bill bodkin interviews the film’s director nate taylor and one of the film’s producers victor reyes…
The journey of the independent filmmaker is often a long, winding, heartbreaking, exciting and hopefully, rewarding experience. It takes year of hard work, dedication, sleepless nights and sometimes little to no pay, to make your labor of love, that small cinematic seed that has been growing in your brain, finally come to fruition.
For the team on psychological thriller Forgetting the Girl, the journey to their New York City debut tonight at the SoHo International Film Festival, has been long and tough, but in the end every bump in the road was seemed well worth it. For director Nate Taylor, the idea of Forgetting the Girl was brought to him by his colleague, Peter Moore Smith, a writer who had won numerous awards for his short story the film is based on and had spent years shopping the screenplay to the movie industry. Little did he know that his mohawked co-worker who looked like he stepped off the cover of a Nine Inch Nails record would be the man who would help bring his dream to cinematic reality.
And little did Taylor know that Victor Reyes, the new hire he brought onto his production company, Full Stealth Films, would actually become one of the top producers on the film — working on the pre-production and onset production of the film, something the young artist from New York had been dreaming of for most his life.
In the summer of 2009, the crew of hungry, passionate young producers, filmmakers and crew members, who had spent years collaborating, arrived in New York City in the midst of a killer heatwave, for a grueling 18 day shoot. Accompanying the crew was a cast of mostly unknown actors, who, post-FTG would go on to star in shows like: Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, Law & Order: SVU and True Blood.
Today (and tomorrow), the cast and crew will return home, to the city where FTG was conceived and filmed, New York, for the East Coast debut of Forgetting the Girl. Pop-Break.com was lucky to sit down with director Nate Taylor and producer Victor Reyes to talk about the film from conception to delivery.
The Beginning of the Girl
Pop-Break: Nate and Vic, Forgetting the Girl was the first full length feature film you both worked on in terms of being at the helm — Victor, for you as a producer; Nate for you as a director. Can you talk about why you chose this film to be your first feature. What was it about the story that drew you to this film?
Nate Taylor: What excited me about this script was a couple of things. One, it resonated with me on an emotional level. There’s something relatable about the New York City dating scene in your 20s and how miserable it is and the desperation that it breeds in people. Two, it seemed wonderfully achievable on paper. It didn’t seem like it needed a large budget or it needed a lot of locations. It seemed like something we could do on a relatively tiny budget.
The script definitely struck a chord with me and I remember putting it down and thinking ‘Oh man, this movie would definitely work.’ People would definitely dig it and get the cool feeling of how it left you in this weird, confused grey area. And I related to a lot of elements in the script. It was set in Hell’s Kitchen where I was living at the time. I was a similar age to Kevin and the character of Jamie reminded me of a lot of people that I had known. There were a lot of relatable parallels to real life.
Victor Reyes: Forgetting the Girl was based on a short story that won several awards, that was written by [Nate's colleague] Peter Moore Smith. Nate had tons of ideas for feature films and I had tons of ideas for feature films but this story was a good way for Nate to flex his directing muscle and for me to work on a full length feature.
What I loved about the script was that it reminded me of a Hitchcock film, like Vertigo where you’ve got this main character in the middle of this mystery. The script looks at a lead male character who’s going through a lot of psychological trauma and [it looks at] how he responds to the characters and events around him. It felt really interesting that we could make a film about a flawed male character, who’s at the height of his psychosis (spoiler alert!); that type of film noir anti-hero really spoke to me.
PB: The film revolves around NYC photographer Kevin Wolfe. He drives the action, we see the events of the film through his eyes. So, to me, I think the casting of the actor would be one of, if not the most important parts of pre-production in the movie. So let’s talk about the man you cast, Christopher Denham. What was it about this actor that made you go — “Yes! This is our guy!” What qualities as an actor does he posses that compelled you to make him the center of Forgetting the Girl?
VR: The key to the film is being able to simultaneously empathize with Kevin but also make him be someone you may not be able to trust. So you want to be completely be immersed in this character and empahtize with him so when things start happening that you’re not okay with or frustrated with his decisions, you’re right there with him, you’re inside his head. So we needed to an actor who could read as a creepy loner but also be likeable enough that the audience go along with the ride with him and Chris really nailed that.
During auditions we saw tons of actors for Kevin. Most people we saw were very good but they played it too dark or too big — they didn’t really play it small or subtle. But Chris really nailed it. He came in and he could the do creepy longer thing but there was something in performance that was completely nuanced. There was an element he brought to the table where you could look into his eye and you could really feel for him, which I think is integral to the plot.
NT: The casting for this was so fun. [FTG's Casting Directors] Ann Goulder and Gayle Keller brought a cornucopia of awesome talent to us. [The actors who tried out for Kevin] all brought something interesting to the table but Chris Denham — he was a like a bolt of lightning exploding into the room. There was something [about him] and it’s hard to quantify but there was this magic in him; when he read dialogue he wasn’t reading dialogue, he was talking. He was this character. There was a naturalness about him that was just amazing and emotion that emanated off of him.
When we brought him back for his first call-back we had him prepare a scene from the movie, so he did a piece of the opening monologue. He sat down right in front of the camcorder (we recorded all the casting sessions) and he just talked right to the lens, totally ignored the rest of us, and he did the opening monologue into the lens of the camera just like Kevin Wolfe did at the beginning of the movie. It was just chilling, it was amazing, it was so cool. Then I did a couple of adjustments with him; I had him do it a couple of different ways and he had such unbelievable range. He had such emotion and brought so much to the table. He turned out to be the right choice by far. He made the film — he’s such a hardworking, organic actor.
PB: Nate, you already touched on this, but Forgetting the Girl had two major Hollywood players — Ann Goulder and Gayle Keller come on-board as casting directors. These are A-list casting directors who’ve worked on films like Requiem for a Dream, American Splendor and TV shows like Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Six Feet Under and Bored to Death. How did these two come aboard to an intimate independent feature like FTG?
NT: Peter knew Anne Goulder from a couple of years back when he was going to direct it and it never got off the ground. He talked to Anne about casting it and she was excited. So I reached out to her again and asked her if she’d be interested. She responded that she had read probably 100 scripts since then and for me to resend it. She also said ‘I’m partnered with Gail Keller, would you be able to hire her too. I sent them both a script, they read it and we had a meeting at the Cornelius Street Cafe for some coffee, which is a very L.A. thing to do here in New York. Basically I had to talk them into the fact that even though I was a first-time feature director a.) this project was going to be real and b.) this project was going to be good. And I talked them into it. They were excited and had a break in their schedule so they jumped in and started just bringing in the coolest indie actors that you could ever imagine. It was a parade of awesome talent everyday — a variety of surprises.
VR: It all comes back to the script. Most of the success we’ve had with this film is because the script is just so damn tight. There’s something about it that resonates with people. Ann really loved the script and with her track record of making these dark, existentialist dramas and comedies, it was right in her wheel house.
Having Anne and Gayle’s name on the project a.) gave us access to a higher notch of talent and b.) it opened up our options in terms of funding. [Having them on-board, people knew] we weren’t bringing in [actors] from Craigslist, Mandy or Backstage. Having their names attached to the film also made it easier to approach other filmmakers and investors, supports, what have you. [It showed] we weren’t just bringing in some unknown actors from New York, we’ve got good talent we could choose from.
PB: I’ve heard that you had quite a list of names come through the casting office from former SNL cast members to talent that’s appeared in major films and TV shows. However, the cast you ended up with, while unknown at the time (for the most part), has absolutely blown up in the past few years. You guys must feel super-proud of these actors and it must’ve made promoting this film just a tad easier.
VR: It feels great. The more name recognition they get, the easier it is for us to promote the film. We’re super-excited, but not surprised. The reason we chose them for the film and why Ann brought them in, is not just because they were going to blow up in a year or so but they were really good actors. There’s a lot of actors out there, but it was clear to us that [this group] was really going to stand out. We had a gut feeling that they were going to take off and we were lucky that we grabbed them at the right time.
NT: Part of it is … we were casting in 2008; we didn’t shoot til 2009 and now it’s 2012. It’s taken us so long to get this film off the ground and finished, so it makes sense. Our cast, which is really talented, has had the last three years to get more more which has lead them to become more popular. It shows we were guided well with the people we ended up with.
PB: Outside of Christopher Denham, what performance stands out most to you guys?
NT: Lindsay Beamish, who plays Jamie, Kevin’s assistant, just poured her heart and her soul into this movie. It’s a tough character — the character is depressed and quasi-suicidal and overflowing with self-loathing. It’s an emotionally volatile character. Lindsay made a lot of connections to real events in her life and channeled as much real emotion into the role. So it was really intense for her. She had a number of times when she had to cry on camera … just a number of intense scenes, she was just really baring it all on camera. It was really hard to watch as a director, she made me cry on set during one her performance towards the end where she breaks down and has her last hug with Kevin. It was heart-wrenching. Fearless is how I would describe her.
VR: It’s kinda hard to say, I feel everyone brought something to the table. Paul Sparks who plays Tanner, he’s the foil to Kevin. He’s this rich slacker type who’s all id while Kevin is all superego. We needed someone who could play to that but could also be a little creepy and weird but add comedy to the film. He’s hilarious.
Anna Camp is awesome, she’s primarily in the first act, but she steals every scene she’s in. She played it small, she played it funny. Elizabeth Rice, she was on Mad Men as Roger Sterling’s daughter, she nailed it. Phyllis Somerville (Little Children) … all of the actors were awesome.
If there’s anything I could say about all the actor’s performances is that they played their roles very small and very smartly. All the actors [on this film] made smart [acting] decisions. There were easy ways to play the characters, larger life, but they made smart decisions onscreen.
Filming The Girl
PB: Nate, this was your first film — how did you mentally prepare for the shoot?
NT: Part of the preparation was almost living in denial of how hard it would be. If you actually accepted the magnitude of what we were taking on — it would be overwhelming. It was compartmentalizing — focusing on one area [of production] at a time.
One of the advantages we had was, because it took so long to get financing, is we had a lot of time in pre-production and pre-pre-production. I had a pretty strong vision of the film in my head so I had even more time to mull it over. I also had time to do my homework — storyboarding the entire film, sitting down with Peter going over the entire film, taking those notes and putting them into shooting boards. I had scene breakdowns — what each character’s motivations were, what they wanted out of each scene, how it related to other scenes, etc. I also had time to spend talking with all my department heads like with DP talking about the look of the film or with Naomi from wardrobe about costumes.
Also, it was a luxury, but we fought for it — we had two weeks of rehearsal. It was the key to the kingdom, the cornerstone of the film, having two weeks off the clock to work with the actors on the film. Every actor that had a line in the movie I spent at least an hour with. With Chris, I had a couple of days alone and then matching him up with people he [interacted with]. It was important that they had time together and that they were listening to each other. I wanted to make sure that they weren’t worried about doing it right or wrong. I wanted to give them permission to fail. Try something interesting, fuck it up, let’s see what we get out it. I think it worked by the time we got to set, we were filming five pages a day, a really aggressive pace. Everyone was relaxed, knew what they were doing.
PB: New York is an integral part of the film, almost like another character. How important was NYC to FTG? Also was it rough to film in the big city?
NT: As cliched as it is, it’s very true. I was really excited to capture the Hell’s Kitchen niche. I feel like it’s not an area captured a lot on film. I wanted this to be a pedestrian view of New York City. I didn’t want big helicopter shots of The Brooklyn Bridge or the New York skyline shot from New Jersey in a boat. I wanted it to be the New York that regular New Yorkers see everyday. We stayed off the beaten path a little, the areas where Kevin where actually be, there were no crazy shots of Times Square.
[In regards to obtaining locations for the film] The mayor’s office, which I always thought was like the DMV where there’s a long line and a bunch of disgruntled people, it was just the opposite. It was just refreshing, they were a bunch of film lovers who are proud of New York City’s indie film legacy. They want NYC to remain the best city in the world to make an indie film. They want to help foster the next Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky. They were really supportive.
VR: The short story and the script, although they are about a young going through all these romantic difficulties and psychological issues, the heart of it is a love letter to New York, specifically to Hell’s Kitchen. We shot in Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island but all of our exteriors were shot and meant to capture the area at a time, before they were about to put all these high rises and condos. Hell’s Kitchen is also this weird part of the West Side, it’s a dilapidated urban jungle, it’s just north of Penn Station and south of all the restaurants and bars. So it’s this weird little section that not a lot of people know about. Nate and Peter wanted to make it a character in the film since it’s an area they both lived in for a while.
PB: How did this weird little section of New York add to the overall tone of the film?
VR: So many movies are made in New York — Woody Allen, Scorsese, every independent filmmaker living there, it’s their backdrop. But Peter and Nate picked a spot that’s different. You know you’re in New York, you know you’re in Manhattan, but you may not know exactly where. You’re not going see to see shots of Times Square or the Upper West Side.
PB: Nate, let’s talk about the visual aspect of the film. What inspirations did you draw from to develop the look and feel of the film. And also, talk about the look and feel of the film in general.
NT: We spent a long time thinking about how to craft a visual style and tone for the film. This is Kevin Wolfe’s story, it’s through his eyes, it’s his own little time capsule. He’s a photographer so the whole film needed to look like it was shot through a photographer’s eyes. Every shot had to feel like it was a beautiful photograph. Kevin sees beauty in everything — even the grittiest, most fucked things. It was important for me to have this permeating theme of beauty overriding everything.
We got the best lenses we get our hands on. Our DP was really familiar with the RED cameras he knew all their capabilities and how to get the best shots out of them. Then we shot with ARRI Master Primes — a set of five pieces of glass…just beautiful, beautiful glass. This the one analog component of the film, everything else is digital. So you better make sure that that one analog piece of glass is the best piece of glass. It was definitely the most expense things on set and it was well worth it.
[In regards to inspiration] So we took a whole bunch of pictures and still and such from various films and we ended using the movie Unfaithful by Adrian Lynne [starring Diane Lane and Richard Gere]. The way it captured New York City; there was a cool visual magic to it. It had really naturalistic tones to it. We looked at Seven, Fight Club — all these stylized things, they were beautiful but just too stylized. We tried to find the balance between the style — giving it a look but making it feel real.
The other aspect was our production designer Nadya Gurevich. We spent a long time [developing the concept] of every character having a color palette. Blue was an overriding theme of the whole film, it was Kevin’s color. It permeates almost every scene in the film. But everybody had a palette and tone to their location, wardrobe.
PB: What were the biggest hurdles you faced shooting an indie film in New York?
VR: I think a lot of our disadvantages actually helped us in the end. You’ve got a 90-100 page script that we shot in 18 days. That was the biggest disadvantage — being able to get a quality crew and quality shots and keep the production value up while working on a very tight schedule because the budget doesn’t afford you the time or luxury of two months of shooting and re-shoots. We had a cinematographer for a finite amount of time. We had badass production designers and gaffers who were working out of the goodness of their hearts for long days. And I think that small production mentality really drove everybody.
Personally for me as a producer, it was wrapping my mind around a feature length film. I had produced commercials, music videos, sketch comedy, all short-form pieces. I had never tackled anything of this scale. My challenge was transitioning into the film and the mindset. I just took it day-by-day instead of thinking 18 days, 20 days and how to make that happen. It was all about prep, getting everything ready in pre-production because once you’re on set you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
Editing the Girl
PB: Guys, let’s talk about the editing of the film, Nate, how did you work with the colors you spoke about earlier in post?
NT: When the film finally came together, we agonized for like nine months over the color correct. Coming from a commercial background when you’re working on a 30 second TV spot you have six hours to do your color correct. So you’ve got time to do your power windows and your vignettes — agonizing over every shot. When you’re doing a film you generally don’t have that sort of time. We color corrected this film as if it were a string of commercials. Every single scene we agonized over. [The colorist] Ron Sudul logged in nine months of nights, weekends and days doing it. Whenever we’d get a couple of hours we’d really just correct the hell out of this, then we re-corrected after watching it as a whole.
I was really happy with the end results. It has really strong production value, it looks like a much higher budget film that it really is and I hope distributors believe that too.
PB: How intricate was editing to the end product?
VR: We’ve really got to give a big shout out to our editor Victoria Lesiw. Like most indie films we had the advantage of screening the film and getting people’s feedback. Last year we had a screening and we found out what worked and what didn’t work. When you’re watching the film with an audience you can feel the room — what they’re feeling, what they’re not feeling. Then we had to think about editing and tweaking, what we were comfortable with. The film really evolved — Victoria and Nate really worked hard on it, it was a real process — deciding what best served the film.
Introducing The Girl
PB: Last month Forgetting the Girl made its film festival debut at Cinequest in San Jose. Talk about the emotions you were going through when the lights went down and your film was finally screened in front of an audience.
VR: We had screened the film several times for test audiences and it was an awesome experience. But being able to screen it at an awesome film fest and for it to be played in front of a live audience, it didn’t hit me until the lights went down. I was like ‘Oh my God are serious right now?’ After all these years, after all this work, a labor of love — it was all going to be on screen in front of an audience. To be honest it was one of the most amazing, magical moments of my life. It was something I really dedicated myself to and I get to share it with the world. Luckily everyone really loved it, it did really well at Cinequest. We got great reviews, we didn’t get a negative one.
NT: I was panicked because the short film that played before our film, the audio was really low and the film wasn’t filling the screen correctly. So I spent the whole time of the short film trying to get in touch with the projectionist…of course they wouldn’t let me [in the projection room] to do anything. They assured me it’d be fine, but I knew the volume would be low. And sure enough it was low, there was no low end at all. It was a mess. It was heartbreaking because we spent a long time doing a 5.1 surround mix but they essentially played a stereo mix down of our 5:1 stereo surround mix. So I was having a hard time with all the technical issues.
I was just dying in my seat, but then I came to this acceptance of it. Then I sat back and enjoyed it — it was exciting, people were chuckling and they actually paid money to see it! The first 60 minutes of the film is a slow burn then the last 25 minutes it gets intense. So we hit the 60 minute mark and then the film starts to change and you feel it in the room. The energy started to change, people stopped shifting in their seats, watching with rapt, quiet attention. It was really exciting to see it working because we spent a solid year editing it so you start to loose perspective because you’re finessing it and you’re ultimately going on your instincts, hoping you’re right. So to see people in the theater reacting the right way or the way we had hoped they’d react, it was really fulfilling. So fulfilling to have people see it, respond to it and then have them ask for autographs and all that craziness.
PB: Let’s talk about today, you’re debuting the film at your home, your backyard, New York city, at the Soho International Film Festival. How are you guys feeling about this?
NT: I’m really excited to show the film here at home here in New York. It’s a New York film and it’s going to resonate well with our New York audiences. None of the people coming to this screening have seen the film, they’ve seen various rough cuts, but never the final, finished product. Same goes for a lot of the cast — I’m excited for them to see it in front of an audience. I’m hoping that we can get some distribution out of this and can show it to a wider audience.
VR: Cinequest was kind of a gamble. We didn’t have home court advantage, we didn’t know any people there. It wasn’t like L.A. where we had a lot of people, so to get that reaction…we got an encore screening, we sold out most of the screenings…it was awesome. We have that momentum, so going into SoHo, it’s exciting.
PB: Remove yourselves from being the producer and director of the film … and tell me why anyone should see Forgetting the Girl?
NT: I think it’s impossible to completely remove myself from the project but I think you can tell some films are made with passion. It’s intangible but you can tell when people really care about the movie and aren’t just looking to cash in and make a bunch of money. There’s very clearly a lot of passion behind this film. And it’s not just me, it’s from everyone who worked on this film. No one on this film got paid what they were worth, but at the end of the day, they did this because they had a passion. They wanted to make something that was cool, they were proud of and something that could move people. And I think that reads in the end result. And I think it’s a good film — it takes you on a ride.
VR: It’s a very engaging, unique film-going experience. If you love films because they take you on a character’s journey — you’ll love this film. And when it comes to the third act and all the character’s arc’s are coming to a close, you’ll have one of the most intense, visceral experiences as a filmgoer.
PB: So what’s next for you guys?
NT: I have two projects in development. One is another with Peter Moore Smith, it’s a children’s film that is titled Boy/Bat. It’s about a young boy and a young bat who meet each other one night and then spend a day in each other’s world. It’s a pretty cool story and I don’t think anyone’s done this for kids before. The other is called Tripping the Light. It’s a solo screenplay that I’ve been writing. It’s a New York City magical realism, surreal love story. If you think FTG is visually interesting, this movie is going to melt your face off.
VR: I’m currently producing live videos for ReadyMade Records (Brendan Benson, Emily White, and Young Hines). And I’m looking to direct a spec for my first feature film (a musical) in fall of 2012.