CONTACT, made in 2009, is the longest and also boasts the most "plot," such as it is. An old couple carefully sets the table for a meal and a guest, and then we cut to a younger woman and her "adventures" (in what appears to be the drugs-and-sex days of the 60s), and then, at last, the two generations get together.
Dominick Sivilli. There is plot and surprise, but what it all means is a bit up for grabs. Yet there is enough visual information to guide you toward intelligent possibilities. The acting is fine, too, even without dialog (and it's not the sort of over-acting upon which silent movies used to rely).
There are some nifty special effects, too -- again, with the meaning just obscure enough to remain out of one's grasp, though not far beyond one's reach. Contact certainly works just fine as a short, ten-minute film, but it has possibilities, I think, for the longer form, too. It's expandable, for sure.
Being a sometimes too-literal fellow, I of course wondered what substance was used to produce the drool/excretion. The director is kind enough to tell us in the Q& A below, but you might want to watch this very short film first, before you find out. It'll be more fun that way. Whatever you imagine it is, I think you'll agree that this lubricant -- just like the film that sports it -- is lubricious and intoxicating.
CRESTFALLEN, shown above and below -- is shot in color (Mr. Sivilli again) and every frame is beautiful, though it's my least favorite of the three. (Interestingly, Kipp tells me that people who like this one usually hate Drool -- and vice versa.)
Crestfallen tells its five-minute story, which to me seemed like short-form soap opera, of a pretty blond young woman who finds love, family, and stability followed by hurt, betrayal and suicide. (Is this a spoiler? Can you even have a spoiler when your entire story takes but five minutes, including credits?) In any case, if I must see soap-opera (and it's not via Ross Hunter), I much prefer the short to the longer form.
Before you read the Q&A below, I heartily suggest you stream the three films. Just click on the titular link above (or below, to make it even easier for you).
What are you heading toward with these short films? Longer versions of same? Or do you just prefer the short form?
Would you rather shoot in color or b/w and why?
That depends on the material. DROOL (below) and CONTACT take place in dreamscapes, in a kind of poetic heightened reality. CRESTFALLEN is more about memories -- or a series of snapshots of a life, which to me are in full color. The movie tells you what it needs to be. That said, I wish black and white were more commonly accepted in feature filmmaking, as it is in the world of advertisements and music videos.
Amen to that wish! Your films, especially Drool, and also Contact, are wonderfully sensual and sexual (well, actually, now that I think of it, so is Crestfallen). You have a way with/knack for/interest in the beauty of the human body and how light plays on it, as well as how other elements like water and -- what was that substance used in Drool? -- work on and with the body. I hope this gift stays with you and that you expand on it in future films.
The liquid we used in DROOL was honey. Since the actors had to have it in their mouths, we thought it might be a bit more tolerable than liquid latex.
One tends to look for commonalities in a filmmaker’s work. Other than the above love of the human body, I am not coming up with a lot regarding your work. An absence of dialog, and maybe a certain interest in short form storytelling and last-minute surprise. But these are not as distinctive as is your take on the body. You called yourself, I believe, “experimental” in an earlier email. I would agree but I would also add “accessible,” as your films would be understandable to most audiences, I think. That’s also why I am wondering what you really want to do and where and how you want to take all this to the next step.
THE SADIST. Even though I was working with my regular cast and crew, it was difficult working with the producers (who were inexperienced, fresh out of college, and had never made a movie of this scale before). Even there, my interest was in the physicality of our monster (played by horror icon Tom Savini, who incidentally was playing a non-speaking role akin to his hero Lon Chaney). If you bring the "experimental" or "expressionistic" into a conventional narrative, you can steer the whole thing into bold new directions.
You have not written nearly as much as you have directed, so I am guessing you’d call yourself more of a director than writer/director? (This is not pejorative, by the way. Not to me, at least.)
I love working with screenwriters, and lately have had a run of work with writer-producers. Russ Penning wrote and produced CRESTFALLEN and I got the job because of CONTACT. Joe Fiorillo wrote and co-produced a new movie I'm quite proud of, coming in 2013, called THE DAYS GOD SLEPT (shown below). Russ and Joe were wonderful collaborators, and Joe's film has some quite wonderful dialogue. It's a shift away from the "silent films" I've been making lately. It's a step closer to conventional narrative storytelling, while at the same time retaining the fever- dream vibe of the work that came before. After fighting regularly with the writers of THE SADIST, I decided only to work with writers whose work I thought was strong on the page. I made THE SADIST because I love horror movies and wanted to make a feature, even though I distrusted my collaborators. It's a mistake I've been very careful not to repeat in the work since, whether the client is a music video artist or a watch company seeking a commercial or an actor seeking a vehicle for themselves, all of which I've done since wrapping my feature.
Is horror what you want to do, or is that genre just more easily sold to producers and distributors?
Amen to that, too. I used to work in legit theater as a playwright -- where in general, the writer trumps the director, rather than in films where it's the other way around -- and there were a few times when I realized too late that my director was working on his own, and not very true, version of my play.
How old are you, by the way? I am guessing in your 30s.
I am in my 30s. I started freelancing in the film business full time in 2005, as an assistant director. I'd directed short films on the side before then, but wanted to involve myself in long form narratives and shoots that lasted for several weeks. I wanted to feel that endurance test. I also produced some films, where I'd throw myself behind a director I wanted to support. By taking a film from conception to theatrical release, you got to learn all aspects of the process. It wasn't exactly a "continued film school," but it did give me more experience on which to base my opinions and beliefs. I loved working with some of those directors, and am grateful to the good ones (and the heinous ones) because you learn by doing, not by talking about it.
Are you based on the east coast rather than the west?
I am based on the east coast mainly because I love New York City in all its whirlwind complexity and diversity. I don't hate Los Angeles, and have worked there before as an assistant director. It's a great town. But I've found it to be a nice place when you're working, and a dead zone when you're not working. New York is teeming with life and energy all the time.
From the IMDB, I see that you worked on one of my favorite films of last year, God’s Land, and also on another one I enjoyed from 2010, I Sell the Dead. Preston Miller and Glenn McQuaid are certainly very different filmmakers. How was the experience on both films?
a diary during the making of that film which can be found on the blog The House Next Door, originated by film critic Matt Zoller Seitz and carried on by Slant Magazine and Time Out New York writer Keith Uhlich. That was directed by Preston Miller, a delightful man and a winning combination of Appalachian good ol' boy and art house intellectual. And I SELL THE DEAD was, at the time, the biggest film I had assistant directed. The executive producer of that is Larry Fessenden, a wonderful filmmaker himself, who is my hero. He's like the mayor of independent horror movies in New York.
I SELL THE DEAD was like a huge machine with a gigantic crew, period film settings, special effects, trucks full of gear, a team that would carefully monitor their union regulations. It was a massive task, and I don't think I'd have made it through without the terrific support of my team of second assistant directors and the solid core strength of the producers. I'll always be grateful to Glenn McQuaid for hiring me, and though we had our differences on set I'll say he was a strong general and knew the story he wanted to tell. He was making his first feature on 35mm with a substantial budget, name talent, maybe a hundred extras in some scenes, and he carried himself as if he had been doing this for years. He was the governor, and I would have followed him into the very pit of hell. I remember the shoot with great joy -- new monsters every week! And it made me a stronger assistant director. I left the job knowing far more than I had going in. I applied it to all future feature gigs.
My own films are somewhere in-between I SELL THE DEAD and GOD'S LAND. The crew for THE DAYS GOD SLEPT was pretty big, but it was all built around moments that are small and precious, and you have to keep the distracting machine of filmmaking at arm's length to sustain the intimacy. I assistant directed a wonderful film called SOMEWHERE TONIGHT (directed by Michael Di Jiacomo, starring John Turturro) where we had a crew of 30-40 people. The director said he wanted it to always feel like we had a crew of 6 on set, and that's what we did. Kubrick, I think, did the same. You have the big machine, but send it away after the set is lit and you're capturing moments in intimate, quiet space. It was quite beautiful, and very inspiring.