ROBYN: Go with Le Flo is our 5th feature film. Michael and I were cast in an Alec Baldwin movie called The Last Shot (as actors and musicians). We had so much fun on set that this experience gave us the moviemaking bug. With our Hollywood paycheck, we decided not to spend the money on film school but to learn by doing. So we bought a camera, dove in and started making features from day one.
All our friends in L.A. were actors and Michael was an award-winning playwright and I had natural producer skills since I’d been booking our concert tours around Europe. The whole process was very organic. Our philosophy has always been to learn by doing.
We also figured out a way to self distribute, even with our very first primitive film. Since we’ve been a band (Bright Blue Gorilla) since 1990, we were used to touring with our CDs. So we got the idea to tour with our movies. One of our music fans was the manager at a lovely cinema in Holland and they invited us in. We go to art house cinemas, play a concert, then screen our films, with a Q&A. It’s the best way for a filmmaker to learn, by watching your films with hundreds of audiences. You can really see what works and what doesn’t work. You gotta have a thick skin!
Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process with Mea Machrowiak like?
MICHAEL: I already had the completed script in English. Rather than a translator, I wanted a German writing partner who understood the aesthetic of the movies we make. Mea was my first choice.
Aside from being a writer, Mea is also a musician, and I knew she’d be able to work with me and the actors and come up with the right rhythm, the right cadence - the stuff I look for in dialog. Both Mea and I feel that a scene is like a song: Rhythm, tones, pacing of dialog, combined with sounds of what people are doing, walking, working, fighting.
We would take a scene and work it, sometimes in both languages - the actors all spoke English as well - until it had the right energy and life to it. I also knew that Mea, unlike many writers I know, doesn’t have “blocks” and delivers on time. She’s easy to work with.
ROBYN: The way we finance our films has become a lifestyle. In 1990, we quit our L.A. jobs, sold everything we had (except our guitars) and bought one-way tickets to Europe. We keep our overhead low and focus 100% on creating joyful art. Everything we earn on our tours goes into the next film.
There’s also wonderful Gorilla angels who contribute to our film fund on our website and their money goes to feed the actors. We work as an artist collective, everyone puts in their creative energy to create something beautiful, something bigger than ourselves. If the movies end up making a real profit, then everyone will take part.
At this point it’s a labor of love. On Go with Le Flo we had 200 people from 20 different countries and the atmosphere on set was truly inspiring. We enjoy the creative freedom of wearing all the hats and it’s really special when everyone is there because they want to be, not for the paycheck. Go with Le Flo just had a worldwide release on iTunes, which is pretty cool for a no budget film. We’re curious to see what happens next!
MICHAEL: We knew we wanted to cast Denis Aubert and Roberta Bianchini in the film because we’d worked with them before. Casting the other parts went very well - especially after we cast Marina Senckel. She’s with the Berliner Ensemble (founded by Bertolt Brecht) and once her colleagues heard about the film they also wanted to be in it. So we had a terrific ensemble cast.
Regarding the writing: Once you see the actors working together, small changes are always necessary. Mostly it’s a few words here and there for timing, entries and exits. In rehearsal you can see most problems early on. I’m a fan of rehearsing before you get to the set.
I look for actors who can do a scene multiple times and still be fresh. Some tend to burn out after a few takes or, worse than that, do the exact same thing over and over without the ability to freshen up the take.
One script change that was notable: The character of “Gabi” who plays the shop assistant to “Jenny.” Originally, I’d had an older actress in mind and it was written more as a wiser big-sister giving somewhat cynical advice to Jenny. We had an opportunity to cast Luisa Wietzorek in the role - who we shot something with in L.A. years before. She’s younger than Jenny and, in rehearsals, the scene didn’t quite work even though she’s a great actress. I rewrote it to be more of a young know-it-all and then the scenes played great between them.
Michael, you wore a lot of hats on this project -- Director, Writer, Camera, Editor. What's the upside and the downside of that approach?
MICHAEL: The upside is freedom and opportunity to mesh all aspects of production together with a single vision. When I’m running one of the cameras I’m shooting with one eye toward where I’m cutting as editor. So I block the actors in a way that leads to smooth cuts in the edit bay.
Directing from behind the camera isn’t so hard if you have great actors. I’d say I do the lion’s share of directing during rehearsals. That’s mostly when I’m adjusting performance and energy, thoughts-behind-the-words, motivations, getting down to the character essence. During rehearsal I sometimes show them what I mean - sort of a line reading - but I only do that if they seem stuck.
Once we get to set, my directing consists more of reminders of what we did in rehearsal, unless there’s a problem. If, for some reason, the scene isn’t working on set - and this sometimes happens for various human reasons - then we’ll re-work it, re-block it, re-write it even. One thing I don’t usually do is let the actors improvise. I’m a firm believer in the script-as-blueprint. If there’s a problem with the scene, rewrite the script until it works.
The Downside? I suppose it could be tunnelvision, if I didn’t allow any other opinions in. But that’s not my style. During the pre-production and rehearsal process I’m a fan of suggestions, until the scene plays well. On set it’s another matter. I’m of the opinion that on set there should only be one voice of authority and that’s the director - though it should be a pleasant voice.
What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?
MICHAEL: We shot with two Panasonic GH2s, usually with a pancake lens. I went with an all-handheld aesthetic for various reasons, mostly doing with efficiency and having a fly-on-the-wall feel. I love the camera except for the rolling shutter. That’s not so great. But if you plan shots carefully it’s manageable.
MICHAEL: Smartest thing was to pick wonderful actors and crew. That made the shoot easy and pleasant. Dumbest thing? That’s tricky. There are always things you want to improve in a film. There’s not a director on earth that can’t see flaws in his or her films. But I’m of the opinion that it’s best to keep those to oneself and move on to the next movie. Try to do much better next time.
ROBYN: After making 5 feature films, one of the greatest lessons was realizing just how important pre-production is. Having the time to do proper casting, spend time getting to know the actors, rehearsing, doing camera tests and taking time to find great locations.
One of the biggest shoot days was with around 60 people. I usually plan all the catering but because it was such a big day I handed the job to a friend. They didn’t have much experience and we ended up running out of food! We sent someone to the store and luckily people didn’t have to wait too long. Food is one of the most important things on set, helps keep people happy and calm! We have very gourmet healthy food and lots of fresh baked goods, it’s important to let people know how much you appreciate them by feeding them well!
MICHAEL: With every movie we learn a ton. In the next film, Mr. Rudolpho’s Jubilee, we’re planning a very different approach, cinematically and in structure. I’d like to use many of the actors from Go with Le Flo. It’s always great to work with people you already know. Things run much more smoothly then.
ROBYN: Choose who you work with very carefully. Spend some time getting to know them in different settings. Make sure you have the same professional values, same creative vision and that everyone is willing to go the extra mile to do the best they can.
Be really clear in communicating expectations and what the project means to you and them. Don’t take yourself too seriously and learn to relax. It’s never going to be perfect, if you’ve done your best then just let it be good enough. Let go and go with the flow and see the humor in all situations, it’s always there! Laughter is a great healer!