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Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | “The Ledge” Director Matthew Chapman

Meet the 2011 Sundance Filmmakers | "The Ledge" Director Matthew Chapman

Atop a high-rise building, Gavin, a young hotel manager, is about to end his life. Hollis, a detective whose own world has just been turned upside down, is dispatched to the scene. As Hollis tries to persuade Gavin not to jump, each man begins to open up about his past, and we discover that neither of them is convinced that his life is worth living.

In his Sundance Film Festival debut, director/screenwriter Matthew Chapman has crafted an intense thriller filled with soulful inspiration. While the film examines the complex notion of what drives us as people, strong performances and immersive characters keep the audience on the edge of their seats. “The Ledge” is a nuanced character study of love, faith, and convictions that will leave you with a question . . . How far are you willing to go for what you believe? [Description courtesy of the Sundance Institute]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the World Dramatic & Documentary Competitions and NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

“The Ledge”
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Matthew Chapman
Screenwriter: Matthew Chapman
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, Christopher Gorham
Executive Producer: Moshe Diamant, Greg Walker,Tamara Stuparich De La Barra, Christian Arnold-Beutel
Producer: Mark Damon, Michael Mailer
Composer: Nathan Barr
Cinematographer: Bobby Bukowski
Editor: Alex Hall, Anne McCabe, Jerry Greenberg

Responses courtesy of “The Ledge” director Matthew Chapman.

On what attracted him to becoming a filmmaker.

A love of fiction and a hope that I might be able to express my opinions to a wide and diverse audience in a non-boring way. 

The conflict between faith and reason.

I had written and rewritten a number of medium sized films, most of them thrillers and comedies. I love these two forms but believe they can carry a lot more freight than they usually do. If you can put people on the edge of their seats or make them laugh, you can then explore serious issues in a way that’s enjoyable. My particular area of interest has for a long time been the conflict between faith and reason. I’ve written two books on the subject, but never thought I could actually get a feature film made about it because, contrary to public perception, the movie business is pretty conservative and superstitious. I sat down and wrote “The Ledge” purely for my own pleasure. 

An uncompromising vision with a strong cast.

Having had scripts of mine directed by other people, and having seen good dialogue replaced by bad for no apparent reason, I decided to shoot the movie as written and only give up lines or alter them if an actor made a really, really good case for it. I then decided to use certain thriller/noir conventions visually, but make no effort to trick up the long dialogue scenes by moving the camera. Instead I relied solely on the actors. In one case, a long philosophical argument, I decided to not even use close ups. I wanted the camera to be impartial and dispassionate. Let the audience decide who they agree with without visual bias. I knew I couldn’t get away with this without great actors so I was very insistent when it came to casting. Charlie Hunnam and Patrick Wilson carry these long scenes with skill and conviction, and I find them mesmerizing. So does my mum. 

The biggest challenges in developing the project.

Getting the money. I am incredibly grateful to Michael Mailer and Mark Damon who, during an independent film drought, had the balls to try and make a film like this and then went out into the desert and found water. I am similarly grateful to the actors, Charlie Hunnam, Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Terrence Howard, and Chris Gorham who took a flyer on both the oddity of the script and its director. As far as “developing” the script, I wrote it without getting paid, and without much expectation of it ever getting made. After I wrote my two books, it was a little hard getting back into the screenwriting process. Literary editors, in my experience, approach your work from the perspective of trying to achieve what you, the writer, intend in the best possible form. What you end up with is an individual piece of writing. My best experiences as a screenwriter have been either working alone or with one or two strong individuals: you may disagree, but you know who you’re disagreeing with. Whether I am working for myself or someone else, I am a compulsive re-writer. I wrote over 40 drafts of “The Ledge” script, most of them in response to my own criticisms of the work. Later, when Michael and Mark got involved, I listened to their criticisms and responded to them too. 

Set vs. on-location shooting.

About a quarter of the film takes place on the ledge of a tall building. As we had very little money or time there was considerable pressure to film most of it on a stage. The cinematographer, Bobby Bukowski, and I believed that visual effects work done on the cheap would never look good. Additionally, I believed that it would be much harder for Charlie Hunnam, the actor who actually had to stand on the ledge, to get the performance he and I wanted while standing on a “safe” ledge. In the end, an entire duplicate set was built on stage. In spite of numerous actor-availability issues, we came up with cover locations and alternative scenes that we could move to if it rained. We had good weather and there is only one shot in the movie that was shot on the built ledge. 

On how audiences might approach such an unconventional film.

I have no idea. It’s an odd duck, unconventional in its content, but relatively conventional in its form. It’s a thriller of sorts. 

Love and religion in future work.

I have a film I’d like to make with the five main actors from “The Ledge.” It deals with the same issues but in comedic form. The actors would play similar roles. It’s called “Scam”. I also have a large, funny mainstream period piece to be filmed in Europe, which also deals with love and religion. 

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