Hello Jarrett and thank you for creating such a beautiful little film. “Foolishly Seeking True Love” has it all: Great direction, sound, cinematography, design, wardrobe and writing. It was truly a pleasure to watch and re-watch. Before we start the interview why don’t we get our blog audience to watch your film below.
One of the things that jumped off the screen at me right away was your great eye for locations. I was also impressed that you would go to such lengths in securing a location for a short, almost photographic shot. For example your shots showcasing his interests (at a ranch, in a mansion and in a hunting field). Even though each shot is only a couple of seconds long you’ve gone out of your way to ensure a consistent and seamless integration with the rest of your shots. What was your approach to finding locations? What do you look for when you look at a space?
Well first off, thank you for the compliment and for sharing my work. I used the indie film approach: “what can we afford” and “what can we steal?!” But in all seriousness, the devil is in the details. Locations support character as much as anything else. I’m a huge fan of Wes Anderson and PT Anderson. Both don’t mind spending a single shot in a location, but there’s so much information loaded into just that one shot.
How long did location scouting take? How did you get access to such great locations?
Our editor lived near The Association in downtown LA and they were so kind as to let us shoot there during off hours and one day for free I think. My producer literally asked the manager of Cole’s next door if we could film a few shots there on the day of filming! Also for free (or maybe it was if we bought the crew lunch from there.) We stole a shot in the editor’s hotel for the fencing shot and were promptly kicked out. For the horsemanship shot we cut a deal to shoot for literally 30 minutes at Griffith Park Horse Rental. And the courtship shot was done in a friend’s back lawn. It was the same place we filmed young Handsome and his father. We had a general permit for downtown LA that let us shoot anywhere within a certain grid as the permit office called it. So, we just ran around and grabbed some shots on the day. We literally were scouting that last scene on the bridge an hour before we shot it, rushing to fight the sunset. We had to shoot both of their close ups facing the same direction because there wasn’t enough light for a reverse shot. We just made sure to move the camera over a tad to change the background, put them on opposing sides of the frame, and adjusted their eye lines. The sun and a bounce board was all we had. I recommend this trick when you are in a bind.
You start your film off on a technically complicated shot. You pull back and then light Belle while still having your protagonist seen through her tambourine in the shot. This shot really drew me in and made me curious about this project. Can you tell us a bit more about the planning and lighting setup for this shot?
I knew I wanted to visually tie the two characters together, so as often as possible I wanted them to be occupying the same frame. I’m big on having the first shot be really striking and say as much about the theme as possible. The shot was a little tricky. We had the camera on a tripod on a doorway dolly, then the actress held the tambourine still and we had the lens pointing through it with our focus marks set on Handsome at the bar. We dollied back, pulled focus to Belle and hit the light on a cue. It’s definitely my favorite shot of the film.
You also wrote this film. How long did it take you to write and what motivated you to write this particular love story?
Well, I wrote it the day before it was due in to my Project: Involve directing fellowship at Film Independent. I think pretty much in one or two sittings. I was feeling particularly cynical about the prospect of finding romance in Los Angeles and I just poured my feelings onto the page. I tend to start first with a title or theme and everything branches off from there. I think there’s quite a bit of Handsome and Belle in me. When I was done, I absolutely hated it. I turned it in and literally told the program heads that my script was awful. I didn’t show up the evening they announced the selected scripts, then my friend Graciela Del-Toro texted me and said my script was picked and she had to produce it. I’m clearly too hard on myself.
How long did it take you to shoot?
Two days, but then we did a few pick ups shots in an hour at my place a few days later.
How long did it take you from your initial idea to the finalized film?
Well I wrote it in January 2009, shot it in May 2009 and finished it in July I believe. We really took our time making it, but of course we weren’t working on it all the time.
You shot this film on the Red Cam. What made you go with this camera over the other options available?
I had used the Red One on a previous short and prefer it when working in digital. The Red MX wasn’t out at the time or I would have used it. There’s a unique quality to its images that’s quite beautiful. We shot in 4K with one shot in 2K for when Belle is walking in slow motion away from the stage.
What lenses did you use?
Zeiss Superspeeds. I remember reading in American Cinematographer how Jean-Pierre Jeunet used something like only three lenses for Amélie and I tried to model that. I didn’t shy away from the wider lenses, but I’m also a fan of long lens work. We just used primes. I’m not a fan of zooms, unless you are using it for technique like creeping or snap zooming. They do save time, but if you have a fast AC you can stick to primes. I think they look better.
I really liked how you incorporated the narrator into the story. He was both the Doctor and the Bartender. I loved his “matter of fact” approach to the story. He sort of guides you along in this strongly opinionated rant but then, in the end, he turns out to be wrong. Did you have this idea at the beginning of your writing process or was this idea something that slowly started to emerge later on?
I love narrators in films. I think my all time favorite narrator is in Magnolia. We are trained to accept the omniscient narrator as all powerful and an absolute truth. And in Handsome’s case the narrator is literally this presence in his life telling him what he can and cannot be. I wanted Handsome to sort of break the 4th wall in a non-traditional way and say “hey, I know I’m in a movie, but I don’t have to listen to you!” I feel that way sometimes. Like a narrator is dictating my life and I just want to defy it. I also like playing with the audience’s expectations. It’s funny because just a few months after I finished my short, I saw 500 Days of Summer and in a way I consider my film a companion piece. Its narration is similar.
For many of your shots you’re lighting on the “upstage” side of the camera. Was that a look that you’re drawn towards? For example: 1:13 (above) and 1:15 and 1:32 (above).
You know honestly, it didn’t occur to me until you said that. Perhaps that’s more a signature of the DP, Jay Visit. We attended USC’s MFA Film Production program together. We both were in the Project: Involve program and this was our first collaboration. You can check his reel at www.jayvisit.com and see if you spot more upstage lighting! I think the images in those shots are stunning. What I can say is that it was designed so that 1:13 and 1:15 matched up as closely as possible and for 1:32 I was very specific that I wanted little Christmas lights behind her to go out of focus and appear like stars for a little added magic.
1:18 (above) – How are you lighting this shot?
There’s an illusion of greater depth in this shot because there’s a huge mirror behind our actress in the center. The camera team was low to the ground and we did a push in on the doorway dolley. We turned the chandelier on and then added about 8 small practical lamps, one in each corner of the couches. I believe we shaped light from a chimera soft box we rigged overhead for a soft source on the actress and the table.
2:48, 2:51, 3,41 (all above) – You incorporate a strong sense of symmetry to your shots. In fact it’s kind of the visual signature of this short. What was the creative reason behind the stylistic choices you made (in terms of composition and movement)?
Wes Anderson’s “Royal Tenenbaums” and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” were influences. I like their use of symmetry and wide angle lenses. I’m also a fan of the narration. I wanted the film to have a very storybook quality to it.
Your casting was incredible. How did you find your actors? Can you tell us a little about your casting methodology?
Well I had first seen the incredibly talented Angela Sarafyan in an indie film called Kabluey that I watched as part of a seminar for my Project: Involve fellowship. By coincidence, a very talented indie filmmaker friend of mine recommended her and set up a coffee meet. We had auditioned several girls, but none of them captured my attention. We were very lucky to get Angela and her career has since taken off (not because of me!). She’ll be seen next as a vampire in Twilight: Breaking Dawn.
Jason Stoll submitted on lacasting.com and when I saw his headshots I knew I had to have him. He looked like a live-action version of the human in Ratatouille. I knew I needed an actor who had the perfect look and who could emote without saying much of anything, like a silent film actor. Handsome literally only says two lines in the short and it’s the same line, “Hello, I’m Handsome”, and yet there’s so much to Jason’s performance.
In auditions I like to read actors in pairs. I had the women pretend to be having a drink at the bar and then told Jason to approach them. He really became the character in the room. I can’t wait to work with both of them again.
You have a couple sponsors for this film: Banana Republic and Vanity Fair. What role did they play in helping you get this film made? Is the film a “branded short”? If so, how can other filmmakers look for similar opportunities. Can you outline how this partnership worked?
Fortunately, the year I was in the Project: Involve fellowship we had some excellent sponsors. Banana Republic and Vanity Fair came up with the general theme of “City Stories” and they wanted the French New Wave to be our inspiration. About 40 or so scripts were submitted from the group of fellows. The talent development team at Film Independent whittled it down to 20 or so and from there we pitched our projects. My producer pitched how our budget would be spent and I showed them storyboards and visuals. Luckily my script was selected as one of 10 films to be made.
Reps from Banana Republic flew to LA to oversee the selection of various clothes from their new spring line to be featured in the films. We pretty much got a shopping spree at the BR on the 3rd street promenade in Santa Monica. All of our actors got to keep their clothes as well which was a bit of an incentive for them!
Vanity Fair advertised the short in their magazine and launched a co-branded site with BR featuring the films. People could vote for their favorite and get more info on the making of the films. I had to make a 3 minute version for their site, but on vimeo I put my director’s cut.
Here’s the branded-content site:
The sponsors teamed up with the W-Hotel to have our shorts playing worldwide on a channel in all the hotel rooms and they also threw us a classy party at the W Hotel Westwood. Don Cheadle, Catherine Hardwicke, and Terrence Howard came out to support the program and give awards to the winning filmmakers. (Nope we didn’t win!) But, I considered the whole process a win.
The sponsors were very supportive and made sure not to intrude on the the creative decisions we made. I’d still consider the film a branded content short. A matter of fact, that short lead to me being signed by Partizan (www.partizan.com).
What extra support did NBC Universal Studios provide?
They gave us $2000 in-kind credit to their grip/electric department and $2000 credit for waredrobe/prop rentals. I think we went over a bit, but got away with it.
What was the budget for the film?
That’s tricky. We only had a $2000 budget which was provided by Film Independent, but as mentioned above we also received about 6K worth of in-kind donations from our sponsors.
What is the “Film Independents Project: Involve”?
It’s part of Film Independent’s Talent Development program. I highly recommend applying to it and their other labs.
You don’t publish films too often but when you do publish your work it’s great. So what project(s) are you working on now and when can we expect to see your next film?
The last thing I directed was Machinima.com’s “Bite Me” web-series http://www.youtube.com/show/biteme. I’m currently attached to a feature length project that should be filming in the fall and have some branded content work I’m being considered for.
Thanks for taking the time to talk with our blog readers about your film and best of luck on your future projects!