An Interview with Zak Forsman – By Brian Morton

 Last month, I got the chance to see a great short called I Fucking Hate You, which, ironically enough, is a tender love story. I enjoyed this movie so much, I had to contact the filmmaker, Zak Forsman, to talk about the movie, Sabi Pictures and what else this talented filmmaker is up to.

* * *

BM – I have to ask, right away, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of ‘hate’ between the characters in the film, so where does the name of your movie (I Fucking Hate You) come from?

ZF – The title… the title is like a dare, I suppose. Because it "seemingly" flies in the face of what’s expected of "a film by Sabi", which is highly authentic performances and complex human drama presented in a poetic and minimalist style. So, I guess playing on that "expectation" is the key, really. Because this little movie evokes something much deeper than the title would indicate. But to have given it a title that pointed toward that would have been presumptuous and highly pretentious, in my opinion so I chose to name it after a lyric from the song played by John T. Woods that best illustrated his character’s frustration and anger — which he needed to release in all its brutal honesty before he could discover beneath it, the truth about how much he loved this girl, in the very moment he was about to lose her forever.

BM – Since the movie was totally improvised, where did you start and how much info did everyone get before shooting began?

ZF – Myself, Marion Kerr and John T. Woods met on two occasions to work out the story. They came with this hilarious song, and I had a half-formed idea that helped put the song into a context. From there, it was just building on the characters. As John T. Woods says " we did a lot of ‘what ifs’" to figure out what their objectives and intentions were going to be on the day they went in front of the cameras. There was no script. Marion and John had objectives to play for each scene. For example, when we first see them together John’s intention was simply to engage Carol, do your damnedest to charm her, and convince her to go back to your apartment with you. Carol’s objective conflicted with that. Sounds simple, but we also weighted these characters with a lot of "unfinished business" in their back story so that Marion and John had layers and history to draw upon.

BM – How hard is it to ‘direct’ something this improvised?

ZF – It requires a different kind of attention. You have to be very present to the choices being made by the actors. You have to engage with them on a very deep level. And you have to trust them. I find I have a hard time sitting behind a monitor during a take so in most cases I try to get right in there next to the camera operator so I can be involved in what’s happening. Directing improv requires a level of trust most directors struggle with. There is a certain amount of letting go and willful collaboration built into my process that includes transferring ownership of the character to the actor. The idea being that eventually the actor will know their character better than I do. The point of improv is to plan for the surprise. It doesn’t have to be poetic or concise, just truthful. If the actor has gotten into the skin of their character, the director can interpret and guide them. The poetry of human detail will emerge naturally. For the most part this means the director needs to study the motivations and intentions inherent in the scene, then shut up and trust the actors to explore the scene, allowing it to evolve in front of the cameras. Occasionally, I’m stepping in to gently guide and shape it. I suppose, it means being less of a director and more of an interpreter. You must be prepared to ask yourself how your story is changing from scene to scene, often from take to take. In I Fucking Hate You, the content of the last 30 seconds was a complete surprise that emerged from the characters showing us where they needed to go. It can be an exhausting experience for everyone, especially on a feature.

BM – The infamous song at the end of the film, had my both laughing and (yes) a bit moved, who wrote that great song, how hard was it not to laugh on-set while it was being performed, and where can I get my own copy?

ZF – The song was written by Mathew Sandoval and John T. Woods who wanted to challenge themselves by writing a love song. It quickly turned into this very aggressive, hateful tirade. It was performed by a duo and the singer had to be reminded that this, in fact was supposed to be a love song during the playing of it. Pretty funny stuff, but ultimately different from the context in which it was used in "I Fucking Hate You". John and Matt used to perform it in coffee houses in Las Vegas a couple years back. It was a much dirtier song back then, for example, one lyric used to be "…eat my fucking cum!" yeah.

BM – The end of the movie seems to indicate that these two characters aren’t completely finished with each other, any possibilities for IFHY 2?

ZF – You have to remember that we didn’t know how this story was going to end necessarily. I don’t think Marion knew how affected she was going to be seeing this guy exposing himself like that, making this ridiculous, ill-conceived declaration of love. Her decision to leave the mug behind was a choice made in the moment. Afterward, I asked why and Marion said she felt like she needed to give him something back. So yeah, as Marion likes to say "I don’t think Carol is quite as finished with Ron as she thought." As for a sequel, maybe. My partner in Sabi Pictures, Kevin K. Shah, pitched an idea that would catch up with these characters six months later. But in the meantime, I will continue to collaborate with Marion and John. Marion has a supporting role in a feature directed by Kevin that we will be taking out next month called WHITE KNUCKLES. And Marion is the lead in a feature I directed last year called HEART OF NOW. Jamie Cobb, our editor, is mining that footage as we speak. John T. Woods also had a small role in HEART OF NOW, incidentally, as "Noah", who we agreed is the same "Noah" that is referred to in "I FUCKING HATE YOU".

BM – If you do decide to follow these characters in another movie, would you script that one, or would you put it together like this one?

ZF – I get hung up on unifying themes and methods so to my mind, it wouldn’t be true to the spirit of the original if we deviated from the way it was made. I would be inclined to do a follow-up in much the same manner we did the original, by structuring out the story, beat by beat, asking a lot of questions about the characters, and then opening it up in front of the cameras to discover what little surprises they have for us. Each character has an inherent mystery, and for me, my responsibility is to dig deeper into that mystery at every turn.

BM – John T. Woods and Marion Kerr have such great on-screen chemistry, did they know each other before filming?

ZF – John and Marion definitely share something special. They known each other for some time and have shared much time in each other’s presence both on and off the screen. The chemistry you sense is authentic, and while it’s certainly filtered through the emotional continuity of their characters, there’s a palpable intimacy and a closeness that is intrinsic to who they are, which works to their advantage when applying it to their art form.

BM – You say that IFHY came from ‘radical collaboration’, since I’ve never seen a collaboration that went totally smoothly, tell me how rough was the road to this cool movie?

ZF – Marion and I had just come off a highly improvised feature I directed called HEART OF NOW, so we had a month to develop a comfortable creative relationship. And for this project we created an environment where the actors could explore their characters and make choices in the moment without fear of judgment. There is no place for ego on my sets. Instead I foster a family-like atmosphere so that everyone has the freedom to do their best work. Matt Garrett was a co-cinematographer on the piece and operated one of the two cameras. He has great sensitivity to the actors and really locks in to what they are doing so he can react in kind. The camerawork has a spontaneous quality matched only by the performances. But the spirit in which this film was made is most notably embodied by our co-producer, Jamie Cobb. She is so very selfless and nurturing to the creative process that the whole of this project owes more to her than we often acknowledge. So no, not a bumpy road by any means. Quite the opposite. We had a lot of fun letting the details of this story reveal themselves to us as little surprises from take to take.

BM – From the sound of it, you seem to enjoy working in a more unstructured format. Have you (or would you) ever done a movie that was more structured?

ZF – Well, these films do have a framework in place, both creatively and logistically. The difference is that we are very open to allowing the process to reinvent the content of the scenes within that framework. To make a film where we adhere strictly to the page doesn’t interest me too much. Only because you’d be taking away what I consider to be a very reliable method for creating an authentic, genuine, truthful experience. A lot of this comes from the fact that I just don’t like being told what to do. So at every opportunity, I’m working to throw out the text of the scene and work organically from the original intentions to rediscover it. It keeps things exciting.

BM – You have to tell us about Heart of Now. What is that about?

ZF – Heart of Now is simply about a young woman in trouble. And that young woman is played by Marion Kerr from "I Fucking Hate You". I recently learned that the title has a very fitting anagram: "No father? Ow!". I’m not ready to say much more because the editor, Jamie Cobb, is in the process of rediscovering the story hidden in all that footage we shot. But for the time being there is a preview of footage on the web site. www.sabipictures.com/heartofnow

BM – What’s next on your agenda?

ZF – well, Sabi has two features (White Knuckles and Heart of Now) and a short (IFHY) that we are bringing to the festival circuit over the next year and a half. And we are formulating our plans for a viable self-distribution model. Kevin K. Shah, my partner in Sabi Pictures, has a thriller called "Falling Rock" that we are putting together financing for. And I have two features I’m developing simultaneously — one is called "Wanderlust" and the other alternates between two working titles: "The New Pink" and "Fingerbang My Heart". And this August we are shooting a top secret feature-length project starring John T. Woods and Marion Kerr who you saw in I Fucking Hate You. It promises to be the most insane thing I’ve ever been a part of. More on that later. But anyone can get details of what’s new at Sabi by signing up for our private mailing list at Sabi Pictures.com we send out a newsletter every couple months.

BM – Thanks, Zak.

ZF – Thank you.

* * *

As you can tell, Zak is a pretty talented guy with a lot on his plate, I know how hard it is to write and get a movie made no matter the budget, but doing all that and improving the story just shows me how talented Zak (and the people he surrounds himself with) are. We here at Rogue Cinema can’t wait to see what Sabi Pictures sends out way next! Again, you can find out more by heading over to Sabi Pictures.com.