What was your filmmaking background before setting out to make Four?
JOSHUA: I went to film school at Columbia University in my early 20's. I've done a handful of short narrative and experimental films in and out of film school since then.
Before this I was just a fan of movies and I made music videos and skate videos with my friends in Texas. I studied Radio-TV-Film as an Undergrad at UT-Austin, but didn't really specialize in making films. I just had a passion for it and started doing it.
What was your process for adapting the play and what challenges did you face?
JOSHUA: The main challenge was to try to preserve the essence of the play without the movie seeming too much like a filmed play. I wasn't interested in literally adapting the material, but rather to use the character dynamics and situation as a jumping off point to tell the story. I also wanted to preserve as much of the perspective and the wonderful language of Christopher Shinn and not lose his unique perspective on this story, which was coming from a place of youth and purity.
My process tends to be a bit scattered. I write in short but intense fits and starts, then put it down for awhile to get some perspective on it and test what I've written. It took me about a year, off and on, to adapt the play into what eventually became the shooting script, although the final film is somewhat different even from what we intended to shoot.
Essentially the Joe/Abigayle story is a bit more flushed out and the second half of the movie reveals more about what is going on in the inner lives of the characters than the play does, which I think is necessary for the story to work as a movie.
Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your financial plan for recouping your costs?
JOSHUA: The producer Christine Giorgio and I raised the money together through private investors and through a few grants and a couple of small Kickstarter campaigns. Our plan is to release the movie in a small theatrical run next year and through digital and DVD, then to go into some foreign markets. It didn't cost that much to make the film so I think we have a good chance of at least making our money back, but obviously it's such a challenging time for small American independent films.
You also have to think about these things in terms of building a career. This is my first feature film and I think it’s gotten a solid response, enough for me to be able to make my next film. It's good for everyone involved because they have something solid to show to keep working and building on what we've done here.
What camera did you use and what did you love and hate about it?
JOSHUA: We shot with the Arri Alexa. Mostly I loved it. I think it was the right camera for what we needed and I think the end result was far and away more compelling that I originally thought it was going to be. We shot with these vintage lenses called Super Baltars which were used a lot in the 70s. The two combine to make everything look very wet and milky, which I liked because we shot mostly everything at night so it creates a really neat effect.
You can also shoot on this 'log c' mode that gives you so much latitude in the coloring process. It looks sort of shitty while you're shooting it, almost like a film negative would look, but you can do so much with it in the end.
I guess the downside of that camera is that we didn't shoot the full uncompressed format because you need this really expensive drive to do that with the Alexa. But the post was a breeze because you don't have to do all that lame processing that you have to do with the Red camera to work in Final Cut. I'm not the most techy director, so for me it was mostly a really great experience.
Did the movie change much in the editing process, and if so, how?
JOSHUA: The essence of the play is definitely still there, but we did rearrange and cut some scenes that were really different from how I envisioned them in the script. If you watch the film, the scene where Abigayle sees her father in the car is kind of a hybrid of like four scenes put together and that's how it worked best in the film. Some scenes were totally cut out of the movie as well.
I really loved working with David Gutnik, the editor of Four. He's the first editor I've ever worked with that thinks like a writer. Both of us are really story oriented, so we weren't too precious about what to leave in and didn't feel so committed to the original text. It was more like 'if it works, it works'.
What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?
JOSHUA: Probably the smartest and the dumbest thing I did were both the same... trusting and not trusting the actors.
My main process in making film is always in the casting process first and foremost. If I can choose the right people to inhabit the role, then a lot of my work becomes just steering the ship so to speak. For the most part, I did that with Four and it worked and that was the best thing I could have done to make the film good.
But there were a few times when I was unable to provide the actors with the space enough to explore how to best do what they needed to do. The dumbest thing you can do as a director is always to give in to the pressure cooker situation of a film set and then pass that bad energy on to the actors. I regrettably did that a few times, but thankfully not too much for it to affect the over all work of the actors in the end.
And, finally, what did you learn from making the film that you have taken to other projects?
JOSHUA: I think with every film I've made I've been able to take big lessons and pass them on to the next project.
With this film I think that trusting my instincts will be the thing I take with me in the long run. Every time that I was pressured into something I didn't fully believe in, it turned out to be a mistake. Thankfully there was not anything major on that front, but still there were a few things I would have made different choices about.
You should always trust your gut with creative decisions. After all, it's the director's job to protect the vision of the film and even if it makes people uncomfortable, the end result is always the thing that matters the most.