INTERVIEW: Ill Communication; Marc Forster Lets Silence Speak for Itself

by Jacque Lynn Schiller

(indieWIRE/ 11.12.01) -- With "Everything Put Together" (now playing) and the upcoming "Monster's Ball," starring Billy Bob Thornton and Halle Berry, 2001 Independent Spirit Award winner Marc Forster proves he certainly is a filmmaker worth watching. "Everything Put Together" is a riveting, unflinching examination of the frail bonds that exist between friends and family. When young newlyweds Angie (Radha Mitchell) and Russ (Justin Louis) lose their first baby to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, the circle of friends (all with new families of their own) they have relied on for social and emotional support abruptly withdraw.

The Swiss-born Forster's keen observation for small details elicits the depths of Angie's anguish to such a degree one feels as if they are experiencing a panic attack. Existing alongside this story of ultimate misfortune is also a clever, biting satire of the calm, comfortable and conformist wold of suburbia. indieWIRE's Jacque Lynn Schiller spoke with Forster about loss, celebrating life and the importance of waking the audience.

indieWIRE: You shot on digital video. Was this for budgetary or stylistic reasons?

"If you do a work that might have certain similarities to films that have been done before, you better look at them to make sure that you're not doing something the same. You can also be inspired."

Marc Forster: When we wrote it, at first we didn't have that DV vision in mind. But then I saw "The Celebration," and it was so inspirational. I said, "Oh my god. This script would be perfect to tell in this visual manner." At the same time, it would have been hard to raise the amount of money, like two or three million dollars, to make this on film. I knew there were two producers who would give me $100,000 to shoot this on DV and so we gave the script to two different producers who said they would give us the money.

iW: How did the distribution deal with American Cinematheque come about? I know "Everything Put Together" is the first new American film they will release.

Forster: When we were at Sundance, Trimark wanted to buy the movie, but two or three months after the festival we were still in negotiations. A few months later, American Cinematheque held a special event and said they would like to play the film there because they loved it so much. So they played the movie. At the same time the Trimark deal fell apart because they got bought by Lions Gate and so the whole thing just sort of dissolved. American Cinematheque then asked if they could release it. And at this point, four or five months after Sundance you sort of lose the momentum. Most of the distributors have already bought their movies or are waiting for Toronto or Telluride, so we said sure. It is a great opportunity to get the movie out and get a few people to go and see it. [laughs]

iW: I heard one of the reasons they wanted the film is it reminded them of "Rosemary's Baby" and "Safe" - impressive comparisons. Who are some of your influences?

Forster: There are a lot of directors I am influenced by. I love Kubrick, Buñuel and Truffaut. I like Bergman and John Huston. There are so many filmmakers I do like, but for this particular project, I definitely was influenced by Polanski. But absolutely I looked at "Safe" as well. If you do a work that might have certain similarities to films that have been done before, you better look at them to make sure that you're not doing something the same. You can also be inspired.

iW: You have an amazing skill at extracting gutwrenching performances from your actors in both "Everything Put Together" and in "Monster's Ball." What's your secret?

Forster: There's no formula; you have to apply it case by case. For instance Radha works very differently from Halle Barry. Radha comes from a more analytical place and Halle comes from a much more emotional place. Directing different individuals, you basically try and absorb their needs and feel their sensitivities. It's not about what I need. Overall it is what my vision should be, but also how can I create and support a certain environment and a particular feeling. And it doesn't start with what I say or how I direct them. It begins with the gaffer and grip and DP, so they have a feeling of trust and of being free on the set. There's nothing to distract them; they must feel they are in good hands. I may be the director, but I have to make sure everyone else gives them the same support and strength. I try to have that structure from day one. You can be as good as any director or actor, but if the environment is not right, you'll never get that performance out of them.

iW: Did you have rehearsals before the shoot or did they just come to the set and jump into character?

Forster: In both cases we never had rehearsal. In "Everything Put Together," I couldn't ask Radha because everything was just so