SA: I think each film presents its own unique challenges, and like our previous short The Merciful Death of Jonas Blake, major hurdles presented themselves at each stage of production. It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing, but I’d say the primary challenge in the case of BLACK was a lack of manpower and a narrow time frame with which to accomplish our goals. As with Jonas, we were able to call on the support of our partner Jason’s family for locations in coastal Oregon. After money was in place, we then assembled part of our cast in Los Angeles, and the next big challenge was connecting these local resources with our Oregon location that existed 15 hours north. After a long van ride up the 5 freeway, we then had 6 days wherein a small group of people took turns managing production on every level. Coherently keeping track of human resources, food, safety precautions and the whims of God while at the same time keeping our eyes on the creative ball was one of the most grueling things we’ve ever faced. But learning what is required in such a direct way was one of the best educational experiences of my life. When we think of how many plates we were spinning and how few of us there were, I’m amazed at how consistent the end result is.
SOS: Black has an interesting look. The photography quickly separates itself from the majority of independent shorts out there. What type of camera did you use and what might be your inspirations for its look?
SA: The camera we used was a Panasonic DVX-100, which we used after it gave us good results on a music video project. With many smaller productions, otherwise good qualities such as production design and acting can be completely gutted by video photography that de-legitimizes the whole thing. I was very concerned about video, because it’s the first thing I notice and I worry it puts viewers on the wrong initial footing when they come to your work. This camera managed a film-look that we were able to further amplify by reducing the color information and applying other tweaks in post-production. The look of BLACK is really inspired by noir photography found in the original Twilight Zone and the classic Outer Limits. Somehow the content of those stories was more feverish in Black & White and more evocative of dream-logic. Finally, it really does make you stand out in the crowd, and any edge you can get is welcome.
NA: We used the Panasonic DVX-100 because I had used it recently and was very comfortable with not only its size/portability but also the image was really good for me. I always wanted to shoot with video in Black & White and I was looking for an image that gave me this hyper 16mm film look, we ended up with something really close to what I wanted. The story called for coastal atmospheres which grounded us in a reality that contrasted the psychological spaces of the mind that were rich in shadow play and mystery. I felt like visually that was a wonderful blanket to wrap the characters in.
SOS: Every few years there seems to be a new team of brothers coming up in the film world co-directing movies. Are there any sibling film directors that inspire you?
SA: Well the Coen’s are the touchstone, and we get this comparison even more because to our Midwestern roots. They’re work clearly comes from a very specific place, and over time they’ve developed a method that allows them to communicate this quirky sensibility to a broad audience. I think any filmmaker regardless of whether or not they work with a sibling wishes that they could garner such widespread appeal while at the same time retaining an unfiltered voice. Even so, I think there is an advantage in working with someone that is so intimately intertwined with your own sensibilities. When the relationship is good, the work that results from it is probably strengthened by virtue of a certain creative harmony. I can see this at work in the Coen brothers’ films, and I especially see it in the case of the Quay brothers.
NA: Well, I dig the question because I think it points to something special about the bond between siblings- I can only speak about our working relationship, Seth and I have strict quality control meter that we enforce and really don’t need the green light from each other to go ahead. I trust his opinion on actor notes, a certain shot, or almost anything really. During the writing process/pre-production is where we usually voice all of our concerns so that the ship runs smoothly during shooting. But to answer the question more direct, I love how the Coen brothers make themselves laugh and they look like they are having a riot making their films. Also The Quay brothers being an early influence on my personal film work seem to really be in comfortable making art together and being identical twins making that intensely dark work is endlessly fascinating to me.
SOS: Has it ever been tough in choosing which direction to go in? Do you find yourselves sometimes compromising ideas due to creative differences?
NA: I think we as a group have a very clear idea of what we want to do. We have built up our own strengths to when we bring them together it feels in sync. Sometimes an idea can come up from nowhere and it is so out of our comfort zone that it scares us all. Those are the ideas we tend to really like later on however.
SA: I won’t say Nathan and I are always cop-acetic when it comes to creative control. There are times when our producer Jason is very welcome as a buffer when things become heated, and in that I think the balance he has provided is essential to our ongoing success. Differences usually come about over a particular scene, a particular edit, a particular shot and even there I credit Jason with maintaining an atmosphere of dialogue over argument. Long hours on a set can push you to emotional places you didn’t even know were possible, and I have regretted some of the arguments we had in times like that. But you know, that’s the heat of the moment, and sometimes those arguments can lead to interesting solutions if you have the presence of mind to see it. None of our differences have been deal breakers, and in a weird way I think we’re both immune to anything fatal (knock on wood).
SOS: 39 minutes is rather long for a short film and too long for a feature. Has the length of the film hurt you in any way when submitting to film festivals?
SA: The running time has been a factor, and we found at the end of the day that we needed that much time to tell this particular story. Our first short clocked in at about 13 minutes, and that was because there was no dialogue and the concept could only be sustained on a purely visual level for a relatively short period of time. With BLACK, we tackled a more traditional three-act structure, and this by its nature requires more detail. It’s funny because even on a conceptual level BLACK only had enough fuel to sustain about an hour of screen time. I just couldn’t conceive of trying to blow it out into a feature because it didn’t “feel” like it needed more attention than what we gave it. I guess this makes sense because the three of us were keen on making a 40 minute episode (with time for commercials) of some non-existent genre show. Anyway, yes it has made it harder for programmers to include us in their festival scheduling, but through trial and error we’ve been able to find festivals that have treated us very well.
SOS: Maybe I have been watching too many episodes of the Twilight Zone recently, but it seems fairly close in tone and atmosphere to the classic TV show. Has it or any other show influenced you two on the making of Black?
NA: Twilight Zone was a jumping off point for me. It gave us a framework to explore that idea of reality and that other realm that runs alongside. I am a fan of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks which I think has similarities to BLACK being it works as a conventional soap opera/character drama as well as a mind-bending look into a hidden world.
SA: As stated before, we were definitely looking at the Twilight Zone for this project. I know that for me, the best episodes were usually anchored in a person dealing with a relatable fear and the fantastic elements grew out of that. With the case of BLACK, I won’t argue with you the credibility of clairvoyance but I will say I’m intrigued when it is applied to a human problem like grief. The best fantastical fiction usually has that basis in the human condition, and the writers of the Twilight Zone, (and more recently Lost) seemed to understand that. I guess this isn’t a new argument, but it’s become directly evident to me as I’ve applied it to our work. I mean how would you deal with evidence of the supernatural? It’s different for everyone and always interesting.
SOS: Where will our readers have a chance to see the film in the near future?
SA: BLACK will be making its Minnesota premiere at the Minneapolis Underground Film Festival, December 6th, 2009, at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design. You can get more information at our official site www.lullskull.com/black
SOS: How do you feel about the film industry in the past decade? Would you say it has become easier as an independent film maker or has it become harder to make a name for yourself due to the overabundances of films being made?
NA: Well there is no set strategy that works really. You can have the right project at the right time and have interest and then it kind of goes away for no reason. I think independent filmmaking needs to ride the side waves of some of the larger films coming out but I also feel the independent film scene is very valuable and it doesn’t take a payload of money to make something that lasts. Proof of that is all around.
SA: What’s been happening is a mixed blessing. One the one hand with technology being more accessible, it puts more tools in the hands of those who want to tell stories. On the other hand it also does damage by flooding the marketplace with a glut of product that makes it difficult for consumers to decide whether they want to wade through it all. As a filmmaker, the trick is to act as your own filter, and trust where your taste leads. So while it may be harder to get noticed, that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged in going forward. If you honestly believe your script is worth being filmed and you have a realistic strategy of how to bring it to life, then you owe it to yourself to see where that process takes you. You have to believe your film is worthwhile and that it will rise to the top because if you look you’ll find plenty of voices that will say it’s not.
SOS: What’s next for Nathan and Seth?
NA: I think making feature films is something Lullskull Ltd. is building towards. Seth and I have a clear slate of film ideas we’d like to produce and we are currently writing a feature length screenplay.
SA: Over the course of the last year we’ve been working on a feature-length project that we hope to start getting off the ground in 2010. Making and releasing BLACK provided us with many ideas as to how to get this next project produced, but even so we are at the very beginning of our ascent up the mountain. This project will center around a woman that is living with a group of people that have survived a great cataclysm. One day a man comes out of the wilderness claiming to be her long-lost husband, and the true picture of why those people survived begins to unravel. Tonally I think we want to do something that has the thoughtfulness of a good 60’s SF novel, with the pace of a Jim Cameron movie. Presently we’re at this strange crossroads in human evolution. To one side you can see many encouraging possibilities for progress and on the other you can just see… well, a sudden stop.
SOS: Any last thought you might want to share?
SA: I think I’d like people to know that making films on the level that we do is a day to day process, and sometimes those days are hard. In any given moment you will wonder if you are doing all you can to live true to who you really are, and in the next you will make a small (or huge) breakthrough that justifies all of that emotional and physical sacrifice. When you work with people you care about towards a goal that all of you want dearly, it becomes something you share together in a very special way, and this enthusiasm becomes infectious. If anything, BLACK represents three friends doing exactly what they want to do together and I hope it can serve as a model for others of what can be achieved if you have the will to see something through and are always, always willing to ask for help.
NA: I personally find it exciting as an independent artist to find welcoming venues and message boards such as you that support upcoming talent. We never know where the potential fans might be and the internet’s new media has helped us immensely in our day to day journey to get our work out there. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for this opportunity and keep up those Sci-Fi Horror podcasts coming!