I had the pleasure a few weeks ago of attending IFP Film Week here in NYC. It's a fantastic 6-day conference of informative and enlightening film-related panels and screenings, with the added bonus of giving producers and filmmakers the opportunity to meet and mingle (which, for me, is really the most fun part since I love getting to geek out and talk shop).
Early in the week, I wound up chatting with producer Milo Daemgen who mentioned a new feature project he's producing, "The Shotgun Waltz", a dark psychological thriller set in New Orleans. I was immediately captivated by the idea of the film, and even more interested to learn about the project after hearing it's being helmed by a female director, Ji Un Choi.
I had a chance to check out one of Ji's short films "Madchen", a beautifully crafted and poignant look at the day in the life of a small-town diner waitress:
JC: I was born and raised in GyungJu, South Korea, came to Virginia when I was 8 with my family, was a good Virginian and went to UVA, then went to NYC for grad school at NYU for Creative Writing, Poetry. After graduation, I didn't know what to do. I saw a poster for New York Film Academy, attended their program and discovered filmmaking. It was a revelation for me. I have always been a storyteller, but I had never known anything before filmmaking that made me feel as if I belong in this world.
Was "Madchen" your first short film?
JC: No, since coming back to New Orleans in 2008, it's my third short film in Louisiana. I have been making short films for a while. My other Louisiana short films are "Hush Now" (2010) and "Holding His Rabbits" (2011).
Can you share what the inspiration was for the story in "Madchen"?
JC: The story is inspired by a story my friend Dave Taylor told me about a buddy of his. It struck me that you never know what goes on in the inner life of anyone. Seemingly ordinary lives are never ordinary. We all have extraordinary stories and dreams and hopes and heartaches. I wanted to capture that and further married it to a period where your inner life begins to get more complicated, the period when you transition into adulthood and everything begins to be this gray area. That time in a life when everything seems possible yet impossible at the same time.
JC: The Shotgun Waltz - it's about one night of a bicycle delivery boy as he navigates various degrees of inebriation through the night streets of New Orleans in search for his missing sister.
When I first came to New Orleans in 2002-2004, I was pretty exhausted from New York and New Orleans was the most forgiving, open, insane place. I had traveled and seen a lot, but New Orleans was something else entirely. The characters and stories and experiences I was having were so indescribably crazy, yet made sense in the devil-may-care grace and acceptance of this town. I wanted to capture the spirit of New Orleans in a portrait, but there are so many facets and layers to this town.
The best way I could think of was to set it over the course of one night and have the main character have access to all the various subcultures that intersect and criss-cross - the bicycle delivery boy of a French Quarter deli. Furthermore, I wanted to capture a sense of loss that pre-Katrina, was so striking to me in this town. It was as if everyone lived with a ghost of some time or someone here. It's as if the city was out of time and everyone was kind of suspended in the timelessness of it. Hence, the missing sister element - the fact that someone's absence is more felt than others' presences - I wanted to capture that longing and fracture.
It took me a while after moving back here to realize the ending, I had to really listen and live and imagine the story as a whole and to figure out how I wanted to explore and capture an emotional layer of distortion as well as a perceptual one. I call it a "poetic psychological thriller."
The film's dark, but things glitter in the dark.
Roland is really versatile and he and I have similar philosophies on art, people., process, music. He's incredibly gifted and respected and, as a professional musician, obviously knows sound and music much better than I do so he can take my concept and run with it. Roland brought on Rob Bigelow, who did the live-music recording on Treme. It was a dream come true because when I first envisioned the music in the story, Treme hadn't been filmed and I wouldn't have known enough about the process to even request the on-set recording Rob innovated on Treme. Rob's a huge selling point of getting the on-set music recording right on our film.
On Roland's reputation and relationships with musicians, he pulled in a lot of musicians, and I helped with a few I knew. Also, as there are visual and emotional distortions, the aural distortions need to happen in conjunction. I wanted sounds to mutate into music and vice-versa. Roland's amazing with sound and music in terms of tone and story. He composed and sound-designed the teaser trailer, which was the first time he and I got to collaborate in practice with real sounds and music, and it was such a joy. I'm so excited to hear what more he's going to come up with for the film. Roland's my partner in crime.
It looks like you've got a really great crew on your films, and that both "Madchen" and "The Shotgun Waltz" may share some of the same production crew. How did your excellent team come together?
Zac and Ian came back and Milo Daemgen came on as a sound guy and Samuel Kemp was our gaffer/hero. "Holding His Rabbits" was a 3-day shoot where I brought everyone out to Franklinton, LA and we stayed in cabins. We filmed and lived together like a little film family and it's where our team really began to form. Everyone just clicked and "Holding His Rabbits" turned out exactly as we wanted. It was the first film I felt completely supported and in sync with everyone. We did the same with "Madchen" except for 5 days instead of 3. We went back to the cabins and shot in Franklinton and Folsom, LA and more people joined like Bruno Doria as 1st AC and we challenged ourselves by shooting on 35-mm film instead of digital.
With The Shotgun Waltz, we continue to grow with incredibly gifted, impassioned people who fit vision, talent and personality-wise into our film family. We're now a union show so we're attracting some incredibly established filmmakers as well as the young, hungry ones. I work with people I love and trust and I've come to depend on the loyalty and the shared standard of quality.
A part of me is always with the next story though so I'm already priming the crew towards my next film, which is a western married with Greek mythology. Milo's always trying to keep me from getting too carried away with that because we have to shoot The Shotgun Waltz first.
At what stage is the production of "The Shotgun Waltz" in right now?
JC: After over a year and a half of development, all the very technical materials like the budget, scheduling, financing structure/recoupment, sales and distribution plans, marketing and publicity strategies, sales estimates as well as legal agreements, contracts, memoranda- all that has been done and we're about to reach out for funding. We have an attorney who handles all our legal/negotiations matters. We're union and the union wants to make an example of us as the little indie who does it right. We have partnered with Epilogue, LLC, an innovative, narrative-driven branding/digital publishing company who has worked with us to develop our logo and website.
Are there ways our readers can help spread the word about the project so we can help bring it to the big screen?
JC: With Epilogue, we're growing our audience and awareness for the film. We want to pull people into the story of The Shotgun Waltz as well as engage people with our production so that the interest and audience for the film is readily evident. We'd love for people to check us out (and our teaser) at www.theshotgunwaltz.com and our facebook page, twitter and instagram. The more traffic, the better. Also, we'd love for people to contact us if they have any interest in investing, or if they have contacts or leads, of course. I strongly believe the more you find out about The Shotgun Waltz, the more you'll want to know.
We completely agree. Thanks Ji!