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Victoria Film Festival Interview - "Love Simple" director Mark von Sternberg

Love Simple - Screening at Victoria Film Festival
by Jason Whyte

“LOVE SIMPLE is romantic comedy which deals with the hardest part of love: sickness and mortality. It’s a romance with real heart. But don’t let the heavy stuff fool you – it’s still a very funny film.” Director Mark von Sternberg on the film “Love Simple” which screens at this year’s Victoria Film Festival.

Is this your first film at the Victoria Film Festival? Tell me about your festival experience, and if you plan to attend Victoria for the film’s screenings.

Yes, this is my first film. Unfortunately, I can not make it out to this year’s fest, but I have heard wonderful things about it and am so excited that our film is a part of it.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background, and what led you to the industry.

My background is in theatre, as a playwright. Theatre is a wonderful medium which I love, however, one drawback is you can be constrained from a storytelling perspective and the performances are a very limited, shared experience with the audience. Now, those can be wonderful things and I’ve been part of magic in the theatre but I wanted to make something which had potential for living beyond a single performance or limited run and was more tightly controlled in terms of vision. This was my first film.

So how did this whole project come together?

I wrote the script originally as a play. I showed it to some friends for the usual feedback and they all said, “You know, this would work really well as film.” And then they noted it could be done for relatively cheap. I had been hungering to do a film for a couple of years now, so I started raising some money from friends and family and casting actor friends of mine for the parts - one such friend was Francisco Solorzano who I cast as the lead, Adam. Frank’s theatre company had been working closely with Israel Horovitz for a couple of years, so he suggested that Israel might be interested in playing the role of Adam’s father, James.

It was a really big deal for us getting Israel involved. Often when you are making a no-budget film, people assume that it’s this hackneyed endeavour likely shot on a home video camera. Israel gave us a lot of much needed gravitas. Also, he totally committed to the project, really sinking into his character as well as helping me develop stuff outside his role. It was a pleasure.

We shot in late 2007 and finished a around late 2008. I have to give a shout-out to our editor, Dave Buchwald; our soundman (for both production and post), Wade Vantrease; and our composer, Danny Mordujovich. These guys really helped bring the film home.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

We shot it on the Panasonic HVX-200 (high-def digital) with 35mm glass. It was important to have the lenses for depth of field. For a character-driven story, to have everything flat like the news just wouldn’t work.

Our cinematographer, Lance Kaplan, was terrific. We really put the focus on having lots of Brooklyn locale and flavour; historical brownstones, while at the same time trying to keep things gritty. As this is a romantic comedy, we didn’t want it like you always see in a studio rom-com…lush and manicured. This story is a little more grounded, so we wanted things to look a tad dysfunctional.

Out of the entire production, what was the most difficult aspect of making this film? Also, what was the most pleasurable moment?

The hardest part was also the most pleasurable: the shoot. We had fourteen days to shoot an entire feature. And it was absolutely exhausting, maddening, but also a complete blast. I cannot say enough positive things about our cast and crew. Really, I cannot imagine a higher level of professionalism and enthusiasm.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

I like Woody Allen films for their enamouring of New York City and there is some of that love affair with New York in “Love Simple”, I like to think. Beyond that though, there really isn’t a single film and filmmaker who has “inspired” me. I have a lot of filmmakers and actors who I admire, but I try to just admire them for what they do – what I mean is I don’t want to get to caught up in trying to be them. I want (to develop) my own style.

How has the film been received at other festivals or screenings? Do you have any interesting stories about how this film has screened before? What do you think you will expect at the film’s screenings at Victoria?

Our responses have been amazing. Audiences have been right there with the film, totally engaged; and at the talkbacks, there has been a gushing of enthusiasm and positive feedback. Our strong review in Variety helped a lot in people hearing about the film too. One thing that did surprise me to a degree is the film deals a bit with Lupus – I’ve been approached after screenings by people who have this disease, either through having family afflicted by it or having it themselves, and say how much they love the film and how much they appreciate the exposure it gives this not very well-known illness. That has been really humbling.

For Victoria, honestly, I’m just hoping for more of the same, especially for an audience which might not otherwise have a chance to see the film.

If you weren’t making movies, what other line or work do you feel you’d be in?

I guess I would be doing theatre although I consider them closely related cousins in the same story-telling medium. I can’t imagine anything else. I plan to do this until the day I die.

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

This is the most important thing to an independent film like LOVE SIMPLE. We don’t have a marketing budget, studio backing for guaranteed release or big stars. So critics and festival audiences responding to the film is the only thing we really have going for us to get the word out. Also, let’s face it, there are so many indie films out there – you need that critical element to help filter what’s worth seeing.

Now to be fair, we’ve been fortunate to get strong critical feedback on LOVE SIMPLE so far, so I guess it’s easy to say this. Ask me again when my next film is panned and we’ll see how I feel about media response.

If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?

I would love to screen the film in an outdoor venue. I’ve been to outdoor screenings and they can be amazing venues to watch films. We get so conditioned to the ambiance of movie theatres, i.e. smell of popcorn, soda, etc – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but when you take things outside – if done right, it can really bring something different, almost magical.

If you could offer a nickel’s worth of free advice to someone who wanted to make movies, what nuggets of wisdom would you offer?

Get the script right before you even think about shooting a frame.

What do you love the most about film and the filmmaking business?

The work. It’s hard, can be gruelling and frustrating, but nothing is more satisfying that telling a wonderful story that captivates an audience – when it truly works, you are in a state of bliss. And really, I think that’s what keeps people coming back for more because from a business venture perspective, making independent movies is... well, to put it nicely, a tough financial venture. So yeah, it’s the work.

What is your favourite film of all time?

This is tough because I have so many, but I would have to say Sidney Lumet’s “The Verdict” with Paul Newman. It’s just a great, bold story of redemption told in a very nuanced manner. And Paul Newman is amazing in that film.

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 01/29/10 20:18:30
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