Q: Since you and Sophia write, direct, produce and act in most of your films, do you see your talents in each area not fully appreciated? In essence, does wearing too many hats have an undesired effect on judges of your craft?
ST: Unfortunately, it does seem to confuse people. In our hyperactive culture, it seems like people can’t wrap their heads around complexity, so yes, when you’re “a hyphenate” people have difficult time fully appreciating one particular aspect of your skill set. That being said, we didn’t really have a choice in the matter. All of our films so far have been self-financed. When you’re working on a shoestring, the easiest way to save money is to do a job or many jobs yourself.
LML: I agree. Both of us are “trained actors”, which is a fact that seems to be lost on people for whatever reasons. I find that acting, writing, and directing, even editing to a certain extent, are complimentary skills sets. One skill only enhances the other. Then again, if we didn’t write and direct our own stuff at the beginning people may not have had the opportunity to see us act at all.
Q: From your perspective, what are the current challenges of being a filmmaker today? What are some pros and cons as you’ve experienced?
ST: It’s a great time for making work since very high-quality equipment is easily accessible. All you need is guts to make a film. The difficulty is who’s going to see it.
LML: The financial sacrifice of making films on your own is very significant. Otherwise, I find making films is a rewarding and often enjoyable way to spend your time.
Q: What type of gear do you guys like to shoot on? What software do you use to cut? Other favorite tools you use during production?
ST: Neither of us are gear-heads. We shot GREEN on a canon 5D because our DP (Nandan Rao) owned one. I cut on my final on my laptop.
LML: We shot Gabi on the HVX with Nikon still lenses. In retrospect, we should have gone with 5D or the 7D, but nobody had really shot with those yet. They had just come out so we went conservative on that. Turned out to be a terrible decision. Aaron Kovalchik did an amazing job with a bad camera, but the choice to use the HVX not only cost aesthetically, particularly because even with the still lenses the wide-angles looked bad on that camera, but also cost us financially. When you put a still lens on the HVX , you need more light, which you need to rent unless you happen to own a bunch of big movie lights. The 5D is much better in low light and natural light situations. It would have cost half as much to make the movie with a DSLR.
Q: What kind of stories do you prefer to tell?
ST: I tend to come up with stories that either come very much from my personal demons and are very serious or funny movies about self-deluded protagonists.
LML: My films also tend to be very personal, but I respond more to traditional genre and structure then Sophia, who is free as a bird. When we work together I have to let go of my impulses toward making a crafty, “well-made film” and move into uncharted territory. I like to riff on and bend genre, but she likes to rip it all up and start all over again.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Where do you write; how long do you work on a feature-length script?
ST: Our approaches to writing are also very different. I write when I’m so inspired and can pretty much do it anywhere anytime. Whereas Lawrence writes in the same chair everyday from 10 until 3 whether he’s inspired or not.
LML: I also like to be alone and in complete quiet during those hours.
Q: What do you and Sophia each bring to the table that the other doesn’t — basically, how do you compliment each other as producing partners?
ST: As you probably guessed from our previous answers, we bring very different things to the table. We kind of pick up the slack where the other is lacking.
LML: The main thing we do for each other is believe in each other. As an artist, you put yourself out there and then face a variety of opinions, often negative ones.
ST: Yeah, so it’s really important to have someone in your corner that you trust because it’s easy to lose track of your self-worth when you face criticism. Not that we’ve been especially harshly criticized, but as humans it seems we remember the negative reactions better than positive ones.
Q: So, your most-recent film, GREEN, is in theaters now - where can folks check this out? Also, your last one, GABI ON THE ROOF IN JULY, is playing on Hulu. How did you manage to get this distribution?
ST: GREEN is premiering theatrically in NYC and Chicago this Friday. In NY, we’ll be playing at Rerun in Dumbo. Advance tickets are available at: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4037552428.
In Chicago, we’ll be playing at Facets: http://www.facets.org/pages/cinematheque/films/sept2012/green.php
Hopefully, other cities will follow. Factory 25 is handling all formats.
LML: GABI is available on Hulu as you mentioned, also on Itunes, Amazon, You Tube and a bunch of other places. Cinetic Film Buff was and is in charge of the digital platforms. Warner Brothers did the VOD and it looks Like Factory 25 is going to a DVD for Gabi as part of a special package with GREEN.
Q: Shifting to your acting work, what variety of roles have you played? Do you plan to keep acting as well as being behind the camera? Also, how has acting for other directors informed your skill-set as a director?
ST: I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on a variety of film sets over the past couple of years and worked with some great directors like Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Dan Schechter, Mike Bilandic, Zach Weintraub and, of course, Lawrence. Each of them had a distinct voice and approach, so I feel like I learned different things from all of them, not only about directing but acting as well.
LML: I find being an actor very helpful to me as a director because when I direct it helps me understand a little better how to talk to actors. You understand what they’re going through, the challenges they’re facing and, because of that, you can create a safer environment for them on set.
Q: Who are your greatest influences in terms of film writers and directors?
ST: I think we’re each other’s biggest influences.
ST: Ozu was a big influence on GREEN. That’s about the only filmmaker I thought about while making GREEN — the meditative mood he created. But I try not to watch too many films. I don’t think being a cinephile is necessarily that helpful in being able to make great films.
LML: My tastes in film are very broad. I like all sorts of stuff and all sorts of films influence me — most of the time unconsciously. Many times, I’ll make a decision or write something and then later, I’ll see a film where the influence is clear but it was subconscious.
If I had to come up with a list of five films that really expanded my conception of what can be done creatively with film It would be: Cassvetes’ LOVE STREAMS, Ozu’s TOKYO STORY, Fellini’s 8 ½, Mike Leigh’s ANOTHER YEAR and Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
I’m also a big admirer of Preston Sturges, Robert Altman, Woody Allen, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese, John Ford, Rainer Fassbinder, Ingmar Bergman, Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, and of course, the French new wave directors are great. I’m a Gallo fan. I thought the Brown Bunny was pretty damn good.
I also really like a lot of the DIY films that are being made by youngish American directors. Alex Ross Perry, Zack Clark, Joe Swanberg, Amy Seimetz, Bob Byington, Zack Weintraub, Kris Swanberg, Onur Tukel, Alex Karpovsky, Kentucker Audley, Dustin Defa and Mike Bilandic are all directors who are doing interesting things. There are others I’m probably forgetting.
Q: Last great film you saw?
ST: We watched half of Norman Mailer’s MAIDSTONE which just came out on DVD and that was amazing. Can’t wait to get back and watch the rest of it.
LML: A few days ago we watched a documentary by the Ross Brothers that was truly fantastic. It’s called 45365.
ST: Totally! Those guys are some gifted filmmakers.
Q: Thinking back, was there a moment when you said to yourself, ‘I want to be a filmmaker’?
ST: As a child I was really into Judy Garland. I wanted to be like her. She’s a special performer.
LML: When I was in college, I was trying to write fiction but it wasn’t really clicking for me, then I saw Cassavetes’ FACES and I thought to myself “That’s what I wanna do!”
Q: What’s next on your creative agenda?
ST: I shot a feature this summer called DEVILTOWN that I need to edit. I’m also working on a comedy about a politically correct girl who goes to Africa to find herself. Lawrence and I are collaborating on a script for a movie about the way our society influences woman through images called ALWAYS SHINE. That’s a very dark film with thriller elements, though I wouldn’t describe it as a thriller.
LML: I’m planning on shooting a romantic comedy about a couple that suspects “foul play” when their upstairs neighbor dies. It’s really about men and women and whether or not they have snowball’s chance in hell of living together peacefully.