Atlanta has some excellent Film Collectives. Obviously, Film Collectives are nothing new, they’ve been around for years and in many places but in Atlanta they occupy a special place in the independent film scene. We’ve had a relatively recent history of success stories that came from film collectives from Atlanta .
The thing with collectives is that it often seems hard to maintain a high level of commitment and energy to keep them going. From famous collectives like Zoetrope to Atlanta’s own Pop Films, film collectives often energize a group of filmmakers to achieve more together than they can working separately. Fake Wood Wallpaper is a collective that has been working together for a few years on Atlanta ’s film scene. With shorts like The Adventure which screened in film festivals such as Rotterdam International Film Festival among others as well as their cult-favorite feature Blood Car they displayed a unique style and commitment to quality productions.
I recently was able to visit the set of their latest feature film, Congratulations!, and got to talk with Writer/Director Mike Brune and Producer Alex Orr about Fake Wood Wallpaper and their latest film.
In Fake Wood Wallpaper’s first feature film Blood Car you play the lead role. Now you’re taking the reigns as a director, what’s the biggest difference being behind the camera this time?
The biggest difference is that I have much more influence over the film as a whole - how it looks, feels, sounds, etc. I was able to collaborate with every department and build and shape the film from scratch. Even though I was the lead actor in Blood Car, I didn't have much creative control over the project as a whole. If your character is being urinated on in a movie, you're probably not in charge of what's going on. That's the general rule of thumb I believe. But bear in mind I'm working with many of the same people involved in Blood Car: Alex Orr, Tony Holley, Adam Pinney and Chris Campbell. So even though I'm in the director's seat this go round, the same creative voices (plus many wonderful new ones) are present.
What is Congratulations! all about?
It's Fake Wood Wallpaper's second feature film! It's an absurdist crime thriller comedy. We have several clever pitches we've used to describe it, too. Antonioni meets Airplane! Michael Haneke does The Naked Gun. Animal House without the jokes. I'm not sure which, if any, properly describes the movie, but they're fun to throw around. The story is about a boy, Paul Ryan Gray, who goes missing in his own house and the search that is taken up by veteran Detective Dan Skok of the Missing Persons Bureau. In order to solve the case, Det. Skok and his team move into the house to search for the boy, slowing becoming part of the Gray family's life as they search for their missing son. That's a good start.
Fake Wood Wallpaper is a talented collective, but you’ve all moved into many other avenues, is it hard to collaborate now that you all have established careers for yourselves?
Not at all. With FWW, our first priority has always been to make movies together as a collective and we come together for that purpose. We are great friends and still hang out together like we did in college. We've all grown into various positions in the film/media industry and established careers which we like, but the reason we pursued this line of work in the first place was to make movies. Because we love the cinema.
What were some of the difficulties you faced directing Congratulations?
I feel like I'm singing an old song by saying this but the answer to this is simple: Time and money. We didn't have enough of either, but I guess most filmmakers never have enough of those two things. That being said, I tried to never think in those terms. Something DP Nestor Almendros once said after doing La Collectioneuse with Eric Rohmer has always been seared in my memory. "With no limitations, there is no style." I think filmmakers should live that. With La Collectioneuse, they couldn't light their actors properly in the bright sunlight for the outdoor scenes so they just staged all these scenes in the shade. Critics later remarked on the beauty of it. I just paraphrased the hell out of that story, but you can read the whole thing in Nestor's book, which is amazing.
What's next for you? Fake Wood Wallpaper?
Fireworks City is next for me. It's a feature film we're planning for next year that I wrote and will direct. We also have another FWW feature slated to shoot this fall. It's even more micro-budget than Congratulations! Two in one year? You are correct.
How did your work with Fake Wood Wallpaper earlier in your career help to inform what you’re doing now?
I learned two key things from working with the guys in FWW early on: collaboration and risk. My improve comedy training also constantly reinforces these ideas. Five Heads are better than one. If I’m ever lost writing a script or editing a scene or composing a shot, they can pick me up and show me the way. If one of my ideas is nutty, they will tell me it’s nutty, but they will always tell me to try it. They will never tell me I can’t try something. Collaboration and risk. We are great collaborators and we are not afraid to try something different. Our logo is an old picture of the Lumiere brothers, the first filmmakers. I don’t want to start a historical debate here because I know people made movies before them, but I treat them as the first filmmakers. Anyway, they embody cinema and making movies to us. Obviously, we’re not making the first movies, but we try to channel that sense of adventure and excitement and magic.
You directed the last Fake Wood Wallpaper feature Blood Car, what inspired you to decide to come back and produce this feature?
I just want to make movies with my friends. If I’m producing or holding the boom or whatever- you're still making movies with your friends. That's what is really important to me.
You managed to raise financing through crowd sourcing, how did that come about and what were the challenges?
I think the challenges of fundraising are being too proud to beg, which we are not. We got on the internet and begged for money and got to our goal. It was amazing. I think the only way to go about it is to be relentless. I don't give NPR money until they have beaten it into my head so many times and then I hear the pledge is ending. You really have to go too too far with crowd sourcing for it to work. So we made a video a day and bombarded people. We called them out by name and demanded money, had a couple live web-a-thons and an improv show fundraiser. We hit it hard and we made our goals. You just need the attitude that you're making a movie ...not IF you get some crowd funding and IF you can get this....you're making it with or without someone's help- and then it seems people want to help.
Do lessons learned from your previous feature help you approach this current one? Do you have a different approach or similar to the one you employed with Blood Car?
You learn a lot making a movie and you take that to the next movie. It's always that way. On Blood Car we came up with the idea and just kept moving until the movie was made. It's not the best way to make a film- but that's what we did. Wrote fast, then prepped and shot and never stopped. We had a very different approach with this movie, but I don't know how to put my finger on exactly what that is. We really focused on getting the prefect cast together- which I think we did. The cast was amazing. The best way to describe the difference is that Blood Car was like a feral animal on a leash- it was wild. Congratulations! was well trained. It wasn't this crazy-eyed insane animal that's only plan was to move forward. It knew what it was doing. Maybe that makes no sense...but it's how I see the difference.
What is your next project? Will you continue producing or do you plan to go back to directing?
I'm sure I'll direct something again, but I'm not chomping at the bit to do it. I serve a movie better producing. If I direct something I need to do animals attack or silly comedy. I don't have the patience for anything serious- I have never finished a game of chess. It's too boring to me, too calculated- it can't hold my attention. I feel that directing serious films and chess are both for grown ups. I'm not there as a director. Hopefully we will finish my dream movie, Pelican- it's about a giant pelican tearing the hell out of a beach community. I would direct that. I'll always produce. I can't stop from doing it. If someone in the same room as me talks about an idea I like- I start pushing to read a script. I can't help it. I start thinking about how we can make it.
For more information about Congratulations! go to the website for the film here: http://www.congratsmovie.com/