|South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "No Matter What" director Cherie Saulter
by Jason Whyte
No Matter What - At SxSW Film
"No Matter What is the story of Nick and Joey, two best friends living in the crumbling landscape of rural Florida, whose lives and friendship are changed by the journey to find Joey’s mother." Director Cherie Saulter on "No Matter What" which screens at South By Southwest Film.
Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to attend the festival screenings?
"No Matter What" is the first film that I’ve written and directed that has played at SXSW. My first time going to the festival was in 2008 with "Medicine for Melancholy" which I co-produced. I was also an Associate Producer on "The Myth of the American Sleepover" which played at SXSW last year. Of all of the festivals I’ve been to, SXSW is definitely one of my favorites and, even before it was finished, I always thought it would be the best venue for showing my film. I really couldn’t be happier about premiering there.
Could you give me a little look into your background, and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
When I interviewed for the film school I went to the first question they asked me was, “why do you want to make movies?” I literally couldn’t think of an answer. I actually asked if we could come back to that question later. At the time I remember thinking that there was no way they would let me in after that. It’s still a question that I have trouble answering though, and I think that’s because the answer is kind of obvious. Who doesn’t want to make movies? I feel like everyone harbors that desire to some extent. The reason I think I stuck with it was because there wasn’t anything else I liked doing as much.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!
When I was a kid my parents had these “School Years” books for me and my brother.. And for every year there was a page of questions to fill out about who your friends were and where you went to school and, of course, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Looking through that book makes me feel like I had undiagnosed childhood schizophrenia. Every year I wrote something totally different. And rarely just one thing. I’m pretty sure in third grade I wanted to be a “doctor/teacher/actress/president”. Sometime around high school I settled on just “actress” for a little while and then, when I was sixteen, I realized I wasn’t actually very good at it. So, inevitably, I switched to “filmmaker”.
How did this whole project come together?
I think it was early in 2009, sometime after IFC bought "Medicine for Melancholy" and things were wrapping up on our festival run, Justin Barber (who produced "Medicine for Melancholy") and I were having dinner and he asked me what we should do next. As in, whose film should we make next. I had, maybe the week before, finally finished the first draft of the script I’d been working on sporadically for two years. So we decided that we’d make my movie.
This story is one I’ve wanted to tell for a very long time. The scripts I wrote in film school were all about various incarnations of characters that show up in "No Matter What". Specifically, I had an idea for a short film in film school where two kids steal an El Camino. I didn’t end up making it, so it didn’t get much more developed than that until a year or so later when I started thinking about it again. At that point I gave those kids real lives and real stories and the film became much less about them stealing a car and a lot more about why they did it. And why they did a lot of the questionable things they did. The characters are pretty heavily based on guys I hung out with as a teenager in a small town in the South. They’re skateboarders and they get into a lot of trouble and you probably wouldn’t like them at first. But my goal in making the film was for people to come to a place where they understand the characters and see them as kids with problems who are still funny and human and worth caring about.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
Coming off of a solid month of color correction disasters and trying to get HDCam tapes made for no money and computers that hate me it would be really easy to say that post-production was the hardest part of making the film. But probably that’s just what I’m closest to right now, so it seems the worst.. What I think was honestly the most challenging was just convincing myself that this was something I could do. I wanted to make this movie for such a long time before we actually started and I think maybe the biggest hurdle was just saying that I was going to do it, whether it seemed possible or not.
Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.
It’s kind of scary when you’ve been visualizing something a certain way for so long to just hand it over to someone else and let them capture it for you. Fortunately Jay Keitel, my cinematographer, is amazing. I feel like Jay really understood what I ultimately wanted to achieve with the look of the film and was able to translate that into a shooting style that added to the story we were telling. During pre-production we decided that we wanted to shoot a lot of the movie in wide shots, because the sprawling rural landscape really plays a big part in the film. We shot about two thirds of the movie on the RED camera and the other third on the Canon 7D. We used the 7D mainly for night exteriors because our lighting package for the film was three lights and two of them broke.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
There are so many filmmakers that I think have informed and influenced the way that I think about movies and the way that I want to make movies. Francois Truffaut has been my favorite director for as long as I can remember. I’m a huge fan of other, more current directors like David Gordon Green, Spike Jonze and Wes Anderson. But the filmmakers that have inspired me the most with regards to this particular project have really been my friends and peers who I’ve watched do whatever they have to do to make films that are important to them.
How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
I enjoy working in independent film because I love making small, personal films and telling stories that I think are important. At the same time, if someone offered me a lot of money to make a studio film and still let me make it exactly the way I wanted, I’d probably take it. That seems unlikely, though.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
I’ve always wished I could be a photo journalist. I think if I weren’t making movies that’s what I would be doing. That or working for a non-profit. Like Amnesty International. One of the things about being a filmmaker that worries me the most is that I’m not helping people enough.
What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
The aspect of making movies that I love the most, but also find the most challenging, is collaboration. Filmmaking is such a special art form because you can’t really do it alone.
And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
When I was sixteen I saw Francois Truffauts’ "The 400 Blows" for the first time. At the risk of sounding incredibly pretentious, I think that movie changed my life. Everything about it is amazing. The characters are so real and the story is poignant, but not without humor. Also, I’m pretty sure that seeing that film made me realize that I wanted to make movies because it was exactly the kind of story I was interested in telling.
It’s incredibly difficult to answer the “what’s your favorite movie” question. On a day to day basis there are different films that I’m thinking about a lot or that are influencing me. Seriously, I like kind of a wide array of movies. Last week I was obsessing about how amazing Paola Mendoza’s film Entre Nos is. And yesterday I bought "The Sandlot" because I love that movie for totally different reasons. I probably have a lot of “favorite” movies, but I would say that The 400 Blows has been the one I’ve thought about the most consistently over the years.
This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte
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originally posted: 03/10/11 00:57:50