10 questions with Shoplifting from American Apparel director, Pirooz Kalayeh at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
1Hi Pirooz! Thanks for being a part of our 2016 Spring Festival. First, what inspired making a movie, inspired by Tao Lin's book, Shoplifting From American Apparel? One of my inspirations for SHOPLIFTING... was Le Mystere de Picasso. It's this older film that shows Picasso painting in his studio. At one point, he starts on a painting and it starts getting unwieldy. He paints a beach scene and then paints it out. Then he starts over again. Then again. Finally, the director stops him and warns that the audience is going to get bored, Picasso is like, "They need to see that finding a painting can be like this. It's not always a neat and tidy thing." I'm paraphrasing, of course, but that scene stuck with me while making SHOPLIFTING. What if I show how unwieldy a film can be until we get to the final version? So that was the film: showing how art can can get out of control as you're finding it and then showing the final product at the end of the film. So, in a way, SHOPLIFTING is a painting being made and the final scene is the finished painting.
2This film isn't an true adaptation of the book. What made you decide to make the film in this way? While I was thinking about how to approach the film, my younger brother, Paiman Kalayeh -- also a director -- suggested I do a different approach to the novel since I just finished a straight dramatic narrative of THE HUMAN WAR. I considered this for the next couple months, until I saw a clip of Tao Lin and a girl moving around some paper squid cutouts. The image was so strange and cinematic. I knew I had the first scene of the film. Then the movie just wrote itself. I immediately imagined all of us criticizing this as the beginning of the film, and I was off.
3I remember hearing about that story about the whale and how the family ate it every night. I thought it was so funny and strange. What was it about Tao's writing that attracts you to it? I first encountered Tao Lin's writing online through poet Jim Goar's online zine Past Simple. After I read a couple pieces, I was intrigued. The lines weren't typical of a lot of poetry that was coming out in 2007. They didn't have that facade of trying to be a "poem". They didn't have that "poem voice", where everything gets sing-songy or you hear the falseness of someone "reading" versus just plain reading. And that was the magic of it. There was no pretense. These poems were exactly what they were: touching, funny, and honest journal-like-entries that made you ever more curious the more you read.
4In this film you've got "actual" Tao, "movie" Tao, and "real" Tao. How difficult was it to not get confused by everything and what is it about films about films that's attractive to you? I never felt confused by the "behind-the scenes reality" or the "fictional movie" because there was a script and storyboard, and I could see the film pretty clearly in my head: the "behind-the-scenes" would take over the movie until that was all that remained. Then the audience would be left with a more authentic experience and potentially question their external realities for which was more "real" or not just like they did in the movie. "Wait, is this real? What about this?" That inability to tell was what I hoped to create, so that was why I chose the film within a film model.
5What's the film that made you want to become a filmmaker? I fell in love with making films after making my first short in 8th grade called "Slave Chase". It depicted life in 1989 if the South had won the American Civil War. The kids in class got a kick out of it. My history teacher, Jay Cheeseman, was so impressed he told me he didn't want me to come to study hall anymore. He wanted me to make films instead, so I did.
6In the film it seems so many things go wrong. Was all of that stuff real? Were those actors you really pulled off the street? Did he really go into Urban Outfitters with that camera on his head? The film had a script. We followed that and the storyboards. I did leave room for actors to go off tangents and create "live moments", but we rarely kept those.
The only "real" moments were the documentary portions of the film, when we talk to the actual writers Noah Cicero, Jordan Castro, and Brad Warner in the beach scenes or Tao Lin in his house. There is also the moment when we pull Staxx off the street with his girlfriend. He really was the first guy off the street we saw and he really learned his lines and did a part in the film. The rest is rehearsed, staged, and scripted, including when Brad Warner walks into an American Apparel with a helmet cam on his head.
7This is the first film you directed without a co-director. How did you know you were ready and what was the biggest thing you learned on this film? I'm not a fan of co-directing. That's how I knew I was ready to direct alone. I've talked about this with Caveh Zahedi. He loves co-directing. I just can't do it. I suppose everyone is different. That's one of the things I learned while making this film. I also learned that "everyone hates on the boss", so don't take things personally.
8This film is about the novelist Tao Lin. How did you two meet and what was it about him that made you want to make a film? I don't think the film is about Tao Lin. It's about the tough realities of making a film and how the reality we aren't looking for is often the one that finds us.
I met Tao online by doing an interview with him in 2007. Then I made a movie about one of his poems in 2007 and we started corresponding via email.
9You wrote this film too. What's your writing process like and how long did it take you to write? I think about scripts for a long time. Sometimes years. Then, ideas coalesce, and I usually have the first image or scene in my head. After that, I can write pretty clearly, because that first image comes with a structure. I can see my way through the piece. Sometimes it's clunky and comes out in bursts. In those times, I might have huge gaps of time between writing and seeing the next scene. Other times, it can happen in a steady three week stream of consciousness style session. Then I'll spend about six months tweaking the script and passing it around to friends and actors. If people are interested at that point, then a film can come together very quickly.
SHOPLIFTING took me about eight months of thinking and four months of writing. I had the first image, like I said in the earlier question, around the eight month marker and then I pummeled through. I had a first draft a couple months after that. Then I kept working the script for a few more months until it seemed presentable.
10What's next? ZOMBIE BOUNTY HUNTER M.D. is being released on May 27th at the On Vous Ment Film Festival in Lyon, France. It's about a film crew that documents the onset of a zombie apocalypse for hits.
CTRL ALT DEL will be released after that. It's a film about four different relationships in Los angeles and what each pair does to set boundaries as their lives intertwine together.
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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