Other Movies Seen By This Director (0)
|10.23.05||Regal Arbor||This Screening is part of event: Austin Film Festival 2005|
Day Four of AFF. Sunday. I officially hate the pre-film short and cell phone message now, not even mentioning the way-too-long sponsors film. I guess I predicted I could last until tomorrow. Oh well.
The first show I saw today was Severance, a local-made film about following your dreams, living out your fantasies, and buying a white tux. More specifically, it's about Steve Saddleman, an aspiring writer who has a job in hi-tech but feels like he's wasting his life. He finds out that the girl he likes at work is seeing his prick of a program manager and freaks out in a client meeting. The company's instituting lay-offs anyway so they give him a chance to resign, offering a decent chunk as severance. Steve immediately accepts. From there, he follows his love of film noir heroes like Humphrey Bogart and starts being a private investigator. He buys a white tux and wears it everywhere, eventually getting in good with the girl from work (who's been laid off) and even getting a client. Of course, the whole thing descends into a noir mystery story with him getting double-crossed and robbed blind. His old company also goes bankrupt, killing half of his severance pay but in the end he manages to write his book and get a menial, albeit more pleasurable, job to pay the bills.
The first half of the film feels very much like a corporate IT version of Swingers. There's Steve hanging out with friends who try to get him to be more engaging and assertive, There's Steve's ladies-man friend trying to help him with women, and there they ending up in humorous situations because of it. Take all of that and throw in some white collar absurdity and you have what makes up the first half of this film. I must say that they did a great job in keeping the IT-speak authentic unlike TV shows like 24 where it seems the writers have never used a computer in their life. I've been in meetings very similar to the that shown in this film and part of me would love to go off the deep end like Steve; oh how sweet it would be.
The second half of the film becomes much more escapist fantasy. Steve hires a secretary straight out of the 40s, wears his white tux everywhere he goes, and does the whole inept private detective thing pretty well. You can feel the tone of the movie shift dramatically as Steve starts mimicking Bogart's machine-gun speaking rhythms and patois. The plot becomes more twisted and convoluted as we follow Steve on his case and try to figure out what's up. In perhaps the funniest scene of the film, Steve can't figure out how to work his camera to take pictures of an incriminating infidelity, so he whips out his sketchbook and later presents his client with crude (anatomically correct) stick-figure drawings of what he witnessed, playing the sketches off as firm evidence of a job well done.
The movie was shot on Ilford super16 black & white stock, creating a breezy fine-grain aesthetic that was unfortunately compromised by the digital projection in the theater. The effect they were going for is evident, but doesn't always come off perfectly. I hesitate to call this a bad film in any way, but if I'm to judge this on the same level as any other film, I would say it's a bit amateur. A lot of the actors could be a lot better and the story could be a tad more original, less reminiscent of other films. Other aspects of the film however are very impressive. The score, written, arranged, and conducted by local jazz musician Pat Murray, fills the movie with air and goes a long way in connecting the corporate-gripe first half with the noir-fantasy second. Lead actor/writer/director/producer Troy Miller does a good job for the most part as does his main buddy. Viewed in the context of local-made film, I'd say this was excellent. A precise budget wasn't given but I have to imagine that they did a tremendous amount with what they had, especially considering they shot on film rather than digital. I think there's real talent in here somewhere, so hopefully this will get noticed and give those involved an opportunity to make something with more money and better resources.
Afterward, a few of the producers and Troy Miller (wearing his white tux) came up for some Q&A. Troy fielded almost all of the questions:
-Everyone told them they were crazy to shoot on film, but they wanted to go for that noir look and found that Ilford, a British film maker, made a stock that gave a very unique brightness with fine grain that they liked. However, there are only one or two companies in the U.S. that carry Ilford stock so they had to really work to get all they needed. At one point, Troy said, all of the Ilford film in America was in town exposing on his movie.
-As far as influence and inspiration goes, most of the tech stuff came from real life (Troy had a hi-tech job before this. He now has a day job as a waiter at the Driskill Bar & Grill), but he's also loved Humphrey Bogart and film noir for a long time. He did go through a crash-course in Bogart films before shooting to get his performance down, but he's always been a fan of those movies.
-This is Miller’s first feature and it took three and a half years to make, from writing to final cut.
-A lot of the cast came from a local improvisation comedy group called The Heroes of Comedy.
-Miller's now working on two projects: one is a straight-up comedy and the other is a horror film.
-When asked what their biggest lesson learned while shooting this was, we got the following answers: 1. Get everything on paper. 2. Make sure you have enough money to finish shooting before you start. 3. Don't forget about post-production. 4. Don't shoot in August, it's really hot.
With that, the Q&A ended and I had to rush downtown to make what is for some the most heavily-anticipated screening of the festival.