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Programmer Roundtable:<br>First-time Narrative Directors

What's it like to be a first-time director about to premiere your feature at the Tribeca Film Festival? Tribeca Senior Programmer Genna Terranova finds out.

Tribeca Senior Programmer Genna Terranova tracked down four very busy directors (Caroline Bottaro, director of Queen to Play; Andrew Lancaster, director of Accidents Happen; Jake Goldberger, director of Don McKay; and Damien Chazelle, director of Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) before they made their way to Tribeca. Anxious to find out what went into making their first feature narrative film, she talked with them about what’s been on their minds lately. 

Queen to Play

Genna Terranova: At what moment did you decide you wanted to make this film?

Caroline Bottaro
[Director, Queen to Play]: It was precisely early October 2003, after reading La Joueuse d’Echecs, Bertina Henrichs’ first novel, who happened to be my next door neighbor in Paris at the time…  She’d just finished writing it and wanted my feedback. I was moved by her story and immediately felt like adapting it.
Andrew Lancaster [Director, Accidents Happen]: I was on a long flight with the writer Brian Carbee going to a festival with the short film we had made. He handed me a script and watched me read it, checking at what pages I laughed. I decided to do it immediately.
Jake Goldberger [Director, Don McKay]: I decided I wanted to make this film literally right after I watched the re-release of Blood Simple. I really saw, and was inspired by, what could be done with just a few characters, not a whole lot of locations, and a really cool approach to the “dark, quirky, noir” sub-genre those guys [the Coen Brothers] basically invented right then and there.
Damien Chazelle [Director, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench]: It was the spring of 2006, and I was a junior in college. I'd played music for a few years with a guy named Justin Hurwitz. I told him I was thinking of making a musical and asked him if he could write a big, sweeping score for it. He said yes. Then I asked Jasmine McGlade and Adam Parker, also classmates, if they'd help. They said yes. I knew I couldn't do the movie without those three, so their agreeing to come onboard was the real start.

Accidents Happen

Genna Terranova: Was it difficult finding the right story to move forward with? And how did you decide to choose this one?

Caroline Bottaro: I had a few projects in the works before Queen to Play that didn’t make it. I guess I wasn’t ready. Today, I believe that the right project is one that picks you as much as you pick it.
Andrew Lancaster: The short film In Search of Mike played well with audiences, so Brian and I decided to collaborate again with Accidents Happen.
Jake Goldberger: As pretentious as it sounds, this is one of those scripts that just sort of wrote itself. The most difficult part of the story process was trying to make sure the script worked in a completely different way when it was read the second time—that was the challenge throughout.
Damien Chazelle: I wanted to do a really classic and familiar Hollywood-musical plot: boy meets girl, boy leaves girl, girl moves on, boy changes mind and tries to get girl back.

Don McKay

Genna Terranova: Directing can be stressful and exhausting, what were some of the moments that made you laugh out loud on set or that kept you grounded?

Caroline Bottaro: Finding myself surrounded by a crew, by outstanding actors such as Sandrine Bonnaire and Kevin Kline, and seeing the story I’d envisioned alone in front of my computer for months come to life…  it was mostly exhilarating!
Andrew Lancaster: In one of our suburban locations, the residents formed an action group and threatened to sabotage the shoot by playing bagpipes and flashing lights during filming. They assumed we were a big Hollywood film along with “a shouting director.”  They had to eat their hats when they found the producer and I were both locals and I barely raised my voice on set.
Jake Goldberger: The thing I remember the most was when M. Emmet Walsh finished work on his first day. I went up to him to tell him how great I thought he was—and in front of the whole crew, he just scoffed at me and said (loudly), “Son, that’s what I do. I make amateurs look like professionals.” It was just a really nice and funny moment at the end of a long week. And he was right…

Damien Chazelle: At some point during shooting I basically began to believe that luck was on our side, that even if something horrendous happened, it was all for the best. The lab told me they'd destroyed the film with the movie’s biggest musical number—that was how production began. So we planned for another few months, got everyone back together, and reshot the scene. And you know what? It turned out way better than the first time.
Genna Terranova: Usually filmmakers can be big movie buffs themselves. Do you find you can watch films and enjoy them, or do you catch yourself thinking about how it is all being done?

Andrew Lancaster: I'm not really a film buff. The best films are the ones that get you so involved that you don’t think about the technicalities of how its done.

Jake Goldberger: I have been a completely obsessed movie nerd my entire life, but had always been able to very easily remove myself from the “filmmaking” process. Once you go through the process and realize how talented an illusionist everyone involved with a movie is, it’s really hard to objectively watch anything at all anymore. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Damien Chazelle: I'll think about how it's done sometimes, but that's always enjoyable, too.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench

Genna Terranova: What are a few films you have been thinking about lately?

Caroline Bottaro: I was very moved by Two Lovers and by Gran Torino…  Very impressed by There Will Be Blood and by Milk.

Andrew Lancaster: I saw Let the Right One In in the cinema where we were about to have our cast and crew screening, and I suddenly felt nervous about of sharing the same screen.

Jake Goldberger: I just saw Sugar, which I thought was really great. And though I definitely wouldn’t recommend this to any non-horror fans, I’m surprised to say I thought the Last House on the Left remake was exceptionally well directed and shot. I’m surprised it was blown off so quickly when it came out a few weeks ago.

Damien Chazelle: Point Break. I'd love to do an action movie one day, and Bigelow is pretty much the best action director working. Lately those are the movies I really appreciate—the ones that take a city and recast it as though it were the stage-drop for a musical or opera, whether or not there's any singing involved. Hallelujah I'm a Bum. Va Savoir. City Lights. Two Lovers. Eyes Wide Shut.
Genna Terranova: These films have never played for a public audience before. What do you imagine it will be like?

Caroline Bottaro: My film is like my child: I love it the way it is, because I know why I made it, and for everything we already went through together. Showing it means accepting to part from it and letting it live its life.
Andrew Lancaster: I guess that after performing live shows there is a satisfaction of not having to actually do anything. Although I wish I had a small mixing console so a could adjust the audio levels for each cinema. I'm still somewhat terrified.
Jake Goldberger: Nerve-wracking.
Damien Chazelle: I've never seen the movie on a screen bigger than a monitor or Steenbeck. So I imagine it will be terrifying.

Accidents Happen premieres on Thurday, April 23, at 9:30 pm.

Don McKay premieres on Friday, April 24, at 6:00 pm.

Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench premieres on Thursday, April 23, at 7:15 pm.

Queen to Play premieres on Saturday, April 25, at 6:00 pm.

In all cases, more screenings follow throughout the Festival.
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