Tuesday, October 16, 2012

FOUR (2012)—The Evening Class Interview With Joshua Sanchez

As synopsized by Juan Caceres in his indieWire interview with Joshua Sanchez for the premiere of Four (2012) at the Los Angeles Film Fest earlier this year, "Joshua Sanchez, a native of Houston, Tejas graduated from Columbia University's MFA Film Program with several internationally screened short films under his belt along with the HBO Films Young Producer's Development Award. His feature debut, Four, based on a play written by Christopher Shinn, participated in the Tribeca All Access program at the Tribeca Film Festival and after a few false starts and delays, Joshua cast Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Treme), Emory Cohen (Afterschool, TV's Smash), Aja Naomi King (Blue Bloods) and EJ Bonilla (Mamitas, Don't Let Me Drown) as his "Four". Once in the can he was able to complete the post production when he became the recipient of the Jerome Foundation's Film and Video grant." Adding his favorite New York bands to the soundtrack "as icing on the cake", Four has had a robust presence on festival track since its L.A. premiere, where Four won Best Performance in the Narrative Competition. It also recently won the top prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 16th annual Urbanworld Film Festival in New York. It was likewise featured in the lineup for San Francisco's 36th annual Frameline Film Festival, reviewed here, and it was at that time that I had the opportunity to talk to Joshua by phone. After expressing my regrets at not being able to join him at Frameline to celebrate his screening in San Francisco, Joshua and I launched into discussing the film.

[This conversation is not for the spoiler-wary!!!]

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Michael Guillén: I'm impressed with Four, Joshua, as you know. I consider it a remarkable first feature. Straight off, I'm intrigued with the process by which a shorts filmmaker graduates to a full-length feature. Can you speak to the value of starting out with short films and when you knew you were ready to transition to feature-length?

Sanchez: Short films are the first little steps when a filmmaker's becoming a filmmaker. I started out making experimental work, skateboard videos with my friends, and music videos of musicians and bands that I liked. At the same time, I was studying film in college. All of those experiences were a laboratory to start thinking about what I wanted to do with the medium of making movies. For me, it was like testing the boundaries of being a storyteller.

As far as to when I knew I could graduate to being a feature filmmaker, I'm not sure there's a clear answer to that. I just knew it was a step I wanted to take. I wanted to find the material that suited me best, something I felt close to, something I felt I could add something to. A lot of the story of Four, and a lot of the situations in Four, I feel close to. It felt like the right story, and the right group of people to work with at this time in my life. Every filmmaker has to decipher those kind of things for themselves. For me, it was like Kismet, all the right situations.

Guillén: Are your short films available?

Sanchez: Yeah, you can see them online, most of them on my website.

Guillén: Having worked now both in shorts and feature-length films, any thoughts on the difference between the two lengths?

Sanchez: Honestly, short films are harder in their own way. To do a truly successful short film and have people walk away feeling gratified and fulfilled as an audience in a very short period of time, you have to be economical and choose what you put on the screen. For me, that has always been a bit restricting, though not in a bad way. You just have to be so selective about what you're doing when you don't have that big a palette to work with. I don't really know, but I think sometimes people work better in that kind of environment, whereas some people work better in longer methods of storytelling. I loved the short films that I did and—to a certain degree—they were successful; but, what they probably showed was a progression towards working with a bigger body of work.

Guillén: It's my understanding Four took five to six years to accomplish? What were some of its most notable fits and starts? What role did Tribeca's All Access Program have in furthering the project? And what was involved in securing the Jerome Foundation's Film and Video grant for post-production?

Sanchez: Most feature films at this level of indie production have a lot of fits and starts mostly, y'know? For me it was a challenge—as well as an educational process—to learn how the business works and how projects like this are put together. I've worked with a number of different teams of people over the years and it just happened that the producer I ended up working with, Christine Giorgio, had a similar scope in terms of what we felt we could accomplish with this film and that ended up being the thing that worked. Assembling the right group of people was another big challenge. Also, the forest setting in Hartford, Connecticut where we originally wanted to shoot ended up costing too much money so that changed the dynamic of what we were doing and changed the scope of the movie that we were going to make.

As far as Tribeca All Access, it was an important step in the right direction. We did that fairly early on in the process. It's a good program to introduce young filmmakers to financiers, producers, sales agents, and people in the business who are trying to help filmmakers get their projects off the ground. They've been incredibly supportive of the project even to this day and that lends a positive reinforcement to what we're doing. For me, personally, their program made me start to think about how to pitch a project, how to talk about it with people, and how to share my vision with people in the business. The Jerome Foundation grant happened because we applied for it. We had a solid package to show them within their guidelines. And we got it!

Guillén: Your's is also, as I understand it, one of the first independent films to utilize Kickstarter for initial seed money and, more recently, to secure money to traffic the festival circuit with the finished film. Can you speak to your Kickstarter experiences? What is the relationship between social media and your filmmaking?

Sanchez: Yeah, we were pretty early on in the Kickstarter process and one of the first films that was successful at raising a certain amount of money there. It was exciting for us at the time because none of us knew if it could really work. We hoped that our Kickstarter campaign would be successful, but the precedent hadn't really been set yet for anyone to raise money in that form. So it was sort of a shock for us, as well as a learning process, because we discovered—not only could we do it and do it ourselves—but we could also build an audience that way. The cool part about crowd funding is that you get a lot of other people involved in what you're doing and, once they become involved, they want to tell their friends about it and they want to help you achieve your goal, not just financially but with the film in general. That was a really big learning process for me in terms of the future of film marketing and how a new filmmaker can utilize technology and social media to leverage their film to an audience. That was really great; but, I think it's changed a lot since we did it. Back then—which was only about two years ago—it was easier to put a project out like that and have it be a novelty for people that they could fund a movie. Nothing had ever existed like that. Nowadays, anyone on Facebook is probably bombarded by ten Kickstarter campaigns at once, which makes you feel obligated to support a friend or someone you know who has supported you. In a way it's a good thing but you have to work a lot harder to differentiate yourself from all the other people who are doing that.

What's important is to set a reasonable amount of money that you're trying to raise on Kickstarter and to realize you can't raise everything on it, and also to have it be a project that's legitimately worthy of people's attention and support. We recently did a smaller Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to be able to go to some initial film festivals. We're amazingly lucky because it's not easy to pull off two Kickstarter campaigns. I'm happy that we were able to do that but I think it's going to be our last foray into Kickstarter with relation to this project. It helped that there was a significant amount of time between the two campaigns.

Guillén: How did your relationship with playwright Christopher Shinn come about and what was involved in selecting Four out of his body of work for a filmic adaptation? Why did this particular script speak to you?

Sanchez: I met Chris about seven years ago. I had seen one of his other plays Where Do We Live when it was playing at a theater in New York City. I loved that play. It felt unique. His voice was like no one's I had heard before. To make a long story short, I was writing at that time for an arts magazine and they asked me to interview a playwright or screenwriter of my choosing, so I wanted to interview Chris. I sought him out. We're about the same age and have a similar background with similar interests. We became friends right off the bat. While researching for that interview, I read Four and immediately felt I could visualize it in my head. I felt that—if the right circumstances were to come about—Four would be a terrific feature film; something I could lend myself to as a director. The process started like that. There was a long back-and-forth of us discussing whether or not it was something that could happen or should happen.

Guillén: I've spoken briefly with Chris and he's already made it very clear to me that what you've done with Four is your baby. You shifted the play into new directions. For example, you mentioned earlier that you shifted the location of the narrative from Hartford, Connecticut to Anytown, USA. How did that open up the film for you? How did that serve the purpose of the narrative for you?

Sanchez: Honestly, it was a happy accident. I didn't have the money to shoot it in Hartford. I realized at a certain point that—if I were going to try to continue to shoot it in Hartford—the movie might not ever get made. I had to make a choice about how to stay true to the material but to also be able to set it in a location that would be accessible to myself and the crew so that we would be able to actually make the movie. It happened like that, but in a sense it really did open up the movie because it didn't restrict me to one specific location.

What's beautiful about the play Christopher Shinn wrote is that Hartford functions almost as a fifth character. Hartford is a specific place with a specific story. We spent a lot of time in Hartford trying to research how to get the film off the ground and it just didn't happen there for a lot of different reasons. In opening it up, it broadened the appeal a bit maybe? I would hope that the audience would be able to project their own experience of this particular place, which is not to say that if we had been able to make the film in Hartford it would have been any less powerful; but, it presented a unique opportunity for us because we started to think, "How can we set this up so that the people who are watching it will think, 'This is a place that I know, even though it's not specific enough to know really where it is on a map?' " At a certain point I embraced it and then the film became more about focusing on the characters, their situations, the material, and less the location where we were shooting it.

Guillén: You've stated elsewhere, "When I read Four, it struck me as one of the greatest tales of suburban loneliness that I'd ever read. It speaks to a deteriorating American vitality and examines characters that are caught up in their own longing and desire to transcend the situation they are in. This is the America I grew up in." That makes me wonder if you have any thoughts on what the difference might be between urban loneliness and suburban loneliness?

Sanchez: Wow, that's a very interesting question! Hmmmmm. Well, I've lived in New York City for 13 years so it's been a long time since I've lived in the suburbs. I feel that if I were to have made a movie approaching the subject of urban loneliness, it would have been an incredibly different story, which is not to say that I'm not interested in urban loneliness. It exists. For me, one of the great things of working on this project was that it did speak to an experience I had when I was a kid into my young adulthood. I lived in a town where I felt no one understood me and where I felt that I couldn't relate to other people. Not only feeling like that, but feeling like what I was inside was unacceptable to people around me. In thinking about that, probably a lot of people feel like that in situations where they don't have people around them to support them and to understand who they basically are. A lot of what makes me want to tell stories harkens back to that time when I was feeling like a lonely kid. One of the things that saved me from a dysfunctional family where I was living in a conservative, religious situation was going to the movies and watching stories that affected me so deeply that I felt, "Well, I have a chance in the world. I'm going to get out of this situation. I'm going to go out and make something of myself." I suppose on a certain level Four spoke to me in that way: that it could be a film that would have that potential for somebody. That's what we set out to do. I've made films about urban loneliness before, specifically one called Inside Out that's very much about the experience of being an isolated, closeted gay person, which is also an experience I went through. Maybe down the line I'll explore that more. I like the idea of going back into my past and trying to dig around and see what I can come up with. Creating my own story, I guess.

Guillén: Four certainly spoke to me and tracked with my own adolescent experience. I'm nearly 60 now but I can still recall when I was 14-15, growing up in Twin Falls, Idaho, which I wouldn't necessarily describe as suburban—it was more rural—but the feeling of being isolated and misunderstood were the same as yours. In retrospect, I consider the problems of identity and finding love that I experienced growing up as a young man in Twin Falls to be compounded in my first years in San Francisco where I fled to for freedom and encountered a whole new set of obstacles and restrictions to be overcome. The loneliness I felt in San Francisco was distinct from that I felt in Twin Falls.

How did Neil LaBute come on board as executive producer? Have his films influenced you in any way?

Sanchez: Yeah. I've followed Neil's work for years. I find him to be an astute observer of the human condition. During our first Kickstarter campaign when we were trying to raise money, he found out about it through Christopher Shinn and came on board like that. He took an interest in the filmic version of the play, gave us a lot of advice as far as how to get the project off the ground, and made himself available during the editing process when we started piecing the movie together. He watched a lot of early cuts and gave really good notes about how to trim the fat, so to speak. He was great to work with. He's a sweet guy and I'm a big fan of his. It was a privilege to work with him.

Guillén: Your work in Four has an actor-driven directorial style. How did you go about casting your key characters and what's your philosophy about working with actors?

Sanchez: Working with actors is important to me. Casting is everything. It sets the precedent for what I'm capable of doing as a film director. We cast this movie in a traditional way. I don't think my process of casting is traditional, but we worked with a casting director and did a number of wide casting calls in New York and Hartford to see who was out there. Casting could have gone in a non-actor direction.

We put out a wide net for most of the actors except for the part of Joe. We wanted to anchor that role in someone who was well-known who was looking for something challenging to do. Wendell Pierce was pretty high on my list of people who I wanted to work with from the start. It just so happened that he had seen a production of the play and was familiar with Christopher Shinn's work. He "got" it. He understood the material and what we were trying to do with it. We were incredibly lucky that he was available, that he wanted to do it, and did it for virtually no money instead of what he was usually being paid.

As far as working with actors is concerned, I tend to steer far away from the actual written material for a long time. I tend to want to get to know the actors as much as possible and get a sense of who they are and what they're going to bring to the role before we hit the set. The last thing I do with them is run the lines. I just block it out. There's a spontaneity that comes from being on a set that allows for a fresh aspect of their performance if you keep it a little reserved. I encourage them to do more of the internal work so that when we all get to the set my job becomes simply to provide a safe space for them to do what they need to do and to explore their characters in the way they need to explore them.

A lot of times in low-budget movies like this, you don't get much time with the actors so you have to roll with the punches and know how to bring out something, even if you don't have a lot of time or money to do it. I was incredibly fortunate to work with the four main actors who were committed to these roles. On the set there was nothing I could tell them that they didn't already know that was going to change what they were going to bring to their characters. My job became to trust them as much as possible.

Guillén: Well, you certainly elicited—and all four of your actors delivered—commanding performances. As Joe, Wendell Pierce added a necessary gravity and saliency to his character. His performance is wonderful. You've stated elsewhere that the character of Joe was influenced by your exploration of the work of novelist John Cheever. How so?

Sanchez: I discovered Cheever around the same time that I discovered Christopher Shinn. When I started to read his work, I not only got into his work but into him as a person. I read several biographies on him, including the books his kids had written about him, and all of his journals. One of the things that resonated for me first and foremost was that he seemed like a man who was constantly dissatisfied with his internal life and I think a lot of that had to do with the struggles he had with his sexuality. Anyone who reads "The Swimmer" or Falconer will be able to read them as huge meditations on the closeted homosexual. His being a literate person who showed himself off as such by being a college professor, there was something that clicked with me in reading Cheever, then reading the character of Joe, that felt real. It was like they became one and the same. Obviously, the circumstances of both men are very different; but, there's a similarity in how they're seeing the prison of life. That has a lot to do with their both being in the closet, living in one world and existing in another world in secret. That was a lot of what Cheever did. Cheever's story can be read as a very sad story. He was an incredibly gifted writer who never really came to terms with himself. That's incredibly sad. That's something Joe in the movie is also dealing with.

Guillén: All four characters are beautifully nuanced and pronounced and, as a spectator, I could relate to all of them. However—although Wendell Pierce has been singled out by several reviewers as stealing the film—Emory Cohen's sultry performance is equally commanding. I thoroughly identified with his characterization of June. It spoke to me. June was who I was at that age and I was amazed to see myself in this film. Do you see June's character as an abused kid "who cannot or will not ever see beyond his own isolation"? In other words, is he a victim? Do you see him as a victim?

Sanchez: No, I don't. June is an incredibly bright kid who has been exploring himself. I'm sure there will be a lot of people who will see this movie and question the morality of the situation between Joe and June—in particular, the morality of Joe to be able to go through with having a sexual relationship with a teenager—but, more often than not with someone like June, he's a thoughtful guy, held-back in himself as a lot of teenagers are, and in a way this particular instance that happens to him on this night is a way for him to explore his surroundings, or his sexuality. I certainly don't think that he is powerless in this situation. He's there because he wants to be there. But I also feel that he's still forming who he is going to be as an adult and I'm sure that this experience is going to have an effect on who that is and who he becomes. I never saw him as a character who was going to fall apart after this experience. He's going to go on and he's going to have a life and he'll probably be okay.

But there's a danger in my interpreting that character for the audience. Some people will feel a catharsis through their own experience of having formative sexual experiences that are totally different from the way that I see it. I would like to be respectful of that as much as possible. A lot of the work that Emory and I did on that character was really about trying to understand what he wanted out of that situation. It's a challenging dynamic between those two guys that will challenge people's perceptions about what male sexuality is, what gay male sexuality is, what the sexuality of teenagers is, and so Four is presenting a challenge to its audience.

Guillén: Emory's performance was a knockout. His was one of the most stunning representations of teenage sexuality that I've seen in a long time, probably since Larry Clark's films. I was quite taken by his work here and—as someone who saw my youth in his performance—I vividly recalled being hungry for love and looking for it in all the wrong places. So I have to acknowledge that there is an element of danger in approaching love this way; but, at the same time, I have to joke a bit about it because the truth often is that in these situations it's the teenager who is the most aggressive and determined, driven by the desire for initiation. I had to chuckle at Andrew Barker's Variety review of the film, wherein he noted that the relationship between Joe and June "might almost seem an argument for old-school Athenian pederasty." This remains a difficult subject to discuss because the socialization process by which a young gay male becomes himself is often engineered through these intergenerational experiences and that's not always given its fair due. Your treatment of these issues felt authentic, fresh and honest.

Sanchez: Thanks! I agree with you. Often times we go through those experiences but don't want to talk about it because it can be a touchy subject with people. But these things happen. I would hope that we didn't present these characters in a way that people could easily judge. All of them have their flaws. In a way, that's what we tried to capture: the duality and complexity of each of these characters.

Guillén: You succeeded. I likewise found remarkable in Emory's performance the scene where he goes into the bathroom to smoke the joint to prepare himself for the sexual experience with Joe. Up until then, I had been looking at him as a very young boy, but then—having decided to follow through with it—his character from then on had an almost immediate maturity that hadn't been evident before. His face while being fucked by Joe was one of the most expressive uses of close-up I've seen in a long time. It broke my heart for feeling so true. I can remember that conflicted energy of wanting experience and then having the experience fail me emotionally. Having to put up with it until the experience was over and then walking away from it.

Sanchez: Right.

Guillén: You have credited Larry Clark's Kids and John Casavettes' Faces as having influenced the cinematographic direction you took with your close-ups. Can you speak to why it was important for you to stylize these close-ups?

Sanchez: I watched Kids and Faces a lot because I'm a huge fan of both of those filmmakers and their films. To me, they resonated a lot because they both had that kind of immediacy of a closed time period. They both were stories that took place over a day or a night. Both had four main characters, maybe more in Kids, but kind of the same in Faces. I ended up watching them a lot and I think there was a subconscious incorporation of how those characters were shot, mainly in close-up. For us this made sense because the performances in our film oftentimes could play out long and we didn't want to stop the actor from being able to keep going and trying to do it in one take. We often did long master takes where we would be following the characters around hand-held in medium close-ups and then do cutaways from there. That became our shooting style. It grew out of attaching to the actor vs. the other way around. The actors did it for the camera. We let them do what they needed to do and it suited the material in all honesty. It needed something to make you feel that you were immediately in that situation. I felt it was a movie that would work a lot better if you felt you had just been dropped into these people's lives for a night, y'know? It played better in close-up.

Guillén: The character of Dexter, played by E.J. Bonilla, provided charismatic comic relief. Was that humor in Shinn's script or was this something you developed with Bonilla?

Sanchez: It was both really. If you read the play, the original source material, it's incredibly funny. That's part of what's great about the character of Dexter but there was a sort of lightness and liveliness about E.J. as a person that I knew would bring something interesting and special that would be, at the same time, unexpected. He honestly surprised a lot of us who weren't really sure how Dexter was going to come together. But once E.J. started to bring him to life, the character of Dexter fell into place because E.J. had such a formed vision of who this kid was. A lot of it was silly and kind of seductive I guess. Definitely when he comes on screen in the film, he lightens it up. Part of that is in Chris's writing. He tends to have comic moments in his plays, which can tackle serious subjects at the same time. That's one of the reasons I've enjoyed his work, because it wasn't so one-sided. Dexter feels very much like a guy I would have known when I was a kid. Dexter came together as a combination of E.J.'s exuberance and the character's silly but troubled soul.

Guillén: Wendell Pierce likewise adds a necessary levity to these serious events. How difficult was it to achieve this balance between the film's emotional registers, between its serious issues and its humor? Was it a rhythm in the editing that cued you when you needed to lighten the film up a bit, or were you following the momentum of Shinn's script?

Sanchez: For the most part we stayed true to the cutting between the serious and the comic and what Chris originally wrote, in the sense that it keeps the audience guessing, which is a nice rhythm to work with. You're in this situation between these two characters and then you're immediately shifted out of it and you're wondering what they're doing when they're not on screen? That said, it was a process of trying to see what worked cinematically through the structure and the rhythm of the cuts. We did a lot of back-and-forth, watching it with different people to see how they reacted to it, where they laughed, and where they felt uncomfortable. In the core of what Christopher Shinn wrote, that rhythm is there. We just took it and tried to make it as cinematic as possible.

Guillén: For a film that's so emotionally complex, I much admired the film's rich layering that created its emotional texture. In terms of sound, I was impressed with Michael McMenomy's sound design, which served to further characterization. I especially took note of his choice to layer the sound of a dribbling basketball during Dexter's love scene with Abigayle (Aja Naomi King). The melancholy of a fading high school basketball career was compressed into that sound. Can you speak a bit to working with McMenomy to further the film's narrative through sound design?

Sanchez: Yeah. I'm not sure if there's a specific method we had working on the sound design except that we had a lot of very good source material to work with. We shot in locations that had a lot of ambient noise. That particular location, the basketball court, we had lost our original location for that shoot the day before we were going to shoot it and so we had to improvise with the location, which none of us were particularly excited about. But it ended up being great and worked visually. The sounds effects that were naturally in the film helped. A lot of the scenes were like that. In one of the parking lots we shot in, there was the sound of a train that ran behind the lot. That was something we could use.

In terms of working with Michael, what he brought to it was to take the elements that we had and heighten them ever so slightly to make it feel like a film, and not just rushed noise coming at you. It was challenging. Michael is a talented sound designer and the film's sound design developed from our repeatedly watching the film together and talking about how we wanted the film to go. There was a certain atmosphere and space that I wanted the sound to have that he accomplished quite well.

Guillén: Another element you folded into the film's textural background was the work of AIDS-deceased artist Darrel Ellis. Can you speak to why it was important for you to include his work as a visual element in the film? As indieWire noted: "Ellis projected family photographs on to irregular plaster forms and photographed the results, the distortions symbolizing the turmoil within his family." Was it as comment on family dysfunction that you incorporated Ellis here?

Sanchez: When we were talking about what we wanted to do with the house that Joe and Abigayle inhabit, it was obvious that we needed to figure out what the look and feel of that house was going to be. I'm a huge fan of Darrel's work and what he did and—because one of the film's executive producers runs his estate—we gained a lot of access to his work. Because of that, I spent a lot of time with that work and knew the story of Darrel and what he was doing with his work and also his life story, which was incredibly moving.

Darrel is an untapped genius that nobody really knows about and I thought it was a great opportunity to include his work in the film, not only because the work itself when you see it speaks to his experience as an African American gay man, but reinterpreting his past and his own family and reappropriating it into this work was such a powerful statement for me. But I also wanted it to be something that if you stilled the movie to look at a shot of it, you could ask, "What is that?" Even though it could be just something in the background for somebody else. It was a real privilege to be able to use his work. I thought that if there was anything I could do to bring his work into the public view, it would be a great opportunity. In a sense, it adds a layer to the internal being that Joe and Abigayle are feeling about the dissolution of their own family, and why that is happening. It adds an extra layer to that house and their relationship. Liza Donatelli, the production designer I've worked with for a long time, did a great job of placing that work deliberately to echo the family experience that Joe and Abigayle were having in that house.

Guillén: I respect and applaud your impulse to recover his work within your film. It's admirable.

Reading the Tribeca piece regarding the influences on the film, you referenced a monograph for an exhibition entitled "American Standard: (Para)Normality and Everyday Life," organized by Gregory Crewdson at the Barbara Gladstone Gallery in 2002. You mentioned how you liked the exhibition's exploration of an "American tradition of art that explores the intersection of everyday life and theatricality." Can you expand on that intersectional tension between the everyday and the theatrical?

Sanchez: What became immediately apparent when I began working on this movie was that it was a movie that took place at night. That visual aspect of driving around in an American town at night can seem innocuous and normal; but, if you look at it through a different lens—let's say, smoking some pot, or being down and out—the location can start to seem incredibly huge in scope, particularly in the way it's lit. When I saw that exhibition, the theme of that show was pointing to a puritanical American tradition of taking an innocuous location and pointing out what makes it weird and freaky, and also hidden. That spoke to me and gave me the seed of an idea of trying to use the spaces and the shadows of the locations in the town where we were working to create something like that. All the characters in the film have neighbors, they live in houses, they go to school or their job, but their hidden lives are transgressive. I suspect a lot of Americans share such hidden lives. Another American tradition is to try to keep those things as hidden as possible, which "American Standard" spoke to. That exhibition was a visual influence and a behind-the-scenes philosophical influence. I bought the monograph and that little book served me well in the making of this film because I was able to share it with my DP and the production heads for the film to get them to—not just catch a specific visual vibe that I wanted for the film—but to give them a sense of the internal feeling I was going for.

Guillén: Along with the film's experiment with the visual theatricality sifted from everyday environments, another evident challenge whenever adapting a play is how to adjust the theatricality of the language. My first thought watching Four was how naturalistic the language sounded and, thus, I was surprised when a couple of critics complained that the language sounded stagey. How did you go about shifting the tone of the language from theatrical to natural, or again, was that already negotiated in Shinn's script?

Sanchez: Chris does have a way of writing dialogue that's naturalistic, especially if you read the play Four. There's a lot of stuttering, a lot of ums and uhs, and it seems that's important for him to capture in the language. With that said, I wanted to preserve the essence of the cadence in that language that he wrote, which was special, delicate and beautiful; but, also, to translate that into a cinematic form. To do that, often times you have to be judicious about what you use and what you don't use and how much time you're spending with these characters to—at a certain point—maximize the tension and drama of telling a cinematic story.

Language can work very differently in theater because often times we expect the characters to talk because that's what they have to work with on stage, that's what they have to tell the story, whereas with film you can use the camera to tell certain things that you can't use in the theater. Chris gave me a lot of freedom for the most part to be able to make choices with his material that would make it work as a movie. Those can be difficult decisions to make, in terms of what to use and what not to use, but in certain scenes—in particular, the initial driving scene between Joe and June—the play had a lot more dialogue in that scene than I actually used in the film. I felt it would be a disservice to the audience watching that scene if they became bogged down in a lot of talking and missed experiencing the emotion of what was happening, y'know? I had to delicately balance my love for what Chris had written with what would actually work on the screen.

Guillén: We've talked about Joe, we've talked about June, we've talked about Dexter and so I'd like to approach the character of Abigayle, played by Aja Naomi King. You stated in an earlier piece for indieWire that you were attracted to Shinn's script for Four because it inspired you to delve into "family relationships in a world where they can be hidden and shamed into a sort of habitual denial." This made me consider Abigayle's denial. Why would she not confront her father after seeing him in a car with a boy? Especially when she's bearing the brunt of caring for her depressed mother? Her backstory is less pronounced and not so evident on the surface. Can you speak to her character and what you were wanting to show in her story?

Sanchez: As far as the choice of not having Abigayle confront her father, often times family situations are predicated upon a certain secrecy. You can be trained to turn that stuff off. By the film not talking about it, it preserves the beast, the stability in a way, even though it's a kind of false stability.

Abigayle is a young woman who is struggling to be her own person. She's struggling to accept certain truths about her parents. In the course of the evening in which we catch up with her, her relationship with Dexter almost forces her to either break out of that family situation or to not. By her choosing not to, we're seeing a lot of the pain and sadness of what's happening with her family. She feels incredibly trapped. I suspect a lot of people feel trapped in the family situations they're in because they don't want to cause pain or disrupt a family member who might be struggling with something that's causing a lot of problems. If I were to have shown Abigayle confronting Joe, Four would have become a different movie. Again, what I really wanted was to drop the audience into this situation to experience what these people are experiencing. And I wanted the audience to leave the film questioning why these people are who they are. Four is not a story that's wrapped up with a little bow at the end, which is part of what makes it challenging and provocative to audiences. It leaves them with tension. It asks them to question their own lives. Abigayle represents a form of denial. She's caught in the middle of it. Abigayle is an incredibly smart and astute young girl and I would hope that she will break out of that situation but it's not for me as a filmmaker to say that's what happens.

Guillén: With that response you've moreorless answered the final question I was going to ask you. You're attentive to audience reception and respectful of what you're hoping the audience will take away from this film. Four premiered in Los Angeles, is screening at Frameline in San Francisco, moves on to open at Newfest, and will continue on the festival circuit. Based upon what you've experienced to date, has audience reception surprised you? Has it tracked with your hopes?

Sanchez: Both. For the most part, the audience reception has been incredibly thoughtful. Four is a film that weighs heavy on people after they watch it, but it's not necessarily a film that does that in a negative way. Definitely people have a lot of questions about it, but there is a certain catharsis they feel watching it. They've been entertained but they've also not been talked down to. They've been provoked to ask questions of themselves. So all in all, it's gone well. Many of the questions that audiences have had were questions I predicted people would ask and others I haven't predicted. Most of the audiences I've come across so far have been willing to have a dialogue about who the characters are and what the story is and why I would want to tell this story. I've been pleasantly surprised with how enchanted the audiences are and how much they want to be a part of talking about the movie.

It seems to me that this is such an important part of the personal experience of going to the movies. Seeing a story happen in front of you with pictures and sound and also with people is part of the cool thing about being a filmmaker and getting to go to festivals and share work with an audience. I get to take part in that experience myself. I'm a movie lover and respect the institution of bearing witness to characters and story. It fulfills an important part of our lives. Film has the potential to be an incredibly powerful vehicle. As a person who's been able to make a feature film to present to audiences, I respect that process so much. I'm sure there will be audience members who ask questions that will challenge me to think about the material in ways I haven't; but, I take it seriously to have as much of a dialogue with them as possible and to be respectful of their need to ask me questions about the material, as well as for them to question the material too.

Guillén: I, for one, Joshua, am very happy that you have put this film out there. It's a film I plan to champion throughout its course. I want to thank you for being so generous and thoughtful with your responses today and I wish you the best at tonight's screening. Again, I regret not being able to be there to help you celebrate.

Sanchez: Thank you very much. It's been fun to talk with you.

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