Morano's Meadowland at HIFF Prior to Its Theatrical Release
(from Sag Harbor Express Online October 10, 2015)
By Danny Peary
I want to alert you to one of the most intriguing films at this year’s Hampton’s International Film Festival, Meadowland. If you missed Friday’s screening, you still can catch it at 4:15 Saturday at the East Hampton UA2. And if tickets are hard to come by don’t despair because it opens theatrically in New York City (and Los Angeles) this Friday before going nationwide. This is the blurb in the HIFF’s program guide: “In her dreamy directorial debut, celebrated cinematographer Reed Morano (Kill Your Darlings) examines the visceral and isolating experience of grief, and the distortion of reality that occurs following the loss of a child. Meadowland follows distraught parents Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson) a year after their 8-year-old son disappeared from a gas station bathroom. In the wake of this unimaginable tragedy, they each struggle in their own to way to heal. Phil attempts to ease his suffering with the help of a support group, while Sarah seeks a more destructive path. Wilde and Wilson, who give raw, emotional performances as the unraveling couple, are backed by an impressive cast of supporting actors, including Elisabeth Moss, John Leguizamo, and Giovanni Ribisi.”
When it had its world premiere this April at the Tribeca Film Festival, the audience I saw it with, smiling before the lights went down, exited in near silence, then stood around looking stunned and waiting for someone else to make their appraisals before venturing with an opinion of their own. I kept my praise to myself because if anyone asked me “Why do you like it?,” I’d still be standing there giving an explanation, point by point. As I learned when I did the following interview with Morano, from the moment she read the script she didn’t expect a unanimous thumbs-up for a film that is, by design, a downer. Viewers will feel helpless as Sarah and Phil go in wrong directions so the challenge is to not turn away from the anguish these broken people are experiencing on screen but to try to get into their heads and share their pain. I make no predictions about which way you will go, but the guarantee is that you will think of this film, as I do, months later. I got to talk in detail about this sure-to-be-controversial film with the personable Morano over breakfast in Brooklyn when she was on break from doing cinematography on the upcoming HBO series Vinyl (also starring Wilde). She was in an upbeat mood, having fully recovered from having made this devastating movie.
Danny Peary: I read that when you were invited to join the American Society of Cinematographers in 2013, you were the youngest of its 345 members and only the fourteenth female member. When you were at Tisch, did you already want to be a cinematographer?
Reed Morano: I was interested in writing and directing, but on the first movie I worked on I became very fascinated in what the cinematographer was doing. At NYU, everyone was making narrative films on 16mm and 35mm, and on the kinds of shoots we were doing, it was the cinematographer who had total control. I saw the power a cinematographer has to affect the emotion of a scene and contribute to performances and to what’s in the script, depending on what lens is used, where the camera is placed, and how the light falls on the subject. I was entranced. I had been interested in photography prior to that, so it was a natural transition for me to move into cinematography, especially since I wasn’t ready to direct at that stage. I wanted to learn and by being a DP for other directors I organically gained a lot of knowledge. There were one or two other females in the program who were DPs, so I was never singled out, but I certainly told everyone that I wanted to do cinematography, and I had a group of friends who asked me to shoot their projects. It was great practice for me, and I really enjoyed it. I still miss that time and shooting with film. Also, I was educating myself by watching a lot of movies.
DP: I read that you, a girl from Omaha, became a big fan of foreign films, such as Antonioni’s The Passenger.
RM: Yes, I love that film. It’s funny actually, I dated a French film student who was older than me, and he made me watch La Jetée and Jean-Luc Godard and all those amazing filmmakers. I got most of my film knowledge watching movies with him.
DP: You built your reputation as one of the g0-to cinematographers from working on very cool films like Frozen River, Kill Your Darlings and The Skeleton Twins, and now you got to direct for the first time with Meadowland. It’s a major film with a name cast headed by Olivia Wilde and Luke Wilson, so did anyone tell you that you should just concentrate on directing and not also be its cinematographer?
RM: Yeah. But the producers of the film, including Olivia, all were in favor of my doing that, too. At least they said they were–maybe they were afraid to tell me no! The person who was the most important to me to be okay with it was Olivia, because she was also playing my main character. I knew Luke would be fine with it because we had worked together on The Skeleton Twins. Fortunately, Olivia was like, “If you don’t think it’s too much for you….I would love for you to do it.” I just had this feeling I could do it. As you said, there were definitely some people who said to me, “You know, this is your first film as a director, do you really want to take the risk and do both?” But I know me, and even though I wasn’t a hundred percent sure of how it would go, I thought, it’s a risk but it will probably have a big payoff in the end. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the camera and it would have taken a lot of time to discuss it with another person. I would have been thinking, “I could have shot this scene half an hour ago and done it with only one light!”
DP: As you were developing the project were people reading the script and saying discouraging things, such as the subject is too bleak and noncommercial?
RM: Yeah. I have a producer friend who knows me very well who read the script and just didn’t want me to do it at all. He didn’t think it was right for my first movie. He mentioned that it was too risky and too hard of a sell and all these things. But for me it was about what movie to make that was going to yield the most return in terms of my skills as a director, and my branching out and going outside my wheelhouse. Which is going to make everyone appreciate what I do –being safe or taking a huge risk? As a DP, I had seen what directors go through and how much of themselves they must put into their movies, and how long they have to live with them. I thought that since I’ll get only one chance to make my first film, I didn’t want to make something that’s safe, for better or worse. At very least I should be passionate about my film. And I’d be fine making something polarizing in subject matter if I knew people were going to have an emotional reaction and perhaps some catharsis. I just thought, I want to make something that really makes people feel something. Not just something that makes them laugh a little or get a little misty-eyed. But something that would really fuck with them.
What’s so amazing about making movies is that you have the ability to open a window into a world where people never would have gone or chosen to go, and maybe it will change who they are. I’ll be honest with you that as a mom, if I saw the logline of this movie, I would be hesitant to watch it. I would not want to be put through this. But I think there is some benefit to forcing yourself to sit through a really disturbing situation, because maybe it will stick with you in your daily life after that. It could even just change how you react to other people. When people ask me what I want them to feel when they come out of the movie, I tell them I just want them to realize how lucky they are. Because in an instant, everything they care about could be gone. It’s something that I don’t think about a lot, but I needed to when making this movie. It’s literally my worst fear, what happens to Sarah and Phil, because I have two sons. I just wanted to face that fear by making a movie.
I should say that my son Casey plays Jesse, which was a crazy thing that wasn’t planned in advance. He’s going be 7 this year, but he was 6 for the film. What happened was that I couldn’t find another kid who I felt could in the course of five minutes on screen make the audience remember him for the entire movie. Obviously, I think Casey is the most fascinating kid in the world, besides my equally fascinating other son, but I cast him totally out of desperation after I couldn’t find the right actor. I was really uneasy to have him play a boy who is abducted because that’s my worst nightmare I am a little superstitious. But I finally had to get over my fears, because I was filming a make-believe scenario and was willing it to never happen, if you know what I mean.
DP: You were with this film for around two years, so do you remember times when you asked yourself,What kind of movie am I making?
RM: Yeah, yeah. When I first got the script, I was like, “As a mom, I don’t know if I can do this.” I knew we would have a really intense shoot and editing process, and it would be really emotional on both ends. And it was and it was really good for me, but there were times when I was working on it, developing the script and everything, when I thought this was going to be too difficult, and I was asking, “Can I pull this off?” It’s weird, because in my daily life and at work, people think of me as a very funny person, and one of my friends who saw the movie was like, “I need to get you a puppy or something.” People don’t think of me as a dark person but my movie’s really, really dark. I think that a movie that doesn’t seem like every other movie is interesting to me. Again, I knew it was a risk. But when Olivia jumped in, it was a risk that she was willing to take, too. She wanted to prove to people that she could do something different as well. And Luke was so great to come on board to risk doing something he hadn’t really done ever.
DP: Was Olivia going to play Sarah right from the beginning?
RM: I have to admit that when I first got the script, I started thinking about the usual suspects for the role. What happened was that once the script went out to the agencies, there was interest immediately from some other great actors, but I also got three voice mails from Olivia’s agent asking that I please meet with her. Of course, I agreed to meet with her. To be honest, she wasn’t who I had in mind for Sarah right off the bat, not because I didn’t think she could do it, but because she is so distractingly beautiful that I was fearful the audience wouldn’t be able to forget who she was. The movie is about a mom to a young boy and my hesitation was because I didn’t think I could make Olivia look like an Everymom so all moms could relate to her. Still I met with Olivia and she offered to read for me, so two days later I went to her apartment and acted some scenes with her. She had such passion and was so hungry to play Sarah that giving her the part was a no-brainer. I immediately saidlet’s do it.
DP: Did she tell you why she was so interested other than the part is different from anything else she’s done?
RM: She said the character is just so much meat for an actor to chew. I think she thought Sarah was interesting and complex and not at all like her. I wanted to tell a story about two complicated characters, and she wanted to be one of those complicated characters and knew she could deliver all the nuances. Olivia was really keen on doing the same thing I was, which was make people forget Olivia and just think of Sarah. We decided not to use any makeup at all and Olivia was on board with Sarah’s haggardness throughout the film. She didn’t look like someone I couldn’t sympathize with, she looked like Sarah. Of course Olivia has amazing eyes and a face that can carry a whole film. It is so intense and, with all those looks, mesmerizing. You want to follow her character wherever she goes. You want to get as close to her as possible and make the audience feel what she’s feeling, even if they don’t want to.
DP: You mentioned the influence on your work of the foreign films you saw when you were younger, and I know Godard’s Contempt was one of your favorites.
RM: Contempt was the one that affected me the most emotionally.
DP: I bring up Contempt because in that movie the fickle Brigitte Bardot falls out of love with her husband in an instant and leaves him over a minor incident. In Meadowland, after a married couple, Sarah and Phil, experiences a catastrophic incident, having their young son abducted at a gas station, but though they essentially stop speaking to each other, they are still living together a year later. How do they not break up?
RM: Good question. I’ve seen a lot of couples where it was inevitable that their relationships were headed for doom, yet there was no rush by them to get out of them. Personally, in the distant past, I was in relationships where it was clear they weren’t going to work out, and I stayed in them anyway. With what happens to Sarah and Phil, I tried to put myself in their shoes and to feel their pain, and that made me want them to at least have each other–although in my heart I know that after the movie is over they might not last very long. They’re not connecting and neither understands what the other is thinking, but they’re all each other has at this point. I think they don’t break up because they’re both hanging on to this idea—and they might be wrong—that their son may turn up. Sarah is definitely clinging to the idea that Jesse is alive. I think Phil has more awareness. You can see at different points in the film that he’s aware that he’s not only lost his son but is losing his wife, too. Sarah is not concerned with that. All she cares about is her son’s return. She’s sort of delusional.
DP: It’s as if they don’t have the energy to break up with each other.
RM: That could definitely a part of it. It’s almost like they don’t even care. Because they lost Jesse, they’ve lost the ability to be passionate about what is happening between them. I feel that when really bad things happen to you everything else takes a back seat and you spend every ounce of energy trying to get through it. I don’t think the thought of breaking up even crosses their minds because all they’re doing is trying to get through the next five minutes without pain.
DP: In the year after the abduction, do you think there was ever a time when Sarah tried to make Phil feel guilty about not having checked the garage bathroom to see if there was a second door on the other side?
RM: I didn’t want to get into that because I didn’t want to put blame on him.
DP: It’s not whether he should be blamed, but whether she would blame him out of frustration.
RM: I think it’s possible. Sarah probably said to Phil that it was his fault. I sort of assume that. Everyone’s going to have their own opinion. Maybe since the audience knows he’s a cop, they’ll wonder why he didn’t check carefully enough.
DP: The horror of opening the bathroom door and seeing there’s another door and it’s open. I’m sure he can never stop asking himself, “Why didn’t I at least look to make sure there wasn’t an unlocked door on the other side?”
RM: Right, and I think that’s what ruins him. He’s supposed to protect people, and he can’t even protect his own son. My feeling is that when he let Jesse go into the bathroom by himself, the second door on the other side was shut. But here’s the thing: I didn’t want to show when he went inside, because I didn’t want to make a thing out of it. I didn’t want that moment to stand out because in truth when you lose someone, or someone dies, you can barely remember your last moment with them, because you didn’t know it was going to be your last moment with them. Because there is no clear image, it’s very frustrating for them. Ironically, it was frustrating for me, too, that in the last shot of the kid at the gas station, you can’t clearly see him. For me, it was almost like, “But this is my last chance to see him!” In the months of editing the movie, I kept wishing I could see him more, but my whole point is that the last thing these people remember is almost nothing. It’s dreamlike.
DP: What did you want to convey in that first scene with the family together in the car, before they stop at the garage? It turns out to be a really important scene because it’s the only time you see them together.
RM: I wasn’t trying to make it idyllic, but just as mundane as a real family outing. When my kids are in the backseat, they say funny things but mostly they just babble and say, “I’m hungry” or “I want something to drink!” I didn’t want it to make their interaction anything special, but at the same time it has to have some charm, because I want to make the audience fall in love with Jesse for just a couple of minutes. I want to convey that the three of them are happy, but I didn’t want to bang people over the head with too much cutesy smiling and kissing and cuddling. These are moments when there’s nothing extraordinary going on, because that’s mostly how life is. Before everything goes awry, they don’t realize how special that last moment in the car is.
DP: I assume you made Phil a cop because that would make his inability to find his son even more frustrating for him.
RM: In Chris Rossi’s script that I got it a couple of years before we shot, Phil was not a cop but a film editor. I thought that would be relatable to the people who’d work on the film but not to everyone else who saw it. There was a suggestion made at some time that Phil be a cop, and I talked to Chris about it. It makes things more complicated in an interesting way because it adds a new layer to him and his frustration. I think Phil actually takes on the “female role” in the relationship, in some ways. He’s the one who’s trying to get in touch with his feelings, he’s the one who joined a therapy group, he’s trying to do right. And he’s also indulging whatever Sarah wants to think and is being respectful of her process in dealing with a missing child. There’s something really fascinating about a character who’s supposed to be strong and tough and, in a way, a detective, being impotent.
DP: Was Sarah a teacher in the original script?
RM: Chris always had her as a teacher, which I thought was great. She had a missing child but had to see kids every day at her school. There’s no way facing other kids is not difficult for her. Olivia and I talked about something else that is interesting, that she’s kind of a bad teacher. Maybe not bad, but she just doesn’t care and you can tell she’s floundering at her job. You don’t often see people in films who are not good at their jobs, especially when they have a job that’s so important.
DP: So you think she was a better teacher before?
RM: She probably was a very good teacher and really accomplished. In the original script, part of the storyline was that she was working on her dissertation at the time Jesse went missing. When she gave up her dissertation because of his abduction, she didn’t work for six months and then had to get back to work of some kind. She decided to be a substitute teacher, which she was qualified to do. The idea was that she was never a teacher before. But for the purposes of the film, she could have been a good teacher before Jesse went missing, but now she’s just phoning it in.
DP: It does seem she has some sensitivity level and tries to be motherly toward two of her troubled students before things go badly there, too.
RM: I think she does genuinely care about kids. Olivia and I talked about how she may be phoning in her job with her class, but she does take an interest in Alma and Adam. I think she feels almost like their kindred spirit because they’re both outsiders.
DP: As a viewer, you’d expect her to come through for them in a big way, and she really doesn’t.
RM: Right. But she means well and they’re never mad at her for anything she does.
DP: At this point is she a little crazy?
RM: Sometimes I don’t think she’s crazy at all. I think she’s just doing what a mom would do, and if that’s crazy to other people, maybe that’s what it is. My editor Madeleine Gavin, who is also a mom, and I kept saying, “Do whatever you need to do, Sarah, because we totally get it.”
DP: Your movie focuses a lot more on Sarah and Phil unsuccessfully coping while the investigation of the abduction continues, than on the investigation itself.
RM: There are so many successful movies about child abductions that have investigations as their plotlines and we try to figure out what happened by following the detectives. But I didn’t want this film to be that. In the original script there was more about the investigation and the detective was more of a main character. There was a scene right after Sarah and Phil lost Jesse in which all the cops arrive at the garage and there is the usual questioning and whatnot. By getting rid of that we set the tone. This movie was not going to be about the investigation. It was going to be about the mental state of both Phil and Sarah. I wanted to hone in on them because I wanted to get across what it feels like to go through something this terrible. For me, what was interesting was, “How do you portray how dark these people are, or how badly they feel?” It’s easy to show a character who’s angry or sad, but how do you really show all the complexities of that? I don’t know if we did or we didn’t, but I feel we showed there are a lot of layers to these characters. They both have a great deal of anger and sadness, and they both have a lot of guilt. In some ways they’re trying to be normal but they can’t be normal.
DP: I hate to ask, but did you draw on your own experiences to get into their heads?
RM: I’d never been through something that awful. There were only two things I could relate to at all. First, my dad passed away when I was 18. He was only 46 and I was very close with him. Second, the year before I made Meadowland, I was in remission from cancer and at my lowest point, I was in my own world. I didn’t sleep for like six weeks, and I didn’t see anyone and I was just in a lot of pain. It was like a fever dream, and I wanted to make Meadowland feel like a fever dream. I wanted to show that when something that insane happens it changes your life. You float around in a cloud.
DP: I find it interesting that we never think of Phil and Sarah as terrific people; in fact at this time they’re annoying and hard to be around and she’s very self-destructive and off-putting. I don’t think either of us would want to be friends with them.
RM: Oh, I do think there was a time when they would have been people I could be friends with. I love to watch movies with flawed characters, but not fake characters. If Sarah and Phil weren’t imperfect and flawed under these circumstances, then it would be fake. Nobody could be perfect. Everyone has another side to them that maybe we don’t want to see.
DP: So what do you want us to see about Sarah and Phil, so we will like them?
RM: I know I want people to see hints of who Sarah used to be, that she was smart and a good mother. For part of the movie, they’re drugged up, and they’re in kind of a haze, and I don’t try to show personality because the whole point is that they are almost going through life like zombies. So how did I try to make the audience even just sympathize? It helps that Olivia herself is liked by audiences and that there’s such a positivity to her, but I don’t really need the audience to like Sarah, I just need them to understand why she acts as she does—and to think they might act that way, too. Also, when she has moments of catharsis, I want people to allow themselves to feel what she does. That will make them feel bad for her. I think you have to like someone a little bit if you start to share emotions with them. Otherwise I’m not exactly sure what I want people to like about her, except maybe her dedication to her son and her unwavering belief that he is alive. Or about Phil. Maybe I want to express the idea that there are people around us, every day, who have gone through something as tragic that we don’t know about. They have to get up in the morning and go to work and continue with their lives. So maybe what I would hope people admire about these two characters is their strength. Because I don’t know how they do it. I can’t count the number of times that I had conversations with Olivia or Madeleine about how if I had one kid and that kid was gone, I probably wouldn’t be able to continue living.
DP: You, a mother of two, were recovering from cancer and Olivia Wilde had a baby, and here you were making this movie about losing a kid.
RM: Yeah, it was weird. Olivia got attached to the movie before she thought about having a baby anytime soon. So when she found out she was pregnant she was really scared to tell me because she thought that we were on this timeline to make this movie, and I might say we needed to find someone else. Of course I was like, “No way, we’re waiting for Olivia.” For this role, I really wanted someone who understood the level of that affection Sarah has for Jesse. I believe actors can convey that affection without having gone through childbirth—and Olivia felt that too or she wouldn’t have attached herself to the movie in the first place–but once she got pregnant, I thought, “Now she’s going to connect on that mother level.”
DP: What was your conversation with her throughout the process? Did you talk on a losing-a-child level?
RM: Yeah, we did. What’s great about Olivia is that she likes to talk and analyze a character, so we talked a lot about it. I think there even came a point where Olivia and I each had our own ideas about why Sarah is doing what she is doing, things I won’t give away here. She and I weren’t always thinking the exact same thing, but it didn’t matter because we were getting to the same goal. Olivia needed to justify what Sarah does in her own way in order to do it, and I needed to justify it as a mom. Ultimately she was right. Olivia believed there is no way Sarah can admit, ever, that her son is gone. Because the moment that she admits that he’s gone, he’s dead. And she didn’t really know that was true. No parent would admit that. There was a scene in the script where Phil is trying to turn Jesse’s room into an office. I just didn’t believe he would do that. It’s too early to give up. Chris, who’s a really brilliant writer, is not a parent, so he didn’t understand that you never give up hope until people convince you it’s over. You just can’t give up, even if you’re a person with logic, like a cop.
DP: When Phil starts talking about their having other kids, is that a hopeful sign?
RM: It’s still too early for them. It’s too fresh. They don’t even know for sure what has happened to Jesse. It’s a conversation they could have if they stay together. It’s funny, but when Olivia got pregnant, I thought, “I wonder if there’s some way she can be pregnant in the movie.” But it would have added one more layer of complexity.
DP: You’ve said how you talked over things about Sarah with Olivia. Did you also talk to Luke about Phil?
RM: We had less in-depth conversations, but I would give him my thoughts on why certain things happened when he needed to know. I gave him a whole big spiel at the beginning, about the complexity of his character, with the intention of going back to it when we were shooting certain scenes if Luke said he didn’t really understand what motivated Phil to do what was in the script.
The only thing Luke really asked for help on was when Phil crushes another person’s roadside memorial. Luke wasn’t sure why his character would do something like that. I explained the reason that scene was in the script was I needed a moment where Phil has a breakdown, and expresses his rage and frustration but not in a traditional way. I didn’t want it to be a cliché moment of him bullying someone on the job or something like that, but something unexpected. So I told Chris, the writer, the story about how after my dad passed away I was so upset that I locked myself in the office of our family restaurant and tore it apart. Which was completely out of character for me, I’d never done anything like that, but no one in the family every said anything about it. So Chris put that memorial scene into the script, and when we filmed it I told Luke the story of my destroying the office. I said something like, “The idea is that Phil is upset at the world and the people who set up the memorial have closure about their child, and he doesn’t. That’s how Phil sees it.”
END SPOILER ALERT
DP: Neither Phil nor Sarah say why they are acting as they do, and much is internalized. Were such things explained in the script?
RM: There were people who read the script who told me to make it a little more traditional, but I don’t think anyone really knew how non-traditional Meadowland was going to be. It wasn’t really all on the page. There are a lot of moments in the script that are not exactly what ended up on screen. I always believed we were going to take the script and transform it into a very internal and visceral experience. One of my big inspirations was Requiem for a Dream. My movie isn’t stylized like it is, and it has totally different subject matter, but a common theme is that characters are losing themselves to something, and losing grasp of who they were.
DP: In Requiem, I think it’s meant to be ironic that a beautiful young woman, played by Jennifer Connelly, chooses to indulge in ugliness. She willingly becomes a heroin addict and deteriorates.
RM: What I love about that movie is that it is so visceral and makes us so uncomfortable; it makes us so disgusted with these people and so hopeless. And that’s is how we are meant to feel. When watchingMeadowland, I want the audience to understand that troubled people can get to a point where they realize there are no repercussions for what they do anymore. That’s why Sarah does what she does and Phil does what he does. They both do things that are not right.
DP: I rarely paid as much to sound while watching a movie as I did with Meadowland. You use sound, including music, thematically, which is rare in movies.
RM: Before I even made the movie I knew the sound was going to be a huge part. Because when I see movies where sound is a major character, which is rare, it leaves a big impression on me–I’m being suffocated and I can’t escape, but it’s in a good way. As a person coming from a cinematography background, I think it’s interesting that sound is more particular in this movie than the cinematography. It is such a huge character. I had an amazing sound designer, Antonio Volante. I told Tony, when we first were met about the job, “I want to let you know I want to do some crazy stuff with sound, some crazy soundscapes. I want the sound to overwhelm us in some ways, because when people are trapped in their own worlds like Sarah and Phil everything is heightened, including noise. Sound will really bring everybody in, wrap everybody in a really uncomfortable blanket. The music can serve as a connector, connecting the characters.”
DP: Visually, there are many impressive images, including closeups of Olivia and other characters that increase the tension. But you also have several transition shots of the skyline, beautiful shots of the sky and clouds. What are you trying to convey?
RM: A number of things. I’ve always been attracted, as a cinematographer, to shots of the sky, the skyline, clouds, all of these things. I needed transitional elements but the shots of sky definitely contribute to the dreaminess of the movie. Also, when the clouds move across the sky, I want to convey a sense of relief and a weird and eerie kind of peace for Sarah, and, simultaneously, show that time is slipping away. And Time seems to be speeding up and they can’t stop it. Time is their enemy in that every second Jesse is moving farther and farther away from them. With the shots of the sky, I also want to give a sense of there being a bigger world around them. It’s a big world where everybody’s goes about their lives without realizing that there are people around them who are silently imploding. The beautiful clouded sky can be seen in marked contrast to how ugly some lives are, including Sarah and Phil’s.
DP: My favorite shot in the movie is when Phil sits and tells a story to his therapy group. You make it a two-shot with him in one chair and a women sitting in the chair to his left. But you keep him in sharp focus and keep her totally blurry—yet we have no doubt she is feeling extremely emotional because of his words.
RM: It’s one of my favorites, too. It was Luke’s third take, but it was crazy because that’s one of those times where everyone in that therapy circle was crying for real. And at the monitors people were crying. That female extra on the other side of him was just having this totally natural reaction to him talking about a dream he had about Jesse. Even though it was the third time she heard it, tears were running down her face, and she kept trying to compose herself in the background.
DP: You couldn’t have hired a cinematographer who would have thought to put that extra in the frame and keep her out of focus.
RM: In all the therapy scenes, I wanted to keep it in this world. I’ve never gone to a therapy session because I don’t believe in them, which I think you can tell from the way that I shoot them. Everyone’s zoning out. It’s that idea that this is not going to make everything better.
DP: Was there anything that made you cry that surprised you? Maybe the scene where Olivia walks over to an elephant?
RM: I did cry the first few times I watched it. I don’t want to spoil it for your readers so I won’t go into detail about that scene, but when we were shooting it, I actually didn’t know what would happen with the elephant. The day that I got there and saw the elephant for the first time, I was immediately overwhelmed with emotion. There was something about being in the presence of an elephant, a creature that is so majestic. It just got to me.
DP: I won’t discuss it in length either, but I really like that scene because I think when she gets really close to the elephant it is a mother-to-mother thing.
RM: I’m glad that you thought that. Everyone kind of makes their own connection to it, but for me it’s a mother-to-mother thing, too, a survival thing. In the original script, there was no elephant so I’m glad you liked it.
DP: So while making this solemn movie with a cast of funny people, did everyone feel that on the set they couldn’t laugh and had to act as if they were at somebody’s funeral?
RM: No. When I’m DPing, it’s the director and the actors who dictate the mood on the set and I just follow their lead. And as the director on this, I felt Olivia and I should set the tone. Olivia and I are very similar in that we both really love dark subject matter, but we’re really funny and like laughing. It’s the same with Luke, John Leguizamo and Giovanni Ribisi. We’re all similar in that we’re excited to embrace dark subject matter, but once the cameras stop rolling, we like to joke around and laugh. There were definitely scenes in the movie that were more serious than others, when it was quiet and reserved on set. And there were so many scenes when I was operating the camera and crying through the viewfinder, and then I’d realize that everyone at the monitors were crying, too. But as soon as everyone got past it, everybody went back to joking around. Olivia thought it was really important that people could laugh. It was a hard movie to make, but it was probably the best filmmaking experience of my life, because we had everything. Everyone was so moved by what we were making that we were all in tears, and so inspired, but because we knew it was going so well, we could let loose. We could have fun.
The trailer for Meadowland: https://www.google.com/search?q=Meadowland+movie&biw=945&bih=397&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAcQ_AUoAmoVChMI-47J_eK0yAIVA1k-Ch1GJAON&dpr=1.22#imgrc=A0hfjt3eov4i5M%3A
Meadowland is the only narrative feature playing at the Hamptons International Film Festival I have seen with the exception of the crowd-pleasing Virgin Mountain, but I can recommend the documentaries The Armor of Light (Abigail Disney), Crocodile Gennadiy (Steve Hoover), Dream/Killer(Andrew Jenks)—check the archive for my interview with subjects Ryan and Bill Ferguson –andDemocrats (Camilla Nielsson), which deservedly was chosen Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.
Soon I will be posting an interview with Gayle Kirschenbaum about her terrific new documentary, Look At Us Now, Mother! Meanwhile, here is the link to her Kickstarter campaign: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1153411754/look-at-us-now-mother-by-gayle-kirschenbaum
And I hope all you movie fans who are or know baseball fans, will order a copy of my new oral history of Derek Jeter. http://www.amazon.com/Baseball-Immortal-Career-Quotes-Immortals/dp/1624141625