Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Exclusive Interview with Director David C. Snyder

Administrator and Editor in chief Clifford Kiyabu sits down with Writer/Director of The Quiet Arrangement, David C. Snyder, for an exclusive interview! There’s something to be said about the hard work a filmmaker puts into making a movie, from the harsh hours of planning, to making sure everything’s in order for pre and post- filming on each and every scene, the stress that comes with this line of work can sometime be overwhelming for some. No matter how big or small a movie project may be, not many moviegoers realize how much hard work and effort is put into each and every film. Today I sit down with a filmmaker who’ll explain the hard work that’s put into making a movie.

CK: First off, I’d like to thank you for taking the time for doing this interview with me on TCWreviews.com.

DS: My pleasure! Thanks for having me!

CK: Before we go into talking about your film, I think it’s important that my readers get the chance to learn a little about the person I’m interviewing. So tell us a little bit about yourself, David.

DS: Well, I found myself fascinated by film at an early age. I remember my parents taking me to the drive-in (late 70's, early 80's) and then finally to a movie theatre (I could be wrong, but the first film I remember seeing in the theatre was Conan The Barbarian!). I had two younger brothers, so I can only imagine that my parents didn't have a whole lot of options as to what to do with us while trying to get out of the house. So we saw a lot of films as kids.

In 1984 we got cable for the first time, including HBO. Then we got our first VCR (a top-loading Panasonic) and we would record movies and music videos from the good ol' days of MTV. In 1985 my Mom and Dad bought a video camera, and, once I was able to convince them to let me use it unattended, everything changed. My brothers and I took our years of role playing different adventures to the small screen and we made at least 100 different short films over the next two summers. Most of them were terrible, but there would be a flash of inspiration here and there.

What also helped us was the involvement of a neighborhood friend of mine, Don Haring. Don was a year older than me and was one of the most talented artists I had ever met. He also had a great eye for picking up on composition and framing, so when he would come around and direct our films, they turned out noticeably better. We weren't doing any editing of any kind at this point, so it was all in camera.

When I was a kid, I thought I was going to be an architect, because I was good at drawing designs. I thought of film as some sort of magical thing, not as an actual profession, so it never occurred to me that I could get a job doing what I really loved. As I started to watch different films and really pay attention to the details, I started to understand the process of filmmaking better.

In 1990 I did a film project in my French class for extra credit. My teacher, Florence Kairys, knew I was into film and she was really fascinated by that. I think she also saw some potential in me and she took an interest in what I was doing. She was a true Renaissance lady and was also really interested in Napoleon. So my extra credit project was a 45 minute film about the Napoleon's downfall and last days. It's a bunch of kids in crappy costumes shot at my house, but I think it finally convinced my parents that I should really go after filmmaking.

I went to film school at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio for a year and a half and then I ran out of money. But I learned some things about production and theory and I met some great people that I'm still in contact with today. I continued to make stupid short films and one of them, Rogue Cop, became a bit of an underground sensation in North Eastern Ohio. People started trading tapes of it and sometimes my friends, who were the actors in the film, would be recognized by total strangers. It was all a bit surreal.

I'm also a music producer and Hip-hop musician and in 1999 I met Chuck D of Public Enemy. We became fast friends and I began doing music for his new internet label, SLAMjamz. In 2003 he saw a video I directed and another artist on the label, Kyle Jason, asked me if I would do a couple of videos for him. That was how Kyle and I started working together.

Eventually I became the head of the video department for SLAMjamz and I've been the director of all of Public Enemy's videos since 2005. I've also gotten to work with some Hip-hop legends like MC Lyte and D.M.C. I've also done a couple of solo videos for Flavor Flav, which is surreal in it's own right!

CK: I understand you also wrote the screenplay to TQA (The Quiet Arrangement). What was the inspiration behind it’s conception?

DS: A couple years back I wrote a screenplay called The North Woods that I wanted to get into production. However, I didn't prep it well enough and it all fell apart. But I had done casting for it and I needed to get something going.

I was lying in bed one night and I was trying to think of a new story to write. I was thinking in broad strokes and I thought about doing a kidnapping film. But then I thought about Fargo and how the Coen brothers had done it so well. But then I thought about doing a film where the woman who is kidnapped might not actually want to be rescued by her husband. That was intriguing to me, so I started working out the details.

I also decided that I wanted to use some of the actors that I had already cast in The North Woods and that I would write characters specifically for them. Of those actors, I only used two: Kyle Jason and Rob Stone. I also decided that it would be easier to shoot the film if I divided it up into
Chapters that focused on four of the main characters. That way I could treat each chapter like a short film and not have to have all the actors around all the time. This proved to be more of a challenge than I initially thought, but it also gave me the unique structure of the screenplay.

CK: I found it to be quite interesting that every character has their own story to tell with it’s own set of problems, which helps set the tone of the film as well as a link of events which connects them in one way or another. What does this say about the world in which you’ve created in this film?

DS: Well, I wanted to treat the situations and the characters as "realistically" as I could. There's humor in the film, but it doesn't come pre-packaged in the form of the funny sidekick. I also wanted to use certain Hollywood conventions and turn other ones on their heads. In that respect, the film would seem familiar and fresh at the same time. I'm not sure if it totally worked or not, but I think that it did for a lot of people.

CK: Actually, it worked out pretty well from my point of view as both a critic and a spectator. In my honest opinion, and I mean this as a Compliment; my first reaction while viewing the film was the overwhelming feeling of familiarity, and yet there was something I‘ve never seen. in short it felt like something out of a Tarantino film, which believe me is a good thing.

DS: We have gotten the obvious Tarantino comparisons, if only because the structure of the film plays with time as his films usually do. I think it's a shorthand description so that people kind of get what you're talking about, but other than that, and the fact that it's a genre film, it really doesn't resemble a Tarantino film at all.

CK: Interestingly enough, the first rule moviegoers should keep in mind when going into TQA, is you shouldn’t be too hasty to judge a book by it’s cover, because while certain characters are at first presented with vilifying qualities to them in one point of view, we giving a much different take that show depth to who they are on the inside rather than what we’ve perceived on the outside in the next segment. Why is that?

DS: That was a very conscious decision on my part, early on, so as not to give away certain details. The film unfolds itself in a way so that the audience gets specific information at very specific times. It's also meant to put the idea out there that "anything goes," so don't get too comfortable with any of these characters, because they all have something going on and it may not be what you think it is.

CK: one of the biggest attributes that caught my eye with the film was the stunning visuals and how it guide it’s viewers into focus on specifics areas of the film. What was the cinematography like and what form of cameras were used on the film?

DS: We shot the film with the Panasonic DVX-100A. It's a great little camera that achieves terrific results and, when used correctly, looks more like film than video. I had been using it for 4 years prior to making the film, so I was very comfortable with what it could do and I had a pretty good idea of what I would be able to achieve in post.

Cinematography is extremely important to me as a filmmaker as it can obviously be used to great effect. I take a lot of care and interest in the look of the film, in camera placement, composition, lighting, and color because it can quickly set up an environment and immediately let the audience know where they are and what might be happening in terms of mood and ambiance. I'm also a big fan of using the camera in interesting ways to tell a story, so I try to push myself all the time in giving the audience a new way to look at things.

I began The Quiet Arrangement with a basic set of visual rules: very little use of wide angle lenses, a lot of hand held, Cinema-Verite style camera work, and a different color palate for each chapter.

CK: What was the filming like for the cast and crew and how long did filming take place?

DS: We started shooting on January 6, 2009 in the middle of an ice-rain storm. The first thing we shot was Sharon Brigg's abduction from the motel. At first I thought we were cursed, because it was so cold and wet, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because it set the whole visual tone of the film. It wouldn't be the same picture if it was all in bright sunlight.

From there, we shot periodically over the next 5 months. We had to wait on the weather and we hoped for gray days where it looked like it was about to rain. As the weather got warmer, it was easier to shoot, but things became difficult when we were trying to get shots outside in early May and there were leaves on the trees.

Because it was broken up, it was a fairly easy shoot. Kyle Jason lives in New York, so we brought him out twice and had to grab his stuff in a total of 5 days. But we even managed to get some reshoots in, so it wasn't bad at all.

CK: Did you encounter any problems while filming?

DS: Of course. The first two days of shooting, in January, were really cold days. And, right when we got to the set of the safe house, we discovered that the furnace didn't work. So we had to buy space heaters and try to warm up the rooms we were shooting in.

CK: Where did most of the filming take place and what was the reason behind those locations?

DS: We shot in and around the Pittsburgh, PA area, as well as shots in Youngstown, Canton, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was really all about ease and convenience. Most of the actors were from the area and we relied on a lot of favors from people donating locations and time to the production.

CK: What was the most difficult scene to shoot?

DS: Logistics wise, the scenes where the drop takes place in the field, if only because you see what happens there from three different perspectives, and you have to keep that all in mind when you're shooting it. You have to get a shot of something from one angle, for Chapter 1, let's say...and then you have to do it all again, from a completely different angle, for Chapter 3. It's the same event, but it might have to convey a different feeling. So that was a bit of a challenge.

CK: I’ve learned after watching the documentary on how the film was made that you and the crew took some big risks while filming in certain locations. What was that like?

DS: I'm used to guerrilla filmmaking, as I've been doing it in music videos for years. But sometimes the script would require an important detail and we had to come up with some extremely creative ways to get shots. We were extremely lucky in the few instances where we didn't exactly have permission to be shooting in certain locations.

CK: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the original cut, but from what I can tell by watching the director’s cut is that the film in general felt more polished than it did from my last experience with TQA. What was the reason for going back and re-cutting the film, and what were the scenes in particular that were edited?

DS: I was talking to another filmmaker that I know, Lathan Hodge, and we were discussing documentary filmmaking. Lathan said to me that when you make a film you end up writing it three times: the first time is the screenplay, the second time during shooting, and the third time during editing. After he said that I realized that I only wrote the film twice in that original cut. When I edited the film the first time, I went back to the script and cut the film to that. After really thinking about it, and some comments that I had gotten about the picture, I decided to go back and really look at it again. That's when I rewrote the film for the third time in editing. At first, I actually took too much out, but then I think I was able to find a balance that worked for the benefit of the picture.

Luckily, this being a completely independent production, I had that luxury to do so.

CK: Without giving any spoilers away, I wanted to say that the way the film pans out set the stage for a possible continuation further on down the line, is that by any chance in the cards for you someday?

DS: I never thought about a sequel when I wrote it or shot it, but I joked afterward about the possibility of two of the characters running into each other down the line and teaming up for some kind of adventure. It's in the back of my mind, so I won't ever discount it...but at the moment I have some other stories to tell.

CK: Looking back at the hard work done in making TQA, is there anything you’ve learned from making this film that you’ll take with you to you’re next project?

DS: Always! Preparation is the key thing. You can't prepare for everything, but if you do as much as humanly possible then you'll be ahead of the curve. Also, if you cast right, everything is easier in the long run. That's the most important part of making a film: casting. Even if the script needs work, you can sometimes get away with it if the cast is right.

CK: What does your family think of TQA?

DS: Ha! Good question! Mom and Dad thought it was good, as did my brother Phil. My Mother told me that I had to be a little more family friendly for the next film...I told her the next film will probably be worse! My brother Jeff, for whatever reason, hated the picture. He gave me his reasons why, and they were just personal opinions really, so I can't take those comments for anything other than what they are. Oh, well. My Aunt was really impressed, as was her husband(Joe Lane, who plays Carter Booth) and I'm glad that the cast and crew are very proud of the work. My cousin Ralph and his wife thought it was great, too...so the family seems to dig it overall.

CK: This next question I’m about to ask you has become somewhat of a tradition for interviews here at TCWreviews.com, so don’t worry, you’re definitely not the first one I’ve asked this question to, and you won’t be the last. [Laughs]


CK: The term ‘For The Sake of Art’ have always been coined in the entertainment industry for how far an actor/actress or filmmaker would be willing to go for the sake of art. So my question to you is; How far are you willing to go for the sake of art in this industry?

DS: Wow...does one really know? In art, I think, you have to pick and choose your battles carefully. You don't want to fight a losing battle for something that will ultimately get you nowhere, but, at the same time, you have to stand up for what you feel is right. And that is difficult in it's own right, because art comes from creation, inspiration, collaboration, and feeling...and feelings can change from one day to the next.

If I really believe in something that is worth fighting for, I'll do it. I'll be there in the battle, trying to get it done. There were days on The Quiet Arrangement where it would've been a whole lot easier to compromise and cheat, but then it would be compromising and cheating the integrity of the film, and you don't want to do that. If you believe in a project enough to start it and fight for it, then you owe it to yourself and your people to do it right.

CK: Last question, now that TQA is making it’s round on the independent film circuits. What do you have in store for you next, is there another project in the works?

DS: As to not get pigeonholed into any one thing, we actually have 3 or 4 new films in the works. They're all in the planning stages right now, and some require more financing and preparation than others, but that's the point. That way, in case the more expensive project falls flat on funding, we can go to one of the cheaper projects and knock it out, much like we did with TQA. Once you start this journey you don't want to lose momentum, and unfortunately for my team and I, we've lost a little bit. However, some things have presented themselves that will be more beneficial in the long run, new alliances and ideas, so the outlook now is better than it ever was.

It's going to be an interesting trip, and we really want to tell stories and entertain people, so we'll keep on doing our very best to get the word out and move forward. It would be a sin to do otherwise.

CK: Well thanks for chatting with us about the film and yourself, David. We certainly look forward to hearing from you again and would like to invite you to come back and do this again someday in the near future.

DS: Thank you, Clifford! Any time. It was my sincerest pleasure.

And that concludes my interview with Writer/Director David C. Snyder. We chatted for a while longer off the record and talked about possibly returning for a second interview in the near future. As a film critic, I communicate with quite the amount of independent filmmakers, and so rarely do I find a filmmaker interesting enough to actually interview, so believe me when a filmmaker is being interviewed by the likes of me it’s either because I think that their work is fantastic or simply unique from the general group. Luckily for Mr. Snyder his work on The Quiet Arrangement proved to be both entertaining and thought provoking, and stands as a prime example to his creativity as a filmmaker who I believe will make some marks, no doubt. The trailer to The Quiet Arrangement can be viewed on it’s official website and more info on the film can be found on it’s Facebook and MySpace page be sure to follow David on Twitter.