“They Will Outlive Us All” (TWOLUA) is one of my favorite a horror comedies and tells the story of two roommates Daniel (Nat Cassidy) and Margo (Jessi Gotta) who begin to notice strange things going on both in New York City and in their Brooklyn apartment after multiple super storms have devastated the East Coast of the United States (for my review of the film, please go here). This month I’m concluding my interview with the TWOLUA creative team: director Patrick Shearer, director of photography Phil Shearer (Pat’s brother), and actress/producer and writer Jessi Gotta. They gave me the down low on such topics as how to film without permits in Brooklyn, cranky old land ladies and vicious stomach viruses…
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RC: Did you have permits from the city or did it take some guerilla filmmaking to complete the project?
Patrick: There were no permits. Luckily in NY, as long as the camera is handheld on the street and you’re not blocking traffic, you don’t really need to worry about it. At least that’s how we interpreted the regulations. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but that’s what I was told, and what I chose to believe. So we tried to film any exteriors either in the early morning, when the streets were deserted, or later at night. It’s tough to make Williamsburg, Brooklyn look deserted – lots of traffic, both in the streets and on foot – but we managed to get the footage we needed.
Jessi: Perrrrmmiitts? Sure we had – Oh what’s that behind you Phil? (Jessi runs away disappearing into the night.)
RC: Did you get any assistance from the neighborhood residents during filming? Or were they hostile to the project?
Patrick: There wasn’t too much hostility, although New Yorkers can get a little impatient when it comes to film crews getting in the way of their daily routines. We had some unwanted attention from the landlady of the building – who had been fully apprised of the situation well in advance, mind you.
Jessi: Oh God, that landlady! Our friend who lives in the apartment explained to her several times that we were there shooting, but she still harassed us whenever she could. We mostly kept to the 4th floor, took out our garbage and entered & left the building quietly, as to not disturb any of the tenants. But none of that was her concern; instead she accused all of us of living there. She thought that he was running an illegal hotel out of his apartment…which is absolutely cray-cray.
RC: Who was your MVP during shooting?
Patrick: We got lucky because EVERYBODY on the production team, from cast to crew, was gung ho to be doing what we were doing. If we’d had even one ego in the room it would have made things very difficult. But as far as MVP, I’d have to say it was Phil. He flew out from California, crashed on my couch, got a horrible stomach bug about halfway through shooting, and was forced to work harder than almost anyone because he was tripling up duties as DP, Gaffer and Best Boy. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t think the movie you see today could’ve happened without him. When Phil got sick that was it: we shut down entirely until he was well enough to work again. I think that kinda says it all, don’t you?
Phil: Gosh, I don’t know that there was just ONE person more valuable than another on the shoot! I think we ALL (and I mean everyone on set) stepped up on various occasions to keep things moving along and make the project a successful one! There were some days where the actors saved us, and other days when the effects team were the heroes, but it was always a team effort.
That being said, both Patrick and Jessi (and Pete – our 1st A.D.) were unbelievably organized both in pre-pro and on set, and had the entire story so embedded in their consciousness, that any questions I might have had (about time of day, storyline, etc.) they were able to answer quickly AND correctly which allowed us to keep moving forward so that we could make our day.
Jessi: Everybody more then stepped up to the plate, but hands down Phil gets MVP. It’s very sweet for him to say Pat and I…. but on set? Are you kidding man? You brought it.
RC: Daniel and Margot’s relationship is crucial to the film’s success since it forms the basis of how they confront the horror that surrounds them (Daniel’s Ying to Margot’s Yang). Why did you have them in this odd platonic relationship rather than a traditional close emotional (and sexual) one?
Patrick: I’m gonna have to bust out my soapbox for this one, so bear with me. This particular relationship was one of the things that really attracted me to the script in the first place. You don’t see this relationship in movies. Like, ever. Like, never ever. It’s really important to me that people of all ages – but especially kids and teens – get to see two people of the opposite sex being good, caring, loving friends that take care of each other. Not a friendship based on unrequited love where one of them is making do with friendship while pining for the other, or two people that used to fuck and now don’t, or whatever. I think we’ve explored every permutation of those relationships culturally, and I’m sick to death of it. When Nora Ephron put that bullshit in When Harry Met Sally about how men and women can never be friends, I don’t think she realized what kind of atrocious behavior it would wind up justifying. It’s crap, and it’s harmful crap.
But I wasn’t interested in making a movie where that was the focus, either. I just want it to exist, unremarked upon, as part of the fabric of a story. These characters could actually be any gender, any sexual orientation, and it wouldn’t affect the story one bit. That’s what I wanted to see on screen, and I hope others will respond to it, too.
Jessi: I would argue that they do have a close emotional relationship (as close as these two characters can have with another human being). Just because they aren’t having sex doesn’t mean they care any less about each other. It gets really boring to me when movies force a romantic subplot in there to make things more heightened, like we are supposed to care more about characters, or the film itself, because the two of them are screwing.
Also it really irks me when people want to assume a character’s sexuality is straight, so I like to deliberately make it ambiguous. Or sometimes they want the gay friend to be blatantly clear, some sort of stereotype, so you can accept why the man and woman can be close without sex. Once again – boring.
(I also wanted to highlight that even though NYC has gone to complete shit from storm damage, people still need roommates in order to make rent.)
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RC: What was the greatest challenge for each of you during the course of creating TWOLUA?
Patrick: As a director, the greatest challenge was just to survive it. And that’s literal; I’m not making a clever metaphorical point. Within the crazy whirlwind of all the details from moment to moment that I’ve actually prepared for, I’ve ALSO got to just make sure I eat enough to get through the next four hours with a clear head so I can make informed decisions. I’m counting out on my fingers when we need to shut down for the day to ensure we’re all going to get enough sleep that night so I can come back and work another 16 or 18 hour day and be lucid enough to keep all the plates spinning. It’s survival, man. The rest of it is just paying attention, holding the bigger picture in your head, and making (what you hope are) the right decisions.
That being said, for this film in particular I think the hardest thing for me was being able to catch the take. The apartment we used actually looks bigger on screen, if you can imagine that, than it is in real life. So just getting all the production crew and equipment out of the frame was a constant challenge, and then finding a vantage point where I could see what footage we were getting was a challenge on top of a challenge. Luckily, I had Phil behind the camera and I trust him implicitly. That freed me up to be able to watch the scene live and really pay close attention to performances. “Yes, that take matches the other side of this conversation that we shot two days ago. We can now move on.” That was more of a challenge than it probably should be, but it also kept me on my toes and focused.
Phil: My biggest challenge always, as any cinematographer will tell you, is making sure the camera work is telling the story the way the director (and in this case the writer and creator as well) sees it.
The camera IS the audience in filmmaking, and if it misses catching key details or becomes disjointed or confusing, then the viewer loses interest, stops caring and becomes removed from the story in which you – as the artist – and they – as an audience – want to be fully immersed and entertained.
As a facilitator in not only telling the story but creating the environment in which the actors work, I feel a huge responsibility in getting all of the technical details right, not only on set but for the team in post production as well. If I haven’t given the editors the footage they need (and plenty of options in coverage as well) then they can’t be successful in molding and shaping the film into the art piece that it ultimately becomes.
Jessi: As Pat said, survival is the key; that in itself is a pretty big one. But the biggest challenge for me on set was the tight ropewalk of being writer, producer and actor.
Overall though, I would say my biggest challenge was simply keeping us on our insane timeline: the preparing for war that is pre-production, trouble shooting everything possible (only to find more obstacles on the fly), post-production, coordinating with sound and color, press kit, festival submissions, reviews, website, designing posters and postcards…everything to make sure all the wheels are always moving forward. It is a giant machine.
RC: What was the hardest scene to do for each of you?
Patrick: Anything with the bug. It was time consuming, detail-oriented, and required a lot of moving parts (sometimes literally). We also had one day in the hallway, where Margot hears their neighbor die through the door of the apartment next door. For some reason, nothing seemed to go right, and it was – generally speaking – a pretty simple series of shots. You can never predict what’s going to give you trouble. It’s never the thing you think.
Phil: Let’s see… other than the Steadicam shot in which I had to climb four flights of really steep, uneven stairs! I think I would have to say the hallway scene where Daniel & Margot (Nat & Jessi) are being dragged by the bug was pretty challenging! I had to add makeshift dolly wheels to our jib arm – on the fly – in order to get some of those crazy overhead tracking shots (which totally worked by the way)! I wish I had the foresight to shoot some stills of that rig! It was quite the contraption!
Jessi: Oh Phil, we have pictures of the rig…but what I wish we had a picture of is our EP and owner of the camera being trussed up, Rebecca Comtois’ face the moment she realized exactly what Phil was doing. She was a trooper about it, but there was definitely a beat where she turned grey envisioning her camera smashed to pieces.
But to answer your question, I would have to second Patrick; the hardest sections were anything with the bug and that damn hallway.
RC: What gives each of you the greatest satisfaction about this project?
Phil: For me, I am proud of the entire project overall. We all knew going in that this shoot was going to be uber-challenging. As a veteran in this insane industry, I am always so proud of every crew that I have the pleasure to work with. The focus and teamwork required to see a project like this through until the bitter end is nothing short of inspiring! It takes a truly dedicated (and somewhat sadistic) personality to do this type of work…. Crazy, exhausting hours aside, it’s not a normal environment in which to work day after day after day. I’m so glad that everyone’s hard work and creativity is getting recognized in such a positive way!
Patrick: Yeah, as Phil says, it’s hard to pick out a single element. In some ways, I can’t believe we even did it. It’s really gratifying to hold a Blu-ray in my hand and know, “We did this.” Right now I’m really enjoying getting feedback from people who are watching and enjoying it. I’m looking forward (with a mixture of equal parts dread and excitement) to see the film with an audience of people that don’t know us, watching how they react to the story as its being told.
Jessi: My greatest satisfaction comes from that fact that we dove in face first and knocked this shit out in the time and budget allotted. And the bing on the cherry is that we did it well. We came. We saw. We kicked its ass.
RC: If you could have a “do-over” on any part of TWOLUA, what would it be?
Patrick: Phil not getting a horrible stomach virus.
Jessi: Phil not getting a horrible stomach virus.
Phil: I would LOVE to go back and NOT get the horrible stomach virus that knocked me on my ass for an entire week during the shoot! … Oh, and please, please, PLEASE – let me just climb those GODDAMN STAIRS ONE MORE TIME!
RC: What has the reaction to the film been?
Patrick: So far the response has been very positive. We knew going in that it was not going to be the kind of film that grabs you by the throat and drags you around for 90 minutes. It’s a slow burn, and it’s character-centric. I think it’s got a great payoff – it rewards the patient viewer. But I don’t think that’s necessarily for everyone, and I don’t see that as being a bad thing. If you’re going to do a low budget, indie movie then you should believe in what you’re saying and try to say it a little differently. Will that turn off more people than it turns on? I dunno. But so far there have been a lot of people on our wavelength, and that’s encouraging.
Jessi: Very encouraging! And the reviews have been positive; I really hope they keep rolling in. We had a private cast and crew screening recently and I think the entire group felt pretty proud.
RC: Have you submitted TWOLUA to any festivals?
Jessi: Oh yes, we have submitted TWOLUA to a gaggle of festivals. Now it’s on to the nail biting waiting game, where Jessi nervously checks the TWOLUA email account constantly to see if we have any thumbs up or thumbs down…so nerve wracking. We have gotten into four festivals so far and hopefully there are more on the way.
RC: Can you see making a sequel? What stars would have to align for that to happen?
Patrick: I’m not big on sequels in general. I think most sequels are unnecessary, though there have been some really good ones, too. We told the story that we wanted to tell here – for me, it’s what does it take to get these two characters to move out into the world and finally take some action? Once they pass the threshold of the building, the most interesting part of the story is over (in my opinion, of course.) We’ve seen the rest of it before, many, many times so the audience can fill in the details in their heads. It belongs to the audience at that point, to fill in the gaps. So probably not. But I try never to say never.
Jessi: In an earlier draft, I had everyone die, so…yeah Pat, I don’t think it needs a sequel either, HA! I think we told the story we wanted to tell in one shot. Done and done.
RC: Where can people find TWOLUA?
Hopefully we will be playing soon at a festival near you!
RC: Finally a BIG THANK YOU for giving Rogue Cinema the opportunity to talk to all of you about this great film. Good luck and congratulations!
ALL: Thank you Phil and thank you Rogue! (said in unison)