With Victoria Mahoney’s impressive feature film debut, Yelling To The Sky, making its theatrical debut in New York this Friday, December 14th, an S&A interview with the director is a given; however, instead of interviewing her all over again, I thought I’d re-post this interview she gave to us in March 2011 – an interview that Stephanie handled (on the old S&A site), and did so incredibly well that I felt I couldn’t have really done much better, and thus decided to instead repost it.
It’s a really good piece that covers a lot of ground – so much that we had to split it up into 3 separate parts/posts. So please take the time to read through it (I know a lot of you weren’t S&A readers in March 2011, given how much the site has grown since then; so you most likely haven’t read it). Get to know not only the film, but the filmmaker from whose mind it originated.
I posted part 1 of the interview yesterday (read it HERE if you missed it); part 2 follows below; and part 3 will be posted tomorrow, Wednesday.
And on Thursday, look for our interview with the star of the film Zoe Kravitz.
Here’s part two of Stephanie’s interview with Victoria, which was done as the film was about to make its USA premiere at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival:
The task of moviemaking is the ultimate cross-section of art and commerce.It’s also a balance between solitary convictions and esprit de corps—a balance that must be cultivated and preserved with care. If anyone seems to understand this well it’s Victoria Mahoney and her close collaborators. In part two of this interview Victoria talks about who and what inspires her, about the aesthetic of Yelling to the Sky, about unconventional narrative structure, her upcoming feature Chalk, and working with folks who get it.
Forming a Perspective
SJ: I notice you have Reed Morano as your DP [for YTTS]. I saw “Frozen River”, and it has this sort of gritty look—very blue, and just interesting to look at; is “Frozen River” why you picked her for that film?
VM: I picked her because a lot of the other DPs shared with me that it would be too difficult to do this thing that I wanted to do, for the amount of budget and the amount of time we were filming. So when I met other DPs they, without knowing, they shared with me the problems instead of the solution. And with Reed she shared the solution, and there were no problems. Full stop, like that was it. I shared with her that I needed something to happen with the light externally and internally, and everyone else tried to talk me out of it. And Reed was like “I don’t know how we’re going to do it, but we can do it,” and she just went into figuring it out. Like I shared with Reed this claustrophobia in the house, because of the stillness of what the character Sweetness is going through in the home, and what it’s like for her to be inside the home, what it feels like. So we want to feel that when she—when we’re, there. And what it’s like for her out in the world, with the running, and the gunning, and the movement. It’s chaotic and frenetic. And that was very challenging to pull that off in a way that we were doing things intentionally. And that it wasn’t without skill.
SJ: So you talk about claustrophobia within her [Sweetness’s] living space. Was it intentional then, when she was out of that space and she sort of broke free, (because she changes personas from beginning to end), to expand more in that environment when Sweetness became a different person? What was your methodology for cinematography when expanding her character?
VM: Well, there are a couple of things. We used everything that we had, we used wardrobe, we used lighting and space, we used production design, we used music, and then the actors themselves. So the lenses we used, whether we were in motion or static, all went in accord with whatever shift she was in. And there were actually three changes; I just want to note that. We meet her as one individual, then she becomes another individual, and by the end she’s a hybrid of her two selves. So there were three themes that we had to pay attention to with energy, lens, wardrobe, and environment. So what we did is we picked moments all throughout. We didn’t go close to her until we earned it, we couldn’t just go close because it was in my shot, we came in for a reason. We were far [away] because we were not allowed in. The distance between her and us (the lens) is all calculated, it’s all calibrated. And whether we’re wide or confined at each point it shifted for every thirty pages, I guess…for everything thirty minutes.
SJ: So there is sort of a three act structure.
VM: Yeah, but I’m sure that everyone and their mother would probably [disagree], because it’s a very impressionistic film. And I was not…I was more interested in telling this abstract story about this abstract individual, in this abstract world. And that experience was about making this three act cohesion—but there’s respect to form, whether people agree with that or not.
SJ: Who are the directors and filmmakers that really inspire you? Who are the filmmakers you watch that really make you want to challenge yourself as a filmmaker?
VM: Well, there are some obvious ones that we all know and love. And then there are some new breed of filmmakers that are actually exciting to me. A lot of them I didn’t see until after I locked picture, after I was already done with post and we already shot our film. But there were some films that came out last year that really, really blew my mind. [David] Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, and [Jacques Audiard’s] A Prophet, and [director] Lucrecia Martel. [Nadine Labaki] did a film a while back called Caramel. There are cats that people just need to hear about—the guy [Christian Mungiu] who did 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days—these are the kind of guys who are just pushing it. They’re pushing it, like, beautifully. And there’s a lot of people alive right now that I deeply enjoy. And I feel like they’re setting the bar, and I don’t really have to go back to the ‘40s or ‘70s.
SJ: Interesting. So it’s almost like you feel that there’s a new wave of cinema internationally.
VM: Yeah, there’s a great movement, and in each country. There’s some great stuff coming out of Mexico, as you know, and a great thrust coming out of Brazil. There’s a great thrust coming out of Armenia, a great thrust coming out of Australia, and we know there’s a great thrust coming out of Korea—Park Chan-wook, I’ll watch him through anything. I’m trying to see that iPhone movie [Night Fishing], he’s no joke!
SJ: I want to talk about Chalk, your upcoming feature; you’re scheduled to start shooting this summer, right?
VM: Yeah, we start principle [photography] in July.
SJ: Nice! And what’s the location for that?
VM: It’s going to be California, the exact opposite [of Yelling to the Sky]. We were trying to do Virginia—parts of it in Virginia, but we’d have to move the crew, move the trucks out, and stop for a week—we don’t want to break. So I just came from location scouting in Santa Ynez and Orange County, but mostly we’re in Orange County. And then we go into the water towns like Newport Beach, a lot of it is Newport Beach and Marina. And then we’re faking towns, we’re faking areas.
SJ: So what is Chalk about?
VM: Well, we’re going to do an official release soon, so until then we’re kind of keeping it under wraps. It’s basically about an individual who goes on a hunt to finds some murder suspects. And that’s what we’re giving out right now—it’s about a bunch of human beings, in a conflicted way, trying to find themselves without too much harm. It’s very exciting, and it’s a different landscape obviously, and it’s a whole new set of challenges. And I’m so excited. I’m also excited because one of the things my friends and I talk about with our first films is that people think they know the trajectory of your career for the next twenty years. And all of my friends and I, we have such varied interest—our interest is the human condition. And so I’m excited to shush up what people think they know about me because of Yelling. And then there’s my team, I have the same editor, Bill Henry, [and] Billy Mulligan’s producing. So we’re all excited to just have it, it really is a new topography in a really great way. Some of the basic elements of the things that intrigued me [with my first film] are still involved, I would say.
SJ: You’re working with [producer] Billy Mulligan again; how did you come to develop a relationship with him? I mean, obviously you’re doing quite well together; what is it about how he works and how he understands you that keeps you working with him?
VM: I came to trust him because he loves, loves, loves filmmakers, and he loves films. So I don’t have to talk him into the value of what I do. I don’t have to sell him on it…He’s not annoyed by any part of the process, he loves making phone calls to people to solve any problem in the day. He loves making phone calls to financiers…When we have to do financing from the end of principle to the end of post, he just loves it. And I happen to dig working with people who love coming to work. I don’t want to talk anybody into being there. I don’t want to sit beside anybody who wants to be somewhere else. So that’s the first thing. And other than that…we started this relationship because he knew as many people as I knew. He had a great rolodex and his matched mine, which is a funny way to say it. But I really mean this for first time filmmakers, when you match up with someone make sure that if you have an individual’s home phone number the person you match up with has their cell phone number. If you end up going on a journey with someone who can’t get to the people that you need, you’re just breathing and struggling on your own over and over in a way that’s just too exhausting…And other than that, he has a great sense of humor, we are in on the joke together, and we have fun when we travel, and we laugh as much as we’re exhausted. And we get that this is a part of our lives that we’ll never get back, so why spend it with anyone who…you know what I mean. But we enjoy each other’s company and I care about him and his well being.
SJ: So in other words, you are the producer’s dream, and he is the director’s dream?
VM: I hope [laughs], that’s the wish. And that’s not without homework, like we earned, we put time and energy into it, it’s not casual. I think also that both of us have had other experiences that we know it, so it’s like we latched on to each other like: “I’ve been looking for you!” “Oh yeah? I’ve been looking for you!” [laughs]
SJ: That’s really incredible. It really does sound like you’ve formed a dream team. Is there anybody else that you guys are working with, that have come along with you? Or are you two just the dynamic duo?
VM: Well we do a lot of it on our own, the day-to-day I should say. But we have a team, we have Alfonso Trinidad he’s the associate producer, and he’s going to be our 1st AD on Chalk. And we have Bill Henry, the editor I told you about, he’s a part of us forever. And we have Ged Dickerson the line producer/producer. Alfonso and Ged have already done some heavy [work] and are already two months in on Chalk. Ged was one of our producers on Yelling to the Sky, and technically his job done after principle photography, but he came on at the end through post and carried us in a way. Ged had made these connections—and that’s another one. It’s like, you walk into an office with Ged, you go into Sound One or Deluxe with Ged, and they’ve known him since he was nineteen. That’s another big thing, it’s these people who have relationships. You go into these post facilities, or these locations, or wherever the hell it is, to get this thing for your film, and you know they don’t open the door because you’re nice. They don’t know if you’re nice! They open the door because they have a history with you and they know you’re not going to mess with them, you’re not going to rob them, you’re not going to disrespect them, and you’re not going to tear up their shit one way or another. That’s why you get to keep making films it’s because of the relationships you build with people. And Ged has a great understanding of that.
The conclusion of this interview with Victoria Mahoney will be posted tomorrow.