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Problem of Evil
Ethan Kogan, Jessica Silvetti
2013, 84m, drama, experimental
PROBLEM OF EVIL focuses on the inner circle of a modern day religious cult, touching on the topics of unquestioning faith in a higher power, and the timeless themes of love, loss and redemption. Utilizing dramatic improvisation throughout the entire film, this independent drama evokes a cerebral and meditative state, proudly adopting the artistic moniker of 'contemplative cinema' or 'slow cinema.' While production budget may classify it as a niche film, the main theme of questioning one’s faith applies to a wide audience.
10 questions with Problem of Evil director, Ethan Kogan, Jessica Silvetti at the half-way mark.
Saturday, May 21st, 2016
1Hi Jessica & Ethan! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring Festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make Problem of Evil? Initially, we set out to make a film that would feature us both as actors. During this time we were both frustrated and tired of waiting in a casting line to have a small chance of being a part of someone else's project. At this time, we were also heavily involved with The Actor's Gang theatre company in Los Angeles. The training there had a heavy emphasis on improvisation. We used that to our advantage and set out to make a dramatic film that had a strong basis in improvisation.
2You two both directed this film. How did you divvy up the responsibilities and why? The responsibility all came out of necessity and it was definitely a team effort. Prior to filming we would discuss the scene in detail and what we wanted to accomplish within it. When one of us was acting in a scene, the other one directed. Most of the time, whomever was directing was also camera operating and monitoring sound.
3You both wrote this film as well. What was your writing process like and how long did it take to complete the script? Since we decided to go the route of dramatic improvisation, our "script" became a 110 page bible containing character backgrounds, scene breakdowns and insight into cult leaders and survivors. Our writing sessions became intense discussions on religion, faith and what it means to believe in something or not. We jotted down notes in the process and the final script is what you see on screen.
4This film follows a documentary filmmaker and all the footage of the film is from the documentarian's point of view. Why did you decide to make that choice? Seeing as this was our first foray behind the camera, we had limited technical experience when it came to cinematography and composition. We knew that for 90% of filming, one of us would be behind the camera so we embraced our budget limitations and decided to make the camera another character. Using a documentary look was also the best way to tell the story since it is told through our main character’s point of view.
5You both act in this film too. Did you take turns directing each other? Which one of you needed more takes? Before each shoot we thoroughly discussed how the scenes would work logistically and were prepared for all scenarios. When one of us was in front of the camera, the other was behind at all times. We always kept a very open dialogue and were able to give over to one another while we were in front of the camera so we could focus on being present and in the moment as actors. As far as who needed more takes? We were pretty equal.
6This film follows a documentarian as he looks for the leader of a cult. Why do you think we're seeing more films about cults and religion? Is it just a coincidence or do you think there's a reason for it? Throughout time, faith and religion have played such a big part of people's lives. Whether one identifies with a particular faith or not, everyone still has their own belief system. Most people, at some point in their lives, find themselves questioning what their purpose is and the overall meaning of life, particularly if they are confronted with a traumatic event or have generally lived a difficult life. This makes films about cults and religion intriguing because we follow characters who are at a crossroads and we can see why a religion could be comforting to them, or in extreme cases, why a person who is completely lost could find a cult appealing. Our story focuses on these different characters and how they are affected by their beliefs or lack thereof: the lost soul who truly needs to believe in something in order to survive day to day; the dismayed believer who feels they were fooled and are now in exile; and our protagonist who's been hit by a terrible loss and is questioning his own beliefs.
7What's the film that made you want to become filmmakers? J: This is a hard one, I can’t say it was only one film. One that comes to mind is Like Water for Chocolate; it’s a beautiful story, wonderfully written and acted, and visually striking. This film made a big impression on me when I was growing up.
E: Honestly, it's Problem of Evil. I never knew how suited I was to being behind the camera until we made this. Sure, I could list my all-time favorites and all those I admire, but until you actually pick up a camera and shoot, you'll never really know. I resisted it at first, but since then I've loved every minute of being a filmmaker and haven't looked back.
8What was the biggest challenge making this film? The biggest challenge was our budget and lack of experience. Together we had over a decade of acting experience, but we had never entertained the idea of putting a feature film together. And, in doing so, probably experienced every textbook issue known to man! It was a lot of work. From packing gear, loading the cars, operating camera and sound to editing the whole film, we learned a lot. It was hard as hell and definitely worth it!
9Can you each tell me which scene is your favorite and why? J: I love the scene when Jason and Ara meet, this was such a great scene to film. Jarreth Merz, who plays Ara, was amazing to work with and just completely open to trying anything to get what we needed. We were like kids playing make believe; we had a lot of fun that day. The visuals of this scene are really nice. The simplicity of it and yet the emotional depth that we see on both the actors faces, makes this one of my favorites.
E: Mine was with the character of Ruth (played by Mary Eileen O'Donnell). She came in, not really knowing what she was getting herself into. She was a bit nervous about improvising, but once we started interviewing her in character, she dove into Ruth's very detailed childhood history and it was eerie and exciting. The look in her eyes, like she was reverting to her own childhood had me captivated.
10What's next? We're currently in post-production on an independent television pilot, IN ABSENTIA. It's an anthology series in the vain of The Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and The Outer Limits. At the moment we're working with some talented composers and a colorist to finish it up. Hopefully you all will get a chance to see it on TV screens in the not too distant future!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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