‘Paradise East‘ is a dark comedy about a desperately dysfunctional lower middle class family fiercely struggling to make it in the twentieth century. Lucky, not your typical dad, runs a coffee shop and has a difficult time dealing with the idiosyncrasies of his two deadbeat sons. Ernie, the oldest, is a wanna-be pimp and street hustler, forever searching for the perfect angle. Chip, the baby, is unemployed with a passion for French fries and underage girls. This is frowned upon by the pious, slightly unorthodox, parish priest who does his best to interact with the members of his flock, assisting them at times in ways that may surprise you. He kills them! ‘Turn from the Serpent,’ he advises, ‘swim in the Blood of our Savior! Resist temptation!’ Sounds like good advice.
We managed to talk with the film’s writer and director Nick Taylor about its journey, controversial subject matter and how it feels more foreign than anything else. ‘Paradise East‘ is NOW PLAYING at New York City’s Cinema Village.
Can you tell me a little about where the idea for the film came from? Why did you feel the need to make this particular film?
It came from a couple of ideas. When I was young I witnessed a priest beat up a young man who was supposedly doing muggings in my neighborhood in New Jersey. I watched the priest rough this guy quite intensely and that stayed with me for a long time.
From there it includes all the interesting people I have met and encountered over the years and some of whom I was very close to. This is not the first film I’ve written or directed, but this was one I was very passionate about.
So this film is not about any particular criticism of religion or a religious upbringing?
No. I was not raised very religious and its certainly not a criticism of religion. It is a movie about desperation. It is a movie about loss of space. It’s a movie about the loss of hope and identity. We’re dealing with some deeply troubled people in the film. I’ve known quite a few in my life and its interesting and makes for a slightly different style of movie. When you see it it is quite different from even most of the indie stuff that you have seen. That I can promise you.
From what I’ve read about the film, to mainstream audiences (or audiences in general), the film deals with some very controversial subject matter. Did you find funding to be difficult when presenting potential investors with such material?
ABSOLUTELY! There were some people who were very concerned about the topics. There were people who expressed serious interest in the film and after having an agent look over the script they became very concerned. It certainly isn’t a mainstream movie. I had no interest in making a mainstream movie and it’s something that people will see as dark or troubling. It was definitely touchy and its not everyone’s cup of tea and we know that before going in.
Was there ever an instance where someone would be open to helping the film in some capacity, while asking you to compromise something in your original vision?
There was an instance where a happier ending was asked for, but I just couldn’t make that compromise. All of a sudden the person in question bowed out after that decision had been made. Fortunately we were still in a position to get this thing made though.
Despite this, the greatest pleasure I had while making this movie was the actors. The actors come in and just kick ass and people who see the movie, even if some people are shocked by the film, can recognize the actors as being really great.
A lot of the film’s accolades are going toward its acting. What were you looking for from the actor’s when casting their specific roles? Then, while on set what kind of directorial techniques did you use in order to get the actor’s to a place that they needed to be?
What I was always looking for was actor’s who didn’t look like actor’s and actor’s who didn’t act like actor’s. I wanted this movie to be the fly on the wall. I wanted it to be truly, harshly and brutally believable and truthful that I looked at a lot of people, especially the roles which were just horrendous to cast. Once I had them on set I would have to bring them down to earth, saying that this isn’t a movie, or play but its real life. We have to play it as close to real life as we can. This is something I always look for. When you watch the movie, you don’t think you’re looking at actors and you don’t even think you’re watching a movie. You think you’re peering through someones dirty window.
One story which is interesting is when we were having trouble finding our key location. I wanted to find a location instead of building a set. I wanted a small, dingey apartment and I looked at many places. The few that I had interest in were just too nice. Finally, I went into one decrepit building and I talked to the super who told me of a unit in the building on the top floor where the tenant had just passed away. She was a heavy duty alcoholic and the place was a mess. I mean, 20, 30 years worth of grime. I saw it and I said “this is where we’re going to shoot the movie“. My point is that the locations have a personality as well.
What about the humor element of the script? I’ve read descriptions it as being a combination between ‘South Park’ and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. What was your mindset behind adding this element of humor into such a gritty script?
It’s like going to Starbucks’, the subject is so strong that you can’t just put a little bit of cream or a little bit of sugar since you’re in for such a rough ride. I always like to add comedy into anything I do. It’s almost like The 3 Stooges/Hitchcockian feel with dark stuff and, at the same time,a little theater of the ridiculous. I started in theater and I’ve always been a fan of it. This movie is the most ridiculous movie you’ll ever see, but it also has its very dark areas.
Purely from an aesthetic standpoint, can you describe your directorial approach to the film?
We shot almost the whole movie handheld on a RED with prime lenses. Again, I’m always concerned that while we wanted the cinematography to make an impact but we didn’t want it to look too pretty or stagey. There are so many films, in my opinion, that look a little too theatrical and polished. We really went the extra mile to make this film look beautifully disgusting and hideous. We were very careful with the lighting and how we used the camera so we could get the sens of claustrophobia, neuroses, rage. We used the camera like a jack hammer so we could dig into the guts and soul of the characters.
Finally, with the international scope of the festivals the film has been a part of. With this have you been able to gauge American response to the film in relation to the foreign response?
This definitely has a very foreign feel. It certainly is more of a European movie. I always thought it as being a guy’s movie as well, however I have been pleasantly surprised by the female reaction, especially given the straight out of the gas station style subject matter.
Purchase Tickets for ‘PARADISE EAST’ – HERE
Wriiten & Directed by Nick Taylor
Starring Bruce Barton, James Kissane, Seth Abrams and John Borras