Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jordan Galland on “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead”

What was your filmmaking background before making Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Undead?

JORDAN: Since the age of 12 I was always writing dialogue for one act plays and screenplays, being a big fan of Woody Allen and Eric Bogosian. At NYU I took film classes and animation classes, and also began my first venture into the film "business" by optioning and adapting Coin Locker Babies - a post apocalyptic Japanese fantasy novel by Ryu Murakami - with friends Michele Civetta and Sean Lennon.

That led to a lot of meetings with producers for more screenplays, and eventually I wrote and directed my first short film, Smile for the Camera. Sean helped with me with the music and screenplay for that, and I cast all friends and shot in the woods. It was shot on Panasonic dvx100 a. I did everything myself using a suitcase filled with lights and microphones and duct tape. The only person who had acting experience is Erika Thormhalen who had been on a TV show in Vancouver. Another bit of trivia: Mila Jovotitch is in the film with a box on her head.

Here's a link to the trailer:

Where did the idea come from? What was the writing process like?

JORDAN: When I was eleven I read Dracula and decided that one day, I wanted to make a vampire film. I read everything about vampires I could get my hands on.

When I was fourteen I played Rosencrantz in a high school version of Stoppard’s play, and became fascinated with the idea that old literature could be explored in new ways. I became extremely drawn to the play of Hamlet in high school and college when I found all my favorite novels alluding to it: from Moby Dick to Ulysses to Ada.

One day I thought of the title Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead and began seeing that the supernatural evil of vampires resonated within the story and language of Hamlet. I was compelled to explain these connections. The Holy Grail conspiracy was also something that intrigued me throughout my childhood, and added another exciting layer to the historical elements of my script.

It started as a period piece about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern themselves coming back as vampires. But now it's almost the opposite of that. I wanted to ground this strange concept in something I could relate to on a personal level. So I decided to make it a surreal romantic comedy about a guy (Jake Hoffman) who is in a rut: living in his dad’s office, unemployed and still in love with a gorgeous ex-girlfriend, a would-be actress, who has moved on to dating a rich older man.

When his dad forces him to go for a job interview directing an off Broadway adaptation of Hamlet called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Undead he finds renewed self-esteem, but his problems don’t go away. His best friend, who is playing Hamlet, starts to think the other actors are vampires, and the author / star of the play, a pale creepy dude (John Ventimiglia) starts hitting on his ex-friend and casts her as Ophelia. By the time the hero realizes they are all in danger of being turned into vampires, it’s too late. With help from a secret society, the hero learns that the Holy Grail is somewhere near by, and that it is their only chance of survival. Not gonna give away the ending.

How did you fund the film?

JORDAN: I showed the script to a number of different production companies and small studios, who wanted the film to fit a specific formula, not combine different genres. I needed to find people who were hungry enough and willing to take a chance on a romantic comedy involving Shakespeare, vampires and the Holy Grail. After teaming up with Mike Landry, and talking to multiple investors, I found one that liked the project and believe in me, and he founded the whole thing.

What sort of camera did you use for production and what were the best and worst things about it?

JORDAN: I chose the red camera because the budget was so small, and the red offered the diverse range I wanted to tell a story that’s a romantic comedy with some pretty dark and intricate back story, involving Shakespeare, vampires and the holy grail. Every other camera we looked at which fit our budget cheapened the experience of those epic and expansive themes.

Using the red camera more than just a positive experience, like taking a really good poetry class and bonding with the professor. It’s like finding out that the poem you wrote is magically channeling creatures from other dimensions. Imagine how exciting that is! I would watch the dailies and think: this looks and feels like I imagined it. I’ve heard a lot of people say that the movie is never gonna be as good as it is in your head before you set out to make it… and it’s probably mostly true, but this camera makes it a little less true.

You wore a couple of hats on the production -- Writer, director, producer. What's the upside and the downside to doing that?

JORDAN: You have more creativity and freedom when you write, direct and produce.

But like everything in the universe, it's a trade off, because after you make the movie, you're all on your own. We found great people to work with after, like Maren Olson at
Traction who became our sales rep, and then Indican who became our distributor, but still, there's no money for proper advertising and promotion.

So you become a slave to your own creation, and you stand outside the theater handing out flyers and wearing a sandwich board, just to get the word out that the film is playing.

That actually got the film extended in NYC.

I'm currently in the process of working with other writers to direct their scripts and
selling my original scripts to companies for other directors to work. And I think either way, I'm thrilled.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

JORDAN: The smartest thing I did - besides hand-picking the cast and crew, and often playing chicken with deadlines and waiting till beyond the last minute to get the person I knew I wanted - the smartest thing was getting Dan Schector to come on at the eleventh hour and do another editorial pass with fresh eyes.

This is not to discredit Conner Kalista's amazing work as an editor. But the truth is, a film goes through so many different processes, that you owe it the film to have two editors, one to start and put the film together, one to come in with fresh eyes and hack away and remodel. When Dan Schecter came in to edit the film, it was three weeks before the premiere at Slamdance, which means it was literally over Christmas holiday, which means we had a working edit of the film locked for six months already, which means I had to reconform the sound edit myself, and redo the color correct all before our premiere. It was literally the hardest part of the process, but definitely the smartest thing I did.

The stupidest thing I did. Ahh, there were so many stupid things. Some of them turned into lucky accidents. But to name one: thinking that the play within the movie was going to play out "dramatically" in real time. As you see, it's now a funny montage. Again, editing saved the day. So it worked out in the end.

And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you can take to other projects?

JORDAN: Always hire two editors, at least.

Always try to hire a musician to score the film who can get the soundtrack released (Sean was awesome and I was lucky!)

Always fight more than you feel comfortable doing to get a recognizable cast, and don't let your friends with no credits under their belt guilt you into casting them in your film (unless they are perfect for the role.)

Storyboard everything.

Watch True Romance with the Tony Scott's director's commentary on before entering pre-production.

Work with people who you trust to challenge you in the right way, because you will think you are done with writing, or editing, or something, and they will remind you you're only half done.

Now I feel like I'm giving advice, but this is advice I need to take myself. I want to constantly be reminded to work harder. So that means picking people who demand that of me.

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