Wednesday, May 20, 2015

LADIES OF THE HOUSE: The John WIldman and Justina Walford Interview Part 2

This is the second of the interview I did with John WIldman and Justina Walford concerning their film LADIES OF THE HOUSE.  (The first part is here

We pick up here after John explained how the effects people walking off with their weapons forced a change in a fight scene.

John: But, you know, you have to make those choices.

Justina: But also, you know, I come...My big influence is Tarantino as far as dialogue. Like, I love Tarantino-style dialogue and I come from theater. So theater is always dialogue and monologues in many of the first, scripts...And we wrote a lot. There's tons of versions of it.

Buteven after editing that script down and making it through pacing, after we shot, we realized there was even more to trim. So there's things on the cutting room floor that were  really funny or more character-driven. That we, we took out because we needed to actually get  to the depth.

John:  So we had to edit out speeches. We had to edit things,Our editing process, our post-production process took like a year and a half. It took a while because we had edited together version and it just didn't work.

The ending we had just didn't work because it was a traditional ending. It was a much more of... if a studio had done this and what have you, it was the ending that they would have had.

But it just didn't work for us and, um, Justina and I and Farah White, the producer, who also stars as well in the movie, and James Taylor, our editor, and he did an amazing work as far as helping us come up with something that was actually more honest to what we wanted originally.

Um, but not something we ever intended in writing as far as what the ending was. And, you know, and it, it saved the movie, frankly.

Steve: Are you happy, are you happy with the...I'm assuming when you put it out, you were happy. So, are you, you know, you know, you...

John: I'm, I'm very happy with it. I mean,  on a debut feature you have so many things you could just go horribly, horribly wrong. And you also have so many ambitions for the, the magnificence that, that's all going to be. And you know, if you had any kind of practical self awareness at all,  you know you're going to fall somewhere in the middle.

And you hope you're going to fall on the high end of the middle as opposed to the low end of the middle. And I'm very, very happy with the movie. I'm, I'm thrilled to death that this is our first entry and that this is like the introduction for people to what Justina and I...what's in our heads, you know...

Justina: And, and we learned so much from it that the next one, we'll like take that with us as a, it was such a was such a learning experience. I'm just, I'm just really happy we didn't kill anybody, um, that no, that no one, no one died and, um...

John: Yeah, no one died on set, yes.

Justina: And no...yeah, no one's career was ruined. That's all, that's...I was happy about that.


Steve: Did you know the actors before?

Justina: Some.

John: Yeah, some,  they came from all different places.  Farah, of course, I had known for a while, I literally met her on my red carpet at the Dallas Film Festival. And,  and, befriended her and  we became friends. So I knew her.

Brina Palencia, who plays Crystal, ...early on, when we're going to make the film,  we were going to cast her and I was very excited. Uh, Samrat Chakrabarti, I knew from being the publicist for the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and so I was friends with him and had wanted to do something with him.

Gabriel Horn, also met from the Dallas Film Festival,  Reallythe only two people that were kind of late to it, to additions, um, was Michelle Sinclair, um, or Belladonna. Uh, and we met her through a friend of mine, Don Lewis, who is a, writer, journalist, and producer.

I was at South by Southwest with him, waiting for a movie to start. And he goes, "Guess what I'm doing." And I go, "I don't know." He was, "I'm playing Words with Friends with Belladonna's husband. That's weird, huh?" And I go, "What?" And like a week later, Justina and I were in Michelle's living room talking with her and her husband about her being in the movie.

That happened that quickly. She was onboard immediately. We love her to death. She is just the best thing ever.

Steve: She's fantastic.

John: She, she's...

Steve: I mean, she breaks your heart, you know, just it's like, "Wow!"

John: Oh and easily, easily, no debates, the most popular person on the set. Just the sweetest, most wonderful person ever.

Justina: Yeah, so sweet, we had actually written the character to be quite, like evil. And, like as soon as we saw her like perform, like I was like, "No, she's the that character and not evil. She's just like she exhibits too much."

Steve: She's just so sweet, just whatever, it just...

John: And then, the last addition was Melodie Sisk. And we had originally another actress in the role of Getty. And, and that actress had to drop out, uh, very late. And Farah knew Melodie. They'd become friends at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham. And Farah got in touch with her.  Melodie, like within a day sent us a video of her doing lines from the movie.

And like maybe two days later, we were sitting opposite her at dinner basically saying, "You're hired. Next week, you're on the set." And she's amazing. She was also a lifesaver. Mel-, Melodie Sisk, I mean she's getting notices and deserves like the great great rave review she's getting for her  performance.

Steve: How fast did it come togeth-, how fast did it...once you started, when did you said, "Let's do this?" I mean getting done the whole thing done

John: The whole thing?

Justina: We had some false starts with financing.

John: We...started to make the movie and we're in pre-production and we hit a roadblock at half of our financing. Because we got half of the budget, we just could not score the other half. And I did not want to do that situation where, you know, you're on the set and you're talking to your producer. You go, "We have to shoot this scene, but we can't pay anybody tonight."

You know, and that nightmare. And it always sounds romantic and exciting after the fact,  I didn't want to be in that situation. You know, nobo-, you know, nobody wants to do that, so we shelved it. We shelved the entire thing. And we're back to the drawing board.

A year later, we had another script. We were now...we got the money to make that film. And we were in pre-production and discovered that we needed some additional money. Like we're having...we had our budget, but we weren't going to be able to pull off the movie we were hoping to do.

So, I, we were talking to Farah about going back to our executive producer, Ruth Mutch. And, asking her if she could finance more of the film. And Farah said, "You know, Ruth likes this script, but she loves the other script." And so we immediately, like within moments changed.

And with like a month to go, we changed the film we were going to make, went back to the original film which then was LADIES OF THE HOUSE

Justina: Yeah, so if, if Ruth had not said, "I really like that LADIES script," it would probably never have been made. It would have been something totally different. For which I'm glad because I really like the script a lot.

John: Yeah, yeah. So,then we shot the film. And then it was about, like I said, about a year and a half editing process. And I would say all total is about maybe five or six years from when we, when we went into pre-production originally to now. So...

Steve: You had the screening at the Film Society [of Lincoln Center] like a year ago, two years ago?

John: Two years ago, yeah.

Steve: How was that? I didn't get to go because it was too late at night. I wanted to. Was that a different...

John: That's a different go. Yeah, we, we did, we did a handful of test screenings and, you know, and made adjustments along the way based on those...and some were like literally six people in our living room.

Some were like that, where we actually put a screening together and had about 25 to 30 people. And you know, and every time people filling out forms and questioning, and reanalyzed that stuff.

And it really did help really did help us shape it. And you know, and it was, it was also, it helped us find how people were emotionally invested in various characters or what things confused them, you know, that, that type of thing. I remember at one point, um...and it was just one person, but it was, it was, it was hilarious.

They basically said was like in these gold like letters on the sheet, "This person must die. You must kill him. And he can't just die off-screen. You must kill him on screen." You know. [laughs] And we're going, "Holy crap!" [laughs]

Justina: That's an unlikeable character.

John: Yeah, that person really does not like this character. But that' need that becauseyou're living with something for so long as you're developing it and you're shooting it and you're editing it that, that you, you can forget,...

What can make somebody else walk out of the room or what somebody can read into another character, in the film and go, "I really like that guy." Or you know, "I was totally digging that, that woman." You know, and those are the things that tip you off to go, "Oh, I see where this is playing now." And you know,  that really did educate us quite a bit.

Steve: (to Justina) I know you John is listed as director] . Were you there like every moment co-directing, or did you let him alone?

Justina: I'm a spouse, so I have to stay away sometimes. I was only there for, uh, I think a week and a half. And there was actually one day, where it's like, I'm too neurotic. I was going to leave today. Because there're certain times where like certain scenes are shot, where I was too like, "Don't do this, don't...make sure this happens,"  , I had annoyed my own self, so I left.

Steve: Could you, could, do you think you could direct it for him or is it...because I know you've done theater...

Justina: Yeah.

Steve: Which is so, which is so, which is...I know how does it feel, it's different.

Justina: It is. I just started a short film that I wrote, uh, so, yeah, and that's when I learned like, "Oh, this is really like different from theater." Because I love directing theater, but it's such a different beast. So, uh, I'm definitely learning from my short films .

John: Yeah, last year...we were hoping to shoot our second feature last year and things didn't come together. And you know, and we had vacation days saved up. We had, a little money saved up, you know. And so I shot a short film and Justina AD-ed for me. And then Justina shot a short film and I AD-ed for her.

Andthe idea for Justina really was, "OK, we're going to do a couple of these to warm you up so you can direct your feature."

And  we specifically  put her in a place where, you know, there was every support that she could possibly have between myself and the DP and, the other people there.

She could relax into, "OK, this is how, you know, this is how I direct my script and this is how I do this." You know to...and, and we want to do another one of those also. But I would say, you know, as we go on, you know, I could easily see a scenario when I'll do one and she'll do one and I'll do one and she'll, and she'll do one like that.

But I will also say that on this film I was the director, but every aspect of the film is partnership between the two of us, and it would be ridiculous to think  that her influence wasn't in every scene.

And you know, what I mean, you know, from, from wardrobe to the editing process, to decisions on color schemes, like all of that stuff.  I've said this before, but  I romantically like look at this as like maybe, you know, in the future, if we, if we've done enough films, to have that kind of thing of like Bogdanovich and Polly Platt, you know?

Justina: I'm Bogdanovich.

John: Yeah,  she would be Bogdanovich. I'll be Polly Platt. But I've always wanted to make it very, very clear to everybody that the two of us are doing this. And, and how the roles or, or I'd say how the titles, you know, fall is not really that important to me.

When you're on the set sometimes it's easier for everybody to have one person to focus on as far as,  whose lead do we take. But, you know, the truth is I would also put Farah, our producing partner in this, as well, that, you know, every...the decision that we make production wise, we're each weighing in.

And, you know, and it's not a thing of  Justina or Farah are giving me ideas and I'll go, well, "That was OK. Maybe I'll do this." You know, jettison it. It's actually a conversation. And, and oftentimes, knockdown, drag out debates between us of like going casting wise, it has to be this person. Or hiring this production person or you know, this DP, or what have you.

Justina: Yeah, there's actually a strange overlap between director and producer, right? So like Farah and I very consciously wanted to make sure that John was the director. For something that's low budget, directors are often distracted with producing. And so we were trying to pull that from so he could focus on directing. And, there's times where that is the focus. Like casting, is that producing or directing? Like at some point, like, you know, we go, "OK, we're going to go this far what we believe is best."

And then, but John gets, you know, the final say on cast and crew and vision and you know, do we need yellow towels or red towels on the set.

But  I think, for me,I love producing much more. So I love getting the, this stuff done.

John: I got a very good example of this. Um, early on, in the editing process, I was not going to include nearly as much nudity as is in the film. And, and I had, early on, this idea of, um, it, the majority of the nudity would actually come from the guys because it's a women's world and, and I wanted to flip the script.

And Justina and Farah and actually Melodie as well, all three basically ridiculed and made fun of me, and, and, you know, for being a boy scout and said, um, "No, you know, if you have women that look like this, then goddamn it, use them." You know.

Justina: Well, it was Farah and Mel- "If you have a woman like me," you know, like, Farah's like, "If I'm looking like this, you can use that." Um, but I think...yeah, but for me was more like, "I understand the philosophy behind that and the metaphor and the whole, the man naked and the woman clothed."

But here's a thing, the men don't want to get naked, and the women do, so, what are we going to do with that? And that's, yeah, those...

John: And so, and so what you get in the movie, uh, you, you can, you can thank Justina and you can thank Farah and you can thank Melodie.

Justina: You get one boy butt.

John: You get one boy butt. [laughs]

Steve: You know what the terrible thing is? I don't remember any of the nudity. I really don't because it just it's's's like fortuitous. It's not...

Justina: It's not like someone talking on the phone and behind them it's like boobs coming by.

Steve:  I remember the movie. I remember the story. I don't remember..

John: You know, I talked to each of the actresses beforehand. And, and I put it this way. I said that, "Nothing aggravates me more as a film goer that when you have that scene where like a married couple or, or a couple, they have sex, and immediately afterwards, the woman is pulling the sheets up to cover her."

Because I go, "Because I know, yeah, that happens all the time between married couples." Wives are constantly covering themselves up after sex with their husband." And it just, it just...

Justina: I used to take the whole bed with me.

John: Yeah. [laughs] It infuriates me. And I said, "So, I wanted to, you know, to approach it as know, if you would be naked, you know, in that situation, you'd be naked." I said, "But that doesn't mean I'm going to put a key light on your breast. You know, I'm not going to be doing that."

The other thing is I think oftentimes, um, American produced films, there's almost like as scoring card or like a checklist of like topless shot, bottomless shot, full frontal. And they're really checking things off, as opposed to, well, that would happen or that would not happen in the context of the film.

And I said, "That, I definitely did not want to do." And I think, uh, you know, another very, very good, good example is the scene between Crystal and, um, and Jacob, where we'd actually originally written it to have more nudity. And as I was staging it, I, you know, I came to an idea that actually we didn't need to do that.

And it would be very cool to do it a different way. And Brina, I believe, was actually surprised because it was my idea, not...It wasn't her idea, you know, to, you know, to, to take that kind of turn with it. Um, but yeah, that, again, thank Justina, thank Farah, thank Melodie. [laughs]

Justina: For the few seconds that...

John: For the few seconds you get. [laughs]

(The final part of the interview is here)

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