Yesterday, in an effort to determine whether “Can A Couple Truly Collaborate Creatively (And Survive?)” we started to look at the origins of the collaborative filmmaking team of Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine — who just so happen to be entangled romantically too. Today, they share a bit about what they went through when they embarked on their first feature, Lawrence’s GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. They are as honest and forthcoming about their process, as they are in their filmmaking itself. As I said yesterday, “Whether you aspire to work with your significant other, or just collaborate well with your team, the back and forth and growth that Sophia and Lawrence have committed themselves to, can all teach us a few things.”
Part Two of Three
Gabi on the Roof in July, 2009-2010
Lawrence Michael Levine: Though making The Empress and Fat Friend had encouraged us to entertain the idea of making a feature, we still weren’t sure we’d be able to do it. I’d saved up a little money over the years, but I wasn’t sure how far that was going to take us. I was really into ensemble films at the time, which are more expensive – more characters means more locations, company moves and mouths to feed. I was also concerned that many of the early micro-budget films were alienating to audiences because they were poorly lit, so I felt it was important to improve on that which I didn’t think was possible for the amount of money I had. Fate, however, soon put an end to these concerns. Sophia was cast in a national television commercial that paid very well. As soon as she got her first residual check for the commercial, we went to work on the film that ended up becoming Gabi on the Roof in July.
Since Sophia and I were going to be paying for the movie ourselves, we decided that we might as well make exactly the kind of film we wanted to make. Both of us were pretty inspired by Mike Leigh at the time, so it seemed like an interesting idea to study his techniques and apply them to our own life experiences. That meant casting the actors first and developing the characters and story in collaboration with them. We gave ourselves six months to cast, rehearse, and generate the shooting script and then another month to shoot the film.
The rehearsal process for Gabi was simultaneously one of the best and worst times of my life. Artistically, I had never been more satisfied. The cast we managed to pull together was of a caliber beyond our wildest expectations, but the countless hours I spent away from Sophia with the other actors and with my co-writer, Kate Kirtz, took their toll on our relationship. Sophia’s sense of isolation, I think, was compounded by the fact that, as part of the rehearsal process, I required the actors not discuss their characters with one another. No actor could know more than his or her character would know. That meant that when I came home at the end of the day, I could not discuss what I had been working on with Sophia, which further fueled her jealousy and paranoia. This state of affairs was tough on her, so she made it tough on me.
Sophia Takal: Well, yeah, because essentially that process meant spending hours home alone waiting for you to get back from traipsing around the city with beautiful girls like Amy Seimetz and Kate Sheil, while I sat at home waiting for you. Then when you got home once you got home I couldn’t talk to you about where you’d been and what you’d been up to.
LML: Right. That’s what I just said.
ST: Different emphasis.
LML: Fair enough. The shooting of Gabi was equally divided between periods of artistic fulfillment and extreme tension. Working with the cast and cinematographer, Aaron Kovalchik, was a joy; however, due to our inexperience and lack of funds the set was in a state of constant chaos. Since most of the cast and crew were working for free, Sophia and I couldn’t take out our frustration on them, so we took it out on each other.
ST: Yeah. We took all of our anxiety and turned it in on each other. A psychologist would probably look at our behavior during that period of time and grimace. It was bad. One of the things that sucked the most was that we decided we couldn’t afford an AD, so I was the de facto AD, which meant I had to be the person on set to keep things moving, but I was also the star of the film so I would be rushing Larry and the DP while, for example, I was covered in whipped cream in between takes. It was awkward.
LML: She would be rushing me and then she’d have to step into a scene and I’d have to be a kind, supportive director, after she’d just been hassling me about time. It was rough.
Estimated Number of Fights:
Post-Production: 18 (one in which Lawrence threatened to throw the computer out the window if I did not make the cut he – the director – wanted)
LML: Though many of our shooting days were filled with awful moments, I think the worst point in the shoot was when I had to do a love scene with Brooke Bloom while Sophia crouched behind the camera attempting to hide the fact that she was weeping profusely behind a pair of giant sunglasses. Why she chose to be in the room at that moment, despite my protestations, I’ll never know, nor will I ever fully grasp how she convinced me to do her next project, Green.
ST: In the end, though, we made a movie. A movie that at certain points neither of us thought we could pull off and sometimes still wonder if we did. But we did it together and despite all the arguments we were, at times, the only people who believed in each other.
TOMORROW: We conclude with Part Three, As Sophia Takes Charge On Her Own Feature…
Trailer: GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY:
Sophia Takal wrote, directed, edited and starred in the feature film GREEN which premiered at SXSW in 2011 and won the SXSW/Chicken & Egg Emergent Woman Narrative Director award. She produced, edited and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine’s GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. She was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film in 2011.
Lawrence Michael Levine wrote, directed and starred in the feature film GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY which played numerous festivals, won a number of awards and is currently available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon.com, etc. He produced and starred in Sophia Takal’s GREEN.