By Paul Risker.
Following the success at Raindance with his 2003 directorial feature debut Nate Dogg, filmmaker Thomas Farone has once again stepped behind the camera to direct his sophomore feature Aftermath (2013). More than a decade after his first dalliance with feature filmmaking he constructs a cause-and-effect narrative that’s infused with a spark of visual creativity and an inspired set of performances. Speaking with Farone one cannot help but be struck by his passion and respect for the filmmaking process. He reflected that “Films are completely interactive. You cry with them, they inspire and change your life or mindset, or they sit with you like a person.”
In conversation with Film International Farone looked back to his creative youth filled with discovery, while sharing his thoughts on the creative process and the mechanism behind his sophomore feature.
Why a career in filmmaking? Was there one inspirational or defining moment?
When I was really young I was into comic books and graphic novels – drawing and storyboarding them. But the stories in my head would be on page thirty-seven and I would be drawing page seven. So I said: I have to figure out a faster way to move these stories, and so I started messing around with some cameras. I just fell in love with shooting and then editing; I love the whole process. So at a very young age I realised this is something I’d like to do or maybe try to do. It’s always felt very natural to me.
Looking back on your youthful days can you recall any films in particular that stood out to you?
I thought The Godfather (1972) was perfectly put together, but that’s a tough question because I watch so many movies, and I enjoy them all for different reasons. I would say True Romance (1993) was a very good film, Fargo (1996), Tarantino’s stuff such as Pulp Fiction (1994), Road Warriors (1995) was fun, and The Shining (1980) was great. I enjoy a lot of them for different reasons. Which ones do you like?
Sam Fuller’s Park Row (1952) and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men (1957) are two of the finest American movies in my opinion, and from the first moment I saw Sergio Leone’s Once a Upon A Time in the West (1968), I fell head over heels in love with it. I absolutely adore that film and it seems to have been etched onto my mind. But as you say there are so many films that one could run off a long list. What I love about film that echoes what you were saying is the variety within the experience. Of course film is entertainment, but it can be emotional and intellectual, and it can create a collective rather than a one dimensional experience. I have the impression that this is something that you equally appreciate about cinema.
Oh, absolutely! You can feel so many emotions in a film. Even as a whole, the not so good films have some strong points or emotional parts that are worth talking about. And like you said, each film is different. Some can make you angry while others you love, and then there are those that change the way you previously thought about something or someone. But I agree with you; 12 Angry Men is a great film.
Picking up on your point about the different emotional responses, I sometimes think films are not that dissimilar to people. They can inspire love and equally provoke feelings of frustration. What you are saying is the idea that a film doesn’t need to be perfect from start to finish, because the joy of the film can be in its imperfections. But then why would films that are made by people who are imperfect, be perfect in themselves.
You’re a hundred percent right; films are like people. There are a few films that are perfect, and those are the ones that you can really sit back and appreciate; from the music to the visuals, the story and the edit…everything! But as you rightly put it, you still love the imperfect ones like people. You have to love them with there little marks and see the beauty that is there. It could be a great piece of acting or a character; breath taking shots or just a super story that wasn’t put together well, or the cinematographer didn’t get it right, and that’s what made you not love it.
The way in which ideas or stories take shape are divided between those writers who write through images, and those writers who perceive that stories are thought out through words. How does the process work for you? Does the idea emerge through images or expressions and words?
Ideas in terms of images at first; images that start to form the skeleton of a story. I love the process of taking a story to paper. Roughly drawing the story helps tremendously to visualise things you could never see from just writing, and that’s when the story starts talking, and then the writer writes in words. When the dialogue starts then it takes life.
A filmmaker once told me: “Writing is like composing and directing is like conducting the orchestra.” As a writer/director how do you perceive the way in which these processes inform one another?
Whoever told you about composing, I agree and it is very nicely put. I think being a writer, you get an idea and you write. For me, I obviously start thinking of the camera shots and the director starts coming out. But when you’re directing it’s different because you let the actors loose to change a word or line, whereas the writer side of me may not let that happen: read the lines the way they are written type of thing. But on the set you’re a director and you’re working with people, and that’s the process. So I don’t let the writer part of me come on the set a lot. But when you’re writing, thinking like a director shortens the writing process in a good way, because you feel like: oh, this is not going to work, or that’s not going to work.
If we take Aftermath as a case in point, you’ve written the film and you are then collaborating on set. So you don’t treat the script as a bible, rather you allow it to evolve through yourself and the actors to discover what it will become as opposed to saying what it is going to be?
Let it play! It is so important to let the film and the characters tell you when you’re wrong, and this is the way it should go. The film is always right and you always do what’s best for it. I think Hitchcock said that after he finished storyboarding the film to complete detail, then that’s when it was perfect. He loved his story the most at that point and it just got messed up from there. At first I thought that might have been true, but no, you let the talented actors bring what they need to bring. Chris Penn was a tremendous actor the way he would talk about character development. But to answer your question: yes, let the film talk to you – it’s always right.
While Aftermath is a visual film with its comic book and graphic novel aesthetic in moments, it is grounded with some notable performances, and watching the film I was struck by the meticulous casting choices.
I was adamant of getting some names and talented people involved. I started in New York City casting with Sylvia Caminer, sending out scripts to agencies…the typical stuff. We picked up great people like Jamie Harrold and Lily Rabe, both who are extremely talented. Michael Hall then came on with Tony Danza, and I talked to Chris on the phone. Tony Danza’s such a great guy…a professional and a super film actor who is very aware of continuity and gives you what you want. He can’t give you enough. Chris was working with another filmmaker, and he’s a great actor. He thinks like a filmmaker and you can do real damage with actors like that. He’s great in the film, and I’m a big fan of his work, and he was just tremendous to work with.
If film is an offshoot of literature then could graphic novels and comics be perceived as the bridge between literature and film?
One hundred percent, Paul…absolutely the bridge between the two. Graphic novels are where you can read these very poetic stories, and then get these amazing visuals to move these epic stories along…beautiful!
You tease us from the beginning of the film by showing us what the film’s narrative is building towards. There is of course a little bit more yet to be revealed, but it strikes me as an interesting experience for you as the writer-director and for your cast.
Completely, and I really appreciate your take on Aftermath. You’re right on point. I think this film is best told that way in which here is everything about the character: his life and where he is – it’s the best. It comes at you very fast so you don’t get bored watching it, and then boom: here’s where we’re going, although obviously a very different place at the end you could say. So let’s see how this character got there with a lot of twist and turns along the way to keep the audience guessing and have some fun. I think Aftermath does that, or I hope Aftermath does that.
Aftermath is an archetypal story told with simplicity that offers the comfort of familiarity. The visual aesthetic along with the approach to dialogue that are complimented by the performances speaks of a collaborative team using the language of cinema in their own way while not trying to do too much with it.
I hope Aftermath kind of takes a different approach. But yes, like you said, the filmmaker uses the language of cinema to tell a story, and you just need to be respectful of it. And yes, simple is good at times. It is just how the filmmaker tells that story.
I have such respect for cinema, but so many people don’t, and they make things about themselves. You don’t go too far just to be shocking or super cool. Just respect your craft. I’m sure you feel that way and the people you’ve talked to do as well. Some people just get it.
I’m the same. I respect writing from the point of view that I am at the service of the craft rather than it being there to serve me. It is refreshing to hear your level of passion coupled with respect.
Yes, that’s what it’s all about: passion, love and respect.
Paul Risker is a critic and writer for a number of on-line and print publications, including Little White Lies, Flickering Myth, Starburst Magazine, and VideoScope. He is currently based in the United Kingdom.