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Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Moon in the Gutter Q&A With Director Jeffrey Goodman

Recently I had the chance to watch and write on a terrific new modern noir starring Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander called The Last Lullaby. This incredibly effective film is the first feature from a very talented young filmmaker named Jeffrey Goodman. Jeffrey has been gracious enough to take part in this Question and Answer session for Moon in the Gutter that I hope everyone will read and enjoy. Those of you who have already had the chance to see The Last Lullaby know that Jeffrey is a major talent to watch, so I hope this interview on his background, influences, and experiences making his first film will prove interesting. For those who haven't seen the film, I hope it will cause them to search it out as it is a real winner.

MOON IN THE GUTTER: Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you first became interested in film?

JEFFREY GOODMAN: It really happened my third year of college. I was on a program that year in France. And it was the first time I was exposed to Godard and then to a slew of other things.
France is always an incredible place to be a cinephile. But that year, 1994-1995, the energy was particularly potent. Tarantino had just won the Palme D'Or for Pulp Fiction and all of 1995 the French were celebrating the 100th anniversary of their baby, the cinema. That energy, that year, got me in deep and has seemed to engulf me ever since.

MITG: Who were some of the filmmakers who inspired you to become a director, and whom among your peers do you continue to get inspiration from?

JG: My favorite contemporary is probably Andrew Bujalski. But I'm also a big fan of David Gordon Green. The guy that made me want to become a filmmaker was Godard. But the other guys I really love are Michael Mann, David Lynch, Howard Hawks, Takeshi Kitano, Abel Ferrara, Michael Cimino, Jacques Becker, Orson Welles, Abbas Kiarostami, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Raoul Walsh, Fritz Lang, Leos Carax, Jean Eustache, George Cukor, and Robert Bresson.

MITG: Tell us a bit about how The Last Lullaby came to be and lead us through the process on how a lower budgeted independent film gets made.

JG: Patiently. And definitely with a little luck.
I first made a short film from Max's story. And that eventually led to us expanding it into The Last Lullaby. I quickly realized that to make Lullaby the way I wanted, I would probably need to raise the money myself. And so, after living in Los Angeles for a little over seven years, I came back to my hometown of Shreveport, LA. I put a business plan together and fortunately was able to find the financial support. I have 49 investors in all, 48 of whom are from the Shreveport area.

MITG: I was really impressed with both the look and sound of the film. Can you talk on your behind the scenes collaborators on the film?

JG: Once again, another area where I was very fortunate. Granted, I had very clear ideas on how I wanted the film to look and sound. But, without the right people in the key positions (Cameraman, Production Designer, Sound Mixer, and Composer), there's no way I could have accomplished these things.
I looked at a good many reels before finally hiring our people and want to quickly mention a few words about each of them:

Richard Rutkowski (Cameraman) -- His work on the movie Blackbird convinced me that he had the right aesthetic. But then when I mentioned Killer of Sheep and we had a conversation about it, I knew I had found my man. Richard's maybe the only guy on set that worked harder than I did.

Elizabeth Mickle (Production Designer) -- Beth had recently done Half Nelson. But what really impressed me was the long phone conversation we had about All the Real Girls. We totally connected, and I knew she knew what we were after.

Scott Clements -- Dave Koplan, our producer, found Scott. And he did an amazing job. For a shoot where we were flying from one location to another, the sound was pristine. To have a guy deliver sound like that as you enter post is truly one of the greatest gifts someone can give you.

Ben Lovett -- Probably the single most difficult person to find for the film was our composer. Every reel I listened to sounded too big or too symphonic for the intimacy and feel I was after. Finally, late in the game, Ben's reel came to us. And after the first track, it was clear.

MITG: Along with your direction, the thing that struck me the most about the film was the wonderful work of your two leads, Tom Sizemore and Sasha Alexander. How did they come to be in the film and what was it like working with each?

JG: We cast Tom first. And really, actually, he came out of a pretty unremarkable process. Once we hired our casting director, Emily Schweber, the first request we gave her was to try to land us a name actor in the lead role. So once Emily was on-board, she immediately called up all the major agencies and management companies in Los Angeles. She told them about the role, our shooting dates, and the amount of money we had to pay the actor. Then they generated names that she brought back to us. Tom's name came out of this process. And, as he was already on a short list of mine, I immediately asked her to get him a copy of the script.
A few things were really important to me for the role of Price: a. That he was believable as a hitman. b. Was middle-aged. c. Was believable as Midwestern. One of the things that jumped out at me when I first read Max's story was that it was different from most other noir I'd read. It was neither urban (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, or New York) nor ethnic (Italian or Irish). And so even though we were filming in Louisiana, I really wanted to respect the rural, Midwestern quality of Max's work.
Once we had Tom on-board, it was all about rounding out the picture. I knew I was gonna give the film a fairly "invisible style". And that the movie would really hinge on whether or not the audience related to this bond that Price and Sarah had. Emily brought Sasha to my attention, and I was impressed by this fascinating combination of strength and vulnerability she seemed to carry.
Both Tom and Sasha were extremely committed to the film and to making their work together ring true and believable.

MITG: Some of Tom Sizemore’s personal problems have made some filmgoers forget what a powerful actor he is. He’s wonderful in this role and brings so much damaged humanity to it. Was it exciting for you as a young filmmaker to be working with someone who has worked with everyone from Scorsese to Mann, and was there any hesitation in casting him due to his sometimes-shaky rep?

JG: I was very excited to work with Tom. I'm a long time fan of his work and thought he was perfect for the role. Sure, because I raised the money, there was definitely some concern of, "What if he acts up?" But, I had such a strong team (producer, etc.) alongside of me that I finally felt okay taking the leap.

MITG: I was really struck with how well you used the score (which is wonderful by the way) in the film, in that you never let it overwhelm a scene. The spare way you used the score reminded me of something like Michael Small’s music in Klute, and it is so refreshingly different from the way most films use music now. Can you discuss the relationship between a score and a film as you see it?

JG: That's so funny that you mention the score to Klute. I was actually trying to get my hands on it during the editing of Lullaby as I thought it was close to what I wanted. But it's a really tough score to find. I still don't have it. Think I lost the two or three times I bid for it on e-bay or maybe it's not even available. I can't remember.
But to answer your question, I really wanted to use as little music as we possibly could. I was trying to get back to that feeling of The French Connection, Klute, McCabe & Mrs Miller, Shampoo, movies that all let the natural sounds of the scenes drive the majority of the moments. I really wanted to get far away from wall-to-wall music. Ben (the composer) and Philip (the editor) were both very helpful in making this happen. I can't say that there was necessarily a philosophy about when to use the music as much as there was this desire to have as little of it as we could without making things unbearably spare.

MITG: The Last Lullaby has been getting a lot of justified acclaim. Has there been any experience in particular regarding a festival or kudo that really stands out to you so far?

JG: Any kudo feels great, you know. So much of this process seems to be tall hills and difficulty that the occasional acclaim feels absolutely incredible. Probably the two best moments for me though, as far as this goes, is seeing Sasha win Best Actress at the San Diego Film Festival and Ben recognized for his music at the Brooklyn International Film Festival.

MITG: When will the film hit DVD and will it contain any extras?

JG: I expect the "first run, limited edition" DVD will be available in the next four weeks or so. We'll be offering this off the film's website and in conjunction with Neoflix, who is also handling the online sale of Ben Lovett's Original Score for the film. This "limited edition" version will just contain the movie. But I'm optimistic that in the future there will be a DVD with special features.
There's a good number of people who have been waiting to see the movie and haven't had the opportunity yet. So I thought it was important to go ahead and get a DVD out.

MITG: What’s next for you?

JG: My next project is with Peter Biegen, one of the two writers of The Last Lullaby. Right now, the project's entitled Peril and is about a young boy, alone and on the run. I've raised the first round of financing for the film and am waiting for Peter to deliver the first draft of the script. I'm thinking of films like Kes, L'enfance nue, Germany Year Zero. I'm hoping to really place the audience in the head space of this young, alienated boy.

MITG: I always love to read filmmakers lists of some of their favorite works. Would you care to share 5-10 films that you can’t imagine life without?

JG: Films I can't imagine life without. Wow, okay. Pierrot Le Fou, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Stranger Than Paradise, Shoot the Piano Player, La Chienne, The Shop Around the Corner, Funny Ha Ha, Kings of the Road, The French Connection, and Blow Out.

Thanks again to Jeffrey Goodman for taking the time to do this. More information can be found on Jeffrey's official blog. It was a real pleasure, and please seek out The Last Lullaby and keep supporting independent film!

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Morality Has a Sliding Scale"

An extremely solid and well-done modern noir, The Last Lullaby is one of the year’s most welcome surprises. Directed with intelligence and style to spare by first time filmmaker Jeffrey Goodman, The Last Lullaby tells the tale of a former hit-man whose life is forever altered after he accepts one last job. Adapted from the Max Allan Collin’s short story "A Matter of Principal" by Collins and Peter Biegen, The Last Lullaby could have been a very routine thriller, but Goodman’s extremely smart direction makes it feel incredibly fresh at every turn.
Shot on location in Louisiana in 2007, The Last Lullaby’s pleasures are many. Goodman, unlike a lot of young filmmakers, understands the power of holding a shot, and The Last Lullaby is a real refreshing break from the numbing rabid-fire editing that most modern Action and Crime films use. Goodman also understands how important silence can be and, as sharp as the dialogue is in The Last Lullaby, the film is at its best in the moments when the talented cast say everything without mouthing a word.
Key to the success of Goodman's first feature, strong direction aside, is the terrific lead turn from the talented Tom Sizemore. Sizemore has been in real need of a strong comeback role, after some personal demons all but derailed his career in the mid part of this decade, and The Last Lullaby is perfect for him and he makes the most of it. Spiritually weighty, intense and with not a small hint of sadness, Sizemore is incredibly good in The Last Lullaby and it is his strongest moment in front of the camera since his work in the nineties struck such a deep chord with so many of us. The rest of the cast is also strong, with special note going to Sasha Alexander as the hit who turns out to be much more.
Technically the film is an example of just how strong and solid a modern low budget work can look and sound. The film’s crisp cinematography courtesy of Richard Rutkowski is visually very pleasing and the striking score by Ben Lovett is used at just the right moments and is quite haunting. The film also benefits greatly from the cutting of editor Philip Harrison, whose work along with Goodman’s direction, gives the film a real finely nuanced and thought out seventies feel.
The Last Lullaby is a really impressive first feature from Jeffrey Goodman. Coming to DVD later this year, and currently playing at select cities and festivals, The Last Lullaby is one of the more surprising and noteworthy features of the year. I strongly recommend it. For more on the film please visit the official site here.

The Jean-Jacques Beineix Collection: Locked-In Syndrome (1997)

Ten years before Julian Schnabel delivered his absolutely mesmerizing feature length film on Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, director Jean-Jacques Beineix captured the real Bauby in his final year in the powerful thirty minute documentary Locked-In Syndrome. Here are some images from Beineix’s haunting work, which is now available on DVD from Cinema Libre.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

My Tarantino Mix-Tape (Track 2): "Your Ass Used to be Beautiful"

One of the most memorable moments in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown occurs right before Samuel L. Jackson’s Ordell Robbie shoots and kills Robert De Niro’s Louis Gara, his lifelong friend and partner in crime. Featuring a chilling close-up Ordell, with his spiritually defeated eyes closed and head bowed in silent concentration, that is among Tarantino’s most effective shots in his canon, the scene is incredibly well-done. Ending with the immortal line, “What the fuck happened to you, man? Shit, your ass used to be beautiful.”, this scene from Jackie Brown again shows Tarantino’s often overlooked talent at using silence and an actor’s face to heighten the tension brought on by his acclaimed dialogue and directorial skills.

The scene works on a number of levels. As a summation of Jackie Brown, a film centered on once great people past their prime, it is perfect. It is also a wonderful tribute to the spirit of Elmore Leonard’s novels (Jackie Brown is based on his excellent Rum Punch) that are filled with many such moments of brtrayel and disappointment that contain as much emotion as they do shocks and excitement. Finally the scene works as perhaps symbolic for the question so many of us have for De Niro himself, as Jackie Brown is one of the last great movies the man has made (and he hasn’t even come close to his performance as Louis since.)

In a film absolutely filled with heart and sentiment, Jackie Brown has fewer moments that contain as much heart and spirit than this encounter between two of its main characters. Like the film itself, it is wonderfully written, directed and finally acted. I remember the first time I saw this scene that snowy Christmas night and it immediately felt legendary. More than ten years after that night, it has only become more and more resonate.

***On a side note, I must say that I really like this series and feel like it would be perfect for a number of my other favorite directors. So be on the look out for more celebrations of my essential scenes from Tarantino's work as well a number of my other filmmaking favorites in the future.***

Two Recommendations

Two of my favorite American films of the year came out on DVD and Blu-Ray this week, and I wanted to throw out a hearty recommendation for them both. I have already written on Adventureland so I will let that past posting suffice for now. As for Sunshine Cleaning, it is one of the most original and heartfelt films I have seen in quite awhile and it is a joy to watch from beginning to end. Also, I don't care who wins the best actress race this year as they won't be able to hold a candle to the superlative performances both Amy Adams and Emily Blunt deliver in Sunshine Cleaning. The discs contain behind the scenes features, commentaries and both are among the best releases of the year, in my opinion.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

My Tarantino Mix-Tape (Track 1): "Boxers Don't Have An Old Timer's Day"

Considering that Pulp Fiction is filled with some of the most memorable dialogue and scenes in film history, it comes as a surprise even to me that my favorite scene in the movie is relatively easy to pick. While it may lack the total audaciousness and punch of the film's most acclaimed scenes, my favorite moment in the work belongs to the relatively still exchange between Ving Rhames’ Marcellus Wallace and Bruce Willis’ Butch Coolidge. Set to Al Green’s devastating “Let’s Stay Together” the static shot of Willis listening to Rhames monologue is one of Tarantino’s most intelligent and emotional moments as a filmmaker. Virtually capturing the moment a man is (apparently) selling his soul to the devil (and foreshadowing many of the themes of people past their prime that Jackie Brown would so successfully render) the scene between Willis and Rhames gives me chills every time I see it.

A big part of the scenes success is Willis himself. I’ve loved Bruce as an actor since Moonlighting premiered in my early teens, and his role as the spiritually damaged boxer Butch who has one major trick left up his sleeve is one of his greatest performances. Barely uttering a word, Willis projects everything about this guy that you need to know. Sadly, Willis has never really gotten his due for the performance, due to the amount of justified acclaim heaped on Travolta, Jackson and Thurman.

The scene is a remarkable moment for Tarantino has both writer and director. While he is often someone just associated with sharp dialogue, he’s one of the few modern American filmmakers who hasn’t forgotten the power of a face, and each one of his films features a moment like this where he allows his actors to say it all with just a look.

The scene’s monologue is one of my favorites in Tarantino’s canon and, again, it does feel very much like a dry-run for Jackie Brown. Pitch perfect, poetically bruised and altogether memorable, the speech Marcellus gives to Butch is wonderfully written and memorably performed (does anyone know if the additions not found in the script were a case of improvising or were they created on set, and also what was Roger Avery's role in this bit?).

The scene, of course, has a wonderful postscript involving a brief confrontation between Butch and Vincent Vega. I've always felt that if Butch was deciding that he wasn't going to throw the fight during the first part of the scene, then the shocked look on his face after Vega insults him signals the moment when he decides that he is going to do as much damage possible to his opponent fight-night. Of course, this little moment between Butch and Vincent foreshadows another moment later in the film that will end in a literally much more explosive way.

Through it all is Green's wonderful "Let's Stay Together", a song soaked in emotion that still marks one of Tarantino's best uses of a song in one of his films...which is saying a lot as, along with Paul Thomas Anderson, no modern American director knows how to incorporate music into their films like Tarantino.

While not one of Pulp Fiction's most celebrated bits, the scenes above constitute not only one of my favorite Quentin Tarantino moments but one of my favorite few minutes in any film ever.

Moon in the Gutter (Month By Month)

BLOG CREATED, EDITED and WRITTEN BY JEREMY RICHEY: Began in DEC 2006. The written content of all posts (excepting quotes from reviews, books, other publications) COPYRIGHT JEREMY RICHEY.