Anonymous: I’m going to be selfish and ask two questions. 1) What got you into filmmaking 2) Which directors inspire you or whose work you admire?
My response: I grew up in a little town in Southeast Tennessee. There wasn’t much there in the way of cultural enrichment, so those of us who craved it would create our own. I started out as a bassist, and played in a lot of bands. By the time I was eighteen, my friends and I were experimenting with any number of creative outlets. One friend and frequent collaborator of mine had a VHS camcorder, and we started goofing around with making movies. I found that filmmaking suited my temperament, and that the need to grapple with the multiplicity of creative disciplines within filmmaking appealed to my control-freak tendencies. It was fun. So I stuck with it.
As for your second question, I could probably ramble on for days and never really get anywhere. I suppose if I had to map out my current filmic “neighborhood,” and provide a list of filmmakers whose work is most relevant to my own at this point in time, I’d begin with the Maysles Brothers (more at the Salesman end of their output than Grey Gardens), cruise through Hal Ashby, and end up next door to (early) Mike Nichols. I’ve been pretty fascinated with Alain Cavalier lately. Haskell Wexler and Conrad Hall are a couple of cinematographers whose work influences mine–and maybe I might include Michael Chapman in that latter list, if only for his efforts on Ashby’s The Last Detail.
Alejandro Adams: I have certain techniques for getting myself and my cast and crew into a given production–like doing logistically daunting (impossible?) scenes right out of the gate. You seem to “go easy” on your people, pace yourself. What are the advantages of this?
My response: It’s not really a matter of “going easy” on people (though I’m not a big fan of torturing the talent for my own artistic gain, à la von Trier or Lynch). I just find that neither I nor my cast has gotten acquainted enough with the characters to do the complicated, tricky scenes right off the bat. I like to start with simple little First-Act scenes which are meant to introduce the characters to the audience. I want the cast to “get to know” their characters in more or less the same way the audience will.
Anonymous: You seem to have a hand or three in every aspect of production….Have you ever/do you ever plan to compose music for your films?
My response: Let me address the control freak bit first and then circuitously wind my way toward an answer to your actual question.
My habit of sticking my fingers into every slice of Filmmaker’s Pie is the eventual result of having been forced to work that way when I started out. It’s hard to find a long list of willing collaborators when one’s resume is still thin, and even harder when that scenario unfolds in a sleepy Southern town whose residents seem to take pride in only claiming actually to do things. So it made sense to work nearly (and in some cases, completely) alone when I started out as a filmmaker. It continues to make sense because that early rogue sensibility infused my thought process; I made a virtue out of it in order to allow myself to keep going. It simply became the basis of my artistic personality.
Now, music: I have, in fact, scored my own films in the past. Short Change (one of my earliest mid-length “shorts”) is one example which comes to mind. Would I consider doing it again? Maybe. It would depend on the film. I can imagine scoring one kind of film myself, and on another kind of film collaborating with a composer. This is all academic (at the moment, at least), however, because I currently have very little interest whatsoever in the inclusion of music in my films.
joltcity:My ideas change and evolve, but after about a year or so I can’t maintain my interest in a script without radically reinventing it– for example, turning a delicate romance into a bitter, hateful, nihilistic “comedy” or vice-versa. Do your ideas ever muta[…]
my response:[Oops, it looks like the last part of your question got truncated.] When I say that one of my ideas shifts and mutates, I don’t mean to imply that it often slides entirely into a different thing altogether; usually the changes that take place in my mind are relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. It’s funny how a fairly small shift can make an entire project seem fresh and exciting again.
I will say that in the case of HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE, I had originally intended to make a fairly straight drama–in the end, the result was a rather dry comedy. The basic story remained in place, but the tone of it went in an unforeseen direction. My current project is different in that it’s remained largely what it was when the idea first came to me seven years ago–although it’s since shifted around quite a bit on the surface level.
I’m no better at maintaining interest in a project over time than anyone else is, really. You may roll your eyes now if you ask this question with the knowledge that I’ve been turning the scenario for my current project over in my mind for oh, let’s say seven years.
I do get bored with an idea after a while. Fortunately, no idea, when left simmering, ever stands still. It shifts and changes its own shape. It evolves and mutates. One fortunate side effect of that process is that no idea ever allows itself to get old.
That’s how *my* ideas work, anyway.