EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of several interviews, conducted via email, with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
“Vegas: Based on a True Story”
(World Narrative Feature Competition)
Director: Amir Naderi
Screenwriters: Amir Naderi, Susan Brennan, Bliss Esposito, Charlie Lake Keaton
Cast: Mark Greenfield, Nancy La Scala, Zach Thomas, Walt Turner, Alexis Hart, Cathy Leach
Synopsis: Eddie Parker, his wife Tracy, and their 12-year-old son Mitch lead blue-collar lives on the outskirts of America’s pleasure capital, Las Vegas. Former compulsive gamblers, the couple carefully try to hold on to their ‘normal’ existence—Eddie works at a used tires shop while Tracy waits tables at a diner and tends to her small desert garden. Despite Tracy’s efforts to keep the fragile family life together, when an elusive stranger pretending to be a marine just back from Iraq shows up claiming there’s something special about their home, his extravagant offer quickly turns into the family’s obsession. The only question is, how deep are they willing to go? [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]
Please introduce yourself.
My name is Amir Naderi.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
Actually, I don’t even remember a time when I wasn’t a filmmaker.
What prompted the idea for your film?
While I was living for a period in Las Vegas in the 90s, photographing the changes on and off the strip, I realized what a cliche and fake image of “Sin City” we tend to receive from films and the media – the lights, the limos, the strip, the tourists. So I became interested in making a film about ‘a true’ Vegas. I wanted it to be about people from Vegas and living in Vegas, about a family from that area not tourists coming in and leaving. Then in a little casino bar out near the desert, someone told me the story of their family, who thought something was hidden on the grounds of their home and ended up ruining themselves looking for it. That incident didn’t let go of me and I’ve been developing the film for years. It seemed both realistic and allegorical, a combination I always like. I also realized that gambling was not just what took place in casinos; I discovered that people gambled on other people’s loves and obsessions.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making your film.
Intensity, location, experience. The location is crucial and I always base my films on experience, that is, the director, the actors and the crew must live in and feel the environment. I spent 3 months alone scouting, absorbing the outlying towns, the desert, the bars and stories, the light and air, to get a more intimate sense of the place. With the crew, we lived in a trailer out in Pahrump, outside Las Vegas, for 6 months, cut off from the world. In the wind and the dust, we experienced the same landscape of obsession as the family in the film, with the same intensity. At the end, we just couldn’t stand each other. And that’s when I knew things had worked out.
This is what I tell everyone when I start a film: It’s like a train at a station waiting for passengers. I look for cast and crew who are willing to risk, who want to achieve something, who want to make something of themselves and prove themselves. I tell them, if you board this train, you will pay for it, you might have to travel through hell with the film, and if you lose your patience or your commitment, I can’t stop the train for you, because it’s beyond me, the train will take its course to the very end of this experience. If you want to get off, you’ll have to jump off. But I can promise that one day, we’ll pull into a station, you’ll get off the train richer (in experience, of course) and we’ll have a film out in the world together. Those who come on board might hate me through the jounrey, but we inevitably become best friends afterwards, as a result of it.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?
As usual, funding was the biggest challenge. We put the money together in bits and pieces, like a puzzle, sometimes on a daily basis. On how we raised the money and from whom, there are lots of stories, some involving Vegas gamblers…
The environment was tough too–6 months in the desert is never easy.
How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?
I adhere to certain principles and the principles define success for me. Film is an artistic medium with its own capabilities, so a good film should present us with something that cannot be done in any other medium. Also, a film must have an original and a gutsy core – aesthetically, narratively, or in the method of its making. Courage and risk are crucial, and if I feel that I have managed to combine experience, experiment and a narrative, then I can say I have achieved some measure of success. That’s what I’m looking for.
What are your future projects?
As always, the future depends on the funds. After the experience of this film, I’m ready to make the film I’ve been wanting to make for years: a movie about the moon. Why not? Cut.