Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ingrid Veninger, Pedro Fontaine, Dylan MacLeod and Maureen Grant on "He Hated Pigeons"

What was your filmmaking background before making He Hated Pigeons?

INGRID (writer/director): I started out as an actor in the 80’s, then moved into producing in the 90’s, and began writing/directing shorts in 2004. My first feature Only was made in 2008; He Hated Pigeons is my 5th feature as writer / producer / director.

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

PEDRO FONTAINE (lead actor): I met Ingrid at FEMCine in Santiago. It’s a women's film festival and they were doing a retrospective of her films. I was translating her Q&A's and workshops and got to hang out a lot with Ingrid. I told her I was an actor and she ended up writing a role for me! It was very shocking, but exciting too. It meant a huge change in my life, but I was thrilled to get the chance to do what I love the most with such a unique director and friend. 

INGRID (writer/director): After Santiago, I was traveling to some film festivals with my 4th feature, The Animal Project. Pedro and I exchanged emails. He often sent me music (Tame Impala X, PJ Harvey, The Strokes, Queens of the Stone Age). Then I had a hunch… Even though I had never seen Pedro act in anything, I knew we could make something good together.

So we Skyped and I told him that I wanted to write a lead role for him in my next feature, and I promised we would shoot within a year. He did not hesitate to commit. So, it was on. And for the next couple of months, I kept having a recurring dream of Pedro on the back of a red pick-up truck traveling from the north to the south of Chile.

Pedro and I emailed almost everyday throughout July as the bigness of the commitment was setting in and we were both scared. By the end of July I sent Pedro a 10-page outline which included some preliminary ideas for voice-over, surreal imagery, and a sketch of a road trip from the Atacama desert to Patagonia. Pedro responded, “Heeeeeeeey, I like it”.

With only an outline, I met with cinematographer, Dylan Macleod, and production sound recordist, Braden Sauder – they both committed. So, I started to write applications for funding to the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council, and Canada Council for the Arts. (IV)

Pedro and I continue our creative Skype sessions, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking… What if we don’t get the grant money? What’s the back-up? I start thinking about crowd-funding and the idea terrifies me. BUT THERE  IS NO WAY WE ARE NOT MAKING THIS MOVIE.

I make a promise to myself, and Pedro and the crew, and I book our flights to Santiago without a cent of funding in place. We plan to fly on January 30th. Shoot in February. Return March 2nd.

I write. It’s hard. 

INGRID (writer/director): On January 4th,  I complete a 52-page screenplay with 130 scenes, but we never call it a script… it’s a ‘creative map’. DO NOT GET ATTACHED TO THIS BECAUSE IT WILL CHANGE.

Everyone gets a copy and a fierce pre-production begins. I move into producing mode (with script revisions happening alongside). All accommodations are booked on my credit card. The red truck is rented, plus a 2nd vehicle. Drivers are secured.

Via Pedro I connect with a Santiago-born US-raised actor, Cristobal Tapia Montt, to play the role of Sebastien. Wardrobe choices are solidified. Props are secured (with doubles and triples for continuity assurance). Pedro confirms Chilean actors for the supporting roles. EXCITING. Now, where’s the money?

Toronto Arts Council comes through! Canada Council comes through! Ontario Arts Council takes a pass. It’s January 22nd. I launch my first ever indiegogo campaign on January 24th and we ride the fundraising wagon all the way through production. Every dollar raised is legitimately helping us make the film. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, encouraging, and ultimately rewarding. I am so proud to have the names of all of our supporters on this movie.

How much did the script evolve, or change, over the course of production?

PEDRO FONTAINE (lead actor): During production we had many long drives from one town to another in which Ingrid would sort out the distribution of the crew in the two cars. Whenever I was in the same car with her, I knew we were going to be digging deep into the script. So even though the final film follows the flow of the original screenplay, we did incorporate a lot of elements of the real-life trip into the film, especially towards the second half of the trip.
The dumbest we did during production was not make a reservation for the south ferry, which compromised the entire itinerary. And the smartest was not turning back or giving up Instead, we found an alternate way to get to the south and it was great because we ended up incorporating the obstacle into the story. It was a vibrant process.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the movie?

DYLAN MACLEOD (DP): This was my first time shooting a long form project on a DSLR. The timing was fantastic because there had been some recent releases of new cameras that were said to rival the standard Canon 5D.

After much testing and research I decided on the Sony A7s. Partly for the compact form factor and partly for the prospects of experimenting with the unprecedented low light ability the cameras sensor has.

Preparation for the shoot involved putting together a package that was ultra compact. I wanted to be able to fit everything into a carry-on size knapsack. I worked with our colorist Ryan Ruskay at Deluxe Post to decide on the best color space to shoot in.

We also tested workflow with our editor Maureen Grant to make sure we were doing things as efficiently as possible in order to accommodate the tight post-production schedule. I also did extensive low light testing and explored the possibilities of shooting under the light of the full moon.

What editing software did you use and what was the editing workflow?

MAUREEN GRANT (editor): The post process needed to be smooth and economical in terms of time for this project. We made the decision to forego transcoding the media in favour of more time for the edit. The best solution for this was to use Adobe Premiere as it worked seamlessly with media from the Sony A7S, so we could sync the media with Pluraleyes, and be ready to go.

I spent two weeks syncing the rushes before we dove into the 6-week edit. Ingrid and I settled into the edit suite 5 days a week (8-9 hours a day) and began the process of discovering the film. We didn't use any temp music during the process to avoid any attachments. From the start, Ingrid wanted the final film’s score to be improvised by different musicians.

Where did the idea come from to (at some screenings) perform the score live? How does that change the viewing experience?

INGRID(writer/director): The idea for this film to be live-scored came before I wrote a word of the script.  This project has been the most intense, not because I booked the crew’s flights to Chile before there was a script, or because I planned to primarily shoot in a language (Spanish) that I don’t speak or because I wrote the lead role for an actor whose work I had never seen… but because every step of the process had to allow for the added uncertainty of a live-score.

The idea of different musicians, in each city, improvising their own music was a commitment that influenced and informed every choice in making this film -- from writing and shooting, through editing and sound design. There was no way the live-score could be a gimmick, it needed to be intrinsically woven into the fabric of the film so that it became essential.

He Hated Pigeons deals with letting go. Life is uncertain. Filmmaking is uncertain. And, I always wanted the audience to feel something which has its own intrinsic impermanence.

So every public presentation is a one-time-only event.

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