SXSW 2015 Interview: Director Andrew Palermo Talks His Ambitious And Amazing First Narrative Feature, ONE & TWO

Featured Film Critic; Dallas, Texas (@ChaseWhale)
SXSW 2015 Interview: Director Andrew Palermo Talks His Ambitious And Amazing First Narrative Feature, ONE & TWO

Andrew Droz Palermo's One & Two is my favorite film to come out of SXSW 2015. I watched it cold, was floored by the end, and urged other colleagues to see it, and to see it blind. Our very own Peter Martin listened to my nagging persistence and watched it at the festival. He agrees it's a pretty slick movie

So naturally, I reached out to Palermo's team and set up an interview -- I had an abundance of question about this film -- there's a whole lot to it. There is also a lot of mystery in One & Two, so let this sentence serve as a heads up that there are MAJOR SPOILERS in this interview. One more time to bring it home: There are major spoilers in this interview. Bookmark it and come back when you see the movie, or if you were smart and watched it at SXSW, read on. 

ScreenAnarchy: Hey! What's up, man?

Andrew Palermo: How's it going? 

Good! How are you?

Good, man.

Nice to finally be able to sit down and be able to talk to you. 

Likewise! It's been a long time coming.

Yes, it has been. I just interviewed Robert Duvall, so good luck topping that. 

Thank you. (laughs)

Let's go ahead and dive into ONE & TWO. A majority of your impressively growing resume, is that of a DP. You shot your first film, RICH HILL. Your first movie you used the talented Autumn Durald.


It's really beautiful work -- it looked amazing, but what I was curious about is why you wanted to bring someone else on to shoot versus doing it yourself? 

I think it was just mainly division of labor. 

That's what I assumed.

I feel like it's a weird thing sometimes where directors cast themselves in roles. They act in the movie also. Are you really focusing on the role when you're acting in it and directing in it? You're probably not.


It just was a big endeavor anyway with the films. I'm trying to do something bigger than I've done, my friends have done. I'm trying to make a bigger movie and I was worried. I just can't shoot it myself. Anyway, she's better than I am, hands down. I would walk in the rooms and see the way she'd lit them with her gaffer, Brice [Bradley], who's amazing. It's just like this is incredible, this is way better than I would have done. It was a good relationship too. 

Great. I figured that's what you were going to say, but these questions aren't for me, they're for the audience. You co-wrote the film, as well as directed it. Talk about the process of this film coming together. 

I wrote a draft and then brought my friend [Neima Shahdadi], on. He was one of my oldest friends, he's somebody that I could bounce ideas off of and talk to about the film. I need somebody to talk to when I write. I can't sit in a room alone for a day. Once we start talking structural things. I can't just do structural things by myself. I need to verbalize. I need to work with someone. He and I worked really well together.

Kim Sherman produced it. We had done a few things together and she was interested in applying with Sundance Labs as producer. We talked that maybe this would be the project, that she would do it. That was a big launching pad for us, getting into Sundance Labs and her taking it through there. Then, we went to I.F.P. and met there. It's sort of a long process but I made Rich Hill in between there, I shot a few movies while the financing was all getting together. 

Yeah, it came together very well. The setup reminded me of THE VILLAGE but without the shitty twist. The comparison is a compliment because you've seen THE VILLAGE and know what I'm talking about -- the setup. The setup of how it was built. With the walls, the way they're living like LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. I felt that idea from THE VILLAGE was an influence. What are some films that did influence you when making ONE & TWO?

It's a long list. I really liked Night of the Hunter... I talked a lot about. Carl Dreyer's Ordet I really liked, an old film a lot of people haven't seen. It's beautiful and the setting is very similar to the way they live and it's ultimately a strangely magical realist picture in the end. It's like long conversations about God and medicine and something weirdly jumped off from there. Wild Child, Truffaut's film... Wild Child... when he's helping a feral child was really huge for me. Weirdly enough, No Country for Old Men, I don't know why. I think it's just maybe in the way they ... I love that film. It's maybe one of my favorites in the last 10 years. There's something about the stillness of the way they shoot a lot of dialogue. And then Let the Right One In was a big jump off. It's very genre and obviously, it's a vampire thing but it's so much more than that. I relied on that film a little bit of you can just do that. You can do your genre thing, and treat it with a different hand a little bit. That was a really big one for me. Also he was super good about not over-explaining in that movie and I find it very tasteful.  

It's very effective. I can see with LET THE RIGHT ONE IN and even dramatically similar is when both the people in the films use their abilities there are consequences. I want to talk about the kids. I thought they were amazing in the film.

Yeah so good. They were so fun to work with, too. 

Casting I'm sure can be very tricky. The actors sometimes get to settle for less than they want. But often, you get people who really deliver. In this film Kiernan Shipka and Timothée Chalamet project more sincerity and depth than most of the veterans working today. Talk about bringing them on the movie. 

I knew Kiernan's work from Mad Men, I watch Mad Men and she was sort of on my radar. I did not know Timo, Timothee. His agent sent me clips of him in Homeland. It wasn't really what I was looking for, his clip. But he did a reading for me and we Skyped a lot and we talked a lot at length. I was so sold on him, at least the concept of him. He read for me, he read the monologue where they're sitting out at night and it's a one shot thing where he's telling the first time that he saw seizures in the home. He just killed it. His reading of it was so dark and painful but also still funny and you could see he was not with another actor, but you could feel him bonding with the sister that wasn't there. Really amazing work.

I got so lucky that they liked each other too. If they didn't get along, it would have been horrible. That was so huge for me because it's about a brother and a sister, and for me, that's the thing I care most about. They love each other. It was great. It was so fun. 

After I watched the movie, I called my sister and just said, "I love you."

Oh that's amazing!

She was like, "Thanks." I was like, "Can we get together soon? I think we should get together more often." She was like, "Okay. That's fine." 

That's amazing, oh that's so good. 

I think that's why besides the film's special effects, their love is what really punched me in the heart. 

That's great. I'm so happy to hear that. 


Teleporting is what the big secret is in the movie that they can't hide. It's forbidden for the children to do. When and where did that come to mind when writing the screenplay? Why teleporting? How the hell did you make that work?

The why is sort of a thing I'm not exactly sure when it happened. It was the thing that I wanted to make them have some something and some power. It was a weird early draft of the script where they were really non-communicative in general and more feral which is why I mentioned Wild Child, Truffaut's film. I was reading a lot about feral children at the time and I was thinking about this thing that these two kids, this unspoiled world view could have. They're completely abandoned, and they're indoctrinated but maybe they could have this bond, or this thing, this power. Then it became that. 

Once I started thinking about what if we went even further than an Amish community? Not only is it Amish in style, like the way they live, they're not just living outside of society, they're walling themselves in. They're being completely isolated. Then they have this ability that can get them anywhere, yet they can't get out. Then it started all making sense, and from there, I wrote this back story and thought a lot about the way it may have happened, the community before them ... To me, it just seemed darkly ironic, I guess. They can have this thing and not actually go anywhere. 

So mind-blowing, considering it's a film that had a low budget. 

Well thanks. Well we worked our fucking ass off. The hardest thing I think is to make a special effect look real and natural. It's so hard to do. It took a long time and we shot tests. There was very little for me to lean on in the way of what I wanted but my visual effects guy, Josh Johnson, was awesome. He's a guy I've worked with a lot. He's very patient with me. You know it when you see it is what I kept telling him. I promise you we'll get there. I would give him these vague directions and be like, "I want it to feel real, I want it to feel natural. I want it to feel heavenly, like a gift." I'd send him strange photos of dust or smoke or mist in a field or something. He just kept pushing and kept pushing and we found this thing, however it looks. 

Yeah. I went into the film cold. I try to do that whenever possible ...

Yeah, it's hard to.

I try to do that for every film. I don't watch movie trailers anymore. WelI, I only watch them if I've already seen the film.

I'm so curious how our trailer does, whoever picks it up. I don't know how it's going to be cut but I don't know if you let her going into the outside world happen in the trailer. I think that's probably the thing you don't spoil. 

Yeah, it's going to be ...

It'll be interesting. It'll be really weird though.

I would say hide as much as you can because there's going to be a lot of people like myself settling on it. Because I've told so many journalists. I've said, "Trust me. Go into it cold. Don't go on IMDb or read anything about it. Go into it blind and I promise you will walk out floored." Now everyone's tweeting me and they're like, "Listen to Chase. See ONE & TWO cold and blind."

That's awesome. I would love to know, as a moviegoer, what it feels like when they first teleport. I can't, I don't know what it must feel like ...

Well for me, I was ...

Could you anticipate it? Was something about to happen, you could ... To me, it feels like that way when I'm watching them move and her get up. I am feeling it. I don't know, if I was in your shoes, ever anticipate that would have been the thing.

I didn't feel it until I started ... the smoke coming up, and I was like, "What's about to happen?" She teleports first, and I was just like, "Holy shit! Amazing!" You touched up on ... Well maybe you can expand on this and I can add it to it. With those special effects, is there anything you can expand on? Some of the challenges with the special effects and how to use them as effective as possible without being, not too cheesy, but I don't know, if you can expand more on that?

It was a struggle for us because we wanted to make such a natural, quiet and artful movie. You quickly get into things where it becomes more action or more poppy or comic-booky. I don't mean to say that's bad, but it became not our film quite quickly. We would talk about it. There were scenes that got cut even when Autumn and I were story-boarding or talking. This just seems like a little much for how much we wanted to keep the camera still, and quiet and fluid at times but it's rarely moving rapidly. The camera doesn't move that fast. That was sort of a challenge, but also given our limited budget, we couldn't move the camera when we were doing those scenes. 

It was a challenge for us to figure out how to shoot it in a way that was still energetic but not going to cost us a fortune. Because if you move the camera, it became a much bigger thing for us. We looked into motion control, we did all these things. We shot tests with motion control, we were like, "I don't know if this is even what we like." We might have been able to afford motion control, but it didn't feel like our film. 


Yeah, I got it. Well cool, I have two questions left. Once the end credits roll, what would you like people to take away from the film?

I think what you were saying about your sister. I hope that there's some warm familial bond or something. It's certainly something that I've described meaning to you after the fact but it became very clear that it was about my sister and our relationship growing up and things that have happened to us. I hope that there's that and I think there's also another layer of not being true to yourself. As a parent, perhaps not trying to mold your children into something they're not and let them be who they want to be. I'm sure there's any number of things that that means to any number of people, but I think there's obviously very clear metaphors for modern families. 

Yeah, well you nailed that. Well the last question. It's the most important. Has Hollywood kicked in your door yet? Because they are going to very soon from that.

(laughs) I would be thrilled to do something bigger. I don't know that it would be the next thing though. I'd love to do something ...

I'm going to be all about telling studios to watch this film.

We'll see.

It could be the next X-Men. 

It'd be fun. The thing about those movies that always suffer for me is that they neglect character, and they neglect real emotion. It seems like Nolan's the only guy really working in genre at a level that he's working, on the scale he's working and retaining an independent spirit, doing his own thing, creating his own material. He had to work for that for so long, to become the guy with as much control as he has. I would love to make a bigger movie someday. Right now, I'm looking to adapt something, a novel, a couple novels. 

You're going to be all right. 

Well thanks. I appreciate that.

Nice work man.

Thanks. It's been good talking to you.

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Andrew Droz PalermoElizabeth ReaserKiernan Shipkaone and twoSXSW 2015

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