SXSW Filmmaker Wrap-Up
I made it a point to interview as many new filmmakers as I could at SXSW. You never know who’s going to become the next big thing. Even if they don’t, I’m celebrating film.
Aaron Rottinghaus wrote and directed Apart, and Josh Danziger co-wrote and stars in the film. He plays Noah Greene, a man who suffers from a rare disorder where he shares delusions with others afflicted with his condition. The film unfolds revealing a mystery through his delusions.
Q: How did you hear about shared delusions?
Josh Danzinger: A doctor friend of mine. He was an intern at the time. He called me up and was like, “You’re not going to believe what happened to me at 3AM. A couple people came into the ER with gashes on their arms claiming they had worms coming out of it. What they did was they took a cleaning salt and burned their skin, got a knife to try and carve out the worms.” Obviously he wanted to find out what medication they were on. All their tests came back negative and they diagnosed them with this rare but real psychological disorder. My first question was: Are you making this up? Are you trying to tell me a funny story? He sent me some case studies and some research. I called Aaron and said, “Dude, this is pretty interesting. You should take a look at it.” I was really drawn into the tragedy of it, about the two people who want to be together but they can’t because they share this disorder.
Aaron Rottinghaus: I was really interested in doing a movie where exactly that happens, where two people are in love or their relationship is something that causes harm and causes damage. We just didn’t have a hook for it so luckily we heard that story and it fit perfectly with what we wanted to do.
Q: How did you come up with a mystery that would unfold through this condition?
AR: Honestly, it was a case on knowing that a lot of the themes that I wanted to touch on and that kind of love story that can’t be is not necessarily the best way to go as far as getting financing. So we decided it would be better if we made it kind of a thriller and really amped up the delusion aspect of the film. Not necessarily made it about that but kind of smuggled the ideas that we wanted to get in there.
JD: Aaron and I always like movies where you’re just kind of thrown in as an audience and you have to see a character dig their way out.
Q: How did you get the film to look polished, not like those raw first films? Did you have some practice?
AR: A bit but it was really just a case of wanting to be exactly that, have that kind of polished, not glossy but certainly a more Hollywood sensibility and old Hollywood, classic studio film way of making film, rather than grabbing and go with the camera. So many indie movies do that and I thought we could really, not rise above, but separate ourselves if we attempted to just really take our time. J.P. Lipa our DP was really instrumental in having discussions about composition and aesthetics from Vertigo and those kind of films. Let’s really take our time and compose an image and make it something that’s nice to look at.
Cold Sweat was a SXFantastic horror movie, picked out by the programmers of the Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest. Set in a house rigged with explosives, director Adrian Garcia Bogliano crafted suspense with characters coated with nitroglycerin in rooms rigged with dynamite. He’s made 6 Argentine films before, but he’s new to us.
Q: I take it I’m not the first person to compare your film to Wages of Fear?
Adrian Garcia Bogliano: No, it was a big reference to us. Actually a bigger reference was the remake, Sorcerer. It was all over the film. To me, Sorcerer is probably the best suspense film I’ve ever seen. I love it.
Q: Why do you prefer it to the original?
AGB: It has this beautiful sequence in the hanging bridge. It’s a beautiful sequence and I love Roy Scheider. But I love Wages of Fear anyway.
Q: How did you think of suspense scenes for the human body?
AGB: That was actually the idea I came with. I wanted to make something like Sorcerer but at the same time I wanted to do this film where there should be a chase, but the chase should be in the smallest distance possible. Half of the film is a chase in 50 meters.
Q: And with a house of horrors, instead of making it bigger, you kept it smaller.
AGB: That was the point and People Under the Stairs was always a big reference.
Q: Oh, so I was right about that?
AGB: Totally and we thought a lot. The tone of the film is great, that kind of almost fairy tale. The thing of the house and the traps and these spaces behind the walls, that’s something I used in my first film. Those are beautiful ideas.
Q: We love when horror movies have nudity, but you turned it into a suspenseful scene. How can she get her clothes off when they’re soaked in nitro?
AGB: [Laughs] Yeah, I found it pretty funny and people actually never laugh in that moment. I think it’s very absurd but it’s kind of funny, a very teenager moment when the other girl says, “You have to take your clothes off because you’re full of that.” The guys says, “Yeah, it’s for the best.” To me it’s really absurd but I thought it was an interesting thing to have this nudity because you need those elements. It can be nudity, a little bit of comedy relief. I understand that.
Septien was probably the weirdest movie I saw at SXSW. Thre brothers are living on a farm. Ezra’s taking care of everyone and cleaning up the septic tank. Cornelius is hustling athletes on the tennis and basketball courts. Amos is drawing naughty art in the bar. Thing get really crazy when the plumber comes. I got director Michael Tully to explain it to me.
Q: Are you being artistic without being pretentious?
Michael Tully: It’s really important to me to not have your head up your ass. Some filmmakers are self absorbed and it’s such an obsessive, disgusting thing to do. I feel personally icky when I was shirking my girlfriend to be worrying about the movie. It’s just important to me to respect the fact that everyone’s lives are important and this movie that we’re making isn’t the most important thing in the world. We’re proud of it and want people to like it.
Q: You’re putting some crazy shit out there though.
MT: I wasn’t trying to be antagonistic, alienating. We were trying to do original things and ideas that we wanted to see and explore and experiment. For me it was almost an experimental film but the way people talk about it now is that the story is pretty basic. By the end it sort of has a narrative arc. We wanted you to watch these characters and this movie and then maybe by the end start thinking about who in the hell would come up with this? While you were watching the movie, we didn’t want to be self-conscious or pretentious about it. It’s hard because the movie is different.
Q: What were you trying to express with this?
MT: I don't know. For us, Robert talks about it maybe as an inside joke that we had with ourselves. We don’t know if anyone outside of us will respond to it but filmmaking is a very conscious act if you’re trying to raise the bar and make something. We’re trying to make maybe just subconscious, going from stream of consciousness where we’re shooting on film and you have 16 days and you’re scheduling and all that. I think it was fun for us to feel like this movie was made from someone’s subconscious who wasn’t overthinking things too much.
Little Deaths was a horror anthology in the SXFantastic category. The three stories all dealt with sexual bondage in some ways. Simon Rumley and Sean Hogan, two of the three directors, were in Austin to answer some questions about their edgy film.
Q: What was the brainstorming session on sexual topics?
SH: It happened a bit more naturally and coincidentally than that. We decided we were going to do an anthology but the thinking was let’s just go away and see what we come up with and then we’ll decide how these films are going to work together, if they will work together, etc. We just came back to the table and the stories were pretty much as they are now. Essentially they all had that core of sexual deviancy at the heart of them and it was lik eureka! That’s the film. We just ran with it.
SR: Mine had the sexuality in it but the whole S&M stuff with the mask came in later drafts. As I went on, that actually became more of what the film was about.
Q: How did you cast some beautiful women we’ve never seen before?
SR: It was more by default that you’d never seen them before because we both had a list of actresses initially to go to. We went to them, they all were like, “No way.” Then we started having open casting. People would come to that read and some would drop out after they read it and not even bother coming to the audition. Then many people came to the audition and said that they were happy to do the role, we offered it to a few different people and they were still saying no. In the end, we probably had about five or six casting sessions but we’re very fortunate to get Kate [Braithwaite]. As you said, you haven’t seen her before. She hasn’t done a lot of acting. She’s done a bit of modeling and promos and stuff like that, but I think she’s an absolute natural and as you say, very pretty. It was nice to have an audition at the very end of the process and find someone who was so good.
SH: I had one casting session where literally every actress cancelled who was supposed to be coming in to read. It did get down to the wire, but Holly was one of the first people I saw and I immediately liked her.