Friday, September 18, 2009

Take 5 w/ Filmmaker Adam Nemett (The Instrument)

Adam Nemett is a filmmaker and fiction writer with a BA (Religion and Creative Writing) from Princeton University, and an MFA in Writing (Fiction & Screenwriting) from California College of the Arts. Adam is an Adjunct Professor of Film Studies at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and works as a Senior Idea Engineer at The History Factory, adapting filmic story structure for organizational storytelling. He is also finishing his first novel, Minor Gods, an excerpt of which was published in The Apocalypse Reader (Thunder's Mouth Press). Check out The Instrument, Friday, Sep 25 at The Patterson! Click here for screening info and tickets!

1. What’s the last movie you loved and what was the last movie you hated?
Loved: Synecdoche, New York (2008), Charlie Kaufman's directorial debut. I'm not sure if "loved" is the right word here; but if you consider "existentially confused in a way that made me want to drink myself into a catatonic stupor and/or call my grandma" a positive outcome, then, yes, I loved this one.

The film features a bunch of my favorite actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Emily Watson, Samantha Morton, etc.). Hoffman plays a struggling theater director who receives a MacArthur Grant and launches a multi-decade semi-autobiographical theater project involving a life-sized replica of New York City (yes, life-sized). It's basically a time-warped poem about all the very big things in life -- illness, death, art, love. But in typical Kaufman-esque fashion it somehow accesses this weightiness without feeling preachy or "arty." There's dark humor and surrealism throughout, plus hefty doses of passion and pain. The relationship drama for the main character (so many women, so little idea how to handle them all) and self-referential handling of the artistic process reminds me of Fellini's 8 1/2, and there's probably a ton of other intellectual and psycho-spiritual references that went over my head. The film is such a grand achievement, likely lost on most mainstream viewers, that it almost feels beyond its medium. I'm not sure what I mean by that, exactly. But I like a film that challenges me, that stays with me, forces me to return to it. Recent Viewing Honorable Mentions: Chicago 10, Waco: The Rules of Engagement, Lars and the Real Girl...

Hated: Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). It takes a lot for me to hate a movie, but this one did it for me. Penelope Cruz feels like she's playing Penelope Cruz. ScaJo is nice to look at, but she hasn't been good in anything since Ghost World. And it's a shame because the potential "main character" -- the city of Barcelona -- is such an amazing place in the world and even that somehow got lost in this nonsense...It kind of felt like a 17-year-old girl made this, after spending a semester in Barcelona (and even though, like, some crazy sexual stuff happened she TOTALLY had soooooo much fun there!). If this was written by a student in my screenwriting workshop I'd have written things like "Too obvious!" and "Meh..." all over the script. But instead, it was Woody Allen. Who I usually love. Either he's not trying anymore or else he's trying way too hard.

2. What’s your guilty pleasure movie or TV show?
I never really feel guilty about watching movies or TV shows, even goofy stuff. I'm self-righteous enough to believe that everything I watch is kind of awesome. There's plenty of drivel in either medium, but I'm one of those people who thinks there's a lot of fantastic stories being shown on television these days, and I think in ten years it's going to finally be socially- and artistically-acceptable to talk about TV as a serious artistic medium. I'm not a trash-TV fan -- not into The Real Housewives of Wherever -- but I like a good reality-show every now and then. Especially when it's a fictional series, but the verite style is part and parcel of the storytelling, like Reno 911! or The Office. I also DVR reruns of The Cosby Show, which some people think is silly, but Cliff Huxtable is the best TV dad in history, so I think those people who laugh at me are silly. Also, my friend met the guy who plays Elvin in an airport and ended up going to his Oscar Night Party which turned out to be a recruiting gathering for some Christian cult, and she won the Oscar pool but they wouldn't pay her unless she took the vow to join them...which is a fantastic tidbit of information to know about Elvin from The Cosby Show.

Maybe the closest thing to my guilty pleasures are Adult Swim cartoons: SeaLab 2021, Frisky Dingo, Aqua Teen Hunger Force...But they're just so funny.

3. How’d you get into filmmaking?
By accident. I've always loved movies, but I'm a fiction writer first and foremost. I was doing a lot of work with music in college -- I'm not a musician myself...I just do a lot of "work" surrounding music to overcompensate for the fact that I'm not a musician myself -- living with musicians and promoting concerts and raves and writing lyrics and such. I was also writing a lot of fiction at the time (still am) and began writing a long-ish story about a group of college students who inherit an interactive musical workshop that was created by their mentor before he died (the character is loosely based on James Hampton and his amazing work of visionary art, The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations' Millennium General Assembly). My story relied so heavily on music and elaborate ritual, and I kept wanting to hear and see the story instead of just reading it. I believe you can do a lot with words, but I also believe the line, "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" (this quote is attributed to everyone from Steve Martin to Elvis Costello to Gertrude Stein to Frank Zappa...who actually said this?)

So I'm writing this piece in a fiction workshop taught by Joyce Carol Oates, and I'm young and foolish and desperately trying to impress her. So when she (jokingly?) suggested that I should make the piece into a movie, I kind of went with it. I'd never made a film before, not even a short, but I bought some books and developed the prose into a feature script, and I was surrounded by so many talented kids at Princeton, and had access to some of the school's equipment, and found a guy who owned a 3-chip DV camera, and knew lots of musicians who wanted to create the original score, and I was watching a lot of Dogme 95 low-budget movies in those days, and...all of a sudden the thing snowballed and I was actually making a movie.

A giant part of what made the project possible was the Maryland Institute College of Art. My father, Barry Nemett, has taught at MICA for several decades and he's always been a giant inspiration to me -- through his own work as an artist/teacher and his undying support for my own creative work -- and we began talking about collaborating on this film project, using MICA as a backdrop for the story and utilizing some of the undergraduate students and faculty to create the insanely complex sets for the film. His support, and the support of MICA, made the film a reality.

This was obviously a key element of producing the film on such a minuscule budget: overcoming my anxiety about asking people close to me for help, especially my parents. But this became, perhaps out of necessity, my philosophical/logistical/financial approach to the film in general: shamelessly convincing people to join the party, for free, please please please. And, in the process, if I could surround myself with enough young and talented people who were looking to gain some experience or be part of a piece like this that could showcase their skills...maybe we might actually finish this thing.

4. What’s your fave piece of gear?
My computer. It's nothing special, just a computer. It helps me write words and the internet is good for occasionally-accurate research.

Otherwise, I'm a minimalist, not really a film gear geek. It's all so expensive and a pain in the ass to move around and I'm scared I'm gonna break everything.

5. What’s the one thing you’d warn a new filmmaker NOT to do on their first film?
Don't skimp on sound, especially production audio. I shot my feature for under $10,000, and then spent almost the same amount on post-production sound, partially because it's a music/sound-based film but partially because I had to do a bunch of audio clean-up. Audiences will forgive raw, low-production-value camera work, but crappy audio is almost impossible to get away with. Getting pristine sound on set isn't always easy, but investing the time and energy and money to do the best possible job is hugely important. Our sound guy was a pro and he did a great job, but I probably made some rookie directorial decisions about shooting in non-ideal circumstances. So...don't just hand your 11-year-old neighbor a boom mic and don't assume you can fix everything in post. ADR and sound cleanup is expensive and time-consuming.

Also, don't watch Vicky Christina Barcelona.

Otherwise, my advice would be to DO everything you can. If it's your first film, you're going to make rookie mistakes and you might as well do them while taking chances making art with people you like. You've got nothing to lose but your sanity.

No comments:

Indie Film Blogs

Live feeds from some of our favorite indie film blogs! Arts and Minds

Salon: Beyond the Multiplex


Film: Film blog | - Indie Eye

doc it out

Filmmaker Magazine CPTV