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Monthly Archives: September 2012

My new film, The Plants Are Listening, has undergone some key changes since I last “blogged” about it here at the beginning of February. In what follows I will cover what’s been going on and how these changes have come about. First, though, here is a still from a scene of the film that was shot earlier this week in rural Wisconsin:
A still from The Plants Are Listening: Dominique Joelle playing the character Jana.

That’s actor and occasional model Dominique Joelle, playing the character Jana, a budding dramatist who has an amusing phone conversation with her pithy “sort of boyfriend” Simon. More on both of them in just a moment…

Originally The Plants Are Listening was intended to be a four-part experimental narrative, roughly thirty-five to forty minutes in length. Each of the four parts would have featured a conversation between two people in which one person aired his or her grievances while the other mostly listened. Following the conversations would have been palette cleansers in the form of lush footage of plants, with minimal meditative electronic music as accompaniment. As I envisioned it initially, the role of the plants would have suggested, perhaps, that the humans on the listening end of each conversation weren’t fully absorbing what was being said, or that even if they were the plants outside were also bearing witness, feeling people’s pain as it were.

On paper this might not seem like the most radiant idea for a movie, but as with any project I devote my time and resources toward, its artfulness would have emerged while addressing the particulars.

Toward the end of 2011, after months of refining it, I finished writing the first part of the film and started looking for actors in Sarasota. I put an advertisement out and began holding auditions. To be honest none of the candidates’ readings bowled me over, but there was one potential actor who could at least speak clearly and project well. He also happened to be old enough for the part. Since he had a history of performing and assured me that he could memorize the dialogue, he was chosen. We began rehearsing regularly, with my mom playing opposite him in the role of the listener.

While rehearsals for the first part of the film were underway I was in the midst of writing the second part, and I became acquainted with an actor and theater designer based in Minneapolis. I’d been told by a mutual friend that he identified with my performance in the film Je Ne Sais Quoi and had good acting instincts plus a knack for learning dialogue. I’d seen him act in an independent film that was shot in the Twin Cities and though it didn’t quite resonate with me the when I saw it for the first time, I noticed right away that he had a good face and an eccentric-in-a-pleasant-way screen presence.

I asked him if he would be up for acting in The Plants Are Listening and he was interested. Not long after that, for the second part of the film, I wrote a scene in which he would play a young playwright trying to dissuade a female friend of his, also a young playwright, from moving to a provincial town to practice her art. The conversation, which would occur via phone, detailed the trappings of small town art scenes but also drew attention to some of the problems with art scenes in general, or perhaps even society itself. It was going to be an emotionally charged exchange, bordering on humorous, almost as if his character was railing against everything under the sun. When I finished writing the dialogue I sent it to him. He liked it. We soon began rehearsing via phone and discussing the finer points of the scene. That we lived over 1600 miles apart seemed like a minor obstacle, something we’d worry about once we were both prepared enough to begin shooting.

A little while later I also became acquainted with Dominique Joelle, also based in Minneapolis. About a year or so beforehand I’d been asked to play one of the leads in an independent film in the Twin Cities. At the time I didn’t feel inclined to act in another person’s movie, so I turned the offer down. But I was still kind of curious how the film would turn out. A while later, almost by chance, I saw a trailer for it and the first thing I noticed was Dominique, who ended up playing the female lead. She had a gorgeous look and a cute demeanor and I thought she might be good in one of my films. We got to know each other a bit, and it seemed to me that she would be a great foil for the male character in the second part of The Plants Are Listening. His dialogue, far from innocuous, needed some contrast, something to make it feel more palatable. I liked the idea of him talking to an attractive young girl who also happened to be patient and bright, holding up her end of the conversation when she was able to get a word in edgewise. Neither Dominique nor I had the means to fly her down to Florida but since the conversation in the second part of the film would take would place over the phone it made perfect sense that we could shoot her half elsewhere. I would be in the Midwest over the summer, so it seemed feasible that we could do it then.

Rehearsing a scene for the original version of The Plants Are Listening

Meanwhile, rehearsals for the first part of the film continued, but I began to notice that they weren’t bringing forth much in the way of progress. My mom was doing a decent enough job, given that she was attentive and her role wasn’t terribly demanding. But the gentleman acting opposite her was having a lot of trouble memorizing his lines. On top of that the direction I was giving him, which I believe was observant and useful, didn’t seem to be sinking in–every week we met it was almost as if we hadn’t rehearsed the week before. We were getting nowhere fast and I was starting to feel that maybe the film wasn’t worth doing. Finally, during one rehearsal, the actor and I reached the inevitable conclusion that he didn’t have what it would take to transform his lines into a believable performance (as per my vision of the film), so we went our separate ways.

For a few days after that I mostly brooded, racking my brains trying to figure out what to do next, wondering whether it was possible for me to make a good film in Sarasota insofar as it involved scripted dialogue and the usage of local actors. It didn’t seem likely. If The Plants Are Listening was salvageable, changes were definitely in order.

Then it occurred to me, in the spirit of playing to one’s strengths, that the proper thing to do was to make an intellectually bracing buddy movie starring the male actor from the second part of the film and me as the leads. I’d really enjoyed the mixture of tension and camaraderie in the English miniseries The Trip, and he did too. We could be our own little odd couple, only instead of subjecting each other to impressions we would pitch each other film and play ideas, and talk about Schopenhauer and Georges Bataille. The script would have to be well written, and the performances well rehearsed, but since we’d be playing variations on ourselves the roles would surely be within our range. It would be dialogue-driven, but unlike a film such as My Dinner With Andre I would allow it to breathe a bit. The scene featuring him and Dominique in the original version of the film could be moved to the beginning of the new version–it would be a good introduction to his character, kind of a funny way to start things off. And even though it would probably end up being a feature-length narrative markedly different than the original idea of the film, we’d keep the title The Plants Are Listening.

So, long story short, I’ve spent the summer writing the script and talking about it with the other main actor. I’ve only written the first half so far, but what’s there is pretty good. The bulk of the film won’t be shot until later this year, but I did manage to shoot the part with Dominique earlier this week.

Actor Dominique Joelle with director and co-star Dave Andrae following a shoot for the film The Plants Are Listening

The days leading up to the shoot were fairly stressful, but once she finally got here and we fell into the rhythm of filming, things achieved their own momentum and it was just a matter of time before we got what was needed. She did a fine job, and if I look a little lightheaded in the above photo it’s because I was quietly relieved that everything had worked out so well after so much planning and anticipation.

I have an exciting announcement regarding a musical contribution to the film, but I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag just yet. More on that soon!

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