Sunday, March 8, 2015

Margot Robbie in Focus

Playing in Theaters

Margot Robbie in Focus

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 3/5/15)


Will Smith and Margot Robbie.
Will Smith and Margot Robbie.
I found it interesting that Margot Robbie, an Australian actress with few screen credits but fantastic looks and diverse acting talents, was entrusted to do almost as much media as superstar Will Smith to promote Focus, a mischievous mix of suspense and romantic comedy that is playing at the UA East Hampton 6.  And that the movie’s trailer was filled with (sexy) images of her. I think it’s because everyone involved with the movie believed her multifaceted portrayal of a young woman who is eager for Smith’s dapper conman to make her his partner in his trade and his life will launch her into instant stardom.  That was the prerelease buzz, which made her an in-demand talk show guest and the subject of numerous magazine and newspaper profiles.  For the Australian magazine FilmInk I participated in this roundtable with the smart, congenial, no-airs actress about the hit movie and a role that could have been written for her. I note my questions.
Danny Peary: Did you get this part in Focus before or after The Wolf of Wall Street?
Margot Robbie: After. Wolf opened a lot of doors for me and has given me so many opportunities. A lot of people are interested in me for characters that are similar to the role I played in Wolf  because that’s the only movie they have seen me in, but fortunately some people are giving me the opportunity to play different kinds of roles.  I want to keep it a little diverse, and earlier this year I was in Z for Zachariah, which is an indie film, and I play a character who is the polar opposite of my character in Wolf.  And playing Jane in Tarzan will be very different again. It’s brilliant that all the films I’ve done lately, including Focus, have been totally different genres and with totally different characters.  It keeps it exciting.
DP: I would think this film is an incredible showcase for you because you get to do almost everything in this role.  You get to be funny, sweet, cold, sexy, silly, daring, a fun date, a sexpot.
MR: Yes, I guess I didn’t appreciate that enough in the beginning and it wasn’t until we really got into making the film that I started to know how lucky I was.
Q: You were in Croatia when you heard you were going to audition for the movie?
MR: Yes, I was backpacking with my little brother, and I was on an island.  I had just been on another island that night and I came back and went swimming at 6AM, off this island.  It was this big carpe diem. We’d been swimming in the ocean and I was soaking wet, I got back and my little brother was locked out of our hostel room. I took out my phone and I had this voicemail message from my team, frantically saying, the Focus audition is happening in New York and I had fly out from Croatia that night. I was thinking, “Oh, god how do I get back to the mainland?” I asked the hostel owners, and they’re saying, “There’s only one boat that leaves the island and it leaves in fifteen minutes, otherwise you won’t get there until tomorrow and you’ll miss the flight to New York.” So it was like this mad rush and I literally ran down, grabbed my suitcase, left half my things in the room, and ran down the hall yelling out to my brother.  He said, “Where are you going?” I said, I gotta go to New York.  I’ll meet you in Italy in four days!” “Where?”  “Rome!” I never actually met him in Rome in four days, but he went off and he managed just fine.   It was this giant race to get back to the mainland for this flight to New York. I had to get a catamaran, then a bus to the airport, wait for hours, then fly to France, wait for another bunch of hours, for the flight to New York.  I got to New York but they lost my luggage. I’d been wearing the wet clothes because I hadn’t had time to change.  I couldn’t be bothered, so I took off the wet shirt and put on a pajama shirt. So I was in New York about to do this audition in ripped shorts and a pajama shirt. I had nothing else, no makeup or anything. And my audition was in a couple hours’ time. The next morning, I was walking to the audition in my pajama shirt, thinking, “I cannot do an audition with Will Smith in my pajamas, this is ridiculous,” so I stopped in at TopShop on the way and bought a button-up shirt.  I went wearing that, but the rest of me looked so shabby. Denise the producer was like, “We loved you, you came in very fresh-faced in ripped shorts. I said, “Yes, that wasn’t a strategic wardrobe choice.”  It was literally because I had no other options at the time.
DP: On your Wikipedia page, it says you’re going to be in an upcoming comedy, Focus. When you talked to the directors for the first time, did they say Focus was a comedy?
MR: They didn’t specify, no. John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have made all kinds of films so it’s very hard to put them into a specific genre. I wasn’t told Focus was a comedy, though there are obviously a lot of comedic moments in it. I didn’t know if it was going to be an actual comedy.  When I first started hearing about the project, I looked at John and Glenn’s previous film, I Love You Phillip Morris. There were these massive tonal shifts and moments when I would be laughing, then I would be crying, that sort of thing, and the actors on screen did that pretty much too—laughing and then crying.  There seems to be really a bit of everything in their movies. All the actors have an opportunity to do a bit of everything—and that was very enticing. That’s really what made me want to work with them.
DP: What was your audition?
MR: We did the first scene in the hotel bar, where Will and I meet for the first time. Then we did the scene in which she tries to convince him to let her come on board with his team.
DP: Did you do it the same way every time?
MR: We started improvising, and I can’t remember what he said but I said something like “Wow, you’re a dick!” And apparently when I walked off, Will was saying something like, Yeah, I like her, I think she’s the right one.” And they said to him, “You like her because she called you a dick, right?”  And said, “Yeah, that was awesome.” It ended up becoming this running joke in the film. I don’t know how much ended up in the final edit, but we always ended scenes with my saying, “You’re such a dick” or “Why are you being such a dick?” All because I said that at the audition.  It wasn’t in the script.
Q: So how was it starring in a film with Will Smith?
MR: He’s the most incredible guy and so wonderful to work with and hang out with. When you hear the name Will Smith, you think that he’s one of a handful of actors for whom you automatically have very high expectations—impossible expectations. And he’s one of those people who exceed any expectations.
Q: When the film’s trailer was released there was a lot of talk online about the chemistry between the two of you.
MR:  Yeah, it’s so bizarre, it’s not one of those things that you can really plan for.
Q: Sometimes when you see a film where the male lead is significantly older than the leading lady it is quite noticeable, but in this film it’s just not an issue because you seem well matched.
MR: Yeah, I’m equally surprised as anyone. I remember thinking when I got that call about auditioning for Focus that I would never get cast opposite Will Smith.  I couldn’t think of a couple that made less sense in every way, shape, and form. No one would ever buy it because of the age difference. But initially I didn’t think we would ever work either and I don’t think a lot of people did.  I had met John and Glenn previously and they insisted that I come in to read, and I think a lot of people, including Will probably, were thinking, “I don’t see this working.” Then we got in the room and it was apparent that we have very similar personalities.  Chemistry is a weird thing–we had this immediate rapport and it worked out fine.  If there is a rapport, it takes away the idea that it couldn’t be possible. It does make sense on the screen.
Q: In The Wolf of Wall Street, you play the wife of a criminal, Jordan, played by Leonardo De Caprio. And in Focus, you fall for a con man. Are you attracted to crime genre?
MR: I don’t really think of it as being attracted to the genre.  It’s just that a lot of films are made about criminals, because there’s obviously a lot you can do with that. I never actually thought of Jordan being a criminal in The Wolf of Wall Street.  InFocus, I guess there is a different kind of thievery, it’s a little more playful.
Q: What excited you about playing Jess?
MR: We filmed in New Orleans and then in Argentina, Buenos Aires, two locations that were very high on my to-go list, so that was something enticing about the job.  But I suppose the main thing about my roll was that I was really excited to learn pick-pocketing. One of the thrills of being an actor is you get to pick up little skills, and whether you’re doing stunt training or martial arts, whatever. You can always pick up a little skill or party trick, and this obviously was a fun one. I was like, “Oh, it would be awesome to learn to do actual pickpocketing.” We were taught by Apollo Robbins, one of the world’s best pickpockets.  He’s known for being that because he’s done shows in Las Vegas. It’s fascinating to learn the methods. You can take it from an intellectual side, understanding how the mark’s mind works; and you find blind points because that’s how people steal effectively. So we learned those sorts of things. We had to practice dexterity because the physicality of it is kind of difficult. So learning pickpocketing was the first thing that attracted me. On a basic level I think it’s a fun party trick, but I am also fascinated to learn anything that kind of incorporates the cerebral sides of things. There’s something a little exciting about pickpocketing.  I learned how to do the steals.  Apollo, had me practice on people who were walking into the room, that were working on the set, that sort of thing. The most terrifying thing was having the confidence to actually execute a lift.  I knew how to do it, and I knew how to place my hands and everything, but to have the confidence to do it while looking someone in the eye is so ballsy and that’s the thing I struggled with most. But I think Jess does not have that problem at all.
Q: So who is the bigger con artist, Jess or Nicky?
MR: I guess that’s an argument that Nicky and Jess could have until the end of time. Since I play Jess I would say Jess is the bigger con artist but if you speak to Will he’d probably say Nicky is the bigger con artist.
DP: What does Jess think of herself?
MR: I think she’s aware that she’s ambitious but she’s also very confident that she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to. She doesn’t really have any fear when she is working towards a goal, and that works perfect for a pickpocket.
DP: So she’s confident and resourceful. But does she like herself?
MR: Yes…yeah, she does. She has a moral compass, and though it may be askew to other people’s standards, to her standards she would never do anything immoral.
DP: How much does Jess care about money?
MR: I think she likes the thrill of stealing more than the rewards of stealing, I think she just wants enough to get by and have what she wants. I don’t think she’s too money-crazy, too greedy.
DP: Does she change between the beginning and the end of the film?
MR: Definitely. I think what she wants changes. She wanted a new life and to experience the excitement of the grifting world, but in time she just wants honesty, I suppose. There’s a transformation from the old Jess to the new Jess, and it’s like playing two different characters because they’re so different.
DP: Yes, again, you get to see many facets of your acting in this film. When I was watching the film, I was struck by the patience in your delivery, so my assumption would be that you’re very calm and confident in front of the camera? Is that correct or totally wrong?
MR: That’s probably just me being a selfish actor and trying to milk the moment, I suppose. I kind of learned what works and doesn’t work on screen when I was on Neighbours.  I did like over 300 episodes and I haven’t seen all of them obviously.  I don’t know if anyone has–my own family wouldn’t’ have even seen half of them.  It was a really great learning experience for seeing what works on-screen and what doesn’t. I remember watching some of my very first episodes. I’m blinking and looking around the room, and sometimes I’m looking at a point–but on on-screen it reads totally different from how I felt it. So I kind of learned, one, what’s distracting for an audience member, and  two, also, that I can take my time when it’s needed. Sometimes I used to get the feeling that I wanted to rush through it, to keep the pace up. John and Glenn would always say when to pace it up and when to slow it down. They were like, “Take those moments.” Or they would be like, “Let’s make this snappy,” and then you’d have a kind of Ping Pong dialogue. So they kind of controlled that as well.
Q: What was it like on the set?
MR: The set was very lighthearted, very fun, and very quick-paced.  John and Glenn obviously write very funny material and they are also really hilarious in real life. Will, as everyone knows, is really funny, and we had so many wonderful actors in the film who were comedic gold. BD Wong, who plays the gambling guy in the stadium scene, improvised and he was hysterical. There are so many outtakes where I was just absolutely in hysterics because he was so funny.
DP: You mentioned the Australian show Neighbours. You made a couple of films early in your career and then you committed yourself to a soap opera. Was that a tough decision?
MR: That wasn’t a strategic choice at all, that was me purely taking any opportunity that was available. And at that stage the thing that got the ball rolling was doing a couple of very low-budget indie films. It was unpaid work, but it was a chance to be on the set, which was a dream come true. And then I did a couple of guest spots, an episode or two, on a couple of TV shows, and one thing led to another, and within six months I got the job on Neighbours from being in that first indie film.
DP: But did that sabotage your movie career for a while, by committing to a soap opera?
MR: No, because at that stage committing to a role on Neighbours was a much better career move than doing the indie films that weren’t ever going to get distributed or seen at all. In Australia, unfortunately, the industry is kind of limited, but the two biggest shows–the most internationally recognized– are Home and Away and Neighbours. So being on one of those shows is the biggest stepping stone to get to America. Indie films that can’t get distribution and were never going to get me to America.
Q: Are you still interested in doing a movie that shoots in Australia?
MR: I would love to.  I’m dying for an opportunity to get back home and work at home and do an Australian film or an Australian project somehow. I was home for my mom’s 60th birthday, just for a day, which meant a lot of flying to and from London, and other than that I take a few days at Christmas.  This year I am going to take a couple of weeks. which is the longest amount of time I will have had at home in years. Otherwise it is very hard.
Q: You mentioned that when you got the audition you were traveling – is this what you like to do in your downtime?
MR: Definitely.  My plan once was to finish school and then travel, just kind of run around. Now any time I have any time off from work I try to travel.  I always have the most fun when I stay in hostels because I meet many more people. It makes sense to stay in hotels when I’m in New York doing work things, but while traveling, I don’t really get a feel for a place if I’m in a hotel.  A hotel makes it seem like everywhere else. But yeah, yeah, bead and breakfasts and hostels are generally the best way to do it.
Q: Do people recognize you?
MR: It’s weird, I stayed in a hostel earlier this year in Dublin, when I had a weekend off from Tarzan, and Neighbours shows I was on played there. When you’re somewhere like Croatia, you’re going to be under the radar a lot more, but I was actually fine. I think I look so different from how people see me on screen so they don’t make the association. Maybe they think, “She look like the chick in Wolf, but it couldn’t possibly be her because why would she be in a hostel in Dublin?”  In fact a couple of people did say that to me. So I haven’t had any problems being recognized–once or twice but that was it.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with Scorsese?
MR: I haven’t seen him in a while actually. I think the last time I saw him was around awards season earlier this year. After the Golden Globes, a bunch of us from Wolf went off and had dinner, and it was so much fun getting together and catching up.  After each  of the awards shows we’d all go have dinner somewhere. I got two solid hours of chatting just with Marty, I was so grateful for that time, because after that things got chaotic and I was gone five days later. I went to New Zealand and after that everything sort of took off again. I haven’t had a chance to catch up with anyone from Wolf since then.
Q: Are there any other directors you’d like to work with if you get a chance?
MR: My absolutely dream ultimate list of the top three was Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino, and the Coen Brothers. I could watch their films a thousand times. They’re the top three on my bucket list.
Q: Do you have a master plan now for your career?
MR: Nothing specific I guess but the plan has been the same since my first meeting with my managers–in my career, I want quality, diversity and longevity. So that’s the big goal and we always strive toward that.   The smaller, in-between goals are obviously to work with great filmmakers, and we have a list much more extensive than the three I mentioned.   Also I’d really like to create some work as well, whether it’s producing or directing or writing one day.
Q: A lot of movie actors are on Broadway now.  Do you have any interest in theater?
MR: I definitely want to get on stage at some point.  Maybe Broadway but I’m not sure.  I doubt if it would be in a singing role, because I don’t think that’s my forte and there are so many talented singers out there. But you never know. Definitely getting on stage in some way is pretty high on my priority list.
Q: If you had not discovered that you have the gift of acting, what would you have done?
MR: I’d probably end up performing in some way. I love the trapeze so I’d like to think I’d be a trapeze artist. To be in a circus would be an amazing job.

Whiplash's Damien Chazelle on His First Jazz Movie and Himself

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench on video

Whiplash's Damien Chazelle on His First Jazz Movie and Himself

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 2/28/15)

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash.
Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash.
By Danny Peary
Damien Chazelle
Damien Chazelle
I could write a book about how much I usually disagree with Academy Award selections—wait, I already did!—but I must say I was delighted that writer-direct Damien Chazelle’s riveting semiautobiographical Whiplash sneaked off with three Oscars (it was nominated five times).)  The biggest one was for supporting actor J.K. Simmons as the smiling martinet jazz band leader who makes life miserable for but, perhaps inadventently, pushes defiant young drummer Miles Teller to greatness.  I’m sure moviegoers are curious about the strikingly innovative 30-year-old Chazelle (who was a drummer at Princeton High with an “intense” music teacher)—among the rules he breaks, I love his camera placement in particular that gives Whiplash a surreal sensation.  So I think it’s a good time to reprint this in-depth interview I did with him when his first feature, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, played at festivals in 2009. It too is about jazz and you surely will want to check it out.
The production notes’ synopsis: “Guy [Jason Palmer] and Madeline [Desiree Garcia] have been dating for three months.  He’s an up-and-coming Boston jazz trumpeter, she an aimless introvert looking for work.  The excitement of first love has faded, and shortly after the film opens Guy’s wandering eye is caught by a more outgoing woman.  Her name is Elena [Sandha Khin].  She and Guy meet on a crowded subway car—a meeting that spells the end of Guy and Madeline’s romance.”  Or does it?  Guy will try to win her back, using his instrument—no, no, his trumpet! Chazelle said, “I wanted to make a movie about people who could only communicate through music.  I may have used fantasy as a framework, but for me it’s all about real life.”
Danny Peary: I’m curious who responds to your movie.  Do people say they like your movie because they can tell you love movies?
Damien Chazelle: It’s either “I can tell you love movies” or “I can tell you love music.”  Or both.  I guess the film brings to mind other films or pieces of music.  The people who talk to me about it seem to have an appreciation for films, but I think there’s an entirely different sector. It’s hard for me to guess how people who aren’t familiar with what I’m drawing from–or ripping off–would think of my movie.
DP: I read that your film is an expansion of your thesis project at Harvard, but were you determined that your first feature had to be about your two passions, or were you just thinking that somewhere along the line you’d make a film that incorporated both?
DC: It was more the latter.  There were a lot of movies I wanted to make and some will involve music as heavily as this one does.  At the time I happened to be obsessed with musicals, particularly modest thirties and forties Hollywood musicals, but also the big, glossy Stanley Donen-Gene Kelly movies of the fifties. They all worked their way into my movie. I wanted to do my own take on that style of music.  But even non-musicals wound their way into my first movie.  I’ve been such a big movie watcher for awhile, so even if I wanted to avoid those influences I couldn’t.
DP: Of your influences on the film, start with John Cassavetes.
DC: The summer when I was first writing the script, I watched Shadows, Faces, Opening Night, and every one I could get my hands on, again and again.  I’d watched Cassavetes films before but then I became obsessive about them, particularly Faces, because of their electricity and pulsating energy.  They seemed to be totally improvised, although a lot of was carefully scripted.  Movies like Shadows are jazzy movies—I don’t mean musically, but their sense of spontaneity.  They were movies of that time, and I tried to make a movie about my time but within that idiom.
DP: When you make a film about jazz, do you feel you have to make a film with a jazzy, rhythmic style?
DC: I guess it’s a slippery slope. There are some jazz films that treat jazz like a sacred cow and don’t really get the anarchic energy of the music.  The best jazz films are those where the music was new at the time or those where you sensed the filmmakers felt it was new– like how Ricky Leacock shot Jazz Dance or After Hours with Coleman Hawkins. Jam session shorts from the mid-fifties and early sixties.  Or back in the early thirties when sound was being introduced to film.  These movies that were shot at pivotal times in jazz history and you feel you’re watching a form define itself.  That’s why I like old musicals because they were experimenting their way toward the finalized version of the form.  Cassavetes was constantly reinventing himself, so every movie he made felt like an event.
DP: I would think Band of Outsiders by Jean-Luc Godard, in which characters burst into song, is a major influence on this film. You’re one of the few young people who watches Godard.
DC: I know. I adore Band of Outsiders. For my money the best musical number ever filmed is Anna Karina’s number in Godard’s Pierrot le Fou, when she sings with the dead body in the room while making the guy breakfast.  I kind of ripped it off in my movie.  That’s the epitome of what a musical number can be—an effortless overflowing from mundane real life to movieland.  Godard understood that better than anyone, so that’s why he’s my all-time favorite filmmaker.  People who say they love Godard mean the Godard of the sixties but I love his later stuff too.  He still makes great films and is the best director who ever lived to my mind.
DP: Godard’s alienation technique, where you know you’re watching a movie, obviously influenced your movie.
DC: What’s interesting is that while there is that alienation, his best movies are very emotional and humanist and beautiful.  But some people can’t get past the formal blocks.
DP: Your film is in black-and-white but I was reminded of Jacques Demy’s musicals that are in lavish color.
DC: Except for Lola, which I love. I also love The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort.   Umbrellas is totally different.  It is a grand, sweeping musical about totally ordinary people who lead totally ordinary lives, and nothing really major happens on a melodramatic scale, and the romance doesn’t work out at the end.  I cried the first time I saw it.  I think it is one of the most overwhelming movies to me, although there’s not much of a plot and nothing we haven’t seen before on a narrative level, but Demy makes it new.  It has a candy-colored look that I love, and obviously I was going for something different visually in my movie.  But musically, that was the score I had my composer Justin Hurwitz listen to the most.  Everything that Michel Legrand ever wrote.  Score-wise that was the Holy Grail for me.
DP: You have a scene in which Madeleine walks through the streets singing.  Were you thrown when Once came out with a similar scene?
DC: I’d been shooting for a year and a half when Once came out.  I liked it but got worried that people would think I was taking from it.  But Once is very different in that they kept it realistic through and through.  I was sure I wanted to make a musical in the old sense of the term with the ridiculous notion that people burst into song with an orchestra out of nowhere accompanying them.   When I’d walk around I’d see a location and think it would be perfect for a musical number.
DP: One of the really underrated musicals is Oliver, which has music integrated into dialogue.
DC: I love Oliver.  I haven’t seen it since I was a kid, but I remember street venders singing.  I also love Love Me Tonight, where we see different people singing “Isn’t It Romantic?” and the number even travels out of the city, traversing a whole world and you feel the exuberance.
DP: Most people growing up don’t watch those old movies anymore. So did you watch them by yourself?
DC: Some of them.  A lot of them I was introduced to in class at Harvard or the school’s film archives or by renting as many DVDs as I could.  When I was younger, I pored over as many movies as I could, especially in the summers that I didn’t have much else to do.    I was an uninformed film fanatic until about high school, but I always knew I wanted to make movies and prized watching movies over any other activity.  My parents liked movies, but I’d say in my immediate circle I am the anomaly.
DP: Was your father Bernard involved with music?
DC: Not professionally. He still plays guitar and writes music in his spare time, but he’s a mathematician.  He teaches at Princeton and that’s where I grew up.  In high school I became very immersed in music, in drumming in particular.  Jazz drumming became a huge passion of mine and I spent a lot of time playing and listening to old records.  At Harvard, I thought I was going to do English and then I discovered the film program they had there.  It was a small, documentary-heavy film department. After three years I found this project and worked my way back to the music world through film.
DP: Were you a prize pupil or were you unknown?
DC: I was probably one of the unknowns.  But the faculty was very supportive, especially Robb Moss, who was my adviser on the movie.   As soon as I communicated my ideas for the film he became passionate about it and went way beyond what an adviser usually does in terms of giving his time and help.  He also put me in touch with people who could help me and became a huge support system unto himself to give the project life.
DP: In planning out a career, many filmmakers decide that their first film will be a horror film.  But did you think that you’d expand your musical short into your first feature film?
DC: Yeah.  Even when I began making it as a thesis film, in the back of my head I wanted it to be my first feature film.  I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d do that.  There was no decisive moment when it switched from being a thesis film to a feature, but I kept working on it for a couple of months after graduating.  It just took on a life of its own and started growing and I took off time from school.  It became a 2½-year process as it reinvented itself as it went along.  I had the simple idea to do a musical about real life and people, paying attention to the world around me and filming it as though it were a documentary.  So I wrote a loose but conventional script, but none of the actors saw that script so we tried to recast the movie around them and their worlds.  That led the film around detours and into certain areas I didn’t expect.
DP: After four years of making the film did you say that you wished you knew something four years before?
DC: There was nothing specific but I learned a lot during the making of the film, especially dealing with the actors.  Everyone needed a different approach.  It took some trial and error over a few months and a lot of shooting to figure out what approach worked best with each actor.  Desiree Garcia never acted before but she responded like a professional actress.  She liked a sense of control.  She liked for me to describe what I perceived to be the emotional trajectory of her scenes.  I talked to her in textual terms about what the scenes actually meant, and then she interpreted it on her own.  Jason Palmer hadn’t acted before so approached acting as he did being a musician.  He liked being given a situation and revolving it around his personality. Sandha Khin had done theater acting but not film acting, and wasn’t familiar with the kind of improvisation we were doing.  It took a few shoots before everyone got it down. I shot some initial footage knowing it wouldn’t be in the final movie, but wanting to get the ball rolling.  Once we got the ball rolling, things clicked and our shoots became progressively easier.
DP: What was the most memorable thing about the shoot?
DC: My favorite scene is the “Love in the Fall” number at the party and the footage of the first time we shot it was accidentally destroyed by the lab! That’s memorable. So we had to shoot the entire number all over again.
DP: Did your actors age in the four years?
DC: They did, but it was mostly haircuts that I had to negotiate.  Desiree’s hair length changes dramatically but that could be attributed to the passage of time within the film.  Luckily nothing was too noticeable and it didn’t affect continuity.
DP: I’m not sure you had dailies, but did the three actors look at footage?
DC: We shot off and on and haphazardly, I was editing as we were going, which helped us know what was missing, what emotions had to come across more clearly.  I showed certain scenes to them, but for the most part I didn’t show them footage.  I think if they’d asked I would have shown them.  They had their own lives going on, whether it was Jason playing his trumpet or Desiree going after her PHd.  So when we weren’t shooting, they weren’t thinking of the movie.  We never had a strict shooting schedule, it was just people living their lives and I’d ask if they had a couple of hours free so I could film them.  That’s how we did it over two years.  The film never felt finished.
DP: I assume that you didn’t throw a rap party because your two lead actresses never met until the premiere at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
DC: By the time filming was done my actresses had moved to the far corners of the world and Jason was on tour.  I never realized they hadn’t met until they were in the same room and I thought, “Hey, I don’t think you’ve ever met.”
DP: Desiree Garcia did her PHd. on Hollywood musicals?
DC: Yeah, that’s how we clicked.  We had a mutual friend who is a tap dance teacher in Boston.  I’d been talking to her about trying to find dancers for the film and she said that I should meet Desiree because she was interested in that period of musicals and also dances. She put us together.
DP: Did you have an auditioning process?
DC: Sandha went through the most traditional auditioning.  I auditioned her with the guy who plays the policeman and the girl who plays his daughter.  That scene kind of came out of auditions.  Desiree and Jason were spur of the moment.  I saw them and they immediately fit my sense of who Guy and Madeline were.  I did loose, improvised scenes with them that had nothing to do with the script.  I wanted to see how they responded to a camera and to direction and to each other. Mainly it was to confirm my suspicions that they were right for the parts.
DP: In person I see that Sandha is much taller than Desiree but a lot of people told me that they thought Desiree and Sandha were the same actress.
DC: Yeah, I know.  It’s funny that in person they look much different but on screen they have a similar look—which I knew and found interesting.  Madeline ends up going out with a guy who looks like Guy.  It’s not uncommon that you latch on to someone who resembles the person you are attracted to.
DP:  Desiree and Sandha have the same lips.  So does the policeman’s teenage daughter.
DC: I didn’t realize that.  That’s interesting.  Maybe that’s the kind of face I like on screen.
DP: I read in the production notes that you saw Jason play his trumpet at a club and immediately went up to him and offered him the role.   If he didn’t work out were you prepared to get rid of him?
DC: When I first went up to him, I had the feeling he wasn’t going to email me back about my thesis movie. He was sort of reserved and shy and in his own head space.  I almost felt like a sleaze pitching my movie to him.  When he did email me I was so excited.  I was prepared to replace Jason or Desiree if they didn’t click but it was mainly me hoping they’d respond to my movie because I knew from the get-go that I wanted them.
DP: You made a drastic decision changing your lead from a drummer to a trumpet player.  You’re a drummer so was it originally more autobiographical?
DC: The basic love story wasn’t autobiographical but everything in-between—his musical background and life—was certainly drawn from my own experiences.  But that was in the script stage and I always knew that it would change and the film would be about whoever played that role.  That’s why it was so hard to find someone to play that role.  Jason was the last person we cast.  We spent almost have a year looking.  I still would like to make a movie about a drummer.
DP: What was the difference between a drummer and trumpet player?
DC: The interesting thing about drummers, and what this script was originally about, was that they’re never frontmen, they’re sidemen.  And there’s a totally different spin.  You’re the guy in the shadows driving the whole thing forward.  When Jason came on board, Guy became more the familiar romantic frontman musician, But he has a shyness that makes him a little less familiar, because he’s not a showman unless he’s on stage with a trumpet.  So that I found interesting.
DP: When the chips are down and Guy tries to win back Madeline before the clock runs out, he plays the trumpet for her rather than talking to her.
DC: That scene wasn’t in the original script. It came about because of Jason.
DP: Otherwise in that scene, Guy would have to drag a full set of drums into Madeline’s apartment instead of just a trumpet  That scene works as it is because your film seems to be about how these people communicate through music.  But if that scene hadn’t come about unexpectedly, would your film still be about that?
DC: I think it would still be about that.  But that scene we stumbled upon crystallizes that idea in a more precise way.
DP: Does Guy deserve to get Madeline back?
DC: He made a mistake and I think he deserves to get her back. Bu tactually… maybe she’d clearly be in the right not to go back with him.  I don’t know.  I think they’re right for each other, but I’m not sure it will last.  In terms of the moment, they seem right for each other. I guess it depends on what the audience thinks. I’m not the one to ask.
DP: Finally, I was glad that Desiree still had LPs rather than CDs.  That seemed fitting.
DC: Of course.  This is a movie about LPs and 16mm, a camera over the shoulder and no lights or crew.  It’s an old-fashioned movie.

Friday, February 20, 2015

It Happened One Oscar Night Eighty Years Ago

It Happened One Night Is Playing in Theaters

It Happened One Oscar Night Eighty Years Ago

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 2/19/15)

By Danny Peary
Considering the title of Frank Capra’s classic, it seems odd that this weekend the IFC Center will be showing It Happened One Night at 11 a.m. in the morning.  But no matter, it’s Oscar weekend and this 105-minute, black-and-white comedy gem captured all the major awards for 1934 on February 27, 1935 at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles.  So see it after breakfast even if you have to hitch a ride, as Clark Gable (who was loaned to Columbia Pictures as punishment) and Claudette Colbert do unforgettably in the film. Incidentally, Colbert, a splendid actress who is too often forgotten today, had to be persuaded to get off a train bound for New York to collect her statue.  No true movie fan should have to be persuaded to see this marvelous film whenever it plays on the big screen, but let me reprint what I wrote about it thirty years ago inGuide for the Film Fanatic:
“Irresponsible heiress Claudette Colbert (as Ellie Andrews) runs away from home after her father (Walter Connolly) annuls her marriage to a no-account aviator playboy.  She wants to get back to the playboy and becomes the object of a nationwide search.  She ends up on a bus with boozy, hardboiled reporter Clark Gable (as Peter Warne).  He says he won’t turn her in, as long as he can get an exclusive on her story–that will get him his job back at the paper that fired him.  On their journey they do a lot of squabbling, but fall in love.  Super Frank Capra comedy was supposed to be a minor picture but wound up as the first picture to win all five major Oscars: Best Picture (a rarity for a comedy), Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay (by Robert Riskin).  Many critics regard it as the first screwball comedy, but the humor is surprisingly controlled.  It comes naturally from the two actors, whose characters are wild only at the beginning.  What makes the film so special is that it is composed ofsmall moments–Gable demonstrating hitching techniques for Colbert (who realizes a pretty leg is better than a thumb); Gable teaching Colbert how to dunk donuts properly; Gable carrying Colbert across a stream and arguing with her about the definition of a piggy back ride; the motel scene (Gable didn’t wear an undershirt, causing sales to decline nationwide) in which Colbert and Gable sleep on opposite sides of a hanging blanket–the “Walls of Jericho” will come tumbling down in the end.  Weirdest scene has Gable pretending to be a mobster to scare off Roscoe Karns so he won’t blab about Colbert’s whereabouts–Gable actually threatens to harm his children.  From Samuel Hopkins Adams’ story “Night Bus,” which provided the title. Also with Jameson Thomas (as the aviator), Alan Hale, Ward Bond.”  Good news is that the IFC Center is showing a new print that was made from a digitally-restored master film copy.  It was restored frame-by-frame from the original negative in 2013 of the pre-production-code film that Colbert thought back in 1934 was “the worst picture in the world”–until she took home (or to New York) her only Academy Award this week eighty years ago.

Friday, February 13, 2015

See the Vain Die Ugly in Jane Clark's "Crazy Bitches"


See the Vain Die Ugly in Jane Clark's Crazy Bitches

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 2/11/15)

By Danny Peary
Jane Clark
Jane Clark
It is a fertile time for horror films directed by women. Australian Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook and Iranian Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night have become cult hits and have had long theatrical runs, including at the IFC Center in New York.  Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon, a creepy body-snatcher film I can’t stop thinking about, was one of many that recently played on VOD.  Jessica Cameron, Tonjia Atomic, and other determined female directors have been churning out micro-budget pictures that play at horror festivals (some only for women directors) or stream online, and have built up large fan bases.  Now joining the crowd is Jane Clark, who is best known for her award-winning shorts and a striking 2013 non-horror feature starring Lukas Haas, Meth Head.  Her new low-budget slasher comedy, with the inviting title of Crazy Bitches,debuts Friday on VOD and numerous web sites.  If 50 Shades of Greyturns out not to be the ideal Valentine’s Day film for you and your honey, Clark’s take on twisted love might be the perfect antidote.
It’s 2015, but characters in horror movies still don’t know better than to spend their holidays in isolated cabins, including ones where ghastly murders have taken place and the killer is still on the loose. In defense of Clark’s crazy bitches who hold a reunion at a ranch far away from civilization, they don’t learn about the past murders until they’ve already unpacked and are thinking about alcohol and sex–and they don’t realize that prior to their arrival, one of them, the sex-crazed Viviana (Candis Cayne, the first transgendered actress to play a starring role on a network TV series, Dirty Sexy Money) met a gruesome fate in the opening scene of the movie.
So Taylor (Samantha Colburn), seductive lesbian Cassie (Cathy DeBuono), Minnie (Liz McGeever), Alice (Victoria Profeta)–who has learned her husband has been sleeping around–Belinda (Guinevere Turner), Dorri (Nayo Wallace), Princess (Mary Jane Wells), and token catty gay guy BJ (Andy Gala) settle in, as Clark writes in her synopsis, “for several days of gossip, girl time and grub.  They start off where they always do, old rivalries in place, extreme vanity covering great insecurities, but a true love for each other is underneath the bickering, sniping, and sassing.”  But when girls disappear or turn up dead, the survivors “turn on each other, accusing one another of jealousy, chemical imbalance and murder.  The accusations are improbable, sort of, but could one of them have actually done it?  The weekend turns into a race against death.  Who will make it out alive?”  I became curious about Crazy Bitches when I saw Jane Clark’s witty, clever video asking for funding for her movie.  I was pleased to be able to do the following interview with the amicable director-writer-producer only a month later, in time for her film’s premiere.
Danny Peary: You live in Los Angeles but have been a programmer and board member for the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  Are you from either place?
Jane Clark: I grew up in Delaware but spent my summers in Woods Hole as a kid. The Woods Hole Film Festival was the first festival I played at with my first short film, Dog Gone, and from there I developed a friendship with the program director, Judy Laster, and a fondness for what is a really lovely and fun festival. Unfortunately, I had to step down from the board recently because of time constraints.
DP: What was your background that led you into acting and then writing, directing, and producing?
JC: My background is fairly eclectic. I was one of those kids that didn’t know what they wanted to do. My mother wanted me to be a psychologist because she thought I had good intuition about and empathy for people. My parents were academics and really expected the same from me, but to their credit they also were very into the arts so I was raised on theater, musicals, opera–we went to art museums and concert halls. I studied classical piano, played the sax in all three bands in school, and on my down time liked to sketch and read. I was great in creative writing. They were striving to make me a well-balanced individual, which I think they accomplished, but it also backfired on them because I found myself really drawn to be a creator. I started with acting and painting, but when I tried my hand at filmmaking I realized all the disciplines I enjoyed were compacted into this one career–writing, acting, frame, color, texture, music, tempo–all of it are elements to a good film. Then add to that the good intuition and empathy that my mother recognized early on andvoila!
DP: For those of us who watched the late 1990s television series, Chicago Hope, would we have been familiar with your recurring character back then?
JC: It wasn’t anything too glamorous. I was a nurse. They never gave my character the same name because I think that would have required giving me a contract, but they liked me and knew they could rely on me to do the job. I ended up doing about 14 episodes over two years. Every now and then someone thinks they recognize me from it, but you’d have to have been a really loyal fan for that to be the case.
DP: At the time you were acting on television and seemingly having a breakthrough, were you thinking of making movies?
JC: That’s the irony of Chicago Hope. It was a great gig because I loved being on that big set and the paycheck was decent. I did initially think that it could lead to something bigger. When it became evident the producers weren’t inclined to give me anything more involved, I wrote an episode with an actress who played another of the other recurring nurses. We worked ourselves into small but significant roles in the hope we would inspire the writers to do the same, but it never happened. I think that’s when I started really getting frustrated with the business. Then the show ended, and I just knew I had to do something more.
DP: Did you lose an interest in acting, even in your own films, or think it would be too hard to write parts for yourself and act and direct at the same time?
JC: Acting is a craft and you operate to a degree with an awareness of the technical aspects of the job. But to be truly present for the people you are acting with, and to deliver as truthful a performance as possible, you also need to be able to work at a certain level of unconsciousness. At least that is how I do my best work. Directing requires an objective eye. You need to be an observer to the actor’s work so you can guide them if and when they need it.  I think my job as a director is to provide a safe and trusting place for an actor to take chances. They need to trust that I am there for them 100 percent so when I asked them for something, they know it’s a well-considered request. For me, the two skills, acting and directing, don’t mesh at the same time. I wouldn’t say I’d never act in my own films, but if I did it would be in a small role in a simple scene. I’d certainly be happy to act in someone else’s film though!
DP: Do you think you could have made Meth Head and Crazy Bitches right off the bat or did you need to learn to make features by making your shorts first?
JC: I was attached to direct a feature before I had produced or directed anything. And we came close to getting it funded. We had a star attached, the budget was $1M, and we had several large companies interested. It fell apart–long story–but it was really a lucky thing. Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I could have pulled it off at the level that I expect from myself. When it fell apart, I took a step back, acknowledged that making features was really something I wanted to take a stab at, and then set about teaching myself what I needed to know as a producer and as a director to make sure I had the confidence and knowledge to make my first feature a good one.
DP: Did your shorts have common themes and similar amounts of drama and humor, or did you want to try completely different films each time?
JC: They are each different and similar at the same time. My through line is my love of character–they are all driven by character and relationships. And each script has true story at the core of it, as well as humor–some more, some less–with the exception of The Touch, which is serious and sad. But each is different in the way they look visually and in the type of story I’m telling. I’ve done everything from films dealing with social issues to family films to romantic period dramas.
DP: So it was always your goal to make feature films.  I think almost every short filmmaker has that as a goal, but because you are writing a book about making short films, my guess is that you love the form and wouldn’t mind continuing to make shorts.
JC: It has always been my goal to make features for many reasons, not the least of which is that I hope I make a living at this directing thing! I do, however, think shorts are a great learning tool, a calling card for people to see what you are capable of, and in their own right quite fun and challenging. My book sprang from the panels I have done over the years at seminars. I’ve sat on panels with people who have been much more experienced and much higher up the ladder. And I’ve sat in audiences and listened to those same people. And what became apparent is that as esteemed as those other producers and filmmakers are, they are so far removed from the realities of most of the people attending the seminars that they really couldn’t offer specific help. But I could. Most of the people attending those seminars hadn’t made one film yet. Or perhaps they had made a short, but it hadn’t turned out so well. So I thought that since I couldn’t get to every panel and talk to every aspiring filmmaker, I would put it all down and offer my knowledge in a more accessible way. The book works just as well for making a feature, because I never saw short films as being less. Everything I learned to do to make a good short film applies to my feature work as well.
DP: Did you give yourself permission to make Crazy Bitches, a loony film about female characters, because you had already made an intense film about male characters, Meth Head?
JC: I really didn’t think about gender with Meth Head except that I wanted to make sure meth addiction was portrayed honestly and felt strongly that meant one of the addicts needed to be a woman. But the decision to make the film was primarily sparked by need. I had lost a family member to meth at about the time my actor friend, John W. McLaughlin, came back into my life and told me he had dropped out because he had become addicted to the drug. He told me really the bookends of his story, how he got in and how he got out, and I was stunned by even those limited details. The fact that two people that I loved were struck down by this drug–one made it out and one didn’t, but both paid a great price–broke my heart. Still, I didn’t think of putting it to film until I was sitting at the awards show at Sundance, frustrated I wasn’t there with a film of my own. I met a woman director there who had won an award and she had made her feature film for $150K and some grants. I thought, dammit! That’s what I have to do, figure out a film I can make for a controlled budget, but about something I can care about, something that would be worth the sacrifices. The idea of Meth Head popped in my head, and I texted John right then and said, “When I get home we need to talk. If you are willing to share your story with me, I think we can make a really powerful movie.” [John W. McLaughlin appeared in Meth Head and Crazy Bitches.]
DP: For decades females didn’t make horror films–and for the most part didn’t see them either.  Why do you think there are suddenly many women making really good horror movies, from The Babadook to Honeymoon to A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night?
JC: And Crazy Bitches, I hope. I’m not sure, truthfully, but I hope it translates into an easier time for women getting the films financed and distributed in the future.  I think there is a difference in films made by women whether horror or any other genre. There is no getting around the reality that men and women are different in many ways, filmmaker or not. And since that is the reality, then of course we often have a different approach to storytelling. Not any better, not any worse, just different. And perhaps, because the woman’s voice hasn’t been heard much it feels fresh right now. Eventually, when women have gained parity in the industry the differences will just be about the artist and not their gender.
DP: Do you like the “cabin in the woods” subgenre or did it serve your purpose?
JC: It served my purpose, but I do like it. I tend to enjoy horror films that keep me suspended in tension and “cabin in the woods” allows for that automatically because there is no easy escape.
DP: Of course, it reminded me of all those cabin in the wilderness movies, but also slasher films in which a secret killer wants revenge on young people, and The Descent, because there are only females who are isolated and in trouble.  Were there any horror films that influenced you?
JC: Well Friday the 13th is indelible, but partly because I saw it for the first time on a date. A guy asked me to come over and watch a movie, and that was the movie. Getting scared in a dark room and being alone with a cute guy is part of the memory. The Descent is pretty awesome. I think somewhere along the line, I got caught up in the serious actor thing and stopped watching scary movies for awhile, so my education is stunted and I tend to go back to old school slasher movies and films like The Omen. Specifically to Crazy Bitches, the other film that influenced me wasn’t a horror movie. It wasBridesmaids. Since I am primarily focused on the girls and who they are to each other and within themselves, the horror acts as a fun backdrop but it’s the humor that cements it.
DP: In the production notes you say the genesis of Crazy Bitches was a close friend saying something insensitive to you in order to boost her own ego.  How did the idea from the film start with that and expand?
JC: I started thinking about what she said and why she said it. The statement sounded vain, but under it was this huge insecurity. I knew her well enough to understand that. The idea that vanity is really the flip side of insecurity and that those two things are contained in one person gave me the start to the shades of gray I’m always interested in. That expanded out to this idea that we as human beings are very quick to judge others by first impressions, but the truth is that if you take the time to really know someone you will find out they are so much more than what you assumed–or perhaps not even close to what you assumed.  The reality is any judgment we lay on someone at first sight is determined as much by their surface appearance and behavior as by our own feelings about ourselves.
DP: While watching your film I was thinking of the four leads in Girls being part of a group (probably with the male leads) that goes to a cabin in the woods and then everyone starts saying insensitive, bitchy things to each other as they always do…and then dealing with somebody trying to kill them off.   Is that something similar to your concept of this film?  I ask half in jest but as with your characters, those four characters in Girls are insufferable and insensitive and say the worst things to deflate each other but somehow…we get to like them…
JC: Crazy Bitches was written before Girls appeared. I’ve never actually seen the show. But from what I understand, they try to strip the relationships down to an honest truth–girls can be not so nice to each other at times. But here’s the thing. They actually care about each other. At least in Crazy Bitches, they might say things that are insensitive and sometimes they don’t mean to hurt and sometimes they do, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they absolutely love each other.
DP: I would think the hardest thing about making your movie is tone, because it’s a wild ride and often over the top but you do insert some seriousness into it.
JC: Yes, tone is always tricky. But the mantra to the actors was “keep it real.” The humor and pathos being mixed would never work unless the actors embodied their characters truthfully and fully. You walk the line a little bit when it’s appropriate, but if they were playing over-the-top, you’d never buy the characters as real people, and the more serious stuff wouldn’t work. The piece would feel uneven. Instead, because the actors are playing the truth of each moment, the over-the-top moments work because they come from the circumstances that they find themselves in.
DP: I said before that the young women in your movie are a bit hard to like at first–it’s as if they are the only ones who can tolerate each other–but talk about the difficulty of getting us to like your characters and then killing them off?
JC: Because the film, for me, speaks to the damage that words can do, from the thoughtless to the heartless, these women had to be real and if they are real, then you have to feel at least empathy for them. And then they have to die. Because this is after all a horror film! But I liked that challenge and I think it makes the film a more interesting journey because of it.
DP: I believe the deaths viewers will have the hardest time dealing with is of two women who just before they are killed had a conversation where they left vanity behind and were very open about their vulnerabilities to each other–showing tremendous progress in overcoming damage in their lives.  Was this something you considered?
JC: My goal was always to make you care about the people who are dying and that means you have to know them a little deeper than on the surface. And I think the contradictions within the scenes and scene-by-scene help with that. I also really like the contradictions. I like humor mixed into a sensitive conversation or anger pressed up against compassion. I like it because that is really true to life. I’ve used it in other films, but I pushed it more in this film than I have before. I think the idea that it was a horror film gave me more liberty to play with the tone, as you mentioned before.
DP: Talk about your cast, including Guinevere Turner, who was terrific in the groundbreaking Fish, and co-wrote with Mary Harron, American Psycho and The Notorious Bettie Page.
JC: Guinevere is awesome. We met at a party. She insisted that I give her a role and thankfully she is a hard person to say no to. I love my entire cast and they each brought their own intelligence and ideas to the characters. Part of my greatest joy in directing is the time I spend both in rehearsal and on the set, learning to understand the actors and finding a way to give each one what they need to do their best work.
DP:  I would think that since you wanted friction between the young women, you’d push a bunch of actresses who didn’t know each other into a close space so the tension between them was real.  But did they know each other?
JC: Actually, I think it’s just the opposite–actors can “act” tension or annoyance, but the bond between people is more of an organic thing. For instance, in Meth Head, Lukas Haas and Wilson Cruz were friends and had worked together as kids, so finding a true affection for each other was easy because it was real–which was especially helpful because Lukas is straight.  With Crazy Bitches, I originally wrote each role for someone I knew. Partly because selfishly I thought it would be fun to work with a bunch of friends. And partly because I was counting on everyone knowing each other, or at least I assumed if they were friends of mine, they would all get along. The idea that all the actors really like each other is particularly important because the characters love each other despite their faults. In the end, not everyone I wrote for was free when we were ready to shoot so I did bring in new people. That made rehearsal even more valuable as it gave them all time to get to know each other a bit. A few of them went out socially beforehand as well to facilitate that camaraderie.
DP: Were there auditions and script readings or was everything too rushed to do that?
JC: Most of the actors were cast well before we shot. But I had to recast four key roles at the last minute, which for me was a potential nightmare. I had one day of auditions set up to accomplish the impossible, and I was ready to push the film back if I couldn’t pull it off.  I never leave the level of talent up for grabs, and I am incredibly discerning about my choices, so it was a lucky stroke of fate when one-by-one the right person walked in for each unfilled role. Truthfully, I couldn’t believe it. Three days later we were doing a table read, and the next day we kicked into a week of rehearsals.
I don’t ever work without rehearsals because the reality is that once we are shooting, it is fast and furious. We blocked out most of the scenes ahead of time and then talked about intention and how each of the characters relates in the scene at hand. I also had conversations with the actors to discuss their own motivations, backstory, etc. After blocking and conversation, we’d run the scene until we had worked out the kinks. We also used that time to do some improv, which gleaned a few comedic gems. With all of that under the skin, we could show up on the day and not spend valuable shooting time working things out off camera.
DP: Usually, a writer-director will say she or he is part of every character.  I’m going to guess that you know all these women very well but none of them are you.
JC: Actually, some are less of me and more based on people I know. That said, Princess and Taylor are the closest to me. It may seem counter-intuitive because they are very different people, but we’re all complex and these two women represent my duality.
DP: Taylor is supposedly a virgin who is afraid of sex, with men or women. Usually virgins survive in slasher movies because they have their wits about them, but Taylor is clearly vulnerable.  Princess is super smart yet she has the stupidest name and she is stupid in wanting sex and more sex with imbecile ranch hand Gareth [Blake Berris], putting herself in danger.  Does sex neutralize intelligence?
JC: No. Insecurity does. Princess doesn’t have sex with Gareth because she’s horny (though he is awfully cute.) She is insecure about her physical appeal. Getting Gareth’s attention and turning him on (albeit on a short-term basis) reassures her that she is an attractive individual. Because it isn’t real however, every time she sleeps with a guy and he moves on, her low self-worth is re-activated and she needs to repeat the action. That makes her appear as if she’s some confident sexed-up being, but she’s actually just the opposite. Now Viviana is truly a powerfully sexual woman.
DP: I thought it was interesting that the most tension between characters is between gay BJ and lesbian Cassie.  Does he feel threatened by her, and not just physically?
JC: I’m not sure he feels threatened by her physically, truthfully. He’s like a smart and feisty little dog that thinks he can challenge the big German Shepard. It is more his ego that is threatened. Every time he tries to take charge, Cassie steps in and everyone follows her instead. He also, over the course of the film, starts to feel like his friendship with his BFF, Minnie, is threatened. At the same time BJ and Cassie do have a common bond in that they both came out when that was a harder thing to do, and at times, BJ actually rises to Cassie’s defense. No relationship is without jealousy, envy, and resentment even when it exists because of love and commonality.
DP: In typical cabin in the woods-wilderness movies, almost all the guys and the female bimbos think about sex all the time. In your film Cassie and Gareth are the two who try to seduce every woman.  Talk about that and whether you were trying to draw a parallel between them, at least before she rethinks her position in a scene with Minnie.
JC: I liked the parallels because I like stripping away the difference between gay and straight.
DP: Talk about directing group scenes and intimate two-character scenes.  Which do you prefer?
JC: They each have their beauty. I couldn’t pick one over the other. Two person scenes are quiet intimate experiences, which can be really special. And I will say the more people in the scene the more difficult the job, because I still need to be guiding each of those people to their best work. It compounds when you add the fact that I do a two-camera shoot, in which case I’m also dealing with two monitors and two different views. But that challenge, when executed well, is also part of the thrill.
DP: What was the reaction to your film at the recent Desperado LGBT Film Festival in Phoenix?
JC: We had so much fun! We’ve played about 20 events this past fall and summer, and I’ve made it to about 10 of those. Desperado was our last US festival and the audience was terrific. Most stayed for the Q&A and there was a line of people who wanted to jump in on photos so it was a full night!
DP: I’m sure there was a big laugh each time Cassie complains, “Fuckin’ straight girls!”
JC: That always gets a laugh, straight/gay, men/women, doesn’t matter.
DP: Talk about the making of this film because I know there were a lot of difficulties because of time and location.
JC: It was tough. I’m lucky I had low-budget boot camp making Elena Undone [which Clark produced in 2010 for writer-director Nicole Conn] and Meth Head because I wouldn’t have made it through otherwise. There is a real skill in making limited funding and 15 days of shooting work. We started by shooting six nights in a row because I had to be out of the house before the owner returned from a trip, which started the production in a challenging way. It was blistering hot, which was not only physically uncomfortable for everyone, but it was stressful because the whole film was built around rain and thunderstorms. We stood in horse manure for a couple of hours for one scene. That was fun. We had blood gag knives that didn’t work, equipment that was defective, and a makeup trailer that lost electricity in the first hour. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. It could easily have blown up on me if the crew had rebelled, but no one did. We really became a team in that all-for-one and one-for-all kind of way.
DP: Talk about working with your cinematographer, Cecilia Guerrero–again.
JC: I adore her. She was my second camera on Meth Head and we got to know each other a bit as artists on that film. She had a great eye for detail and a great spirit as well. I’ve had some talented DPs over the years, but ours was the easiest relationship I’ve ever developed with one. We talked a lot about the mood and the lighting and the idea of creating dark corners where scary things could be hiding, which she did beautifully. We spent a lot of time in the days leading up to the shoot talking through my diagrams (I do shot lists and diagrams but not storyboards) and bringing her ideas to my vision. We actually stayed in an RV on the property the first six days so we could have more time to work each afternoon before the shooting day started.
DP: I like the music, including “Crimson and Clover” by someone who sounds a little like Susannah Hoffs.  How did you want to use your soundtrack?
JC: I think music can either enhance a film or cause the audience to bump out, and it’s a tricky process finding the right material and using it well. I have gotten a lot of compliments on both the Crazy Bitches and Meth Head soundtracks, so I think I do pretty well in my choices. I have a music supervisor, Jennifer Corday, who is connected with great, fresh talent. I also tapped friends to give me music, and I had some musicians that came through referrals. The “Crimson & Clover” track was a fluke. On little films like this you really can’t afford a song like that. I was looking only for temp music for that scene so that I could cut the scene. But as my composer likes to say, I fell into “temp love.” I couldn’t see the scene without it. So I got the publishing rights then asked my friend Edith Crash to work with me on a rendition that would go with the cut. My composer, Charlton Pettus, is also a music producer so he came on to meld the pieces into a beautiful whole.
DP: Is there a point where we’re supposed to solve the mystery about the identity of the killer or killers, or is that impossible until “the reveal” at the end?  Or even impossible after that because you are not revealing everything?
JC: Ha! No, I’m not revealing everything. Some things you’ll just have to wait to find out in Crazier Bitches! There are clues all the way through, though. It’s pretty dense material and it goes fast. A lot of the clues are subtle, but some people have gotten at least part of it. I’ve been told by a few fans who have gone to several different festivals that they actually liked it better on repeat viewing because once you know who did it, you could stop figuring and start noticing much more of the detail.
DP: I’d correct them by saying “you know one person who did it.”  So the open ending will be leading to Crazier Bitchesand Craziest Bitches?
JC: With any luck and a serious investor, yes! I’ve got the concept for Crazier Bitches and a business plan for both films, and I’d like finance both films together and shoot them back-to-back.
DP: Where does this film fit into your career as a whole?
JC: It is my master plan to always be learning and growing and challenging myself. And to never fall into sameness. So jumping from the intensity of Meth Head to the insanity of Crazy Bitches is a great start.  I admit I have gotten slightly hooked on horror and, besides completing my Bitches trilogy, I have written and am dying to make a ghostly love story and I am writing another project for Candis Cayne that is a more serious slasher.  Also I have a detective/serial killer film set up to shoot in Paris as soon as we can find our leads, and I’m interested in writing a biopic.  So while I will probably live a little longer in the horror world, I will also be expanding out to new genres and returning to a few older ones as well.
DP: How and when can people see Crazy Bitches?
JC: On February 13th, we release Crazy Bitches on the Web on sites like iTunes, YouTube, Googleplay, and Vudu; and on VOD on pretty much every cable and satellite TV platform including Time/Warner, Comcast, Charter, DiSH, ATT Uverse, and Verizon FiOS. The DVD and Blu-ray will come out on April 1, and we expect to launch internationally sometime in early May. If enough fans are interested, we may take Crazy Bitches on a mini-theatrical tour on Halloween. People can keep up with us on the website, Facebook at thecrazybnation, and Twitter at @CrazyBitchesMov.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

On VOD: Ruth Wilson in "A Walk Among the Tombstones"

Playing on VOD

On VOD: Ruth Wilson in A Walk Among the Tombstones

(from Sag Harbor Express Online 1/29/15)

By Danny Peary
Ruth Wilson.
Ruth Wilson.
Until she recently won Golden Globe as the Best Actress in a Drama Series for Showtime’s “The Affair,” Ruth Wilson was known best in the US for her TV work at home in England: “Suburban Shootout,” “Jane Eyre,” and as Alice Morgan opposite Idris Elba in “Luther.”  That didn’t change despite her having the female leads in two major American movies, “A Walk Among the Tombstones” and “The Lone Ranger.”  But now that she’s captured a major award for a critically-acclaimed (and renewed) TV series, her celebrity has increased and there is new curiosity about her two movie performances before she was a drawing card.  ”A Walk Among the Tombstones,” which director-screenwriter Scott Frank adapted from the novel by Lawrence Block, is now being featured on VOD.  Initially, the film’s lone drawing card was Liam Neeson, who plays Matthew Scudder, a troubled former cop who is now a troubled unlicensed P.I. hot on the trail of murderous kidnappers.  But you might want to take a look now because of Wilson, who plays Jo, a police detective who once had a relationship with Scudder.  For the Australian magazine FilmInk, I did a set visit for Scott Frank’s thriller, during which I watched a scene in which Joe and Matt reunite in a bar and did the following brief one-on-one with the very cool actress.
Danny Peary: Is the scene we saw today Jo’s first scene in the movie?
Ruth Wilson: Yeah, it’s the first time she and Matt meet. She doesn’t appear until halfway through the movie, actually. She comes in quite late. They haven’t seen each other for a number of years, and he has left that world because the drink was getting to him, he needed to get out. And in the first half of the movie, he’s being dragged back into the world. And he comes to Jo who he used to work with and had a certain chemistry withyears ago, to get information out of her. To share information, is how they do it. In that time that they’ve not been in each other’s world she’s gone from being a cop on the beat to being a detective, so she has much higher standing. It’s almost an alternative life he could have had. You never know what would happened between them…
DP: Are you wearing the ring of your character?
RW: Yeah, yeah.  The wedding ring isn’t mine, I’m single still.
DP: How did this role come to you?
RW: Scott Frank offered it to me. He’d seen Luther and heard that I worked with John Lee Hancock and Gore Verbinski last year.  Both are friends of Scott’s. Scott was looking for someone and I think John said, “You really got to see this girl.”. So he went to see a film I did last year, and he offered to me.
DP: You’d read the script…
RW: I read the script, of course, and thought the characters are really strong.  Scott’s writing has a real depth of character, the scenes are complex and quite interesting;  it’s not straight-forward, everything is very subtle and underneath the words. He’s an amazing writer, the best, so to work with him as a director is really exciting.
DP: I would say the scene you did today would have been appropriate for audition. Did you audition?
RW: It is, but he offered me the part without an audition. That doesn’t happen very often. You take the jobs that are given to you, and you don’t have to audition for them, it’s much easier.
DP: Did you and Liam know each other before or meet each other on the film?
RW: Liam I met when I came out here and we started filming. I met him on set so we chatted then. Liam had seen a lot of my work, and I know a lot of his friends. We chatted a bit about it. We spoke to Scott a lot about our scenes.
DP: How many more scenes do you have to film?
RW: I’ve just got one more left, tomorrow. In the whole film there are only four scenes. They’re all quite long. What you saw today is our first scene, and there’s three others after it. That’s a four-minute scene. The other ones are very long and kind of detailed. A lot of comes out in those scenes. I have found that quite hard, that you come on to something and you’re drafted and we film these scenes over three weeks, so it’s hard to do.  You drop in, do your bit, out again. Each day feels like the first day, which is always rough. But Liam has made me feel at ease, and Scott has too, so it’s been good.  I usually prefer more rehearsals, I quite like working it through and deciding what you’re going to do and then –”got it!” And then a scene doesn’t take so long to shoot. But in this case we have scenes that are long and we’re finding the way to go. It’s quite a demanding process in that way. But it’s interesting.
DP: In the scene I saw, it takes only about 20 seconds before we know most of their history, which is impressive. Did you talk more about their history off-camera?
RW: Yeah, yeah. We talked about how things could have happened between them. She’s much younger, but she has that relationship with him. They had a real connection, and they understand the world in the same way. Everyone knows stories about him. She’s the one person who can put him on the spot, ask him questions, and say to him, “Why are you here, what are you doing, have you stopped drinking?” She’s the only person in the whole film who does that. She actually questions him.  And that’s why he respects her and wants to be around her.
DP: She’s alone in a bar, which his kind of interesting.
RW: I think she’s happy there; she’s popular in that environment with the boys. I got a sense that my character was from a cop background, the family was in the industry, there was no choice really but for her to go into it. She’s had to fight her way to get to where she is. She’s got a really tough shell, and she’s learned the male banter as well–she’s had to speak in that language in order to survive.
Q: Did you talk about Jo with Scott?
RW: Yeah. Where’d she come from, how is she in this environment–is it through her family?  What’s her relationship with Matt? What happened with him before–anything sexual?  He said, “No, I don’t think so.” He looks out for Jo, she’s his family in a way.
DP: Having read the script, were you and Scott on the save wavelength, or did you say, they definitely had sex and he said the definitely didn’t?
RW: I’m sure they’ve had something in the past, and maybe she not really married, she’s just lying that she is to protect herself.
DP: Your character was originally a guy, so what difference did it make changing it form Joe to Jo?
RW: I think you need a woman in this piece.  It’s incredibly male-dominated, it’s violent, women are getting abused and destroyed. There’s a lot of that in this thriller genre, and it’s good to have a female role in it that represents the other side, actually, the tough woman, the strong woman in that environment. What I think is interesting about changing it to a woman is that she’s had to get through a lot to get to this point in her life, and be that successful in her career. And she makes Matt more 3-dimensional in that he can have this relationship with this woman he’s intrigued by and is also put on the spot by. I think she makes Liam’s character a lot of more interesting.
DP: Jo doesn’t answer Matt when he asks if she’s really married. I think she’s really married, but I’m not sure.
RW: When I first read the script, I asked Scott, “Is she really married?” And he said, “I think so.” It was like maybe, maybe not. If you leave that hanging, no one knows. You should infer what they want from it. I think she is married, She has made that choice. But I quite like the idea of her still being single, because I can’t really imagine her at home with her kids. If she is married her husband must be someone who would have probably known Matt Scudder as well, when he was a cop.  But you never see her husband and there is never a reference to a family–I think that’s often what the police are like, but I still think it could be that she’s lying there!
DP: When Matt asks the married Jo, “Are you happy?,” she replies, “On occasion.” What is she thinking when she says this?
RW: Part of it is: it could’ve been you. I wanted Joe to make Matt feel he’s put on the spot, more than make it so that she’s made the wrong choice in her life. I wanted to make it more of a “I don’t know, what do you think, Matt?” kind of thing. She’s always antagonistic with him, it’s never  I’ll give you my weakness and open myself up to you. It’s always I’m going to fight you.
DP: They’re a potential couple who’ve never had the right timing.
RW: It’s something like that. He was off the rails, it was never going to work out. But there’s always a connection between them, they really enjoy each other’s company and as I said, they understand each other. I think that never goes away. With that chemistry there will always be potential.
DP: Do you have any action scenes?
RW: I would have liked to shoot a gun, but I don’t have any action scenes.  I just have all those talky scenes where I’m speaking all the time.
DP: Since you came late to the project, did you get to do any research for your part?
RW: Yeah, I met with a female detective from Queens.  It was really interesting because she discussed what it’s like to be a woman in that environment and what it’s like to see these things every day and deal with drugs and violence and death. She was saying, “You can really only last in that business for twenty years because you get downed by what you see.”  It’s kind of like how bruised people need to put on a shell for protection, because they’re constantly seeing things people shouldn’t have to see, and dealing with those images. It’s how you define yourself. That’s who you are. There’s nothing else, that’s what you become.
DP: Is there a point doing a role like this that you say, I have to stop researching?
RW: Yeah, it becomes unhelpful after a while. It’s important for us to just tell the story and do those scenes with Liam as written rather than having us become this odd couple who’s not really adhering to the script.  I think you’ve got to do research and then use that for the scenes that exist.
DP: Yes, Jo has only four scenes, but if  what should her fifth scene be?
RW: We were saying that we’d like to a film a scene of  Jo and Matt together on the beat. I think it would be quite fun to see them younger  at a time before this all happens.
DP: Where does this fit into your career?
RW: This is about being in New York, working with Liam, and doing a modern thriller. And working with Scott, of course.  I respond a lot to the director because they bring depth and detail to the script–and in this case, Scott was the writer, too. It was important to do something like this and challenge myself. Take a small role and see what I can do with it.