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An Interview with Sean Meehan, Director of Total Performance

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2016

Films directed by Sean Meehan on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie Total Performance - in a few words, what is it about?

 

This is always the tricky one! I think, if I can make it as pithy as possible, I'd say that Total Performance is about conflict, and how people will do whatever they can to avoid discussing what's really bothering them.

 

Now is any of the basic premise of Total Performance based on actual fact, and since I presume job-wise you're surrounded with quite a few actors, did any anecdotes of their world (and of yours) find their way into your movie?

 

As far as I know, there aren't any companies that do the work that is depicted in the movie, but it certainly seems like the kind of service that could exist. While I don't recall adding any anecdotal flavor from the actors into the movie, I did have an interesting exchange where a friend of mine watched the movie, and she told me that she saw a lot of herself in the character of Cori. She even told me that she has pulled a similar "move" to what Cori does in a scene which takes place out on the street at night with Tim. I thought that was an interesting admission on her part.

 

Also, in a way, Total Performance is about relationships - so did you sneak any of your own experiences into the movie?

 

I'm sure everyone has had those moments where it's been hard to really express yourself to someone else. I've certainly been there in job situations, or amongst family! There's nothing in the movie that's directly lifted from my own experience, but I tried to make any particular situation as specific as possible, even if it was invented whole-cloth.

 

(Other) sources of inspiration for Total Performance?

 

There are all kinds of small influences, but I definitely remember watching a short film by Jason Headley called To Say Goodbye, and feeling very moved by it. I think Jason is an incredibly talented (and hilarious) filmmaker, but this short had such a unique premise and a deliberate tone. People should watch the movie, so I won't spoil much. I'll just say that it also deals with an invented (I think) business, and the complications that might arise. It got me thinking about other areas where a business could crop up to help people in weird ways, but it took a long time between that initial inspiration and the writing of the script for Total Performance.

If anyone is interested in watching Jason's short, here's a link: https://vimeo.com/20800092

 

Do talk about your movie's brand of humour for a bit!

 

That's a really hard one to answer! I'm interested in those little moments that linger at the ends of conversations, where things turn oddly transactional. I think we sometimes wish we could simply say "alright, we're done talking now, I think." People don't talk like that, but their behavior usually ends up saying plenty at that moment. I have a few beats in the movie that depict that, which probably make up the majority of the humor in the film, at least in my eyes!

 

What can you tell us about your directorial approach to your story at hand?

 

I really wanted to keep the movie (for the most part) in the perspective of Cori, and to let the grammar of the filmmaking reflect her sense of self. There are three basic acts of the movie, and we worked to do different things photographically and directorially to mirror how she's feeling about herself in each stage. The movie starts off at its most stylish, because Cori feels invincible. I used to describe her as "completely confident that she's the most interesting person in whatever room she's in." With that in mind, the first few scenes of the movie are glossier, slicker and the performances are just a tad bit more arch. We shot these first few scenes with an anamorphic adapter, which gives these scenes a distinctive lensing that you usually associate with big-budget Hollywood fare. The camera is also moving much more gracefully, with slow dolly moves for the most part. 

As we get through the middle of the movie, we ditched the anamorphic adapter, and just shot with traditional lensing. The lighting became a bit more modern, and the camera, while still moving smoothly on a dolly, has a slightly different character to it. Even though we aren't shooting anamorphic anymore, we still cropped in on the top and bottom of the frame to match the aspect ratio of the anamorphic footage. In a way, we're "faking" that Hollywood look in the middle, which is meant to mirror Cori's actual day-to-day. She's still interesting, but not quite as impressive as she described herself to Tim on their date.

When we get to the final sequence, we scrapped the crop, changed the aspect ratio to 1.85, and the camera is now completely handheld. This is probably the most aggressive switch in the film, but it should feel that way (and I hope it does). The performances also change a bit here, to a looser, more realistic cadence. It becomes much more about how people actually talk: complete with "umms" and awkward pauses, as opposed to slicker banter. We're still in Cori's perspective, and at this stage of the movie, there's no more artifice for her to hide behind.

I need to point out that, if any of that came across, it's because of the unbelievably talented people whose shoulders I humbly stand on. All of the actors, but especially Tory Berner and Steven Conroy, are responsible for all of the honesty and humanity in the film. The movie doesn't work if these two characters don't feel real, and I was blown away with what they did. The same goes for our unbelievable crew, especially our DP Chris Loughran, who was in lock-step with me from the get-go. We very much speak the same language cinematically, and we're always pushing each other to tell the story well from a visual perspective.

 

Do talk about your key cast, and why exactly these people?

 

Casting is a major part of my job as a director, but so much of it is instinctual. That was certainly the case with all of the roles in the film. For Tory Berner, I was immediately struck by her sense of confidence. Even her initial read of Cori was as a strong, unflappable person. Steve Conroy's inherent honesty and warmth was really striking for me, and made his portrayal of Tim all the more interesting, especially given what he ends up doing by the end of the film.

 

What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?

 

The atmosphere on set was, at least from my perspective, incredibly warm and encouraging. Creating an environment where everyone feels like they can do their best work is extremely important to me. I can't control whether or not anyone will like what we've made when it's finished, so I don't really concern myself with that. The things that I can control are things like the atmosphere on set. I want the cast and crew to enjoy themselves, and to want to come back whenever we make something else. I've been really lucky to receive some encouragement on behalf of cast and crew that speak to a success on that front, which means a lot!

 

The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?

 

People can check the movie out on Vimeo at https://vimeo.com/137139769

 

Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of your movie yet?

 

So far, it seems like people are digging the movie, which is great to hear. I'm particularly honored that critics such as yourself have found the movie and are pushing it out there to more and more people. A 17 minute short film with a few tonal shifts isn't necessarily going to be everyone's cup of tea, but I'm really glad that some people are recommending our brand of tea to their followers!

 

Any future projects you'd like to share?

 

I'm in the early stages of pre-production on a web series that I'm really excited about, as well as a few writing projects that will hopefully turn into things that I can direct.  

 

What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I didn't really catch the bug until just before college, and since I was a bit of a late bloomer, I wasn't able to attend a typical film school. That said, I did receive a lot of really great instruction and practical training at Boston College. The program was small, but we had a really tight-knit group of student filmmakers that were passionate and soaked up everything that the professors threw our way.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Total Performance?

 

I've made a number of shorts of varying quality throughout college and post-grad, but Total Performance was my most deliberate attempt at a short film since my senior thesis film Waste of Space.

That said, my "day job" is as a videographer/cinematographer, so even if I wasn't cranking out a lot of serious shorts over the last few years, I've been spending a lot of time making all sorts of videos for my clients. It kept me (relatively) sharp, while allowing me to make a living doing something that's at least adjacent to my ultimate goals.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

Long-winded.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

There are a ton, but filmmakers like Rian Johnson, Jeremy Saulnier, Kelly Reichardt, the Coen Brothers and Jeff Nichols are on my mind a lot. Even though they each are working on very different planes of the industry, they all have an independent background that I find inspiring. The way that technology, distribution and viewing habits are changing, it's become increasingly possible that someone like me can just make a feature and people will actually see it. That doesn't mean that it will be easy, or that people will enjoy what I've made, but those filmmakers represent proof that, as long as you've got the story to tell, there's no excuse not to make it.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

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It constantly changes, but a few that always stay towards the top are Inside Llewyn Davis, The Devil's Backbone, Harvey and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

 

... and of course, films you really deplore?

 

Some of the stuff I made in college is real unwatchable.

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Aside from the Vimeo page, we've got a Facebook - www.facebook.com/TotalPerformanceFilm

If anybody wants to keep up with the work that I do in the corporate/commercial world, feel free to check out www.crossriverpictures.net

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

Thank you for watching the movie and writing about it!

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD

 

 

Stell Dir vor, Deine Lieblingsseifenoper birgt eine tiefere Wahrheit ...
... und stell Dir vor, der Penner von der U-Bahnstation hat doch recht ...
... und dann triffst Du auch noch die Frau Deiner (feuchten) Träume ...

 

Und an diesem Tag geht natürlich wieder einmal die Welt unter!!!

 

Bauliche Angelegenheiten
ein Roman von
Michael Haberfelner

 

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