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Lena Dunham’s Creative Nonfiction stars Dunham as a college student navigating her way through the mess that is college social life (you can catch a trailer here).  At the same time, she is working on her screenplay about a college student (also played by Dunham)  sorta held captive by her professor in an isolated cabin.  Upon escaping, the student winds her way across the country in an effort to elude the professor’s pursuit.  The film played SXSW this year, and Ms. Dunham was kind enough to send a screener our way.  Adam and I had different reactions to the movie.  I don’t want to speak for him, but since he is on vacation, he doesn’t have much of  a choice.  I think he was a bit put off by the camerawork and maybe the DIY-feel of the film.  I admired the innovative storytelling, and though I think the story fell a bit flat at times, I certainly saw potential.  As did Filmmaker Magazine, which recently named her one of the “25 New Faces of Independent Film.”  Ms. Dunham was kind enough to answer some of our questions about the film.

Golden Grouches: To ease into things, what was it like to have Creative Nonfiction play SXSW?

Lena Dunham: I was really really excited that Creative Nonfiction was at SXSW. That festival has debuted a lot of work that is meaningful to me, and they have a reputation for supporting truly indie film. Plus, Austin is an amazing film community and a very cool city– it makes me want to wear cut off shorts and learn to drive and listen to better music.

Anyway, I felt really lucky to get the chance to play SXSW– I’d been working on Creative Nonfiction for nearly 2 years and getting to screen it in front of a seemingly enthusiastic audience was pretty gratifying. I also watched a variety of films by other filmmakers I previously admired/came to admire. The Q and A’s after my screenings were vigorous and made me think. All I could ask for, really.

Also, an important side note: SXSW films are screened at the Alamo Drafthouse theater, and you can order french fries or cookies or ice cream right to your seat.

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In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves.  This installment features writer/director team the Deagol Brothers, who were kind enough to answer our questions about Make-Out With Violence, a sort of coming of age zombie movie which has been hitting the awards circuit with a fervor, including winning awards at Oxford and Atlanta, and playing SXSW.  Check out the film’s official site here, the Non-Commissioned Officers (the band behind the film’s soundtrack) here.

Golden Grouches: People seem to have difficulty pigeonholing Make-Out with Violence, with its coming-of-age story in a teen drama with a romantic triangle and a zombie.  Did you intentionally set out to make that defied genre, or is that just where the story took you?

The Deagol Brothers: We set out to make something interesting, that could be accomplished on a minimal budget.  A John Hughes-esque Rite-de-passage seemed like a doable genre given our resources – we are 4 writers in our mid-20’s who are old high school friends.  The horror element came into play after we saw Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre and loved how odd it was.

Initial drafts of the screenplay were written in a more straightforward narrative that worked with a typical zombie movie trajectory – a third act involving a last stand against the zombies coupled with a big reveal of what was causing the dead to walk the earth.  Most of us were coming to filmmaking from a non-narrative experimental video, painting and fine art background but we thought something that was very traditional and genre-specific would allow us to cement a reputation as feature film directors and we could worry about any “artistic” inclinations later in our careers.  Or at the very least it would be easy to get into Horror film festivals and hopefully make a splash.

Although early drafts of the script had a traditional structure we tried to add as many weird and ostentatious details into the setups and payoffs as we could.  This resulted in an amalgam of body horror and teen comedy that could only be described as Cronenberg meets American Pie.  No one was happy with the direction the script was taking.

It was decided if we were going to make the commitment to shoot this feature we should personalize the story to a greater degree and resolve ourselves to stick with what elements we found interesting not what we thought commercial.  The new story began to heavily reflect our shared experiences in high school.  We became less concerned with the undead story thread and thought it more appropriate Wendy’s back story remain a mystery.  The writing process became about exploring unresolved and unrequited past loves and taking the story into unexpected places emotionally.

For the most part the film’s supporters seem to embrace the plot’s dream logic and liken it to stories of magic realist literature.  Our detractors just think the movie doesn’t make any sense and feel jerked around by the constantly shifting genre elements.

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In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves.  This installment features writer/director Marc Fienberg, who was kind enough to answer our questions about Play the Game, which has a national release date of August 21st.  Our thoughts on the film can be found here and be sure to check out the official website at: www.playthegamemovie.com.

Golden Grouches: I’ve read that Play The Game is, at least in some ways, a very personal project, the idea stemming from conversations you had with your own grandfather over his foray back into the dating pool.  But another reason the story felt so fresh was the relative paucity of romantic comedies (or really movies in general) with a major plot revolving around the elderly.  Did that concept of bringing something somewhat new to the genre impact the writing and filmmaking process at all?

Marc Fienberg: The film was inspired by my own grandfather who started dating again when he was 89 years old.  When he started sharing the details of his love life with me, admittedly I was a bit uncomfortable with the images popping into my head, but when I started to see my grandfather go through the all the same emotions and issues of a schoolkid in love, (Should I talk to her, what should I say, what if she doesn’t like me, what if she DOES like me, etc.) I found it amazingly touching and endearing.  And that range of emotions that I experienced in learning about the love life of a older person was the same range of emotions I wanted to bring the audience through in the film.  And so throughout the filmmaking process, I didn’t pull any punches with the “senior sex” scenes.  Very little is shown, as the film is PG-13, but I wasn’t afraid of making people in the theater a little uncomfortable.  So the biggest effect of having the senior storyline in the film was making sure that it stayed true to the life of real seniors, not diluting it at all out of fear of offending people.  Strangely enough, those scenes are the ones that bring the biggest laughs from the audience, so I’m glad we didn’t cave to the pressure of making it more mainstream.

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In “Silence Is Not Golden,” we are attempting to take a look at some modestly-released films through the eyes of the filmmakers themselves.  In this installment, Scott Prendergast was kind enough to answer our questions about Kabluey, released in July 2008 and available on DVD.  Here’s a brief look at our thoughts on the film.

Golden Grouches: As writer, director, and star (and I’ve read where you said it wasn’t necessarily easy to convince potential producers that you should take the lead), it would certainly seem like you had significant control over how Kabluey went into the can.  Were there any limitations preventing the final cut from being what you hoped for, or was the end result how you envisioned it would be when you first set out on the project?

Scott Prendergast: There were ALL SORTS of limitations preventing the final cut from being what I had hoped for.  But I realized that no movie ever lives up to the initial hope/dream/idea.  And that’s not always a bad thing.

There are financial limitations (we don’t have enough money to blow up a car), time limitations (we don’t have enough time to shoot all 4 seasons), availability limitations (Zsa Zsa Gabor can’t play the lead).

Then there are what we’ll call “personnel” limitations.  Like, the director of photography goes insane and stops taking his medication.  Or one of the producers is a maniac and wants to direct the film himself.  Or one of the actors is barely hanging onto reality.

These are all generic examples.  We had our share of troubles on Kabluey – but you always have troubles.  SOMETHING always comes up.  And you realize that making a movie is all about DEALING with the problems in a creative way that will not derail your vision for the movie.

And of course the director is usually wrong about something.  Like, it’s not actually that charming to have a 5 minute close up of the teddy bear.  Or the music he wrote for the film is awful.  Or the film is just too long and the test audiences hate it.  Or the footage just doesn’t add up to the same story told in the script.

So again – you are working with what you have – and creatively improvising to make something in line with what you had originally hoped for.

Kabluey ended up being about 75% of what I had originally hoped for.  But there are so many things in the movie that I LOVE that were not in the script.  I was asked to write a few scenes – and I did it begrudgingly – and those scenes turned out fantastic.

It’s all about rolling with the punches and creatively improvising.

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