Thursday, April 23, 2009

Interview: The Deagol Brothers [Make-Out With Violence @ IFFBoston Friday]

The Deagol Brothers are hitting the IFFBoston scene on Friday at 10pm at the historic Somerville Theatre (buy a ticket here why don't you?) with their lovingly told summer romance film that just happens to have zombie in it, Make-Out With Violence. They've had a pretty busy schedule as of late (they just won Best Feature and Best Soundtrack at the Nashville Film Festival) but were able to find some time to answer a few questions...

RFC: Make-Out With Violence is your first feature, is it a story you've been brewing for a while? Can you give some background on how the film came about? I read that it took over two years and I'm wondering how much of the two to three years was spent filming and how much was pre/post production?

DB: We all went to high school together and have always been interested in making films, music, painting and art in general. We started to conceive of the film in the early 2000s. We wanted to make a film about our shared experiences in high school and we thought that making a high school movie also made sense from the stand point of working on a small budget with our high school and college aged friends as our talent. It was not originally conceived of as a horror film but we saw the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and wanted to try the horror genre. We are not huge horror fans but we liked the idea of exploring the genre from a very sincere John Hughes angle. The idea of the teenage boy consumed by unrequited love also made sense to us in the context of a girl who is very physically present but may not be who or what you think she is. Not surprisingly many of the original incarnations of the script played out like "American Pie"-esque teen sex-comedies blended with Cronengberg like body horror. They were both crude and graphic. We slowly worked our way back to the John Hughes realm of teenage love and held on to the supernatural elements that we felt enriched the story without commandeering it. After working on the script in different parts of the country. We all moved back to Nashville to begin filming. We left jobs, colleges, and girlfriends for what we thought would be a year long production...

We started shooting in the summer of 2005. We shot again in the summer of 2006 with our final shoot taking place that winter. It was a total of about 8 weeks of filming but we kept running out of money or running up against production issues (like losing a lead actress, and then getting her back). The film was being edited throughout that period but it wasn't until spring of 2006 that we had our first picture lock. We then spent the next 2 years in post-production. Mostly we were working on sound design, ADR and the pop-soundtrack that drives the film, but we did make a number of edits to tighten the film up before we premiered the final version in Sept. 2008.

With Make-Out With Violence and your 2004 short film Robot Movie, it looks like you're creating a solid group of dedicated actors. Is it your vision to continue to work with these actors and keep the team together down the line? Are there aspirations for the Deagol Brothers to dip into the Hollywood pool or do you plan on continuing to use Tennessee as your muse?

If we get the opportunity to grow out of Nashville, we will probably go with it. That being said we are currently working on a new screenplay that we hope is flexible. It's our goal to write it in such a way that we could film it on a tight budget locally or expand it into something larger with the right funding. The story could have elements conducive to the TN region, but the locations we use are wrapped up in the characters we explore. At the moment, we don't have any plans to leave Nashville. As for the actors and actresses, we'd love to keep them around for as long as they're willing to work with us and we have parts that make sense for them.

When I first heard of Make-Out With Violence there were some comparisons to Wes Anderson and Sophia Coppola's early work and sure enough the film does recall The Virgin Suicides and I was also reminded a bit of Twin Peaks and River's Edge as the film deals with the emotional fallout and what happens between a group of friends when one of them dies. Was there specific films or filmmakers you were looking to for inspiration on the overall style of the film?

Interestingly we were deliberately trying to stay away from any sort of Lynchian, Wes Anderson or River's Edge influence. Our main source of influence were John Hughes, Terrence Malick and Tarkovsky's Solaris. We also turned to the music of Brian Eno at a very early stage of writing the screenplay. It helped set the tone for the film and aided in keeping 4 writers on the same page. As that music began to permeate the soundtrack and score it became a guiding force in the overall style of the film.

There are some spectacular shots as well, I really enjoyed how well you used the Tenessee locations. I noticed that you used the Panisonic VariCam - an HD camera with variable frame rates and shutter speed - and have three cinematographers credited, was there some experimentation going on to get some of these shots done?

Technically we had 4 DPs. We actually did all of our pre-production, and the majority of our test shooting, with a DP who left the production 4 weeks before shooting was scheduled to commence. We struggled to find a replacement and by the time we found one we were left with little to no time to prepare. We had a number of more complicated techniques and plans that were abandoned when our first DP left. Our second DP left after our first shoot so from there our gaffer took over as a transition to our third DP. It was not so much experimentation as it was the plight of making a low budget film that lead to us to having 4 DPs. Since we had 3 DPs for the actual production and we shot over the course of 2 summers and a winter our biggest concern was to maintain continuity. We tried to do that with a simple visual style that we thought was conducive to HD as a medium.

As a directing duo, does one brother handle the actors and one set up the shots a la the Coen Bros and the Hughes Bros or do you have a particular Deagol Bros way of delegating?

Not really. Due to the amount of scenes in the film, having two directors worked out to our advantage when we needed to shoot two places at once. We often found ourselves splitting up so that one of us could produce or location scout while the other directed. We try to get on the same page early on so we feel comfortable regardless of who ends up doing what. Once again we found ourselves at the mercy of working on a low budget production and out of necessity we discovered a working method.

For a first feature I was impressed with how well you were able to handle the tone of the film -- one of the toughest jobs a director has. While the movie does feature a zombie, I don't think anyone's going to confuse it with a traditional horror film - it's more of a delicate creepiness that is sustained throughout the movie and the music plays a big part in sustaining that tone. There's some great songs in the film that help with this. Can you give some background on how the soundtrack was built and how Jordan Lehning, who's credited with the score and the songs, fits into the Deagol Bros team?

We have been friends with Jordan since before High school and he worked on a number of short films with us throughout college. We approached Jordan about doing the score for this picture from the very beginning. Jordan acted in the film (he plays Rody) and worked with us throughout the entire process to create the sound of the film. We started by making mix tapes of music we thought would make sense in the film to try and get Jordan on the same page with us. Then he and his brother Eric (who co-wrote the script with us and also plays Patrick in the film) got together before we had even started the screenplay and recorded 3 songs in Boston where Jordan was living at the time. We immediately liked what they had done and started asking them to record more and more songs during the writing process. Jordan and Eric continued to record songs during production as well. It was a very organic process where the music and the film continually informed one another. Once post-production began we would edit to his songs or cut with temp track which he would use as reference to re-score or write music to match the scenes we had cut. Jordan performed almost all of the music in the film (with his brother taking the helm for many of the vocals) and is extremely gifted as a musician. We on the other hand have only a rudimentary knowledge of music based on listening to a lot of it but we eventually developed a working method that allowed us to communicate effectively. On a side note, Jordan just won the award for best soundtrack in a feature film at the Nashville Film Festival.

I happen to like that some of the big questions aren't answered in the film - such as how Wendy ended up a zombie - and the ending is left pretty wide open as well. Did you have answers to these questions in your mind while you were making the film, and is there a possible sequel being kicked around?

No, we're not interested in doing a sequel or answering any of those unresolved questions. In earlier versions of the script Wendy's story was much more explicit and as we began rewrites we became less and less interested in exploring that aspect of the story. We wanted to focus on the characters. We began to think of Wendy more as a memory/ghost and the cloudiness that is associated with something of that nature seemed appropriate. We felt a certain amount of obfuscation was more interesting because it opened up a larger emotional space for the characters. We were more interested in trying to achieve an emotional resolution rather than in achieving a resolution in the plot. We hoped the audience too would have more space to fill in the gaps and therefor have more of an active role in what they take away from the film.

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