Wednesday, August 08, 2012

FANTASIA 2012: CRAVE (2012)—Q&A With Director Charles de Lauzirika, producer Raleigh Stewart, production designer David L. Snyder and Actor Josh Lawson

Crave [IMDb / Facebook]—the sold-out SRO Fantasia world premiere of the long anticipated feature directorial debut from regular Ridley Scott collaborator Charles de Lauzirika—stylishly depicts Aiden, an alienated crime scene photographer (Josh Lawson), teetering on the verge of vigilantism. Described by Lauzirika as a mix between Walter Mitty and Travis Bickle, Aiden spends a lot of time in his own head entertaining violent and sexual fantasies that counter an otherwise disempowered existence. Sound familiar? When Aiden becomes attracted to Virginia (Emma Lung), the thin line between love and hate—let alone fantasy and reality—begins to unravel.

Of the one-week sampling of films that I had the pleasure of watching at this year's edition of Fantasia, Crave surfaced as an awakened giant. I predict a robust film festival run and an attractive distribution deal in the near future and it will be heartening to see Lauzirika's debut feature make great strides in festivals to come.

A remarkably fresh genre hybrid that resists and works against genre expectations, Crave is a slightly noirish love story with polished comic flourishes and an unnerving psychological descent. It will speak to the rage each of us feel, betrayed by so-called "civilization", and the fantasies we guiltily crave to act out.

Every single performance is spot-on, most notably lead actor Josh Lawson's sweet, sexy and ultimately disturbing portrayal of everyman Aiden, his love interest Emma Lung as a sweet and sour femme fatale, Edward Furlong as her seedy accomplice Ravi, and the ubiquitous Ron Perlman as police officer Pete in one of the most appropriately restrained roles of his career. Sound design and score add engaging texture and Raleigh Stewart's closing title credits are a whirligig collage that deserve a standing ovation all on their own.

Crave sets a bar so unique that it will stand alone and as one-of-a-kind for quite some time. I'm not alone in my assessment. Crave won the New Flesh Award for Best First Feature. As stated in Fantasia's press release: "This impressive debut captivated the jury with its remarkable production value. Its efficient storytelling and intelligent internal dialogue, generously embracing the author's personality, provided a riveting portrait of a road to madness." At his site, Alex Bowyer describes Crave as "a skillful blend of darkness and light, a movie of laughter and sorrow that defies classification and deserves great success." At Fangoria, Michael Gingold writes: "It's one of the best films to appear this year, and a wide audience should be allowed to find out why." At Entertainment Maven, Matt Hodgson terms it "both endearing and deliciously evil" and at Spectacular Optical Marybel Gervais deems Crave "an arrow straight to the heart." In his way-too-spoilerish review for Variety, John Anderson complains that Lauzirika's admittedly "accomplished debut feature is too funny and self-aware to be disturbing, but it's certainly memorable, and should find a distributor and a place in the hearts of genre fans." Anderson adds that "the film's playfulness causes the action to spike, but renders the tone more erratic."

Speaking of spoilers, the following Q&A transcript is probably not for the spoiler-wary. Consider yourself warned.

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Mitch Davis—Fantasia's Co-Festival Director and Co-Director of International Programming—introduced Charles de Lauzirika as having produced "some of the best home video releases of some of our favorite films from the last 30 years, from the laserdisc period up through DVD and Blu-ray, including restorations for theatrical re-release. Almost every Ridley Scott box set—including the Alien box set that everyone loved a couple of years ago—is Charles' work. He restored Alien 3 (1992) to Fincher's original cut or as close and approximate as possible, which is pretty amazing; it's an epic labor of love. He did the Twin Peaks box set with David Lynch. He's worked with the Coen Brothers. He's worked with about everybody. He has a phenomenal career."

Lauzirika recalled that he'd been wanting to make a feature film since he was seven years old. "My Mom took me to the Hastings Theatre in Pasadena, California to see Jaws. That kind of changed my life, my world, and everything. It's been a long way. It's been a long, circuitous, labyrinthine route to where I am today."

Thanking the audience for coming out for his first feature, Lauzirika hoped they would really like it and admitted, "It's a very personal film. There is a lot of me in this, but after you've seen the film you might not want to talk to me. It fights against genre even though it's built with genre, so you might wonder during the first half of the movie, 'What kind of movie are we watching?', but then I promise you it settles in and then you'll be in for the ride for the rest of the second half."

After "the ride", Lauzirika returned to the stage to interact with his visibly elated audience. He was "numb" because it was the first time he'd shown the final version to an audience. In fact, it was the first time he had seen the film all the way through. He'd made changes as recently as the weekend before. Mitch Davis commented that the film looked much different than the screener Lauzirika had forwarded him three months ago. "Yeah, there was a mad rush at the end," Lauzirika explained, "to do some visual effects on things."

Lauzirika then invited the film's "hero" Raleigh Stewart to join him onstage. Stewart was Crave's associate producer but also digital effects supervisor and end titles designer and Lauzirika credited him with saving the film from continuity errors and issues with practical effects. All the more commendable because Stewart had never done digital effects before. Lauzirika then introduced Crave's production designer David L. Snyder, who was the art director for Blade Runner, and "last, but certainly not least" Josh Lawson whose lead performance made Crave live.

Crave, Lauzirika explained, came about as an intermediate project proposed by his producers before their initiating fundraising for a much bigger science fiction film that Lauzirika has been attached to direct for a couple of years now. He'll be co-writing and directing an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick story "I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon." Robert Lawton was his next-door neighbor at the time and had an idea about a character—"Travis Bickle meets Walter Mitty"—that Lauzirika found interesting, so they developed the project from there. The first few drafts of the script were vigilante-heavy, like an '80s Cannon Film and, though he wouldn't have minded making a movie like that, Lauzirika was going through a rocky end of a relationship that had left him torn up. He decided to take that and use it to structure the relationship between Aiden and Virginia in Crave. Aiden's emotional mourning over the loss of Virginia was just one way Lauzirika vented through the script.

We live in a Facebook society where our lives are documented, Lauzirika proposed, every few minutes we're uploading our lives by way of images. We update our lives in front of potentially thousands of people. Aiden is documenting the end of people's lives. As a crime photojournalist he is trying to sell some pretty nasty photos of atrocities, which takes quite a toll on him. Coming through the lens in rather than out seemed a good way to explore Aiden's character.

The cast came together very fast for Crave. They were already in Detroit scouting for locations. David Snyder was already "on the ground" even before Lauzirika arrived. Flying by the seat of their pants to get this "low budget scrappy film" up and running, casting received short shrift in terms of timing, but, fortunately, Josh Lawson expressed interest in the script. Lauzirika phoned Lawson in Australia and what he most liked about their conversation was that Lawson got the script from a writing standpoint, not just its tone or how he was going to portray the character; but, on its own narrative terms. Lawson likewise filmed himself in a few scenes and—between the phone conversation and the taped scenes—Lauzirika knew he had his Aiden.

The same thing happened with Emma Lung. He went through a lot of people basically looking for someone who embodied Virginia. As independent filmmaking goes, he knew he wasn't going to get a multi-million dollar actress, but Lung was "absolutely terrific" in the role. "That's the thing," Lauzirika pointed out, "when you're dream casting you might say, 'Oh, I want to get X movie star' but then when you start to think about it, X movie star might not be the best person for the role. You might want to find someone who's actually right for the role, someone who's hungrier and more interesting and has different quirks. Emma had that."

Lawson noted that it was purely coincidental that both he and Emma Lung were Australian. They'd known each other for a long time back in Australia. Lauzirika commented that Lawson, to his credit, adopted an American accent during the full run of the shoot but Lawson reminded Lauzirika that he'd actually been directed "not to drop the American accent ever. Not at lunch breaks. Not at night. Not when we went out. Not on the weekends. Never." Which he never did. But then at the wrap party when he finally dropped the American accent, crew members responded: "What? Why's he talking like that? What is that ridiculous pirate accent?" And he was smiling, in contrast to his "heavy shirt" of a character.

Shooting had already begun before "Eddie" Furlong joined the cast late in the game. Furlong had a rocky history and Lauzirika considered he might be tough to work with, but Furlong turned out to be the sweetest, most professional, and perfectly cast actor, easy to work with, and willing to go through hell, dragged through the dirt covered in blood and sweat. "It was Weekend At Bernie's for him through most of the movie," Lauzirika quipped.

Lauzirika always saw the role of Pete, Aiden's police officer friend, as a good vehicle for a name actor to have as an "and so-and-so" credit. He went through six or seven names and settled on Ron Perlman as the best of the list, let alone perfect for the role. The character Pete was based on a real person, a friend of Robert Lawton's. All four characters, in fact, were loosely inspired by real people in different ways, some virtually 10%, others more, but all the characters had real people to draw upon.

Asked about the film's palette, Lauzirika admitted that the color in the DCP was more de-saturated than he would like and that we'll probably see much more color if the film ever makes it to DVD or Blu-ray. The film's cinematographer Will Eubank—who was at last year's edition of Fantasia with the international premiere of LOVE—has "an amazing sense of lenses." Lauzirika, Eubank and Snyder came up with the visual palette of the film and went for something noirish and moody but used what Lauzirika calls "the fifth character: Detroit".

"Detroit was an amazing backdrop for this story," Lauzirika stated, "it was this beautiful decay. Some people see it as this post-Apocalyptic zombie world but I actually see it as a diamond in the rough. It's a city that could use some love. And I think it could come back if they ever decided to support it economically." The film industry tried but Detroit reduced the incentive down to a point where no one seems interested in going there anymore. They'll go to New Orleans, Louisiana or to Canada "as usual." At any rate, with regard to Detroit as the setting for the film, despite its state of decrepitude, such scenes as those in the loft were shot in a building designed by Albert Kahn, one of the great industrial architects of his time. Kahn designed all the Ford Family structures. At the time, his structures looked like something out of science fiction. Glass walls just weren't done then and replacement glass for the windows had to be brought in from Germany because the U.S. wasn't manufacturing glass for industrial structures.

The building where the play in the film takes place was once Detroit's aquarium; the first aquarium built in the U.S. Though it once housed much sea life, it's now a near-ruin, empty and dry. This might not have been the most obvious choice for this location but the aquarium's proscenium worked perfectly for a theatrical production. Further, an actual playhouse might not have looked as interesting as the aquarium's green tile with the orange lighting coming in from the side. They were always looking for something unusual that would throw expectations off just a bit and whose space it was fun to re-service. They had the advantage of finding several dilapidated buildings because Detroit is in such a sad state and there were plenty to choose from; but, at the end of the day, they chose structures near each other so that they wouldn't have to move the company around unnecessarily.

One of Crave's signature elements is the intensity of its fantasy kills and Lauzirika confessed to editing out a good half hour's worth, including a scene where the audience meets Aiden's landlord who eventually gets his brains blown out. There were additional sex scenes he removed. "Really good sex too!" Lawson jokingly inserted, "I was ... terrific!"

I was taken by Lauzirika's introductory comment that Crave worked against genre and asked him to speak to how his resistance helped shape Crave into such a unique genre hybrid? "It's interesting," Lauzirika responded, "there's sort of the me that was in the moment when we were shooting it and trying to formulate what you just said, and then there is the me now that looks back and can see more clearly. In the moment we were approaching every day as if it were a different film because every day would be a self-contained scene: one day might be a humorous scene and the next day might be a dark scene. That was trying for us to keep our compass in terms of the tone of the film. Overall, I saw the film as a noir, but a playful noir that jumped through other genres, so therefore I didn't feel it was following any particular genre. It was becoming its own thing. I've said this a couple of other times when people have asked me—'Well, what genre is Fight Club? What genre is Taxi Driver?'—they're their own thing, and Crave became its own thing, even though those are amazing classics. Crave, in its own small way, was just trying to find its own tone, its own signature, and its own style. At the time, we were just feeling it out. To be perfectly honest, I didn't have this etched in stone before we started shooting it. We were playing with it as we were shooting.

"There were a lot of happy accidents during the shoot. If someone had storyboarded this out to the nth degree and knew exactly where every shot was going to be, they might have tried to fight even harder against happy accidents. In one case, on Ron Perlman's last day of shooting, I was leaving the hotel to go to set just as Ron was coming into the hotel. I thought, 'Why are you just now coming into the hotel?' He comes up to me and is like, 'So Charlie, here's how it's going to go down. Pete is down with the Rastifarians.' I'm like, 'What? What are you even talking about?' As Ron is saying this, I look up and notice he has this gash in his head, with stitches. It turned out he had fallen and hit his head on a countertop. He'd gotten stitches overnight and then come in. That's when he said, 'Pete is in with the Rastifarians and I want you to get me one of those black, red and green beanies. That's what Pete's going to wear to cover that up.' Some other filmmaker might have said, 'Well, we're going to digitally clean it out, we'll get rid of the wound, and clean all that in post' but, at that point, I was like, 'This film wants to be what it wants to be. Pete is now with the Rastifarians....' That's how that came to be.

"The whole film was filled with little things like that. I don't know why, but it felt right. Only if there was something grievously wrong and we were going to ruin a scene or an emotional moment, would we go against it; but, for the most part, I'd adopt these little things along the way. Again, that goes back to my experience in the documentary world where we would try to capture what we actually had in front of us."

I then asked Lauzirika if he could talk about the film's score and sound design, specifically how he collaged Adrien's self-reflection with overlapping voices. Lauzirika said they worked with several different ideas, including having Lawson in ADR voicing not only his stuff but other people's voices. "For instance, in the scene when Eddie Furlong (Ravi) is in the back seat kind of undead talking, it's the production sound of Eddie, Eddie in the ADR room, and Josh: all three of them doing the lines together but slightly out of synch with each other, overlapping. Josh basically did all the dialogue for all the other actors that appear in his fantasies and it accounts for a subtle little texture." By looping his voice with the other actors, it created an almost subconscious voice. Lawson recalled that—with the scene where Aiden bludgeons the couple at the AA meeting—she's screaming and he remembers ADRing her screams in case they wanted to later use them.

The music was done by Justin Caine Burnett who came in at the last moment. Lauzirika had another composer Christopher Drake attached to the project for months. Drake was a good friend of his. They had collaborated on some good music but then Drake had to bow out because he got a better job. Lauzirika was in London on set documenting Prometheus, just before they started shooting, when Ridley Scott pulled him over and asked how the score was going for Crave? Lauzirika replied they were just about to do the score, would be mixing soon and would then be done. Scott said, "Well, if you need any help with the music, let me know. I know some great guys." That same day Drake called Lauzirika in London and said, "I can't stay with the movie anymore. I have to leave." The next day Lauzirika had to go to Scott with his tail between his legs, saying, "You know when you offered to help? I could probably use some help right now." So Scott hooked him up with several composers who stepped in to offer guidance and advice. All of them were busy with their own projects so Lauzirika ended up interacting with their protegés. The one he got along with the best was Justin Caine Burnett who came in during the last few weeks and knocked out an amazing score.

As to what extras we might expect from the DVD/Blu-ray release of Crave, Lauzirika said that to be perfectly honest—because he has produced extras for the DVD/Blu-rays of other films—he doesn't feel like going full bore on the extras right off the bat. "That's not because I want to milk it later," Lauzirika explained, "I just want to let the film breathe a bit, let it find its audience, let it be itself before I deconstruct every single thing about it. I do these other projects and I love them and cherish every moment of working on them; but, now that it's my film, I don't know if I want to go that deep on it. But we did document every single day, everything's documented, we have tons of footage, tons of deleted scenes, all these extras if we need them. I just don't yet feel the need to come out with a six-hour documentary on the making of Crave."

Asked if when the time came he would take care of that himself, Lauzirika stressed no, he would rather have someone else take it over to provide a different perspective. He's too close to the material.  "One day on set I lost my temper and I threw my hat at the video, I was so pissed off. My assistant was off to the side shooting me with her camera. I looked over and asked, 'Did you get that?' She's like, 'I got it.' I said, 'Good. Because I've done that to other guys and I'm glad I'm getting that treatment now. I'm going through my own rite of passage.' If it needs to be on there, I think some other documentarian should decide whether it goes on there or not."