Monday, October 29, 2012

Jared Stepp talks about his film, Nostalgia

MIFS: Where did the idea for the film come from?
I first came up with the idea for Nostalgia about 5 years ago after graduating from the Vancouver Film School. Before leaving to studying film, I culled a bunch of records, cassette tapes, VHS tapes, DVDS, movie ticket stubs, text books, school papers, and toys. As I sorted through many of my possessions, each of them was tied to a specific memory. And that memory brought about a specific time in my life. I could not help but pause each time a new old thing was brought before my eyes and remember. Then I would ponder the "what if's" and "maybe if I's" to try and bring some amusement to the monotonous task upon me. Ultimately it just made the task longer and brought about melancholy. I boxed up the left over things that I was unable to sell or discard because they were too close to my heart or reminded me of a good time.

Upon returning to Milwaukee after graduation, the boxes were still in the basement. I had forgotten all about them but there they were, unchanged. I had traveled 4000 miles, spent significant amounts of time and energy in a different place, and yet, here they were. The same things. The same memories. The same melancholia.

I told this story to the project's co-writer Joel Zawada and to a few of my other friends. They related and told me stories of their own about things they could just not let go because the memory is too great to let go. How a thing is tied so closely to a feeling that they could not let go.

Hearing these stories from other people is when I knew I had a morsel of an idea. After winning Best Film in the Milwaukee 48 Hour Film project 2010, our production team, Ideogram Films was awarded a rental package from North American Camera. We won a week long rental of a High Definition camera package which included a 35mm lens adapter, primes lenses, monitor, and camera support gear. We just needed a story to film.

I felt that we should also award the actors involved in that winning film Cleaning House an opportunity to work with us again and make use of this great prize package. I brought the idea of Nostalgia up to my colleagues again and we decided to go for it.

When I sat down to outline and beat sheet the script, my mother came to mind. I remembered how she would collect knick-knacks and how she was so hesitant to throw anything away. Then I remembered how she would spend hours at the end of each day listening to records and tapes. Tying my mother to the initial concept lead me through extrapolation to personally gain a better understanding of her and why she would spend so much time at the end of her day listening to the music she collected. And ultimately this film is a compassionate message to her.

MIFS: How much did the project change from concept to final edit?
I passed my initial draft off the project's co-writer Joel Zawada. He is a very talented script doctor and has remedied many issues for me with scripts and concepts I have developed. He very character and story structure driven and gives honest, direct feedback that cuts right to the heart of the story. That is the best kind of feedback for me because I never take it personally. The criticism is not reflective of my writing or my abilities. It is always about the story at hand. This saves valuable pre-production time.

From the initial script, the story structure was made more concise. We start the film in the antique store instead of having Anita finally get the boxes of Jim's possessions out of the basement where they were stored. We cut out voice overs by Anita from the initial draft because we felt it was too expositional and slowed the story down. We decided we needed to focus more on the physical things of the world and the images rather than dialogue. Finally the antique store owner had a larger role, but we identified that the short film was Anita's journey so that role was diminished

MIFS:Where there any challenges during production?
Like all films, Nostalgia had a number of production challenges:

Shooting in the first week of November meant that the cast and crew had to battle the chill of a Milwaukee winter settling in. At the time I was based in Austin TX, and the project's Director of Photography was based in Elgin, IL. We had to both independently arrange vacation time from our day jobs, travel to, and stay in Milwaukee.

Our production chose to follow the Hollywood shooting schedule which is roughly shooting Monday-Friday 7am-7pm. We learned that shooting "no" to "low" budget films in this manner was not feasible. A majority of the cast and crew were already preoccupied during the week with jobs that let them pursue their artistic careers, have already scheduled their lives around their children, or were in school studying the artistic careers they wish to pursue. Even planning our shooting schedule months ahead of time does not prevent flu bugs, car trouble, traffic, and other day to day hassles that have become part of our daily routines.

While shooting in Anita's home, which was graciously provided to us by the Rotar family, one of their neighbor's was having the exterior of their home renovated by a construction crew. That lent itself to be a tricky challenge for our production sound and post production sound department.

Having a short film based around a song was a large challenge. The movie was not budgeted to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rights securing fees. Our production had a connection to two local Milwaukee musicians, Jeff Robinson and Paul Setzer. We commissioned them with the task of creating a song unique to our story and film. An added challenge for them was to make a song that was catchy and amenable to repeat listenings since it would be heard so often in the film. I admit they did a great job creating a song that catches the tone of the piece as well as one that beckons to be heard again and again.

Lastly while shooting the breaking glass slow motion shot, our film's Producer Taylor Rick was responsible for dropping the glass. We needed to get that right in just one take. We nailed it! Taylor then cleaned up the shattered mess and we wrapped for the day. Early the next morning I learned that a sliver of glass had found its way onto one of Taylor's fingers. When scratching an itch, the glass sliver found a new home under his eyelid! A trip to the eye doctor later and some eye drops saved a worse possible out come.

MIFS: With the film completed, what has been the most rewarding thing about the whole experience?
The most rewarding thing now that the film is complete is that feeling. Completion. A lot of hard work and time went into pre-production, production, and post production of this film. Once our production staff agreed that this project was the one we were going to produce it was like a charged particle ever surrounding our heads. We needed to make sure the momentum and energy of the project was constant, because if it slowed down or lost that momentum, it would fail to pass on inspiration and attract passion.

So much time was spent at the ends of our days making sure this imaginary story became a reality. Then our days were full making sure this reality was captured. And then finally we are able to share this reality with an audience. Hearing them react and listening to their feedback gives me a great sense of closure to the stresses of project and an opening to the joys the film.

Nostalgia screens on Nov 9th as part of the 14th Annual Milwaukee Short Film Festival at 7pm in the Lubar Auditorium, MAM.

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