Thursday, July 31, 2008

Exclusive Interview with Joaquin Montalvan, writer/director of "MOBIUS"

It's tough to find a low-budget indie horror that tries to capture that real creepy, film noir type feeling... That dark brooding sort of feel that you may get from, say, a Lynch or Cronenberg film. Joaquin Montalvan's "Mobius" does just that. Montalvan studied filmmaking and acting at UCLA and completed his first feature, "The Sleep of Reason", in 2000. After that, his second feature, "Adagio", screened at Sitges International Film Festival, then his documentary, "Visual Futurist: The Art & Life of Syd Mead" won him the Audience Award at Dances with films in 2006. His next project would be the afore mentioned feature length fiction film, "Mobius", which is described as a journey into the fractured psyche of a man named Caleb. Dead Harvey had the chance to discuss it with him...

Where did the idea behind "M O B I U S" come from?

The lead of the film, who was not an actor at that time, wanted to get into acting and asked me to take some head shots of him. Instead of grabbing my Nikon F3 (35mm still camera), I grabbed my Canon XL1 and started filming him. Immediately, I noticed 2 things: A) The camera loved him, and B) There was a depth of emotion that was coming through him which I loved. This went on for over an hour. Afterwards, I sat on the front porch with a cup of coffee and a cigar. The lead actor, Paul E. Respass, my co-writer, Eunice Font, and I started discussing the possibility of a feature narrative film with Paul as the lead. BUT, what if there where 2 leads who are brothers, and one brother is homeless, while the other brother is a professional who wears a suit and tie. What if the homeless guy is shot in black and white, and the professional guy is always seen in color. ...AND what if there is a murder at the beginning of the film with one brother confronting the other...those were the initial elements from which everything else materialized.

You've directed a few projects before. However, none of them were feature length dramatic films. What was the motivation behind going out and doing this particular project?

Actually, my credits as listed on IMDb are purposefully incomplete. The first 2 films which I directed where Psychological Horror films in which I played the lead. After completing those films, I was inspired to make a documentary, "SKINHEAD". It was during the making of that film that I discovered I enjoyed being behind the camera composing images, more than I enjoyed acting in front of it. Although, I still love acting and I played the character of "Ashtaroth" in "M O B I U S".

How did you go about securing financing and what was the approx. budget?

I purchase my own equipment which I use in the making of my films. As such, they are completely self-financed. This allows me to maintain control through the entire filmmaking process. To be intentionally vague, I would say the budget is under $100,000.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

I shot on a Canon XL1, and the shoot took over 3 years. Due to the budget constraints, you are forced to shoot typically on weekends when your actors are available. We're not talking every week, or even every other week. Sometimes you go 3weeks or more between shoots. Because of this, I try as much as possible, to shoot sequentially for obvious continuity reasons. If you figure that most feature length films have anywhere from 40 - 50 scenes, and your popping off a scene every couple of weeks, you can do the math and see how long it takes to finish a film in this manner.

This is not entirely without advantages, however. When a story is stretched out over such a long period of time, it GROWS! You can continue to add layers to it because you're able to study it in detail. It allows you to return to it with ever more objective eyes, finding places to add another color here or there, and put that finishing touch in at the last minute, like a painting. It becomes ORGANIC and develops a LIFE of its own.

How different was the film from the script?

The script never existed in any kind of COMPLETE format that you could sit down with, look at, and read. ALL the scenes were outlined, and the ORDER in which the story was to unfold was laid out. But, BEYOND THAT...basically it was all IN MY HEAD. It was written, between my co-writer and I, as we went along and as necessity dictated shooting-wise. It was not my intention to do it that way. It just worked out that that is how it transpired. But yes, EVERYTHING that we wrote/wanted to put in the film is there. If you know what you can believably CONVEY given your budget, you don't waste time writing things that you don't have the money to shoot.

Talk about how you got such good actors for a low-budget film and tell us a bit about your directing style.

Paul E. Respass is a WONDERFUL actor! He's one of those actors that you can just turn the camera on and...without dialogue...without direction...he's COMPLETELY COMPELLING! He can just "BE", He doesn't need to "ACT". Not everybody can do that. A lot of actors NEED dialogue, NEED direction, and even still, they're "PERFORMING". You are "AWARE" of the "ACTOR". I think the audience should forget whoever it is that they're watching and become TOTALLY immersed with the character living inside the screen. That's why I tend to use people that I already know in my films. I pick people who already embody the psychological spirit of the character, whether or not they're an "ACTOR". Some ARE actors, and some ARE NOT. To me, it's all about what the camera can CAPTURE in someone. Sometimes issues do arise with non-actors, primarily with regard to line memorization, but I'm willing to sacrifice speed if someone has the right FEEL for the character.

As for style, I don't subscribe to any particular style. Films are like children. They each have their own UNIQUE bent. I listen CLOSELY to each one to discover the path IT wants to take, and try not to impose myself on it. That is IMPOSSIBLE, by the way. A film WILL reflect the individual who made it, like it or not. Believing that, I try not to FORCE anything in there deliberately.

Talk about tackling such a heavy idea on a low-budget.

Well, I've always been attracted to MOODY films. "BLADE RUNNER" is my favorite film, and to this day, I still feel "MillenniuM" was the best TV show ever, PERIOD! I like opposites, contrast, and shadows. I think the silence in between words speaks more LOUDLY than the words themselves. I feel LIGHT is more interesting when it is glimpsed through the veil of DARKNESS. This brings us to what I would call the landscape of the PSYCHOLOGICAL which, for me, is where HORROR truly resides, within our SELF. Fortunately, you can go pretty far on a low budget with Horror, apart from elaborate effects. Then again, often times, less is more with gore. What people can IMAGINE is far worse than ANYTHING that can be put up on screen. Look no further than my favorite Horror film, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" (1974), where more blood is imagined than is actually shown.

After it was all said and done, what would you have done differently?

When I set out to make a film, I try to create the BEST film POSSIBLE with the tools available to me. So, I can honestly say, I wouldn't have done ANYTHING differently. It was crafted in the manner I wished it to be given what I had to work with. However, if I were to set out to make the film TODAY, I would probably shoot it 16:9 as opposed to 4:3.

What about distribution? Are there any lessons learned that you could pass on to other indie filmmakers.

I presently own all rights, and will entertain any offer from a TASTEFUL distributor, or any VIABLE avenue of distribution. I haven't as yet had the wonderful opportunity of getting SCREWED to be able to share any lessons at this time.

Where can people find out more about "M O B I U S" and, better yet, buy a copy?

"M O B I U S" is CURRENTLY not available to the public. However, you can follow the films journey towards that end here.

What's next? Do you have any more projects in the works?

I'm presently in production on my follow up to "M O B I U S", another Psycho-Spiritual Thriller titled "HOLE" which is being shot in HD with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 using some of the same actors from "M O B I U S". You can view promo pics, production stills, as well as track the films progress here.

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