Melonie Gartner Q & A

by Phillip Wilcox "Our Movie Demon"

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DCP:
What is your relationship with movies, and what got you started with wanting to write and direct Two Rivers?

 

Melonie Gartner:
I have always loved movies; my love for movies started at a very young age.  As a kid, my mother used to take me to the theater to watch big Hollywood films such as Dr. Zhivago – for some reason that movie stands out in my mind whenever I think about going to the theater with my Mom.  I also remembered watching many western films.  However, my Mom was a big fan of Hitchcock and introduced me to many of his movies.  And that's how I developed my appreciation for Hitchcock.  I love movies that thrill, and movies are my escape.

 

In 2006, while living in Seattle, I was inspired to write a script for a low-budget short.  The story existed in my head was quite dark – heavily influenced by Hitchcock - and it would be quite simple to make.  So, I started writing my very first script.  It was a coincidence that while I was working on the script, one day, there was a news segment on TV with real footage of a couple in an abusive relationship. That was research materials for me.  The main characters in the original script was based on the couple in this incredible real footage.  In the original script, the dialogue was raw and vulgar.  However, over the years, the script would go through changes and evolved.

 

Once I had the opportunity to make the movie, 8 years after the original script had been written, I had a set vision of how the movie should be told and looked.  It would be hard for me  - and more work - to have someone to take over to tell this story as I also had woven many personal aspects of my life into it.  Nobody could know my deep dark personal stories than I, and some of the things that you see in the movie are symbolic which represent the skeletons in my closet.  When you have personal pain and dark secrets which you want told a certain way, you have to be in the driver's seat.

 

DCP:
To you, what is the story of Two Rivers about?

MG:
Two Rivers is a story about the destructive relationship between Dirke and Emma. Dirke is a troubled and abusive individual who leaves Emma cold and broken.  Two Rivers represents two bodies of water that can’t be merged.  It’s Dirke and Emma’s Mesopotamia.  A tale of tainted love that has gone past the point of no return. 

 

DCP:
What were some of the challenges you faced making the film?

MG:
Two Rivers was our very first project, and that alone was a big challenge. There are many uncertainties to doing something for the very time regardless of what you learned or read. Fortunately, in a town with population of 12,000 people, we came across an award-winning cinematographer, who helped us bring the script to life with his RED camera. It was fortuitous if not serendipitous that we had the opportunity to collaborate with this super talented cinematographer who put us at ease about our first project.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting a movie in Wisconsin presented a whole new set of challenges as the weather in the Midwest could be unpredictable. You can start out with a nice, sunny day and calm winds and the next thing you know, you have to seek refuge from a downpour with lightning and thunder.

Making a movie with a low-budget was another challenge. Just because we had a low-budget for the film, it didn’t mean that we wanted to make a film that looked low-budget. We had to weigh every financial decision carefully without compromising the look and feel of the film.

 

DCP:
How did you come to the decision to make the film black and white?

MG:
There was no decision to make on that.  The movie existed in my head, from day one it was in black and white while I was working on the script.  You can say that because of my love for black and white films that inspired me to think and see my first film in black and white.  Films with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Baccall, Ingrid Bergman and Betty Davis, to name a few, are all my favorites.  Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho” was another big influence on my first film.  I feel that black and white films are mysterious whereas color films could detract the audience from the story line.  And the aim was to have the story between Dirke and Emma as the main focus.

 

DCP:
What are some lessons you learned from directing your first film?

MG:
I learned that if the actors were given the freedom to improvise and not recite their lines word for word that it would help bring out the natural performance and interaction among them.  All actors involved in my first film didn't get the script until the last minute.  On the day of the shoot, they had about a few hours to go over their lines while my DP was setting up his equipment, and we started filming.  And you can see the result in the opening scene of “Two Rivers”.  I feel that if the actors are too focused on or concerned about memorizing their lines, then the acting could suffer.

 

Another lesson for me was to be flexible with your plans because things don't always happen the way you plan them.  You have to have plan A & B in place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DCP:
I know you have spoken openly to me before about this topic, but could you talk about your thoughts on female filmmakers and what it means to you?

MG:
When I made “Two Rivers”, I didn't give it a thought about being a female filmmaker.  I was just a filmmaker.  It's only after the movie was premiered at a film festival that I realized that filmmaking is a male-dominated arena.  When all filmmakers were asked to come on stage for Q & A, I was the only female up there.  It was a special moment for me as all questions were directed at me; lots of interests and attention from the audience and other filmmakers for this only female filmmaker.  I also find that the male-dominated filmmaking community is very supportive of me and wants me to succeed.  So, female filmmakers are rare, and we do get the attention.  I feel that as females, we have a different way of looking at things which reflects in how the stories are told – a fresh new angle.  We have lots to offer, and I hope to see more female filmmakers emerging in the future.

 

DCP:
Who or what inspires you, and what are some of your favorite films?

MG:
In filmmaking, off the top of my head, some of the prominent names are Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino, Orson Welles and Mark Borchardt.  It was actually  the documentary “American Movie” that gave me the extra push to make “Two Rivers”.  After seeing the film and the passion and struggles of this independent filmmaker from Wisconsin, I was inspired in a big way.  I can say that Mark Borchardt is a great inspiration and has changed the course of my life.

 

I have many favorite films, but if I were to choose some,  I'd say “Casablanca”, “Gone with the Wind”, “Psycho”, “ Raised the Red Lantern”, “Ju Dou”, both directed by Zhang Yimou, “The Exorcist” (a must every Halloween), and “Forrest Gump”. Which I can watch over and over again in one day and won't get sick of.

 

DCP:
Can tell us anything about any future projects/films you may have coming up?

MG:
Currently, I'm working on the prequel to “Two Rivers”, titled “Where the Great Spirits Live”, which is the English translation for Manitowoc.  The film will be shot in Manitowoc and feature some of the city's landmarks.  Production will begin at the end of May of this year.  Originally, I planned to shoot this film in the fall of last year, but encountered a big setback, and pre-production came to a halt.  I'm glad that things have fallen into place this year for the project.

 

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