Interview With PJ Hogan, Director of MENTAL, Opening March 29


Shane Carruth, director, producer and star of UPSTREAM COLOR took time out from his crazy schedule to speak with us. The movie opens this Friday at our Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood. Shane will be in person this Saturday and will answer your questions after the 5.30 and 7.45 pm shows. The film opens on April 19th at our theatres in Madison and Houston.

We appreciate you talking to us in the middle of this wild ride that seemed to have heated up at the Sundance Film Festival. How are you holding up?

Sundance was tame versus what things have been like for the past few weeks. I've attended awareness screenings in Los Angeles, Dallas, Washington DC, Chicago, the MOMA, SXSW, Berlin and the Lincoln Center in New York.

And headed to the Sundance Film Festival in London...

Oh yes, then onto Poland and a lot more screenings as part of our grassroots efforts as we open across the country.

Speaking of Sundance, I was there, and even before the festival started, your movie was on the 'must-see' lists.  What's that like as a filmmaker and personally?

I'm the last person to look at it objectively, because for the past two years it's been all UPSTREAM COLOR all the time.  So for me, it made sense since I was so immersed in it.

The soundtracks on both Primer [2004] and Upstream Color seem so integral to the films. I understand that you write the music almost on a parallel plane as the screenplay?

Yes, I do work on the score at the same time as writing, and in a way it's a confidence building exercise. I find that working visually and musically allows me to build on the moments, either on film or with the music. And the great thing is, at the end of filming, I have a score. Interestingly, the more we shot Upstream, I realized that half of the music was wrong.  I realized I had written it to frame the way the audience would be feeling as opposed to how the characters were on screen. So, I had to throw a lot if it away and start again.

In addition to music, the sound effects in the film were both part of the story and an important part the film's feeling - where did that idea come from? Have you always been fascinated with sound effects?

I don't know that it depended on the story, but I wanted to explore all the tools we can use to convey connections, and  when characters cannot connect. We used sound to explore  that contrast.  And it certainly fit the story, the character The Sampler walked around sampling sounds and emotions. Pausing, listening  while visiting the different pigs, and resting to draw in the essence of the pigs when he's trying to be inspired.

As director, producer, sound designer, editor, cinematographer, actor and distributor - at what point in production do you remove yourself to look objectively at the movie?

I have to admit it's really difficult. I'm so immersed in the film, from writing to production to distribution, it's pretty difficult to be objective. My emotions had some pretty wide swings in terms of how good the film would turn out, but now, I guess we'll find out - I know I really like it.

Your self-distribution plans are now being analyzed in the industry press. What was and is the plan?

I decided that instead of the Sundance Film Festival being a 'market' for the film, looking to get picked up by a distributor,  it would instead be the premiere of the film. The distribution started there, and we devised a plan where we'd hold these awareness screenings all over the country generating interest and press, then we had a defined time when we'd hit movie theatres with three trailers I'd cut, and after giving the theatres a nice window of exhibition, go to digital presentation via VOD, DVD, etc. We opened last week in New York [to some great numbers - ed], and it seems like that worked, so we'll just have to wait and see if this really was a good idea or not.

We're thrilled you'll be at our Sundance Sunset in Los Angeles Saturday night for some Q+A sessions. You've done several Q+A's with audiences recently. When people tell you their interpretations of UPSTREAM COLOR, and it's not exactly how you envisioned the film, how do you react?

The whole situation of these question and answer sessions is a compromise in my opinion. For example, if you read a book, do you finish it then immediately talk to the author? No, I really think that people need time to sit with their thoughts, or at least go have coffee or a drink and discuss how the movie made them feel - dwell on your thoughts. I think that questions so soon after is asking for the author to veil or unveil and its counter to the way one should experience the art. That being said, everyone who has been showing up at these screenings are avid film-goers, and  no ones interpretation can be 'wrong'. Just that some people are looking at things a bit specifically,  and I think that a consensus will form about the movie about whether it 'worked' or not as well.

Judging from the review in the New York Times, it certainly seems to 'work'.  On another note, you managed to capture the essence of suburbia in both of your films - all while presenting the antithesis of a suburban experience. Where were both movies filmed?

The suburbs of Dallas and Plano. I like the mendacity of things, and when the plot is so unworldly, that's where my head goes. Also, it reflects my personal aesthetic as its dependent to the story. We kept switching it up locations (a hotel, a city apartment, domestic bliss in the suburbs) with wardrobe changes and narrative modes.

When I saw David Lowrey's name on the credits as editor it made me smile. I loved AINT THEM BODIES SAINTS, in fact we featured it at our Houston theatre during Sundance Film Festival USA. How, if at all, did he influence the film?

He absolutely did. He's a genius. The way it began was that I was struggling and not able to keep up with the edit concurrently to the shoot. He worked without ego, and he quickly proved he got it as well as anybody. It was truly collaborative and I couldn't be happier.

What's next for you? I'm finishing a script that I hope to start to shoot by the end of summer. I'm as deep into it and as passionate as I am about UPSTREAM COLOR.

Sundance Cinemas self-proclaimed 'marketing chick' Nancy Gribler conducted this interview.

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