In anticipation of the Annapolis Pretention Film Society’s last screening of the season, The Sound chatted with What’s Up Lovely director Gary King, the man touted by some film critics as the next Stanley Kubrick.
SEM: How did you get into film?
GK: I started seven years ago. I actually didn’t go to film school. I went to college and studied psychology and then worked in corporate America in human resources –doing the daily grind working for The Man. When I first started my job I had to lay off over 2000 people. Since my job was in jeopardy, I started to think about what I was really passionate about.
As a child I was really fascinated by the behind the scenes aspect of movies, but I had no idea it was something that I could actually do. So I said I’m going to make some short films and see if I like it and if I’m any good at it.
I quit my other job four years ago and I have no regrets. It’s been a total adventure. Since moving to New York I’ve met some of the most amazing people and had so much support. It’s helped me network with people across the world.
I have made three feature films. The first one was New York Lately, the second is What’s Up Lovely and my latest one is called How Do You Write a Joe Schermann Song which is a musical. They are very low budget films that I’ve made with my money and money from friends and family. I’ve also been hired twice to direct for other people.
SEM: Would you like to continue to direct and produce your own work or are you more interested in directing for others?
GK: It’s a mix of both. My favorite director is Steven Soderbergh, so I want to do that kind of “one for me and one for them” that he does. I love to direct other people’s work. It’s a challenge, and it helps me collaborate with other people and tell stories that aren’t’ my own. I would actually love to be a TV or studio director, something on that large of a scale.
SEM: Where did the idea behind What’s Up Lovely come from?
GK: New York Lately was such a large ensemble piece with about 7 characters interweaving through story lines. It was a larger scope, so after that I wanted to scale down and work with one character. One of the actors I really gelled with was Jenn Dees so I started talking to her about doing this one, and she was totally down for it.
We wrote eight pages of loose storyline, and then went out and shot the hell out of it. We actually didn’t shoot with a story in mind. We created the story during the editing. We shot for about three weeks and edited for six months. Every time we made a new story she had to record a new voiceover because the movie is very dependent on music and voiceover. We took a lot of risks; there was nothing conventional about it.
SEM: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during filming? Specifically how do you give structure to an intentionally fractured narrative?
GK: As we were filming we weren’t even sure we had one whole story. We had all these different stories, but we weren’t sure we had a spine. In editing we just started shaping it. It was a shot in the dark. The original story was that she lost her job and about her money problems, but as we were shooting it, that kind of just fell away.
We also weren’t sure if the character was likeable, and the audience has to like the character or they are just going to check out right away. We didn’t intentionally make any scenes to placate the audience or manipulate them to like her so I was curious how they were going to take it.
This film was the best experience. Our crew was just three people shooting and Jenn. Jenn had a day job, so we would meet at six pm and shoot until midnight or one am. She actually became the insomniac which lent authenticity to the character.
It was so fun because there was no pressure. We didn’t have a rigid schedule though so it was challenging. We would just discuss the scene the night before and then go out and shoot it. The musical I did was totally scripted, but I’m interested in doing another improv. It just has to be the right one.
SEM: There have been reviews comparing your work in this film to legends like Stanley Kubrick and Terry Gilliam. Have they at all been an influence on your career and style or is this comparison just a happy accident?
GK: It’s funny because I’m not actually a big fan of terry Gilliam. Visually, I love looking at his stuff, but I just can’t connect to his films. I do love Kubrick. Eyes Wide Shut was actually a huge influence for this film. I was blown away by the comparison. Those are some big names!
SEM: The film is about one character’s loneliness and isolation, yet it is set in New York City, one of the busiest and most populated cities in the world. It creates a very fascinating paradox. Can you speak to that?
GK: What was cool was I’d lived in New York for at least three years so I knew the areas that die out at night. We shot from six pm to one am and so those areas are really dead. New York City is the city that never sleeps, but we knew where the streets were totally empty. Like if there were two people walking down the sidewalk, I had to wait til they left to start shooting because I wanted it to look empty. I intentionally made sure the frame would be pretty empty if I could.
SEM: This is “part one in a loneliness trilogy.” Are you moving forward for parts two and three right away or just sitting on it for a while?
GK: A little of both. I didn’t come up with the trilogy idea until the very end. I was looking for what would be a good marketing hook. If the audience knew it was part of a trilogy, they might think it would make more sense.
Part two will follow a guy around instead of a girl. We’re not planning to shoot until at least late next year though. Part three will be with Jenn Dees again but she won’t be playing the same character and it will be set in the south. It still deals with the isolation and loneliness.
SEM: What are some challenges you believe face this generation of filmmakers and what advice would you give them?
GK: The biggest challenge is that there are so many more films getting made now days. It was harder before because you had to get your hands on a film camera. It’s tougher because technology has made it so that everyone can make something. There’s a lot of…clutter. There is so much you have to sift through to find those one or two who you want to watch for the rest of their career.
There is a lot more competition, and it’s harder to get yourself noticed. I’m big on Twtter and Facebook for marketing. I am so grateful to the Annapolis Pretentious Film Society because they found me. I had a great connection with the audience last time I was here and I’m excited to come back. It makes you realize you can’t let these people down.
My advice is to shoot the film you want to shoot and don’t try to guess what the audience wants. They will find you. Also don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t be afraid to show off your work. You never know until you try. My first film was terrible but it helped me learn to tell a story visually better and work better with actors.
I am really looking forward to screening on Sunday. Jenn Dees is coming down and we can’t wait to show it off!
The Annapolis Pretentious Film Society’s last screening this year, What’s Up Lovely, is this Sunday October 10th at Rams Head On Stage in Downtown Annapolis at 12 p.m. Director Gary King and lead actress Jenn Dees will be in attendance and field questions following the show. Tickets are $8 in advance (purchase here) or $10 at the door.