“In Search of a Midnight Kiss” is a story of modern love in Los Angeles taking place during one of the loneliest times of the year: New Year’s Eve. Alex Holdridge revives indie filmmaking with this festival gem, and the writer/director took some time out to talk with Film Threat about his film…
Give us a bit of history about yourself? What was the first film you ever made?
The first film I really put my mind (and credit cards) to was my first feature, “Wrong Numbers.” I was 22 when I began shooting, and 26 by the time I finally finished and worked every crappy job you could have imagined to pay the rent in between (and maxed out my cards along the way). The double shift of transcribing meeting notes for a maritime law office during the day and then delivering chicken at night only to come home to try to edit the movie in my tiny apartment crammed with computer hard drives, camera equipment and a much neglected girlfriend was the reality of my life in those years. Having taken four years to shoot and edit, you’d think we had made “Titanic,” but it was far less ambitious, and it was how I learned. I’m not a trust fund USC kid, who was striving to make a ‘calling card’ movie to get a job shooting an episode of “CSI Miami” so I could party at Bungalow 8 with a coked out actress. I was much more inspired by indie filmmakers who made movies about their friends and insisted on it being funny and uninhibited. No bullshit was allowed. So we made a comedy about two 19-year old kids that set out on the last day of school to forget their girlfriend troubles and buy some beer. It’s one of those nights when no one could buy for you, and it took these kids on this all night adventure as they traveled across town picking up all these people they didn’t want to hang out with but insisted could help them out or ‘knew a guy.’ By the end they’d been through utter hell and turned on each other. The Alamo Drafthouse had us on a wild run at their theater. The indie world owes Tim and Carrie League a lot credit for that little movie house.
What made you decide to become a filmmaker?
The amount of money and time you spend making watching and living with films, it’s more like an addiction than a decision. Once you have fallen in love with films you’re in trouble. For me, “The Graduate” was the first one that sucked me in. I was 19 years old when I saw that film, and I was stunned. I didn’t know films could be so funny, perverted and moving. From there you become obsessed and just go down the aisles of the video stores burning through the director shelves and writing your own scripts. I think my director friend Jessica Bendinger was right when she told me I was addicted to the most expensive drug on the planet, filmmaking.
What was the inspiration for your film “In Search of a Midnight Kiss”?
I was dumped, flat broke, at a career low after watching my life fall apart in three months and working at a video store on New Year’s Eve when I started to consider, “In Search of a Midnight Kiss.” I wanted to watch a really funny and cynical movie about how ridiculous New Year’s Eve was when you were dateless and depressed. So that led to thinking about that nether zone of the year between New Year’s and Christmas when all the lonely people are hanging around their families going crazy and thinking about the next year and what they will do differently. So Sara Simmonds (Vivian in “ISOAMK”) and I walked the streets of downtown talking about this movie and discovered all of these amazing locations. We could not believe that no one had captured the beautiful and post-apocalyptic downtown. That set the wheels in motion, but it took getting the axe with my studio project and a phone call from my friend Robert Murphy (cinematographer of “ISOAMK”) saying that he had just bought an HD camera and was coming to L.A. for a week to finally put pen to paper. It was Dec. 26th a year later. I then wrote the 130 page script by Jan. 8th when we began shooting. Robert didn’t even know we were shooting a feature. He figured it was a short since we only had 8 days at the time. On the first day he looked over and saw the 130 page script. He didn’t want to ask me such a question, so he whispered to Scoot, ‘Is that the script we are shooting?’ thinking there was no way we could film that many pages. But we were so desperate and motivated having the chance to shoot again, that we made it happen.
It was a full team effort and somehow we just kept moving forward. From the dailies on day one we knew this was something different about this project. And the dailies kept coming back so well that it helped keep us motivated to fight to make it a reality.
What was the budget and how long did it take you to make it?
We shot and edited the movie for 12K. Uprezing and final HD CAM output put us at 25K. It was all blood sweat and tears, and we never discussed our budget because we did not want to make it sound like a cheap, pheaux-doc look. It is not. It is shot very classically.
We shot 16 principal days. 4 pickup days of shooting happened over the course of a year as we edited it together in about 10 months. Frank Reynolds came on after seeing rough assemblies and we worked for 8 weeks before he was pulled into his next project. Then Jake Vaughan and I sat together for about 5 more months working every day to finally shape it into the final cut.
How did you go about casting? Was it a long audition process?
No auditions. I knew all of these actors and wrote parts specifically for them. There were a few people we added that the actors knew. I would ask them if they knew someone to play this part and they would call someone and four hours later an incredible actor was at our place filming with us. L.A. has so many amazing actors, it is a director’s dream in that sense.
So ultimately the actors knew you and were already confortable?
We had done films before so they knew it would be bitter and funny and romantic. The characters in the last two movies were wild and perverted and fun and were able to express a range of emotions, so it is the kind of thing that actors love to do. So I told them the story, and that was it. It was very simple. I love actors and am certainly an actor’s director more than a technical director. It was more about me getting the chance to give these great actors something fun to do that shows how much range and charm I knew they had.
What was the motivation for shooting the film black and white? Did you choose the format for its look, or was it budgetary?
We always wanted it to be black and white. I thought the movie should have an old fashioned look to give it a sense of timelessness and overcome the contemporary nature of the really modern story – MySpace, texting, IMing have an expiration date on them. They are bound to change, so I wanted to transcend the things that so squarely put it in this year and make it a relatable concept in an time.
Also, L.A. has no respect for its history. The set of “Intolerance” is now a car wash. The gorgeous theaters downtown are cheap electronics stores. I wanted the history of L.A. to be part of the story. So incorporating an old style with the new generation was interesting to me. It is additionally a reaction to the pheax doc look that so many indies I love right now are utilizing.
Lastly, I think a romantic veneer I think is important for this kind of movie. In spite of the crass brutally honest and perverted humor to me it is ultimately a romance about real connection. That glossy romantic look is essential to making the have a coherent and moving mood.
The format HDV up-rez’ed to HD was entirely dictated by budget.
Many of the scenes were shot on location, how easy or difficult was it shooting? Did you have permits, or was it strictly guerilla?
No permits. This is truly guerilla. And funny thing is, L.A. is a great place to shoot because reality TV changed everything. No one will stop you anymore. There are too many run and gun productions. So we just hopped on the subway and started shooting. We set up on a street corner and began rolling. We rarely encountered problems and if we did we just said we were shooting a wedding video. With the tiny new HD camera we used, it was totally reasonable to believe that is exactly what we were doing.
Did you run into any problems during production?
We did break the camera. I have used the same tripod legs for 10 years. A nut was broken on one of the legs, but I still used out of posterity. It was my lucky tripod. We used gaffe tape to prop up that leg. Well, you can quickly imagine that leg slipping and tipping over the entire camera one day. It cost 2K to fix it. That was nearly twenty percent of our entire budget. It is no longer my lucky tripod.
At the end of the day, what is this film really about, in your own words?
I think sometimes you have relationships that are ‘rebounds’ or completely f****d up and awful, but you need them. I honestly think I might have died had I not had a relationship at this one point in my life. It was all wrong and we made each other miserable, but I feel like that woman saved my life. She would never know it, but I needed to know that love was possible again at that point, and she did that for me. I wanted to touch on the importance of that kind of experience and do it with a comedic and brutally honest kind of demeanor.
What would you say to other aspiring young filmmakers who want to make a successful film like this?
Don’t listen to anyone who is discouraging. Had I listened to people that second guessed me I would never have finished anything. Surround yourself with other film obsessed people that want to work together and just keep going forward. Even when you are tired, do one more take. Find the energy to go back and reshoot those insert shots you think could be a little bit better. Remember it is forever and is worth the effort, no matter how small it is. Keep reworking it to make it better and don’t be embarrassed if you have to reshoot something. Woody Allen reshoots 30 percent of his work. Robert Murphy and I always say ‘What would Kubrick do?’ We know he would take the time and effort to get that extra set up, redo something or get a better cut in. Rewriting, reshooting and cutting out the parts that are not honest are all part of the process to meld into the final cut.
Tell me what you’re working on right now. Any links to promote your new project?
I have a new comedyromance called “500 Reasons to Kill Yourself.” It will be a big studio film, so the strike is putting it at a standstill until it is resolved. So I have shifted gears to something I am very excited to film called “Hate in Paris.” It is a mix of suspense, comedy and romance set on the streets of Paris with a young, sexy international cast. It is in the vein of “The Third Man” in terms of its tone and meandering mood with that underlying suspense constantly resurfacing to drive the movie forward. We will begin shooting in April with Scoot McNairy playing the lead American. Two British actors and a French Actress, yet to be cast, will make up the principals. Our producing group is teaming with a European company as a co-production. It will be in the spirit of “In Search of a Midnight Kiss” in terms of its production. We just went to Paris to scout it out, and I am jumping out of my seat to begin this one.
Other than that I want to direct Youth In Revolt, the funniest and most twisted book of the generation. Again this will all shake out after the strike. So we will see how it works out.