Loren Cass has already been reviewed on the site by Brandon Colvin (you can read it here), but, in honor of its DVD release, we all thought it deserved another mention. Plus, Brandon was lucky enough to interview director Chris Fuller about the film. A special thanks to Mr. Fuller for taking the time to talk to us. It's a hell of a film. You can buy it here. Interview after the break.
Brandon Colvin: From inception to finish, it took nearly a decade for Loren Cass to be fully realized. What about the project caused such a protracted production period? What sorts of obstacles (both creative and practical) did you face as a first time independent filmmaker and how were you able to successfully circumvent the temptation to throw in the towel?
Chris Fuller: I’d been working toward this particular project for a long time so there was never really any temptation to throw in the towel. We knew it was going to be a long road and just kept on going. We did the best we could when it came to the obstacles that were presented to us. As for the length of time it took to complete the project, it’s due to a number of things. I spent a long time working on and refining the script. Then financing took probably somewhere around 3 years, it’s just not easy as a filmmaker of any kind to secure the amount of money necessary to make a good run at a major project. Then, from a creative standpoint, I felt like we needed to get back out there and pick up some footage I felt I was missing. We ended up doing 3 re-shoot days spread over the course of a few years. The sound mix took about a year and a half. When you don’t have the money to devote to certain things, work just gets done when there’s spare time, and isn’t necessarily the full-time focus of everyone involved. That’s just the way it’s got to be when you’re working on an extremely low budget, independent film. We had to make things happen any way we could, however long it took, and we knew we’d eventually get it finished and be able to put it out there. There’s always going to be obstacles when you’re working on a film, but the limited means and resources certainly make the problem-solving that much tougher.
BC: Loren Cass is a very specific film in that it concentrates on a particular city at a particular time – St. Petersburg, 1997. How did the local community impact the creation of the film, and how did you preserve such a vividly real representation of a certain place and time that was constantly receding into the past as the film’s production progressed?
CF: The setting is extremely important for a film and I think a vivid, detailed back-drop is a vital step toward making a film that feels real and has some truth to it. Too often it seems that the layers of a film that are necessary to build a real world for the characters are neglected in favor of a hyper-focus on the events taking place on the surface of the film. Obviously those are important too, but you have to build the thing from the ground up. One of the things I always tell people when they’re asking about the film and the length of time it took to make it and all that, is that I didn’t spend twelve years screwing around, we were working on the details of this thing the entire time in one way or another. And that’s how I think it should be. Everything is important, and everything is an opportunity to evoke the story, whether it’s the color of something, a prop, the camera angle or movement, and so on. Every detail is a chance to tell your story that much better and make it that much more real. I definitely credit the focus on multiple layers to the film, the story, the characters, for the final representation of that particular place during that particular time.
BC: The sense of reality in Loren Cass operates on many levels. A few of the most striking ways the film taps into this are your integration of documentary materials from other media (both visual and audio recordings) and your use of non-professional actors and actual locations. How do you view these documentary elements, and what role do they play in enhancing, or even commenting on, the film’s fictional narrative?
CF: I really think that the best way to approach a feature film is with a combination of the two. Obviously it is art, and it needs to have an author, so the pre-determining of things is a necessity. But you can definitely blend that with certain things from the documentary world, particularly when it comes to the actors and the events taking place between them. There’s such a vastly different feel to something that is genuinely taking place between people and something that is staged and ultra-controlled. A good example of what I’m talking about are the fight scenes in Loren Cass. It’s faster, easier, safer, whatever, to stage them like every filmmaker stages every fight, but that’s just ridiculous in my opinion. People have been fighting since the dawn of time and getting punched in the face, particularly in service of your art, something that will long outlive you, seems like a small sacrifice. I think you can apply this to so many aspects of people and their relationships, to events and things that are often portrayed in films, and get something that’s a perfect synthesis of narrative fiction/art and documentary. That’s what I think the goal should be regardless of what you’re presenting, it’s just how they all films should be made no matter what’s on the surface. You’re already manipulating the story, the setting, the interactions, so much before you even get started, because it’s the nature of things, but that shouldn’t preclude you from trying to depict those events as realistically as possible and doing what’s necessary the make the best film possible, something that people can get totally immersed in. Reality on that level will allow viewers access to the other levels, or layers, in the film, which is where the meat is.
BC: Your film presents a certain formal aesthetic that has been compared to a rather wide group of filmmakers, ranging from Robert Bresson to Harmony Korine. You’ve also cited Schopenhauer as a broad non-cinematic influence. How did you develop the stylistic and philosophical principles of Loren Cass? Especially as a first-time filmmaker, how much did you rely on intuition and/or improvisation?
CF: Your intuition definitely does and should, in my opinion, play a huge part in it. My scripts are fairly detailed and I have real concrete ideas about what I want to do heading into something, but some of the best things happen unexpectedly and you definitely need to be open to that or the film can pass you by. The freedom to confidently do that sort of thing comes from a good understanding of the material, it allows you to make unanticipated choices on the fly that you know are right for the film. It’s all in the preparation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t alter a word or a movement or whatever it is here and there when it feels right. I can’t remember who it was but some filmmaker, when asked what’s the best feeling he’s had on a set, said something to the effect of “When I’m surprised.” You can’t go into a project without rock-solid ideas and a dedicated approach, but if you don’t let instinct play a role and let the film breathe a little bit while it’s being made I think it’ll end up missing its soul.
BC: I’ve read before that you believe every film should have an “author,” and you are clearly the author of Loren Cass, serving as screenwriter, editor, director, actor, and producer. Do you see yourself always playing so many roles in the production of your future films? What has your multi-faceted experience taught you about the different responsibilities involved in making a film, and which role do you feel most comfortable in?
CF: I’ll definitely continue to perform all of those duties on my films. It seems kind of silly going over each particular title, they’re really all part of one thing from my perspective. Each of those, especially writing and editing, have so much to do with what the final picture is that I can’t really imagine handing them off to someone else and not doing all of those things.
As far as which role I feel more comfortable in...I’m pretty comfortable with all of them. Going back to what I said above, being a “filmmaker” sort of encompasses all of those things to me, so I don’t really separate them that much, it’s all part of making a project real.
BC: How important is it for Loren Cass to be seen by the citizens of St. Petersburg? What sort of reception has the film experienced thus far from people living there? Does the local audience differ from the (inter)national audience?
CF: We screened a rough cut of the film here in 2006 and it did really well, so we’re excited to bring the film back to where it all started and give more people a chance to see it. We actually had to turn a number of people away at the ’06 screening because we ran out of space. The reaction has definitely been passionate around here, I’m sure there’s a slightly different effect on an audience when you recognize certain locations, places that are a part of your day-to-day life, or remember certain things that happened over the years.
BC: With the DVD release of the film and your inclusion in Phaidon Press’ upcoming book Splice, which highlights 100 of the world’s most promising filmmakers, I have to ask – what’s next?
CF: I have a lot of things planned for the future but I’m developing two particular scripts right now which I’m hoping to get moving fairly soon. Unfortunately, I can’t really get too into the details at the moment but in the coming weeks and months I’ll be able to put some more information out there on what they are.