Stale sounds of the suburbs send a teenager out with a sound recorder in search of better ones. Listening with this device he begins to build his own soundscape and drift away from his surroundings. His dependence on the recorder affects his relationship with a charismatic girl and he struggles to re-engage with the world around him.
10 questions with Euphonia director, Danny Madden at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, September 7th, 2016
1The central concept is so interesting and unique. What was the initial idea that sparked your inspiration? In 2009, Danny and Will were working on a film called No Floodwall Here (directed by euphonia's producer, Jim Cummings) in New Orleans. They had a series of conversations that really developed the themes that we wanted to delve into with this film. At that point, smartphones and mobile technology had just started to become viable and suddenly ubiquitous. In that moment at the precipice, we wondered what the mediation of your life experience through this external (and ambivalent) filter could unbalance. Then we took two and a half years to answer that as carefully as we could.
2The dialogue sounds very naturalistic- what was your process like in building the story? Was there a script? Was the story tailored to any technical limitations at hand, or did you impose the limitations on yourself in order to better tell your story? The script operated largely a playbook. It had each beat built very specifically, but there was a lot of room for the actors to invest their incisive talent into the scene. Some scenes were shot word for word as scripted, but Will and Maria make the moment feel like it was happening for the first time in either circumstance. In terms of limitations, we really had very few that ever felt like obstacles. The inherent advantage to everyone on the team knowing your story so well is that you have the criteria to come up with solutions that are really a part of the concept itself. The limitations in that sense helped push us into making more and more choices, which we are thankful for.
3What were some of your key influences in developing the film? Time was the most important one. We lived with this film off and on for a couple of years. It was largely written in 2009, then shot in 2010. A week after production Danny, Jonathan Silva (the cinematographer), and Benjamin Wiessner moved up to New York together, where we had to dive into the ever-pressing task of staying afloat. There was lots of late night editing at a production office that we were driving truck and PAing for. The whole of post-production was slow and meticulous, which is why euphonia turned into something worth watching. We took the time. By the time it premiered at SxSw in 2013 we knew that we had done as much as we could to tell this story.
4I read in a separate interview that the film was initially planned as a short. Why did you decide to expand it to feature-length? We never expanded it, the moments each played out at the close to the individual length we imagined. Some of how you end up creating a 53 minute feature is not having worried about the length ahead of time, which was a huge advantage creatively. When we were building the script, all the way til the end of the edit, we didn't even discuss the run time. Our focus was always on that individual scene and how it worked for the narrative. The worry, in hindsight, was that we would have watered it down to add time or pruned it back too much had we been told we were making a 53 minute film before shooting. Let's just call it a surprise.
5How did you go about finding your cast? How did you direct teenagers to deliver such subtle, nuanced performances? Will Madden has long been a muse for ornana. He is Danny's younger brother, and he grew up being subjected to a lot of tough situations with a camera stuck in his face. He helped develop the concept and was always going to be in that role. Maria DeCotis was a good friend of his and when we saw what she could do, and how the energy they had together, it was obvious that those were our leads. The performance really came out of just massaging the thoughtful instincts that each brought to the project. And, of course, the attention to detail for micro-performances.
6There's a distinct documentary-style approach to the visuals. Did you have any guiding principles in how you went about capturing shots- was there an overall philosophy to the cinematography? Hopefully, the lens helps wrap the audience into the story. We had these amazing performances coming from Will and Maria, and we wanted to use the visuals to reinforce that natural grounding. Danny and Jonathan built the look around the story specifically, which meant we never had to use anything that looked or felt like coverage. In terms of guiding principles, it was largely a matter of repeatedly answering the same questions for each shot: what was motivating the camera, and in turn what was the camera doing to motivated the next action.
7The film features several different locations, with a notable standout being a small airport. How did you work around budgetary constraints to gain access to these various locations? There's a real advantage to shooting in a hometown. People were really excited and supportive. The entire community down in Peachtree City, GA was so willing to pitch in. Jon, Will, and Danny grew up right there and were making films together at such an early age, that the kind folks in PTC were already used to them borrowing something or needing a backyard for a scene. Sometimes it makes those situations so much clearer just knowing we weren't going to be able to solve any issues with money. The resources and support in the community were enough to overcome budget constraints.
8The film has a really interesting approach to sound, engaging it on such an immersive level that isn't seen in conventional narratives, like incorporating the recorder into the shot itself and embracing the sonic imperfections of the device... What gave you that idea? The way sound works in euphonia catalyzes so much of the world that the audience gets pulled into. We were only able to make that work by taking that approach from the very onset of the writing process. For experimentation to really work I feel like those choices need to be baked into the narrative. Craft is such an important part of filmmaking, but it can't be a master, it really has to serve the goals and message of a film. Plus, it's a lot cheaper if your unpaid actor is the sound guy and you don't have to rent all that equipment.
9I love how the sound mix gradually becomes more impressionistic and abstract-- what was the process like finding those sounds and mixing them all together? All the sounds were captured on that Zoom recorder. Again, time was such a helpful element to rounding out our ingredients list for the sound design. That sound recorder was traveling around with Will and then Danny for well over a year, picking up these distinct sounds from all over the country. Once we were ready to get into the mix Steve Bissinger came on to help sort out all the ideas and make them work.
10What lessons did you learn from making this film that you've incorporated into your filmmaking since? Make the film. We never had a meeting with someone else while making euphonia. No one had the position over us to say no. At its best, an independent film can be this cataclysmic, singular piece of art. You watch a film like Krisha (one of our very favorites) and you can tell it was made by a group of filmmakers, not executives. The difference between those relates to a very important order of magnitude-- a filmmaker focuses their work toward a viewer, and an executive has to focus theirs toward an audience. And in the end, that becomes an awful lot like the difference between love and fucking.
About the Interviewer: Cameron Beyl
Cameron Beyl is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has been featured in various woldwide media outlets like The Huffington Post, Vice Creators Project, and Slate, in addition to notable film websites like Indiewire, SlashFilm, and No Film School. His independent features and shorts have claimed top honors in numerous film festivals, lauded for their striking visuals and emotional resonance.
His lifelong love of cinema has led him to co-found RACCORD, a digital content collective of like-minded artists. He also operates THE DIRECTORS SERIES, an online collection of in-depth text and video essays that Indiewire has cited as "a significant contribution to film scholarship". His video essays have generated over 350,000 cumulative views and are regularly featured on tastetmaking film and media sites. He holds a cum laude bachelor's degree in film production from Emerson College.
Share this film
Please share Euphonia with your friends and help this filmmaker win!