[EDITORS NOTE: indieWIRE is publishing two interviews daily with Sundance ’07 competition filmmakers through the end of the festival later this month. Directors with films screening in the four competition section were given the opportunity to participate in an email interview, and each was sent the same set of questions.]
Filmmaker Adam Bhala Lough brings his latest work to the Sundance Film Festival this year, entitled “Weapons.” The film follows a group of teenagers who become involved in a series of seemingly random killings over the course of a weekend. “A haunted hip-hop soundtrack drenches this insightful study of teenage character and value systems in a world where everyone seems to have a gun,” writes Sundance, “but the most dangerous weapon is the one unleashed by tender things broken inside innocent hearts.” Adam Bhala Lough other recent work includes Bomb the System, Farmhouse, and music videos for MF Doom and Joe Strummer.
Please introduce yourself. What are some of your former jobs? Where did you grow up, and where do you live now?
27 right now, 24 when I wrote “Weapons.” I’ve had some interesting former jobs. I worked at Blockbuster Video, bagged groceries at Giant Food, was a clerk at Spencers Gifts and worked at my Uncle’s AAMCO station. I’ve also done data entry, waited tables, directed indie-hip hop videos, adapted a novel into a screenplay, wrote magazine articles, and created a multi-channel video installation for a gallery. I spent the first six years in Southern Virginia in a rural area and then in a small town before my family relocated to the Washington, DC area where I moved around quite a lot on account of my dad being a preacher. I currently live in Brooklyn.
What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?
During the summer when school was out my mom used to give my brother and I two choices: we had to either read an article in a newspaper, magazine or book and write a small analysis of what the article was about or else write an original story. I always chose to write a short story. I would write “cinematic” short stories kind of like short films. Those eventually gave way to screenplays which I began writing as young as twelve.
What other creative outlets do you explore?
For three years I learned to play the piano but I was more interested in Soccer and Basketball so I quit, but I’m still very interested in playing music. I’ve been writing poetry consistently since the age of 7 or 8. I took creative writing and poetry classes at the University of Virginia when I was 13. I love poetry and turn to it when ever in doubt of filmmaking. I also enjoy photography and a few years ago I taught myself to take photos with a manual SLR. I shot film all over Europe and Japan during the festival tour of “Bomb the System.”
How did you learn about filmmaking?
I learned about filmmaking primarily at age 15 when I began working at Blockbuster Video and interning at a Public Access Television station in my neighborhood. I taught myself how to use cameras and how to edit on an analogue video-editing machine. When I turned 18 I moved to New York City and attended NYU where I got a degree in Film Production with a focus on Experimental Film.
I was inspired to make movies by a book written by Robert Rodriguez, called “Rebel Without a Crew.” This book, along with the early films of Jim Jarmusch and Hip Hop music videos gave me the confidence to think anyone could make a film. Not just a wealthy kid from Los Angeles, but anyone, anywhere.
How did you finance your film?
I was introduced to a pair of movie producers in Los Angeles and I sold them on my idea and my script. They acted fast, and their quick action was elemental in making this a great film. I commend them for that.
How did the initial idea for your film come about?
I had a dream one night. I woke up and wrote it down. The next day I put it in script form. The dream is the first scene of “Weapons.” The rest of the film explains how the 1st scene came about. It was a purely organic process.
Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making the film. What were some of your influences?
I was influenced by camera flare, which may have come from my still photography habit. I was influenced by music, specifically DJ Screw and Houston Rap Music of the mid-90’s. I was also influenced by a book by Gabriel Garcia Marquez called “Chronicle of a Death Foretold.” I was most influenced by the Bible and some of the stories in the Old Testament. Actually when I first pitched the film to the producer Rob Fried I remember talking about the Book of Job.
How did the casting for the film come together?
Half the cast was made up of my friends, Mark Webber, Jade Yorker, Arliss Howard, John Campo, Tim Dowlin, just to name a few.
Our lead actress came out of nowhere. She was 17 when I met her and she had only been acting for like 5 months and had only been in one movie in her life. She just walked in off the street and auditioned, got the part. She’s unbelievably passionate about her career and despite the difficult scenes she had to film I never saw her without a smile on her face.
Nick Cannon came to the project because both of our fathers are preachers. When I discovered that, I knew it was meant to happen. He agreed to do the film before even reading the script, after speaking with me for an hour one afternoon in Los Angeles.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in either developing the project or making the movie?
Hurricane Katrina. We were originally going to shoot in New Orleans and I spent part of the summer location scouting in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. We hired some crew and were in the process of setting up an office and temporarily moving down there. Then Katrina struck and leveled all our plans as well as the lives of many people down there, forever.
Describe the moment you found out that you were accepted into Sundance, where were you, and how did you react?
I was sick, lying on a couch in my parent’s house in Virginia because it was the day before Thanksgiving. I was thrilled. I called my girlfriend; she was at work in New York. She was even happier than me. Then I turned off my phone and went back to watching my brother’s “South Park” box set.
What is your definition of “independent film”?
What I usually tell family members from India is, “an American independent film is any movie made outside of the traditional Hollywood studio system.” I always add that most independent films are made on budgets that are substantially lower than the movies made by the Hollywood studios.
What are some of your favorite films, and why? What is your top ten list for 2006?
Recently I’ve seen a few great films including “Who is Bozo Texino?” a great documentary about hobos, freight hoppers and train car graffiti. The Criterion Collection DVD of “Down By Law” is really excellent and has some terrific extras. There’s a good documentary on DJ Screw called “Soldiers United for Cash.” I also saw another great documentary recently about Larry Davis, the guy who shot like 9 NYPD cops and evaded the police for 18 days straight, hiding out in Harlem. Another amazing movie I saw recently was Ingmar Bergman’s “Virgin Spring” which I was pleasantly surprised to discover has a lot of similarities to “Weapons.”
I haven’t seen too many good films in the theater this year. I liked Cam Archer’s “Wild Tigers I Have Known.” That movie was really compelling and weird, in a good way. I also thought “Jackass 2” had moments of pure genius, more than any other film this year, but the finale was unsuccessful and ruined the rest of the film for me.
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