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CineVegas '05 Interview ('Radiant' Director Steve Mahone)

by Erik Childress

"When I was first writing and directing it, I think I thought it was about living with AIDS, and the theory of relativity, and fear of otherness," says Radiant director Steve Mahone. "But while editing it, I realized it was about loneliness."

The virus in the movie, as opposed to most films, is actually developed for the purposes of good instead of warfare or just blind irresponsibility. What are you trying to say with the film or were just out to tell a group-on-the-run thriller?

STEVE: I am not a scientist. The virus in the film stands, metaphorically, for several ideas that are interesting to me. One is the risk and cost of scientific progress. Another, I guess, is fear itself. In the abstract. How fear affects our life experience, our relationships, and the processes of our mind and body. Other than that, it's the device that telescopes our characters' lives into the tight timeline of the screen story.

When you were 14 years old, if someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up, what would your answer have been?

STEVE: An oceanographer, or a writer of some sort. Interest in the mechanics of filmmaking came later.

How did you get started in filmmaking?

STEVE: Peter Weir's film THE LAST WAVE was the first film I saw where I understood what the director had done, and why. And I wanted to do that. So my best friend and I began making little films and videos in high school.

How did you get your film started? How did you go from script to finished product?

STEVE: Radiant is my first feature film to write and direct. And like so many 'firsts' in life, it was a long time coming. My friend and collaborator James Cable (who acts in and produced the film) and I were doing a really satisfying theater production of THE ELEPHANT MAN, and we were sitting around with the whole cast in a basement in a small Texas town, and Jim said to me, "You know, if you could put together the right script, I bet we could make a film with this same feeling and energy." And that hit me just right, so I set about trying to put together the right script. I fully scripted the film in the traditional way, initially, but when I began to understand the production realities we would face out in the desert, I pretty much threw that out. What we shot with was a sort of skeleton story, and the dialog and a lot of the specific action was worked out at the locations.

When you were in pre-production, did you find yourself watching other great movies in preparation? There seems to be a bit of Capricorn One in it.

STEVE: I watched a bunch of films, but not for content. More for storytelling style, content delivery, and visual ideas. BREAKING THE WAVES, THE THIN RED LINE, LA JETEE (telling a whole science fantasy with narration) were all discussed a lot. I'm sure there were a lot of others, but I can't remember what they were.

You use a lot of narration in the film. Why did you decide to go with that instead of giving the dialogue over to conversations or finding a way to visualize what the narrator was rhapsodizing over?

STEVE: Two reasons, one artistic, the other pragmatic. The artistic reason was that the film is more about the inner life of a man. This is a man who finds communication strange and difficult, and I wanted the small amounts of dialog to feel alien and difficult and imprecise. The pragmatic reason was that we were shooting out in the open, exposed to the elements, and I felt like clean tracks would be so hard to get that they would become the main focus of the shoot. And I didn't want that.

Name the three directors working today that you most admire.

STEVE: That's really hard. I'm very conflicted about most directors. Terrence Malick for sure, Paul Greengrass and Tom Tykwer.

How have things changed for you since your film started playing on the festival circuit? If this is your first acceptance into a film festival, describe what that's like and your thoughts about CineVegas. What are you looking forward to most during your CineVegas experience?

STEVE: This is our first acceptance, and we were invited because of a work-in-progress version that the Director of Programming had seen at another festival. The film wasn't finished when we accepted the invitation. I'm pretty anxious about CineVegas, actually. It seems like a great festival, but our film seems very quiet to me in comparison with the daily life of the Strip, and I can only hope that works in its favor. What I am most looking forward to is seeing the film on the big screen with an audience of strangers. I expect that experience to teach me a lot.

Have you been turned down by other festivals? If so, which ones?

STEVE: Sundance was where the CineVegas Director of Programming, Trevor Groth, saw our film. But we were turned down there.

Have you seen any independent films recently on the festival circuit, in theaters or on video that influenced you? Or anything that you would just like to give a shout-out to that audiences should be seeing (or given a chance to see?)

STEVE: A film called WEDNESDAY, directed by Justin Hilliard, looks really great. And that will be hitting the festivals this winter. So look for that.

Whats the one glaring lesson you learned while making this film?

STEVE: I took post-production for granted, because of desk-top editing systems. Then we spent three years in post, editing, reframing, color and texture altering, and creating the sound design.

If a studio said we love this, we love you, you can remake anything in our back catalogue for $40m what film, if any, would you want to remake?

STEVE: DUNE. Hands down.

Two parter name an actor you'd KILL to work with, and then name an actor in your own film that you really think is destined for great things.

STEVE: First, let me be politic here. I think ALL of the RADIANT actors are destined for great things. And Jim Caveziel I guess. Or Christopher Eccleston.

At what point will you be able to say, "Yes! I've made it!"

STEVE: When I'm directing DUNE MESSIAH (the second DUNE book). Don't hold your breath.

A film is made by many people, including the director (of course), but you'll often see movies that open with a credit that says a film by Did you use that credit in your film? If so, defend yourself! If not, what do you think of those who do?

STEVE: No, I don't believe in that credit, for obvious reasons. But I think most of the people who take that credit just enjoy it as a perk of the director's position. They know who made the film.

Finally, you make reference to the Fantastic Four in your film. If you had a meeting with executives at Fox, what would you say to them over their choices of director for it as well as the recent announcement that Brett Ratner has been hired to helm X-Men 3?

STEVE: I'm a big believer in comics. I look at SIN CITY as the only real comic book film in existence. People have found a lot to love in the tsunami of comic book adaptations recently, but most of them are of no interest to me whatsoever. When Frank Miller is hired to direct ELEKTRA LIVES AGAIN, that will have my full attention.

--

Radiant (written and directed by Steve Mahone) - starring James Cable, Jim Covault, Sandy Fish, Jeremy Schwartz, Matthew Tompkins, Bobby Urutia and Laurel Whittsett will have its premiere at the 2005 CineVegas Film Festival on Monday, June 13 at 1:30 PM and screen again on Wednesday, June 15 at 2:00 PM.

You may contact Steve Mahone directly at silomedian@hotmail.com.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=1511
originally posted: 06/09/05 01:06:14
last updated: 06/09/05 01:08:06
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