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Can A Couple Truly Collaborate Creatively (And Survive?)

Can A Couple Truly Collaborate Creatively (And Survive?)

Jealousy is great fodder for creation. Our hunger for love puts stress on us even once we have found it, earned it, and secured it. Love is both incredibly deep and incredibly delicate. It is strong and it is fragile. We can make movies about love until the end of time, and not even scratch the surface.

Indie & Truly Free Film are both currently awash in collaborative filmmaking teams. Some are siblings, some are friends, and at least one of them is a couple: Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine. When I saw Sophia’s GREEN, I was incredibly impressed and moved. Not only does Takal tackle the subject of jealousy straight on, she does it by also starring in it with her boyfriend/fiance; just to complicate things, their roommate, plays his lover. I understand creative challenges, but know I have a lot to learn when the creative challenges the personal. I asked Sophia and Lawrence to tell us a bit about how their collaboration came to be. Whether you aspire to work with your significant other, or just collaborate well with your team, the back and forth and growth that Sophia and Lawrence have committed themselves to, can all teach us a few things.

PART ONE (OF THREE): The Empress and Fat Friend 2007-8

Sophia Takal: Lawrence recently read Marshall Fine’s biography of John Cassavetes. Apparently, Cassavetes and Gena Rowlands never spoke about their relationship in public because they were afraid of the evil eye, so I think we’re both sort of nervous to do this. Also, neither of us have really blogged before. I briefly started a blog about bad haircuts (www.badhaircutblues.blogspot.com). Lawrence did a blog post once and “Ted Nope” made fun of it, so he took it down.

Lawrence Michael Levine: Yeah, that was humiliating. I find internet culture extremely frightening — I know people will make fun of this, but I guess you have to push on through. Where to start?

ST: I met Lawrence when I was in college. He was a TA in Andrew Sarris’ movie musicals class. I got a C+. I barely spoke to him during the semester.

LML: Yeah. Sophia and I could easily not have met. As a grad film student, I was one of the two T.A.’s assigned to an undergraduate class she was taking, but she wasn’t in my section. The other T.A. graded her papers and ran the discussion group that she was in. When the other TA had surgery, for a few classes I ran both discussion groups at once, but it was in a large auditorium and apparently Sophia sat in the way back where I couldn’t see her. I think she told me she slept and/or “surfed the net” and barely noticed me. Supposedly, the rumor amongst her classmates was that the other TA had missed the classes because of penis reduction surgery, which is amusing, but neither here nor there for the purposes of this post. What might be more germane is the fact that we met at the other TA’s apartment, when he threw a party at the end of the semester. I thought she was extremely beautiful and incredibly funny. Sophia spent most of the night talking to my friend, but she and I did talk for a bit and we must have exchanged emails or something because we kept in touch.

ST: We pursued a casual friendship, mostly e-mail based (sending each other recipes for latkes, quoting Jay-Z, and making plans to meet but rarely following through).

LML: I think she also must have told me that she was an actress because several months later, when I had a reading for a screenplay I was working on, I asked her to participate. She was the only actor that I invited to the reading that I hadn’t seen act before. The script called for a college girl and I didn’t know any, so I thought of her. She turned out to be great. After that, I developed a mega-crush on her because she wasn’t just funny, smart, and pretty, but she was such a gifted actor.

I was just finishing school — I think this was 2007 — when Sophia and I became a couple. Film school had really shaken my confidence and I was considering giving up completely on being I filmmaker, but I still had a passion for film and I know Sophia and I talked a lot about movies. I don’t think I would have recommitted myself to a life in film were it not for Sophia’s confidence in my abilities. She claimed to love the more personal stuff I was writing and suggested that we get to work, so after moving in together and announcing our engagement to our families, we quickly shot a couple of short films called, The Empress and Fat Friend.

ST: As I recall, we got into two arguments while making The Empress.

1. I found out I was scheduled to have surgery the morning after our shoot was scheduled to end. This was about 4 days before we were going to shoot. Lawrence wanted to reschedule the shoot for after I recovered, but I insisted that we keep the shoot date as planned. My recovery was going to take about a month and I didn’t want to wait that long to make the movie, but Lawrence did not want to risk having to rush the shoot because I was nervous about surgery and did not want me to be distracted.
2. It was midnight on our last day of shooting and I was supposed to be at the hospital at 5 am. I did not want to continue shooting and was upset that Lawrence forced me to even though I had surgery the next morning.

LML: Great art, or in this case mediocre art, requires sacrifice.

ST: I edited the film, burned hundreds of DVDs, and then found out that all of the DVDs I’d burned were way out of synch. These were the DVDs we sent to festivals, which, of course, all rejected us. Lawrence has never gotten mad at me for this mistake.

LML: For the most part, we enjoyed making The Empress and thought we’d done a good job once the sync issue was straightened out, so we did another called Fat Friend.

ST: We decided that Lawrence would direct the scenes I was in and I would direct the scenes he was in. There was one scene we were in together, which we thought we’d just play by ear. Playing it by ear, it turned out, meant arguing for a solid 45 minutes while the DP, sound recordist, and third actor waited around, bewildered. I don’t remember what the argument was about but I do remember the DP, Kevin Barker, settled it. We got into one fight during post-production:

1. The short that I cut was 19 minutes long. I refused to cut 4 minutes from the movie despite Lawrence’s insistence that it was too long. I cried and said that all of the moments were so good and his performance was incredible and I could not bear to cut a frame of the film. Lawrence brought our DP (also an editor) in to trim what he could. He took 5 minutes off the film without really changing a thing. We never submitted the film to a festival.

At this point, our relationship had not been irrevocably changed by our work together. Tiny arguments and big arguments had come and gone but work is work and were mostly able to separate the two. Then we decided to make a feature…

TOMORROW: The First Feature, And It’s His…

Sophia Takal wrote, directed, edited and starred in the feature film GREEN which premiered at SXSW in 2011 and won the SXSW/Chicken & Egg Emergent Woman Narrative Director award. She produced, edited and starred in Lawrence Michael Levine’s GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY. She was named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film in 2011.
Lawrence Michael Levine wrote, directed and starred in the feature film GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY which played numerous festivals, won a number of awards and is currently available on VOD, iTunes, Amazon.com, etc. He produced and starred in Sophia Takal’s GREEN.

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