Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of interviews with directors whose films are screening at the 2009 CineVegas Film Festival.
“Daylight” (USA, 2009)
Director: David Barker
Cast: Alexandra Meierhans, Michael Godere, Aidan Redmond, Ivan Martin
When pregnant newlywed Irene is violently taken hostage, she confronts the truth about her marriage – and finds a state of unexpected grace – in her fight to survive.
What initially attracted you to filmmaking and how has that evolved since starting out?
I was taught to make films by the filmmaker and critic Jean-Pierre Gorin, who was Godard’s partner during his “Maoist phase,” and who then later worked closely with the legendary critic Manny Farber, as well as by the great cinematographer Babette Mangolte, famous for shooting “Jeanne Dielman” and many of Chantal Akerman’s seminal films. The first big evolution in my filmmaking occurred when I showed a rough cut of my first feature to a friend who’s a very successful director in LA, who said basically that “it was a great film, very personal, I’m sure it will screen at Sundance…the only thing is you have to find a way for the audience to enjoy it.” Having been trained by some of the most rigorous critical minds in cinema, the idea of pleasure was something I’d never considered!
How did the idea for your film come about and what excited you to undertake the project?
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Both features I have done, “Daylight” and “Afraid of Everything” (with Nathalie Richard and Sarah Adler, Sundance ‘99) came about by starting with the actors first, then developing a story that would be interesting to explore with these particular people. With “Daylight,” I started with 1) some actors I wanted to work with Alexandra Meierhans, Aidan Redmond, Michael Godere, and Ivan Martin (an amazing actor who I’d done a play with years ago and who I’d totally lost touch with), 2) a predetermined two-week shooting schedule (predetermined because the lead actress was pregnant), and 3) a Maserati. We then played around with some genre conventions, both B Westerns and suspense films to tell a personal story that would also be a tense psychological thriller.
How did you approach making the film, and were there any pivotal moments of learning during the life of the project for you?
After spending a long time with several other projects that never got made, this one went very quickly: we thought of the idea in April, and were on the set shooting in July. So I learned again how easily things can fall into place once a clear decision is made.
What were some of the biggest challenges in making the film?
We had one week to raise the funding, one week of preproduction (that happened to fall over July 4th weekend), and a two week shoot. Those are all huge challenges, but working with Jay van Hoy, Lars Knudsen, and Ben Howe it all happened pretty effortlessly and was one of the most pleasant shoots I’ve been on. That said, the low budget led to a lot of challenges. We had a camera car for one day only, and the first act of the film takes place in a car. Unfortunately, it poured rain almost the whole day. Everytime the rain stopped and the sky cleared up, we’d get the whole thing moving and get ready for a shot, and half way through it would start raining again. It led to some quick thinking and rewriting on the spot. Another challenge was a long and intricate crane shot that we wanted to do, but had no budget for. I had an idea based on some mountain climbing I had done, so we brought in a guy who strung a zip line between two trees, and we just hoisted the DP up in a harness. We did the shot in one take, it took less than an hour, and cost $75.
Are there any interesting anecdotes from the shoot?
We were shooting guerilla-style in a rural community in upstate New York. One day, we were doing some shots of the couple driving from inside a moving car, and because of space reasons Micah Bloomberg, who was recording sound, was riding in the trunk. In the middle of one shot, we were pulled over by a police officer, who approached us, gun drawn. Apparently, a passing motorist had seen us putting Micah into the trunk and called to report a kidnapping in progress.
What other genres or stories would you like to explore?
What I like about genre films is that there is something in a good crisis that forces you to reexamine your life, much like our current financial crisis is forcing people all over the country to reconsider how they have been living and what is important to them. The stories I’ve done have been very simple, and in reviews and so on people are always surprised that the films remain tense the whole through interpersonal tension and not plot moves. I’d love to do more genre films, but to open this canvas up a bit with adaptations of more plot based material or other people’s scripts, and then bring my approach of complex characters and deep relationships to that kind of story.
But my next couple own screenplays go in a different direction, a supernatural drama and a story of the end of frontier life at the end of the 19th century.
What other projects are you looking to do?
Since I’m interested in going deeply into my character’s lives and identities, I often get ideas for films when I meet actors I think are interesting, and that starts the ball rolling with different possible stories to explore something I find interesting about them. With both the features I’ve completed, I started with a group of actors I wanted to work with and developed a story for them. The question I asked myself was: if I am going to make a movie with these actors, with a two-week shoot schedule, and on an ultra-low budget, what would I make?
Going forward, I decided to ask myself a totally different question: “what film would I make if I was going to make a film?” And the answers were very exciting. That was the starting point for my new screenplay “America, dreaming…”
I will also shooting a short guerrilla drama during Cinevegas using the background of Las Vegas and some of the actors who are there for the festival.