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2014, 65m, drama, experimental, mystery
Called "a unique work with a distinctive voice" (Indiewire), "a mesmerizing film by a superb actor and filmmaker" (RogerEbert.com), "a delicately fate-fixated mid-length enigma" (Keyframe), "one of the best undistributed films of 2015" (Film Pulse), "a vibrant fantasy that transcends the narrative form" (Smells Like Screen Spirit), and "the best experimental narrative of the year...at once alien and achingly resonant" (Indie Outlook).
Produced by: Daniel Laabs, Robby Storey, Adam Donaghey, Farah White, Anu Yasin
10 questions with Her Wilderness director, Frank Mosley at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, August 30th, 2016
1What was the initial seed of the idea for the story? The initial seed of the story was actually that I wanted a script that I could make with some of my very talented actress friends. Most of my work leading up to HER WILDERNESS were all male-driven stories, and I wanted a departure. I knew the form before I even knew the content necessarily---that it had to feel like a recurring dream and I wanted it shot mostly with Steadicam. The spaces had to feel haunted. I ultimately came up with an idea that was a subverted "fairy tale" of sorts, one that upheaves all these old traditional stories of women defining themselves through men in their lives.
2How did you go about developing / writing the story? What were some of the biggest influences you drew from? I wanted it to feel like a piece of theater in a way. I wanted it to have the minimalism of Pinter's dialogue; the stark interior spaces. But Albee's wonderful play THREE TALL WOMEN was a favorite---it's about three women who are essentially the different ages of a single life of one woman, all reflecting on one another's decades of choices. I wanted the women in my film to overlap in order to better show the shades and changes of one life, but to also see who similar all these women and their subsequent choices were. I also was hugely influenced by Antonnioni, Resnais, and the installation work of Hubbard/Birchler.
3 What was behind your decision to pursue a series of separate stories rather than one singular narrative thread? Similar to what I just wrote, I knew that a fragmented narrative, by obscuring certain traditional scenes you might see in a more narrative driven film, would be able to actually better illuminate the themes I was after....by focusing on the minutia of only a few moments in your life rather than a full blown narrative that might take place over weeks. Like our own memories, we sometimes don't remember the actual fight we had with our spouse, we'll remember the song we listened to on the radio while driving away. It also plays with time in this way, to where each scene feels like it could be both a memory and a premonition, somehow the instigation of something happening, and yet also the consequence of another scene. In this way, it was difficult to write because each scene had to float in space in a way. Not being linear, all the scenes should feel, that if they were reordered, it might change your FEELING of the scene but not necessarily the actual content of the story. I also wanted the whole film to feel like the ripped pages from some lost novel you step over in a gutter and then try to assemble into a coherent story.
4One thing that's really striking about the film is the juxtaposition between the naturalistic images and what I found to be an elevated style of language-- It's definitely very literary in feeling. Was that intentional? If so, what was the idea behind that choice? I wanted there to be a certain naturalism with this child in the woods---the only character who is free of these cool interior spaces that seem to trap all the adults in the film. The adult characters had to feel trapped. And part of the way I wanted to do this was to show how all similarly trapped they really are. In order to do this, I had repeated dialogue and phrases that would work in different contexts per each character, but the words would be the same. Almost like puzzle pieces providing clues to the overall story of the film. I also wanted my actors to not give necessarily "natural" performances, but stylized ones where, like in any good opera, the feelings are heightened even in the most mundane of moments....to have an awkwardness to moments that would normally be overplayed. I called this my "wax museum with a pulse". Doing the ADR to make the characters' voices seem disembodied in post production was another way to help emphasize this distancing technique. It actually really makes me glad to hear you bringing this element up. Not everyone does!
5Touching on the cinematography, I found the camera to be very observational, as if always peering into the secret lives of your characters. Did you have anything in the way of a set of guiding principles when it came to how you staged or shot a given scene? Every shot was meticulously planned and framed on my end, and then I worked with my DP to help make those shots become a reality. The biggest shot was the nearly 10 min long take during the mother and daughter's conversation that closes the film. It started as a jib shot, then moved in on a dolly. Then the rest of the shot was rotating the camera around the room on the jib arm. I had just come off my first feature, HOLD, where the camera almost never moved, and only occasionally did. With this film, I wanted to do the opposite. For it to feel like it was almost always moving (even when it wasn't), and then for that to be contrasted and punctuated by moments of stillness. I felt The camera was another character in a way, a presence watching all these other characters, almost a kind of omnipresent force. The same way in that Clint's score is the "voice" for the voiceless child in the film, providing an internal rhythm to the film.
6The opening credits state the film was shot in the Arlington and Forth Worth areas of Texas, far from traditional filmmaking epicenters like NY or LA. How did you go about finding and building your cast? Were they all locals or did you bring people in from elsewhere? I was based in DFW my whole life up until 2016, so I was used to working in that environment. The film was such a small, personal one, that I mostly comprised it with people very close to me in my life. Most of the cast were all locals (at least at the time.....this was shot over 2009 and 2011 and not completed until 2014). The blonde woman (Lauren McCune) is one of my dear friends. We've known each other since high school and used to do plays together. Since our childhood together, she had since moved to NYC, so she was the only out-of-towner. Jack Elliott was a buddy of mine with whom I'd just acted with in a film and then given a small role in my first feature, so this was a natural progression of our working relationship. Crystal Pate, who plays Paula, was someone I'd worked with before, and Morgana Shaw, who plays the mother, was a local actress who I'd always wanted to work with. Out of the cast, she had done the most films and had a lot of theater experience I knew would all be intrinsic for her role. Our little girl character was the daughter of our sound designer! In her debut!
7The opening credits themselves are very striking-- the white on white scheme is bold and stylish. I also noticed these aren't typical opening credits-- they're full credits placed at the beginning in lieu of traditional closing credits. Can you elaborate on your decision to go this route and how it might have been informed by the larger story? I knew I didn't want to have any ending credits. When the film cuts to white at the end after the last shot, I wanted it to feel like it does when you're suddenly awakened from a nightmare in a start. You don't have time to process. It's almost jolting, and you can only process as you go about the rest of your day. So I knew the credits had to go at the start. I also wanted it as a palette cleanser of sorts---especially if it was playing in a festival and you're coming from a comedy or something. ...a way to meditate and open your mind. It really sets the pace of the film to come. And lastly, I liked the font and the feeling it gives with showing off all the "players" up front, already showing our hand at the artifice we're about to present. It almost should feel like when you start a novel, beginning with the dedication, the foreward, author's note, table of contents, chapter heading, etc., until you finally get to the story.
8The sound mix is very rich, even in the quiet sequences. What was your approach to crafting the film's soundscape? With dialogue, it's basically what I said earlier---using that distancing technique of ADR to disembody the voices to where they almost feel too clean...like VO's. Like we're actually in their heads. For a film with very little dialogue, I knew the soundscape was even more important, so my wonderful sound designer Ben Templeton and I worked to create certain sounds that looped throughout to connect the characters, and for nature to feel alive and electric. We also used the Bresson technique of amplifying ordinary, seemingly innocuous everyday sounds (coffee boiling, eggs sizzling, water dripping) in order to heighten the tension and to really emphasize how the environment is affecting how these characters are making the choices they make, just as much as the characters are influencing one another.
9What was your experience in taking such an experimental film on the festival circuit? Were you surprised by any particular reaction? Did someone else's impression of the film bring any revelations as far as your own perception of the story? Honestly, I knew going into its festival run that it would be a difficult film to program. Not only because of the odd feature runtime, but also the content. But I seriously thought it would do better overseas. I was wrong. It only got into four or five festivals, and then only a few film series and programs. I'm thankful for the play, but it was definitely tough. I tried to make up for the lack of festival wreaths by submitting the film online to lots of film critics for review. I was happy that the critics were receptive, and most of the reviews that we do have are very positive and at least see what we were attempting to do. I do love the ambiguity of the film, and how people are able to put themselves in it....and what aspects stick out to them more than others. But writing a layered film was the goal: to make a film that would hopefully have repeat value and feel different each time you watch, and at different ages of your OWN life.....much like the women's different ages affect their perception of their life choices too. I always love hearing people's interpretations because there's no right or wrong. It's all about providing a platform for people to feel.
10Now that the experience of making the film is behind you, is there anything you would have done differently? Any lessons you learned that you plan on applying to your next project? Ha, I would've done the whole movie differently! We're always learning and growing and trying to be better at what we do, of course. But at the same time, if given the chance, I wouldn't change the movie. It was true to itself at that particular time and place in my life, and I simply made the choices that I thought were right. I'm a very different person now, and there are things in this film that I think I've finished exploring now in my work. I'm ready to explore other ideas and subjects.
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.
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