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SXSW '08 Interview: 'A Necessary Death' Director Daniel Stamm
by Erik Childress

The “A Necessary Death" Pitch: "Documentary Filmmaker looking for suicidal individual to follow from first preparations to final act." - Cut from 142 video tapes A NECESSARY DEATH sheds light on the tragedy following the infamous internet ad

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.

DANIEL: My roommate was a documentarian. He had the idea to make a film about a suicidal person. So I made a movie about a documentarian making a movie about a suicidal person. We shot 120 hours, so the writing was really done in the editing room. Just last night we put together the trailer for the SXSW website.

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.

DANIEL: It is my first trip to SXSW. I showed a very early work-in progress cut of the film during the (fantastic) SkenaUp festival in Kosovo. People were breaking down and crying, an American girl screamed at me "Your film is evil, you are a murderer, you shouldn't be allowed to make movies!" and the festival's organizer warned me not to go outside after the screening because "a mob" had gathered to deal with me. That is my festival experience so far. I am looking forward to Austin...

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?

DANIEL: A journalist. Which was a big fat lie because I wanted to write fiction. But that is nothing that would get a warm reception by German parents. So I needed a cover.

How did you get your real "start" in filmmaking?

DANIEL: I am still waiting for one.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it's on "the festival circuit?"

DANIEL: No. But everyone else does. After working on a no-budget feature for years and asking everyone for favors all the time they curiously pick you up less and less when you call. Lately I get picked up again...

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?

DANIEL: The Muppets always spooked me out as a kid. Except for Kermit. Probably because he was in Sesame Street.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?

DANIEL: We were a little incestuous group of people with similar sensitivities and humor. So in order to not get lost in things nobody but us appreciated I did think a lot about how an audience might view it all. We still got lost a lot. Maybe more than if I hadn't carried the ominous audience's verdict around with me.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?

DANIEL: That letting go and losing control can be as enjoyable in filmmaking as anywhere else.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?

DANIEL: In spite of the risk of scaring people away: Lars von Trier. Lifelong.

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell "This! I want something JUST like this …only different."?

DANIEL: I watched a movie after which I phoned our cinematographer and said: "You have to watch this - I can't explain to you any better what we have to avoid at all cost!".

The killer in the moronic thriller, Untraceable, begins a killing spree based upon the broadcasting of a suicide. What do you feel about the exploitive possibilities in the media in regards to personal tragedies, whether it be on a 24-hour news station or a documentary like The Bridge?

DANIEL: The answer to that question is exactly what "A Necessary Death" is about. So I can't tell you.

We're in a cinematic period nearly ten years after The Blair Witch Project where filmmakers are exploring the concept of film told through the medium of personal video cameras. In just three months we've seen Brian DePalma's Redacted, Matt Reeves' Cloverfield and George Romero's masterful Diary of the Dead. What do you see in the connection between the movies and the camera lens of real life? Is it just the inundation of personal media outlets like YouTube or does everyone just want to make movies?

DANIEL: The answer to that question is exactly what "A Necessary Death" is about. So I can't tell you.

How long would you have held onto that camera in Cloverfield?

DANIEL: I haven't seen Cloverfield, so I don't know. Probably until the tape would have run out and I again would have have forgotten to buy tape stock before starting a shooting day.

What actor would you cast as your favorite cartoon character?

DANIEL: Philip Seymour-Hoffman as Calvin. Just to see if he can pull it of. My acting teacher from film school as Hobbes. Out of spite.

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?

DANIEL: I would step aside and give the money to (David) Fincher to make the Fight Club sequel.

Name an actor in your film that's absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.

DANIEL: I am not just saying that: every single one of them. I can't believe my luck that I got to work with these people before they were big-time and out of pure selfishness I hope that they won't be too big-time too soon so that I can still get them for my own stuff...

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...

DANIEL: A journalist, mom.

Who's an actor you'd kill to work with?

DANIEL: Ellen Page, John Malkovich, Ryan Gosling.

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!"

DANIEL: Fincher would have to convince me to make the Fight Club sequel instead of him, and it would have to be as good as the first one. And I would have to have fathered a twenty-five-year-old's Andie MacDowell children. So my chances of making it are rather slim.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?

DANIEL: Let me answer that once I read the first reviews of "A Necessary Death".

What would mean more to you? A full-on rave from an anonymous junketeer or an average, but critically constructive review from a respected print or online journalist?

DANIEL: After the thing is done is not the time for critically constructive, so I am all for full-on rave.

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?

DANIEL: My last movie.

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?

DANIEL: Reshoot. :-)

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?

DANIEL: A director who feels it should be "a film by DIRECTOR" must have had a much less humbling experience than I did, so I congratulate him on that. On the other hand he must have had way less brilliant collaborators than I did. All the more I congratulate him on getting his film done regardless.

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?

DANIEL: A trillion other people have the chance to watch the same trillion other options. "A Necessary Death" is a pretty unique film that (sadly) far less people will have the chance to see. If you have the chance you better take it, dammit.


Daniel Stamm’s A Necessary Death will screen at the 2008 South By Southwest Film Festival. It's screening schedule will be announced on Friday, Feb. 15.

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originally posted: 02/13/08 03:24:47
last updated: 02/13/08 10:36:17
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