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LAFF ’08 INTERVIEW | “Must Read After My Death” Director Morgan Dews

LAFF '08 INTERVIEW | "Must Read After My Death" Director Morgan Dews

[EDITOR’S NOTE: indieWIRE is profiling the Narrative and Documentary Competition filmmakers who are screening their films at the Los Angeles Film Festival as world premieres.]

Screening in the Documentary Competition of the Los Angeles Film Festival, Morgan Dews‘ “Must Read After My Death details the lives of Dew’s grandparents, Allis and Charley. From a mass of recorded audio diaries, Dictaphone letters, photographs, and home movies, Dews recalls two independent thinkers raising a family of four in 1960s Connecticut. indieWIRE talked to Dews about the film, and is expectations for LAFF.

What initially attracted you to filmmaking?

I was living in Spain and read an interview with Almodovar. He said a filmmaker has to be a failed writer, musician, actor, artist and photographer. I had already come to the same conclusion: that if you’re an artist interested in a variety of modes of expression and impatient with having to settle on just one, filmmaking is the place for you. Having done all those things with a modicum of success I felt that the modern space for gesamtkunstwerk (Total Art?) was neither architecture nor opera but filmmaking. I could be wrong. It may be video games.

What was the inspiration for this film?

This film was inspired by a box of audio diaries my grandmother made in the 1960’s while embroiled in psychoanalysis and supported by the family home movies and photographs. This material was so raw and compelling, my only task was not to get in the way of one of the many stories that was in that box.

Please elaborate on your approach to making the film…

When I took creative writing courses in college they told you to listen to your character, listen to your character’s story, let them lead the way. So I put on my headphones and listened to what my characters were saying, and tried to help them tell that story. In service to that idea I tried out everything. I made an audio database of all the tapes and records. I selected all the pretty shots from the home movies. I tried out a lot of things and cut a lot of great scenes together. When I had an idea of what the story was really about I started paring away what didn’t illuminate that story and digging for details in sound and image that did. I tried to invent ways to tell this story in my little New York editing cave slash apartment. People would come by and say, “go see this film, go see that film.” I would go say, “Oh my god, people did this ages ago, I didn’t invent this”, or, “Oh no, that’s an awful way to do it.”

At a certain point I came out of my cave. I convinced Alison Bourke to give me notes. By the fifth time she saw the film, I’d convinced her to executive produce. I showed it to friends and got notes. I took it to festivals and asked the audiences what they thought. I changed things, I refused to change things. I’ll try anything once, and if it works, great.

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in making the film?

I came up against a lot of television people who thought they might like my film if I interviewed my family about what had happened or if I made myself the central character, rediscovering the secret lives of my grandparents. When I was first pitching it, I had a very clear idea that it was going to be all first person and that I had the material to make a sort of historical verite film. I’m clearly not great at pitching, because I couldn’t convince anyone to give me a penny. After about six months of trying, I realized it was going to be easier for me to make the film than to find funding. It wasn’t like I need a lot of money. I wasn’t going to shoot anything, I could edit the sound and picture myself. So I did what they tell you never ever to do: I sold my apartment and produced the film myself.

What are your goals for the Los Angeles Film Festival?

Well, as you probably know, today we announced that Gigantic Releasing has picked up the picture for distribution in the English speaking world. Brian Devine, Mark Lipsky and Brooke Devine of Gigantic NYC have a new distribution arm and “Must Read After My Death” will be the third film on their slate. This is really a filmmaker’s goal in going to festivals, to find some sort of way to get their film to viewers. I have to admit that my wife and I were seriously considering touring the country and projecting the film out the back of a van so that people could see the film. It hasn’t quite sunk in that people will get to see the film in theatres if they want.

My film is so… ‘special’, that I never really imagined that a distributor would be after it. It was never much of a concern of mine and makes it quite a surprise did want it so much. I saw a woman talk about her film recently. She said that her film was consistently uncommercial in every way and that ironically, that made it unique and made audiences want to see it and hence, commercial. I feel the same way about my film. Nobody in their right mind would have made it, and that makes it stand out.

Since LA is my American premiere, I actually have a lot of friends and family who have been hearing about the film for years and have never seen it. So I’m quite excited and a little nervous since it’s so personal.

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