Richard Atkinson is the award-winning director, co-writer and producer of Dogs Lie, a new film that mixes genres with black comedy and suspenseful thriller. His previous work, Single, was a documentary that explored the lives of unmarried Americans in the modern age. Dogs Lie marks the debut for his production company, Top Movie LLC.
* * *
EI: Where did the inspiration for Dogs Lie come from?
RA: It was an amazing coincidence. I attended an alumni reception and got talking to a gentleman who informed me his wife writes stage plays. That was Jane Beale and her writing partner Ronnie Cohen. They had had great success with a stage production Off -Off Broadway of “Dogs Lie”. I met Jane Beale and her husband for dinner and I was totally enthralled by the concept. Jane, Ronnie and I then spent a couple of months developing the stage play into a screenplay. We had some challenges and a lot of fun.
EI: From your experience with Jane Beale and Ronnie Cohen’s play, how does the medium of theater translate to film?
RA: Film is a different medium and requires a different approach both in substance and execution. A couple of years ago “Frost Nixon” was a great example of an excellent play morphing into an excellent film. In many cases I think converting a play to a film is a lot easier than adapting a book to a film. There are challenges in both approaches but a play is what you experience on a stage before your eyes and a book is something you experience in your head. Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale had already created a successful stage play and we took it from there.
EI: How did you go about casting lead Samrat Chakrabarti and Frank Boyd? Did you create their roles already knowing these actors?
RA: I knew I wanted Frank Boyd to play Josh. He’s an exceptionally talented actor with a fascinating onscreen demeanor. We worked with casting agent Brette Goldstein who did an excellent job. Totally understanding of what we were looking for. Brette brought in Samrat Chackrabarti for an audition. He blew our socks off! Fortunately Frank and Samrat had great chemistry and were a pleasure to work with. They brought so much to the project.
EI: Your lead actors really do have a wonderful chemistry that’s quite enjoyable to watch. How did that come about?
RA: Firstly they met for a couple of beers…that always helps… and I think they genuinely liked each other and admired each other’s acting ability and professionalism. They were given plenty of freedom to adapt the script and they made the most of it. A lot of the humor and mood is uniquely theirs.
EI: The film makes very interesting use of Iqbal’s Indian heritage, something we rarely see in American film. What prompted you to make this such a strong part of the film?
RA: It was that way in the play which Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale wrote. I really liked the second American generation mother son interaction. There are old traditions and new opportunities. That’s real life. You see it all the time with Irish, Italian, Eastern European, Latin American and Asian families.
EI: I imagine that New York City can be a difficult place to shoot an independent film. What are some of the challenges of doing so?
RA: Apart from the standard problems that you can’t control….light , sound, weather etc., there are no problems to shooting in NY. There’s a very deep pool of acting talent in NY and a deep pool of expertise and technical talent. Colin Lewis our Director of photography, Albert Elmazovsky our AC and editor and Chris Leone our sound engineer were all NY residents and had also worked together before. The City is very filmmaker friendly. The Mayors Film office is extremely friendly, efficient and professional. You couldn’t ask for more.
EI: Dogs Lie spans a few different genres, from buddy comedy to dark noir. What inspired you to use so many styles?
RA: I like films that seemingly don’t take themselves seriously but have an underlying deeply serious, if not disturbing, revelation. That requires humor and light heartedness to be set at odds with and co-mingled with the darker side of life and the darker side of character imbalance.
EI: Your film has had quite a few screenings at film festivals. How has the audience reaction been for you? Have you received any feedback that surprised you?
RA: All feedback, positive or negative, is important. A movie is only a success if an audience enjoys it. Dogs Lie, as the critics point out, is a “ thinking film” which can be a very satisfying audience experience or it may not connect at all. On the whole it’s been very well received both by real audiences at private screenings and festivals. It recently won Honorable Mention at the Los Angeles Movie Award 2011. I don’t think any feedback really surprises me. It’s an individual’s opinion based on their viewing experience….thankfully we are all individuals! Published reviews can be seen on our website HYPERLINK " HYPERLINK "http://www.dogslie.com" http://www.dogslie.com" HYPERLINK "http://www.dogslie.com" http://www.dogslie.com on the “press kit” page.
EI: You have also worked in documentary filmmaking with your previous film, Single. As a director, how different is the approach you must take when making a more narrative film?
RA: It’s different but at the same time not different. In essence a director’s job is to tell a story in the most effective and entertaining way given the budgetary limitations. The luxury with a narrative feature is you have a script and you can select a style and mood you want to achieve with the actors. With a documentary you have a concept and a theme but subject matter can take you in unexpected directions. With a feature there’s a bigger team. There’s more of a management role and there’s more event risk where judgement calls are needed more frequently.
EI: Who (or what) are some of your biggest influences as a filmmaker?
RA: I think everyday people, the events that take place around us, and personal experience are the biggest influences. It’s easy to real off a list of top directors and great films but I really don’t think they influence us significantly. A project has to come from within and you can’t stop until it’s finished. That’s not just an influence, it’s an obsession.
EI: Dogs Lie marks the film debut for your production company, Top Movie LLC. What else is in the future for Top Movie LLC?
RA: Currently we are working on two projects. Firstly “Fatal Betrayal” based on a mystery novel by Bruce Forester and secondly another work by Ronnie Cohen and Jane Beale called “Correction.”
EI: When can we see Dogs Lie on DVD?
RA: Our expectations are to have DVD, VOD and digital download by Dec 2011.
Circus Road Films are our Producer Agents.
EI: Can you tell us what you’re working on next?
RA: Top Movie LLC is working on two narrative features, Fatal Betrayal, and Correction. Also my other production company, Go Pictures and Films LLC, is adding two bonus features to our best selling Documentary DVD “Single,” which I co- wrote, co-produced and co-directed with Jane Scandurra. That will be available in October through most major retailers.
* * *
To learn more about Top Films LLC’s release of Dogs Lie, visit the official website at www.dogslie.com. You can also join the Facebook group at www.facebook.com/pages/Dogs-Lie-Movie/197755126922235 and follow the film on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/DogsLieMovie.