First Look Eyes Andres Heinz's "Origin of the Species"
by Anthony Kaufman
Andres Heinz is one of those film school success stories. After winning
NYU's much coveted Mobil Award for his thesis film, "Ground Level B", a
surreal story of death as a vaudevillian dance, Heinz worked on numerous
feature films and coordinated for the Saturday Night Live film unit.
Heinz soon teamed up with friend and producer David Nickoll and
playwright Robert Weston Ackerman to helm a film adaptation of
Ackerman's play "Origin of the Species" about six twenty-somethings
reuniting one weekend at a secluded summer house. A sort of straight,
Gen X, "Love! Valor! Compassion!", "Origin of the Species" was a welcome
challenge for Heinz, a director who exchanged his love for flashy
cinematic flourishes for the subtle examination of character and human
"Origin of the Species" screened Monday night in Los Angeles at First
Look, a project founded in 1992 by Eastman Kodak and New York's Tribeca
Film Center in conjunction with the New York Foundation for the Arts.
First Look is one of a few industry screening events that give
first-time filmmakers the opportunity to network with the indie
community and showcase their work for distributors. This year's season
continues through July with monthly premieres first in New York and then
in LA. "Origin of the Species" next slated screening will be at the 4th
annual Avignon/New York Film Festival.
indieWIRE: First of all, what's the story behind getting on the
project, because it's not a script you wrote, it's not something that
was your baby.
Andres Heinz: What happened was David and I had known each other for a
little while and we were doing a project together. We were working
together on Saturday Night Live. I quit to go write a screenplay and
after I was finishing the first draft, he had acquired the rights to
Ackerman's play and he sent me the play and said, "Are you interested?"
And I said, "Yeah, but let me read the first draft." And that's how it
all happened. I started talking to him and Ackerman about how we could
make it. And Nickoll's schedule had to be done pretty quickly. I got
the first draft on May 1st and we were shooting by July 22nd, so it was
an incredibly quick process. I just started immediately working with
Ackerman, redrafting and restructuring.
iW: How much writing changes were you able to do?
Heinz: First, it was like an editorial process, really cutting down.
The first draft he sent me was something crazy like 150 pages, I can't
remember what it was. But it was the point of cutting down a lot of the
dialogue, because it was so incredibly dialogue based. And the second
part of it was really restructuring it to have more of a, you know, as
they say, "opening it up." And also spread out the drama a little bit.
His first couple drafts were a little too intense in certain scenes and
I just tried to break them up, to have more of an arc. Dialogue-wise, I
didn't rewrite. We did some rewriting on set and some improv with the
characters to keep things flowing. But mostly, when it came to the
script, it was more just cutting and restructuring, to make it more of a
film than a play.
iW: Can you talk about some of the visual challenges in adapting a
Heinz: One of the worst times on set was the final scene which was 20
pages in one room and I found that very difficult to shoot in an
interesting way, because of time constraints, there was little chance
for camera movement, because that took up too much time. We did open it
up and I had them come to the house and the lake stuff was also
iW: And I know from your short films that dream sequences are important
to you. . .
Heinz: Yeah, the dream sequences were something that along the way
Ackerman wrote one dream sequence and I realized I had my chance! I
love visual storytelling. And that's been the shorts I've done. So I
love that kind of storytelling. It comes more naturally to me and
that's why this project was really interesting and really great to work
on because this is character. I really wanted to see if I could do it.
It was really fun to concentrate on performances and not get too carried
away with the camera. I knew when I read it the first time that this is
not about the director. You can't do crazy stuff and there's no
opportunity for it because it's very subtle, so things are going on
which are more important than my crane shot. [Laughs]
iW: I keep getting the feeling -- This is your first film, but this
wasn't the first film you would have made. You know what I mean?
Heinz: It wasn't. But it was an opportunity that would have been
extremely stupid for me to pass up. Ideally, of course, I always wanted
to make my film first, but now hopefully, I'll make my film second. And
this one will help me to show that I can do it. We shot it in 20 days
and I think it will help me in the future, when I can show this to a
company or whoever will be producing my feature. Sort of like another
piece on the reel. But I did have a lot of attraction to it because of
iW: Tell me about the decision to take the film to First Look?
Heinz: It just ended up being. . . They were really enthusiastic about
having our film and it seemed like a good opportunity for distributors.
iW: And they were there.
Heinz: Yes, so, we'll see what happens.
iW: What do you think will be the next strategies to make the film
Heinz: I'm not exactly sure. David and I are pretty new at this, so
we're trying to figure it out as we go along. And D.J. Paul [executive
producer] has given us advice on what we should do. Fortunately, I think
they're both competent, so I'm trying to leave that kind of stuff to
them while I go write my next movie.
[For more information on "Origin of the Species", check out their
www.originofthespecies.com or call Nickoll Arcade Films at
To contact First Look, call 212-941-4011.]