After turning heads around the globe with a string of bizarre, perplexing short films director Calvin Lee Reeder makes his feature debut at Sundance 2011 with The Oregonian. We had the chance to talk with Reeder about his latest cinematic oddity and what drives his particular brand of surreal film making.
Todd Brown: Can you describe your early interest in film and what made you want to be a film maker. Were there any key influences that shaped your own style?
Calvin Lee Reeder: I sort of did it backwards. Me and my buddy Brady Hall just started going for it in our early 20's without even having any interest in watching films. That is a big reason why that early stuff is so unwatchable. But we were both very dedicated blue collar dudes, I built houses and he drove a van for a sign company, we put all of our money into film stock. It was a great way to learn but the material is real bad.
Even back in those days I instinctively leaned toward a more experimental narrative. So when I finally watched Altman's MASH I realized there where worlds to be explored that I was too dumb to even consider before. I didn't go to college or anything so Nicholas Roeg and Jodorowsky movies found me through some strange channels and when they did it really encouraged me to sort of ignore trends and be as dark and abstract as I always knew I was.
TB: From the trailer it appears that The Oregonian is very much in the same world as your shorts The Rambler and Snake Mountain Colada. Is there any sort of direct link?
CLR: Maybe more of an indirect link.
I've often thought that maybe I've just been making the same damn movie since Little Farm and it just keeps getting longer and stranger. The Rambler and Snake Mountain are definitely part of that. And thank you for mentioning The Snake Mountain Colada, that fucker gets no respect.
TB: How did the film come together? How do you pitch something like this to a potential investor?
CLR: My DP Ryan Adams was really helpful in getting this together. He got me in touch with some great people like Christian Palmer who contributed in big ways and also sort of got the film just by reading it. We did have a major investor back out about a month before we got going. I can hardly blame him though, this is a tough one to back for sure. A fella named Steven Schardt came in last minute and saved the day, he had just done the film Humpday and was apparently interested in entering a different world for a bit, he rules.
TB: Does story matter?
TB: One of the great things about your work is how difficult it is to describe and with that in mind, how would you describe The Oregonian?
CLR: I've had a hard time myself, I've described The Oregonian as a psychic mystery. That description has pretty much ended every conversation about it so far.
TB: Your films usually feature some sort of pairing of the grotesque and humor to the point where sometimes it feels like the humor is being used as a weapon. Are you aware of the balance between the two when writing And what's with the colada fixation?
CLR: I like that weapon comparison, I've never heard it described that way. I am aware when humor starts to creep in, however, I'm completely unaware if its balanced or working at all. That is perhaps the number one thing that makes me second guess myself throughout any of these projects, but so far the people who like my stuff seem to appreciate that blend. There's some pretty stupid stuff in The Oregonian, we'll see...
Pina Colada's are great. To me they represent an odd bit of 1rst world decadence that I like inject into sometimes horrifying and dire situations. I've always felt that Jimmy Buffett was really onto something with this Margaritaville shit. Margaritavillie is probably a really dark and psychedelic place, Buffett's a genius.
TB: After working together so long do you ever get the sense that when you give Lindsay a script there's some part of her that shudders and thinks "Oh, god, what's he going to do to me this time?"
CLR: Yes absolutely, I remember handing her "The Oregonian" script without even being able to look her in the eye. I just kinda dropped it in her lap and got outta there, luckily she hasn't said no yet.
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