Interview With: Brendan Prost
By: Brandon Booth
Brendan Prost is an independent filmmaker living and making movies in Vancouver, BC. He has directed three feature films as well as a number of short films. Currently in preproduction for his upcoming film Sensitive Parts, I sat down with Brendan to talk about past films and how they’ve shaped his approach to this most recent endeavour. His last feature was Spaces and Reservations which screened across Canada, and his short film Getting There a short film in festival circulation as well.
Brendan Prost: I haven’t sent you the script for this yet, have I?
Brandon Booth: No, but I’ve read the description and it sounds a bit out there. I can see the narrative structure but then you introduce this other superstar personality.
BP: Have you seen Play it Again Sam?
BP: True Romance? You know how Elvis appears to Christian Slater? It’s kind of like that in the sense that you know it’s not real and that he’s projecting a part of his ego onto this Elvis character. In Play it Again Sam it’s a Woody Allen movie, and Woody Allen has Humphrey Bogart appear to him and give him advice and affirmation. It’s similar to borrowing that conceit, but I use it in a quite a different way, because in Play it Again Sam Bogart is very confrontational with Woody, and is shaping and changing him. In this(Sensitive Parts) it’s Fierce, Beyonce, it’s really Beyonce. You should see the pictures we shot last night, the character has all these posters on her wall of this pop star. We did a whole bunch of the classic ”Beyonce” “I am Sasha Fierce” posters and the Ebony magazine poster. The way in which we use Beyonce is very unique, and I’ve never quite seen it. You can kind of see it in True Romance in the way that Elvis comes to him and tells him that he’s “cool”. Very much in the same way Beyonce comes and tells her that she’s strong and confident, she’s basically her own inner voice of strength projected onto another person. This is very clearly her ego.
BB: Have you had much exposure over in Europe?
BP: I would’ve loved, well when we had Getting There we did submit to a lot of film festivals but I didn’t submit to any in Europe because it’s only valuable if you have a short in a festival, if you’re able to go, and I wasn’t going to have the money to be able to go. And you know the Canada council grants for travelling are not available if you’re going to promote your student film.
BB: So with this new feature, have you moved on from promoting/marketing your last film(Spaces and Reservations)?
BP: We’re doing a VOD release in May. We’ll be launching onto Amazon Instant, Hulu, Vimeo on Demand, Fandor, and a few smaller ancillary VOD platforms using a distributer called Kino Nation. We’re still waiting on some American Festivals. We were on the short list at Cinequest, we were one of the last, down to the wire, and we just didn’t get in. The programmer sent me this email and was like “We loved the movie and we wanted to do it but when we looked at it we realized we could program this movie or program two other movies that we like. It’s just the length.
BB: How long was it?
BP: It’s 140 minutes. The average runtime at SXSW was 77 minutes and Spaces is almost twice as long. I knew that we wouldn’t get in. I almost regret sending it off. I got a little bit of encouragement on the tour, people saying “oh you should send it around, you never know!” And I was like “Ya! You never know!” You do know. 140 minutes is too fucking long.
BB: Have you considered cutting it down for marketability’s sake?
BP: No, it wouldn’t make sense now. In terms of priorities it always has to be what I want first, to speak truthfully to where I’m at in that point in time. If that comes into conflict…I know it could be a shorter movie, but it’s not the movie I want to make, therefore those two things are at odds with each other. People come to me and tell me that they can see a shorter movie in there and I’m like “I can too!” I’m not fucking blind! I know how to make it shorter but this is the thing that I wanted to make.
BB: Is this playing into your approach for Sensitive Parts?
BP: Very much so. I think doing Spaces and Reservations gave me the chance to do exactly what I wanted in the form and shape that I wanted it. This time around, with that experience in mind, I felt like I could take that toolkit and I could put it into a form and a shape that was more palatable and friendlier for everyone, and I could still get all the things out of it that I wanted. I think that as I become a better filmmaker I can start to get all the things that I want creatively, but put it into a package that people recognize and can relate to. I think that’s very much what this is. It’s a 74 page script, which will probably be an 70-80 minute movie. It’s very contained, it has 12 locations and 47 scenes. It’s very much a response to Spaces and Reservations by deliberately doing something very very different, but I’m still getting everything out of it that I want. It’s still personal and performance intensive. That’s the plan.
BB: Directing, shooting, producing. What are the benefits to that level of control, how do you deal with the stress?
BP: The reason that I like to make films is that I have a really hard time communicating with people, it’s really hard for me to express myself. I’m reasonably articulate, but I don’t do a good job of getting out what i want. So often i leave a lot behind when i try and say something to someone. So inevitably when you bring on collaborators a lot of what you’re trying to say is lost. Collaborators can contribute a lot but it may not be particular to your vision and your ideas. They can add tons, but it may or may not be what you had in mind, and the film starts to change and shape itself differently, which is not inherently a bad thing, but it gets farther away from this thing you have in your heart that you want to share with people. If it’s your goal to get that out there…the ownership and the independence and your authorship in every element of the movie, makes it a lot easier to get closer to the thing that i want. I have trouble telling people what i have in my mind, if i could tell people what i have in mind i wouldn’t have to make the fucking movie in the beginning! So it comes with a lot of advantages, but there are incredible limitations. On this particular project, for instance, it’s amazing to me, the balance of my time between creative work and…hustling. You know? Producing. Ultimately on set it becomes the same thing. The time in which I’m doing creative work is incredibly intense and very short, and a lot of my day is spent organizing the labor on set, logistically sorting things out. That’s the downside. You’re not emotionally focused. You’re close to the material, because no one else is fucking around with it but you, but you have less time to engage with it. So what I’ve tried to do, with this, and some of my shorts, like Getting There, is spend most of my time creative time with the actors in pre production just sitting down and talking about the script and what’s going on. Not necessarily rehearsing but doing improvisation exercises because that’s when you have all your time. But even that, this film is a really quick turnaround. I finished the script around December and sent the actors the script, did a couple of passes after conversations with them. Going from finished script at the end of December to shoot at the end of March is fucked, when you’re producing it yourself.
BB: Any hard copies of Spaces and Reservations?
BP: Yes. I’ve authored the bluray and the DVD. It’s ready to go, and the artwork is done. That will be the last movie I do that for. I’m confident I’m never doing that again. There’s no demand, no interest in people having physical copies of films. It’s so expensive and so time consuming, just trying to encode everything so that it all fits on the disc, and getting all the artwork in different sizes to fit on the disc. It’s the worse process. With digital delivery you just have it in final cut, and export it with the right settings, but I could be wrong. But with the Spaces and Reservations dvds we’ve had like five preorders, nobody wants them, and 4 of the preorders are for people in the UK, so it doesn’t even make sense to send them because it’s so expensive to fucking ship them.
It’s nice dvd artwork though, it’s really nice.
BB: Are you bringing in some of your old cast?
BP: Yes, Dayleigh Nelson has a very small part in it. But the main person showing up again is Jennifer Kobelt from Spaces and Reservations, she play Sinead in the new movie. From Getting There, Carolyn Yonge is playing Dolore and Sean Marshall Jr. is playing Ryan. He’s so perfect for this. He’s got such an incredible intuitive sense for reading a script and emotionally understanding it. He’s an actor that’s just full of surprises. It’s really important to have collaborators on who are supportive.
BB: So this film is a comedy? What sort of differences did you find in writing for comedy as opposed to your more dramatic subject matter.
BP: Yes. Thank Christ. It was just like an additional step. It was almost entirely the same process the whole way through. I do character sketches, and story outlines, and then I start doing a scene breakdown, and in the scene breakdown I write all the things the scene needs to do and all the things I need to touch on, all the moments I need to have. Then I start to write the script. As I’m doing all my note-taking I’m writing lines of dialogue, things like that, and with comedy I write jokes and things to include as well. So when I actually get to writing the screenplay, when I’m going through the scene and I’m thinking of all the things I need to do, one of my last passes is to add humour and to add jokes. In this film a lot of the humour stems from the situation, it’s situationally comic. There aren’t jokes, but the situation is funny. It’s a little sitcommy. Characters get themselves into these outrageous scenarios and the way that they react is funny. But I did do, in one of my last steps, go through and go “does this scene accomplish enough funny, is there enough humour in this?” It’s one of the things in my tool belt, to check off the things I needed to do in this scene, to make a joke out of it or I could use humour to do one of those things. So not very different.
BP: When I’m writing, I’m mostly inspired by music, and not so much inspired by films. I spend a lot of time listening to a lot of these incredible female singer-songwriters, the emotional quality of their music, about this vulnerability to it but there’s this courage, and a combative spirit. And that kind of spirit I was really interested in harnessing. So i listened to a lot of Beyonce, and a lot of Robin, Dragonette, Rylo Kylie, and a lot of Nicki Minaj and Rihanna. These are women who are telling these stories about these difficult things that they’ve experienced but how’ve they’ve fought through them. And really that’s what Dolore’s experience is in the movie. It’s about experiencing these things that really cut deep for her, but learning to fight them off and beat them. Filmically the major influence, movie’s I looked to for structural guidance, were Lynn Shelton’s Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister.
BB: The movie in one sentence.
BP: An anxious young girl learns to combat her interpersonal fears and paranoia with a little help from her best friend, her boyfriend, and a manifestation of a pop star named “Fierce.”
My tagline is “What’s a little carnal knowledge shared between two best friends?” Very provocative. Isn’t that a great expression? Carnal knowledge.
Interview done by Brandon Booth. February 24, 2015.