An interview by Victoria Negri
As a multi-hyphenate filmmaker, I recognize the stages of filmmaking and its collaborative challenges and opportunities, from pre-production through distribution. You start with a script that’s your own and you bring more and more people on to shape your vision, add extra energy, and you become a strange little artistic family. As stages of the film move on, people enter and exit your life after intense bonding. It’s a strange and beautiful thing. My journey with The Fever and the Fret has been unusual. I came onto the film as an actor a few years ago, with a short scene playing one of the bullies of the protagonist, Eleanor. My scene was cut from the film (happens all the time!), and later, after Cath Gulick wrapped post-production, we were in touch about my journey with my debut feature and releasing it to the world. I saw the final version of Fever and was blown away. After speaking with Cath about the film, I jumped at the opportunity to come on board as a producer to see the film through festivals and distribution. As a fellow filmmaker and someone that empathizes with the director’s years-long process, I was excited to have the opportunity to pick Cath’s brain about the film for this post.
VN: What surprises you most as a filmmaker about people’s reactions to your film?
CG: I was pretty surprised that people didn’t watch my film and think, “Wow, this movie is one of the best things ever made and this woman is a genius.”
VN: How has making The Fever and the Fret changed you as an artist (if it has), and, (if you dare to answer!), as a person?
CG: As an artist, I really had to struggle to accept that film is a group art form. I wanted to be the single force behind the movie because I thought that was a thing that was possible. My actors obviously brought their own depth to the film, but because I wanted that to happen and was used to it from fucking around in acting classes all the time, it didn’t occur to me that their artistry was building on and expanding my own. But I had never worked with a composer before. My composer Andrew Pomeroy added dimensions to the movie I could never have conjured on my own, no matter how many years I trained and wished and practiced. Eventually I had to humble myself and realize that in addition to “knowing what you want,” the job of the director is to create the conditions for everyone else to succeed. Once all these different people are doing what they’re great at, magical, unplanned things happen, and those magical, unplannable things are what constitute real cinema. …As for how has the film changed me as a person, I actually prefer to avoid personal change at all costs.
VN: How has your vision changed over time with the film? From pre-production/script stage, through filming, and to now? How did you make adjustments to your vision and why?
CG: The biggest surprise to me was discovering that editing is a different kind of storytelling from writing and directing. In the writing stage, you are inside of the characters, making decisions with them along the arc of the story. In the directing stage, you are (among many other things) attempting to be a tuning fork for the actors as they investigate and improve the script, and forge relationships with each other’s characters. But in fucking editing, now you’re left alone in the audience’s seat, watching the characters from a distance as strangers. It doesn’t matter if the actors are completely in tune with everything if the audience can’t see it, or if there’s no tension to the scene.
Basically every single scene I had to re-write in the editing room around the central question of that scene, instead of how I wrote it for the script, which was around the central questions for each character. Many on-screen conversations were cut in half, because that delicate thread of tension that has to hold up the whole movie had become slack and loose. As a result, the edited movie is completely different from the movie I wrote. I wrote something internal, novelistic, unfilmable; then I took the scraps from that and made a totally different movie.
VN: Talk about shooting in Iceland! What was that experience like?
CG: Five of us lived out of a van in the countryside for three weeks. I’ll just say that we did not in the end resort to cannibalism.
VN: What filmmakers out there do you admire right now? What films keep you up at night and why?
CG: There are filmmakers out there who are absolute gods, and then the ones that are friends, or friends of friends that give you hope that you could one day be in their league. I admire the latter more, because they are human, and you get to watch in awe from the sidelines as they work their asses off while also somehow supporting other artists. I know this is supposed to be an interview but I’d like to say I have admired your (Victoria Negri’s) career from afar for a long time and still feel so lucky you are working on this film. For anyone reading, my producer Victoria Negri is also a writer, director, and actress. She just finished finished her first feature Gold Star, which has an 83% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and is hard at work in pre-production for Ultra. I have never seen such a talented person work so hard in my life. I’m usually still staring existentially at my coffee when I get her first updates of everything she’s done for our movie that morning.
The film that keeps me up at night is The Empire Strikes Back. I have not stopped trying to unpack what the fuck that movie accomplished as a feat of storytelling. Lately I’ve been trying to study it as an example of how the third act can force your characters to face the reality of what their choices mean, and thereby deepen the power of the story when we see new, previously hidden aspects of everyone in new circumstances. Leia and Han didn’t really know they gave that much of a shit about each other until they were forced to say goodbye. And Luke was fucking delusional to think he could go up against Vader; what a wake-up call. We never see him smile again. And the hidden aspect of Luke that is now visible: he’s willing to die to do the right thing. Just the most wonderful fairy-tale heroism, perfectly executed. Many good movies have this third act reality check, but in Empire you don’t really see it coming and can delude yourself along with the characters, perhaps because the world of the film is so intricately and enormously built out that anything could happen. Dunno. I’m still trying to figure this one out. I don’t understand how that film got made.
VN: Talk about the use of black and white versus color beyond pure aesthetics in the film as related to the core theme of bullying through the protagonist Eleanor’s perspective.
CG: I wish I could say the black and white versus color was a deep artistic decision, but really, I wanted the whole movie to be black and white with no music, including the surreal dream sequences. Like a French New Wave movie on acid. At our cast and crew screening, we played the all black and white, no music version. Two people loved it. Everyone else barely made it through to the end. We were going to take photos of the after party, but everyone looked so disturbed and was so silent and withdrawn that we have no photos of that day. Once the festival rejections started pouring in, a friend suggested adding some color and music as a concession to the muggles, and it turned into a whole different movie–a vast improvement on the original. The music deepened it the most; the color gives your brain some breathing room. And it’s pretty.
The Fever and the Fret is playing March 23 at 8:15 pm at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the Queens World Film Festival. Tickets and other information are available at www.thefeverandthefret.com.