Ahead of "Green"'s New York premiere at BAMcinemaFest tonight, indieWIRE caught up with the film's first-time director Sophia Takal to learn what inspired her to craft her beguiling and sexually heated debut. Click here to read our review of the film from SXSW.
The Deal: This debut feature from actor-director Takal stars the terrific Kate Lyn Sheil ("The Color Wheel") and Lawrence Michael Levine ("Gabi on the Roof in July") in a psychological-cum-sexual relationship drama about an intellectual, “green,” city-dwelling couple confronted with their own fears and desires when they visit the countryside and form a tumultuous friendship with a down-to-earth yokel, played by the filmmaker herself. The tranquility and placid appeal that the Proust-quoting, Green market-shopping Brooklynite pair find in their summer sublet is counterbalanced by Ernesto Carcamo’s eerily haunting score. Fellow BAMcinemaFest director Alex Ross Perry makes a cameo appearance. [Synopsis courtesy of BAMcinemaFest]
Responses courtesy of "Green" director Sophia Takai.
A connection to Judy Garland...
When I was little I was OBSESSED with Judy Garland. Hers were the first movies I watched. I felt very connected to her - I would cry and cry when I watched her movies because I was so sad she was dead. Something about her sadness really moved me. It also, I think, is the reason I grew up wanting to be an actress and sort of shaped my path from a very young age (even though her direct influence on "Green" isn't necessarily apparent).
I always wanted to study acting in college but I decided to go to a liberal arts college rather than a conservatory. There they required you to study all aspects of theater not just performance. I realized I was much more interested in the other elements of filmmaking (editing, film history, etc.) more than I was interested in those elements of theater so I decided to focus on film studies.
I'm really glad I did because that's where I met my fiance, Lawrence Michael Levine (he was my TA). After we met we decided to start collaborating on films. We made a few shorts together and, when we decided to do a feature, "Gabi on the Roof" in July. Even though Lawrence was the director, he included me in every aspect of the filmmaking process. Watching him direct, learning from him, and being such a big part of the production gave me confidence to jump in to directing my own feature. He also introduced me to filmmakers who have had a huge impact on me: Cassavetes, Altman, Piallat and Ozu in particular.
How jealousy fueled "Green"...
"Green" is a film that explores the destructive power of jealousy. I'm an extremely jealous person and the height of my jealousy occurred during the making of "Gabi on the Roof" in July. The script for "Gabi" was developed over a long rehearsal period that required Lawrence to be out of the house working intimately with other actresses for long periods of time. The rage I felt toward the women I perceived to be threats was a difficult emotion for me to handle. It was really, surprisingly violent. I imagined horrible things happening to these women, who I was convinced Lawrence was falling in love with. I threw accusations at him constantly. It was an awful strain on the relationship. My anger was not based on any concrete proof that he was or wanted to be cheating on me, but it was all-consuming.
Once the shoot was over, I realized how crazy I had been acting and began to examine this side of myself. Not only had I endangered my relationship, but I'd also prevented myself from getting close to all of the wonderful, talented women who worked on "Gabi." I started to talk to a lot of my female friends about my issues with jealousy. Almost every woman I spoke to had similar experiences, bit I couldn't find examples of films made by women about this subject. I decided to make "Green" in an attempt to understand these impulses and, hopefully, get past them.
"Gabi" involved a large cast, an unwieldy number of locations, an enormous amount of rehearsal, and not much of a budget to support such an endeavor. Though the film was ultimately rewarding, the logistical nightmares, coupled with my jealousies, resulted in a lot of stress and disconnection between Lawrence and myself.
Once the project was completed, I really wanted to make a film that was just as complex emotionally, but much simpler organizationally. I really wanted to cultivate a more relaxed creative process. I figured the best way to do that would be to keep the production simple and close to home. Over the course of shooting "Gabi," I’d developed a close friendship with one of the other actresses in the film, Kate Lyn Sheil. After the film, she moved in with Lawrence and I and we began discussing ideas for a project.
At first, all I knew was that the three of us were going to act in a film that would be shot in as few locations as possible with tiny crew of close friends. Intimacy was of utmost importance. The highs and lows of "Gabi" reminded me how essential the process is, not just the results.
After some conversations with Kate and Lawrence about themes and characters, I wrote an outline for "Green," then sat with it for several months, not sure that I was ready to confront the issues that film would address. Eventually, I mustered up enough courage to take the plunge and delved deeper into the outline I had written. The result was a combination of scripted dialogue and detailed scene descriptions. Scenes that were meant to be more abstract were intentionally left vague, with no dialogue written. We shot the film during two periods, each consisting of a week. Once the first week of shooting was wrapped, I reviewed the footage and scripted the scenes that had been previously been improvised. I wanted them to feel spontaneous, but I wanted them to be concise as well. Some improvised scenes can feel rambling, which I didn't want.
I purposely set out to make a movie that was less complex logistically than our previous film, so the challenges I faced on this movie were derived more from the emotional nature of the story and the relationships of the people involved. For instance, Kate is my roommate and Lawrence is my fiance and they were playing boyfriend and girlfriend. I was concerned that my being jealous would be a hindrance to their ability to work seamlessly together, especially since the idea for the film was initiated by my own personal issues with jealousy, but the shoot turned out less difficult than I'd imagined it would be. I'd like to think that the film helped me overcome my issues with jealousy. Since we've been done shooting, however, I've gotten jealous a lot so probably that's just wishful thinking!
What the future holds...
I'm acting in a lot of films. I was in Argentina for two months working on a feature called the International Sign for Choking by Zach Weintraub, who made an awesome first feature last year called "Bummer Summer." I also shot another movie with Kate and Lawrence that Joe Swanberg directed called "The Zone." I also worked on a film opposite Alex Karpovsky called "This is My Girlfriend" by Dan Schechter. I guess those will all be hopefully coming out in the next year. In July I have a part in a movie called "Detonator" that Lawrence and Robert Longstreet are also in and that's shooting next month. It's been crazy to be able to work with so so many amazing people. Oh, and this Saturday, June 25 we are having a "fundRAGER" [details below] to raise money for the next film Lawrence and I are making: "Bingo & the Belle."
The fundraiser, "F**k Kickstarter, We're Having a Party," takes place this Saturday, June 25th from 9:30pm - 12:30am at 45 West 21st Street, 6th Floor.