SXSW '07 Interview: "Arranged" Directors Stefan Schaefer & Diane Crespo
By Scott Weinberg
Posted 02/20/07 07:37:21
The "Arranged" Pitch: Two young women - one an Orthodox Jew, the other Muslim - meet and become friends as first-year teachers at a public school in Brooklyn. Over the course of the year they learn they share much in common, not least of which is that they are both going through arranged marriages.
Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Stefan Schaefer: An unlikely friendship develops between two young women – one an Orthodox Jew, the other Muslim.
Diane Crespo: A friendship between two women which crosses cultural and religious boundaries.
Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
SS: First time at SxSW. Have been to others with other films – Hamptons, Berlin, Method Fest, etc. The bad: At times festivals remind me of 7th grade dance parties. I was a pudgy, awkward 7th grader with still-dormant dance skills. The good: It’s very fulfilling to watch your film in a full theater and glance over to see someone crying, laughing, or totally engrossed.
DC: I'm a first timer.
Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be “When I grow up I want to be a …” what?
DC: A back specialist-. My grandmother had a bad back I wanted to help.
Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
SS: Acted all my life, studied theater in college for several years, then stopped and was en route to a Ph.D. in political theory. Pulled the handbrake on that and worked at a film company for cheap.
DC: Worked as a PA on a Chuck Norris film.
Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
SS: Happy the youngin’ is leaving home. Hoping someone will adopt and love her. Looking forward to birthing another in the next nine months or so.
DC: No, we know it's a good film, one of those situations when every thing came together.
Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
SS: Never watched the Muppets. Grew up in England with no TV in the house until age 12. And by then the Muppets weren’t of interest.
DC: I have no idea.
During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
SS: No. Felt we had made good casting choices and that the film would have some sort of life. During production was focused on getting the performances we needed and doing the diplomatic tango with cast and crew to keep everyone as happy as possible under challenging circumstances (17 shooting days, 110 degree heat, low pay, etc.).
DC: No, I think we were really into making what we were making. We had to be; we were shooting a feature in 17 days.
How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
SS: Quickest development-to-shooting process ever for me. Met Yuta Silverman, the woman who gave me the kernel of the idea, on Dec. 1st, 2005. Wrote the screenplay, cast and went into production in late July. Mastered to HD on Feb. 16th, 2007 and now trying to get everything ready for SxSW. I’d like to make a narrative feature every 1.5 years. This is better than that average, which gives me hope for all the stalled and languishing-in-development projects along my career path.
DC: Quickest development-to-shooting process ever for me. Met Yuta Silverman, the woman who gave me the kernel of the idea, on Dec. 1st, 2005. Wrote the screenplay, cast and went into production in late July. Mastered to HD on Feb. 16th, 2007 and now trying to get everything ready for SXSW.
If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
SS: It’s about the script and good casting. A good script gets you good casting directors who present you with good options. That and don’t let lack of money keep you from making it happen. Set a production date, marshal the troops, raise whatever cash you can, and start rolling.
DC: Do it with joy.Don't overcomplicate the process.
What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?
SS: John Sayles. Almodovar. Inarritu. Fellini. Wong Kar Wei…
DC: Woody Allen, Sam Mendes, Todd Field -- to name a few.
Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
SS: We looked at several. Annie Hall helped us economize on shot selection. The walk-and-talk scenes. This was my co-director, Diane Crespo’s, great ideas.
DC: We looked at several. Annie Hall helped us economize on shot selection. Also watched American Beauty.
What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
SS: Paul Giamatti.
DC: Paul Giamatti.
Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What projects would you tackle?
SS: I’d like to do one of the projects I’ve been thinking about and developing for years. I’d do a remake/adaptation for the experience, but I’d rather do something original. Watched Hawaii (1964) last night. My wife grew up on Oahu and we visit Maui every year. I’d like to do a film about Hawaii.
DC: I would look towards playwrights of the 40's and 50's and see what gems I find to adapt for the screen.
Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
SS: Zoe Lister-Jones. Best actor I’ve ever worked with. Confident, smart, fun to work with.
DC: Zoe Lister-Jones. Best actor I've ever worked with. Confident, smart, fun to work with.
Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
SS: An actor. Or an unhappy academic.
DC: A chef.
Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
SS: Shirley MacLaine. I’m writing a script she’s attached to now and I’d love to see it go into production.
DC: So many. If I had to choose one, Jessica Lange.
Have you “made it” yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say “Yes, wow. I have totally made it!”
SS: Make enough from a film to be able to purchase a new Toyota Prius. With some nice rims. Perhaps hydraulics.
Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
SS: Seems a film with a large enough budget and the right cast can make it despite bad reviews. Of course the “little” films need all the love they can get. For this film, very important.
DC: Audiences are more important than critics. I don't think reviews bring people into the theater and we see everyday how bad reviews don't stop bad films from being seen by huge numbers of people.
You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
SS: A bicycle. Could be any bike company. I’d like to have bikes in my next film.
DC: Some eco-friendly device.
You’re contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that’s absolutely integral to the film or you’re getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
SS: There’s always a solution that can work. I argue my case, stomp and bitch, but make the cut and come up with something else.
DC: Can't imagine an explicit sex scene would make or break a film. I would make the cut.
What’s your take on the whole “a film by DIRECTOR” issue? Do you feel it’s tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film – or do you think it’s cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
SS: I co-directed this film with my longtime business partner and dear friend Diane Crespo. We’re not taking the “film by” credit. Never came up in discussions, as so many worked so hard and for so little on this one. As someone who writes also – for myself and other directors / producers – the “film by” credit seems a little egomaniacal. But again, I’d rather make the films than get my panties all in a bunch over credits.
DC: Film is a collaborative medium, period.
In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?
SS: It’s a feel-good film that’s very topical but doesn’t mallet you over the head with a message. It’s a chick-flick that men seem to like too. It’s going to be the break-out film for Zoe Lister-Jones, who we like to call the Meryl Streep of her generation. Our other lead, Francis Benhamou, is also an amazing talent.
DC: It's a feel-good film that's very topical but doesn't mallet you over the head with a message. It's a chick-flick that men seem to like too. It"s going to be the break-out film for Zoe Lister-Jones, who we like to call the Meryl Streep of her generation. Our other lead, Francis Benhamou, is also an amazing talent.
Arranged will have its world premiere at the 2007 South by Southwest Film Festival. And check out BSide.com for even more info!