David Rosenthal and I were best friends in second grade, and helped produce his first film, See This Movie, so I can certainly be considered biased. But I know that his new film, A Single Shot, is good because it made me feel envious. How did he get that cast? How did he get that look? How did he manage to maintain such a gnarly tone and pace in a laconic backwoods noir? I asked...
This is an amazing cast (Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Melissa Leo, Jeffrey Wright, Kelly Reilly, Ted Levine...) How did you wangle it/coordinate on what was presumably a limited schedule?
It really comes down to people digging the material and wanting to work with Sam Rockwell... and then obviously they weren't too put off by me when they met me -- lucky there. But you hit on a tough thing with movies like this... tight schedules and limited money make it difficult for A list actors to come play, even when they want to do it.
How did you think it out in context to modern noir/southern gothic sorts of stories?
A number of people have classified Single Shot in a sort of mini sub-genre and referred to it as "Backwoods Noir" or "Gothic Noir" or, the one I like the best, "White Trash Noir"... And I've been asked a couple of times why I think the mise en scène for noir may have moved from urban settings to rural ones. Maybe it's because most modern American cities have become so safe and predictable in ways they never were from post WWII to the '70s. Also, the bucolic idea of the country and small town life has shifted both in reality and in terms of cultural perception. Drug crime is rampant in many small towns in America, shockingly so. And poverty lies just beneath the surface of all this rich farmland. In this era where corporations have taken over so much of real farming and people who've farmed in these communities for generations have lost farms and homes and their way of life... So maybe the down and out desperation that seemed to go hand in hand with film noir from the '40s and '50s has moved out to the country and taken root in the woods and in the desert and in little mountain towns. Regardless of whether or not this is actually now a sub-genre, the woods and nature in general provide a really interesting aspect of mystery and tension.
The film looks amazing. Tell us a bit about how production design, cinematography, landscape and weather conspired to make this so?
It was important to me to play up the gothic and mythic qualities of the story and give that visual expression. I began by referencing films of Ratcatcher, Insomnia (the original), There Will Be Blood, A Prophet, No Country for Old Men, A Thin Red Line, Badlands, In the Mood for Love, Mulholland Drive, Ran... I actually cut all these of movies into a video lookbook that I used to show the producers to convince them to give me the job in the first place... So, that served as terrific start point for my discussion with David [Brisbin, Production Designer] and Edu [Eduard Grau, Cinematographer]. We wanted muted tones, and opacity, and layers and depth, and dirt, and patina and grime over everything... And I very much wanted to use the cloud cover that was intrinsic to our shooting location across most of the daylight stuff we were shooting. I also wanted to create mist and fog in these landscapes. Which scared the hell out of the producers because creating fog outside over big areas costs a lot of money, but my special effects guy up there was amazing and went the extra mile for us, literally. He and his guys ran these big tubes all over the forest where we were shooting and literally created fog and mist and all that great layering over vast areas... pretty incredible for a little low budget film like ours.
How did you get so deep into this milieu what with being a city boy?
As a kid I went out to the country a lot on weekends. We had a little house in the woods and I'd go from the nocturnal drone of city life to a sudden and deafening silence. The dark woods came alive in my imagination and what I explored and mucked through during the day became ominous and hair raising when the lights went out. Gothic tales have always had pull for me. Poe, Hawthorne, Housman... Though maybe it's time for a New York movie now!
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