IN THE "LOOP" WITH PERICLES LEWNES (PART 2) Image

What was the writing and producing process like?
Well, the writing process was ongoing. I went through many revisions and I would rewrite prior to any scene being shot. “Loop” took on a life of its own, and as the movie’s production progressed, there were narrative possibilities that presented themselves and I would go with it.

I only allowed the actors the script pages they appeared in. All of the characters had to thread through the main character, and I was trying to create a feeling of disconnection between the actors in the hopes that it would translate to the screen. This made the actors ask a lot of questions and at times express frustration. But I think they understood after they viewed the finished film.

My wife and I had two mason jars which we would put our pocket change in. When those jars filled, we had about $140. We would then figure out when we could schedule a shoot. We shot on weekends here and there over a three year period with borrowed equipment. It was pretty insane.

The editing of the film uses many cuts to create a hypnotic and chaotic feel. What was the editing process like, and how long did it take?
I love to edit. My partner and Producer on “Redneck Zombies,” Ed Bishop is an editing guru and I learned much working with him.

I am constantly editing in my head as I write, direct, shoot, and act. I think spatially and I enjoy perspective. My goal with “Loop” was to create an atmosphere that was all at once familiar yet alien. I used a lot of point of view for obvious reasons when you see the movie, and I tried to lace that together with standard textbook shots and dream inspired angles. When I remember my dreams, I remember all manner of angles in that dream space. For instance, I could be flying over a river and then see myself as if I am out of body, flying over that river. Sometimes I dream of other people in a certain location, and they will be having a conversation at a table, but I am watching from the ceiling. Then from that high “gods-eye” view, I will notice myself in the conversation and then suddenly I will be at the table, listening. I tried to keep a flow of textbook angles and blend them with direct POV and dream angles. I also used motion control. I would speed up a natural motion and immediately ramp it down to normal speed. I tried to do this with subtlety so that motions will look unusual, but not unnatural. There are many shots in “Loop” that are in reverse, but undetectable. There is an entire scene at 98% speed. I would look at a sequence of shots and try to create rhythm that was just “off” by a little. Like a picture on the wall that always looks like it needs to be straightened, you can straighten it, and then take another look, and it is somehow tilted again. I think that these little touches keep viewers off balance, and because the very essence of “Loop” concerns balance, I hoped to build tension on a psychic level.

The editing schedule was spotty. I would capture the raw footage of a scene in Premiere and rough cut it, I would then leave it alone for a while and revisit it to try and catch a vibe from the scene that would move me. I would then start to trim and manipulate to sustain that vibe. I just collected all the scenes and created a master project where I stitched them together. Elizabeth and I took an entire weekend and shot connectors which I always knew that I needed but would avoid, because when I had actors I concentrated on the scene at hand and their parts to save time.

Once I started building the movie, I would go back and trim more to adjust tempos. After all of the footage was shot, I guess I worked about six weeks to get it into a form where I would show it to someone. I couldn’t work an hour here and an hour there. I had to have a large block of time, really get into the head, and I often lost track of time and would sometimes edit an entire day.

My wife was my sounding board and she has an incredible sense of pace and story, so she would keep me in line. It was good because I was so close to the plot, it was difficult for me to realize when something needed more (or less) explanation to move the story.
I guess it’s worth noting that I didn’t let anyone other than my wife, my son Alex, and Adrian Bond see what I was working on. Some filmmakers want to pull you in and show you every frame of every shot. I didn’t want anyone to see anything until the movie was complete.

You use a very experimental narrative throughout the film, making the audience decide what is real and what is not. What were the reasons behind this decision?
Well, its kind of what we are all faced with in our own personal worlds. We are inundated with information, advertising, and news. It is becoming increasingly difficult identify which is which. For instance, if you type an illness into a search engine, you will find pages of information, but many of the sites are drug companies. If you click on an article about diet, where did it originate? Is it an unbiased article that examines every aspect of this diet plan, or is it an advertisement mixing fact and assumption? Could you be reading a press release from a company that a lazy journalist tweaked and submitted on a Friday afternoon? It could be. Whether you are talking about health, war, or politics, you have to check the sources, compare the information and read the citations. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all about what you want to see and believe.

“Loop” works under the premise that as a whole, we are being treated to a never-ending performance art that needs to move your opinion in a certain direction or make you believe a certain premise. It’s mind-numbing.

The scene in the field, with the helicopters flying over head, is my favorite scene in the film next to the ending. How was that scene created, and what was it like to direct it?
This is Beate’s scene, and she represents a specific part of Joseph’s consciousness that works to put the brakes on impulses and help navigate moral dilemmas. Because Joseph is so out of control, he has rationalized his actions by keeping her trapped in a field of paranoia. He is using fear to avoid any conflict that may disrupt his ego driven goals.

While the field scene was perhaps the lamest scene we shot, it has turned into “LOOP”’s most dynamic visually. The reason that this scene is so incredible is because of Courtney Hoskins. I knew what I wanted when we were shooting, but I had no idea how I was going to get there. First of all, the two days we spent in the field were two days that we could not get anyone to help us out. There was always a scheduling issue. Frank Washington let us use his camera, a Sony PD150, but he kept getting called into work. Elizabeth Zosso was not yet on the project. The scene ended up being shot with just me, Beate, and my wife Lisa. I shot all of Beate’s angles and Lisa manned the camera when Beate and I were in the same scene. Beate’s performance was outstanding and even though she would occasionally just stop and ask what the heck was going on; she created this angry character and stuck to it. Lisa and I returned another day and we shot all of my singles. Then my son Alex and I returned a third day and I grabbed some more cutaways and invented a new system called the “broomcam”, which was a broomstick taped to the pan handle of the tripod. I turned the side monitor toward me, and as I circled the camera I kept the broomstick tight against my body, and spoke and reacted to the camera as if it was Beate’s character. This allowed me a 360 degree pan with a critical focus and in some angles a short depth of field.

The raw footage could not be more normal and some of it was sub-par because of sudden light change. I knew I wanted black helicopters in the sky; because you read so much about the paranoid fear some people have of black helicopters. The proper way would be to film it on a blue screen stage with a full crew, but I was ten dollars short for that kind of action. I was testing out using real helicopters and creating multiple layers to key them in. I had an old digital 3D-helicopter model from an old Lightwave 3D disk that I owned, but it would have taken me months to figure out how to animate and replicate it and it would not have looked good. I just thought I would work it out at some point.

A few months after that scene was shot, I entered an online filmmaking contest and I got to know a lot of people and see a lot of good work. There was a guy who made a very impressive 3D short. I contacted him and he blew me off so quickly, it was amazing. Courtney Hoskins also entered the contest and she had an excellent live action short called “Snowbird.” I was checking out her entry page and I saw that she knew the Maya 3D program. So I started to chat with her about “Loop.” She ran with it. She not only made helicopters that exceeded my expectations, she succeeded in making the helicopters actual featured characters. They were real, yet surreal, mechanical, yet organic. I was stunned. Adrian then created an outstanding sound design for the scene and the scene became like a poem in the middle of a novel. I went through Courtney’s work frame by frame, and the amount of care and detail that she put into her work was awe-inspiring. When that scene occurs, audiences are transfixed.

And as of this writing Courtney and I have never spoken to each other. It has all been done over email and FTP.

Adrian Bond composed the score for “Redneck Zombies” as well as “Loop” and he also plays a role in the film. What is your working relationship like with him when it comes to the score?
Adrian and I have been friends for more than twenty years. He is a genius. This is the best advice I can give to an independent filmmaker. Surround yourself with genius. As a friend and artist, Adrian has always been there for me in every respect, so I trust him implicitly. He gets me. He understands my strengths, weaknesses, and my thought process.

“Redneck Zombies” was his first feature, and I think it has an outstanding soundtrack for an independent horror movie. The word on the street is that there is a soundtrack release in the works.

Working with him on the “Loop” score was really a no-brainer. I would just kind of show up and we would discuss a mood for a scene. He would then turn to his computer and begin to compose. Adrian knew that I felt society had always had a background noise, a room tone so to speak, but in recent years the background noise has reached deafening levels, interfering with whatever you are trying to accomplish in the foreground. So the sound design of “Loop” is based on that concept, and the score perfectly reflects the Sturm und Drang of the story. Adrian is a brilliant composer and he would always nail the mood. Occasionally I would say something like, “I think this needs a sound,” and he would put something in that sounded like it was there all along. It would probably be better for Adrian to explain this, but “Loop” is heavy with organic sounds that have been manipulated and placed in counterintuitive places. This is perfect. Many places in the movie have shots that are edited in reverse, and there are a couple shots that are “Loop”ed. It’s all very subtle though. Adrian is a digital anarchist and that is exactly what “Loop” needed.

But Adrian also had a pivotal role as an actor; he plays Dobbs, which is Joseph’s familiar to a degree. He has a long discussion with Joseph, pulling some of his world together using fragments of thought Joseph cannot recognize as his own, yet somehow relates to.

Adrian was exceptional. Everyone who knows him comes up to me and tells me that only Adrian Bond could have delivered those lines, like the role was written for him.

In fact, it was.

The women you have in your film, such Shannon Devido as Summer and Beate Whitesell as the woman in the field, give astounding performances. How did you find them?
Shannon, who plays Summer, the wife of the main character was not the original actor in the role. An old friend of mine was originally cast and after shooting her first scene, she had to bail out. Now that sounds pretty irresponsible, but that wasn’t the case at all. We shot the initial scene and then had to plan for two other scenes that involved effects, set dressing, and other actors. We had to keep putting the scenes off until we could afford to shoot them and get everyone’s schedule to work.

Now, this is why shooting an indie homebrew movie can be insane. Over a year had gone by before we could even think about shooting those scenes. In that time, my friend fell in love, cut her long hair, got her breasts enlarged, got married, and honeymooned in Italy for a month. It certainly wasn’t her fault. You can’t stand in the way of love. But here I was with an entire scene shot with an actress that was no longer usable.

Remember, everything is going on while both my wife Lisa and I are working full time jobs. So I decided to put out a local casting call and I got a good response from a posting I did on a Philadelphia actors meet-up. There were a lot of good actresses, but none of them really seemed enthusiastic. After a deadline I set, Shannon responded to the post and asked for a chance to read. Well, I learned that Shannon was not only attractive and a great actor, but very unique. So unique in fact that at first I did not want to cast her, but then I thought about it. The role called for a marginalized, unsupported wife, perhaps it could work. I spoke to Shannon at length and I gave her the role. Now I cannot envision anyone else playing Summer. She nailed it.

For the role of the “woman in the field,” I needed someone attractive, yet dangerous. It is a very emotional role, very physical and angry. Beate was a co-worker of mine. She grew up in East Germany and went to college here in the states. She is now a citizen. I noticed that she had a strong personality, yet she was a very nice person. One day, I asked her if she had any acting experience and she in fact did some theater in Germany. I told her that I was shooting a feature and that I wanted her to look at a very unusual scene, but I couldn’t let her see the entire script, just her scene. I sort of expected her to say no, but instead she breezed into an editing room I was sitting in, tossed the pages on a chair, looked me straight in the eye and said, “I’ll do it!” and then breezed out again. Now that is a very strong scene and Beate made it her own. She also has an amazing look that worked so well for the scene.

Just to further highlight the chaos of “”Loop’s” production, let me tell you a little about Momo Nakamura. The first scene we shot was Momo’s scene. Momo is an experienced actress with exceptional talent. She arrived on a cold day in February to our set, we shot her scenes over a long day, and she left — she was done on the first day of production. When we had our first work-in-progress screening I gave Momo a call, and it went something like this…

Momo: Hello?

Me: Hi Momo, its Peri.

Momo: Yes?

Me: “Loop” is finished and we are going to have a screening of the rough cut.

Momo: Who is this now?

Two and a half years went by since that first shoot. She thought that we had just given up and she would never see us again. She was shocked!

The rest of the cast also give great performances. How was the process it when it came to directing them?
I picked my actors based on acting experience, looks, enthusiasm, and reliability. They also really had to trust me. As I said earlier, I only gave them their parts, they never had any idea what the story was about or what was motivating the scene, so while I was acting with them I had to determine whether or not their character was moving in the direction the story needed them to go. Sometimes that would force me to adjust my character to point them in that direction. If you know what “Loop” is about, this approach may make a lot of sense. It was a bit of an experiment, but I think as a whole it paid off. “Loop” has a perceptible edge which audiences seem to pick up on. There is a lot of point of view camera, a lot of motion control, and visual effects. However, I think the interaction of the actors creates the strangest of atmospheres. No one appears comfortable, except maybe for Dobbs, and no one ever appears to be secure or confident. When Imad enters the scene later, many have told me that they reached for his character as if he was a life preserver in a turbulent ocean. George Brown, who played Imad, had only that scene, and I kept his script pages away from him until the last minute. Even though his character is the pivotal point of the movie, he had no idea, and he appears as an outsider; almost like a deep sea diver when he appears.

David Ridenhour, who is the first person Joe encounters, shaved his head for the role about five times while we shot, David Arthur, who is a noted jazz musician, stepped in to play Man #2 when the first actor
bailed. All of the actors exceeded all of my expectations, but what I am happy about is that I think they exceeded their own. I think they were all happy with the movie.

How has the film been received in your opinion?
The reception for “Loop” has been mixed. We’ve been overlooked by many film festivals and I am not sure why. I hate trying to rationalize it. “Loop” is about seeking the truth and not rationalizing a reality until it becomes agreeable. It might be a bad movie. Or it might be too hard on audiences. But I was sure that it would at least get into some underground festivals. As for mainstream festivals, I’m not sure what they’re looking for. One festival invited us to apply and then said they were looking for family friendly programming. Right now, before its Cannes screening, it is undergoing a face lift.

Is that what you expected though?
You know, sort of… I always said that I wasn’t sure if “Loop” was going to be good, but I was positive that it would be interesting. With a few exceptions, the people who have seen it either love it or like it a lot. But they don’t always know what to say about it. “Loop” builds a sound and a fury and when it ends there is nothing from the audience. You can here a pin drop. I expected that. I like that. Eventually, someone starts clapping.

My wife has some experience as a festival organizer, and has wondered if initial screeners are watching the first 10 minutes and then tossing it. Festivals are sometimes overwhelmed with applications, and under-resourced. My visual effects designer Courtney Hoskins has said the same thing in the many discussions we’ve had over email. “Loop” does not have a formulaic narrative trajectory. It has a very deliberate pace that builds critical momentum, and you have to watch it from beginning to end. So Courtney came up with a visual idea that could be woven into the image. It’s quite brilliant, and I am not going to talk about it, but I am happy about what she is doing, because I think it will add tremendous visual interest at the very outset of the movie. She is also up-rezzing it to Hi-Def. But the story remains the same — I am not changing the story.

Also, a possible problem is that “Loop” addresses the confusion of the HERE and NOW. During the Great Depression, there were few movies reflecting the times — there were musicals, comedies, and escapist fare. “Loop” is not an escapist movie and I think festivals have a hard time programming that.

I think “Loop” will have its day though.

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