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On Wednesday, October 28, Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn hosted the official premiere of Eugene Kotlyarenko’s “A Wonderful Cloud,” a weird and charming story of a man trying to connect with his ex-girlfriend Katelyn (played by Kotlyarenko and Kate Lyn Sheil, respectively, who happen to be exes in real life) over a weekend in LA. In a whirlwind hour and 20 minutes, the pair bounce around the city, interacting with all the idiosyncratic characters that make up the LA landscape, from a psychic who swipes a lint roller across Katelyn’s face to a slimy fashion designer who insists she’s “the next big thing.”
“A Wonderful Cloud” is a deeply personal tale executed in a film that is stylish and funny, and it also makes important observations about communication and relationships in the digital age.
Indiewire spoke to Kotlyarenko after the premiere screening to talk about how to make a movie with no time and no budget and, more importantly, how to get it seen. “A Wonderful Cloud” is available to rent on iTunes and and Amazon Instant Video.
One thing I really noticed about the film is all the cool little details. From the denim jacket with a three-eyed Bugs Bunny to the painted toenails on the dog to that weird soda the psychic was drinking —
It was a Japanese soda, yeah.
Where does all that stuff come from?
Our stylist is this girl Lisa Katnic, she’s a really a good stylist. She works with Miley Cyrus, Charli XCX, a lot of big gigs. People like that don’t usually get a chance to work on passion projects much, so when you can come to good people, really talented people who make decent money…Lisa’s just my friend, but you can say, “Hey, I’m doing this crazy project, it’s gonna take 10 days, it’s really personal, it’s about exes and it’s really me and my ex,” they get excited, you know? So Lisa picked out a lot of the clothes for Kate, helped shape Kate’s character. And those details are important; her character is a designer, so what she wears is important. What she has in her bag, even though we don’t see it, is important.
What’s interesting I think is that because the movie is so grounded in real shit, it’s important when you do that to be really in control of injecting it with stylized choices. Because a lot of the time if you reflect reality, if you’re not in control of production design or costume, if you don’t think about it too much, it becomes very banal and boring. So it’s important to push those things and be in control even though the movie feels so authentic and off the cuff and like “my life.”
Were all those aesthetic choices things you stumbled into during filming or did you have an idea of that style going in?
I definitely had a vision for Kate. For instance, that letterman jacket that says Katelyn on it, we made that. We didn’t just find that. All the clothes I wear are basically from my wardrobe. All the clothes I wear are my clothes, but it’s a very specific version of me. That’s what I think happened with a lot of the casting and character choices. It’s an exaggerated, farcical version of who these people are, and then you manipulate them in a way to make them captivating.
To me, the number one thing is that I know I can do something that’s personal, I know I can do something that’s formally interesting, so I just want to do something that’s entertaining. That has to drive you in your choices, because people need a cover of entertainment to get immersed in the emotion or the more difficult things about the movie.
Is that why there are so many different tones in the movie? There’s low humor mixed with sharp observational humor and also those real emotional moments.
Absolutely. I think there’s multiple audiences for the movie. I think there’s people who don’t care about movies and are just cool and want to see something that reflects a different vision of reality than they usually see represented. And I think if you’re a person who’s just on your iTunes just stumbling through and you see something like, “Oh, this poster looks weird, what is this?” I think those people in wherever, Boulder, Colorado, or New Jersey or Long Island where I’m from can watch it and really enjoy it.
Watching it isn’t challenging, but maybe thinking about it should be.
You mentioned Paul Verhoeven in the Q&A after the screening, and I feel like a lot of his movies work on that level, too.
Exactly. Clearly in hindsight it’s very apparent — Verhoeven’s “Robocop” and John Carpenter’s “They Live” are the most sharp critiques of corporatism, Reaganism, all that stuff. But it’s in this package of sci-fi or genre. I don’t think [“A Wonderful Cloud”] is a romantic comedy, but it’s important for me to throw that out there as a genre because people need that to access this stuff.
You include a lot of technology in your movies as a form of communication. What do your movies say about the way technology is changing how we interact with each other?
I think the most important thing is just to acknowledge it and to incorporate it into the storytelling mechanism and into the realities of the characters. The most frustrating thing for me is that I love filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, they’re really vibrant contemporary filmmakers, but they’re making movies about 1860, 1970, 1950. They’re not acknowledging life. These are great stylists, these are great American storytellers, but they’re not acknowledging contemporary life. Very few filmmakers are. And even if they are they’re using it in gimmicky ways.
David Fincher is a great filmmaker, but I think he uses technology as a gimmicky plot mechanism. I just think if you’re going to show life as it is now, which is what this movie does, you have to incorporate that stuff and how people really interact with their phone, their email. They film shit, they play Candy Crush if they’re bored. So yeah I want to reflect that, I think that does help make the film authentic. Is there a critique somewhere in there? Probably.
It seems like even in movies where people are talking over Skype or on their iPhones it never looks right; in this movie it was like, “Oh, that’s what a phone screen looks like. That’s what Facetime looks like.”
Exactly, we’re not CGI-ing it…That’s always in the forefront of my mind, how do we incorporate contemporary reality. Even though it’s cliche to say that “life right now is so different than it was thirty years ago” because everybody always feels like that, but truly there is a seismic shift in how people communicate, how people understand their own identities, and how we understand each other. It’s important to me for my films to reflect that. Hopefully people got it.
When you introduced the movie, you told people to go rate it on iTunes and you said that’s the way people are probably going to see it. Since this movie has such a digital aesthetic, did you have VOD in mind going in or are you always shooting for the big screen?
I always shoot for the big screen, this is the goal. I’ve seen this a few times on the big screen and I’ve realized it’s mostly mediums and close ups. That’s 80% of the coverage. I think that’s really useful because it creates a real sense of intimacy. Obviously things like cell phones and using my real name, that really grounds it in authenticity, but the shot selection grounds it in this intimacy. You can’t escape this world. For better or worse you are inside of it. So I was thinking about that, how it would feel both immersive and oppressive at the same time on a big screen. I had no illusions that it’s going to be in cineplexes, but I was always anticipating a theatrical release.
[Two people come up to Eugene and congratulate him. He thanks them for coming and gives one of them a hug.]
That was my brother and a business partner of his. I don’t think he really goes to movies. I really do think at film festivals some of the people who loved the movie most were seniors, people who were like in their seventies, eighties, they come to me and they’re like “that was so charming, that gave me access to a world I never knew about.” I’m not saying the movie is so fringe or anything, but it does connect with people.
That’s gotta be a good feeling.
It is a good feeling, I’m getting all these Facebook messages and emails from random people who are saying, “I loved it, I connected with it.” The sad thing is when you hear from the distributor how many people downloaded it and it’s not a lot. You just want people to know about it. And in this landscape, I don’t even think the film landscape, in the attention landscape we live in, it’s hard for people to explore something they don’t know about and make time for a movie.
It’s sad because you think when you see advertisement for something it’s going to be entertaining and it’s going to be good, and half the time it’s shit. And you think because you don’t see ads for something, maybe it’s bad, because it’s not good enough. I know this is good, and I know people would like it. My challenge is how do I get people to find out about it and see it. I think that’s a challenge for a lot of filmmakers. But also how do I separate myself from that perception? Because it’s true, a lot of the times thing you take a risk on don’t reward you.
Do you think the answer is social media and word of mouth?
I think that’s one thing, we have no marketing budget so that’s one thing we have to do. Definitely a lot of the controversy that’s surrounded the movie has been useful.
It feels like you have a very objective, maybe an outsider view of LA. How long were you there before you started filming?
Well, I’m from New York, but I’ve been living in LA for eight years. I moved there to “make it in Hollywood” [laughs]. I’ve made all my movies there.
I guess you just seemed very tuned into all the different types of LA weirdos out there.
Well, most of the actors with the exception of Kate, who’s from New York, and John Ennis, who played the fashion designer guy, they’re not actors they’re just people, just born performers. They’re interesting and I know the camera is sucked in by them, they’re very captivating on screen. That’s what drew me to cast them into it.
This world is like an art world type, the milieu is a world of artists and musicians. But within that world the people are more interesting. It’s more like Hollywood used to be. Like, who built Hollywood in the ‘20s and ‘30s? It was businessmen and it was weird people. It was people with really crazy vision who were pioneers who got involved in something no one even understood. It’s very rare to find those people through the system because the system just wants to repeat the same stuff it always does. That’s why they have boring-ass people who all look like each other. I’m lucky enough to not know boring-ass people who look like each other and I put them in a movie.
Is it true that that you shot it in eight days?
I know, right?
How many takes were you doing?
Three to five generally. Never more than five. We did 15 takes of one line because we kept cracking up, but everything else was three to five takes. Before the movie, I was reading a book of Clint Eastwood interviews — I was on an Eastwood tip. And his whole schtick was that the time between the conception of an idea and the completion of the film should be as compressed as possible because you want to maintain the original spark. So the film was conceived in early June and we finished filming it by early July, I finished rough cut in August, director’s cut in September and we sent it to SXSW in October.
The other thing Clint Eastwood’s into is two to three takes, capturing the immediacy. Tell people ahead of time, “Be on your A game because you’re moving on.” And I think it really worked well for the movie. You feel that immediacy.
It keeps up a really frantic pace. It moves quick.
Yeah, I wasn’t in there, but I think people were laughing and feeling it. Usually it works.