LAFF 2012 Interview: PINCUS Writer/Director David Fenster
I want to first talk about this being somewhat fact, somewhat fiction. From my understanding, your father really has Parkinson's. How did you discuss with him the idea of making a film built around him, and what was his initial response when it was decided he would star in the film as well?
I began doing video and audio interviews with my dad a couple years ago. I just asked him if I could record our conversations and he didn't mind. I wasn't sure what I would do with the recordings but they seemed to facilitate deeper conversations about life's big questions. Territory I don't think we would have gotten to as easily in regular conversation. The recording made the talks seem more urgent and important. When I had the idea to put my dad in the fictional film that became PINCUS he was already comfortable with the recording and said he was fine with trying some acting. He just didn't understand why anyone would want to watch him on screen. I still have to convince him that he's one of (if not the most) compelling part of the film.
Has he seen the film yet? If so, what was it like watching this with him?
He has. We set up a private screening in this great theater in Miami called the Tower Theater. My dad was able to attend and the room was filled with friends and family, it was very emotional. He doesn't have a lot of great days anymore and he really enjoyed seeing the film and having so many loved ones around. It was a special event for all of us.
There are three relationship stories in PINCUS: you as your father's caretaker, your friendship with Dietmar, the never-sober German hobo who sleeps in the homes you two are supposed to be building, and Anna, the yoga instructor you're infatuated with. All three of these could really stand out on their own. How did you evenly balance these stories when writing and shooting?
I think the balancing of the stories was always important. I wasn't interested in creating a high stakes central storyline for this film, so I thought several smaller, intertwining stories would be compelling and keep things at a scale that reflected everyday life. I actually spent a lot of time writing and structuring the film, although people who have seen the film might laugh when they hear that. When I began editing, I realized I could switch the order of the scenes quite drastically and the story still made sense. But the reordering obviously changes the meaning of the scenes and the balance of all the stories. So a lot of the balancing came about in editing.
Since this story is very personal to you, at
what point did you know the script was finished and ready to move into
It never felt finished and I was very nervous about the script, even during shooting. There were plenty of times I wished I had had more time to work on the script and I often cursed myself for not listening to certain bits of writing advice. But we had to shoot. My dad gets progressively less mobile on a monthly basis and David Nordstrom was releasing his movie, SAWDUST CITY, so we were on a tight schedule.
In the film your character is a deadbeat with a lot good in him. He spends most of his time drinking, smoking, and ignoring client phone calls, but will drop everything to help his father. How much of Pincus is really you?
Pincus is definitely not meant to be 100 percent me. Of course there are some strong autobiographical elements to the character but he is also an amalgam of my mom (who is my dad's primary caretaker), David Nordstrom, my friend Gavin (who is married to a yoga teacher and runs a construction company), other friends and pure fantasy.
Follow up to the above: Why did you decide on writing Pincus as a loser with nothing really going for him except his love for his dad? Do you see Pincus as trying to better himself?
I think Pincus is forced into a situation he doesn't want to be in and his irresponsibility is a form of rebellion. Pincus is also busy thinking about lofty things so he lets a lot of earthly tasks slip through the cracks. He wants to believe there are mystical forces all around him but he's cynical and this frustrates him. Maybe he realizes helping his father, as irritating and depressing as it can be, is the most meaningful, tangible thing in his life. His interior life, or my conception of his interior life, is pretty autobiographical.
One of the many things I find interesting about PINCUS is that it's written as a narrative feature but is shot like a documentary. Why did you decide to shoot it this way vs. the traditional style?
I wanted to create situations, let them play out and shoot it like I would a documentary. This film is as much a portrait of the people I care about and find interesting as anything, so I wanted those people to be able to say what they really think and are interested in. I thought that format would allow people to bring a lot of themselves to the film. I also had documentary footage of my dad that needed to fit into whatever fictional stuff I shot. So there was the idea of using a matching style to seamlessly integrate the documentary footage.
You're a multi-hyphenate. You wrote, directed, edited, shot, and produced PINCUS. Which area do you enjoy most?
I enjoy the writing most these days. I like the openness and possibility of this stage. Trying to physically realize the film is always the most intimidating part for me, but I love the camaraderie of shooting and the unexpected things that happen. I can say I enjoy editing the least. It takes so long and I don't like the isolation and the time in front of a computer. But I can't imagine having someone else edit my films, so much of them is created in the editing.
The one thing you did not do was star in the film, even though elements are taken from your life. What made you decide to stay behind the camera? Did you ever consider taking the lead?
I'm terribly self-conscious in front of cameras. So it never occurred to me. But I am interested in acting and learn a lot every time I try it. So maybe someday.
You frequently work with actor David Nordstrom, who plays the titular role in PINCUS. What is it about him that made you feel confident he'd accurately portray the person who the audience might assume is you?
Final and most important question - will you give your father a big hug for me? He's great.
Yes. I'll be in Miami in a week or two and I'll give him a hug for you!
Thanks for your interest in, and enthusiasm about, the film, Chase. It means a lot.
PINCUS is screening again on Thursday, June 21st at 7:40pm at Regal Cinemas L.A. LIVE 13.
Photo Credit: Bob Anderson
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