2015 SXSW Interview: Hal Hartley (Writer/Director – ‘Ned Rifle’)

NR POSTER FINALNed Rifle‘ is the third and final chapter of Hal Hartley‘s tragicomic epic, which began with Henry Fool (1998) and continued with Fay Grim (2007). At once a saga concerning the Grim family of Woodside Queens and how their lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the self-proclaimed genius, Henry Fool, the trilogy is also an illustration of America’s grappling with ideas, art, politics, and religion over the course of twenty years. In this swiftly paced and expansive conclusion, Henry and Fay’s son, Ned, sets out to find and kill his father for destroying his mother’s life. But his aims are frustrated by the troublesome, sexy, and hilarious Susan, whose connection to Henry predates even his arrival in the lives of the Grim family. A funny, sad, and sexy adventure, Ned Rifle is an intellectually stimulating and compassionate satire.

Anticipating the US premier of ‘Ned Rifle‘ at the 2015 SXSW Music, Film & Interactive Conference, we spoke with the film’s Director, as well as prolific independent filmmaker Hal Hartley on his decisions to conclude the ‘Henry Fool‘ trilogy, the importance of crowdfunding, and much more. Be sure to catch ‘Ned Rifle‘ in Austin, Texas as a Special Vimeo Presentation on Friday, March 13, Wednesday, March 18 and Friday, March 20, 2015.

Additionally, Hartley has teamed up with Vimeo for the day-and-date release of Ned Rifle on April 1 with a limited exclusive window on Vimeo On Demand, followed by a release on Hartley’s own successful digital storefront halhartley.com and other aggregated platforms throughout the summer of 2015. A limited theatrical art-house launch, led by a run at New York City’s IFC Center, will coincide with the VOD release.

Find more information & tickets to ‘Ned Rifle’ at 2015 SXSWHERE

Did you always expect ‘Henry Fool’ to develop into a trilogy? At what point did you decide you wanted to “conclude” its narrative?
No.  When I made ‘Henry Fool‘ I wasn’t thinking about a trilogy.  All of us, the actors and myself, fell in love with these characters.

At that point, ‘Henry Fool‘ was a different kind of film for me to make.  Prior to that, a lot of my movies were smaller stories, both in terms of time and character.  This one film took about 7 years to complete. Then, a few years later, I decided I wanted to work with Parker Posey again; in particularly her character.  I was not trying to make sequels, but rather make different kinds of films by using the family as a catalyst through which other subjects were looked at.

In going over the film’s press notes, you mention a trilogy of film’s from Lindsay Anderson; how does this trilogy related to your own?
I grew up with his films (‘if…‘, ‘Oh Lucky Man‘, and ‘Britannia Hospital‘).  Each were entirely different films except for being about modern England.  They shared Malcolm McDowell, who would pop up as the same character, not just as the same actor.  I was always intrigued by that and when I wanted to make another film with Parker I had to reconcile with the fact I did not really want to make a sequel.  I wanted to attack a different subject and use the same people.

LIAM AIKEN AS NED IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

LIAM AIKEN AS NED IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

In between films, from ‘Henry Fool’ to ‘Ned Rifle’, what was your contact like with Liam Aiken?
With Liam, I saw him every once in a while since he was 7 when we first filmed.  His mom and I are about the same age and have a lot in common.  The whole group of us became friends.  Before I had written ‘Fay Grim‘ I had taken Liam out to lunch to see what his future plans were.  Yes, I needed him in the film, but I was already thinking about doing a third film that would focus on his character.  I just wanted to see if he wanted to pursue acting.  At 16, he wasn’t quite sure but I was pretty convinced he would be.  I felt like he had charisma and a certain honest, laid back toughness.  I thought he would grow up to be the kind of actor I have used a lot, like Martin Donovan, Bill Sage and Robert Burke.  They are all guys who come out of a particular appreciation for classic American movie actors.

and how did Aubrey Plaza come to be involved?
I didn’t know anything about her.  Actually, her agent told me to check her out as she shares the same agency with Parker [Posey].  I told them I needed a lead for the female role.  They highlighted Aubrey in particular, saying they thought she was someone really special.  I spent a couple of weeks checking out her films, as well as the TV show [“Parks & Recreation“] she is on, bt nothing totally convinced me until I saw the film ‘Safety Not Guaranteed‘ opposite Mark Duplass.  The Duplass Brothers are fans of my work and were Kickstarter backers on ‘Ned Rifle‘.  They also pointed Aubrey in my direction.  When we met and he read for the part it was a great experience!

As a Writer & Director, how do you approach the written text which ultimately ends up on the screen?  Is there room for “improvisation” at all, or is the written word absolute?
There is no improvisation.  My films are text built.  However, things do get rearranged in editing.  There are whole sections of scenes in the screenplay that are not in the film anymore.  Lots of things contribute to that.  Some things are just necessary at the writing stage but when you make pictures of them they may become redundant.

I think any actor who works with me, and it came with Aubrey in the rehearsal period, understands there is no kidding around. She is a real trooper and a real pro so she picked that dynamic up in an afternoon. With the actors who work with me, it’s all about how you tie together the rhythm of the dialogue and the rhythm of physical action.

PARKER POSEY AS FAY GRIM IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

PARKER POSEY AS FAY GRIM IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

Why have you embraced the crowdfunding financing method?  How has this particular financial model evolved the definition of the “independent” filmmaker since the beginnings of your career?
That’s a lot!

I think if you don’t consider yourself a manufacturer of entertainment there are limits to how you use straight ahead, capitalistic methods to finance your work since you’re not always doing it to make money.  I am happy since I always wanted to make a living being an artist and I have been able to do that with sacrifices in other aspects of my life.  I used to hope for a situation like this before crowdfunding was made viable by the internet.  I would say, ”

I used to hope for a situation like this before crowdfunding was made viable by the internet.  I would say, “if I could just know who the people are; where they live; what they want?”  There were examples of this in the past, but not so much in film.  I have friends who are choreographers or who have dance/theater companies who spent a lot of time fostering relationships with people and organizations who contribute each year to their company, with the aim of selling tickets and maybe making that money back, profiting, or reinvesting.   Traditionally, this is how non-mainstream theatrical entertainment functioned.  Once I understood what crowdsourcing was about I felt it was very similar to that model.  I feel a lot closer to that kind of world than I do to mainstream motion picture entertainment.  I found myself. with my artist friends, talking about crowdsourcing at the same time.  I just think it is a good way!  It allows you to maintain creative freedom to any extent you want.  I don’t think of it as some morally superior method.  It is an alternative method of financing.

Do you see this as your “go to” financing route?
I hesitate to say so.  Perhaps, for smaller projects but this film was tough, physically and emotionally. trying to raise $384K in 30 days, for me, was tough.  I don’t think I want to work that way again.  I am also at a stage of life and career that I can’t risk as much anymore.  There comes a point where you are just not young enough anymore to take these kinds of risks.  I’m hoping ‘Ned Rifle‘ hits hard enough to make some money.  When that happens it opens doors to other opportunities you may not have thought about before.

AUBREY PLAZA AS SUSAN IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

AUBREY PLAZA AS SUSAN IN NED RIFLE, BY HAL HARTLEY

Aside from the financing and your network of collaborators, how did the filmmaking infrastructure of New York City aid in the completion of ‘Ned Rifle’?
I wasn’t too aware of any of it.  I made this film how I have always made films, which is doing as much on my own as possible.  I’ve got a loosely gathered gang who I have collaborated with for years.  When some of them move on they usually introduce me to someone who needs a break.

Since we are anticipating the US premiere of ‘Ned Rifle’ at SXSW, how do you view that event?  Do you have a relationship with the festival?
I’ve never had a relationship with SXSW and didn’t know too much about it until we were preparing for this.  The film had its world premiere in Toronto and European premiere at Berlinale.  We decided early on we wanted to release the film commercially on April 1st and the question came up as to where we would premiere the film in the US.  SXSW is 2 weeks before the opening of the film, which is very valuable.  For a couple of days, a lot of attention will be focused on the film.

– Interview Conducted, Edited & Transcribed by Steve Rickinson

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