10 questions with Dipso director, Theodore Collatos at the half-way mark.
Monday, May 2nd, 2016
1Hi Theodore! Thanks for being a part of our spring festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make Dipso? I was bar tending in Pittsfield MA, which was a General Electric town. GE left and left a mess behind. It hit me kinda hard seeing first hand the effect of the loss of manufacturing in this country.
I think in a lot of ways, Pittsfield is the typical all-American town devastated because of this loss. High cancer rates, lack of jobs and hope...
Anyway, at the same time I was trying to figure out how to make a film with out knowing any filmmakers to collaborate with.
Long story short, Matt Shaw, who's one of my closest friends and collaborators and I starting trying to devise a manageable story that was personal to him, me and the town. I started shaping a story around his personal story of wanting to be a stand-up comedian and living a sort of post-punk life. Then combined it with other local stories...
A gutter punk who's now in his 30's. Sort of youthful idealism hit with the harsh reality of this country. Matt invited me to shoot his stand-up that was at a punk rock show. It got way out of hand, the crowd turned on him and I thought it was such an amazing scene of emotional violence, so we re-created the scene in the film and built the story from there.
2The acting in this film is incredible. How did you capture such great performances? Was everything scripted or did you leave a lot of scenes loose and open for improvisation? The structure and flow of scenes was scripted. The 'story' was scripted. The dialogue was mostly scripted but I'd never show any writing to the cast because they're all non-actors and I think with non-actors its important that they don't memorize lines.
It's strange though, some scenes seem completely improvised but are line for line and other scenes that seem scripted, are completely embellished by the actors.
Everyone gave their heart and soul to the film and really 'got' the material. Everyone added depth, dialogue and naturalism. It also helped them a lot, not having a crew, besides my cinematographer Thomas Lowe, who I must say was the anchor to the chaos.
Thomas is an old school punk rock kid via CBGB's era, much before my time and the material really resonated with him. I don't know if another cinematographer would have held it down like he did.
But having a small crew helps give the feel that you're not really making a film which gives freedom and safety for non-actors.
3You wrote, directed and edited the film yourself, some people think it's bad for a filmmaker to do that because they are too close to it and can't see the film from the outside. What are your thoughts on that? I agree.
Don't do it, whatever you do, don't do it...
I had no connection to anything 'film related' when I made Dipso. No one around made films, so I had no choice but to do mostly everything.
Another wrinkle to the production is no one drove, so after a day of driving all around the county in my $100 car, wasting hours of time, I convinced everyone to stay together in the house we were shooting at.
I definitely paid the price for not having an editor. I ended up sending out what I thought was a finished cut and the rejections started flowing in. It was pretty devastating...
So I re-cut the film again and immediately got into festivals premiering at EntreVues Belfort, winning best film at Athens Film & Video, other smaller fests, having a theatrical run in New Orleans, streaming on Fandor...
I'm glad I didn't give up on the film, but it was an exasperating experience going back into the trenches and figuring it out. I realized the first cut was for myself and the cut that's available now is for people to watch.
I really wish I had someone to help edit, but it wasn't an option at the time. Thankfully, I've found kindred spirits who are help these days.
4What was your writing process like and how long did it take you to write Dipso? Dipso was on my mind for a few years before setting out to film. The fact is when you're making a film at this level things become less about the writing and more about the sincerity of the story and acting.
I couldn't just write any scene and film it. I had to write scenes which we could actually film. So for me it was about taking pieces of Matt's life and structuring it. Then combining his story with other stories from the town.
For instance, break ins are extremely common in the 'off season' when tourism is down and the second home owners are gone and I thought it would be important to explore that story from the inside out.
There are also a lot of veterans from the war in Iraq and a vet friend of mine I was working with was really having a hard time adjusting to civilian life. I found out he was considering going back to war and it shocked me, but its really common and I wanted to explore why someone would want to reenlist.
Then we'd discus the beginning, middle and end of each scene, before we shot, in terms of dialogue and point of view and emotion.
Again, the material was deeply familiar to everyone involved so it flowed really naturally.
5The three brothers (Matt Shaw, Rick Roucoulet, and Tony Shaw) were all so great. How did you find these guys and what was it like working together? Matt and Tony are actually brothers. Rick is an old friend of Matt's and Rebekah was Matt's ex-girlfriend, so the fundamental relationships were already established.
Working with these guys was beyond great. On a shoot this small, everyone had to be committed to keep the thing going and if any of them couldn't do it anymore, the whole thing would fall apart.
These guys, became a tight unit. I think we called it functionally, dysfunctional... Or maybe dysfunctionally, functional...
When people that have nothing to do with film, outnumber the people who do, it takes a lot of faith on their part, to trust what we're all doing is right and these guys gave great trust under extreme circumstances.
6Can you share a war story from the shoot? Making this film was one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life. Up until shooting my latest film which has now become one of the hardest things I've ever done in my life...
So many war stories but just to give you a taste...
On the very first day, we shot the tree cutting scene out in a field and our lead actor ended up getting a tic on his balls, which was removed by another cast member the next day...
Here's a little behind the scenes if interested...
7I loved the scene with the mother so much. I thought it really brought a lot of insight into Tommy's world in such a nice and subtle way. What are some of the scenes you're most proud of in this film? I didn't realize at the time how important the mother scene would be to this film. For some people its what makes the film for them.
The scenes I'm most proud of:
The fire scene at the end and being able to capture such a powerful, emotional, drunken frenzy, while perfectly reciting lines of dialogue and not destroying anything in the house...
I'm proud of our whole team for getting the stand-up comedy / punk rock scene together, because at the beginning of that nights shoot we had NO extras.
So we hit the bars a bit depressed, pulled ourselves together and somehow drummed up about 50 random young punks who were absolutely authentic and brought the fight.
A dude with a gun showed up but he was just protecting himself for his walk home...
8We both went to Columbia College Chicago. What are your thoughts on film school? Do you think it's something aspiring filmmakers should do? Ah, the age old question film school or no film school...
I say no film school!
I think school in this day in age is antiquated unless you're trying to be a doctor or lawyer. No one I went to school with is still making films and none of my professors ever helped on a professional level.
Yes I loved learning, watching films, reading history, aesthetics, criticism, devouring entire catalogs of films but in the real world it doesn't necessarily matter.
The information is readily available online, connections can be made on social media, equipment is available like never before. And to be saddled with a life time of dept, in a profession that has few monetary rewards, I'm not sure is helpful circa 2016.
I've met more collaborators, friends and supporters living life, then living school.
9You depict a sort of small town America in such an empathetic way. These guys are doing some shady stuff but you can also understand based off their circumstances. Why did you choose to make a film about small town America and did you have any experience living in places like that? I've lived around the Western MA my whole life and I've seen it from both angles.
There's really only two classes, the haves and have nothings. This is the case in all of our city's and towns, all across our nation and yet we're incapable of overturning this model of life. The with outs have no power and the haves do everything in their power to keep what they have...
It was really important to tell this story from the inside out. So often people's lives get wrapped up in a newspaper log lines and it is divisive to our culture. People become, them and they, rather than, us and we. We all know this has happened already but these types of stories rarely exists on indie film screens.
There are really no options for people who can't afford college in the first place and don't fit into the service industry model. Whole generations of people have been abandoned by our way of life.
At the end of the day people want the same things.
They want to work, to live, be happy and find love.
10What's next? Right now, I'm in post-production on my film, Tormenting the Hen, produced with my wife Carolina Monnerat, who has produced all of my films and has been by my side through the ups and downs of filmmaking.
Carolina also stars in TTH, alongside Matt Shaw, which will make our fourth film collaboration as a group. It has actors in it and a more finely honed script which I'm exited about.
I also have two short films I'm going to premiere sometime this year and make available online called Albatross and Truth with Wine.
Besides that I'm working on scripts and deciding what to shoot next.
Thanks for all your support and providing a platform for films in a new age!
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.
Share this film
Please share Dipso with your friends and help this filmmaker win!