night. Because we had so much night shooting, that became a real challenge. Instead of doing a twelve hour day, when we had our night work, we only had eight hours to shoot. That was difficult, because your schedule just shrinks a bit. The other main thing was that we had terrible rain, I mean it was horrible, it started raining maybe four or five days after we started shooting and then it didn’t stop for about two and a half weeks. The water levels rose, it flooded our docks, all of the roads to the cottage were completely muddy and my first VD was like pulling out his hair, we had no idea what we were going to do because we had some exterior scenes that we still needed to shoot. It was supposed to be a “happy, funny Honeymoon” and the rain just kept going. We got really lucky, because two days after we needed to get out of the location, the skies kind of cleared and we prescheduled this long shoot day where we started our night shooting at 6pm and shot all the way through the morning until like mid-afternoon so we could clean up our sunny outside scenes.
Seriously, you don’t usually hear about people complaining about not enough darkness. Before you mentioned that you grew up on horror movies. What were some of the movies that scared you and stuck with you?
LJ: It’s interesting, because I consider the genre that I like more than anything else to be sci-fi, more than horror. I have a lot of gaps in my knowledge of horror, generally, but it’s funny because my first horror movie I saw maybe in like 5th grade, and I was having a sleep-over party and I really wanted to have a horror movie because that’s what all my friends were doing, like people would be watching Chucky and I really wanted to compete with that, so my Mom said “I’m not showing a horror movie, you’re at our house.” It wasn’t just that we were a little young for it, but, what she did was she rented Psycho, which is like, way worse than any of those 80’s slasher movies, this is like 1988, 1989. She’d say “those are just slashing for gore! I’m gonna rent you Psycho” so that was extremely traumatic and awful. So those were the kind of horror movies that I began to appreciate, the Hitchockian or Palanskian, which I watched a lot in junior high and stuff. Those I still consider my biggest influences horror-wise, like Palanski for sure, Kubrick, even Hitchcock as well but I don’t really see that applying to my style. But I certainly do aspire to do more like Palanski and Kubrick and stuff.
You say that you’re more of a sci-fi person and even if it’s not ever explicitly stated in the movie, we’re led to believe that there are some kind of extraterrestrial creatures who are starting some inklings of an invasion or something. Did you do much research into alien life-forms, or did you talk to any people who maybe claimed that they had been abducted?
LJ: No, not really. I’d say that mostly I have a preoccupation with aliens, personally. Like I said, in really thinking about those bigger invasion movies, even things like Independence Day, it would always happen: there would be this big giant bang and suddenly all of the ships are overhead and everyone’s leaving. I love Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it’s one of my favorite alien-invasion movies because it does feel more grounded. I like the way Richard Dreyfuss’ character begins, it feels like he’s just going crazy and just with the dirt making the mountain, I love that shot so much. So, for Honeymoon it was really just trying to put myself in the position where most realistically we could capture that this began on a smaller, slower scale. In the movie, the idea is that Bea and Annie are thought to be first beginnings of this wider invasion .
The last project that you worked on was the Europa Report, even though you weren’t directing that, it also deals with life outside of what we know. Regardless of what you might refer to it as, do you believe in “aliens?”
LJ: I absolutely believe in them and in extraterrestrial life. Obviously, I don’t know what that could mean, it could mean a variety of things. Whether that’s a bacteria or arsenic-based life form, but I certainly believe that it’s naïve to not believe that there’s something else that exists.
Looking forward on your career, do you want to stick with the sci-fi genre or would you like to maybe try something new? What’s next on your plate?
LJ: We’re working on a few different ideas right and they are all sort of like walking this sci-fi, horror space. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t be interested in trying something else too, but I grew up reading sci-fi. The Wrinkle in Time books, are the first books that I really remember affecting me in a way, from then on I really became obsessed with thinking about how science can really affect narrative and open up imagination. Often in a terrible way, which I like to explore. I think that I’m going to stick with this genre, but it’s not like I have any kind of rule. If any other projects or ideas came up that I liked, I would obviously open to doing that too.
One of the things that you do really well in the film, both from a writing and directorial standpoint, is that you don’t really set out to scare us, so much as just create this really moody, really eerie atmosphere that’s anchored by these really well-written, fleshed out characters. That’s a really nice surprise in a horror or sci-fi movie because at this point we’re so used to shallowly-written characters and a jump-scare every fifteen minutes or so. With Honeymoon do you see this well written character drama as the response to this slew of horror characters that are so often under-written and under-developed? Is this your “solution”?
LJ: Definitely. For me, you can watch people get splattered across screen, starting from minute two to the end, and that’s entertainment, and it’s great and it does a very specific thing, but for me when I am just aiming for more is that creeping awfulness. I really just wanted to make as much as possible, the audience feel uncomfortable and bad, just that sense of incredible eeriness as you described it. To me, that’s achieved most easily if you can bring your characters in close. Let your characters interact with the audience and understand who they are, so it will mean more when they’re falling apart.
Are you actively working on a next project right now? Do you just have a lot of balls in the air?
LJ: My writing partner and I have two ideas that we’re really working on right now, and those are in the early stages. We’re not almost done with the script or anything like that, but definitely I’m hoping that one of those will become my next film. But hopefully sci-fi will open up a lot of opportunities since we’re also playing at Tribeca. We’re also exploring other projects as well.
Can you tell us anything about those two project ideas?
LJ: Not right now. I hate talking about things until I’m 100% confident in the iteration that it’s going to live in!
“Kumiko the Treasure Hunter” Directed by David Zellner Starring Rinko Kikuchi, Nobuyuki Katsube, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Shirley Venard Drama America
“Based on a true story” the title card blares, half-legible in crusty, bite-sized pixelations of a magnified television screen. One chunky word at a time, each letter pronounced, amplified, stuffed in our faces. Pulled straight from Fargo‘s opening sequence (the lauded Coen Bros film goes on to become a key character in the film) and scattered by tightrope zooms, this intriguing unveiling of Kumiko the Treasure Hunter immediately begs question about the veracity of what we’re going to witness. Read More