Your new movie The Algebra
of Need - in a few words, what is it about?
is about communication or more precisely our
inability to communicate in the modern world.
In the film an unnamed woman who is in Buffalo for the weekend to shoot a movie
that is never made meets a unnamed man whom she may or may not know from some
time before. Unwilling to reveal anything about themselves, or perhaps
having forgotten how to communicate at all, they instead recite pieces of
classic arthouse cinema dialogue, fragments from Burroughs and Sartre, and a
series of non sequiturs. So the film is a sort of homage to 60s French New
Wave and classic European arthouse cinema as well as offering a few nods to
American underground film - The Algebra
plays with space
and time, continuity and the conventions of filmmaking and story. The first
two lines of dialogue really set the tone. The male character says to the
female character, "Oh, you waited for me" and she replies, "No,
why would I do that?" So we are never really sure if they do know each
other or not. He seems to know her or thinks he does. She doesn't seem to know
him or maybe she's playing a game or... we never really know. And that
ambiguity is on purpose. The man spends much of the film trying to understand
her. And I think the audience might spend much of the film trying to
understand the film but that would be a mistake. Because it's... we really tried
to tell a story without telling a story. It's really a film made up of
feelings. I think Jillian, who plays the woman, had the best reaction to the
film when she said "It was uncomfortable and unique. It felt false and
real and mostly I just felt sorry for those two people. I'll probably have a
totally different reaction next time I watch it!!" So it's a puzzle
without a solution. A story that is told more by way of mood and feeling than
by plot. Wait... you wanted a few words? (laugh)
Your film is an intentionally obvious hommage to yesteryear's
arthouse cinema, to the point where all the dialogues were lifted from the
likes of Jean-Luc Godard,
Ingmar Bergman, Michelangelo Antonioni, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alain
Resnais, William S. Burroughs, Jean-Paul Sartre and Marguerite Duras - so
what was the idea behind that, and to what extent do you consider yourself
influenced as a filmmaker by these masters of old?
very influenced by classic arthouse. It really goes back to, I was in Los
Angeles in the late 70s and, I believe KCET their public television
station was screening an Ingmar Bergman film festival and somehow I
stumbled upon that and here was where I saw for the first time The
Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, The
Silence, Persona and I believe The Virgin
Spring and it was... I was gobsmacked. These films were such a
revelation. I had never seen anything like them before. I did not know you
could make films like this. Then when I returned to Buffalo, our public
channel was showing classics of world cinema. So here I saw Jerzy
Skolimowski's Barrier and Rashomon and
Seven Samurai amongst others and that experience deeply influenced
my work ever since. Even in my horror films you can see echoes of it. A
friend of mine once said, "You make b-horror movies with arthouse
pretensions" and I think he was exactly right. But I'd never
attempted a true arthouse film till now. But to bring things more recent,
two years ago I was reading a massive 700+ page book on the life and work
of Jean-Luc Godard and at the same time reading an equally as massive tome
on the life and work of William Burroughs and at the same time I started
watching MUBI which is a sort of online film festival where each day a new
festival film is added and you have 30-days to watch it. They screen
everything from classic to modern arthouse, world cinema, experimental
cinema... just everything and anything. So all that came together. I had
just finished Disintegration with Angelina Leigh and I was
looking about for a next project and I really did not want to do horror. I
just had no interest. The world didn't need another zombie film or
werewolf film or possession film... I mean just thinking about doing
something like that made my eyes glaze over. I wanted to do something
different. Something modern. Yet something classic at the same time. And
both Godard and Burroughs used the cut-up method where they would take
various works from various sources and cut those works into pieces and
then rearrange those pieces into new works. So I started playing with that
concept. Also through MUBI I had finally seen works by Bela Tarr and
Apichatpong Weerasethakul and that whole long take slow cinema movement,
stretching the concept of mise-en-scène as far as it would go. So all
these elements came together to form the basis for The Algebra
of Need... which by the way, the title is based on a study of Burrough's
work which used the same title and refers to Burrough's drug addiction.
sources of inspiration when dreaming up The
Algebra of Need?
I think I hit most of those above
Algebra of Need features no more than two actors in speaking parts
- to what extent was that limiting but maybe also liberating to you as a
Right from the beginning of the project I wanted
a very small cast and a very small crew. I knew we would have a very
limited shooting schedule, and actually we had three days, we shot the
entire film in three days with the exception of the "city
montage" which myself and Charles Carter, my assistant and our sound
guy, shot over a series of several days. I wanted a minimalist film and so
by having this small cast that really allowed me, actually forced me to
focus on only what was important. Having a small crew allowed us to be
light on our feet and make quick decisions. And imposing such a tight
shooting schedule forced us to do the same. So the limits were actually
artificially imposed. Although the budget was also a factor as that was
practically non-existent. So I had a very narrowly defined space within to
work but allowed me to focus on that space without distractions.
Speaking of actors, do talk about your cast,
and why exactly these two?
If the film is any success at
all, that is due almost entirely to Jillian Geurts who plays the woman and
Alexander Sloan McBryde who plays the man. I knew going in that finding
the right actors was key and that finding those right actors was going to
be difficult. I believe I found Jillian through a Backstage casting notice
I placed. She is originally from Australia, now working in New York and
involved in all sorts of really interesting projects. She sent me a link
to a short film she had done, and the moment I saw that I knew she was the
one. And through our conversions, our emails, the kinds of questions she
would ask, I immediately knew that she understand exactly what I was
trying to do here. She understood when I said, I don't just want you to
recite the dialogue, I want you to play with it, to make it your own, but
more than that I want you to take what is on the page and use that as a
starting point and go off on your own tangents, explore whatever spaces
you care to explore, explore the spaces between the sentences, between the
words, even between the letters. She got that. Jillian is incredibly
talented, I would say fiercely talented. And deeply intelligent. And not
afraid to take chances, and she took a big chance on this film. I was
clear from the start that this was an experiment and that it would either
succeed or it would fail miserably. She wasn't afraid of that. And because
of her the film is what it became. But once casting Jillian I knew I would
need an actor who could go toe to toe with her so to speak. An equally
talented, equally intelligent, equally brave actor. I immediately thought
of Alexander whom I had worked with numerous times before in smaller
parts. I knew he could do this, and also, being a person of color, I knew
that added an additional layer to the film. I think he's amazing in the
film. He's funny. He's strong. He's caring... even during those scenes
where Jillian has like, 99% of the dialogue and he is just listening, you
can see the thought process going on beneath. That's just great acting.
And together, they look so good together. They feel right.
You do use some quite
impressive locations in your movie, so do talk about those, and what was
it like filming there?
Buffalo is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, and I really wanted to surround the characters with striking
visual environments. Most the film is shot in a large old house we rented
for the film. It actually did double duty as abode for Jillian and Bill Schweikert,
our DP who both came in from out of town stayed there as well. The house
was built in the late 1890s and for all practical purposes nothing had
been changed. Just beautiful woodwork and pocket doors. Amazing leaded
crystal windows. Very impressive. The old Victrola record player was
already there and I quickly added that to the dancing scene. We shot at
the Buffalo train station in downtown Buffalo near Canalside. We shot at
Canalside which is where Jillian walks through after leaving the bar. The
cafe, the city montage and all other scenes outside the house were shot at
the Amherst campus of the University of New York at Buffalo or UB as we
call it around here. I wanted to really make the city part of the film.
What can you tell us about your
overall directorial approach to your story at hand?
we had such a short schedule, and because I like to hit the ground
running, and because I hate standing around discussing and not shooting, I
spent a considerable amount of time prior to the shoot making sure that we
were all on the same page, cast and crew. That including having them watch
certain films such as Godard's Breathless and reading various
articles on slow cinema. I had Jillian watch a number of short films
featuring Edie Sedgwick because I wanted her to use Edie as a model, as an
influence on her movements and her sense of style. I was very clear that,
we were going to shoot entire scenes in one take. That they were to never
stop. If they missed a line or flubbed a line, well we were going to go
all Godardian on that and jump cut around it. So there was no pressure
there, just let the words flow and don't be afraid to go off on tangents
to explore your own thoughts, needs, obsessions, fears, whatever. And
having worked with Bill before, I knew that he would capture it all and
give me what I wanted as well as what I needed. And he did. So really in
that, I put together the talent and let them do what they do best. I might
make a suggestion here or there. I might suggest we move the camera one
way instead of the other... but essentially, I was there to put out fires.
We also shot some very very long takes. I think the one bedroom scene ran
for about 15 minutes. So there's none of that cutting back and forth.
There's the actors playing within the confines of the frame.
talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?
great cast and great crew. We all knew were we doing something different,
something that might crash and burn or might actually be worth watching.
That said, everybody put in ten thousand percent. Jillian made french
press coffee each afternoon and that was a delight. So really, for the
three days we were shooting, it was like a family. A family making a
$64-question of course, when and where will The
Algebra of Need be released onto the general public?
doing the film festival circuit first, then the film will be available VOD
you can tell us about critical and audience reception of The
Algebra of Need yet?
Of the first four film
festivals we've submitted to, we received the Jury Prize from the Monkey
Bread Tree Film Awards, we are an official selection of the Blow-Up
Chicago Arthouse Film Festival, and we received Honorable Mention from the
LA Underground Film Forum. The one festival we didn't get into was the
Buffalo International Film Festival. The main reason that did not happen
is that we submitted the 2 hour and 7 minute and 42 seconds rough cut as a
work in progress. We thought we would be able to get that down to about 90
minutes for the festival but unfortunately we couldn't promise that and
because they've got limited venues and limited time available, just couldn't risk scheduling our film and us not being able to make that
happen - which was the right decision after all. But they did really enjoy
the film and said many nice things about it. They also invited us to
submit for 2017.
Any future projects you'd
like to share?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I'm working on the script for The
Geometries of Desires which is the second in a planned Buffalo
Monogatari trilogy of films that began with The Algebra
of Need. It covers some of the same basic territory as The Algebra
but takes a decidedly darker slant. I hope to shoot in
May 2017 with much of the same cast and crew. I believe Manifestation, my horror script that Shawn Anthony is
directing with Jessica Felice starring will finally go into production.
Looking forward to seeing what he does with that and I know Jessica is
going to be amazing.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook,
Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely
forgotten to ask?
Big shout out to Alex Murur who designed
the opening and closing credits as well as edited the "city
montage" - amazing work by a great friend. I also ought to mention
the score by Frederic Mauerhofer [Frederic
Mauerhofer interview - click here] who I have worked with for
years and who never disappoints. And also Aaron Weese the editor who was
essential in forming the final narrative.
Thanks for the interview!