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Arnaud Desplechin on Melding Frederick Wiseman and Sidney Lumet with ‘Oh Mercy!’

Written by Andrew Ward, October 16, 2019 at 8:15 am 

Photo by Lindsay Seide

Outside his native France, Arnaud Desplechin’s latest film, Roubaix: A Light (or Oh Mercy!), has mostly been received with raised eyebrows. After employing espionage subplots in his prior two films (Ismael’s Ghosts from 2018 and My Golden Days from 2015), his latest fully embraces the crime procedural, which, at first glance, looks to be about as close to his body of work as a David Fincher film is to, well, a Desplechin. But for fans of his highly idiosyncratic filmmaking, Oh Mercy! is a fascinating entry into Desplechin’s oeuvre for precisely all of the reasons it deviates from the characteristics we’ve come to associate with him. One of the hallmarks of Desplechin’s filmmaking (and there are many) is the relentless energy, and with Oh Mercy!, nearing the age of 60, Desplechin shows no signs of slowing down, transforming as a filmmaker once again, this time appearing under the guise of a whole new genre, cast through the lens of a French-Algerian cop (played by Roschdy Zem) who is in many ways the polar opposite of the characters Mathieu Amalric has made so synonymous with Desplechin’s name. 

Taken moment-by-moment, the degree of success the film achieves is maybe somewhat uneven. But as is the case with the rest of his films, considered in the context of the whole of his oeuvre, the film’s richness grows immensely. Following its North American debut at the 57th New York Film Festival, I sat down with Desplechin for an in-depth discussion on a wide array of topics. For a director as erudite as Desplechin when speaking on his own work, it admittedly helps to have seen the film first before delving into the discussion that follows. Despite a lackluster reception, we are keeping our fingers crossed that Oh Mercy! finds a North American distributor for an eventual release sometime within the upcoming calendar year. 

The Film Stage: I’d like to pick up where my colleague Nick Newman left off when he last interviewed you and ask a very material question: are you still vaping? If so, how did that affect the writing process for Oh Mercy

Arnaud Desplechin: You know, I’m a chainsmoker. I was born a chainsmoker. My grandmother was a chainsmoker. But lucky me I don’t need the cigarettes to write. You know I can vape during the writing itself, but that’s enough. After that, later in the day–because usually I’m writing in the morning–I write and it’s two or three in the afternoon and it gets harder not to smoke a cigarette. You know? But it helps me a lot to get used to stopping. Plus during shooting, you are not allowed to smoke, which I think is great, not to smoke on set, because it is rude to the nonsmokers and etc. The vape is a great help for me. I have a goal. I didn’t reach that goal but I have a goal. I want the DP I’m working with, Irina [Lubtchansky], and I to smoke one cigarette a day. That’s my goal. 

You know I could even say I was not vaping [during the development process] because when I’m reading I’m not vaping at all–I’m not smoking and I’m not vaping. When I’m reading I’m just reading. I know that at the beginning of this film I didn’t want to go into Roubaix to make an inquiry, a sort of documentary about the real characters even if everything is based on real events so I sent a friend who did the research for me in Roubaix and he sent me material over the internet. You know for my job it was just to read Crime and Punishment in the two French translations, to compare the two translations, and to spend hours with Dostoyevsky and that was enough. It was without vaping and without cigarettes. 

You’re left with very different impressions of the film between the French title and the English title. The French title (Roubaix: a Light) almost sounds like it could be the title of a very Catholic Christmas movie. And in the film’s beginning, the crime is the only light that lights up this otherwise gloomy, spiritually ill French town. The English title (Oh Mercy!) feels equally Christian from a thematic perspective, but more like a desperate plea coming from the town. And it’s interesting how you have the two overlaid on top of each right at the beginning of the film. Can you explain what the thought process was with these diverging titles? 

I will start with the details, being that the fact is that no one knows where Roubaix is in America and England, or in China, you know? So it would be stupid to stick with the original title. Plus I thought that some friend of mine who happens to be American was making jokes about the title when it was translated as Roubaix: a Light. He said, “You know you sound so ridiculous with such a title?” So I knew I had to change the title to an international title. And I remember during the shooting I was trying to find something around pity, but pity is too Christian, as your comment suggested. And I remember this album of Bob Dylan’s, Oh Mercy. You’re putting Oh Mercy! as a Christian title, but to me it could be a Muslim title because you have two titles: the French one and the international; one. And the French one, Roubaix: A Light, could be Daoud: A Light [Daoud, the film’s protagonist, played by Roschdy Zem]. Daoud is the light in a very dark city, you know? And if you translate it into Oh Mercy! it would give the merciful Daoud, which would sound very Muslim. You know, instead of the word compassion, the fact that the guy would be merciful–merciful would be enough. It would be too much to have compassion, it’s too Christian for my tastes. But to me to be merciful would be enough. And I love the fact that almost it sounds like a gospel, Daoud’s gospel. 

In the film, Roschdy Zem’s character says, “You got it wrong. You had to pay. I also think that life should be enchanted. Like your childhood. But it’s not.” The anchoring conflict for him is the sense of guilt from not belonging, despite the fact that he’s the captain of the police squad and seemingly the “big man in town.” Did writing the character of Daoud as coming from an immigrant family allow you to perceive your city in a whole new way?

When he’s speaking with Claude [Lea Seydoux] and telling her that actually nothing is for free and you always have to pay… one could say, when he was twelve or fourteen, for sure Daoud was in love with girls like Claude, you know, and he had been rejected. So there is a sense of revenge, to hurt the one who neglected you. So now he’s the king and now she is trapped because she is in jail. On the other hand, I think it’s a self-portrait because I can image Daoud when he was seventeen years old and he was good at school, when the rest of his family was not good at school, and he thought, “Life will be free; I will have everything in the world.” And now he’s getting older and he has no family any longer. He’s staying in this city and he doesn’t know why he’s staying there and he realizes that he has to pay. So it’s less cruel than you imagine. Because speaking to Claude he is making his own self-portrait. “I was like you, I thought that life was for free and I realized at a certain moment of my life that I had to pay, and I will pay the price”–that sort of thing.

But to comment on your lines, I could say that this film was the first time I was able to pay a tribute to a community I don’t belong to. It took me twenty years to do that. The city where I grew up was not North African, it was purely Algerian. You have no Morrocan guys, no Tunisian… it was really, deeply Algerian. And to pay a tribute to this community without learning from it, an opportunity that I love, it took me a while to really do it. You know, this sense of exile… You have these shots when he’s looking at Bou-Saada, the small town where all of the immigration is coming from, which is like a very stern mystery. You know, what is he dreaming about looking at this landscape, with the streets and the mountains and the desert and all of that? We don’t know. Does he want to go back? No, he doesn’t want to go back. He’s protecting his childhood. 

Daoud is kind of an interesting inverse on Paul Dedalus’s character in My Golden Days. Where Dedalus’s subjectivity is dispersed across this beguiling global network through his profession, Daoud never leaves his hometown, but the existential question of his identity weighs no less heavily upon him. Of course Amalric has long been seen as your Rothian doppleganger, so how much of yourself were you able to use when writing the character, and how much of him arose from working out the genre elements of your story? 

When I was writing and doing the casting process for the film, I couldn’t identify myself too much with Daoud because Daoud is too much a superhero for me. I’m just looking at him and admiring him, but I know I’m just a human being, so I’m not Daoud because Daoud is more. He’s an angel, you know? I could say he reminds me of Bruno Ganz’s character in Wings of Desire–this mind reader. You remember that scene in the Wim Wenders movie where Bruno Ganz is on the top of the building and can read into the thoughts of all the citizens of Berlin? That’s Daoud. And I thought, come on, I am not an angel, I’m just a human being, so I can’t be Daoud. 

I was really impressed by Roschdy Zem who is quite special–not shy but powerful and strong. So I thought, “Okay, I will identify myself with a much more modest character. I will identify myself with Louis who is the narrator of the movie. I’m Louis. I don’t identify with Daoud. I’m as clumsy and as stupid as Louis.” That’s what I thought when I was making the movie. And the funny thing is that usually I’m acting in front of the actors and in all of the books written about acting they say that the director should never act in front of the actors. As soon as I’m on the set, I’m acting. And I thought after the film, I acted in front of all of them. I’ve been Marie, I’ve been Claude, I’ve been Louis. And I thought, in front of Roschdy Zem, I didn’t dare. So I didn’t do that. And then we arrived at our first interview in Cannes and this journalist loved Roschdy’s performance and asked him, “How did you build the character?” And his answer was, “Easy. Arnaud was just playing the part in front of me.” And I said, “Did I dare?! Are you sure? I was so impressed by you that I restrained myself. I didn’t dare to act in front of you.” And he said, “Oh yes you did.” So I guess I gave everything that I could give to help him. Not to say you have to do this or you have to do that. But to say let’s play together and you make you market: you take this, you reject that–I’m overacting everything–and you choose whatever interests you for your own performance. So I guess I’m less shy than what I thought with Roschdy. 

Well, it’s a fantastic performance he gives, so you must be a good actor. 

Yeah, he’s a wonderful actor. 

The idea of “getting it wrong” crops up in the film in other ways. Whether or not you are wrong seems to be left entirely up to chance to a certain degree, as the ending of the film suggests with the horse race. We don’t find out if Daoud gambles on the wrong horse. In Oh Mercy!, is Roubaix simply a city that is lacking in luck, and needs mercy to make up for that lack? 

I could answer in two ways. One would be very brief. There is the young lieutenant [Louis, Antoine Reinartz’s character] who is scared, depressed, who is coming from Grenoble, a quiet city in the country, a beautiful city where the landscapes are wonderful, surrounded by mountains, in stark contrast to Roubaix. And at the end of the movie he is asking Daoud how does he deal with such misery? How does he deal with poverty? And then Daoud is smiling and he says, “But it’s nothing. Poverty is nothing. Misery is nothing. Because sometimes it just glows.” So there is this idea that you don’t beat it, that if you look at it correctly, sometimes, anytime, a human being appears, it glows. There is mystery inside each one of us, a sparkle inside each of us–a little light, which is a miracle because we are all unique. In a way, they can’t reduce us to statistics. I think that the character of Louis is wrong when he’s doing all of these statistics in the voice-over at the beginning, when he’s saying Roubaix is that presentation of poverty, that representation of statistical facts, and so forth. We are not statistical presentations, we are just human beings. Sure, there is truth to sociology and figures, etcetera. But we are more than that.

And now, coming to the last scene with the horse. I guess my idea… I’m not rejecting your interpretation. I’m telling you my interpretation. It’s not better than yours. It’s looking at something which is a horse–which is wild, which is pure energy, which is beautiful, which is caring. You see Daoud when he’s on the horse and he’s like a kid. He’s terrified of the horse because he’s not clever like the horse. He looks stupid. You know, but he’s looking at the race and you can see the pure energy of this wonderful animal jumping from the starting block–and it freezes. Because you can’t tame that. And tomorrow there will be another rape, there will be another dysfunction–there will be another attack, a robbery, a murder, etcetera. And you won’t be able to tame it. And the beauty of it is that you can’t tame life. Life is bigger than us. So just to admire the pure energy of an animal will do the job. It will do the job to pay respect to that pure energy. Not to stay in melancholic observation of the world, but to praise it, this image of life. I guess that’s what I was aiming for. 

Something that really stuck with me are the neighbors the police interview around the crime scene. The way you shoot them standing in the doorway, looking as though they have just woken from a drug-induced sleep, is really unnerving. By hanging at a distance from them we get closer to the texture of the city than if you were to really delve into their lives. Can you talk a bit about going back to your hometown to shoot a film that is so reliant upon the perspective of the town police and how that changed your approach to building character? 

I think it belongs to the TV, the smaller subplots. There is a divorce, there is a kid, there is a thing, there is a that, there is the private life of the cops, or the victims, or the suspects, etcetera, etcetera. I wanted to make something dryer or more abstract than that and just stick on human faces. Who cares about going inside of the house or whatever? It’s just cops knocking on some doors opened by women. And sometimes they enter. You know when they go to Farid’s mother’s house you can see this wall that is painted as they do in the north of France, which is strange because it is beautiful but it is so cheap at the same time. So it’s a strange thing. What I can say is that I was speaking about paying tribute to the Algerian community. But you know it’s my hometown. I grew up there until I was seventeen then I skipped town for Paris. And on my first feature I went back. And my parents are still alive and are still living there. And I could say that I never lived in my hometown. You know from the age of ten to the age of seventeen years old I was just a cinephile, which means I was locked into my room. I was watching films on TV. Sometimes I was going to see films in Lille, which is the big city just over the way. And part of that time I was reading books and listening to records. And that was it! Music and books and looking at films and sometimes going to the cinema, and that was it. That was my life. So I can’t say that I experienced the city where I grew up.

I realized it’s such a shame, at the age of forty, that I was not able to say a word in Arabic and I was born in this city. And I said I didn’t live my own life. I didn’t experience my city. You know, and so on this film it was a great opportunity to plunge into Roubaix at last. And also, because I was working with all of these natives of Roubaix, you know, all of the cops are played by cops of Roubaix, except the four main actors that you see. The bad guys that you see that they interrogate they are just nice guys from Roubaix and they are not actors at all. All of the extras are just people of Roubaix. So suddenly I was just depicting characters who didn’t have a protected life as I used to have as a cinephile, but who were experiencing a much tougher life than I experienced. And to look at them and to spend some moments with them–I’m thinking of the uncle of the runaway girl you see in the film–it was wonderful, it was so exciting. He couldn’t speak French. So he told me, give me the lines. And so I gave him the lines and he folded the sheet of paper and put it in his pocket. He said, “I’ll read them later.” I knew that he couldn’t read them. I’m sure that he would have his son read them for him later.

I remember the baker, the African guy from Senegal, and he was telling me stories about his life from Senegal which were so beautiful. He was a shepherd. And he couldn’t act! He couldn’t act. So on the set he was so nervous. But he was a beautiful human being. I went to him on set and said, “You told me a story about your life. Please don’t say my lines. Who cares about my lines? Just tell me a story about your life. Are you scared of white people?” And he says, “Scared, in Roubaix? Come on, with what I knew in Senegal I was not scared.” And I told him, “Just tell your life to the young cop.” And suddenly he started saying, “J’étais berger!” I was a shepherd. So I met all of these people, and I met my city at the age of 57 when I didn’t know the city before. It was a great experience to plunge. I was protected before and not to be protected was great. 

So in Roubaix, A Christmas Tale, and La Vie des Morts part of the reason you set those films in Roubaix, despite the fact that according to your biographical details you are a local, was to come to know the city? 

Yeah. Those films were fables. They were enchanted worlds. They were utopias. They were full of imagination–I hope so! They were funny. They were just tales. But this time what I wanted to embrace was not tales, it was reality. Even if the film sounds like at the end of it I can reject what I am and it is a philosophical film, everything is real. So it was so different, this great shift in my world of making films, and this shift was an absolute delight. 

In preparing it, did you feel like you had to kind of take on the perspective of a policeman-like character to kind of go around the city and meet all of the characters and build a mental picture in your mind? 

Oh yeah, sure. I had to spend the time. I had to meet people. Plus to live with them. It was really good because I had the best advisor I could imagine. Each time we were playing a scene we had two cops behind the camera and if they didn’t like the scene the cops would say, “We can’t do that actually. The regular way of doing it is so forth…” And they were correcting the script. It was wonderful! Because they were perfect advisers. They were really in the scene. They were saying, “That’s not what we really do. We do it another way.” So they were correcting me and improvising lines. 

I’d like to return to an idea you had brought up when speaking about making Ismael’s Ghosts, this idea of the pleasure of being lost in the narrative and, as an audience member, giving into this feeling and allowing the director to guide you through it. It’s an interesting thought when applied to Roubaix, a crime procedural that to a certain extent relies upon a coherently explained narrative in order to operate. About half of the film is composed of misdirection in relationship to the crime that emerges as the film’s central concern, playing with this idea of “getting it wrong.” Were you thinking about the different ways you would approach the genre through the direction, or did that come out of the specifics of the story that you based the film on? 

I think it was coming just before I knew what I would write. I had this wish after building a film like Ismael’s Ghosts, which was a maze. I wanted to do a film that was absolutely straight–to make a film against the previous one, as Truffaut used to say. So I was trying to have something really plain. And I was thinking, what would I give? Would I be able to have a plain character for the storytelling. 

I knew also that I wanted to embrace the mainstream genre which in France is the social movie, the realistic drama, which is the mainstream drama now in France. In the 50s in America it was the Western. Today in 2019 in France we are doing social movies. Nothing noble about that! How could I embrace that genre, I thought. I like this idea of a woman’s journey crossing an institution. It might seem obscure, but think about a Fred Wiseman movie. It’s just people crossing an institution. And I thought there are two institutions that would interest me. One would be the social services–the welfare, like in a Fred Wiseman movie. The other one would be a precinct. Which means the two places in society where society doesn’t work. You have all the misery arriving in the precinct. The institution is fine for the bourgeoisie. When you go in the high school it’s lovely or when you go in the museum it’s fine.  When you go in the precinct it means that you are in deep shit, so it won’t work.

And I thought to make a film in a certain social service can be considered a bit austere, and paying a tribute to Sidney Lumet, I thought that filming in a precinct would be more interesting and more cinematic. So I said okay, let’s go in that direction. And that’s how come to tell the story in the beginning the first half of the movie is a portrait of the city with all of these little stories. But I hope that the spectators are not lost. And then the film shifts to focus on the two female characters and the camera goes back and forth between them, becoming a microscope. Just a face, a woman’s face, becomes infinite. Because we can see in the visage that it is infinite. So focusing on these women the film becomes even larger than where it started.  

That’s interesting because I feel like the “why” of the crime is something you’re not much interested in–it’s hardly interrogated. The question naturally arises, but we never get anything more than a superficial explanation. Is the banality of the crime and the difficulties of sensationalizing it something that attracted you to it? It takes a long time to get to the “truth” of what happened, and there is no Scooby Doo or Law and Order sort of reveal to make it anything more than a desperate crime in a desperate city. 

I rejected that totally. You know, two things. One, very brief. Roschdy Zem is a cop, he’s not a judge. So yeah, the judge’s will ask why did you do that–because you are drunk, because you are poor, because you are pissed at society… that’s a judge’s question. Roschdy doesn’t want to be a judge, he just wants to be a cop. A cop is enough. And the cop is taking care of how. Not why, but how. And now, one year and a half ago a very dear friend of mine died. It was Claude Lanzmann. And I learned from looking at the films of Claude Lanzmann, in all of them, but in Shoah it is maybe the center of this masterpiece, which is what Claude was saying, and that’s that when you are dealing with something that is beyond humanity the first question that you have to ask is how?. If you start with the big questions, like why?, you are lost. You are creating something religious or absurd or philosophical and you will be lost. You won’t discover anything.

But if, just like the historian Raul Hilberg, who wrote The Destruction of the European Jews, just asks the question how did they do that? You know, this is cinema. If you ask why? it is philosophy, not cinema. Just ask how and focus on that. So for me it was a moral statement to say for this question, how did you do that? How long did it take to kill? Okay, you were with your knees on her face–how long? And, you know, just asking this question will be enough to take these two women and bring them back to humanity. And if you ask them why they won’t be able to answer and you will look at them as monsters, when actually even if what they did was monstrous they are still human beings. So the goal of Daoud is to take these two women and bring them back to humanity. 

It’s like what Nietzsche says about the first stage of nihilism. You ask the question “why?” and that yields no answers, so it makes sense what you’re saying, that you can’t begin there. 

Yeah, exactly. 

Photo by Lindsay Seide

One of the greatest pleasures of engaging with your work is the hypertexuality of it. It feels like everything is connected in some way that’s always just out of reach, and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to travel further down the rabbit hole into the worlds of your films. You have described your work in the context of a corpus, and each new film seems to build upon that idea. But with Roubaix you’ve turned to a genre film relatively late in your career. It makes me think of Roth doing a historical fiction novel, The Plot Against America, in the mid-2000s. Of course the analogy is only halfway appropriate, because the factual details you grapple with in Roubaix are not of world-historical importance, as they are in Roth’s novel. But still, you are taking on a genre that is not standard fare in relation to your body of work, and returning to your hometown to reconceive of it as an outsider. What drew you to the crime procedural as a genre at this stage in your career? 

I didn’t realize the fact that I would stick that much with the cops and the procedure of the cops and that the film would be so technically accurate. I knew, as I told you, that at the beginning of the project I wanted to make a film that throws my imagination out of the door–to say “Okay, get out of here,” and make a film without any imagination. I can see all of my colleagues in France and in Europe making social movies. 

I worship the Dardennes brothers’ movies. And during the whole shooting I was so angry at myself and yelling in the car back from the shooting with the first AD and the DP, saying, “What we are doing is not at all what I wanted to do. What I wanted to do was just a Dardennes brothers movie, period.” And the AD said, “Yes, but you are not the Dardennes. First, you are alone. There is not two of you. Plus, you are not Belgian. Plus you are just not the Dardennes! So what you are doing is just Desplechin, and that’s it.” And I was, “Yeah, but what I wanted to do was a Dardennes movie! And I can smell that it is not a Dardennes movie, so tomorrow we have to do more Dardennes than that. We have to Dardennes-ize my film.” 

After that, you know, let’s see a brief scene. A very simple scene. It’s very early in the morning in winter and Marie is in the car, going to the police precinct to be interrogated and for the moment we don’t know if she’s guilty or innocent. And she’s like a child looking at the city lights. She’s half asleep, half awake. She’s surrounded by cops and we are rolling through the streets of Roubaix. And I thought, if I am in a real car I know the image. You don’t have the room to fit the camera. So it won’t work. So I said, “No, no you use a green screen just like the Hitchcock movie and I will shoot a plate of the street. I will shoot the car as well. I would like a long tracking shot landing in a close up of Marie. And I will add some rain, and I will film the dome that I will take from another place, just like in the Hitchcock movie.” And I think in this shot you have everything about the soul and the state of Marie, which reminds me of a shot I love from The 400 Blows where Jean-Pierre Léaud is captured by the police in the police car and he’s driven to the institution and he’s looking at the lights and you don’t know if he’s crying or if he’s astonished by the beauty of the city at night. He’s between tears and astonishment–between two states. And I thought, it’s perfect. It’s a perfect depiction of what’s happening in this fragile woman. And it doesn’t look like a Dardennes movie… [Laughs] And I have to apologize because that’s what I wanted to do, but I did it with my tools, which are different from the tools of the Dardennes. I can’t change who I am. 

Any particular film of the Dardennes that you were holding up in your mind while making Oh Mercy!

L’enfant (The Child), it is a great film. I love it. I love The Kid With the Bike–a great film. But L’enfant is my favorite. La Promesse is great. Rosetta is astonishing. But their entire body of work interests me for sure. 

Are there any plans to ever publish some of your screenplays in English? I’ve long been hoping to read them, and I lack the necessary command of the French language. 

I’ve been so lucky that almost all of my scripts have been published in France, but they have never been translated. Looking at the state of the edition in America or in England and looking at the number of translations you have… You know I’m a lucky guy because I’m French and we translate a lot. You don’t translate that much. [Laughs] So you know my life is a great life because I can read so many American novels, so many American essays, so many English novels or essays, or stuff coming from Eastern countries, etcetera, because we are the country that has more translations than anywhere in the world. 

Do you read Roth in French or English?

English Roth. He’s God. But there is a beautiful edition of Kings and Queen and I would love to see that in English. There are two films that I would really love to see translated, because after the years I realized in so many art schools, actors, young actors, love to do scenes from My Sex Life… or Kings and Queen. So it was useful for the young students to have the lines published. It’s strange because My Sex Life… is such an old film, but each year I have young actors sending me tapes of them playing the scenes because it’s just material. It doesn’t mean that it’s good. Do I have pride about acting? Sure I have pride about it. My pride is not that big, you know? I’m just happy to produce some material that is useful to actors. So to see young girls and guys embracing that material and creating their own way of interpreting the lines, that’s the more beautiful gift I have given. 

I certainly hope your scripts will appear in English sometime soon.

But please, I want to tell you one last thing. Because I was speaking about the translations… A Christmas Tale will be adapted on stage by a young director, a young woman who is terribly brilliant who did a Chekhov three years ago. And she will adapt A Christmas Tale on stage. And I’m alive! I’m not dead. Can you believe that? It’s not a tribute, you know, I’m sure she will do her own thing. But I’m sure she will do her own thing to create her own piece of art, and you know to pay a tribute to what I wrote for films. I’m a happy man. I’m a really happy man. 

Oh Mercy! screened at the 57th New York Film Festival and is seeking U.S. distribution.

‘The Wave’ Team on Time Travel, the Balance of the Universe, and Being Inspired by ‘Spring Breakers’

Written by Marc Ciafardini, October 13, 2019 at 4:54 pm 

When we look to the stars, and wonder about our purpose on Earth, we probably ask the same things: “Why are we here? What is it all about? Is there more to the day-in, day-out routine:? Well, I’m sorry to say that I can’t answer that for you. However, director Gille Klabin and writer/producer Carl Lucas try their best to provide answers to those nebulous questions.

But how can they do that which Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan couldn’t? Easy: they use time-travel and drugs. What a concept! In all seriousness, The Wave is a simple story about one man trying to find his place in the world and if you just pay attention to the signs, you’ll see that the universe does have a plan for you.

In the film, Frank (Justin Long), a bored corporate lawyer, decides to shake it up with a wild night out. In the process, he takes a mysterious drug that launches him into a mind-bending time travel adventure. A fresh take on a classic genre, The Wave simultaneously confounds and entertains. The film had its world premiere at Fantastic Fest, where we spoke with Klabin and Lucas.

The Film Stage: There’s a line in the beginning of the movie that states, “Reality is a choice, man.” I think that’s a good way to describe The Wave. It’s trippy, but fun, animated, and focused. It kind of felt like a Saturday morning cartoon. How long did it take to bring all this together? 

Carl Lucas: I first met Gille back in 2012. Right around that time, he was doing really amazing work with Steve Aoki and doing really, really interesting low budget stuff. To me, it was better than the music videos people were producing at the time and with nominal fees. Right away, I knew I wanted to work with him. So I started to come up with an idea that fit his visual style, and also told a story that was very personal to me. 

Over the course of about a year and a half, the story was pieced together until 2014 when I finally sent Gille some pages.

Gille Klabin: Man, I can’t believe it’s been five years between when you sent me the script until now when we’re able show the movie to people. 

The film has a real economy to it. Did that have to do with funds, the shooting schedule, or something else? 

GK: We had very limited funds, and a very, very quick shoot. It was twenty days, which consisted of five-day weeks, twelve-hour days, and there was one day we went into overtime–only by 15 minutes–but we were a well-oiled machine. Then we spent the better part of six months getting picture lock, and roughly four months on visual effects. It was hardcore!

From how it looks on screen, I don’t doubt it.

CL: [Laughs] From a producing standpoint, I have many experiences where I would be dealing with the director who has no idea how he’s going to do a scene, and then it would be up to me to find a bunch of people to help us get what we want. So it was important for us that whatever we wanted to see on screen, we could do ourselves. 

GK: We planned meticulously on The Wave. We storyboarded the entire movie and animated it. [Laughs] There is a 62-minute cut of the film that is just an animatic with my monotonous voice doing dialogue and narration. [Laughs] We’ve worked on a lot of different films in a lot of different departments, and there’s a joke that the only people who can show up on set with no experience are PAs and directors. [Laughs] In my mind, if I was going to ask all these people to work on this insane project, I’d better be damned prepared.  There wasn’t any money to throw at a problem. 

Going from what you can control to what you can’t, let’s talk about time travel which is nebulous, undefined, and unless I missed something, impossible. I really like how you took the term “punching the clock” and turned it into your means of time travel. How did you land on that concept?

CL: There are so many different types of time travel movies so, when I was writing it, I had to know what kind of time travel I wanted. Are we in a situation where time travel is a big circle, and we’re trapped on this big ride, and there’s nothing you can do? In that case, no matter where you jump in time, nothing changes anything– which is a very fatalistic way to look at life–but we wanted to come from a place where no matter what Frank did, he was always going to end up at where he ended in the film no matter what he did.  There was no choice but to embrace the fact that Frank had no choice. 

This film is all about the education of Frank. He jumps into time and he gets piecemeal information to help them understand why it is that his life is being hijacked by the universe to rebound Karma. We mess around with causality, but it isn’t a time period that he’s affecting. He’s just a passenger on this ride. Along the way, he’s figuring out that what happens to him is supposed to happen to him. And it takes time for him to be okay with that. 

In the film, you make a good point about how chaos is really the universe trying to find balance.  Whereas a time machine would give you the ability to pinpoint where you’re going, this reminded me of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy–activate the improbability drive, and get a random result. Frank is in a similar situation.

GK: [Laughs] But what is seemingly random is exactly what you were meant to learn at that particular moment. That was the vibe for us.

CL: Yeah. Fact of life is that you’re going to be dead. So, do good while you’re not. [Laughs] Most of your existence will be dead, so while you’re not dead, try to do as little harm as possible. 

There’s a point in the movie where Frank is in this astral plane trying to learn these lessons.  The visuals are smoothed out giving it this Monet quality, but everything is subtly moving. How did you decide on that look?

GK:  I was trying to marry psychedelic visuals into a surreal living painting. But really I was trying to be true to the visuals of psychedelia. So they present the revelatory nature of psychedelic drugs. And it’s fun for people of tried psychedelics to look on screen and go, “That is what that looks like!” [Laughs] That was very important to me because a lot of drugs are represented in movies in preposterously stupid ways, and you don’t have to do that. Yeah, a lot of drugs are bad, and some are therapeutic, but we don’t have to shit on them all.

We can present them as they are, and it’s by no means a pleasant journey for this guy, but I wanted something real, something risky, and something I’ve never seen before. 

Everyone’s desperately trying to come up with something original, and failing miserably. [Laughs] Myself included. But there’s also the idea that the “land of drugs” is a metaphor for the thing you’re absolutely afraid of, but there’s a better experience on the other side that you want get to. It’s about coming to terms with that. You embrace it, and learn what else the world, or in our film specifically, the universe has in store for you. 

There’s a drug dealer in the movie who has a really great monologue. Did you have any specific characters in mind when you wrote this? Maybe Gary Oldman in True Romance

CL: Ritchie is so much fun. This is my third movie with Ronnie Gene Blevins, and I wrote this for him specifically. He was in my head when I came up with the scene, and it worked out really well that he was available to do it. In the script, I used a little bit of a James Franco’s character Alien from Spring Breakers because both Alien and Ritchie are the kind of person who is in that world and truly live in it. It’s so different from anything Frank has ever experienced. The goal put Frank in a situation where he was so out of his comfort zone from the minute he walked in the door.  Again, there’s the idea of going through chaos to find harmony on the other side. 

That kind of reminds me of that scene in Three Kings where George Clooney is talking to Spike Jonze. He tells him that sometimes you have to do the thing that scares you first and then you get the courage afterwards. And Spike Jonze’s character says that’s a back-asswards way of doing it. 

CL: [Laughs] It’s like the first time you get punched in the face, you learn so much about yourself. But what you really learn is that, “Oh it doesn’t really hurt that much to get punched in the face.” [Laughs]

One thing that really got me, and I don’t know what this says about my life, was that you captured being married on paper and on screen so well. That scene with the coaster just killed me. 

CL: [Laughs] I think it’s fair that a good number of people can find ourselves in a situation like that. Well, I am very happily married, but I am on my third marriage. Still, we can get in these relationships where we are marking time, and you’re not only hurting yourself, you are hurting that person. It’s not that either party is a monster, but they are literally just struggling to find their own existence on top of it. We thought it was important to be really, really real about that. The whole finances sequence was something we knew people were going to see and go “Oh, that’s too real!” Just that casual delivery of how they map out their convoluted and dangerous finances should give you chills. They think they’re fine, and the reality is that, no, you are not fine!

GK: The coaster, to me, is still one of my favorite parts of the movie just because it’s so true. You have a stag night, and drinks with a friend, and you put that glass down to the absolute antithesis of a slamming a glass down with a masculine ‘boom’ which is when another person lifts the glass and slides the coaster underneath. It’s wrong to call it emasculating, but it’s pretty damn close. [Laughs]

The scene where Frank and his wife argue is an impressive single-take shot which is lengthy. With clever editing, it’s made even longer. I imagine that had to be meticulously planned, so what went into that?

GK: I had this idea that I wanted the scene to be like a yo-yo. I wanted the action and energy to come in and out. It would be tethered to Justin‘s face, his actions, and his freneticism moving around the house. That just comes down to the endless determination of Aaron Grasso, our cinematographer. He and I have been working together for ten years. Initially, I had planned for a cut point when we were upstairs, but it evolved into what you ended up seeing.

CL: Well, going back to the script, that whole scene was to take place in the bedroom. Once we got on location, Gille said, “No let’s pull it out, and we can use the stairs and put a lot into this to give it more stakes and freneticism.” That scene just grew and grew until we decided to expand it and tie it to Justin time traveling and ending up in his office.

GK: I was upstairs operating the gimbal, and Aaron was sitting on the end of a jib with his feet around some metal pegs. So I’m following Justin around until he pulls down his pants, then I turn around and I turn to frame up Sarah Minnich (who plays Cheryl), and then I head to the banister and I hand the gimbal off to Aaron. He picks it up, holds the frame, and comes down on the jib and follows Justin down the corridor. [Laughs] I’m pretty sure we broke some health and safety regulations.

The corridor was shot with all those whip takes, and with some incredibly simple VFX we hid the cut entirely to get Frank into the office. My favorite story about that–the office door shot where Justin slams the door and he has the toothbrush in his mouth–is that it was the first shot of the movie. For that to be the first thing we did, I have so much respect for Justin. I remember telling him, “I know there’s no way this can be making any sense to you. But I want you to slam the door, you’ll have toothpaste in your mouth and you’ve just teleported… now play that realistically.” [Laughs]

I really like the score which kept pace with a lot of the visuals and the story. Talk to us about that. 

GL: The score is a combination of music. Eldad Guetta is an incredible composer I’ve known for 15 years. He scored a bunch of music, and there’s a bunch of tracks from a producer I met online named Kirk Spencer who is from England. Together they make this dark, brooding, industrial electronic sound that has a lot of heavy synths and heavy replications of the vibrating frequencies of psychedelia. It gave The Wave the pulse it needed.

The Wave premiered at Fantastic Fest.

Exploring the Making of a Sci-Fi Masterpiece with ‘Memory: The Origins of Alien’ Director Alexandre O. Philippe

Written by Marc Ciafardini, October 13, 2019 at 4:34 pm 

For four decades, the world, characters, and mythology of Alien have permeated the minds (and nightmares) of film fans across the globe. In his latest documentary, director Alexandre O. Philippe looks at all the art and history that influenced young Dan O’Bannon, scribe of the 1979 horror classic, and how the film forever captured and changed the mindset of the public.

The documentary takes fans on an exploration of the mythical underpinnings of Alien, supported by exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, unearthing the largely untold origin story behind Ridley Scott‘s cinematic masterpiece, and reveals a treasure trove of never-before-seen materials from the archives of “Alien” creators Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger–including original story notes, rejected designs and storyboards, and O’Bannon’s original 29 page script from 1971, titled “Memory.”

At Fantastic Fest, we sat down with the director to find out what went into this documentary and touched on the scenes and themes in Alien that mean the most to him.

The Film Stage: What I like about your style and presentation is that this is not just a bunch of talking heads, and you really get insight from all sorts of personalities. Beyond that, you use props and equipment to make this feel like an extension of the film. Where in the process did you decide to make these creative decisions? 

Alexandre O. Philippe: This kind of style is something that’s evident from the very beginning, and I do not start anything until I am clear on my approach, and the visual style I want to use. The structure is something I spend a lot of time on because that informs pretty much everything moving forward. Thankfully the style of every one of the documentaries I’ve made comes to me almost immediately, and then we have to figure out how to make it work.

Help me clear something up front: I’ve heard H.R. Giger pronounced different ways. What is the correct way?

[Laughs] Say it like there are three Es in his name.

The beginning of the documentary talks about how we as an audience and a culture have embraced this cinematic nightmare. How do you feel about Alien, and the mark it’s left on us? What scares you, and what kind of film fan are you?

The way I see it, the nightmare of Alien is what we needed to see, but not the nightmare that we wanted. In 1979, I think people really wanted a different kind of alien. When you look at what was working in the box office, it was running counter-current to Alien. So, to me, what is so remarkable about the film and that property is that people weren’t sure they wanted to see, but it connected with our subconscious in a very powerful way–that’s what makes the movie so unique. 
 
I’ve been into horror films pretty much since I was a kid. And horror, at its best, is a phenomenal genre because it’s a genre that makes you look into a dark mirror and confront your own fears. Fear is such a powerful emotion that if you can understand what you’re afraid of, you can start understanding yourself. That’s what makes horror–when it’s great horror–so important as a genre. 

Alien was more than the sum of its parts. As a filmmaker, how do your creative elements come together in a way you ever expected?

The most important job of the director is to surround him or herself with the right people. I think that’s very true for all of us. Films are not made in a vacuum, and while there is a stamp that is very much mine on the films I’ve made, there is also the stamp of our editor, and the stamp of our composer, and our producer, and cinematographer. I’m so grateful that we have a team now who is very much in tune with one other. I don’t need to explain what I need. They know what I want, and they know how to make it better. It’s fun, but it took me several years initially to find the right team. Once you find the right people, you pretty much stick with them. 

To embark on an Alien doc, I imagine you’d really have to be a fan. Otherwise, this might have seemed overwhelming. What is your first memory of Alien?

The first memory I have is actually the poster. I had a friend in Geneva–where I grew up–who had the original one-sheet poster and that tagline is just mesmerizing. It really taps into the fear of the unknown and creates an immediate effect of dread. You want to watch the film but you’re terrified to see it. So I waited a few years until I saw it for the first time. It was on VHS, but it completely blew me away, and I’ve never looked back. I’ve watched it over and over again, and it’s one of the films I go back to constantly.

The one scene which is so iconic, and one you devote a lot of screen time to, is the “chestburster” scene. Are there others that equally captivated you?

For shock value, and residual impact, the chestburster is very tough to beat. But when I started work on this, I hoped to look very specifically at that sequence and see if I could deconstruct it the same way I did with that iconic scene from Psycho in my last doc, 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene. That was the starting point. As I began work, I found that they are very different scenes, and you can’t really analyze them the same way. Alien is a film that resonates with audiences because it taps into our ancient past and it’s a film that deals with mythology.
 
But there are so many great scenes and imagery. The moment where Kane (John Hurt) is being lowered into the egg chamber is spectacular–that Giger tableau is so Lovecraftian. Then there’s the scene where they discover the Space Jockey. To me, it’s the purest expression of Lovecraft on film but in a different way than we saw with Carpenter’s The Thing a few years later.

How do you storyboard the documentary, and how long did it take to amass all the sketches and pages from the original screenplay? You also shot footage of interviewees so they are partly in shadows–it’s like they are on the Nostromo. What went into that?

Well, that’s all in the script. I’m one of the few documentarian filmmakers who writes a full screenplay before we go to edit. I start with a very clear structure in mind and, obviously, you have to start filming before you have a script. But there’s a point where we have enough material that I–using the transcripts that we have, the materials, and the visuals–write a full screenplay and it has to work on the page before it works on the screen.

Once I have a version of the script that I feel is working in my head, I hand it over to my editor to start assembling shots according to the script. Then we start having a discussion about what works and what doesn’t. At that point, I start listening to him about what he has to say, and what he wants to bring to the picture. But to me, it always starts with the script.

The deeper you get into the doc, the more opinions surface. Long ago, I learned that Aliens was made as an allegory to the Vietnam War. In Memory, Clarke Wolf describes Alien as having “patriarchal guilt.” Are there theories or opinions that were new to you, or surprised you during this process?

I’ve heard a lot of theories. Oddball or not, and whether I believe them or now, what I have to do is ask if they fit the story I’m telling. The end goal of Memory is very, very specific. This idea of Alien as the expression of an unconscious patriarchal guilt is exactly in line with what I believe the film is and what I think it represents. It’s very much in line with Greek mythology and the Furies (female chthonic deities of vengeance), and that was part of what I was trying to express. 

There are several interviews we had done which were really interesting, but they didn’t fit within the context of what I was trying to say about Alien. Some of them were actively cut, and it was unfortunate. It’s not that they weren’t insightful or valid, they just didn’t fit in the narrative I needed to express. 

What is your first memory of being in the theater?

My first memory of being in the theater was probably The Empire Strikes Back. I do have some fuzzy memories… but actually, now that I think of it, my very first memory was not of a specific movie but of a Looney Tunes cartoon that played in front of it. Basically, I got started watching movies very, very young and I never stopped. [Laughs]

Okay, now what was the first R-rated movie you saw or snuck into a theater to see?

Oh, I was watching horror films very young. I remember watching Night of the Living Dead, and Scanners, and Cannibal Holocaust all when I was super young. 

Well, you got me beat. I was watching Aliens, The Thing, and Total Recall around the age of 9.

Those are pretty hardcore, especially The Thing. When you’re 9 years old, that’s pretty rough.

Ridley Scott was described in your documentary as “the greatest visual stylist since Kubrick’s prime.” What are your thoughts on that?

He’s certainly one of them, but for me, the greatest contemporary visual stylist is David Lynch. It certainly didn’t hurt Alien to have that level of creative skill on set, and Ridley is one of the greats. At that same time, however, David Lynch was just starting his career. Eraserhead was made just two years prior in 1977. They are very different filmmakers, obviously, but that statement which was made in the film was a very powerful one and they had every right to say it.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is now available digitally and in theaters.

Director Christopher Winterbauer on the World of ‘Wyrm’ and the Awkward Quirkiness of Adolescence

Written by Marc Ciafardini, October 13, 2019 at 9:27 am 

It’s not easy growing up. If it’s not someone telling you what to do and how to do it, there’s plenty of stress we can put on ourselves that are only exacerbated by the insecurities we have trying to “fit in.” So, enter technology to that mix and you can easily identify (or empathize) with Wyrm. Yes, that is his real name, and in Christopher Winterbauer‘s coming-of-age film, the titular character navigates the societal norms as well as the loss of a family member.

Following its Fantastic Fest premiere–where it picked up an award for Creative Vision–we sat with director Christopher Winterbauer and producer Helen Estabrook (Whiplash) to find out all about the characters and world of Wyrm.

The Film Stage: Your film was like looking at adolescence through a kaleidoscope. It’s a mix of things I love about the ‘80s, and it was so original. Let’s start this off with a very geeky tech question. This was made to look like it was a lost ‘80s property, so did you shoot this 1:1 scale, or 4:3 like VHS format?

Christopher Winterbauer: We shot the film 16×9, so it’s not CinemaScope or anamorphic, but that ratio does seem a little compressed. It’s not full 4:3 although I think I talked about that with our DP at one point, but we knew we needed it a little wider for movie screens. 

I ask because of what I noticed in the last scene, the memorial scene with the fake rock.

CW: Well, a lot of compositions in the movie are shot wide enough that I feel like you are getting a 1:1 ratio, almost like a picture frame. I understand what you’re saying at the end there. It does feel more vertical heavy than other scenes in the movie or most films do. And that would’ve been the scene for it to be 4:3, honestly. 

You mentioned in the intro to the film that this is semi-autobiographical, so do tell: Is it the dinosaurs, the unrequited love, or the fascination with the Internet?

CW: [Laughs] Oh, it’s all of that! [Laughs] It stemmed from the feeling of falling behind or being left behind. That’s a truly universal theme and boys and girls feel that way at a certain age. So I wanted to assign a prop to that feeling which is where the collars came from, but, obviously, the movie is really about all the family dynamics. The film is centered on the death of Dylan, the older brother, and it’s very much based on my family’s inability to talk about sex or death. I come from a very close family, but when it comes to those two subjects, there is no communication. They can’t talk about it, and it’s very difficult for them. 
 
My sisters and I have gotten past it, but is very difficult cross-generational. Now my mother is not exactly the way I depicted Wyrm’s mother in the film. My mom is very “forward is the direction that we have and we need to go“  and she’s done an incredible job with that in her life. My dad is definitely the archetypal midwestern man, although my sisters have made him a much more emotional person across his life. A lot of those character dynamics are from people in my life that I’m closest to, so it’s very autobiographical in that sense. It’s very much the way that Wyrm and Myrcella talk, and the way she imparts wisdom on him in incisive but kind ways. That’s exactly the way my sisters treat me, even though they’re younger than me. [Laughs]

I like how the film played with the idea of absentee parents, in both a literal emotional fashion. What was the decision to make them physically not there? 

CW: I shot a short film version of Wyrm first, and in that one, there were some production reasons why I wanted to keep them out of the picture. But really, with this story, I wanted them out because I really wanted the world to feel grounded in the kids. The minute you introduce parents and responsibility, your perspective comes up to an adult level in a weird way.  
 
I knew I really wanted to stay with the kids, and when I was writing the script, the Uncle Chet character just became another kid trying to figure this all out. So it felt appropriate he would be the adult in the situation. It was almost like a Charlie Brown cartoon where we’re treating the adults like off screen entities.
 
With the feature, it gave us time to finally meet each of them.  I liked that idea that we weren’t even going to see them until we meet them late in the story, even to the point where we had a family portrait that’s just the three kids. Initially, I had conceived it with the parents in it as well, but I didn’t even want to reveal who they were until later. Really, it’s just to keep you with these two siblings, and see them in their world, and how removed they are from everything else.
 
There’s no one offering any good advice, information, or perspective. Wyrm is just getting bad, clichéd advice from other kids, like the idea that women love injuries, and foreign chicks are so sexy. [Laughs] That is exactly the type of things that I would tell my friends, but I would have no idea what I was talking about. [Laughs]

The kids try to present themselves as confident when we all know it’s a front. But these characters are very honest and really pour out their feelings. Azure Brandi plays Myrcella and cries so much in the film. How did you work with them to get these emotions?

CW: I’ll be honest. With Azure, I didn’t have to do anything. She’s the most natural performer I’ve ever seen.  There’s a woman in our costume department who is very stern, and doesn’t always have that many positive things to say. She’s great, but she’s a very quiet woman, and she was on set sitting by the monitor one day. After Azure did the scene where she tells Wyrm how much of an asshole Dylan actually was, this woman turns to our costume designer and says, “That girl is going to be a star.” And then she walked off set [Laughs] and that’s the only thing I think I heard her say the entire shoot.

With Azure, we found ourselves dialing it back a little bit because she was so emotive and she could bring it in every single moment, and you wanted to save the punch. There are two big explosions she has: one is where she blows up at Wyrm, and the last scene is just her reacting to him, but her eyes are so big that you can see everything playing out on her face.

Then Theo Taplitz, who plays Wyrm, is such a naturalistic performer. We wanted him to settle into playing a more awkward and stilted element of the dialogue. And Lulu Wilson, who plays Izzy, was the weirdest thing. The character was written a little differently, and when Lulu came in and auditioned, we were blown away. It was a really weird audition.  When we saw her we realized she was a much more interesting version of the character then I had originally written. The original girl was generally more mature, and kind of a braggadocious type, but Lulu gave us this “weird kid trying to be the cool kid kind” of vibe. So my goal was to just try to keep her in the lane that she already brought to the film.

We shot so quickly because we had a lot of pages, and you could only have seven-hour shooting days with kids, so that only gave you three or four takes, tops.  In the scene where Myrcella blows up at Wyrm in the movie, that was the second take. And the last memorial scene, we’re mostly using the first take. They were just so natural with each other. So, I wish I could take more credit. [Laughs] They all read the script, and internalized that themselves. We were very lucky, and we wouldn’t have made our days if they weren’t so tuned in. They were great.

I noticed how much detail went into the collars, and the art direction, even the graphics like the ‘No Child Left Alone’ handbook as well as signs in the background. How much work went into this?

Helen Estabrook: All the graphics you see in the film are Chris’ friend. He even wrote a lot of the copy in the manual and the posters.  It’s usually so hard when you are doing movies because you may have somebody who is good at graphics, but doesn’t understand what the world of the movie is, and they only help out a couple days a week, but we were lucky to have this amazing guy, Chris’ friend just knew the world and created all of it, and all the detail. Frankly, it was the best for me, because I didn’t have to worry about it. It would just show up, and it was always perfect. [Laughs] There are so many things in the film that I wish we could showcase that didn’t make it to the film. My favorite is the jacuzzi sign with a whole list of fake rules.
 
CW: There’s a poster at the bus stop where Wyrm is waiting, and there are two girls awkwardly kissing. If you look behind him, there is an entire story of a woman named Dawn, who didn’t get her first kiss until late, and she kissed a boy named Ben who became a dentist, and he died and then at the bottom it said, “Don’t let our children become widows.” It’s really weird, but he came up with the whole thing. We really didn’t have to give him very much. We just said, “This is the world, go make as many graphics as you possibly can.”
 
HE: This is a testament to Chris and the world he created not just in the movie, but on set. We had so many people working on this film who just really loved this world and cared for it. So there is so much detail that just makes this all so special. 

How did you find or source all the ‘80s technology such as the Macintosh disk drives?

HE: Melanie Jones, who is our production designer, had done Whiplash for me. I knew that she and I had done that on a very similar budget to Wyrm. We shot this in LA., and I brought her on because I knew she would have a crew to be able to pull it off since we pulled off Whiplash for the same amount of money.  [Laughs] But it certainly wasn’t easy. We didn’t have as much of the props as you think. 
 
We would flip the camera and then move all the computers in one scene to the other angle. It’s one of those movies where you have to tell people, “Hey, don’t move the camera an inch to the left or you’ll see that there’s nothing over here.” [Laughs]

What made “Internet” such an important part of the movie?

CW: When I first wrote the short, I was drinking. [Laughs] And I was thinking about what the weirdest version of a coming-of-age story could be. And it just came to me. Internet. It had the same resonance to me as when someone says puberty. A lot like that formative age for all kids, this technological advancement was just over the horizon. I like to think that I created this outsider’s version of the story, but this comes from a personal place and here is how it happened.
 
My parents got a computer in 1995. My grandparents came over, dressed nice, and we had flank steak for dinner or something I thought was fancy. After dinner, my Dad asked, would you like to see the computer now? And everyone got up and walked to the den, and he booted up the computer, and they all got to see it. My grandfather had never seen a personal computer before, and I remember it lighting up in the room and we all had this feeling that “Oh my God, there’s something in this box!” At the time, I knew it as the World Wide Web, but I like the word “Internet” so much better. In terms of the story, it became this thematic catchall for puberty but also this thing that is drawing everybody in, and is supposed to connect us in some way. But really, the movie is about the failure to communicate despite technology. 
 
It’s like, “Oh, this thing is going to be everything, it’s all-encompassing, it’s how you’re going to communicate with everyone.” Blah, blah, blah. But really, all Wyrm needs to do is have conversations with people in his life and that’s what’s actually going to help him at the end of the day. 
 
HE: Since we are in an alternate universe, it helps place us in time. You see the sets, and the set design, and you realize we are not in reality, and we are not in current the current day. We don’t need to know exactly when we are, but we at least know what is happening and where we are in the world. It’s part of a way to situate the world, and you can know not to expect a smartphone to pop up. There are certain questions that are taken off the table immediately by having analog technology as a sort of running gag.

The way that Davey Johnson says the word “Internet” just kills me as well as how the adults type on the keyboard. 

CW: That was how Davey improvised the joke and then Natasha Rothwell picked it up. We did takes where they didn’t do that because we were second guessing ourselves as to whether it was too much. But that was just the right amount of tension relief, like, “Get the hell out of my office.” 
 
HE: This is one of those moments where as a producer you find you don’t know everything. When I first saw it, I thought, that’s too much, we can’t do it. But every single time we’ve screened the movie, it gets one of the biggest laughs. So, I’ll throw my hands up. I don’t know anything. [Laughs] 

Helen, more to that point, what else have you learned in this process as you helped materialize Christopher’s vision? When do things start to come together in your eyes? 

HE: Chris had such a clear vision for this that the minute you got onset you knew that this world would be cohesive and it would work. That was something that was really exciting and one of the reasons I really wanted to do this movie was because Chris knew all the rules of the world, and where we were functioning in it. I think one of the difficulties you face when making a movie like this, or any movie in general, is thinking of the audience’s perspective and asking, “What does the audience understand? And what does it matter?” 
 
The difficulty with test screenings is that one of the main questions asked is “What did you understand? What part was confusing, What didn’t you get from this?” But when you actually have an audience watch a movie, there are things they don’t understand and they don’t care. They are getting whatever they need to get from it. They are getting the emotional experience from it. 
 
So, the difficulty is a, trusting your audience will figure out what they need to figure out. The tightrope you walk making a film is not over-explaining something, but not under-explaining. That was always the trick with this film. The nice thing about a movie like Wyrm as all you can rely on is what feels right. Am I having the feelings I’m supposed to feel? The only cuts that were made were those that I felt weren’t working because I wasn’t crying at the end.  Watching this again yesterday, I cried at the end. So I was like “Okay, we’re good!“

The scene towards the end, in the van, where you find out what really happened to the Dylan is very emotional. Then, at the end, none of the interviews Wyrm conducted for the memorial were censored. People we heard exactly how they felt. He allowed people to, more or less, speak for themselves. And that was very heartfelt even if it was raw and unexpected.

CW: I hope the support, and praise for the film at a festival like Fantastic Fest, proves that there is an audience for this movie which marches to the beat of its own drum. But like you said, it very much wears his heart on his sleeve. I think that what makes me optimistic for a movie like this is that there is a lot of material out there that it pretty pessimistic. We live in a pretty cynical time, so even though a lot of the humor in this movie could come at the expense of the characters early on, every character is trying to figure out what to do in the week of this tragedy. So it is a very optimistic conclusion to the film, and I think that it sends the message that communication is the key to figure anything out.  

Wyrm premiered at Fantastic Fest.

Director Martin Krejčí on ‘The True Adventures of Wolfboy’ and Crafting a Feel-Good Fantastical Tale

Written by Marc Ciafardini, October 12, 2019 at 8:00 am 

While at Fantastic Fest, it’s not often you find feel-good, heart-warming yarns amid the plethora of films about yakuza, murderers, zombies or other genre staples. But The True Adventures of Wolfboy is as unexpected as it is honest, and it’s a wondrous take on the “It’s okay to be you” type of film, also featuring icons of the indie film scene like Chris Messina and John Turturro.

The film is about a 13-year-old boy, Paul (played by prolific young actor Jaeden Martell), who suffers from hypertrichosis —which covers him with animal-like fur. When he receives a message from his estranged mother, he sets off on an adventure. Jared Mobarak said in our review, “Writer Olivia Dufault and director Martin Krejcí must therefore put him on a path of hard knock life lessons away from the naïve father inherently (but non-maliciously) pushing him towards an isolated life while attempting the opposite. So it’s only when Paul does run that The True Adventures of Wolfboy begins to expose him to a world far-removed from small town USA’s black and white mindset. This is where he meets a collector of misfits in carnival ringleader Mr. Silk (John Turturro), a transgender singer treating him as an equal (Sophie Giannamore’s Aristiana), and a one-eyed thief taking him under wing to show that rules are meant to be broken (Eve Hewson’s Rose). They see him as something even his father can’t: a child just like any other.”

We sat with director Martin Krejčí to discuss his film following its screening at Fantastic Fest. Watch the conversation below.

Gregg Turkington, the World’s #1-Ranked Movie Expert, on Film Bloggers and ‘Mister America’

Written by Nick Newman, October 9, 2019 at 10:06 am 

You’ll be forgiven for not realizing one of this decade’s most enveloping, complex, haunting, and haunted performances exists almost exclusively on a bite-sized Adult Swim series. Stepping inside the labyrinthine world of On Cinema, however, reveals Gregg Turkington’s work as… Gregg Turkington, a film-obsessive psychotic whose passions veer almost exclusively towards the least-useful American studio movies of the last 30-or-so years. There is no sense of what is happening with him outside a movie-theater seat, save the occasional, overwhelmingly dire peek into what’s done to fuel his passions. Otherwise, On Cinema‘s resident film expert is wont to grant each week’s big releases five bags of popcorn (their highest rating) and dwell on “Popcorn Classics,” about which he has little to say except a factoid concerning its cast member and the runtime. If the On Cinema universe already sounds exhausting, good news: there are ten complete seasons, a currently running eleventh, a five-hour mock trial, a spin-off action series, and now Mister America, the feature-film expansion from Turkington (performer, not character), Tim Heidecker (again), and director Eric Notarnicola.

Gregg is one of modern fiction’s great enigmas: for being so fully realized in the hermetic context of his movie-review show is he so impossible to conceptualize as existing in the outside world. It was thus an immense opportunity to speak with the actual Turkington, who only pulls back the curtain on his creations (the major figure being comedian Neil Hamburger) when press calls for it (as with that aforementioned character’s “movie debut,” Entertainment, from 2015), but is nevertheless immensely open on the subject. If not a bit more niche than most interviews I’ve conducted, I do believe that, for On Cinema fans, the following is a proper dissection of the world’s #1-ranked movie expert.

The Film Stage: As one who’s been surrounded by–and, of course, occasionally embodied–myopic cinephilia, I wonder if your creation of the Gregg character was inspired by specific people or encounters.

Gregg Turkington: Well… yes. But it’s, like a lot of things, more a composite of lots of different folks. I collect records and have quite a collection of those. Unfortunately, that involves going to record-swaps and dealing with some of these record people who have that exact same mentality–just for a different thing. I can’t even go anymore because it’s just too disturbing. But a lot of times I’ll go to those things and come back, and I’m just raving to my wife: “I can’t go to those things anymore. I can’t stand the smells of these people.” You know? There’s no women there–just these sad, sad people with real issues [Laughs] and real problems. I don’t know, they’re kind of more interested in the artifacts and objects than the art itself. It’s kind of missing the whole point there.

And I’ve known people throughout my life who have this really extreme confidence–more confidence than people I know who are actually really good at what they do. But these people do nothing at all. It’s really a strange thing, when you listen to somebody with that much confidence. I mean, just more confidence than anybody I know in the world, and yet somebody that absolutely can do nothing. When we conceived of these characters, it was definitely not sitting there, conceiving of these fully realized characters. This was more something that evolved. We started this thing out as kind of a joke podcast, something to do in-between takes while we were shooting The Comedy, and it certainly wasn’t a question of sitting there and graphing-out what was going to happen to these guys over time and what was going to happen with the project in general.

I like that you say this, because the older episodes and podcast sort of show a different character. His initial cockiness is not necessarily in the later seasons, or if so, it’s this weird, sublimated, internalized thing, where he’s a hard shell of a human being.

Mmm-hmm. Yeah.

Maybe I sound like Gregg talking about Jaws 2 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind…

No, no. No, no.

…but, say, he’ll reference finding a lead actress attractive, and Gregg as he exists now, it’s impossible to imagine him ever saying that.

Right. Right. It’s also true that, really, anybody in the public eye and doing something for years, you see that kind of evolution happen. When you’re creating these characters, you don’t want to eliminate the possibility that some things change, especially dependent on any success–or lack of success–they might be having. I mean, you take anybody that has been doing things for years, go to one interview they did, then go ten years later and say, “My God, they changed 100%.” I think when you create fictitious characters, you’re kind of crazy if you don’t allow that to happen as well, because that’s a real thing.

These guys definitely had some… I don’t know if “success” is exactly the word, but initially there was no chance that these guys were going to have a, say, TV action series like Decker in production. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of things that have happened in their lives that are exciting and would probably lead to some additional arrogance or personality changes. Also, you know what the other thing is? I’m not sitting there watching all these episodes, either, trying to look for those consistencies that somebody might when they’re putting together new Star Wars movies and creating a new character Bible. Everything is intuition and hoping that we might get it right.

It’s amazing to see Gregg on the stand in The Trial. It’s this fish-out-of-water environment, emphasizing how small the On Cinema world is: that one set in ten-minute spurts.

Yeah.

Putting him out in the world to interact with real people, I was amazed at how you modulated your performance: he’s aware of this being a serious thing concerning real people, so there is a different tone he’s striking. Could you talk about altering your performance for the environments–from show to trial to, now, movie?

One thing that’s interesting is that, with The Trial, and with this movie even moreso: these are the first times these characters are being presented without any sort of editorial control over how they’re being presented. With The Trial, it was just raw footage. In the On Cinema world, we presumably have some control over those episodes–our characters do. Now, in this movie, you see even more of it. You talk about the fish-out-of-water with Gregg in the courtroom. In this movie, you’re seeing this character out in the real world and it is a little shocking. Because all that stuff has been implied or described on the show. Same with Tim: you’re actually seeing these guys, and presented by somebody that possibly is not too keen on them. [Laughs] You know?

So definitely with The Trial, one thing is that we know these characters and get in that mindset, and hopefully we’re ready to go with presenting it as it would be because we know the characters. But shooting that trial in that actual courtroom–that was a real Los Angeles County courtroom–the fact that those cameras were set up like it would be for Court TV and there weren’t a bunch of people standing around, that it really felt like a courtroom… I think that changed everyone’s performance for the better. It did not feel like a movie set. It really felt like a day in court.

I guess I find On Cinema most fascinating as a study of human behavior, and I’m obsessed with the Gregg character because it’s so hard to imagine his mental landscape. It’s like the record-swap people: a den of misery. Have you thought about his off-show life? Like, what he does on a Monday afternoon.

No, no, we think about it. We talk about it. I think of him as somebody with some sort of escapist tendencies, and perhaps at some point these fantastical worlds you see in these fantasy movies, at some point the guy probably wished that he could be part of those worlds. It’s just kind of gotten more and more removed from that, so now the fantasy world is having more movies to watch and videotapes to collect. I think the day-to-day life, we do discuss it and we do like to put hints at it: Tim talking about the black mold, things like that, sort of come out. I think we’re trying not to do the wink-wink at the audience with this stuff, even at the expense of the laugh.

It’s kind of almost more approached from drama than comedy; then the comedy comes through in all the details. Those kinds of details, to me, are the funniest things, rather than any actual jokes. So we’re definitely aware of those details, but I also think that unveiling it slowly is part of what makes the whole thing so interesting. If you were to have done this, like, episode one, “Let’s go into Gregg’s home and look at all this and talk to his friends,” then it’s all been revealed. This has been a very slow reveal, and really, though this movie just concentrates on Tim’s run for DA, you’re getting a lot of new information about both of these guys. There are a lot of hunches that you may have confirmed on a much bigger level than you may have had in ten seasons of On Cinema.

The sight of him going through the cardboard box of VHS tapes.

Right! There you go, exactly. That’s part of the daily life. And then you’re wondering, “Who is this person that called in this tip?” Because you realize that there may be a whole network of Gregg-type guys. [Laughs] You know what I mean? I’m looking at the phone, like, really seriously, like I’ve got some real information, and that’s what it turns out to be, is a couple of cardboard boxes by a trash can, but somebody called in that tip.

The fact that he chose to be interviewed in the park where they shot Oh, God!

I don’t know if this had to do with editing, because obviously I went on a lot longer about this stuff than we would’ve had time for, but when I’m describing the scene that’s taking place there, it’s not even Oh, God!–it’s, like, Oh, God! Book II, which is even a crummier thing to be focusing on.

I like that you bring up the black mold, because one of the last things I’ll think about on my deathbed is the image of Gregg on his couch with Ayaka, showing off a VHS tape.

Uh-huh. [Laughs]

I mean, who even took that photo?

Yeah! You’re right: that is a nightmare. There’s also that still photo of us out in the park or something, I think. Those photos really crack me up as well–they’re really sinister.

Finally his Ant-Man shirt isn’t blurred out.

That’s the thing: when you’re taking a photo like that, we are trying to think of specific details that will make the whole thing more depressing. Or when, for instance, Tim has one of his anti-vaccination flyers in his hand: that flyer was designed to look like it was made by a crackpot. There are bad fonts being used and misspellings. You’re not even going to see all that, but having it be that realistic and depressing sets a good tone. All those little details work for us way more than, “Let’s get another joke in here for everyone to laugh at,” or, “Let’s make sure that nobody watching mistakenly believes this is really us.”

Possibly the answer to this is obvious, but as someone who thinks most contemporary film is irredeemably bad, just a dire time for popular movies–which is, of course, all On Cinema ever covers–I have to wonder if you see the show’s attitudes towards these horrible-looking products–giving them five bags of popcorn, calling something “a new comedy classic” or whatever–contemptful?

Contemptful? Definitely. It feels to me like this whole industry is geared towards these big babies, you know? Kind of like, if you’re ever in an airport at 6 in the morning and you see all these guys–successful, older executives; business travelers–and what do they have for breakfast? A giant chocolate-chip cookie with M&M’s in it. It just really kind of stinks. You should have options for children and for people looking for escapism, but so much of this stuff, it really feels like it’s geared towards literal big babies.

When it’s just this non-stop parade of that stuff… even types of movies that were previously for adults, those have kind of been lobotomized as well. I don’t watch any of these movies–we don’t need to to do that show–but it’s certainly [Laughs] mean-spirited speculation as to how awful they are. You could present that by saying, flat-out, “These are awful movies,” or you could kind of do it this other way by saying, “These are fantastic movies,” but with the same idiotic tone that the movies themselves are made.

I think a lot about when you review, like, a new King Kong movie and say, “This is a classic. It’s King Kong. He’s back.”

[Laughs] Right. It’s unacceptable, but also, some of these film bloggers and things do kind of talk like that and do kind of give a pass to these things. It is, I wouldn’t say “legitimate,” but a sort of common review. “He’s back. What more do you want? This is one of these movies–it’s great! You’ll love it!” And why are you reviewing things if that’s your critical eye? Maybe give somebody else this job. [Laughs] You know?

And I don’t know for sure, but I feel like there could be some blowback from film critics reviewing Mister America. These guys have been in our crosshairs for a while, a lot of these people, and this is their chance to strike back. I’ve already seen some really, truly mean-spirited reviews that just go beyond, “Well, I didn’t find this funny,” and you kind of wonder, “Hmm… did we ruffle some feathers with this guy?” Because I think the last thing a film critic would want to do is watch On Cinema and see themselves in somebody like Gregg from the show.

Mister America is now in theaters.

Olivier Assayas on Re-Editing ‘Wasp Network,’ Lifting from Martin Scorsese, and Cinematography Challenges

Written by Nick Newman, October 7, 2019 at 10:56 am 

Photo by Dan Rodriguez

It is, of course, hard for movies to shake the narrative hoisted upon them. Wasp Network began its festival run rather unceremoniously, premiering at this year’s Venice International Film Festival to mixed reviews–Olivier Assayas’ first in quite a while–the director’s own admissions that he had neither the time nor money necessary for the sprawling epic clearly put on the page, and, as a sad addendum, word he’d be re-editing as soon as the now-“first” cut was seen.

To hear him tell it, he’s less than phased. And the new, supposedly streamlined cut that’s just premiered at the New York Film Festival does work: some narrative jankiness remains, but it’s far more coherent and confident than word would suggest. There was some need to go over all this when sitting down with Assayas immediately after this new iteration’s reveal, but that’s not even the half of it–Wasp Network boasts too much else not to engender a detailed interview.

The Film Stage: Wasp Network premiered only a little over a month ago. Is there a freshness the movie still has, in talking about it?

Olivier Assayas: Oh, totally, because I did a lot of stuff in Venice, but in Toronto I was, because of commitments, in and out, so I didn’t really do a lot of press. So I feel pretty fresh about the film, and I’m still at a stage where I enjoy discussing it.

By the time it played in Toronto, you’d decided to make changes.

It’s something I decided in Venice. I knew I wanted to do some fine-tuning before the release, and in Venice, I decided that I had to do it right away. The problem is that I had no time to do it, so I had to kind of “invent” the time to do it, but I thought it was just ridiculous. I think there was a problem with an overload of information, which was extremely simple to solve and disturbed me, myself, when I was watching the film in Venice. I wanted to do that for the general release, but I think it made more sense to do it as early as possible, for the film festival. But it’s really a decision we made in Venice.

Last we talked, you called Twitter “one of the evils of the modern world” for the terrible tradition of a narrative forming around a film as credits are still rolling and people need to be first with announcing their thoughts. I find it interesting that you’re very honest talking about how Wasp Network was a difficult production–not enough money, not enough time, trouble shooting in Cuba–then the movie premieres and you announce the need to recut. Even if it’s not fair to the movie, which I do think works, there is a narrative that can emerge.

Yeah, yeah. I know. I know.

Do you concern yourself with this?

Honestly, my concern is the film. My concern is the film. No, I understand what you mean, and I think you’re totally right–in the sense that, yes, there’s a narrative that’s built–but you have to protect yourself of that. Like, completely. Even in the sense that there is this notion of, when you make a film–even if it’s not publicized and this and that, people know it exists, that it’s in the works, that it’s going to happen. They grab elements like “spy thriller,” they grab “Cuba,” blah blah, and they come to the screening with very specific expectations–they’ve already made the film. They have their own version of the film, and usually what the film really is does not really match what they had in mind, so there is this moment of adaptation.

You’re right to bring it up, because it’s something you can’t really avoid. You deal with it, even if you can’t really repress it, and kind of protect yourself from it. It’s one of the levels on which the film exists, but then you shouldn’t be intimidated by that, because what’s at play isn’t the real film–it’s the fantasized film. You have to be patient and for things to cool down, for people to realize that the film is actually the film and watch it on its merits–on whatever it is, but not on the fantasy of what it “should” be.

To talk more specifically of the film: I found kind of extraordinary your aviation sequences, in particular the many, many images of planes flying through the sky. How much did you shoot yourself, or how much was second-unit?

[Pause] It’s all mine and all second-unit. I was not physically in the planes. I did something I never do, which is design the shots. I designed the shots and told the guy, “I want this, I want that,” but I was on the ground trying to coordinate those guys. To me, it was obviously the most complex element in the film. From the start I’ve been working and working and working on those scenes, on how to get them right, how to make them believable, how to get exactly the shots I wanted, because everything was a problem. There are no private planes, no tourist planes, in Cuba–it doesn’t exist–so we had to bring the planes from the U.S., which was a nightmare. Usually, when you shoot those scenes, you have helicopters and you adapt this kind of ball, where you put the camera, and you have some guy with joysticks in the helicopter.

There’s no helicopters in Cuba; there only was this huge army helicopter, which is bigger than a truck. So we had to shoot the in-flight scenes from that army helicopter. Coordinating the whole thing and designing the shots–saying “I want this, I want that”–the guys bring you the materials, say, “No, we missed this, we missed that,” they have to change this. It took up, I don’t know, like half the preparation of the film. And we used very few special effects, because at some point I thought we would use stock shots. But we used zero stock shots. We filmed the MiGs ourselves. Even when you have some in-flight scenes from the MiGs, we gave a camera–a small 4K camera–to one of the pilots in one of the planes. I’m asking him specific shots, so he’s not credited, but he was one of the cameramen in the film.

There’s a lot of stuff we did with drones, so the drone operator was pretty much on his own and bringing back the stuff that he did–saying, “This works, this does not work”–and it went on during the whole period of the shoot. We were very scaled with the budget because we had a very tight budget, compared with whatever the film is, so we had to do this with the least-possible special effects. When they shoot down the two planes, those are special effects, as you can imagine. Apart from that, we added a few reflections of clouds here, reflections of clouds there, we erased a couple of stuff, but there were more special effects in Personal Shopper than in this film.

You also have two credited DPs.

I have two credited DPs, I have two credited assistants, I have 18 producers. [Laughs] The film was very challenging for everybody concerned. Staying four months in Cuba is not something everybody is up to. I was supposed to make the film with Yorick Le Saux, and at some point Yorick, he had shot Greta Gerwig’s film in wherever they shot it, and he had been away from home for months and he has two small daughters. He, at some point, said, “Olivier, I beg you: just don’t make me do that. My wife is going to kill me and I want to spend time with my daughters,” and so on and so forth. We made a deal where we basically did the same thing as in Carlos, meaning: we had two cameramen.

It’s Denis Lenoir, who is a dear friend and great cameraman, who did the first half. Then Yorick came in. Same thing with my assistant: all those guys have families. They don’t want to be away from home so long, so he split it with a guy who actually had been my AD ten years ago, who’s now my producer but stepped in to help. I think that if you take the beginning of the prep until the end of the shoot, there were only two or three people who had done the whole production. Even the set designer, François Labarthe, he left three weeks before we finished Cuba, and he didn’t do Gran Canaria, where we finished the shoot, because he was doing a series for Netflix in Thailand or whatever. People were coming in and out, and I had to adapt every day to whoever was there. [Laughs]

And it’s a pretty consistent palette.

That was Denis’ bet. Denis’ theory, which is very generous but not completely right, is that it doesn’t matter if you have two cameraman because, basically, it’s the director who makes the light. I don’t think I make the light, but I think that I define a way of functioning with my cameraman, which is very similar when I’m working with Eric Gautier, when I’m working with Yorick Le Saux, with Denis Lenoir–they are really, like, the three guys I can work with because they understand how I function and they have the culture of functioning that way. Meaning, not rehearsing, having zero time to light, so on and so forth.

Lenoir shot that Tokyo short of yours from…

Yes!

…almost forty years ago?

Yes, I know. [Laughs] I did all my films with Denis until Cold Water. After Cold Water, it’s a complicated story between us. We were supposed to do Sentimental Destinies, which, at that time, was the biggest project I had been involved in, and the producer of the film wanted me–because I would have to handle such a big budget for the first time–to use another, more experienced crew, and he kind of imposed on me another cameraman. Denis resented, a lot.

But then the film did not happen–it happened later–and then I wrote Irma Vep, I brought it to Denis, and Denis, he said it much more politely, but it’s like, “Fuck you. When you make the bigger film you don’t hire me, and now you’re shooting in four weeks, for no money, this movie, and you want me to do it? I’m not in.” But we worked again after that. Denis did Demonlover, half of Carlos, and he’s one of my best friends.

I was taken by surprised by the movie’s temporal leaps, for instance when Juan Pablo (Wagner Moura) and Ana Margarita (Ana de Armas) go on a first date; next time we see them, Rene (Edgar Ramirez) is visiting the home they share.

For me, that’s what was exciting about the film: this idea that, at some point, you just flip the cards. Possibly, walking in, you had a notion that the film was about Cuban spies, but you didn’t know exactly what kind of spies and doing what. Even if you, maybe, had your suspicions before, I like letting the whole thing take shape, give you a sense that you are in a completely different narrative. But of course I liked the idea that, at some point, you had to completely switch perspectives and… what can I say?

I don’t like linear narrative. I think it’s boring, and I like the idea, in terms of narrative and dramaturgy, to take risks and surprise. You want to surprise the audience, really. Being entertained and surprised is part of being entertained or raising your interest or curiosity or awareness of what’s going on. It’s really like, all of a sudden, you wake up and start watching the film in a completely different way. It’s obviously something I had fun with.

A clear dividing line is your flashback sequence, montage, and voiceover. And I can’t think of many instances in your filmography with voiceover.

No, it’s the first time I’ve done that. Totally the first time. Honestly, I had wanted to do it for a long time. It’s obviously lifted from Martin Scorsese, but I was so impressed with the way he does that in his movies, I promised myself that one day I would try to have a shot. I like the idea of speeding up the narrative, and there’s something very playful and energetic about it. I’ve very seldom used voiceover; I think I’ve never used voiceover. In the initial version of Sentimental Destinies there was a voiceover, but I don’t know, everybody hated it–except me [Laughs]–so I had to adapt and I didn’t use it, in the end.

But this one needed a voiceover, if only because the thing is, here, I was also confronted with a very complex story which I simplified to the maximum. The various and conflicting anti-Castro groups, the way they are infiltrated by the FBI, everybody playing double games and all this being defined by American politics in Florida because it’s a swing state–all of that, if you want to explain that to someone who’s not familiar with the U.S. and its political culture, is lost. There were a couple of moments where I needed to give just the raw facts.

I liked the performer you chose. What were you seeking there?

It was very difficult; I had no idea how to handle it. Everybody before the shoot kept on asking me, “So, what are you going to do? Who is going to be the voiceover?” I didn’t want it to be one of the actors because I think that would have spoiled it.” But I was really not sure of what kind of voice I wanted, but I work with my casting director, Antoinette Boulat, and told her we needed to find the right voice. She basically interviewed, like, a lot of people, and finally we tested the voices and narrowed it down to, like, ten guys who did the whole speech.

We chose the one that kind of fit, and we had him redo it many times to get it right. We spent a lot of time on that, and then we reedited and changed words–it’s been a pretty complex process. It was also very difficult because the guy we had chosen lived in L.A. He was in a recording studio in L.A. and we were in a recording studio in Paris, and we had issues with the connection.

You have a song from the Feelies, who, as my friend Vikram Murthi noted, were wary of their music’s use in Carlos.

Actually I wanted to use only their music in Carlos. My first cut is music from the Feelies all over. The problem is that we asked them for one song; they said okay. We asked them for two songs; they said okay. We asked them for three songs; they said okay. Then we started asking for four, five songs, and all of a sudden, “Why are those guys wanting so much of my music? This is going to be a movie about a terrorist,” and they were scared of being associated with a movie dealing with terrorism, and eventually they would not be able to sell their music for more family-oriented movies, so they kind of panicked. They allowed us three tracks on Carlos, and I’m sure they regretted it after. [Laughs] But I don’t know, for some reason… it’s not just that I love their music. Their music works with the way I film. On this movie, I tried many things, like I always do, and the only track that kind of worked was this track–which initially was in Carlos but did not make the final cut.

Are there any musical acts, songs, you’ve had in the back of your mind for putting in a film, but haven’t integrated because there hasn’t yet been a place?

I constantly make mixtapes. It’s, like, neurotic: I’m at home at 2 in the morning, in front of a computer, making mixtapes. Or I’m looking up obscure bands. Like, in this case, I have a flash of that song from the Five Americans, “Western Union,” which was a minor hit in the ‘60s, and I don’t know–for some reason it just came back to my mind and I looked it up on iTunes, I found it, I loved it, and it’s been in various mixtapes for a while until I finally found a way of using it.

Those playlists would be quite the cinephile currency.

I’d be happy to send it out whenever.

Wasp Network played at the 57th New York Film Festival and is seeking U.S. distribution.

Bertrand Bonello on ‘Zombi Child,’ the Positivity of Voodoo, Real-Life Zombies, and Contemporary Cultural Tensions

Written by Joshua Encinias, October 7, 2019 at 9:03 am 

Photo by Dan Rodriguez

Bertrand Bonello returns to the New York Film Festival with Zombi Child, which follows Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), granddaughter to Haiti’s most famous zombi, Clairvius Narcisse, and an immigrant to France whose parents died in the 2010 earthquake. 

Mélissa’s friend Fanny (Louise Labeque) wants her to join a secret group of girls at the prestigious Légion d’honneur boarding school, but the cliquish group of privileged white girls (who exude a coven vibe) conflict with Mélissa’s cool, unconcerned appeal. Mélissa’s confidence comes from a conditioned sense of her grandfather’s oppression and enslavement by zombification. As Fanny is drawn deeper into the roots of Mélissa’s voodoo heritage, all hell breaks loose when she uses it for manipulative ends.

We sat down with Bonello at the 57th New York Film Festival to discuss meeting real-life zombies, the great lengths he went to respect the Haitian tradition of voodoo while telling a taboo story, using Clairvius Narcisse’s zombification to contextualize contemporary cultural tensions, and recruiting historian Patrick Boucheron to explain how liberalism obscures liberty.

The Film Stage: Did you meet anyone in Haiti who is or was a zombi?

Bertrand Bonello: No, you know it’s something that’s very taboo in Haiti. It’s part of their history, but it’s a dark side of voodoo. People don’t like to talk about it. On the first trip we made, which was maybe the most important, it was to do some location scouting and casting, but it was to meet some people and make the project accepted by them. Me, being a white Frenchman going to Haiti, saying I’m going to make a film about voodoo and zombies, they don’t trust you—and they are right in a way—so we had a lot of meetings talking with the intellectual part of Haiti to explain the project’s point of view. People tell me zombies might exist, but it’s not so clear. Even my zombi, Clairvius Narcisse, who is someone who existed, some people say maybe it’s not true. Though I saw some videos on YouTube of people who have been zombified… they’re not in a very good state. When I was casting I met thirty guys and they all did their zombi in the same way. I didn’t direct them. It’s so much a part of their history, they know how to do it. They know how to walk and the weird sound they make with their voices. 

How were you received in Haiti?

There were reservations and I understand that–it’s normal. Voodoo and zombies have been used to make the country look terrible in the 1930s during the occupation of the Americans. Voodoo is something very positive, so of course they were a little skeptical. I had to spend time explaining the film and why I was doing it. They realized I had some knowledge and I was not there to make a horror movie about things that are important to them. I had a historical and political point of view of the idea of making a film about a zombi, taking this pop figure back to its origin. We talked about slavery and even more so about colonialism in Haiti. Little by little we were accepted in the country and we had some people who really helped us. 

Why did you want to make a film about Clairvius Narcisse’s zombification?

About fifteen years ago I was very interested in Haiti. My ex-wife was shooting a film there and she was telling me so many amazing stories about the country. I started reading about Haiti and their history is so fascinating in that they are the first black country that became free. When you get an interest in Haiti, you quickly go to voodoo and zombies. I read Clairvius Narcisse’s story and it stayed in my mind because it’s so amazing. A year and a half ago, I was searching for a film I could make not in France. I need to go away and have a different frame of thinking about how to make a film. This idea came back to me: what is a zombi? What is my zombi? It’s just a man that walks for many years with his head looking at the ground. This image was a strong starting point for making a film, then I built the rest. Most of the rest is based in France. You don’t know why something you’ve known for a long time, at one moment, becomes evident that’s going to be your new film. It just happens. 

You wanted to shoot in Haiti, get inspired, and bring that to the French shoot, but you had to shoot in France first. What would have shooting in Haiti first done for the film?

Because Haiti would have been so unknown for me, when I had filmed the French part it would have felt fuller. But it was a difficult year for their country with lots of struggles, so we couldn’t film there first. I shot first in France, edited that part, you do what you can when you make a film. So many problems appear. 

Narcisse’s granddaughter Mélissa has zombi-like traits, but she has it under control, like it’s part of who she is, but isn’t controlled by it. 

She’s a young girl who spent half of her life in Haiti and half in France. So she’s culturally mixed. She knows the story of her grandfather, probably because her mother or aunt told her; she knows the story, she can’t tell it. She’s also French and European and for her, zombies are also the zombies we all know. One subject of the film is what do you do with your history? For Mélissa, she’s the granddaughter of a zombi, what does she do with that? For the Haitian people, what do they do with their history? They know what to do, they’re strong people. For French people, what do we do with our history? The history teacher says at the beginning of the film we created the art revolution and the idea of strong freedom, liberty, but are we really being that good about it? 

Patrick Boucheron plays the history teacher and says liberty combined with progress creates liberalism, but it obscures liberty. 

The two currents of liberty in the 19th century was the only prompt I gave him, the rest is his lesson. In the days we’re living it’s very clear. The freedom of capitalism kills a lot of people, but I was surprised in his lesson he was so close to the movie in many things. Not only the history lesson, but how he says it. For example, how can we tell a story? Can we tell it in a straight way or in a weird way, which is exactly what I did with the film. What is having an experience? That’s what happens to the French girl Fanny. In a way the whole film is his lesson. I could have stopped the film with his lesson and said it’s done. 

The American version of a zombie is more of a monster, eating brains and flesh. What do you think of that addition? 

There’s a history of zombies in the movies. In the 1920s there was a book called “The Magic Island” about Haiti and there’s a chapter about zombies. Just after 1931 I think, you have the first zombi film, White Zombie, with Bella Lugosi and it’s still a Haitian zombi. Then you have I Walked with a Zombie by Jacques Tourneur which is still this kind of zombi, but then it disappears, it becomes something else. You have the films of George Romero where the zombi isn’t someone between life and death, it’s a dead man who came back because there isn’t any room in hell. Romero did very political films with that metaphor. Then you have zombies that are more for fun and entertainment. Now I think we’re going back with political zombies in film. It’s an amazing figure to talk about us and our fear of the foreigner and of what we are becoming. It’s a perfect figure to talk about the loss of humanity. 

Are you working on another movie?

Yes, it has some genre in it, but it’s not a genre movie. It’s a big melodrama.

Zombi Child screened at the 57th New York Film Festival and will be released on January 24, 2020 at Film at Lincoln Center.

‘The Death of Dick Long’ Director Daniel Scheinert on the Explosion of the Nuclear Family & the Emotion of 2000s Rock

Written by Mike Mazzanti, October 6, 2019 at 10:29 am 

After a string of shorts and music videos, writer-director Daniel Scheinert—along with his frequent collaborator Daniel Kwan—broke into feature films with Swiss Army Man. Casting Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse alongside Paul Dano’s depressed loner, the film carved out a slew of fans who were intrigued, repulsed, and delighted in equal measure.

Now, Scheinert has branched off on his own for The Death of Dick Long, a darker venture than his last. It’s one steeped in sadness and anxiety, despite, or perhaps, in part, because of, its close relationship to comedy. The result is a film that has viewers follow characters who are both reprehensible and highly relatable in equal measure, with the narrative around them weaving between buddy comedy, bumbling police procedural, and severe familial breakdown.  

With the film now in theaters, we sat down with Scheinert to talk about establishing character dynamics, working once again with members of Manchester Orchestra, the terrors of nuclear families and faking it, and getting to do your own version of a Quentin Tarantino scene. Also, trolling fans of the long-forgotten band Hinder.

The Film Stage: The first thing I noticed with this film, with some of the marketing and anticipation, there is a certain level of, ‘from one of the directors of Swiss Army Man,’ and I think for some people, there’s this idea that there will be an emphasis on this kind of ‘whacky comedy’ element. Despite Swiss Army Man having a very emotional center.

Daniel Scheinert: Yeah.

The Death of Dick Long does use comedy in a lot of ways—it deescalates tension, it subverts scene structures, it creates humanity—but at its core, it’s a deeply sad film.

[Laughs] Yeah.

Can you talk about what the process was like for figuring out the film. It starts off as a goofy idea, but when you chew it over, it becomes something quite sad.

Yeah! I would say the same about Swiss Army Man. It’s funny when people are like, ‘Oh, Dick Long is not as funny as that one,’ because such a huge chunk of Swiss Army Man is about a suicidal man thinking about mortality, and there’s just a lot of farts.

 [Both laugh]

With The Death of Dick Long, it’s a different movie because I fell in love with the script that my good friend Billy [Chew] wrote, as opposed to writing it for three years with my buddy Dan [Kwan, who co-wrote Swiss Army Man]. I was just talking to my friend yesterday and she was like, ‘I’m kind of scared of you,’ because she just finished the movie. And I’m like why? We can talk about it!

[Both laugh]

But, I really love going to the darkest places I can go, and then still trying to have a sense of humor about it. A lot of my art does that: kind of giving you permission to laugh at the scariest things in life. So yeah, this is a movie that’s kind of trying to be a horror film, of sorts, about keeping a secret from your wife and family; but I’m still trying to inject as much humanity and humor in there as possible. Because life’s funny.

One of the ways that humanity comes out, in its most obvious form, is in the dynamic between Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland). There was something so great about their dynamic in the way that, at one moment—like in the scene in the lake—they’ll be roughhousing, but in the very next, they’ll be extremely sensitive with each other. It’s like they switch this kind of front on and off.

Totally.

Was it a lot of working with the actors to get that? Or was it all written? How did you go about establishing their back and forth?

It was both, working from the script and with the actors. Michael and Andre both agreed to just live in a house together, which was what I asked them to do.

Wow.

So, for like a month and a half, Andre and Mike were just living together. So, any days that they had off, they’d just get breakfast or lunch or just hang out. I think that really created a comfortable rapport between them, which paid off in scenes like that one in the lake, when Andre really did bite down on his tooth and they both just didn’t break character. That moment in the lake is real life.

[Both laugh]

We just kept filming! And then after the scene was over I was like, ‘Guys, as long as you’re both okay, can you reenact that for the wide shot so we can put it in the movie?’ And they were like, ‘sure, sure.’

They were really just that familiar with each other. Mike really did just swim over and start digging around in Andre’s mouth to see if he was okay, which just blew my mind. And that dynamic is also just based on real life; with my closest guy friendships, one moment you’re pranking each other and throwing each other into the bushes and the next moment you’re having really deep heart-to-hearts. There really is this kind of masculine code-switching that goes on that’s like…so weird when you take a step back and photograph it.

Definitely.

Like, what is this thing we do? [Laughs]

Sticking with the dynamics, but between Zeke and Lydia (Virginia Newcomb), there was a scene that really struck me that takes place in the kitchen of their home. It was a very emotionally intuitive scene for me to watch, and it really captures the seesaw of feelings you go through when you’re having a revelation about someone you’re spending a lot of time with.

Yeah.

What was it like working out the emotional arch of a scene like that?

Yeah! That central scene in the kitchen we actually rehearsed very little, and we sort of rehearsed everything else. On one hand, I love having tons of forethought in getting a shot just right—which Dan Kwan and I do a lot with our visual effects-heavy things—but I also really love capturing those raw moments with actors. This movie gave me a chance to do a lot of that.

So, we rehearsed very little and the very first take was just Virginia staring down the lens and reacting how she would react. So, to prepare, it was more about building the scaffolding of their relationship and then just letting the scene happen, than it was about like, ‘let’s talk about what kinda face you’ll make here!’ Or, ‘what are you thinking about when he says this?’

Mike and Virginia both just really naturally fell into the scene and they both murdered it. My job as a director was just to make sure we pointed the camera in the right place.

Yeah, Virginia is just a knockout in that scene, it’s kind of unbelievable to watch.

Yeah, I was so thrilled. She’s like, such a happy person, like a really goofy, happy person 99% of the time. So when she does a really dramatic, emotionally-wrought role, there is still so much humanity in it. I just love that and I think it’s one of the reasons that when comedians play a dramatic role, it’s so watchable. They can’t help but keep the silly humor in there. There’s something so watchable about Punch-Drunk Love or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, when these funny people play melancholy roles. I think Virginia is a little bit like that.

Regarding the music, Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, two wildly talented dudes.

Yeah!

You worked with them on Swiss Army Man. The way the music functioned in that movie was very integral to every other part, like with the actors having to learn the lyrics. What were the conversations like this time around, when you’re working with them again, but on a more traditional film score?

They just read the script and we chatted about their reactions, and what the role of the music would be. We had a blast doing a more traditional score together; we’d talk about what the key themes would be and when they’d reoccur, then we’d try to crack those themes and thread them throughout the movie. We’d also talk about the score fluctuating between being, ya know, these guys [in the film] are in a shitty garage band, so we wanted the score to be inspired by that. 

[Both laugh]

So that was really fun, but then we also wanted the score to work on a Shakespearian level as well, as a bottle drama, and take itself seriously at times. We tried to use the music to balance out where the audience might be [emotionally] in a given scene, and either add weight to something that could be mocked, or to ground it in this shitty garage band world—without getting too melodramatic. Andy and Robert are so good at both of those, being part of a rock band themselves who do operatic, insane, epic music. So we got to take advantage of their range there. 

This might sound crazy, but sticking with the music, there’s this needle drop in the movie from the band Hinder.

Yeah!

Which I had literally not heard since I was maybe 12?

Oh yeah!

The song is talking about how, ‘You can do much better than me,’ and the needle drop alone just made me laugh, especially contrasted with the images it was playing with.

 [Laughs] Yeah.

But then the fact that, lyrically, the song resonated as the film developed was just…astounding to me. I don’t necessarily have a question there, but I was blown away at the audacity of that choice.

[Laughs] I’m so psyched! You’re the first person who’s brought up Hinder. Everyone wants to talk about Nickelback and Staind.

[Laughs]

In college, Billy and I had a shitty hobby of trolling Hinder fans on YouTube. We’d go on there and we’d say something that would get them riled up, and then we’d get into a comment war.

[Both laugh]

Such a shitty thing to do…But, when we were working on the movie and started putting all these songs in there, on one level it’s kind of a way to develop the characters in a way that’s winky and kind of funny. But also, with every song, the lyrical content is on point. This rock and roll music from the ‘90s and early 2000s is just so emotionally wrought! People make fun of emo for being lyrically so wrought, but the lyrics are the same with these rock bands! It’s just the instruments that change… the voice got a little more nasally. 

But… Nickelback songs are emo as shit. [Laughs]

What became so interesting about those needle drops in the film, versus the score and The Avett Brothers song that plays late in the film, what I started to notice was the way the poeticism of the score contrasts with these early 2000s, alt-rock, post-grunge-but-really-emo songs. The rock songs feel like the surface-level emotion that reflects the lie that these two guys are trying desperately to keep spinning. Then the score feels like it cuts through that and get to the truth, the gooey center of what’s actually happening. I thought that was a fascinating contrast to have playing throughout the film.

 Yeah! Well put. I love when a movie’s music doesn’t just do one thing, doesn’t just hit the nail on the head for an hour and a half. If it can create contrasts, then that’s so fun. To be able to, in one scene use music to continue a lie and in the next, to poke through it. Obviously, people who watch this movie will be like, ‘holy cow, the music is all over the place!’ Which is kind of just my taste, but also, it’s a way to try to use music to tell the story and not to just pace up the film. Sometimes, scores just feel like they’re trying to pace the movie up and keep it pleasant.

Yeah, you’re not trying to just sell records. Sometimes, it feels like people curate soundtracks to be like, ‘Oh this is a great album and I want to listen to every song, regardless of the movie.’

Yeah, I actually wanted to put out a soundtrack with all of it on there, but Andy and Rob don’t want to. They’re like, ‘yeah, can you put our music out on its own, please?’

[Laughs] Are you telling me that the people behind Manchester Orchestra don’t want to be contrasted with Creed?

[Both laugh]

 I guess not. They’re just like, ‘I just want people to be able to hear the music we made.’ I’m like, fair.

[Both laugh]

Yeah, it’s pretty all over the place. Brenda Lee, Gucci Mane, and Hinder…

Wen ‘With Arms Wide Open’ [by Creed] dropped when they’re in the trailer. That was such a perfect encapsulation; it hit this very unique feeling for me and really worked with the betrayal Zeke is feeling in that moment. It was so interesting to contrast those two things.

[Laughs] I’m so glad you liked that bit. When we plopped that in there we were like, ‘There’s no way we can afford this [song],’ but… we got it. So thrilled.

In another very charged, very crucial moment of the film, there’s this really extended zoom that you do. It’s coupled with this almost elevator jazz tune, and it felt like the apex of the film. It’s extremely captivating to watch and it feels like everything piling up, every little bit from the movie, piling up into one moment. Can you talk about coming up with that decision?

Yeah! It evolved along the way. The song playing there at the climax is the same one that opened the film. When Ashley Connor (the cinematographer) and I were working on the look of the film, we came up with a few scenes where we were excited about plopping a zoom in. So, we had a zoom lying around and, as we started shooting a scene, found it to be a such a really fun way to photograph a noir or a mystery; to just go from a wider frame to just really zeroing in on something.

So, we got to that scene and I think we discovered that shot on the day—I can’t remember if we knew we were going to a long zoom [on Mike] or not. But it had been successful in so many other scenes, we were like, let’s try it! Mike Abbott just does such a good job, and we knew the rest of the scene was going to be so cutty, we were like: let’s just do one long, brutal shot, if possible. I was so happy with how it turned out. Just trying to do our Quentin Tarantino scene, our Inglourious Basterds scene; a bunch of people chatting around a table for five or six minutes.

I think what makes that zoom land even harder is because before it, there’s this absurd level of hysteria around the way it’s cutting and the way the sound design is coming in and being lifted up. It’s the most muscle-tensing sensation to watch that scene, because you are so cued into what every person is doing; everyone is reading each other’s dynamics and these little tics—people rubbing their hands together or scratching anxiously. So, to contrast the way that whole scene is cut, in a very frenetic way, with that extended zoom at the end is such a perfect way to culminate that moment.

Dope! Yeah, thank you! I’m so glad it worked so well for you. The movie has so many bottled up, tense scenes that we tried real hard to makes sure that they wouldn’t all be photographed the same way. That scene, in particular, it was a goal of ours to be like, ‘Okay, let’s make sure that doesn’t look and feel like the other ones.’ So, we planned to aim straight at their faces and get tons of coverage, and make it really not subtle, filmically, and just have it be all about their reactions. I was real happy with how it came together.

Going back to the theme of the film, when Zeke presents this idea of how, if you’ve gone through a period of your life where you’re lonely, it doesn’t necessarily go away when you find someone; you still carry those habits and feelings with you. I thought that was an interesting way to illustrate how habits and experiences linger with you, even after your circumstances have changed.

Yeah. I think the line is, ‘Sometimes when you’re lonely, it doesn’t go away when you get married.’

Yes, that’s exactly it. On one hand, I feel like he’s kind of spinning shit off the top of his head, because he’s in a very vulnerable situation, but I still thought it had an impact. Even if it’s scummy and sleazy, there’s still a truth behind having things that stick with you from childhood, from when you’re younger. Was exploring those ideas something you were trying consciously to tackle?

Absolutely. In that moment, I feel like he says something way more truthful than he meant to say right there. The whole movie is a nuclear family kind of exploding. We all talked about our own families and when they almost fell apart or when they did fall apart. I personally find nuclear families pretty terrifying, in a weird way. 

[Both laugh] 

I feel like there’s so many husbands and wives, and moms and dads, who feel like imposters. You kind of start playing a part of who you’re supposed to be. That can be a really brutal thing to do for 40 years of your life, ya know? This movie’s obviously a ridiculous hyperbole of it, but I think everybody feels a little bit like an imposter sometimes in their relationships. Whether it’s pretending to know what’s going on as a parent or as a significant other. But for Zeke, his imposter syndrome is out of control.

 [Both laugh] 

But, I wanted to kind of make a point about something that I think a lot of people can relate to. The goal of the whole film is to sort of fluctuate between these characters being the least relatable people imaginable and then being extremely relatable, as a way to test people’s empathy and their prejudice back and forth throughout the film. 

I know we have to wrap up, but I just wanted to say that seeing Swiss Army Man in the theater with some of my best friends was one of the greatest movie-going experiences of my life, and I really dug this movie.

Dope! Thank you so much.

Keep doing stuff.

I will! I got more I want to make. I’m glad you got to catch that one in the theater.

I wish I got to catch The Death of Dick Long in the theater, too, because I feel like it would play crazy well with an audience.

It’s very fun with an audience. I talked to a couple festival programmers who were like, ‘I really loved your movie, but watching it with an audience was way better!’ Especially if you watch the movie and have a couple of nervous husbands and wives, or moms and dads in the theater. They become the most entertaining part, watching people gasp or whisper; especially nervous laughter. Nervous laughter is really contagious, when you’re like, ‘that guy’s nervous!’

[Both laugh]

So, I keep telling people, even if you watch it at home, watch it with somebody. Because then you go on a journey with a friend.

The Death of Dick Long is now in theaters.

Jim Mickle, Boyd Holbrook, Michael C. Hall & Cleopatra Coleman on Crafting Sci-Fi Thrills in ‘In the Shadow of the Moon’

Written by Marc Ciafardini, September 26, 2019 at 7:58 am 

Director Jim Mickle is no stranger to genre filmmaking. He’s made films about cannibals, vampires, and psychopaths, and won plenty of fans along the way with We Are What We Are, Stake Land, and Cold in July. In his latest, the upcoming Netflix title, In the Shadow of the Moon, he explores the concept of obsession in a multi-generational familial drama. It’s also a murder mystery detective story that has an element of time-travel. So, yes, it’s ambitious to say the least, and it’s also Mickle’s largest production to date.

The film stars Boyd Holbrook, Cleopatra Coleman and Michael C. Hall who all play a part in this massive storyline. While at Fantastic Fest, we sat with Mickle to talk about the film’s moving parts, how he loves getting his actors dirty, and staging large-scale action. We also spoke with the film’s stars about the themes and concepts at play in this high-concept familial drama.

Check out both interviews below.


In the Shadow of the Moon hits Netflix on September 27.