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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | “Bad Fever” Director Dustin Guy Defa

Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "Bad Fever" Director Dustin Guy Defa

Eddie bumbles his way through an agonizing courtship with Irene, a manipulating drifter who videotapes their fleeting moments together. “Bad Fever” is a witness to one man’s broken American Dream and his eternal longing to find someone, anyone, who understands or even pretends to understand. [Synopsis courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE 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.]

“Bad Fever”
Emerging Visions
Director: Dustin Guy Defa
Producer: Dustin Guy Defa
Cast: Kentucker Audley, Eléonore Hendricks
Screenwriter: Dustin Guy Defa
Cinematographer: Mike Gioulakis
Editor: David Lowery
Sound: Travis Hale

Responses courtesy of “Bad Fever” director Dustin Guy Defa.

From “Peter’s Dragon” to Bergman…

The first memory I have in life is watching “Pete’s Dragon” in a movie theater. I was three and the film broke my little heart. The animated dragon was as real as my actual life, or more so. From there I graduated to Sesame Street and its lyrical 16mm short films. I was lucky enough to be a kid during the 80s when the adventure and teen comedy genres were flourishing: “The Goonies,” “E.T.,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Valley Girl” etc. At the start of middle school, I got obsessed with horror flicks, everything from “Halloween” to “Basket Case.” When I finally got my hands on a VHS camcorder, I immediately started to make slasher movies with titles like “Goosebumps” and “Dark Face.” It was only when I finally saw “The Seventh Seal” did I realize that there were serious films out there. My obsession turned to Bergman. He was the gate keeper for me. That opened me up to stuff like Hal Hartley, Todd Solondz, Larry Clark. I’ve never stopped my obsession with Bergman, even though now I’m also obsessed with Woody Allen, Allan King, Maurice Pialat, Trauffaut. Like a lot of filmmakers working today, I think it dawned on me that I could actually make films when I got into Cassavetes. His films and his words and his spirit: the entirety of the man made the possibilities of being a filmmaker a reality and not just a dream.

“Give me a desperate person any day over somebody who is comfortable”…

I had been struggling for a number of years to write a script that I could believe in with my whole heart; otherwise I knew I would not get the film made. I had been writing about people who had transformations during the arc of the story, who basically went from being troubled to being healed by the end of the film. I live in New York and if you keep yourself open you see a lot of heartache and desperation in that city, and in many ways it’s beautiful. It’s the human spirit, the human struggle. Give me a desperate person any day over somebody who is comfortable. I discovered that for me it’s ridiculous to write about somebody who is comfortable.

I wrote “Bad Fever” in an almost fit of this feeling. I wanted to deal with people who were unable to get comfortable, with themselves, with other people, even if a path is laid out for them that could be a breakthrough. I think life is a lot harder than we see in most films, and people are more complex than what we usually see on the screen. The script was a blueprint, and it wasn’t until Kentucker Audley and Eléonore Hendricks stepped in did the characters become real. I didn’t want to deal with how Eddie and Irene find a way to fix themselves: I wanted to explore how they are trapped by their problems. I thought that was the story, and that’s what interested me. Not the escape but the trap.

Slowing down the pace…

I tried to create an intimate experience for everyone involved on the film. Even though I was the director, I allowed a lot of breathing room. I knew that if I surrounded myself with the right people, I could trust them to follow their own ideas and create the film with me. During the production I discovered that I have a slow approach to filmmaking. Sometimes we need to stop shooting, sometimes for up to two hours, just so I can walk around the block or sit down and talk to the actors. I don’t know how I’m going to make this happen, but I’m going to have to do that from now on. You know, the cinematographers always get a long time to work on lighting a scene, and then usually the director and actors get a lot less time. I understand that workflow because it’s efficient, but for me I can’t hurry. Sometimes I can only shoot one scene in a day even though there are others scheduled. Other days we are speeding right along and can add scenes to the day. I follow an organic pace and I have to be strong enough to allow for it and to fight for it.

Money and casting…

As is usually the case, raising the money was stressful and often agonizing. I hate raising money, I hate thinking about money. Casting was the most important challenge and it took a long time to find Kentucker and Eléonore. I really had to follow my heart to find them, and in the end they were the best actors I could imagine having for this film. Eléonore has such a great naturalism to her acting. I think she uses it to explore herself as a person and as a woman. She’s so graceful and so giving. Kentucker was a revelation on this film. He hadn’t done anything really outside of his own films, where he basically plays a version of himself. As Eddie, he had to step into a character, and I think he discovered that he’s a born actor. His performance is one-of-a-kind, something really special, something rare. I’m so proud to have been a part in capturing it.

Plans for the future…

I have three projects in the works. The only one developed and almost finished is a short documentary about my family. I’m also writing my next feature which is too early in the works to talk about. And then I have a crazy idea about an online TV show. I really hope I can find somebody to produce that because it will be beautiful.

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