Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tara Miele on "The Lake Effect"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Lake Effect?

TARA: I had directed a couple of short films that did the festival circuit, Miss Gentilbelle, based on a short story by Charles Beaumont, and Smackers a minute and a half long parable about the downfall of Junior High royalty. I started writing features in the hopes of convincing someone to let me direct one -- I sold Cougars to Gold Circle, Tits to Silverwood Films, and Cover Your Assets to Lionsgate before meeting up with Jennifer Westin and writing The Lake Effect.

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like?

TARA: The idea came in the middle of the night several years back - I was desperate to get pregnant and my husband wasn't ready - and I thought there was something interesting about a guy who wasn't ready to have kids but maybe already had one... and maybe his daughter was about to have one herself...

I wanted to write it then but my reps said it was too small so I put it on the shelf. I didn't really think about it again until two years later - I was 4 1/2 months pregnant and I got an email from a friend who knew a producer who was looking for a script/director to shoot a micro budget movie in Michigan.

I pitched the idea to Jennifer Westin and she really responded to it... so I lied and told her I had a treatment on it! I told her I could adjust it to be set in a lake house in Michigan and send it to her in the morning... I went home that night and wrote a 7-page treatment.

The whole writing process was lightning fast because I was pregnant and had to fly back to LA before I hit 37 weeks... so we planned everything around my due date. I wrote the first draft in about 5 days, got notes and a week later did the second draft in about five more days... It wasn't ideal but I was still writing through pre-production, while I scouted Michigan. That turned out to be a blessing - I really had an opportunity to develop the project for where we were shooting - South Haven and Michigan and the lake house just naturally became characters in the film.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?

TARA: Jennifer structured the film like an arts project. We were sponsored by the Kalamazoo Arts Council and received donations from dozens of generous donors. Because of that, we have very little to recoup. It's the only way that making a movie this small was financially feasible.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

TARA: We shot on the Sony EX-1. I loved that it was small and fast and easy to go guerilla with. I hated that we didn't have the look of lenses but at the end of the day, my cinematographer (also my husband Brett Juskalian) made the film look stunning. I swear, we could shoot on a Fischer Price camera and make things pretty. Also, it was frustrating when we got into editing (on a Mac) and there were some problems between Sony and Mac...

How did you and Brett, your DP achieve the look of the movie?

TARA: Because the DP is my husband, we have a good short hand and we had plenty of time to find the look, which was dictated partly by our surroundings and partly from the limitations of our shoot schedule.

We shot handheld because we needed to move quickly and because I wanted there to be a looseness and naturalness to the movie. We also wanted to make sure that the camera's movement reflected the intensity of the scenes, so every scene had a number -- "camera shaky 1-5" -- so we could easily be on the same page about what the movement should be like. Because we barely had lights to use, we played with natural light as much as possible - as the character's get closer, the movie literally gets warmer - a good example is the great sunset light during the birth scene at the end.

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

TARA: The smartest thing I did during production was re-write and re-shoot the end of the movie. After we shot the original ending, I watched dailies and I knew it wasn't working. Our shoot schedule was so tight, I had to sacrifice time on other scenes. Our longest day after that was 8 7/8 pages... but now I love the end of the movie.

The dumbest thing I did was shoot endless hours of footage around the house the day after we wrapped. I had first time director disease. Everyone had gone home and I couldn't stop shooting. I was dragging Brett around, making him shoot close-ups of fruit bowls. To be fair, SOME of that stuff made it in... like 1%.

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

TARA: I learned that you don't have to abuse your crew to get your movie made. I learned that next time, I want more than 15 shoot days.

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