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Annette Kellerman With LOVES HER GUN Director Geoff Marslett And Producer Lauren Modery!!

Hey guys!  Annette Kellerman here.  Before SXSW, I had the pleasure of sitting down to chat with Geoff Marslett and Lauren Modery, the director and producer (respectively) of the feature film LOVES HER GUN.  The duo also co-wrote the script, so they had a lot of insight to share.  I hope you enjoy the interview!
Annette Kellerman:  You both co-wrote the story.   Was there any specific inspiration for the film?

Geoff Marslett:  (pointing to Lauren Modery)  I'll let you start because you really had the first inspiration for the story.

Lauren Modery:  So, I was having a lot of anxiety due to some small things that happened to me.  A couple car break ins and a couple sketchy run ins with people- just everyday life in Austin.  There was also an incline in violent acts in Austin around that same time, so I had some anxiety about that.  Also, the neighborhood we live in is not that great.  And that was also around the time that we started a new relationship and I had anxiety just in this new thing- that was going great! (both laugh) Still is.  But it was new for me.  It was kind of hard to pinpoint, but it was a combination of those two things combined.  And so we came up with a story based on that.

GM:  Yeah, we came up with things that would make her feel safer, and different events that we knew had happened to people got pulled in as well.  But, yeah I think the core of it is she was having a lot of anxieties and how that made her feel.  So we started exploring those issues of being afraid and what would make an interesting story with that.  Neither of us are gun owners, but it's something people think about.  So we tried to look at the repercussions of that sort of thing, how this one woman feels, and how introducing a gun affects it.  Does it make her feel empowered?  What does it really solve?  A gun may help, but it never really gets rid of Allie's core feelings.
AK:  Are there any particular films or directors that you drew inspiration from?

GM:  Oddly enough, and I know that it sort of gets thrown around like a bad word a lot of times, but mumblecore stuff...I don't always like all that, and there's a repetitiveness to what gets represented sometimes that I'm not totally excited about.  But what I am totally excited about is these very natural performances you get from people doing a lot of the dialogue as improv in these real situations.  I had never seen anyone do that in a movie around an event happening as opposed to them just being there.  So that was one of things I think really inspired me- using that type of storytelling, but with very concrete events.  So we wrote a script that was essentially 45 pages- here's the scene, here's what the characters are going to do in the scene, here's where the camera is gonna go, here's how we're gonna segue into the next scene, BUT you guys are gonna have to come up with whatever words you want.
AK:  A good deal of the dialogue is improvised.  How much would you say is improvised versus scripted?

GM:  Of the events, very little.  There were many cases where we had to shoot out of order because of budget.  We're not a low budget, we're a micro budget.  I think we might be the lowest budget feature at South By this year.  We also had to shoot on such a tight schedule.  Where mumblecore might be, "Hey let's shoot in our apartment,"  we shot in 5 states, we shot in 27 locations, we tried to milk our nothing to try to give you something sort of epic.  But it also meant that we had to really very carefully plan our shoot out of order.  So most of what happened is what we actually wrote in the story.  The dialogue on the other hand, 95% of it is improv.  I would say 100%, but there were a few times when the cast felt stuck and I would have to do the thing I didn't want to do like (joking), "Why don't you just try saying this."   I tried to refrain from doing that unless we were really stuck.
AK:  As a director, how do you get the shot you need with improv?

GM:  You don't always get it.  Sometimes they just aren't giving me the lines we need to set up certain plot lines, and I would tell them, "I really just need you to say a couple of these lines because this is gonna come back later.  Can you work this line into your improv?"  But mostly I wanted the characters to feel like Lauren and I didn't just write 5 characters to talk to one another.  I wanted it to feel like everyone brought their own attitudes towards the guns, towards fear and those things and put that into those characters.  
AK:  Was that a total nightmare in editing?

GM:  It was because you'd have 5 takes- 5 different takes.  So Amy Bench, who was the cinematographer did an amazing job.  She has a background in directing as well, so it was very easy to work with her and say, I want you to cover this in such a way, I want you to do a floating master for me but I want a floating master that's a little different every time in case I need to cut around it.  If someone says something, I need you to go to them.  But don't whip over to them, drift over to them.  I really have to applaud her for her work because she made the edit, I won't say easy, but she made it possible.  
AK:  It seems like a majority was shot handheld.  Was this to achieve a particular visual style or because it was most practical?

GM:  Every single shot in the movie was handheld except for one sequence that is a tripod on a dolly on a street, so I almost feels handheld.  We did shoot a couple things on tripod, but mostly we shot handheld because that fit what we were doing.   Two times we had the opportunity to shoot with a tripod, and honestly, we had to cut those.  The aesthetic you create with the handheld becomes the world you're in, and it was so jarring.  We shot one of my favorite scenes from the movie and there were two reasons it got cut.  First, it was hilarious.  There are other moments in the movie where you chuckle, but it's not FUNNY funny.  This was FUNNY funny.  And it was on sticks, so it suddenly felt like a scene from another movie.
AK:  The handheld matches the meandering of Allie's current state.

GM:  Right, the movie is designed to be very subjective from her point of view.  Even what we did with the audio design, you are in Allie's space.  And we tried to do it more as things fall apart and she retreats into that space.  
AK:  Allie's character is complex which ultimately makes her somewhat unlikable.  Was this intentional?

GM:  It's funny, you asked in the very beginning what films inspired us, and some of the mumblecore style inspired it, but a movie that kind of inspired what I wanted to do- not from the specific story, but how the main character is relatable but not necessarily likable is TAXI DRIVER.  You understand how they get there.  Or a movie like FALLING DOWN.  You understand how they get there, but you don't condone it or even like this character anymore.  One of the things we were afraid of going into it was would Allie be so unlikable, so condemnable that we would lose a viewer?  So we did try to walk that line.  The idea was seducing you into relating to her and liking her, but by the end knowing you wouldn't go to the same place as Allie.
AK:  I don't want to spoil the ending, but did you ever consider going in another direction with the story?

GM:  Early on there were thoughts of going in a slightly different direction, but I'm billing it as a romantic tragedy.  The idea was to always go with a tragically flawed lead.  A lot of films where the lead characters get to be relatable, be heroes but flawed with major problems- dudes get those roles most of the time.  Women often get to play roles that are either totally bad ass or just good.  When do women get to play roles that are complicated or even bad?  And so, its another reason it was really nice collaborating with Lauren, and the DP is a woman, and our sound recordist.  It's not just for dudes, women can be these complicated characters too. On a kind of tangent, I just had an email exchange with a friend who said he was taken aback by how pro gun the film is.  (Laughs)  I was surprised that was their total read, that the gun empowered her when I see it a kind of a tragic ending.

LM:  We were thinking, now especially with recent events that have brought the whole gun control topic back to the surface, that the film could be viewed either way and that hopefully it will create a dialogue after viewing. 

GM:  The real hope is that the dialogue is a realistic one.  Hopefully people will watch this and see that Sarah is a responsible gun owner while maybe it shouldn't have been as easy for someone with Allie's issues to get one. 
AK:  Tell me about the decision to act in a film you're also directing.  Do you prefer one over the other?
GM:  Directing yourself is hard.  I don't 100% recommend it.  I'm worried about how I'm performing and how others are performing which makes how I'm performing suck.  A lot of directors get a bad rap when they act in their own film.  Sometimes they are decent actors, they're just preoccupied with what everyone else is doing.  Shooting on the road like I was- directing, acting, and producing- doing three things, it was tough.  Again, I'll give a shout out to our DP Amy Bench.  It was very good to sit with Amy before the shoot and just trust her to do a lot of things I couldn't do while we were shooting.  Which do I love better?  I love directing because I love telling a story.  I've only recently started doing more acting, though, knock on Formica (knocks on table) I've had some good experiences in the past year getting to act in some roles.  From a sheer return in enjoyment, acting beats the hell out of directing.  Directing is stressful, you work on the same thing for a year, everything is pinned on that.  The weird thing that happens with acting- I did one of the SXSW promos last year where I'm sitting talking about how much Austin has changed and my beard keeps growing every time they cut back to me.
AK:  I remember that one! That was you?!
GM:  (laughing) That was me.  I'd be at parties standing right next to the director, yet I got so many people congratulating ME on how great a promo it was.  I realized, oh my God, I worked for four, maybe three hours.  I basically came down, ad libbed some junk about Austin, shaved between segments then left.  I did nothing more.  Fast forward at shows and people tell you how great you are.  Man, I put in so little time, and I get the first thank yous.  And that's when I realized I should be acting more.  I don't want to short sell the actors.  They're really the entertainer in a way.  I don't know if I'm really up to carrying a larger arc, but as far as supporting roles...
LM:  I don't know about that.  I think you could do it.
GM:  She's very supportive.
LM:  You've had some decent sized roles in a couple of recent projects.
GM:  I really loved the shift into acting.  There is something very wonderful about contributing my part of their story and letting someone else stress over hammering that into something nice.  Its not so far from what I love about directing where you have a team of people helping me make something better than what I can make on my own.  Acting is the same thing from the other side where I contribute something to them and they make what I contribute better than what I really gave them and that's pretty awesome.
AK:  Did I see in the end credits that you used live rounds whenever possible?
GM:  We used live rounds in all but one scene.  In so many movies, the guy is holding the gun sideways or they throw the gun to someone.  That is so far from the real world.  A gun is this weird mechanical machine that, even taking the killing side out, is a complicated intimidating piece of hardware.  People's relationship to an actual firearm in real life is very different than in the movies.  I wanted you to see an actual physical shock to the body when the gun is fired.  There is a way that holding that thing is empowering and seductive but it is also scary and dangerous.  I wanted that to come through and I wanted that respect from everyone around the guns.  Our safety guy, Norm, was hardcore about keeping us safe.  He actually made wax bullets for the inside scenes, so in case someone got hit, it would be like a bad paint gun injury.  No one was ever down range, even when she was just loading.  But yeah, if you see bullets in the chamber, they're real.  I wanted that because I wanted the seriousness of the gun and respect to be given to it that sometimes isn't there when you pick up a prop gun with blanks.  I was actually most nervous filming the shower scene with all the lights so close.  I was far more afraid someone would get electrocuted than shot.
AK:  How important do you think it was to have Texas as the setting?
GM:  Pretty important.  It could've been somewhere else, and the same could be true for the beginning of the film in Brooklyn.  I didn't want to exaggerate guns in Texas life, but it is an interesting place even during the times that I hate it.  Texas has a set of special things about it.  It was its own country.  We grow up taking a year of Texas history in school.  There is a sense of pride and grandeur in what you can do.  A sense of the wild west and the south.  I took our editor, who is from Brooklyn, to his first party in Austin and someone whipped out a gun.  In this case it was just a BB gun, but he was still like,"Really?!"  By setting it in Texas, I could show people things that I'm so familiar with that might seem exotic to someone from France or Brooklyn.  Sometimes in Texas people do shoot guns out on property.   
AK:  Sometimes people shoot guns on movie sets.
GM:  (laughing) It's true.  This is just how Texas operates and it's full of normal people with guns, not a bunch of crazy inbred rednecks. 
AK:  The film features a band called The Karate Kids whose gimmick is wearing prosthetic arms and legs in the crane pose while they play.  Please tell me this is a real band.
GM:  This is a real band, and here is the exclusive scoop.  My next film is actually going to be a documentary on the band The Karate Kids.  I have a lot of archive footage that I've been going through.  Everyone keeps asking if there's more of the Karate Kids, and I'm just like, "Really?  Because that's just my band.  I mean, that is REALLY my band."  It's real, it's existed since 2008.  Me and a couple of my buddies always wanted to start a band in college and never did, then a decade later when we all ended up in Austin and we started a band and named it what we always wanted to name it in college, The Don Knotts Experience.  Then we found out the The Don Knotts Experience had been taken in the interim by a metal band in California.  So part of our shtick was dressing up in bad ass costumes and one of the guys wanted to be Ralph Macchio from the Karate Kid.  So we built this costume with PVC and latex that was so hilarious that before we even had our first gig, we decided we had to do a spin off band, The Karate Kids.  There's something beautiful for me because it's us, these middle age dudes who thought we could be rock stars by wearing these stupid costumes, but it is remarkably fun to watch, so we wrote it into the script.  I think we're going to do our first ever west coast tour and I'm gonna document it, so please come back and talk to me about that film.
AK:  (laughing) For sure!

GM:  I can't promise that it will be the greatest piece of film, but I can promise that it will be 62 minutes of something you've never seen before.
AK:  I guess that about says it all, but is there anything I've left out?

GM:  I feel like I should let Lauren talk some more because this is her first screenplay to get made.

LM:  No!  No, really it's okay.

GM:  What was your favorite experience working on this?

LM:  What was my favorite experience?  Well, now you put me on the spot!  Well, I had come from Los Angeles and had been a personal assistant, so I worked on a lot of productions but as an assistant to talent or the director or producer.  So it is really exciting to have something that is partially my own and get to watch it from day one until now and see where else it goes.
AK:  Very nice.  Well, thank you so much for your time and good luck at SXSW.


LOVES HER GUN will be screening on 3/11 at 1:45pm at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH, 3/12 at 11:15am at the Alamo Village, and 3/15 at 4:00pm at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH.

I'll be back soon with more coverage from this year's SXSW film festival.

- Rebecca Elliott
"Annette Kellerman"
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