Well it’s a film about love. The film stars Academy Award winner Melissa Leo [The Fighter] and Peter Gerety. It follows an estranged couple as they come to terms with their adult, terminally ill daughter’s request to help her die with dignity.
2. You chose to avoid doing the whole film festival circuit in favour of a run at the Laemmle theatre for a chance at an Academy Award – what motivated this decision?
Well, that’s not entirely true. I am still being accepted and invited to festivals. I would love for us to play as many as we can throughout the next year. However, I did choose to qualify for an Oscar this year instead of next year. I just felt we have a lot of momentum right out of the gate with great press and a great film. A lot can happen in twelve months and I am already in the process of setting up my first feature and a lot of my focus is shifting to the feature. So the timing felt right.
3. To get interest in “The Sea Is All I Know” you used some unconventional funding tactics – I’m thinking of the racy video including the model Jenny Meister and a sailor hat… (link) What advice would you give to other independent filmmakers wanting to find funding for their film?
Well. Hahaha. Yes. I had a powerful script and a powerful [Oscar nominated] actress. Yet no one wanted to fund us, and it’s not even as though we were talking about a lot of money. When I look back I am glad for the process because of the learning curve, but at the same time, it’s a little absurd to me that we couldn’t find such a minuscule amount of funds. The film was literally shot on a shoestring budget. So I was thinking how could I get the funds, then I wondered how do they successfully sell things in advertising. I realized whether its ketchup, cars or lingerie, the key is selling sex. So I sat down with Jenny and told her my idea. She was game. One of my producers Philipp Wolter shot it with me and edited the piece. It got attention and we began to get funds. It’s very telling about the state of the human race. Advice: be creative. Never take “no” personally or seriously. If you really want it, you have the power to make it happen.
4. It’s been reported that it took 4 years for this film to come together, can you talk us through a bit of the creative process?
Sure. I wrote the script in February of 2007. I wrote it for Melissa because at the time I felt she was one of the most talented, if not the most, underrated actresses in America. I really wanted to work with her. I sent her the script and it took her about four months to get to it. But even before she finished reading the script she had called me and said she had to do it, that it was one of the most beautiful scripts she had every read. Later I met Peter Gerety and he was perfect for the role. He read it and had the same reaction as Melissa. We did a fundraising reading of the script and that’s how we found Kelly Hutchinson. Quite a few more fundraisers later [including the video with Jenny] it was time to find a cinematographer. I had seen Eun-ah Lee’s work from a film she had done with one of my producers and he introduced us. We met and it was immediate. I knew that she would capture my vision. For me it was very important to bring a look that played with light and darkness since the film symbolically plays with light and dark in the souls of men. Eun-ah understood that.
We both admired Tarkovsky and Bergman and that gave us a language. I think Eun-ah is brilliant. I asked my producer Philipp to be in charge of assembling the crew. He did a fantastic job. We had an amazing crew on this film — such tremendous talent and a lot of heart. You can feel that in every frame of the film. Once in post it was a little more difficult at first. Eventually we found a rhythm that worked and I trusted Philipp to bring my vision to life in the edit. Again I feel that we accomplished that. I have a certain sensibility that you can see in both my films, which is a lyricism, and Philipp understood that and has a similar quality in his own work. Later Philipp introduced me to the sound designer Brian Scibinico, and the composer Uno Helmersson. Each of those collaborations was very rewarding. Brian is a genius in sound design. I love this part of the work. I loved creating the aural landscape of the film. Brian loves what he does, listens easily to direction and guided me when I needed it. And he is just a lot of fun. And then Uno is a Swedish phenomenon. I can’t wait until the world begins to insistently knock on his door. I feel so lucky to get to work with him before he becomes a mega star composer. I wanted a very specific, ancient yet ethereal score and I feel he nailed it. He was never satisfied until I was satisfied. He brought in real musicians playing ancient instruments and it lends a beautiful authenticity to the score and is so delicate. Which is exactly what I wanted. It was a great pleasure to work with him via Skype from NYC to Stockholm. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to create with such talent on this film.
5. What’s next? There has been talk of a feature film, but so far you’ve kept the theme under wraps, is there any chance that when you decide to tell the world what theme you’ll be tackling next you could give ÉCU an exclusive interview?
Yes. A lot of people are trying to get me to talk about the feature. What I can tell you is that you have not heard or seen this story and it is a female-driven character film. Exclusives eh. You would have to take that up with my publicist.
6. Given that your film tackles the issue of a terminal illness, if YOU had only six months left to live, what would you do with the time?
I would try to get my feature completed. Even if it were released posthumously. I would spend time with my family and my closest friends. I would continue to share the knowledge I have with others in order to help them achieve their dreams. I would keep teaching my workshop the “permission playground™” around the world because I know it is a powerful tool to help artists.
7. You said that putting the sound together for “The Sea Is All I Know” was like being a child with a shelf full of toys – so what is your favorite song?
My favourite song? In the film — the one I wrote with Timothy Hill. “Brown Eyed Child”. In life… hard to say but Jeff Buckley’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” always seems to linger in my number one spot.
8. If you could be a superhero, what would you want your superpowers to be?
To heal others through touch.
9. Finally, what would your advice be to anyone thinking about submitting to ÉCU 2012?
I would say do it. I am hoping to screen “The Sea Is All I Know” there asvwell in 2012. They are a tough bunch. Hope they invite…and this time we can drink vin rouge together.