Filmmakers Under the Influence: Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson

img_diamondTonguesThe co-directors of DIAMOND TONGUES break down the inspiration behind their breakout collaboration. 

Cinema is a lively and never-ending conversation that unfolds and evolves across time and space, which is part of what makes it such a dynamic and enduring art form. In this series, some of our favorite independent film directors share the films and filmmakers that have shaped the way they make movies. It’s sort of like DVD commentary (remember that?) but interactive! Welcome to Filmmakers Under the Influence.

This time around, we are hearing from the co-directors of Diamond Tongues, a recent #filmoftheweek that is now playing in select U.S. theaters and at your house, via Fandor. A dark dramedy about a struggling actress and her demons, Diamond Tongues has drawn tons of critical acclaim for its unabashed, original vision and the tour-de-force performance of its star, Leah Goldstein. Co-directors Pavan Moondi and Brian Robertson were kind enough to share, in their own words, how the film, from their shooting style to their use of light to the embodiment of the protagonist, was shaped by their own viewing habits, and what Fandor films you can watch to be likewise inspired. Without further ado, let’s see what they have to say!

Pavan Moondi:

 The Films and Philosophies of John Cassavetes
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Cassavetes is potentially the least original or surprising inspiration for any independent filmmaker, but I can’t diminish the impact his films and beliefs had on the creation of Diamond Tongues.
Technically, we pulled from Cassavetes heavily — writing and utilizing a fully-written script but then shooting with two cameras, which would allow us with enough flexibility to re-work things as we shot each take. The film is comprised primarily of last or second-to-last takes, and using two cameras allowed us to use single takes for entire scenes as often as possible.

We really encouraged Leah Goldstein, who is a musician and first-time actress who appears in every scene of the film, to bring herself to the role. We stressed this because the character she plays feels things that are largely not socially acceptable – jealousy, envy, a lack of motivation, uncertainty, self-doubt – and we needed to make sure she could find a way to relate to and empathize with the character.

diamondTongues_stage As we expected, we’ve seen the character written about in a lot of press as being an awful or insane person. We deliberately crafted a somewhat ambiguous ending to hopefully have something for those who find her intolerable and those who empathize with her. While audience reactions to her character have been all over the place, the viewpoint of all of us who worked on the film absolutely had to be one of understanding for the film to work.

 Getting back to Cassavetes, here’s an especially relevant quote from his widow and frequent collaborator Gena Rowlands, pulled from Michael Ventura’s book about the making of Cassavetes’ final film Love Streams. It’s long but it describes our approach better than I ever could:
“John has a great affinity for characters that are perceived by the world generally as crazy, or cuckoo, or whacko, or at least eccentric. The character that I play is one of those characters – that most people think is, well, quite crazy. But we don’t see it that way… It’s just that they have a different dream – a different thing that they wanted out of life. And they’re confused as to why it doesn’t happen, and how they found themselves in this position where they’re marching out of step to everyone else. Personally, I don’t think anyone is crazy who isn’t cruel. To me, cruelty is crazy. Anything short of that, I wouldn’t consider crazy. Of course, sometimes if you have a very strong dream and you follow it no matter what, you are inadvertently being cruel without meaning to, because you ride roughshod over others. But still, if it’s not actual cruelty, to me that person isn’t insane at all.”
Brian Robertson:

Laurence Anyways (2012), dir. Xavier Dolan
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Laurence Anyways
, Dolan’s third feature, probably remains my favorite of his. His films are ambitious and elegant and I’ve been inspired by his work since his debut film I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère) premiered here in Toronto when he was just nineteen. Following his second feature Heartbeats, having seemed to settle in with his use montage sequences set to familiar, popular music, he pushed things further here and gave us some extremely stylized imagery and sequences that feel more vibrant and more energetic than anything from his previous two works.
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You’ll see off-speed shots in our film, and also we implement montage sequences set to music here and there. In most cases, these techniques offer insight into an interior monologue our character has with herself. Edith (played by Leah Goldstein) is jealous and confused and (at one point) lost in an lsd abyss, and we use these devices to help communicate where she is internally.

Ruined Heart (2015), dir Khavn De La Cruz
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I haven’t actually seen this film yet, but it’s high on my list. I wanted to mention cinematographer Christopher Doyle as a pretty big influence for us. His work has always been marked by the implementation of handheld camera movement in relation to blocking, as well as a use of bright colors and multiple lighting sources. We worked to implement these vibrant colors when we could (we often shot in natural light), and we were careful to push and bring out that color palette in post-production.

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We chose to shoot the film almost entirely handheld with two cameras simultaneously and many of our scenes are actually comprised of one single take cutting between the two.  Doyle’s films have always had a frenetic quality to them, something we wanted to capture ourselves. Ruined Heart is a film he made last year with Filipino artist Khavn De La Cruz that looks incredible, and definitely indicative of what we love about his work. Let’s watch it together, tonight!

 

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