TFF: Dara Bratt, "In Vivid Detail"
(from brinkzine.com 5/3/07)
- Piper Perabo and John Ventimiglia
- Dara Bratt
Well, the Tribeca Film Festival Awards were just announced and I discovered that after ten days of carefully choosing the sure-fire films to screen, I saw a grand total of zero prize-winning features. Forty-five also-rans. I did manage to see the entertaining short called Super Powers that won Best Narrative Short, although I thought several films featured along with it in Tribeca’s “Express Stops Only” program were equally good, including my favorite, Dara Bratt’s “In Vivid Detail,” a nominee in the Student Visionary Competition that stars Piper Perabo and John Ventimiglia. Short films always get short shrift at festivals, but try to check out both these shorts and six other crowd-pleasers when “Express Stops Only” plays at the AMC on 34th Street, between 8th and 9th (by an express stop!) on Saturday May 5, at 5 p.m. and Sunday May 6 (the last day of the festival) at 2:15 p.m. I got lucky and was able to interview the talented Dara Bratt soon after an earlier screening.
Danny Peary: What's your background? Did you start making films in Canada or at NYU?
Dara Bratt: I grew up in Montreal. After graduating from Communication Studies and Philosophy, I moved to Toronto for 4 years and ran around as an Assistant Director, working on American films that were in production. I worked on films ranging from the blockbuster “K-19 The Widowmaker,” to the gender-bending “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” A few producers I met told me that if I could get into NYU, I'd have to go. It was the only MFA school I applied to, and after a grueling interview, I was accepted on scholarship.
DP: Were you first shorts comedies, too?
DB: Does this mean that you think “In Vivid Detail”is a comedy? That's great. I made a short film, "Full," which was more experimental and quite lyrical. Minimal dialogue, lots of detail, a little on the dark side.. I really liked it, but it was not a festival piece. When I wrote a script called "The Sitting," which is a comedy that takes place at a Jewish funeral, my friends at school turned to me and said, "Wow, I didn't know you could be funny." I also directed a short documentary on the gentrification of the historical Lower East Side, told through the eyes of the vendors from Guss' Pickles. It's called "Hello, Pickles?" I love that film! (I think I secretly choose to make films that involve food.)
DP: How did you come up with the unusual premise for your film? Were you attracted to such a subject because you are a romantic at heart?DB: A close friend who is completing her PHD in Education at Harvard told me about this strange complex disorder she had just learned about. The center of research for prosopagnosia is at Harvard. We were looking up info online and learned about a farmer who could tell his cows apart but not by their faces. It is bizarre. I wanted to tell a story about this complex neurological disorder and figured the best context would be within a simple love story that questions how we measure beauty. Yes, I'm a romantic and love lyrical, romantic stories, although never one this mainstream. This script certainly isn't the one I'm most drawn to write, but it just seemed to work for this story. Also, the film questions our judgments about people and our need to categorize people. He's not blind, but he can't see perfectly, so where does he belong? The idea for the ending came right away. I asked, "Could mapping her face on a graph be the link to putting the puzzle together?"
DP: Did you ever think of doing the film as straight drama?
DB: Well, unlike you, I think it is a drama and is certainly a fairly "straight" story.
DP: How did you get your two professional stars, Piper Perabo and John Ventimiglia of “The Sopranos” to agree to be in a student film? How did your male friends react when they found out you had the star of “Coyote Ugly” in your movie?DB: After my third year of my MFA degree, I went back to Toronto for the summer, mainly to spend time with my boyfriend who is from there. I decided to AD for the summer on "Cheaper By the Dozen 2" to earn a little extra money. He turned to me and said, "You know you're working with the lead from “Coyote Ugly,” right?" I had never seen the film. I had heard of but hadn’t seen "Lost and Delirious" either, so I rented both films. On set, halfway through the film, a friend of mine passed Piper the script without my knowing. I was nervous to follow up, fearing she hated it. But lo and behold, she agreed to do it and kept her word. Piper's a star- an amazing actress who is wonderful to work with. After she committed, my producer, Sharon Barnes, and I started to look around for the right lead man back in New York. John Ventimiglia had just wrapped up “The Sopranos” and was very interested. I was so worried that it would fall through because of their tight schedules and auditions, that I did backup auditions every weekend until one week before the shoot. Just in case.
When it was clear they’d be in the movie, it was the talk around school.
DP. How did you feel directing two seasoned actors?DB: I was very excited to work with accomplished actors. During rehearsals and into the first few days of shooting, I am sure I was being tested and I could feel myself earning their trust. Boy did they ask a lot of questions during rehearsals! I knew I had to be confident and find the balance between listening to their ideas and staying true to my vision. Just because they are good at what they do doesn't mean they don't need direction. They see their roles. I need to see the big picture.
DP: Talk about the pre-production for your film.
DB: There were months of rewrites and running around the city looking for the best locations, including trips to chocolate shops. (I love chocolate.) I initially wanted to shoot in Old Montreal but decided on DUMBO--a visually interesting and desolate neighborhood in Brooklyn. DP: Why is Leslie attracted to Justin? DB: Leslie is drawn to him because he's not like most men she's known. He isn't drooling over her beauty -- he's aloof, hard working, and reclusive. He's also observant and precise and notices details. And she likes that their first date is so weird--he takes her to a chocolate shop run by identical twins. She interprets his face blindness as a unique sense of humor.
DP: If he can't tell she is sexy and beautiful, why is he attracted to her initially? And why does he start falling for her?
DB: She's daring--showing up to work in red high heels--just a little out of place for the office. She's got long wavy hair and a dimple--traits prosopagnosiacs would notice. And she appreciates his social awkwardness.
DP: Do you agree that your short wouldn't work at all if it didn't have the "right" ending? So was your ending your chief worry and challenge?
DB: The ending is definitely critical and I think it elevates the script to being a smarter romantic comedy. At every screening, I am still concerned about whether everyone will "get it." I get so nervous during screenings that I usually close my eyes. But I always watch the last scene - I'm most proud of that one.
DP: How meaningful is it to show your film at Tribeca?
DB: I was so nervous about being accepted to Tribeca. The film is shot in N.Y., has N.Y. actors and was the recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a N.Y. foundation, for its incorporation of science. So it was exceptionally important to me to premiere at Tribeca. The night before I got the call, I was having doubts about whether I was tough enough to last in this dreamer's world. A professor of mine said, "Don't take the rejection seriously. Don't take the praise seriously. Only take the work seriously." I got accepted the next day.
DP: What has been the reception you have had from strangers?
DB: The best part about the screenings is after it's over. As I already mentioned, I close my eyes for most of the screening but I do listen to whether the audience laughs or not. It's amazing when strangers come to me afterward and compliment the film. I love it because it's not from friends so there's no need be nice or flattering. The most honest feedback is often from people you don't know and the reception at Tribeca has been great. New Yorkers always tell you what they really think so when the words are positive, it's definitely a feel good situation.
DP: How can people see your film after Tribeca?
DB: I really hope that Tribeca is a launching pad and that the film will travel to more festivals. Being Canadian, I am striving for the Toronto Film Festival. Check the website invividDetail.com for updates.
DP: Do you plan future shorts or features?DB: I have directed and produced a feature documentary, which I¢m also currently submitting to festivals. It's about the most loved and hated man in Canada, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who revolutionized the Canadian abortion law. The film is a deconstruction on the man behind the cause.I have just finished a feature narrative screenplay Mirabella's Secret," which I am submitting to Sloan. I hope to begin preproduction in the next year or so. But for now, I'm just going to enjoy this festival adventure. And then get some sleep. Lots of it.