One of the many big draws of the Tribeca Film Festival is the selection of intimate indies made locally. Cinematographer Reed Morano‘s directorial debut, “Meadowland,” shows an eerier side of the city’s environs, one that’s nearly phosphorescent with the grief and rage of two young parents coping poorly with tragedy.
Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson star as a teacher and a New York police officer who are left reeling from the disappearance of their young son. Phil (Wilson) joins a support group and tries to cope with what seems like the worst-case scenario; while he watches in bewilderment, Sarah (Wilde) pulls away and turns to darker measures to placate her rage.
Cinematographer Reed Morano has an incredible reel that includes everything from “Looking” and “The Skeleton Twins” to “Frozen River,” but “Meadowland” marks the DP’s first time in the director’s chair. Morano, who is one of 12 current female members of the American Society of Cinematographers, did double duty as director and cinematographer.
We recently sat down with the film’s star, Olivia Wilde, and the filmmaker to talk about making the movie, their inspirations, and much more.
I read on our sister site, Women and Hollywood, a quote from you about how hard it was to find financing, that it was actually harder than shooting the film itself, which was under great duress. As someone who writes about film all the time, that still blows my mind. How is that even possible?
Olivia Wilde: Finding financing for any movie is, I think, one of the hardest parts of the process for any filmmaker, and I think particularly when it’s a drama, particularly when it’s a female-driven drama directed by a first-time director, particularly when that first-time director happens to be a woman. I think that you’re just adding a few more obstacles, but the thing we could always lean on, as producers, was Reed and Reed’s work, and that’s ultimately what got us the financing.
Reed Morano: You got us the financing, too. Once Olivia came on board, it got a little —
Olivia Wilde: A little easier, but it was also a challenge. I read that Julianne Moore, when they were making “Still Alice,” said, “Don’t bother looking for financing until you have the male lead,” and that blows my mind because it’s Julianne Moore. But I completely understand it, because although I seem a little more “real” to financiers that there was an actor attached, which always makes it seem like it’s actually maybe going to happen, it still was a hurdle to prove to them why this was a good investment.
And we would say all the time, when we were talking to financiers, “Listen, we get it.” We’re asking to gamble with their money. That’s a huge request, but we knew that we were going to make something good, and so we had so much confidence pitching to people that I think that came through. And then I’ll let Reed speak to it from her perspective, but from mine from a producer, I felt like, well, I’m so confident [about] the product we have, I could sell it to anyone.
Reed Morano: The type of financier we were looking for was a very particular kind. It was somebody who was not necessarily looking for something that was going to be a massive commercial success, but more something that would be a piece of art… It’s something they could be really proud of, to have their name attached to.
I also tried to play up that there is sort of… a thriller element to it, which could take a subject that would [normally] turn people off, and you could say, well, it’s very compelling to watch because you never know what these characters are going to do. You never know what they’re going to do next, and that could keep people watching. Also, because the human mind is fascinating, and it’s not what it’s about on the surface; it’s about what’s under the surface.
Olivia Wilde: It’s interesting, too, because the financiers that we did approach [but] didn’t ultimately go with, or who approached us, were open to the idea to a certain point, to a budget that was not nearly enough to make the film, and I’m really proud of us for holding out and saying, we won’t make it for that little. Because there are certain things we will not sacrifice. And Reed really fought hard for those things, and we waited until we found someone that would give us a budget that would allow us to do it, and then of course that budget was slashed in half, but it was still enough that we could fulfill our dream. But it was a tough process, and I think made tougher by the fact that we’re women.
Reed Morano: It’s true, though. Once we got into shooting, it was like, easy – it was like, great. The process was so easy compared…
Olivia Wilde: That was fun/hard as opposed to frustrating/hard. [laughs]
Did you have a shot list? You were talking about the collaboration last night at the premiere. It sounded like you were doing things on the fly because of your extensive experience as a DP.
Reed Morano: Even when I’m working just as a DP, if it’s a type of film that’s going to be handheld or verité like this, I think you can find more intimacy and more real moments if you don’t put restrictions, if you don’t say, this is what the shot’s going to be, and stick to it. That’s the real reason why I love handheld, is just the freedom it gives me to react off of the emotions of the character. With “Meadowland,” I could make that decision to do that. And it was the right decision, because before a scene, I don’t know if either one of us knew where we were going to go.
Olivia Wilde: It felt like improvising with another actor. She and the camera became another actor in the scene, and so many of our best moments came from that freedom. Reed was very well prepared and understood what she wanted us to bring to every scene, but she allowed us to find it. And it’s so nice, because it’s really frustrating as an actor to get on set and it’s been blocked, and that happens all the time. And you’re like, wait, why has it been established that we’re sitting there and there? “Oh, the light’s been set up. We set it up since four this morning.” Well, great, I’m sorry you got here so early and set it up, but were we ever going to be involved in that decision? That happens 90 percent of the time.
Reed Morano: Even as a DP, I hate to work that way, but on “Meadowland,” I always decided cinematography was going to take a backseat… First of all, we didn’t rehearse a lot. We never rehearsed anything to death… This was my first time directing, but the way I wanted to go into it was as naturalistic as possible, and I have the highest level of respect for actors and for my actors. [Even] as a DP, I would say to the director, let’s see what they do. Let’s not lock ourselves into this plan. Let’s have this plan but let’s all be ready to change it at any given moment. And so when I was doing this with them, I just wanted to see what they [would do]. I feel like we didn’t really talk much what you guys should do in the first takes. I just wanted to see what they would do.
I think the theme of survival by any means necessary in the face of unimaginable grief, and something that, especially with female characters — you don’t see a lot of really difficult female characters who are self-destructive…
Olivia Wilde: And not terribly likeable! There’s a lot about Sarah — a journalist earlier mentioned to me like, she seemed selfish at times, and I was like, absolutely! Absolutely. That’s great. And I think that’s part of Sarah abandoning all attempts to be socially sensitive, which is another reason —
Reed Morano: Or not even conscious —
With grief, you don’t really give a —
Olivia Wilde: “Then, what’s the fucking point any more?”
Right, it’s like, I’m just gonna say what I want to say.
Olivia Wilde: Right. “I don’t care. I don’t care if I fall onto this train track. I don’t care.”
Reed Morano: That’s the thing we always talked about in the beginning. I remember from when my dad passed away, there was this period of time where I just didn’t give a fuck about anything, and no repercussions for whatever I did. I just acted up, and that was how I knew this could really happen [in the movie]. And also, just being a mom, I think we both knew, we would probably do all of these things [Sarah does in the movie] and much worse.
Olivia Wilde: Yeah, when people would say to us, “Wow, that’s heavy, do you think she’d do that?” We’re like, Yup! I would!
Reed Morano: I would be, like, a DMT addict, probably.
Olivia Wilde: Exactly, like, why not? Why not? What are you trying to maintain? … In some ways, I think it’s interesting that Sarah, to speak to your point about it’s kind of an unusual take on a female character going through grief, sometimes she takes on the more masculine role in the relationship in terms of how she’s coping. Phil is reaching out, he’s searching for closure, he’s sharing his feelings, and she’s not. And I thought that was an interesting choice, to switch that choice.
I’m always interested in ambivalent, confused motherhood feelings.
Olivia Wilde: Oh, yeah. I don’t think it’s told enough. I think there are more stories [about that].
Reed Morano: Oh, there’s definitely more stories…
Olivia Wilde: We have more ideas.
Reed Morano: I’m very fascinated by people who are going crazy, and I feel like, in many ways, Sarah’s going crazy, and Phil’s having his own, maybe, breakdown.
Olivia Wilde: When we deter from the expected social rules, that’s crazy….But who set those rules? And when the worst possible thing happens, are you expected — are the lines blurred? Do those lanes exist on the highway any more?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.