Interview: Sam Neave (Writer/Director – ‘Almost in Love’)

ALMOST in LOVE‘ is a love story shot in two single, continuous 40 minute takes set eighteen months apart: the first over a sunset, the second over a sunrise. Sasha has been in love with Mia for years. His best friend, Kyle, recently started dating Mia until it all fell apart. None of them have spoken for over a month when Sasha hosts a barbecue on his Staten Island terrace – but that’s all about to change. Over the course of the evening in New York and a drunken dawn in the Hamptons, the three of them show just how far they will go for love, for themselves, and for each other.

Almost in Love‘ premiered at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, where it sold out consecutive screenings. Back in the US, the film played to packed houses at the Big Apple Film Festival in NYC and Cinequest in San Jose. We talked with the films Writer/Director Sam Neave about the patience needed for long takes, what must be sacrificied in order to make this technique work, as well as the difference between Middle Eastern and Western Film Festival Audiences.

Almost in Love‘ begins a week long run at Brooklyn’s, reRun Theater starting Friday, February 15.

Daring… the terrific new two shot high-wire act… is a surprisingly rich meditation on friendship, the difficulty of settling down and the importance of being earnest. Its formal ingenuity and winning cast make it a picture to watch out for.” Brandon Harris, Filmmaker Magazine

Oddly affecting and well worth a look. Daniel McKeown’s lush cinematography adapts to suit the elements, structure and performers and helps being out the best in all departments… The real find is Marjan Neshat who radiates easy warmth and sexuality.”  Mark Adams, ScreenDaily

Smartly written… offers an enthusiastic burst of American indie neuroses that conceals deft, near-seamless camerawork.” Genevieve Yue, Reverse Shot

I have always had a respect for the “long take” approach to filmmaking.  Why did you choose to use the long take as the means for narrative construction here?
It was not so much about the long take but about seeing light change over the course of a shot.  The natural way to go about this was to go sunset to sunrise; the entire day into night, night into day thing.

I also had an idea for a relationship film.  It was really an idea of two extended party scenes.  I have always enjoyed working on party scenes, so why not do a movie made up exclusively of them?  The reason I thought the long take would work well with that is because I wanted audiences to feel like they were there; maybe as a drunk guy in the corner hearing snippets of conversation.  Like the Emerson quote in the beginning, it is about seeing things from an angle rather than head on.  There is something about the really long take which (as it puts you in real time) has a single breathe quality.  I am hopeful that after about 5 minutes you forget you are watching one take and are more enthralled with the action on screen.

When one thinks about long takes some contemporary examples would be sequences from ‘Children of Men’ or the opening sequence to ‘Boogie Nights’, as well as the classic long take auteurs like Tarkovsky and Tarr.  While watching your film I saw that each of the 2 sections had a distinct feel to its long take, with the first being much more fluid and the second being entirely hand held.  Did you have any film-specific influences that carried over into this film?
You are right to differentiate between the two halves.  We wanted a different feel to each half, in addition to the construction of the long take.  The first half is on a dolly and is a much more controlled environment.  This is the beginning of the party.  Even thought things go awry it is a much more classical setup.

For the second half we wanted intimacy.  A lot of long takes are incredibly choreographed shots like you mentioned in ‘Boogie Night’s or the opening of ‘Touch of Evil’, ‘The Player’ or ‘Russian Ark’.  These are all amazing technical feats; much more impressive than what we did.  What we were interested in, is if we could pull off the long take and not sacrifice the intimacy.  This is on a different scale.  Take something like ‘Russian Ark’, which is possibly the most outlandish version of this filmmaking technique.  The costumes and choreography are great but there is no natural sound.  There is no conversation.  We wanted to marry these two things;  a loose style that is also technically challenging.  The closest that I would suggest, not to remotely compare myself to him, but it can be described as Robert Altman on speed.  He was amazing at capturing a room, especially with the audio.  We tried to pull the audiences around the spaces with the audio as well as with the camera.  Altman was the best at capturing peoples interaction.  Even in ‘The Player’ there is comedy in the opening shot which is incredible.  It is hard enough to pull off the timing of a joke, but when it has to be done in one shot that is another thing entirely.  Jokes are usually done in the editing room.

There are acting sacrifices which have to be made using this particular style of filmmaking.  What was your approach with the actors and how did the words that you had originally written translate on screen in this way?
I wrote a full dialogue script.  The script was only for the on camera dialogue though.  When the actors were off camera they still had to remain in character.   Everyone was mic’d individually so I was able to pull all the different dialogues together in post.  There was some creation of improvisation that I was able to pull.  In terms of on camera dialogue, even though it was written, I encourage actors to make it their own.  This is not a sacred text, but on the other hand it was important that we were comfortable with the choreography.  The details of enunciation simply depended on the individual actor.  Some would do the lines and others would move them around.  The most important thing was not sacrificing the natural way of speaking.  Part of that was also the mix of actors and non-actors.  There is a way that actors tend to play off one another, especially since most of these actors were friends of mine.  The non actors bring in a different energy to work with.  There were playwrights, novelists, journalists mixed in.  I had to rely on rehearsal and their ability to just be natural.

The actor that stood out to me was Alan Cumming, knowing his background as more of a classically trained actor, but now that you mention the collection of personalities it seems as if everyone was like-minded enough in reality to create such a casual, natural environment.
Yes, this group of people is believable as coming together for a party.  Whether at the BBQ or at the wedding, all these people could easily have attended.  They are all about the same age, they are New Yorkers and that contributes to making the atmosphere seem real.  My role as a director is to set up that environment;  to make people feel comfortable and make the space look real.  The tricky part of this was during the sunrise.  The shoot would happen from 5:30 – 6:15.  Getting people to be ready for the 5:30 shoot was a challenge.  The first time we did it everyone went to bed and woke up at 3am and it was a disaster.  The next night we made a rule that you are up at 12am, you come downstairs and start drinking.  By 5am they all felt like they had been through a night of partying.

So you could only do one take a day?
For the sunrise it was one take a day.  We did a few takes on the sunset but we ended up using the last one.  It is a pretty nerve racking proposition.

I want to give your Director Photography credit here as well as I am sure he had his hands full with this.  Can you give me an idea what your technical setup was for the different sequences?
His name is Daniel McKeowm.  I’ve done all three of my features with him and a short before that, so we have worked together for 12 years now.  I would not have been able to do this film without him.  He is wonderful.

The thing he did on the first take was to do the take coming out of the sunset.  We could do the bright one, where the light goes dark, but if we did 2 back to back takes we could get more footage.  You have to understand, he did this blind.  He never had an opportunity to test this.  What you see in the film and what works, is that he lit the terrace for the night.  As the natural light fades, his lights would slowly compensate.  He nailed it with this.

In the second half he deserves even more credit.  We shot on the Panasonic Varicam since we needed to shoot continually for up to an hour.  If after 5 minutes the take was a disaster we could start again but we didn’t want to have to reset the camera, but it comes at an incredible weight.  So with all the handheld movements up and down stairs and so on, he somehow managed to do the entire thing without being caught in reflections.  It is an incredible technical feat.  If you had to whole that camera for 5 minutes you would get tired.

What lenses did you use?
We used zoom lenses.  You see that we zoom in and out during the take.  That goes back to another Altman thing.  I’m not afraid of the zoom.

How do you find the reaction to the film on the festival circuit?
The most festival run I have done is with my first feature ‘Cry Funny Happy‘ which premiered at Sundance and had a nice festival run afterwards.  With my other film’s I have been much more selective with them.  For ‘Almost in Love‘ we premiered at Abu Dhabi Film Festival the last year that Peter Scarlet was the director there.  It was fantastic!  The best thing you want is to play for an audience.  This movie, more so than others, it works better in a group setting.  The reactions are always hilarious.

People tend to equate good acting with people they are sympathetic towards.  I’ve gotten so many notes over the years that talk about great acting (or the opposite) and it is always so subjective.  There is this thing when you are doing an improvised feel, people gravitate towards the character they relate too.  There are people who find the character of Kyle abbhorent and there are people who find him relatable.  This is good though.  If everyone felt the same way making movies would be remarkably boring.

So the Abu Dhabi Film Festival was a good experience?
Absolutely?  It is a great festival.  I met Jim Brown there, who is distributing the film with Argot Pictures.  We also played in a multiplex.  I don’t think my films will ever play on a larger screen and to more people then it did there.  It was also a great mix of natives and ex-pats.  Since my background is coming from Iran, I definitely felt it was a fun place to play the movie.

Something that I have noticed is that many filmmakers rave about Middle Eastern Film Festivals.  It is always described as a positive experience so maybe it is that diversity that comes from interested audiences over there.

Finally, you touched on your distribution with Argot Pictures, but I am wondering if you have a distribution strategy going forward?  Have you thought about the VOD landscape?
We are still working out the specifics but that is not to say that we haven’t thought a great deal about this. Jim Brown is working on getting us the VOD aspect of things.  The thing is, you always want to start with the theatrical run or else you don’t get the reviews.  The run is what filmmakers want because it legitimizes you as a filmmaker in your own mind, that’s not to say its the best model financially;  perhaps there is an element of nostalgia there too.  The other thing is that the landscape of distribution has changed so dramatically.  There are sites that that you can build, bypassing distributors entirely.  A movie like this is self distributing.  You don’t have the kind of muscle that you would like for an extensive marketing campaign so word of mouth is important.  People such as yourself help out with this.

Purchase Tickets for ‘Almost in Love’HERE

Friday, February 15 – Thursday, February 21, 2013
IFP & Argot Pictures present
@ reRun Theater
247 Front St.
Brooklyn, NYC
: /AlmostinLove







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