Feature image: Queen of Earth (dir. Alex Ross Perry, 2015)
As a historian of German cinema, I used to cringe when people said, “German cinema? Oh, like Fassbinder, Wenders and Herzog.” As if there were no others, as if there were no time before or after the 1970s, as if only men made movies, as if East Germany didn’t also have a film tradition, and as if all three filmmakers weren’t enmeshed in transnational production networks. This year the Berlin International Film Festival, responsible for legacies, continuities, and new cinematic discoveries, perpetuated the triumvirate’s stature within the brand. After all, Wenders (whose films I, too, admire) received the Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement and returned to his 3D explorations in Everything Will Be Fine (but wasn’t). Herzog returned to the African desert – not in Fata Morgana’s orgiastic, Leonard Cohen-scored awe, but to replace one romanticised intercultural figure (T.E. Lawrence) with Nicole Kidman’s equally romanticised (but feminist and female!) Gertrude Bell in Queen of the Desert. And Fassbinder himself returned to the screen in Christian Braad Thomsen’s unseen interview footage in Fassbinder – To Love without Demands. Fassbinder’s resurrection revisited his renegade production style as well as his legendary productivity – both qualities that have inspired subsequent generations of independent filmmakers and that have a particular resonance in the makeshift DIY ethos of the digital video era.
As someone who has taught undergraduate and graduate students to appreciate older films, should I be shocked that some actually do?Or that those who go on to make films love cinema? That would be absurd in a world that now swims in images, a world in which audiovisual archives stream out of and assemble in tiny devices in our hands and pockets. Given the Berlinale Forum section’s myriad reflections on the archive this year (Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, Vladimir Tomic’s Flotel Europa, Vincent Dieutre’s Journey into Post-History, and Akram Zaatari’s Twenty-Eight Nights and a Poem), why should it particularly intrigue me that Alex Ross Perry, a young New York director, has thrown his originality and talent into a Fassbinder homage, Queen of Earth, starring Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss and Inherent Vice’s Katherine Waterston as two old friends in conflict at an isolated lake house? Or that he religiously attended the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s 2014 two-part retrospective, Fassbinder: Romantic Anarchist, along with many of his local contemporaries?
Perhaps it is because Perry’s filmmaking and cinephilia point to a double longing: for the spirit of rupture and experimentation that marked the work of the New Hollywood mavericks and European auteurs of the 1970s and for a 1990s video store culture that made libraries of looking and furnished temples of audiovisual worship. While the first celebrates the revolutionary energies of another generation, the second mourns something that Perry’s generation was the last to know: what independent cinema and film retrospection were and could be before the internet, digital video and nonlinear editing. It is knowledge that feels scattered and somehow lost among the endless options for un- or semi-curated internet-viewing.
Perry, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and a former employee of the nearby Kim’s Video and Music (which, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, listed Godard under “God” and which closed in 2014), clings not only to an older means of production (16mm) but also to the revival and fan cultures that elevated the importance of 1970s’ films and largely structured the post-theatrical reception of 1990s’ new releases. He holds onto a notion of cinema that I, too, knew and loved, but with all the fervour of someone who almost didn’t know it in the first person. Is this why it feels so strange to me that so many filmmaker friends of that vintage are all too eager to be the “next” someone other than themselves? Fassbinder, Cassavetes? But this, too, has a long tradition. I am reminded of Fassbinder’s admiration for Douglas Sirk or Wenders’ penchant for shots that evoke what has already been (cinematically) seen. Or who can forget Quentin Tarantino’s heroic 1990s’ guise as the upstart video clerk, full of citational smirk, and all those film-referential characters, 1970s’ music cues, and bits of catchy dialogue? It is this citational sentiment that Perry took up in his largest production, Listen Up Philip (2014, a film that casts writing lovingly and somewhat anachronistically as a paid and respected profession), and that he continues to honour through the genre-inflections of Queen of Earth.
Rather than hiding in his references, Perry revels in them and wants you to share in the glee. Fassbinder, check. Woody Allen, check. Roman Polanski, check. A pinch, I would argue, of Whit Stillman-esque fascination with affluence. And, as the Scandinavian critics were eager to point out after the press screening, a good dose of Ingmar Bergman. This isn’t what Perry, a gifted original screenwriter, has to do. He’s shown that in The Color Wheel (2011), a small, realist, black-and-white tale of a frustrated younger brother (played by Perry himself) and an insecure older sister (Carlen Altman), whose road trip culminates in an awkward and desperate foray into incest. But it’s one pleasure that cinema affords: the familiar. Not seeing something once and for the first time, but sensing that you’ve been here, somehow before. Cinematic déjà vû.
Queen of Earth opens on a close-up of Elisabeth Moss’s tear-streaked face. The black rings of running mascara, her blue eyes, and red lipstick draw the initial contours of melodramatic emotional excess, the garish sad-clown features of a thirty-something Baby Jane. Moss’s Catherine is not simply a captive of Sean Price Williams’ frame, but commands every inch of it as she speaks with her boyfriend James (played by filmmaker Kentucker Audley), who is off camera, about their breakup and the recent suicide of her father, a famous artist. She seeks refuge with her old friend Virginia (Waterston), who seems to perpetually and languidly occupy her relatives’ lake house, and their relationship alternates between empathetic understanding and passive aggressive hostility. With Keegan DeWitt’s unrelenting score, everything is menacing: the house, the idyllic, sunlit lake and trees, Fassbinder-like door frames, and Virginia’s neighbour and love interest Rich (Patrick Fugit). The logic and migrating subjectivity of these present interactions are repeatedly called into question by cleverly inserted cuts to the previous summer, when Virginia was the one in crisis, sickened at the sight of Catherine and James’ co-dependence.
All this darkness toys with, but stops short of horror. Perry deftly navigates between the actors’ realism (a believable portrayal of mourning, melancholia and female friendship) and a playful indulgence in more surreal, sinister genre elements like a creepy party whose prying guests (notably one played by Kate Lyn Sheil) recall Mia Farrow’s distorted subjective encounter with her child and the Satanists (“What have you done to its eyes?”) in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In talking with Perry, I was struck by his turns of bravado and sincere surprise that he was able to pull off a genre film. Perhaps it still feels transgressive for a 2010s’ cineaste with microbudget origins to wield genre’s canonised tools with the help of professional actors and the prospect of national and international distribution. But entering the realm of genre pictures and profit was transgressive for those other filmmakers, too. My hope for Perry is that he will continue to forge his own unique pathway through cinema’s possibilities.
We met on February 7, 2015 for the following conversation.
How do you feel about Queen of Earth premiering at the Berlinale, rather than at Sundance, where your previous film Listen Up Philip (2014) debuted?
I think it’s cool to premiere the movie at an international hub for respected world cinema rather than at this circus with peanuts being thrown at you and bears wearing vests and top hats. I’m excited to go to any festival I’ve never been to, much less one that’s as legendary as this. It would be kind of boring if every movie had the same trajectory. My two previous films had their international premieres at Locarno, which is in August. Now that Queen of Earth has already internationally premiered in February, the whole year could look different for the film. And being in the Forum is incredible as one of only two American movies out of forty.
Why do you think so few American independent films are shown abroad?
Well, most Americans make pretty lousy movies. If you look at last year’s Sundance lineup, for example, my movie was at Locarno. So was Aaron Katz and Martha Stephen’s movie Land Ho! Maybe there were two here in Berlin and one at Cannes, so 5 movies out of 70 at Sundance get spots at international festivals.
You come from a very specific US film education – on one hand, your time at New York University, on the other hand, your work at Kim’s Video, a cinephilic paradise near campus.
NYU’s fine, and I certainly enjoyed living downtown and having as much free time as film students get. It allowed me to have a fulltime job, which became a supplemental and, gradually, a primary education. I graduated 9 years ago, and the four people I know from NYU who actually make films all met their collaborators at the university. I didn’t really have that. My cinematographer [Sean Price Williams] and editor [Robert Greene] both worked at Kim’s. One of my favorite actresses and friends [Kate Lyn Sheil], who’s been in all four of my movies, also worked at Kim’s. I was lucky to find like-minded people.
What kinds of film discussions were you able to have there?
The most important thing about the environment at Kim’s versus the academic one was the belief in liking what you like. In an academic context, there are good things that are worth teaching and others that aren’t. At Kim’s you’d be exposed to an appreciation of cinema that goes beyond that. If you loved something and it made sense to you and you could justify it, then it was great. There were no restrictions. At NYU in 2003-06, they were still teaching Sidney Lumet. At Kim’s we could talk seriously about Sylvester Stallone as an incredible director. There’s such a disparity between what an academic setting will teach you about cinema and what you can comfortably and confidently decide on your own: what cinema means to you.
Your films are writerly, with highly constructed dramaturgy and pointed dialogue, and they often feature artists, people who struggle with their creativity. What is the screenwriting process like for you?
I like it because it’s the solitary part, the part that’s unrushed. I liked writing essays when I was in high school and college. To me it’s fun to sit at a desk doing that for hours and hours and hours. Writing essays as if I’m writing prose fiction. Writing films is a fun exploration and the only time when you can just keep failing. Editing eventually has to end, and you can’t really fail on set unless you have failed to make a good movie. With writing, there are no other voices, and it’s just the process, which I find very relaxing. If I’m lucky enough to have three weeks in a row that I can spend writing, it’s such an unbelievable period of productivity.
What’s your point of departure for saying “Okay, I’ve got an idea. This is the story I want to develop”?
When something has been there long enough for me to feel comfortable approaching an empty canvas with the knowledge that the story will just come out easily. I have this one movie that’s coming together that I haven’t written a word of. I can describe what it’s about but have no idea what happens in it. I know who’s going to be the lead and at least two of its main locations. I’ve been thinking about it for five months, and if I had three weeks, I could easily write a 100-page script. But right now I could fill an entire notebook with what it’s about and the themes that interest me. Part of the fun of sitting down to write is finding out where the 5 or 6 characters need the story to go. It’s always a surprise.
For Queen of Earth, I knew I wanted to do a movie about privacy and entitlement. I wrote something pretty quickly that’s very different from the draft that we shot. It had a bunch of older characters in it. It was a good starting point, but it got thrown away and redone from scratch. I realised that Catherine and Virginia were the only two characters I cared about. It took a few weeks to understand that the movie had all of these themes and ideas and a bit longer to grasp that it’s really just about these two women.
You have dealt with duality – the brother and sister in The Color Wheel and the older and younger writer in Listen Up Philip – and revisit this in Queen of Earth. What fascinates you about these pairings of desperate characters?
I’m interested in lonely people, specifically lonely people going through the worst time in their lives. Stories that exist in that framework can take on a hundred different shapes and sizes. If there’s a through-line that makes my work relevant and personal, it’s that.
Paul Schrader, the foremost chronicler of such loneliness, talks about this religious concept that he sees in a lot of Robert Bresson’s films as “the man in the room”. For Schrader that’s the ultimate image of cinema. For him it’s an incredibly beautiful, rich, emotional, cinematic conceit. Hearing him articulate that helped me shine light on it as well. There are certainly isolating environments in Listen Up Philip that both Ike and Philip find themselves in. The concept of “the man in the room” appears there quite literally. In Queen of Earth, the women are in one house. The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), which was a huge influence, was also just two women in a room. That emotional pitch is present in such a diverse assortment of films. Like Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951) or Robert Altman’s Images (1972) – two very different movies that become similar through Schrader’s concept. That duality is the thing that’s most fun to watch.
Speaking of citation, your films also make strong graphic references to film history through titles and end credits. You did this with the 1970s’ fonts reminiscent of the books of the older writer, Ike Zimmerman, in Listen Up Philip, and in Queen of Earth you allude to Fassbinder’s The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979). This gives the credits much more of a genre function than they might otherwise have.
That’s just part of a film for me. A whole three minutes. Why should people assume that if their movie’s 90 minutes long, minutes 87-90 don’t matter? That just doesn’t make sense. If I’m doing a 90-minute movie, minute one to the moment when the lights come up is all part of it.
Teddy Blanks, the designer of the titles and the books in Listen Up Philip, is one of many people whom I can rely on early in the process. Now I call him before we even start to shoot. We were talking just as the movie was about to wrap, and I said, “Look. We’ve done the bold, 1970s’ puffy typeface. I don’t really know what I want for this one but definitely red and definitely script.” I sent him the screen grab of the title of Rosemary’s Baby, which is pink. And he designed and created something back in October. I had been thinking about The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant and Martha (1974) in relation to Queen of Earth for 6 months. And maybe a month later I watched The Marriage of Maria Braun for the first time in 3 years and realised that Teddy had come up with the identical font. With limited instructions, he just happened to find a font from a film by the director who influenced Queen of Earth the most.
As long as we already had this coincidence, we decided to take it further in the end credits. It’s not like we had the credits from Psycho, which everybody can recognise. If you can recognise the credits for The Marriage of Maria Braun, you’re not going to roll your eyes at a movie that completely acknowledges them. Because that would mean coming to terms with the fact that you yourself can acknowledge them. Even people who have seen The Marriage of Maria Braun don’t necessarily remember how bizarre the credits are.
Keegan DeWitt’s score also contributes to Queen of Earth’s strong genre associations. Without the score, the footage would be far less creepy. At what point did you start to incorporate the music into your process?
If you don’t notice the music, it’s working. If it calls attention to itself, then it’s probably working or also might not be at all. Music is best when it just feels right. That’s why Keegan’s score in Listen Up Philip is classical jazz. In the editing of that film, it became obvious that this clichéd story of a New York writer had to have a jazz score. It’s only clichéd because it’s clearly correct. Anything else we tried, even for a minute, just wasn’t right.
With Queen of Earth we could have reinvented the wheel, or we could have done the correct thing. In this case, it was to show Keegan 1970s’ American horror movies and some European work. I told him, “This is the vibe. Don’t shy away from it. If you go too far, we’ll reel it in. But by all means be unrestricted.” But we really never had to do that because Keegan, like Teddy, was involved before we shot. He was looking at dailies and scoring immediately. From the very first day of editing on the film, his music was in place. The film’s rhythms could then wrap around the music instead of the music having to fit into the rhythms of the movie. A film like this, which is wall-to-wall score, needs to set you up for something abnormal and unsettling at all times. You can’t look at a Giallo movie with some crazy score and picture it without the music. That’s an entire element of the tone – if you’re lucky.
Queen of Earth enables your leads Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston an enormous emotional canvas upon which to sketch their respective characters Catherine and Virginia. More so than in Listen Up Philip, the writerly Alex Ross Perry steps back a bit to allow for moments of improvisation. How did you find this balance between tight genre scripting and a more open form?
Part of the fun of doing such a small movie after doing such a big one was leaving little gaps open for the process to become organic. This is only possible when you’re working almost exclusively with repeat collaborators whom you trust and who trust you to lead them to good work. The script for Listen Up Philip was 135 pages and incredibly detailed, but we still found ways for the actors to embellish, enhance, and bring in their own moments. And I wanted that to be very prominent in this film. The first page of the Queen of Earth script had a little disclaimer. Although there might seem to be some light moments, these would all be moments that we’d find together. Having already worked with Elisabeth, I knew that she could bridge those moments with her own instincts and that she’d bring some amazing spur-of-the-moment ideas to any areas where I still had doubts. I had to challenge myself not to overly write the movie and to leave some scenes as “Two women enter and look at each other and then pass through the room.” As writing, that’s really nothing. But as 30 seconds of silence with music, it becomes cinema. I’ve never really had a movie for which it felt logical to try that.
You mention the benefits of working with professional actors, but there are also challenges to working with someone so strongly identified with a multi-season television series. Does Elisabeth Moss have any special strategies for distancing herself from the well-known terrain of Mad Men’s Peggy Olson?
Part of the fun of known actors is watching their decision-making and the projects they pick and how they approach them as an extension of their ongoing work with themselves. Something Elisabeth likes to do after wrapping a project is to radically change her hair. For the past nine years, she hasn’t been able to do that at her day job. When she does smaller movies, she likes to start fresh and to make sure that everything feels uniquely embodied. It’s fun for me because I’m a fan of her work. When she brings something different, it’s a surprise and totally exciting. You know that she is thinking about the movie and wondering how to make this a performance that she hasn’t given before and to find a character that’s new to her. It’s not “Nobody’s ever seen me do this before,” but “I’ve never done this before, so where do I find this character?”
In the first two weeks of Listen Up Philip it was just Elisabeth and Jason [Schwartzman] every day. Watching them get a handle on characters who were really different from anyone they’d played before taught me about what actors truly do. It’s not like you just memorise your lines, show up, and do a good job. It’s actually days and weeks of thinking, “Who is the person I’m playing, and how are we different? And how is the character different from everyone else I’ve played?” It’s amazing and reminds me of why I’ve always enjoyed watching movies with great actors. They’re operating on instincts and ideas and ambitions for themselves that are unknown to the audience.
The chemistry between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston is important for the constantly shifting dynamic between the two characters at the lake house. How did you end up casting Waterston as the foil to Moss?
I sent Elisabeth the script in May , and we shot in September, so we had a long time for conversations. Her involvement in the movie grew organically from playing the lead to being all-in, becoming a producer, and being involved in decisions that actors don’t usually make. In Listen Up Philip, Jason was already cast, and I’d just tell him, “Elisabeth Moss and Krysten Ritter will be in the movie.” He’d say, “Great.” But with Queen of Earth, I’d get a list of people who were available for the shoot, send it to Elisabeth, and ask, “Who can you picture doing this with?” It was so clearly not the kind of movie with which I could just say to her, “I met with so-and-so, and she’s going to do it.” Elisabeth could just be like, “I don’t really feel that.” So her involvement was major.
We were intrigued by Katherine’s sense of mystery. They’re a foot different in height. Katherine’s eyes are dark. Elisabeth’s are bright blue. It was a visually compelling dynamic that looked like it could have some history – both pleasant and unpleasant. They didn’t know each other and only met about two days before we started filming. But they quickly became very close and brought to the movie ideas of friendship and rivalry within friendship that, while clearly suggested by the script, also arose in the hours and hours that they spent together when I was doing other stuff. And they could make the performances authentic and believable.
What was your cinematographer Sean Price Williams’ role in fostering the dynamic between the two characters? Sometimes the camera is incredibly receptive to and aware of the actors’ smallest nuances. To what extent is he also following his own instincts, and to what extent are you asking him to capture specific details and blocking?
Usually I’d say, “I want this to happen,” and then Sean’s instinct would take over. A lot of that quality comes from his documentary background and his ability to just live in the moment. Someone who shoots a lot of documentaries and has worked for 10 years with Al Maysles has a 100% ability to capture interesting moments on the street. When you put him in a room with professional actors who are nailing their moments, he’s operating on a different wavelength. He’s not following a shot list and looking at storyboards. That would be boring for me and a waste of his talents. Instead, in Queen of Earth he was trying to move away from Listen Up Philip’s entirely handheld aesthetic. On the set of Listen Up Philip, his placement in the room for blocking was always designed as that of an additional performer. The actors would be blocked first. Then he would come in, and we’d have to block him as well to figure out which direction he was facing.
Queen of Earth is almost entirely shot on a tripod, but Sean tried to maintain that level of presence, involvement, and engagement with the action as it was happening. And that’s the best use of a cinematographer with a documentary background and impulses. As with actors, I like repeat collaborators whose instincts are surprising but about which I have no reservations. And if they think something’s great, and it’s not at all what I was imagining, I’m fine. The more important a collaborator is, the more valuable that level of attachment can be. If I said to him and the actresses, “This is what I want,” and that changed but felt great, I’d just say, “All right. Fine. I guess we’re done.”
And you’re always shooting on 16mm? Why do you prefer film to video?
Listen Up Philip and Queen of Earth were shot on super-16mm. When I made my first movie Impolex (2009), I had been wanting to make an independent 16mm movie since 1998. It wasn’t really a choice. It was just what I had been thinking of since the wild 1990s of independent film. Ever since then, this has just been the way that I know how to make movies. It’s manageable, and it’s affordable – even on a $20,000 budget.
I see no reason to stop advocating this viable option for filmmaking, but I hate telling people what they should do. That’s too much like religious zealotry. I would never say, “Every film shot on a Canon 5D looks like garbage. You really should be shooting on film.” If someone thinks a 5D film looks good, whatever. If someone shoots on a 5D and says, “My movie looks bad,” I’d say, “Well it’s totally affordable to shoot on film.” But I would never tell someone that what they love is wrong. I would just say that what I love is possible. Queen of Earth had a 12-day shoot with 10 or even fewer crew members. You can get a 16mm camera for almost nothing since nobody else wants to rent them. We rented ours for two weeks for about $1000. If you’re renting an Arri Alexa, it’s about $500/day because 50 people want it. We had a film loader, but he was also assistant camera and a hundred other things. If you’re shooting with an Alexa, you need a whole body on set just for DIT. That’s an additional expense that makes these two options roughly analogous.
In Queen of Earth, the effectiveness of your play with genre is also a result of Robert Greene’s editing. There are moments of such exquisite timing and transition – such as the cut from Virginia’s crying to Catherine’s laughter – that repeatedly unsettle our sympathies for one character or the other. How closely did you work together, and how did you approach the process?
I had edited Impolex and The Color Wheel myself. Then Robert edited Listen Up Philip. We edited Queen of Earth for 7 weeks. I couldn’t imagine spending 9 hours a day with someone who was just a hired gun, rather than a friend.
With Listen Up Philip, there were no wrong answers. The film was sloppy by design. The camerawork and aesthetic were so spontaneous. You could get as crazy as you wanted, hold on a shot, cut recklessly – whatever felt right.
Going into Queen of Earth, I told Robert that this would be a movie with right and wrong cuts. Sometimes, it would be absolutely essential not to cut in order to hold the tension; at other times it would be essential to cut a lot in order to create a disorienting effect. Much like every other part of this process, I had to tell someone I’d worked with before, “What we’re doing is totally different. Let’s see what we can come up with and how much fun we can have and whether we even know how to do this.” We had 12 instead of 25 days of footage, but the editing took about the same amount of time. There was a lot of precision. With Listen Up Philip, if a scene wasn’t working, we could cut out the middle 40 seconds and see what we had. A lot of times it worked. But with Queen of Earth, we couldn’t really do that. Maybe we could trim a few seconds, turn up the music, or try different music. With genre rules, it just has to work. You can’t have free form while trying to build tension and excitement. It was fun to find where those very precise cuts were. The movie has one shot that’s 9 minutes long, a bunch of shots that are over 1 minute long, some that are over 2 minutes. That’s not “not” editing; rather, it’s about finding the right way to finesse things and making sure that the other elements – like music – are in place.
That 9-minute shot, a long dialogue between Catherine and Virginia on empty experiences with men, is an extraordinary moment in the film. The women are closest, most open, and most present to each other. Much of this comes from Williams’ ability to follow the migration of the actors’ tension in micro-pans between their faces and to maintain his involvement and interest in what they are actually saying. In the finished film, this shot functions as a measure of the spectator’s willingness to endure the passive aggressive discomfort of the women’s relationship.
I could joke that Robert did nothing to that 9-minute shot, which is such an incredible part of the film. But in fact, you’re hearing ambient music and sound effects played at a specific volume in a specific cycle that he edited one cut at a time. In this movie the lack of a cut is not the lack of editing. It’s just an intentional decision to “not” cut – which is editing.
How did Joe Swanberg end up becoming a producer of Queen of Earth?
I’ve known Joe since 2008 and have admired and respected and, in the past few years, been thoroughly impressed by what he’s been doing. His work has evolved from movies that my friends and I like to a radical and astonishingly successful subversion of the Hollywood independent system. He has now made three movies with professional actors and has not at all changed what he does. It’s the most admirable thing that any filmmaker could hope for. Drinking Buddies (2013) was made a year before Listen Up Philip. We shared some crew members. I was so impressed with that film. I had been wondering what my friend was going to do with these well-known actors, and then I saw Drinking Buddies and realised that he’d made another one of his movies. He shepherded Queen of Earth based on the model he invented for himself with Happy Christmas (2014) – which was how to take the lessons learned from a larger mid-six-figure movie and apply them to the mode of filmmaking that we taught ourselves. You have these actors and this system behind you, but you’re making your kind of film, which for me is a grainy, 16mm movie with all my friends in it. Joe explained to me that this was not only possible, but actually quite easy. In his mind, it wasn’t a problem at all. “Of course you can make a movie this way.”
Queen of Earth doesn’t feel at all like a “smaller” movie than Listen Up Philip.
The main reason for that is that we had the same production head for everything except for production design. It’s just that these collaborators had no one working beneath them. Sean’s the same cinematographer, but he just had one guy instead of 6. Amanda Ford’s the same costume designer, but instead of being on set, she just left us a chart of when things get worn. So that went from being a 3-person department to a 0-person department. It’s the same collaborative effort but without some of the surrounding elements. There are certain movies you couldn’t make that way or that would be a nightmare to make that way.
And would you like to try to work in this low-key way again in the future?
Yes. The future film that I was alluding to earlier is designed to be a small, accomplishable movie. We could try to make something in the $5 million range – which could be very tricky and which I could still be talking about two years from now. But if I am, I’d also like to be talking about another movie that I’ve just finished. Nobody has ideas that couldn’t be made this way. If you do, then you don’t have enough ideas. Just think of all the incredibly prolific filmmakers. How many Fassbinder films were set in one location? 7. Others are huge, expensive, lavish productions. For every Lili Marleen (1981), there’s a Martha. Beware of the Holy Whore (1971) takes place at a hotel bar. If you can come up with an idea that’s entirely set in a hotel bar, you’ve got a great movie. That’s incredibly encouraging.