SOL: I received an associate of arts degree in directing from Rockport College in Maine. I then moved to NYC and began my career working as a PA on several indie features. Over my first couple of years in NYC I worked my way up the ladder in the production department as an Assistant Director.
I produced my first feature, Bomb The System, in 2002. During this time I also began to work closely with Shirin Neshat on her video art projects shooting in the US, Mexico and Morocco. From there I directed a couple of short films, continued to produce other features and began to develop The Living Wake. I love filmmaking for many reasons, but mostly because it gives me a chance to tell stories that can both entertain and educate.
What drew you to the project (i.e. why did you want to both produce and direct it)?
SOL: When I first heard about Mike O'Connell and The Living Wake it was a 20-page one man show. The combination of outrageous humor and incredible wit instantly got my attention. I had been looking for my first film to direct and knew that I wanted to do something that was funny, but also had real emotional content.
When I read the first draft of the script, I knew that this was the perfect project for me.
Knowing that it was going to be a low budget shoot, and with my experience producing indie films, it made sense for me to take on the producer responsibilities as well. I pride myself on being well rounded and having a solid understanding of all aspects of filmmaking.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
SOL: Reflecting back on the production, I would have to say that one of the smartest things that I did was to have my wife, Rebecca, work with our locations manager in securing our locations. We shot the film in and around the town that both myself and my wife grew up in, and she was always the star singer in the area, so everyone knew her. When she would knock on a door and ask someone if we could use their land or their house for our film, they were always excited to help. We weren't just some film production coming into their town to be a nuisance, we were local kids making good and including the community in our project.
The dumbest thing I did was probably trying to do the most complicated camera shots in a scene with a baby. The concept was great and had we been able to pull it off, it would have been magical, but unfortunately reality caught up with us. We ended up having to change around the whole scene and reshoot it without the baby.
While I have no regrets and it works great the way it ended up in the film, that was valuable time wasted and I should have known better. I guess that is always one of the challenges for a first time director. You always think you can make the impossible work even when you know it shouldn't...
How did the film change while shooting ... and while editing?
SOL: During the shoot, we were able to stay very close to the script. Outside of the mishap with the baby scene that I described above, we didn't have to change much. There were some great improv sessions during rehearsals that would find their way into the film, but for the most part we really stuck to the script.
During the editing process it's another story. We took out a couple of whole story lines that, while great and entertaining, weren't necessary in the final film. It is always painful to cut scenes out of your film because you really love every frame you shot, but at some point you need to ask yourself if it's best for the film or not. If the scene is staying in because of an attachment to the scene and not because it's driving the story forward, it's got to go. In the end, the decisions we had to make were challenging, but they helped to keep the story focused and kept the sharp comedic tempo for the pace of the film.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?
SOL: I learned so many things during this whole process that I could go on for hours. Most importantly, I learned to treat every shot, interaction and moment working on the film as if it's the most important thing in the world. It is such an honor and privilege to be able to make a living creating art that if I take one bit of it for granted, I would not be doing justice to the gifts and opportunities that I have been provided.