Thursday, April 26, 2012

Travis Mills on “The Detective's Lover”

What did you learn on The Big Something that had an impact on how you produced The Detective's Lover?

TRAVIS: The Big Something was a confirmation that we could tell a good story in a short span of time with a small amount of money. It also pushed me in the opposite direction: towards a dark story, a more handheld visual approach, and a subtle acting style. I must admit that I did not learn some of the lessons of The Big Something till after I had completed The Detective's Lover.

Where did the idea for The Detective's Lover come from and what was the writing process like?

TRAVIS: The day after we wrapped The Big Something, I felt the urge to make a Film Noir. The film I'd just completed was a murder-mystery but it owed more to Buster Keaton's Sherlock Jr. than it did to Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep.

I divorced myself from humor and dived head on into the murky waters of Noir cinema. Gus Edwards (my producing partner) and I have long discussed what are the true elements of Film Noir and this is my attempt to make a film in the genre.

The writing process was very fast: ten days from the start of the outline to the finished screenplay. I will try to write all future scripts this way, a dangerous creative journey with no interference. Self-analyzing and the criticism of other must come later.

You made The Big Something for $2,000. What was your budget for The Detective's Lover and what did you spend it on?

TRAVIS: We made The Detective's Lover for $3000. I still have been able to find skilled and committed cast/crew to work for free, either for the experience or faith in the project. What we did spend went mostly towards our trip to Winslow, a small town in Northern Arizona where part of the film takes place. The rest was used to coax some locations and supply my cinematographer, Dave Surber, with the bare necessary equipment.

Why did you decide to make the movie in black and white?

TRAVIS: It was my initial instinct, though it earned an immediate negative response from my collaborators. It was even suggested that we shoot in color and then make the decision in post. But I hate options; they breed lazy filmmakers who avoid hard decisions. It is right for the genre and the story.

What are the technical considerations (pro and con) for shooting in black and white?

TRAVIS: This would be a better question for my cinematographer, since I'm not very technical. But I will tell you that it was refreshing to not have to worry as much about color temperature when lighting. Another positive element was the ability to get away with more on a low budget, being more flexible with how we managed action sequences and production design.

Though I'm sure there are others, the one con for me was the way this style of shooting restricted or changed information in the image. To convey story and character, we were stripped of basic elements that we take for granted in color and it was sometimes difficult to find ways of communicating these ideas without it.

In your interview for The Big Something, you said for your next project you wanted to challenge your actors and yourself to know the characters better -- did you meet that challenge and, if so, how?

TRAVIS: It's an ongoing challenge, perhaps the biggest one. I made progress.

In rehearsals, I pushed the actors (many from the cast of The Big Something) towards more subtle performances, reserving heights of expression and emotion for key moments. I think the best directors are manipulators of minds and I am still learning how to steer the various types of individuals I work with. To challenge myself, I took on the lead role in the film. I wanted to know what it was like to create a character and sustain him for the length of a production. I felt I had to play him the day I finished the script and, good or bad, I will never regret that decision.

As a final note, I hope to work less with dialog and formal scripts. The actors I work with rely too much on the lines, so I aim to remove these crutches and force them to walk in the character's steps without them.

What was the smartest thing you did on this movie? The dumbest?

TRAVIS: I can't credit myself for being clever. I creatively produced as usual to make something for diddly squat. The smartest thing I did was to make another feature immediately after the first one.

I can pinpoint a specific moment of stupidity however. During a Thai restaurant scene where my character is supposed to eat spicy curry that tortures his tongue while being scolded by a detective, I decided to squirt Sriracha (hot sauce) into my mouth. Unfortunately I did not feel the effects till after the take and scene were over. It was a long drive home.

And, once again, what will you take to the next project that you learned from this one?

TRAVIS: Beyond the directions I've already mentioned, I want to break the structure of my stories and productions. There is no correct formula for cinema and after two films made with the same blueprint (The Detective's Lover could be called the evil twin of The Big Something) and the same method of filmmaking (two to four weeks of straight production), I will make a different kind of film. What that is, I'm not quite sure yet.

Specifically, as a director, I have learned from my two features to be more bold. In some ways, I have made these films as a coward of cinema and watching Ford, Hawks, Herzog, Clouzot and others, I know that I must toughen up and forge ahead as a storyteller, no matter what.

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