Saturday, April 23, 2016

Director Justin Trefgarne Interview (C) 2016 Dan's Movie Report Exclusive! 'Narcopolis' Chat!

Above Photo: Justin From his Facebook Page

Greetings my esteemed Dan's Movie Report readers who enjoy sci-fi with a dark and foreboding future slant. As promised, Justin Trefgarne. writer/director of 'Narcopolis' shares his perspicacious insight into the process behind the film and his goals for the future. Step behind the camera, learn about the process. From script to screen and beyond, Justin is perhaps one of the most intense film makers on the planet, enough of my inane ramblings, time to take a textual mind trip to the world of 'Narcopolis'! Play Safe! 3-2-1- GO! Yeah I know I went white on the background, it is intended, a white scary future!
DMR: Chat about the script writing process for Narcopolis, did you have to get into a "Dark Mood?" Curious what films were inspiration, the feel of the film was "Strange Days" type near future shock darkness comes to my mind.
JT: Narcopolis sprang from my two loves: detective fiction and Hard Sci-Fi, especially the works of Philip K Dick. In Dick’s work you have the paranoid, the obsessed and the mentally fractured protagonist and you also have drugs. My favorite of his books, 'A Scanner Darkly', combines these elements to brilliant effect. I also love Richard Linklater's movie adaptation by the way. What PKD also supplies is a sense of the city not far removed from our own – in other words it’s our world, distorted, rather than an alien civilization or whatever. These things really appeal to me and the idea of putting a broken, messed-up cop into the heart of a city where the legalization of narcotics is now fully integrated into society was very interesting to me. But what was most interesting was not depicting drug use for 90 minutes but the idea that once we open the doors to legalization, whether you think it’s a good or bad idea is irrelevant. What’s going to happen, if it happens, is you’re going to legalize a global market that is potentially extremely profitable. So that means large corporations will want a piece of the action. But as we've seen, when large companies get involved, the profit-motive usually overwhelms ethical responsibility, and… well, you know the rest. That was interesting to me as a background to this story. Time Travel, which I guess is the left turn the film makes around the half way mark, was the third element which came in to play early on. I love time travel movies and I had never seen one where a physical ‘time machine’ wasn’t used. I thought the idea of the by-product of developing designer drug was the accidental invention of time travel was weird and cool at the same time, and something no one would have seen coming. It also made the story feel less predictable, which was very important to me.

DMR: With regards to the script process, did you have specific actors in mind to play each character or was it organic? Written as a base, to expound upon.
JT: Having made a handful of super-low budget shorts, I learned that one of the most important things in the whole process was actors who are willing to jump in and work with you in that down-and- dirty fashion. Over the years a few actors have become my close friends through working together repeatedly in this way. They are hard-working, loyal, they are wonderful people. Having spent a lot of time working in theater when I was younger, I was very comfortable with the idea of a company of actors. When I was growing up one of my heroes was Kenneth Branagh, and I always admired the way he worked with a core group of actors again and again. So I saw no reason not to transplant that logic to my film: I wanted my first feature had to be as crammed with as many of these people as possible. So although I didn’t consciously sit down and go “right, here’s my phone book, let’s create a movie with a role for each one” - the story had to come first - what did happen was as I conceived the plot and characters familiar faces popped into my head. So the characters started to mould themselves around specific people, and I could move forward confident that I had a handful of actors who could fill out these supporting roles. Adam Sims, who plays Eddie and Molly Gaisford, who plays Angie, had been in a nearly all my shorts and I knew they would completely nail the roles I was writing and also be there as creative support for me. I also needed a child actor and I had seen my son, Louis, play some stuff at school. He had a raw quality that really suited the part. It felt really like a good idea to give him a go on a project like this. The only other role I wrote with an actor in mind was Yuri Sidorov, played by Jonathan Pryce. Although I didn't know him personally, Jon was the only actor I wanted for that role. I have long been an admirer of his work, ever since “Brazil”. It was an amazing, magical thing that he actually agreed to do the role.
DMR: How involved were you in the actor selection process, as writer director, was it hands on? If so perhaps share a unusual audition story.
JT: I was intensely involved with the casting process from the start, aided by our brilliant casting director Manuel Puro. We had a few strange and awkward moments including one guy walking out after I told him the movie was English (as opposed to US-English accents), but it was fairly painless. The only real disaster – which turned to our advantage in the end – was we had in fact cast a different actor as the lead, but he fell off his motorbike and broke his collarbone two weeks before we were due to shoot. That was intense. I knew that if we put the production on hold we would lose too many elements so I trawled through the casting video and of course Elliot Cowan’s audition leapt out at me. Very different to the other guy, but it turned out to be a stroke of good fortune. Not only is Elliot great in the film, he became a close friend.

DMR: Justin, that is one wild and crazy ride of casting, chat about the post writing process of 'Narcopolis'. With a completed script did you try to sell the project to make it bigger budget, or was this an passion indie all the way?
JT: This film as always conceived as something to be done on a smaller budget. I wanted to direct it and my track record would not have brought in big bucks so the only way was to be as independent and inventive as possible. We had a tiny budget, really, really small. But I didn’t want to make a ‘low budget movie’ – from the work I'd done on my shorts I had this ridiculous idea that we could make something that felt, and looked, like it was way bigger in scale. So whatever resources we had needed to stretch across a very big canvas.

DMR: Discuss the Kickstarter funding concept, did you have a plan B just in case the additional funds were not raised?
JT: Kickstarter came late in the process. The funds were used to support our post-production and initial marketing costs. So in a way they were plan B!

Above photo: London Premiere of Narcopolis.


DMR: Ah yes, more of a finishing process, thank you for refreshing my memory, let us shift gears a bit, to the casting realm. As you now know since the 'Narcopolis' was filmed Elodie Yung has been cast in several films and now is Elektra, must make you thrilled as a director to have her on board, perhaps share an Elodie on set moment, I know she is intense, curious how collaborating with her onset was. How she was approached with script?

JT: Elodie was amazing – she brought a completely unique feel to the casting session we had and I knew there and then she was the one for that role. I also knew she was a bad-ass – I’d seen her kick the crap out of people on camera but I wasn’t sure what her process would be like as a dramatic actress. She is intense on set – not for any strange reason other than the fact that she was determined to do the best possible job, and with English as her second language, she was fearful that she was going to stumble over the dialogue. She’d never done anything like 'Narcopolis' before in the English language so the only real issues were shaping the dialogue so it sounded like something she would say, rather than words on a page written by me. But she’s very cool and we were very lucky to work with her before she became a bona fide star as we’d never get near her now!

Above Pic: Jonathan Pryce and Elliot Cowan in 'Narcopolis' a Dan's Movie Report exclusive.

DMR: Do not sell yourself short, Elodie is about the creative process, she just worked on a short film called 'Believe'. Same Question with Jonathan Pryce, another amazing actor, how was he approached with the script and share set stories.

JT: Like I said Jon was top of my list and it was a very simple question of sending him the script, meeting him, and then him agreeing to play the role. It really helped having Elliot on board as Jon was a fan of his work, so I think there was a sense of an older actor wanting to support some new talent. But he was a dream to work with and he taught me a hell of a lot about screen acting. Not literally – he didn’t take me to one side and lecture me – he just knew, instinctively, when and how to move on camera, when to give me a reaction, a look… it was beautiful to watch. He’s also a funny guy and in fact, once we were into reshoots, he put forward both his son and daughter to help out on set and play small roles. I remember he sent me an email saying that if we employed his wife too we’d get a family discount. He’s a great man and in fact I am developing a TV idea for him at the moment.

DMR: Narcopolis was released in the U.S. on Blu-ray in March of this year, plans for US sci-fi convention? I think that would be radical.

JT: Sadly, no Sci-fi conventions planned just yet.

DMR: IFC Midnight, very cool get, how is the promotion going on that, I see also a Netflix release now?

JT: IFC and Scream Factory have been great. It’s incredible to see the film on Netflix. If you’d told me that would be the outcome four years ago I wouldn’t have believed you.

DMR: Have you thought about a sequel to Narcopolis?

JT: Not a sequel but I am developing a prequel. That’s all I can say right now!

DMR: Wow, a prequel, time to take a road back down the mean streets, once again! Please discuss some of the downsides of 'Narcopolis' filming, and indie film in general, besides just the small budget.

JT: Well, the obvious one is money. When you’re working with limited resources you have to make every dollar stretch about a hundred times longer than it usually would. So that means calling in favors and asking for help every step of the way. Because I was producing the film as well (although I did have help!), it meant that I was never able to switch off the producer part of me, as problems never stopped coming my way. But for all that, the independent film making experience gives you just that, independence. And that is an incredibly valuable thing on your first film. I got to see every single aspect of this film through, way past the point most directors sign off. For example, I was doorstepping sales companies, negotiating with locations people, driving vans, designing logos… so much stuff besides pure 'directing'. And it was probably the most exhausting and exhilarating time of my life. It never stopped so I never stopped. I made new friends, I lost myself, I found myself again… it was relentless! But the thing that I loved most about the whole thing was the collaboration with like-minded souls. There are some immensely talented people out there, I got to work and play with some of the best of them. I am not exaggerating when I say we became a family. It was life-changing.

DMR: Very insightful. Advice for new film makers with Kickstarter, anything you would have done different, even though successful?

JT: We raised more than our target, which was amazing, and thanks in many ways to the support of people like you out there helping promote this kind of movie. It was a full-time job while the campaign was running so you have to be mindful of that going in – you can’t just sit back and watch the donations come – every one has to be earned. I think the other thing we learned is that people really invest in the story of you, the team, so you have to put a lot of energy into creating that story and making it feel personal, intimate, and not try and pretend to be something you are not.

DMR: Discuss upcoming projects post 'Narcopolis'.
JT: I am currently casting a movie called Solomon’s Children which is a thriller, set in the present day. It’s a little smaller in scale in some ways to 'Narcopolis', but the characters are incredibly rich and complex. It’s a hugely exciting, atmospheric movie which has a similar tone to Denis Villeneuve’s 'Prisoners' – dark and brooding and full of really big twists and turns. But the thing that’s most exciting is all the major character are female. So we’ve started to send the script out to some amazing people… 

Above Picture: Issue #1 of the four issue mini series comic on Heavy Metal Press.
DMR: That sounds thrilling, cannot wait to have some exclusive Dan's Movie Report coverage of 'Solomon's Children'. Back to the 'Narcopolis' realm. Discuss the 4 issue comic series tie in.
JT: Scott Duvall who’s a brilliant comic writer approached me with a suggestion of making a spin-off comic series. His take, which was brilliant, was instead of just adapting the movie, which would be boring, his idea was to re-tell the story from the POV of Ben, the lead character’s son. So the comic picks up from the day Frank disappears and runs with it. It’s incredible – there are moments where he weaves the narrative into the film’s narrative and it’s really, really clever. I am absolutely delighted with how it’s come about. And Heavy Metal jumped onboard which is also very cool as they are exactly the right people to publish something like this.
DMR: Final thoughts, on the film business, and goals for the future.

JT: I don’t have any wise words to share I’m afraid. The business is changing all the time, and what Narcopolis showed me is that now more than ever you have to shape your story and your process around who you want to see the film. The more control we had, the more we could go out and out the film in front of the right people, and get the results we needed. The flip side of that is once you start working with other partners, especially distributors, is you have to retain that investment. What I’m saying is no one cares about your film as much as you do, so you have to stay on it and make a nuisance of yourself because if you don’t, decisions get made that will inevitably be generalized ones that don’t always suit your product, and then you’re wasting time trying to correct these mistakes and play catch up. As for goals… I have a bunch of really exciting projects in development. I’m working with a couple of awesome producers and we’re looking to continue to attempt these ambitious, character-driven genre stories. For me the goal has always been the same, namely to tell complex and challenging stories through the medium of genre. First and foremost movies are entertainment, but if you can get people engaged with ideas and emotions that they didn’t see coming, that’s really, really exciting. And I'm really excited to be working with some US-based companies too, which takes me a step closer to my ultimate goal, to live and work in Los Angeles.

Thank you so much Justin, for an interview as earth shattering and mind bending as 'Narcopolis'. Deflecting the past, and rushing headlong into the future is Dan's Movie Report! If any of my audience has yet to see 'Narcopolis', Netflix has it now! It is on DVD and Blu-ray in the U.S., U.K., Japan, and the comic is available through Heavy Metal Press, and on Amazon!

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