More Songs of the South with Julian Goldberger
By Eugene Hernandez
I first saw “Trans” at the Toronto Film Festival — the film then
screened at the IFFM, before heading to Sundance and then receiving an
invitation to show at New York’s prestigious New Directors/New Films
Series. Since then I have watched the film a few more times while
preparing for and writing an interview with director Julian Goldberger
for FILMMAKER Magazine. Without a doubt, it is one of the best debut
narrative features that I have seen in a long time, its solid
improvisational scenes are enhanced by stylish, yet experimental camera
work and soundtrack.
An exploration of youth and escape set in a small Florida town, “Trans,”
was shot in sequence using available light and a skeleton crew of six —
the film marks the acting debut of sixteen year old Ryan Daugherty.
Goldberger, a former high school Super 8 filmmaking teacher who
graduated from AFI, worked closely with Daugherty to improvise scenes
and develop the care-free loner, Ryan Kazinski. After escaping from a
juvenile detention facility, Kazinski traverses the Florida landscape
determined to keep moving and find a way out.
Inspired in part by the work of Athens, GA based filmmaker Jim Herbert
and his collaborations with R.E.M., Goldberger considered the town a
southern creative hub. This is appropriate for the filmmaker, given
Athens’ rich musical history and the fact that, as a musician himself,
Goldberger’s film’s are particularly influenced by music. “A majority of
the films I’ve done have originated in sound, in a reaction to music,”
Goldberger told me during our conversation a few months ago, “Almost
everything I’ve done comes out of a particular piece of music. That’s
always where it starts. Mainly because of my interest in working from
the unconscious as much as possible, to stay away from a cerebral, heady
approach to filmmaking.”
Goldberger and I talked at length during our December conversation,
however due to space restrictions only a portion of our discussion was
published in FILMMAKER. The following are additional excerpts from that
Julian Goldberger: Music is a gateway to the secret places it’s hard for
me to access intellectually. You can sit there and get really brainy
about something and figure it out, but it’s not as satisfying. I like
the idea of stepping into this mysterious world and trusting my
That’s how I like to operate. But certainly I’m not saying I’m not
cerebral about everything, it’s just I try to reduce the amount if
intellectualization of the work.
iW: One scene that really sticks with me is the scene between Ryan and
his brother — there’s not only the obvious tension that exists, but it
really underscores the situation with his own family. But from the
brother’s perspective — his views of his older brother — what were the
in creating that tension and backstory you can sense in watching that
Goldberger: I was very fortunate because John Daugherty, who is Ryan
Daugherty’s brother, had a natural ability. Ryan has to accept the
circumstances, and that’s all John did. He was able to do that without
getting too heady about it. It mirrors real life as well. I mean, Ryan
is certainly John’s hero, he looks up to his older brother and he tries
to be his older brother, but his older brother isn’t really there for
him mainly because he’s just trying to work it out himself, work out the
difficulties of growing up in a town like that, and dealing with that
sense of alienation and all the things that get in the way, like drugs.
iW: The film is described as a meditation on childhood, and if there is
any scene you can connect that to, it’s that scene with the two
brothers, when Ryan returns home briefly. How does it reflect your own
views of your own siblings or your own views on particular people you
knew in Florida — it seems like it grew from your own experiences?
Goldberger: Personally, I had a very similar experience with the idea or
the actual act of leaving or departing from that place and moving on and
going to New York City. . . . Ryan’s character is getting older and he’s
moving on, and he has to. It’s just a matter of survival for Ryan, he
has to move, he has to survive, he has to continue, he has to follow his
instincts which are drawing him to his mother. And at the same time for
me, I knew I couldn’t stay in that town, that for me would have equaled
some stagnant death. I hate to be so dramatic about it, but if you stay,
what are the options. You don’t have too many options in a place like
that, the opportunity to evolve on so many different levels is so
limited. It’s just the idea of movement, the idea of moving and
iW: Have you explored digital moviemaking?
Goldberger: I haven’t; I have to say, after I saw “The Celebration,” I
thought, there’s some
potential there. It’s so inspiring. . . . If there’s anything I want to
put out there it’s de-mystifying film. If you have an idea, either in
digital video or Super 8 or 16mm, it’s possible, you can do it. The
approach to “Trans” wouldn’t have worked if we had a huge crew. It would
not have worked. A bigger production wouldn’t have worked, we could not
have moved, we couldn’t have been open to the possibilities. I would
like to continue making films that way. It’s the most exciting. As a
filmmaker what gets me excited is just stepping out into the unknown and
seeing what can happen. Certainly, Ft. Myers being my hometown, and
knowing it and knowing where to move and testing the fringe elements,
just being open to it, that’s where it’s at. I would love to step into
other places, continue this approach and process. I have to figure out
how to do it.
iW: Do you plan to do that specifically?
Goldberger: Yeah, I do. I have been really thinking about that because
there has been pressure like, “We want you to put out a full script, and
we want to know that this is what you are going to go shoot.” The
script for Trans was tossed, so it’s a consideration, but in the end,
what’s vital is what matters, and for me, that’s discovery. When you’re
there on location with your actors and things are happening, you’ve got
to respond to what’s there, and what’s available to you and what you
have, versus what’s in your head.
iW: So, tell me a little bit about working with your brother and your
Goldberger: I didn’t work too much with my father on this film. In prior
films I have. My brother’s reaction to growing up in a town like that,
he had almost an identical experience — it’s not fulfilling. He
basically locked himself in the house and developed discipline as a
musician. He just spent countless hours after school playing and writing
music and playing with bands. And that’s where I started as well.
I was very musical early on, throughout high school, and I made a
transition in college towards theater and acting and directing, and then
I started getting into more experimental theater and using multimedia
and stuff. But my brother stayed with music, and that was his
discipline, and that was how he expressed himself. I’ve always known
that he and I would have a relationship, we would always be
collaborating. And we worked on a couple of short films together. I’m so
tight with my younger brother, and there’s just an incredible amount of
understanding between us. So musically, I knew that he would be there,
and he would connect, and he would figure out a way to express what I
wanted to express.
We started off doing short films, and he would compose the score and he
would also be involved with creating soundscapes and ambient textures
and stuff like that. And so I knew that this would evolve, and it has
throughout the past 5 or 6 years.
But my father also contributed to a soundtrack for a film that I way
back, and that was just so fulfilling, just working with your family,
and having that kind of dialogue musically. It was much different than
sitting down and saying, “Well, this film is about this.” And my dad
saying, “No it’s not about that, it’s about this, what are you talking
about?” That kind of dialogue, it’s great, but having a dialogue
musically is something else. It’s just so satisfying, because it
transcends all that headiness. With Trans, I of course knew that my
brother was going to be involved. He was involved with recording all
production sound as well, so he was there on the set.
iW: You left a lot of open space or silence in the soundtrack?
Goldberger: Yeah, that was the balance. It was difficult because you had
to feel those beats where you should lay back and let the silence go and
let the ambient sounds just play.
iW: Was that hard to do?
Goldberger: Yeah, it was hard, because I had so much good material to
work with. I’d love to release a double CD of the music that inspired
the film, the music from the score, soundtrack stuff. . . because
everyone has responded to the music from the soundtrack. Everybody. So
maybe we can use that. If the movie doesn’t sell, we can always sell the
[“Trans” will screen on Saturday and Sunday at the New Directors/New
Series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.]