EDITORS NOTE: This is part of a series of interviews, conducted via email, profiling dramatic and documentary competition and American Spectrum directors who have films screening at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
From the Sundance catalog: “John Rosow is a private detective prone to sardonic wit, gin, and the endless repercussions of what happens when you mix the two. Powerful lawyer Drexler Hewitt wants Rosow to tail a mysterious middle-aged man who is traveling with a Mexican boy from Chicago to Los Angeles. Hewitt’s loyal, stern assistant, Miss Charley, waits at the door with cash and instructions. But when Rosow hits Santa Monica, his objective changes: now he has to bring the man back to New York—for a cool half mil. Through his various dealings with an odd cast of characters—a cabdriver who knows his Catholic saints, a Segway-riding L.A. cop, meddling FBI agents, and femme fatales—Rosow begins to unravel the strange tale of the missing middle-aged man and learns something about himself along the way.”
The Missing Person
Sundance Film Festival American Spectrum
Director: Noah Buschel
Screenwriter: Noah Buschel
Producers: Jesse Scolaro, Allen Bain, Lois Drabkin, Alex Estes
Cinematographer: Ryan Samul
Editor: Mollie Goldstein
Production Designer: Aleta Shaffer
Cast: Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Frank Wood
U.S.A., 2008, 95 mins., color
Please introduce yourself…
I was born in 1978 in Philadelphia. I grew up in Greenwich Village.
How did you learn the “craft” of filmmaking?
I didn’t graduate high school, so full-fledged college wasn’t really an option. I did sit in on some film classes at the University Of Miami. Also I went to Screenwriters Bootcamp. I found both those experiences to be pretty useless. If you watch movies from the time you’re a little kid, like a lot of us do, it’s sort of ingrained in your marrow. If I wanted to be a cinematographer, that would be a different ballgame. But to write and direct–I just started writing scripts as much as I could at about 19. And when I was 22, my former babysitter had a friend who was an assistant at Gersh. She gave the Gersh assistant a script of mine. He liked it and gave it to his boss, who was the head of the literary department. The boss signed me. Through Gersh I met Dan O’Meara. Dan produced my first two films. He was the first person who really championed me. Gersh wanted commercial scripts, but Dan liked my writing as it was, subject matter included. That meant a whole lot.
How or what prompted the idea for your film and how did it evolve?
I was living in downtown Manhattan and reading a Raymond Chandler book when 9/11 happened. For the next month, there were posters of missing people all over the place. You knew most of those people on the posters were dead. But then again, maybe they weren’t. That’s where the script came from.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film…
My approach was really just to go with my instincts. If you don’t do that, you might as well be another person making the movie. Me and the cinematographer, Ryan Samul, shot-listed the script and showed each other photos and paintings and comic books. I had a great costume designer and production designer– they knew what they were doing. Mostly I just tried to keep to myself, walked around a lot.
The actual shooting was a little rushed production-wise and I felt bad that I couldn’t give the actors more time and atmosphere. But they were the kind of actors where even if there wasn’t really time, the performances were solid. Still, I felt bad about that. You go out into the desert and it’s so peaceful and then the A.D. is telling you about a clock. It’s funny.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
Biggest challenge–to just be myself. To stay with my own vision and style. Everyone wants to make a hit indie film and have it be seen and all that. But at the same time, a filmmaker has to express himself, herself. And if a filmmaker does that, I think it’s bound to be a little unique. With that uniqueness comes resistance. Test screening resistance, producer resistance, all kinds of resistance. One producer, Lois J. Drabkin, she was really great because she stood up for the movie’s singularity right down the line. Even if it meant we wouldn’t get into Sundance. Which we did anyway.
What are some of your favorite films, and what are your other creative influences?
My favorite films are “On The Waterfront”, “The Conversation”, and “An American In Paris.” Other creative influences are Soen Nakagawa and my wife.
How do you define success as a filmmaker? What are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I would say success is not falling into the traps of the indie world these days. Not making politically correct border films, or films that sexually exploit teenagers, or quirky family dysfunction films, or Marc Jacobs commercials, or torture films, or cold Brooklyn hipster films, or rural heroin-chic films. You gotta dodge those potholes.
What are your future projects?
“Mu.” Starring Jena Malone. Based on Maura O’Halloran’s “Pure Heart, Enlightened Mind: The Life and Letters of an Irish Zen Saint.”