Clear Blue Tuesday is director Elizabeth Lucas’ first feature. Other directors might play it safe with their first effort—three or four major characters, two or three locations, follow the script exactly—but not Lucas. Clear Blue Tuesday is an ensemble piece that follows 11 New Yorkers in the seven years following September 11th. As if wrangling 11 principal actors wasn’t challenging enough, the movie itself is improvised—and, oh yeah, it’s a musical.
Lucas took the time to answer some questions about what it took to get the movie—which she is self-distributing—up and running, as well as her inspiration for the film and the impact she hopes it will have on the audience.
Rebecca Pahle (MM): When you were shopping Clear Blue Tuesday around, you were a first-time director. You had no script to show potential producers, as your movie is improvised. How did you go about getting people interested?
Elizabeth Lucas (EL): Raising money at this level is entirely about relationships. People invest in people far more than in projects, and we all have more people resources than we are aware of at any given time. My executive producer, Al Parinello, had already seen me doing my work. We met when he produced and I directed a couple of stage shows at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City. I started developing the idea for Clear Blue Tuesday in the form of a sort of business plan—a road map of how I would approach the whole project, both creatively and fiscally. I revised and ran it by Al eight times over the course of a year before he signed on. He has stayed close to the process throughout, and has become a dear friend and mentor.
MM: Directors make improvised dramas, and they make musicals, but the two rarely meet in one film. How did the decision come about to have the dialogue scenes improvised? And was Clear Blue Tuesday always going to be a musical?
EL: Yes, the entire project was based in advance on a musical and improvisational approach. The conception of this project came out of a period when I was recovering from an accident and had way too much time on my hands to think about my life. I asked myself if I liked my current trajectory, and the answer was no. I looked at my resources and started designing a project specifically for them… As a founding producer of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, I had a lot of experience developing new musicals. As a director in New York City, I had access to a tremendous amount of very hungry and talented actor/singer/songwriters. As a student of opera director Rhoda Levine, I had studied musical improvisation. As a fan of Robert Lepage, I had witnessed the results and part of the process of his ensemble-based work. Improvisation and music are developed parts of my skillset in a way that’s probably pretty unique to my set of experiences.
Aside from specifically professional resources, Clear Blue Tuesday was made possible by life resources as well. As an avid follower of technology and social marketing trends, I was excited about the development of so many new ways of communicating. That was a big part of my initial business plan, written even before Facebook and Twitter came into prominence. Advances in digital equipment and new SAG contract options created a scenario where all this was possible at a reasonable, experimental budget level. And maybe most importantly, as a person, as an American and as a New Yorker, I had some themes I wanted to explore that I felt were resonant to our times.
MM: From the trailer, it looks as if some of the scenes have a more realistic feel, and then you get into the musical numbers and you get some wild imagery. What can you say about the visual aesthetic of the film?
EL: We did separate our approach between scene and song: The songs are a way of delving into a character’s mind and dramatic development—a psychological landscape of sorts. They embrace the surrealism of dreams at times, while still propelling the characters forward. The paintings of Magritte and the movies Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Hair were great inspirations. These artworks explore how meaning is created by juxtaposing and associating imagery. Our cinematographer, Raoul Germain, developed a method of heightening as we transitioned into song moments. At the same time, the improvisational naturalism of the scenes was inspired more by movies like Nashville. Raoul had a way of sculpting the light that was there, with minimal additions, creating a natural look that retains depth and clarity.
MM: You’ve gone the self-distribution route, distributing via the Quad Cinema 4-Wall Select Program. How has your experience with the Quad been? Would you recommend it to other moviemakers?
EL: The Quad’s program is unique in how comprehensive and helpful it is. We did shop around for a four-wall situation, and nothing else came close to offering the same value. In a marketplace where it seems that every distributor is moving into service deals, you really have to examine the value they’re bringing and not give anyone more rights to your material than they will fully exploit.
MM: In the end, what do you hope to see happen with the film? Where do you hope your self-distribution efforts will ultimately lead you?
EL: In front of the right people, this movie is exceedingly cathartic. Clear Blue Tuesday was made for the folks who see it and tell me that they cried for three hours after, or that they felt tremendous release and healing. I would love to see it reach, on a national level, the kind of audience that will be open to its unconventional narrative.
I would love to see everyone involved benefit from the exposure of both the film and the soundtrack. I would love to see my artists launched in a meaningful, national way. I want to have enough theatrical play that we are able to tap into a national dialogue on what it means to live in these times. And since directing is my greatest passion, I hope it will open doors for me to make my next movie.
Clear Blue Tuesday will play at New York City’s Quad Cinema from September 3rd to the 16th, with five screenings daily. Visit www.clearbluetuesday.com for more info.