|SxSW 2016 Interview: GLEASON director Clay Tweel
by Jason Whyte
GLEASON - At SxSW 2016
"GLEASON is about a former NFL player, Steve Gleason, who is diagnosed with ALS shortly before he finds out his wife is pregnant. The film starts out as a love letter to his unborn child but quickly evolves into a story about how a disease like this affects an entire family, reverberating through generations and testing the determination and limitations of everyone involved." Director Clay Tweel on GLEASON which screens at the 2016 edition of the South By Southwest Film Festival.
So I hear you are back at SxSW this year! Tell me about your previous work and what you love the most about Austin!
This is my third year in a row at SXSW! I had PRINT THE LEGEND here two years ago as well as FINDERS KEEPERS last year. Obviously, I love this festival and the city. I love the food, the coffee -- Thunderbird is my go to -- going to Barton Springs to shock the hangover away, and the music scene. The ability to walk around and hear so much live music and then pop into a film is what makes this festival one of my favorites!
Tell me about how you got your start in the industry and your previous work before these movies.
I initially moved to LA to be a production designer, but my first big break came working on Seth Gordon's KING OF KONG around 2006. I started with assistant editing and ended up doing a wide variety of jobs through the course of that movie, and that really lit the fire for my love of documentaries. I made the jump to directing with a film about teenage magicians called MAKE BELIEVE back in 2009 and I think from very early on I relied heavily on my editorial background. The process of whittling down a large quantity of footage and distilling it into a cohesive story is meticulous job, and the skills I learned on KONG have carried over into how I approach and organize every project since then. The other thing that I would say carries over through all our films is the emphasis on character. Character IS king in our book, and so getting to the heart of "why people do what they do" is always our number one priority.
How did GLEASON all come together for you?
GLEASON was an enormous team effort that took over 5 years. It all started with Steve and Michel turning a camera on themselves when Steve was diagnosed. The vulnerability they reveal is unparalleled in my experience, and they immediately draw the audience into the story with their candor and humility. Secondly, there were two young filmmakers who started helping Steve film his life when he began to have trouble with his motor skills due to ALS. Ty Minton-Small and David Lee dedicated their lives to documenting the Gleason story over 3 years and became close with the family in many ways, including aiding in daily caretaking duties with Michel. And finally, I have to name drop the core group of producers that put this film together. Kimi Culp, Scott Fujita, Kevin Lake, Tom Lavia, Thomas McEachin and Paul Varisco were dedicated to helping Steve realize his intention of showing the full scope of ALS and its daily challenges, and their fundraising and logistical talents were crucial to allowing us to get this movie to the public. They brought on myself, Seth Gordon and Mary Rohlich to lead the creative team and shape, what turned out to be about 1300 hours captured over five years into a compelling narrative.
With such a big and long production history, what kept you going? And what is your "poison" of choice? Coffee?
My drive is always to find the most human, relatable story that the footage will allow. Whatever the initial expectations are of the audience, I love to find a way to subvert them and find a deeper meaning underneath the surface. As for my poison; I replaced my coffee habit with Haribo gummy bears. I do not recommend this.
What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you, where you knew you had something special?
The biggest challenge was narrowing in on what story to tell out of all of the footage we had. This film is comprised of more footage than my three previous films combined, so it was a real task to determine exactly how to filter the footage down and distill the story to its essence, without losing any of the original contents' integrity. I knew that this movie was going to be special from the time Ty and David showed me the five minute teaser trailer we used to raise money. It was heartbreaking, inspiring and adrenaline inducing all in the same breath.
I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie; what camera did you use to shoot, your relationship to the director of photography and how the movie was photographed.
I wasn't around for much of the shooting and the DPs on the movie were either the subjects themselves or Ty and David. We conned the latter into becoming assistant editors on the film so I was in daily contact with them as we assembled the edit. The visual language of the entire film is supposed to be very textured in the landscape of home recordings. The footage is so experiential and raw, that we wanted to keep the audience in as intimate an environment as possible.
Everything from iphones, GoPros, handicams, DSLRs, and eventually Canon C300 level cameras were used to record their lives. And yes, our online editor hated us.
So what are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?
We are premiering at the Paramount theater and I'm excited to experience the movie with such a large audience! I have never screened at that venue so I am looking forward to it.
After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next?
We hope to continue our festival run so stay tuned for updates to our schedule!
If you could show your movie in any theater outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?
My hometown Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, VA. It is a beautiful venue and I would love to share this film with my friends and family that have supported me so much through the years.
What would you say to someone who was talking or texting through a movie?
Why don't you make like a tree and get out of here.
We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business as a piece of advice?
Learn all the rules so you can know when to break them.
And finally, what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival?
I saw BEGINNERS and BLACK SWAN back to back at the Toronto Film Festival five years ago and my mind was blown twice in one day. I loved every second of it.
Be sure to follow updates on the film by following @TeamGleason on Twitter!
We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte
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originally posted: 03/04/16 11:52:16
last updated: 03/04/16 11:55:07