Where does the future of independent moviemaking lie? Young director Anthony Falcon has an answer after spending nine months shooting his latest experimental feature, The Diary of Michael Richard Paul. Falcon, who wrote, directed and acted in his first feature, 99 Pieces, filmed his latest creation during Hollywood’s recent strikes; therefore, without a script or treatment. In Falcon’s new movie, in which he also takes the role of an auteur, the director claims to have uncovered a new territory of creative moviemaking by experimenting with styles of realism and improvisation on set and in the editing room. Falcon also asserts his latest movie as being a “solo project,” in which he is the one man behind the project, making his film one that surpasses traditional Hollywood moviemaking and breaches a new level of “art” in the world of independent film. MM had the opportunity to ask this burgeoning director his thoughts on his new feature and how a movie like his could redefine the future of independent film as we know it today.
Beth Levin (MM): In your new movie, The Diary of Michael Richard Paul, you did not follow a script or treatment. What was the process of filming like for this feature—compared to the more traditionally-produced movies you have made?
Anthony Falcon (AF): The process of filming was very spontaneous and unorganized. It was the ability to say, ‘We are shooting today, and we don’t know when we will stop. I don’t know how many scenes we will be shooting. Let’s just get the camera rolling and we’ll keep filming till I have what I need.’ In traditional filmmaking you have a script [and] you decide what scenes you will film and [then] the story is done. For this movie I had an idea in my head—I knew the main plot in my mind but [had] no sense of time, scenes, or what was in the middle. It was, ‘Here is the character of Michael Richard Paul: at the beginning of the movie he is at point A [and] at the end of the movie he’s at point B. Let’s get him there as smoothly as possible without having any sort of road map.’
MM: Did this improvisational style of moviemaking prove to be a handicap at all on set? What problems or assets did it bring to the table?
AF: There were major handicaps I was unaware of at the beginning when I took on this task. I had no clue how much day to day life would play in this film. Normally with a script, [the story] is done. You adjust a little here or there but the story is finished. With this film [with] no script, I found everyday I shot I made small changes in how I thought the story would get to point B. I found the things in my life and society that affected me were affecting the characters. There was no way to have outside life not affect the film because real life was being portrayed on film. I could have tried to block it out and really focus, but films are derived from life. To bring the outside world in the camera is something not often captured and could really bring a new level of realism into the film. At the same token, in the editing process there was turmoil in the dialogue and conversations that had none of the same dialogue from the take before. But with the turmoil and problems there became a new sense of what filmmaking is about. It is about experimentation with how we capture a story and how we make a level of entertainment.
MM: Do you think that the industry strikes were a blessing in disguise for you? It seems like they enabled you to really springboard off of your own ideas towards making movies.
AF: I wouldn’t call it a blessing in disguise. I don’t know if the strike was a blessing for anyone. What it was for me? An opportunity to say something. An opportunity to do something. At a certain level, films have become business and there is no denying a certain part should be business; but with all that business it starts to become more about money instead of creativity. It becomes a factory process instead of artwork. It’s as if over the years people have taken creativity and art and put a price on it. Instead of new ideas, we just keep making a lot of the same things that already work. I was really nervous taking on the task of a film that would cost me more than a year of my life. At the beginning, I was unsure of how it would even work. What I wanted to say with this film [without a] script is: we—not me, but we—are so much more than writers, directors, and filmmakers. Those are titles, which are fantastic, but we see the art in our minds—all of us. [We have] the ability to transition that to a page, for we as artists create a vision—a world in our minds—and it’s so much more than writing a script or having an idea. With this film I wanted to show it’s not the paper that’s the genius, but the mind that created the script. And with a script [or without one], we can create a film.
MM: In the movie you mixed a filmed narrative with authentic home video footage. How do you think these different methods of filming affected the end result?
AF: Um…it’s one of the things that I think will work very well but it also will give new life to myself from an audience’s perspective that I don’t know if I want the world to see. Home videos are made for our family, and to put that out into the world for everyone to see is hard to do. Those are our moments of life. I did it before in a very short film a few years back; the connections people made to the short from seeing life and not a made-up scene. was amazing. And with a project as risky as [this one without a script] was, I thought the home video footage could help make the connection with the audience that the lack of a script may hinder. But it is risking giving people more of you than you want them to have. [It is] opening up not to just a stranger or two—but to hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of strangers. But I think with a solo project such as this it is necessary to go the extra mile and have the blending of the two. I want people to see this film and not just see a film, but [also] see me.
MM: Nine months is a long time to shoot a feature. Do you intend for production to last this long? Were there any benefits to it? Was it a result of the strikes?
AF: I did intend for the shoot to last this long. I actually wanted it to go about 11 months. That part was not due to the strike. It was due [to the fact that] the character is supposed to lose contact with people for the period of a year. The easiest way to bring realism to this is to shoot it over a year. I thought long and hard and I told myself, ‘The easiest way to know how this person feels is if I revisit this every month—this feeling, this story. If it dwells with me every month then I can feel a little bit of what the character feels over time.’ We actually had to speed it up at the end due to changes in life that were starting to affect the film to the point of having to do things (don’t want to give serious spoilers yet) that were never intended and that would change the outcome of the story. So I sped up the process the last couple months to finish early.
MM: Finally, let’s be frank. Does the future of independent film lie in the hands of a director like you, who will surpass the boundaries of traditional moviemaking and approach the medium free of a significant pre-production?
AF: OF COURSE! But we’re already seeing this now with television and the Internet. We have online shows now that deal with subject matter that a lot of TV shows and Films won’t tackle. We have riskier content and films like Cloverfield and Quarantine that have tried to twist the home video idea to a new stage. Filmmakers like Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino have adapted the ways we tell stories. Filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez have thrown many traditional rules out the window of how to make films incredibly inexpensive. It’s only a matter of time before a new emergence of filmmakers comes into this medium with—not a new story—but a different type of film that intrigues everyone. I think we already are at the point where the audience is getting bored with the factory films. Don’t get me wrong, they always have their place and they will always be a lot of fun, but already we have groups of people that stray from the big cinemas to seek out the new, the different and the experimental. It’s a new age—a new alpha—it is art, the ever-adapting, ever-changing, ever-living and breathing piece of life. It is film—whether anime, 35mm, or digital.