Sundance Speed Dating with... LAGGIES Writer/Director Lynn Shelton and Cinematographer Ben Kasulke
Laggies marks Lynn Shelton's sixth feature, four of which have premiered at Sundance, and her sixth collaboration with DP Ben Kasulke.
Leading up to their premiere, I got to sit down with two long-time cold weather comrades and pick their brain with ScreenAnarchy's new "Sundance Speed Dating" series of interviews that will be coming out throughout the festival run.
ScreenAnarchy: At what age did you know you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Ben Kasulke: 16.
Lynn Shelton: I was trying to decide between acting grad school after my BA in theater or film school. But I was to intimated with film school. I didn't feel up to the task quite yet. I knew probably at about 20, but it took way longer to get there.
If you weren't directing or shooting, what would you be doing?
LS: If I had the talent, would be a musician or a contemporary dancer or a midwife or a progressive preschool teacher.
BK: A musician, seaplane captain, or a Cetologist.
What's a Cetologist?
BK: Someone who studies whales.
Who's the person that has had the most influence over your or your work?
LS: We do look at films before we make our own. Alexander Payne, Woody Allen, lots more but I'm not remembering. Earlier on though, my two uncles were artists, Peter is a sculptor and George was a poet. Those were the two that made me see I could actually be an artist. I knew really early on that I wanted to be an artist, but I don't know that I wouldn't have known it was possible with those early role models.
BK: Can we shorten it to a list of 350 people? Well, early on I didn't have those kind of role models right in front of me. I grew up in the middle of nowhere in norther NY. There wasn't any practical examples of arts culture right in front of me. It came much later, like realizing that werner Herzog's work ethic - but that's so generic.
LS: Yea, that's so boring (jokingly).
In three words or less, what's it like to see your film up on the big screen?
BK: Best. Thing. Ever.
LS: (clapping) Yes!!
If you $100 million and no restrictions, what would you make with it?
BS: I'd put it to Aids and cancer research. There's no movie in the world that's good enough to justify that price tag.
LS: If you had that much money, you'd have to help mankind. I'd happily take some of that money and fund a few films, but at least half would go to something bigger than just us.
Would you rather have six months of prep time and 15 days to shoot, or 15 days of prep time and six months of shooting?
LS: I dream of having unlimited days to shoot. I've felt pinched by my shooting schedules, as I'm sure I'm not alone in that. One of my dreams, for instance, is to shoot an entire movie twice, especially an improv movie. You capture lightning in a bottle right away, but if you had a second whack at the whole thing you could improve on it.
BK: I would rather have more time to shoot. It's the one commodity I've never felt I've had enough of. I look forward to the day when it's 5-day work weeks with manageable days for a few months.
How do you define success in marketplace for your film?
LS: I just want to keep making movies. I like the idea of my film reaching a large audience, but my main objective is to be able to make as many movies as I want, so whatever amount of success in the marketplace is necessary to achieve that.
BK: I'm at a point in my life where this is it, until I either retire or I die. I have to echo Lynn, whatever is going to let me keep making things. In an addendum to that, if there are a string of projects that are successful enough that allows me every now and then to experiment and try something that's not commercially viable on paper. I don't want to stagnate. I don't want to crank out the same formulaic movie over and over again, and I never feel like I have. But I'm at this point where budgets are being offered that are a little higher, but the scripts aren't enough for me to invest myself in.
What did you do the moment you found out your film was accepted into Sundance?
LS: I skipped around the room and sang a little song that had to do with being happy, something I just made up. (laughing hysterically)
BK: I found out from you via text message while I was on the set of the Rat Pack Rat [a short film playing at the fest that Kasulke shot]. I couldn't tell anybody so there was just this explosion of excitement inside and then moved on to China Balls.
What websites/magazines are important to read as an independent filmmaker?
LS: I think as an artists it's improtant to be well read in a more general way. If you want to know what's going on in the biz, you know, IndieWire and Variety and Thompson on Hollywood! are good outlets. But I would say beyond that and even more important is to keep yourself up to date that's going on in the world. I read The New Yorker. I get nice profiles, find out about human nature, get some fiction, some poetry. That's my favorite vibe.
BK: Just to expand on that, I think what you're getting at is that an expansive world view is best. There are great film trade journals, but getting outside that is important too.
What is the last mind-blowing film you saw?
LS: Her. It's stayed with me now, two months later.
BK: Yea, Her.
When have you been most satisfied with your life?
LS: It's when I feel most in balance. So it's not one single moment. One of the challenges I've had since I started making features is that work-life, home-life balance. It's a constant quest to make that happen and when I feel like when I'm succeeded at that is when I'm most happy.
BK: The last three years have been awesome for me. I think a lot of people reading this might relate to those sacrifices of practicalities that most people take for granted - being out on the road, a lot of time away from family, a lot of time working on something that most people don't understand that you make a living at. I feel like I've invested a lot of time in my 20s and early 30s to get where I am now, and I feel really good about it. It's validation of a choice that felt shaky along the way, watching friends be able to afford homes and have children and live a more "normal" life, not in a bad way "normal," just as a different way of getting validation.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
LS: He wants to be Carrie.
BK: I want to be Carrie, but a dude.