EDITORS NOTE: For the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival, indieWIRE will be publishing interviews with filmmakers in the Discovery section of the festival, which TIFF describes as a showcase for new and emerging filmmakers from contemporary international cinema.
Set in late 1970s Long Island, Derick Martini‘s “Lymelife” is having its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Starring Rory Culkin, Alec Baldwin, Jill Hennessy, Timothy Hutton, Kieran Culkin, Emma Roberts and Cynthia Nixon, the film is described by TIFF as “an examination of first love, family dynamics and the American Dream,” as seen as seen through the innocent eyes of a 15-year-old.” Martini talked to indieWIRE about the film and his hopes for Toronto.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking and did that interest evolve while making your film?
Growing up, my grandfather, an Italian American who drove a cab in NYC, was a huge film buff and every Saturday and Sunday was “movie day” at his house in Queens. He introduced me to very sophisticated American and foreign films at an age when, at times, I could barely comprehend some of them. Specifically the Fellini, Bertolucci and Truffaut films, however the striking images and broader story points still stuck with me. Especially the images and characters in “The 400 Blows” which he showed me as a boy — and that picture in particular I could understand and has resonated with me ever since (I’ve probably seen it 400 times!). He also showed me every Bogart, Cagney and Sergio Leone flick ever made. So by the time I was in my early teens, all I really cared about were movies. I’d cut school quite often and spend all day in my suburban mall multiplex “film hopping” while everyone else was cutting out to go “pool hopping”.
I’m pretty sure that’s where it all started.
Please discuss how the idea for “Lymelife” came about…
“Lymelife” began shortly after I had written my first film, which I did not direct, but produced and acted in. The end result was a charming little film about two brothers. But that was all it was about. Then I realized I had written it for the wrong reasons. I was 23 or 24, had already written for theatre, and simply wanted to make a film (kind of like the cliche about why the man climbed the mountain). I knew we’d be making it on a miniscule budget and I am proud of it in many ways.
However, in the most important way, creatively, I always felt that I hadn’t dug deep enough, knew I could do better, and regretted missing the opportunity to tell a story that meant the world to me. Thus came “Lymelife.”
I sat down and asked myself what means most to me? Who and what has had the largest impact on my life? The answer was simple: for better AND worse, my family. Spilling the family secrets for a compelling story concerned me for a while, but now that they’ve seen it, it’s a relief to say they are as proud as can be. Ironically enough, someone, won’t mention who, had no idea a character was based on them until I pointed it out!
Please elaborate on your approach to making the film, including your influences as well as your overall goals for the project.
My approach to directing is simple. I choose one or two films that I feel are a similar ilk to the story I’m setting out to tell. And, of course, I only choose films I feel are classics and from filmmakers I respect, then I study those films obsessively. For instance, “Lymelife” is an adult story told from and innocent perspective. So I chose “The 400 Blows” and “To Kill A Mockingbird,” both films being adult stories told from innocent perspectives. Once I know their nuances by heart, I begin shot designing my film way in advance.
I know it sounds like stealing, but it’s really not because all you’re really doing is absorbing a certain way to tell a story and then making it your own. After the script is fully shot listed, I send it to my DP, we go over it together, get on the same page and then basically memorize the shot list. We have what I call the “A” shot list and the “B” shot list. The “A” list are the shots we know we need to get tell the story and the “B” list are vanity shots, sort of like little treats if I’m making my day.
However, all that being said about “shots”, my instinct is to always include and ask my actors questions while in rehearsal and on set. “Are you comfortable entering this way?” “Do you think you’d be sitting or standing?”. And the most important question of all is “Does this feel organic to you?” When you have great actors, like I was lucky enough to have on “Lymelife,” their input and ideas are invaluable. So there are times, in certain scenes, where I toss my “shot list” and bend my camera around the actors, because what is the most important thing about telling a story on film? In my opinion there’s only one answer: performance. And my approach to altering or “directing” my actors’ performances are a private matter between myself and each individual actor.
Then there’s establishing the color palette,which in combination with the shot design, completes the overall look and tone for the film. Again, simple: every character has a color that I establish. Then I hand it off to my production designer and costume designer who work in concert to utilize all the different hues from each color. For instance, if a character is coming up against heavy emotional difficulties in the story, and their color is blue, I usually try to subtly support the character’s emotional life by putting them in a slightly darker, more muted tone of blue — but this stuff is all worked out in prep. I have color charts done and every department is on the same page by day 1 of shooting.
The most important thing is to get all of the shots/color work done in prep so I can start working with my actors. And that happens to be my favorite part of the process — between “action” and “cut” and “cut” and “action”. That’s where the magic happens and unfortunately, out of my deep respect for my actors’ craft, I don’t feel comfortable going into too much detail there.
Wow, I started by saying it’s simple — guess not.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?
TIME! MONEY! I shot this film in 22 days and to complicate matters further I had to have anamorphic lenses (the older, heavier ones that have a beautiful, distinct look). But when you’re very well prepared, every challenge becomes an opportunity to find a way to overcome it.
What is your next project?
I wrote a script called “The Day Trader” which is in development at Imagine Entertainment I have my eye on.
What are your goals for the Toronto International Film Festival?
I’m just so damn proud of the film and all of my actors — they really went out on a limb for me — that my goal is to get it finished and deliver the best picture possible to Toronto and let the film speak for itself.