A Family Affair on the Maine Coast

Blake Gibbons and Roy Finch

Blake Gibbons and first-time writer-director Finch discuss a scene in Wake.

Credit: Matthew Clark

Like any other industry—and perhaps even more so—it’s tough to catch a break in show business without something to back it up. Whether it’s a spec script or a short film, producers don’t want to take a chance on—or give their money to—an “unproven” moviemaker.

So what’s a first-timer to do when all he’s got to show for himself is a great idea and a burning desire to make movies? If you’re Roy Finch, writer-director of the DV feature Wake, you assemble a stellar cast of actors, grab a digital camera, fly off to the coast of Maine and make your dream happen! In an interview with MM, Finch goes behind the scenes of the making of the movie, discusses the role digital technology played in the picture and talks about the benefits of keeping it all in the family.

Jennifer Wood (MM): How did the idea of Wake come to you in the first place?

Roy Finch (RF): I had written a script called Sleepwalking and intended to direct it. It’s a rather ambitious project that deals with a son’s journey across the country to visit his estranged father. But as my wife (producer Susie Landau Finch) and I took the project around Hollywood, it became clear that, although people were impressed with the script and cast that Susie had assembled, in order to put up the money we’d need, people had to see samples of my previous work. The problem was I didn’t have any samples. In fact, I didn’t have any previous work. This was to be my first film as writer-director. So I came up with the idea to write and shoot a small, intimate piece in a very short amount of time.

MM: Wake was very much a family affair for you. With your wife, Susan, handled producing and casting, and your father-in-law, Martin Landau, starred. While it may seem that he was an easy choice for this role—or that it wouldn’t be hard for his daughter to cast him—this is only the second time they’ve ever worked together. Did it take a lot of convincing to get him to agree to this role, or was the role written specifically with him in mind?

RF: Martin Landau attended a reading, which was the culmination of our rehearsal process in LA, with the entire cast—Gale Harold, Dihlon McManne, Blake Gibbons and Johnny Philbrick (who came in from Maine), as well as Rainer Judd and Dusty Paik. Our executive producer, Michael Donaldson, was also there, along with Ramsay Midwood, Nic Harcourt, Patrick Kelly, Susie, SzuSza Megyesi and Matthew Clark—almost the entire team thus far. Michael suggested that Martin do the role, and the idea was born. The rest unfolded actually on Martin’s birthday and on his 50th anniversary of beginning his acting career in summer stock on Peak’s Island, Maine!

MM: Originally, you had set the screenplay for Wake in Mexico, but changed it to Bath, Maine all because of one house. What was it about the location that inspired you to rework the script? And how did the location change alter the tone—or feel—of the script?

RF: I was writing a play set in this funky, old, early ’60s "distressed Rat Pack" house in Baja, California. Once we saw the house in Bath, Maine, I realized that it would be an amazing set for the film. I reworked that play into the screenplay for Wake.

I love Maine and have spent a great deal of time there, starting from age six, so the tone is something that I’m quite familar with. Having said that, it was also my intention to create a film that wasn’t site or time-specific. I wanted the Riven brothers to be American, of course, but not tied to any one specific region.

MM: In what way did the setting inspire you to alter the story, as it related to aspects other than setting—character development, plot points, etc.?

RF: After I “borrowed” the main characters from my other play and morphed them into a more rural bunch of brothers, I started to draw upon a longer-term project I had been working on, one based on the life of my uncle, the painter Fritz Rockwell and his two brothers. They all lived in Maine, not too far from where we shot, as a matter of fact. They were the age of the Wake brothers in the 1940s, well before I was born, so I had to use my imagination a lot.

Then, to top it all off, having been introduced to Gale Harold through Susie, I set about writing the role of the youngest Riven brother for him and that was the final inspiration. The Riven family was born!

MM: What was the writing process like for you? I assume you wrote this script with the intention that nobody other than you would direct it?

RF: Yes, the script was written with the intention that I’d direct. Our initial intention was to make Wake in a very short period of time, so the script was written in six months, and then we went right into rehearsals.

MM: At what point did it become clear that you would be using digital technology to shoot the film?

RF: Right from the start we knew we’d shoot on DV. Given the fact that this was to be a micro-budget project, funded with credit cards and a few small loans, that seemed like the best way to go. In fact, the script was tailor-made for DV.

MM: What kind of camera did you use?

RF: Once Patrick Kelly, our cinematographer, came on board, he introduced the possibility of using the Sony DSR-500WS and increasing our overall quality.

We shot on a PAL camera (25p) and posted the project in PAL, using Final Cut Pro and Pro Tools HD, so we never went up to the NTSC video frame rate of 29.98. Once the final editing was completed, we did what’s known in Europe as a PAL slow-down, basically slowing down the frame rate to 24p and maintaining a one-to-one frame rate with our original edit.

MM: I hear that the weather didn’t necessarily agree with you on the first day of shooting. And with a tight shooting schedule of just over two weeks, taking the day off was not an option. Do you think it would have been possible to keep things moving as quickly had you shot Wake on film as opposed to digital?

RF: It was pouring. I remember the sound guys running for cover. We ordered lots of rain ponchos, socks and cans of chicken soup (which weren’t in the budget) so we were already over budget on the first day!

Shooting on digital helped us a great deal. If we had chosen film, I doubt that we would have been able to pull this off in the way that we did. Yes, we moved quickly, but this format also enabled us to shoot longer takes and that, I think, helped us by increasing our options in the editing room.

MM: I understand that the three of you—you, Susan and Martin—are now working on getting Sleepwalking finally made?

RF: We actually have two films altogether, The Lucky Day and Sleepwalking. In The Lucky Day, Martin owns a bookstore in… Maine? (We hope.) And in Sleepwalking he plays a composer who is estranged from his long-lost son. We hope to work with Gale Harold on one of these and I am actually writing a new screenplay with Blake Gibbons in mind. We have a lot irons in the fire.

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