2014 SXSW Filmmaker Profile: Zachary Wigon (Director – ‘The Heart Machine’)

Cody (John Gallagher Jr. – SHORT TERM 12, HBO’s The Newsroom) and Virginia (Kate Lyn Sheil SUN DON’T SHINE, Netflix House of Cards) start talking while he’s in Brooklyn and she’s in Berlin. It’s a romance that could only happen online, and they’re happy together – except they’ve never really met. But Cody’s questions about Virginia’s life in Berlin become an obsession, leading him to doubt that she’s there at all. Combing NYC for clues about her whereabouts, an increasingly driven Cody begins overstepping boundaries of privacy in his desperate quest for answers. Tracking two parallel journeys that show how digital mediation complicates modern love, THE HEART MACHINE explores the evolving relationship between physical and emotional intimacy, isolation in the urban hive, and the seduction of hiding behind a screen.

Anticipating the WORLD PREMIERE of ‘The Heart Machine’ at 2014 SXSW Film, we profile the film’s Writer/Director Zachary Wigon. ‘The Heart Machine’ screens as part of the Narrative Competition program on Saturday, March 8Sunday, March 9 and Thursday, March 13 in Austin, Texas.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘The Heart Machine’ at SXSW FilmHERE

What was the very first aspect of the ‘The Heart Machine’ script that came to you in its conceptualization stage?  Was it a specific character, setting, theme…?
It was an idea. I was in a relationship a few years ago that was primarily conducted over Skype, and oddly enough, the relationship worked pretty smoothly while it was long-distance; it was only after my then-girlfriend returned to New York, where I live, that it became clear we were doomed to failure. So I started to wonder, what might happen if there was someone who preferred a Skype relationship to one conducted in-person?

John Gallager Jr. (CODY) in THE HEART MACHINE directed by Zachary WigonWith a Directorial background in short film, how did the construction of the feature length ‘The Heart Machine’ script, as well as its ultimate execution differ? How did it remain the same?
Generally speaking, I found making a feature to enable a more multifaceted kind of characterization than making a short allows. With a short, there’s an incredible economy of storytelling that is required, because – if you want to tell a story that is relatively complex, or complex in some manner – you need to lay the groundwork for it very quickly and directly, in a kind of abridged, narrative secondhand. With making a feature, there was more room to explore nuance, to allow characters to contradict themselves. The similarities between feature and short filmmaking are probably most apparent in the aesthetic demands that must be met; regardless of whether you’re making a feature or a short, a well-composed shot is a well-composed shot, and ditto for a poorly composed one.

From a visual perspective, can you explain what you wanted out of the Cinematography for the film?  What was your first conversation like with its DP Rob Leitzall?
I remember talking to Rob about some of my visual influences – Antonio Campos, Steve McQueen, Stanley Kubrick (all folks I feel a little funny comparing myself to) – and explaining that there was a tension I wanted to be present in the images, informed by what was in the frame and what was out, and the sentient manner in which I wanted the camera to move. I wanted the camera to be an active participant in the telling of the story, I didn’t just want to record images. That meant having a camera that sometimes anticipated what would happen next, as well as having a camera that refused to look away from the action (ie.cut) when things got tense.

Kate Lyn Sheil (VIRGINIA) in THE HEART MACHINE directed by Zachary WigonJohn Gallagher Jr. is coming off a great performance in ‘Short Term 12’ and Kate Lyn Sheil is a prolific veteran of SXSW; describe the casting process for this film?
Blessedly short and sweet. I feel so lucky for that. John and Kate were both at the top of our lists and to get them on board the project made everything move so much faster than things might have gone if we got bogged down in a long search for our leads. I wanted John for a number of reasons, but among them: A) he’s extremely charming, and I needed an actor who would pull his character – who commits plenty of morally questionable acts – a notch or two back toward likable, an actor who could make the audience feel conflicted and question their attitude toward his behavior, and B) there’s an intelligence present in his mannerisms, when he acts you can see him thinking, and the role required an actor who could project an analytical side to himself. I wanted Kate because I needed someone who could play an extremely conflicted, confused and contradictory young woman, and Kate has a remarkable ability for being able to externalize those interior, psychological states – not just inner conflict and confusion but even introversion. She plays introverted in an extroverted manner; it’s very visually striking and uncommon to find.

As far as casting the rest of the film’s roles is concerned, we were so fortunate to have Susan Shopmaker as our casting director; she’s a real treasure in the indie film world who’s cast great films with young actors like Martha Marcy May Marlene, Afterschool, and Listen Up Philip, among many, many others. Susan is a really intelligent reader of characters and often came up with a number of ways to interpret each character that I hadn’t even considered, which meant we had a real breadth of different directions we could go in for every role.

In your opinion/impression, why is SXSW a natural destination for the World Premiere of ‘The Heart Machine?
SXSW is such a wonderful festival, and it’s a real honor to premiere there. The festival has exhibited a knack for highlighting films that address the emotional and intellectual temperature of the times we live in – both in its film section as well as its interactive section – and doing just that was one of the goals we set out to achieve in making The Heart Machine.

Zachary_Wigon_THE HEART MACHINE_SXSW_In_CompetitionAbout Zachary Wigon
Prior to THE HEART MACHINE, writer/director Zachary Wigon wrote and directed SOMEONE ELSE’S HEART, a short film which won the Hammer To Nail Short Film Contest and was selected for the 2013 Maryland Film Festival. His screenplay FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT was optioned shortly after he graduated from NYU’s film school. He writes film criticism for The Village Voice and has contributed to Filmmaker Magazine, IndieWire and many other outlets.

Facebook: /HeartMachineMovie
Twitter: @HeartMachineMov

 

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