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Category Archives: Plants

A new self-interview, entitled Dave Andrae Interviews Himself, can be read HERE.

I think it does a pretty good job of delving into the particulars of how The Plants Are Listening was made, while shedding light on some of the ideas behind it, as well as my views on moviemaking in general. It was originally written in anticipation of the movie’s release on iTunes, but it looks like The Plants Are Listening will be unavailable for widespread home viewing for the indefinite future (long boring story best told in person). Anyway, here’s hoping you find it a worthwhile read.

This December, on Friday the 5th at 9:15 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will see its Florida premiere at the inaugural Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival. This will be the first occasion in which any of my work has been shown publicly in the Gator State.

In their own words, The Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “was founded by award-winning Bay Area filmmakers, actors, critics, artists and cinephiles to catch the independent films that fall through the cracks and end up… underground. With most independent films going straight to home video, TBUFF offers cast and crew the opportunity to see their movie on the big screen in digital sound at a real theater.”

Plants will be projected via DCP and preceded by a new 12-minute narrative from Russia, Diana Galimzyanova’s February 28. Should be a fun night out.

Here’s an audio recording of the Q&A that followed the recent screening at Woodland Pattern. The audience and I mostly discussed the music that was used in The Plants Are Listening.

Here’s the official trailer for The Plants Are Listening

Sign for The Trylon microcinema in Minneapolis, MN

On Thursday, August 21st, at 7 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will be unveiled at The Trylon microcinema in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Admission is $5. Should be fun.

Sign for the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, WI

And a few weeks later, on Friday, September 12th, at 7 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will see its Wisconsin premiere in the performance space of the Woodland Pattern Book Center on the Riverwest side of Milwaukee. Admission is $4.

The Plants Are Listening will be shown via blu-ray disc at both screenings. The trailer should be online soon and I’ll be sure to make a post about it here in the coming days.

What follows is a long overdue (and somewhat longwinded) update on the status of The Plants Are Listening, the movie I’ve been working on, on and off, for a good while now. If you read this “blog” and/or know me personally (whether in “real life” or mostly via the internet), you’re probably well aware that this movie has undergone many changes. Now that things have taken shape and more and more footage is “in the can” with each passing week, as the project nears completion, it’s much easier to discuss what the movie is “about” and what sort of viewing experience audiences can expect.

Observing the first eleven or twelve minutes of the The Plants Are Listening, as they stand edited together, the film I’m reminded of the most, perhaps, is Jean-Luc Godard’s underrated (and rather neglected) late-period effort JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December. In both movies there’s a moody undercurrent of reflection as the director mostly sticks around the house and ruminates on various topics with a literary bent. I’m pretty sure the similarities here weren’t intentional — influenced as I am by many artists, rarely will I consciously model a movie I’m making after someone else’s — but they’re probably there if one feels inclined to compare the two titles. I remember, after a screening of Godard’s film, some people, clearly not fans of his work, complaining that it was “basically just some old French guy smoking cigars and talking to himself for an hour and a half.” But I found JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December to be a pleasant sit and eminently engaging, especially in relation to some of the clunkers the 84-year-old director has unleashed over the years.

Where the two movies differ most is that I’m not at all a world-renowned cultural figure with a revered, decades-old legacy–I’m essentially an “unknown” filmmaker at this point, a fringe dweller on the cinematic landscape. The Plants Are Listening, despite several silent passages, also features more dialogue, the majority of it carefully scripted, the result of months and months of writing and refining. It’s probably also more accessible and closer to being a “normal” movie, albeit one with a thin plot and more of an attention to detail (particularly that of non-humans/inanimate objects) than most of the cinema being shown at the box office.

“So what exactly happens?”

“What’s your new movie about?” people might ask.

[**Note: the following paragraph may contain spoilers, so the text is colored black. Skip it if you’d like to view the movie without knowing the basics of what happens ahead of time.**]

The Plants Are Listening is centered around twin brothers, Simon, a playwright, and Dave, a filmmaker (both parts played by yours truly). Simon is visiting Dave for a day or two while the latter dog-sits at their parents’ house in Southwest Florida for a couple of weeks. The movie begins in the middle of a brief phone conversation between Simon and his friend Jana, a budding playwright (played by Dominique Joelle). Attention shifts from the conversation to the hibiscus in the front yard as its petals undulate in the wind. From there we see the shadows of plants blowing in the breeze on the half-open blinds in Dave’s bedroom before he reads aloud from Georges Bataille’s Literature and Evil. Then, before Dave can fully process the words, Kaji the dog (playing himself here) runs into the room and barks to be let outside. Dave lets Kaji outside while Simon grabs a cup of coffee and heads into the sunlit family room to peruse the titles in the bookcase. He zeroes in on a paperback copy of The Wisdom of Life. Dave returns with Kaji and hands him a treat. He grabs a cup of coffee and heads into the family room, where the two brothers engage in an intricate conversation on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Eventually the topic of the conversation shifts to “experimental” art and its viability (or lack thereof) in the marketplace. At this point Simon remembers that he bought an unusual record earlier in the day and asks Dave if he’d like to hear it. Dave agrees but first he needs to relieve himself so Simon steps outside to smoke a cigarette. While finishing his cigarette Simon encounters his parents’ next-door neighbor Kaleigh (played by Robin Morrissey-Jones) as she steps out to collect the day’s mail, and being in social mood asks her if she’d like to listen to the record. Kaleigh has a few spare minutes to hang out before she has to drive to the marina in town to pick up her husband Tom, so she agrees. Then, in the family room, Kaleigh, Simon, and Dave listen to the piece “How to Pronounce ‘Prosthesis'” by Vicekopf (a.k.a. Gregory Whitehead). Afterwards they discuss the piece and Kaleigh concludes that it’s “kind of creepy” and asks Simon if he has “anything less creepy” that she can listen to in her car. Simon gives her a mix CD he put together and Kaleigh says goodbye and leaves. Then there’s a brief fart joke between Simon and Dave. We then see Kaleigh driving along a scenic path of seaside houses in the early evening while she listens to a song (“Silence or Something Else” by Robert Scott) on her car stereo with the wind blowing through her hair. And then the movie cuts to black. Plot-wise, that’s the gist of it, though I’d like to think that the actual viewing experience will produce a more subtle, affective, and inviting mixture of emotions than what the words above can account for. (Have I said too much? Maybe I need a publicist here!)

All told, it’s looking like The Plants Are Listening will be a fairly easy sit. I’m guessing it’ll clock in at around forty-five or fifty minutes so this will probably qualify as my debut feature.

This time around, rather than waiting and waiting for film festivals to give it the green light, we’ll be hosting a couple of screenings at independent movie houses, most likely in the Midwest this summer. You can follow the film here on Facebook to keep abreast of screenings as they’re announced, though this “blog” will also be updated accordingly.

People's Palms, whose music will be featured in The Plants Are Listening.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that The Plants Are Listening will also include some ambient electronic music from People’s Palms, the nom de plume of one Austin Freese, a young artist currently based in Oakland, California. You can hear Austin’s music here and here.

On November 8th, in Port Chalmers, a suburb of Dunedin, New Zealand, singer-songwriter Robert Scott recorded an acoustic-guitar-and-vocals version of the song “Silence or Something Else” for The Plants Are Listening. It’s quite an honor to have him contribute some music to the film!

Bob is best known for being the lead vocalist and guitarist in The Bats, as well as the bassist and occasional vocalist in The Clean–both highly influential bands with no shortage of inspired songs under their belts. He’s made solo records too and has played in loads of other groups that most people outside of New Zealand music circles have probably never heard of. Bob also draws and paints art and holds down a job as a teacher’s assistant, and he has children, so it’s safe to say that he’s a workaholic and an overachiever, though he’s probably too humble to admit that.

“Silence of Something Else” originally appeared as a full-band song on The Clean’s underrated 2001 outing Getaway. This version is perfectly good, but by chance one day I happened to see a video of Bob performing a stripped-down rendition of the song with just him and an acoustic guitar in a New Zealand library. It struck me as music that would work well in a film if it were professionally recorded. So I asked Bob if he would be interested in rerecording it solo, and he was game. Listening to the final mix of it right now, I’m quite pleased with the results and feel tempted to have it play more than once in the film, repeating it like Wong Kar Wai did with “California Dreamin'” in Chungking Express.

If this “blog” has a use beyond providing information about screenings of my films and being a platform for drawing attention to other people’s art from time to time, its appeal lies in that it can chart the evolution of a work in progress. A film might undergo any number of changes before it becomes a finished piece and maintaining a tasteful level of transparency with regard to this can make for entertaining reading. This is especially the case in hindsight, after one has seen the finished “product” and all of trial and error that factored into it is half-forgotten and easily taken for granted. I wouldn’t fault someone for not caring about the creative process behind one of my films (or for not caring about my films in general for that matter–after all, it’s a big, big world out there). But the pre-production and production phases tend to be drawn out and chronicling them in some way seems healthy. Rather than slaving away in “silence” and then presenting the world with a seamless “masterpiece,” I’d prefer to communicate what a proverbial pain in the ass it is to make a film that I consider worth watching. Hopefully the thrill of discovery and joy of realization come through too.

The latest development concerning The Plants Are Listening is that I’ve decided, after rehearsing with the other lead actor over the phone earlier this week, to part ways with him creatively. While going over the dialogue in depth it became evident that we have different, possibly irreconcilable notions of what constitutes “good acting.” This might be rooted in the fact that he is by trade theater-oriented, while I’m a filmmaker. It also might have to do with the fact that my “film aesthetic” is rather idiosyncratic–since I’m not originally a dramatist it’s hard for me to explain in concrete terms exactly what I’m looking for in a performance. But I know it when I find it, and the reading during the last rehearsal didn’t strike me as sufficiently convincing given the contentious, headstrong nature of the material. Since the actor — whose name I’ve removed from this “blog” at his request — didn’t seem up to the challenge of working to get the dialogue where I felt it needed to be, it made sense, the following morning, to cut our losses.

Despite this setback, however, I am still quite married to this project. Indeed, I have reached the point of no return with The Plants Are Listening and have every intention of following through with it. And after giving it some thought, I have decided that I’m going to play both of the main characters, in a dual role not altogether unlike that of Jeremy Irons in the film Dead Ringers, only there won’t be any weird experimental gynecology type stuff–just some dry humor and a lot of thought-provoking dialogue.

Jeremy Irons in the film Dead Ringers.

Simon and Dave, once unrelated friends, will now be twin brothers.

Has this movie jumped the shark? No, on the contrary, it’s just started to get interesting.

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!