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SxSW ’10 Interview – "Crying With Laughter" director Justin Molotnikov

Crying With Laughter - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

“Crying with Laughter is a darkly comedic revenge thriller exploring the theme of memory. The story of two men who haven’t seen each other for 25 years, and who, on meeting up again, go and deal with an incident from their past that one cannot remember but that the other cannot forget.” Director Justin Molotnikov on the film “Crying With Laughter” which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film.

Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to be in Austin for the screenings?

This is my first film at SxSW and it is also my debut feature film. I have been to a few other festivals in the UK and Europe with the film, namely, Edinburgh and Rotterdam. I plan to be in Austin for all 3 screenings and to also do a panel discussion and am looking forward to it.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

Born and raised in rural Scotland I left school early to concentrate on mastering video games, 8-ball pool and poaching salmon. At sixteen years of age I entered the world of work, gaining valuable experience at an Abattoir where I worked as a gutter. A year later, and after being offered a promotion to become an apprentice killer, I decided it was time to move on to pursue opportunities that the wider world had to offer.

I ended up in London where I trained and worked as a Chef in a French restaurant before working at a number of other restaurants and hotels in Scotland, I also cooked for Rock bands on tour. At 22, and feeling just a tad burnt out, I started a creative writing course and also started to hire cheap video cameras to make little movies in my spare time, and at 26, I ended up in Film School in Sheffield where I graduated with an MA in Film and TV production.

I then made a number of award-winning short films before spending 10 years working as a Writer and Director in TV. Credits include “Shoebox Zoo”, a BBC/CBC family co-production that sold in 35 territories, “Taggart”, a prime time investigative Cop show for ITV, “My Parents are Aliens” which is an international kids comedy drama for ITV. My loose plan was to try and make a feature film before I was 40, and in 2008/9 at 39 years of age, I finally got the chance to do that, finishing the film 1 week before my 40th birthday.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!

From 5 years of age until about 12 I wanted to be a vet but then I discovered beer, cigarettes and girls.

How did this whole project come together?

Through group intelligence, in-depth collaboration and lots of risk and sweat. After working with Stephen McCole and Malcolm Shields (The two leads) in TV and short films I knew I wanted to work with them again and so, with Claire Mundell (my producer and business partner), we discussed story ideas and possible characters. She then went off and raised development funds so that we could take these ideas into Improvisation workshops to delve further into the story and from that came an in-depth story document/beat sheet. From that document, Claire then went off and found some co-producers and funding ($700,000) so that we could develop the project further, again using improvisation but this time with the rest of the cast on board also. This process led us to a first draft script, which we then took into an 18-day shoot.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?

Shooting a thriller in 18 days with a 1st draft script.

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 on HDCAM with the Sony 900, entirely on location using minimal lighting, natural light or single source lighting. We didn’t have much money or time for post-production so went for a bold look that we could create in camera and made the most of what a Scottish winter gave us each day. Toys to play with were pretty much non-existent, partly to do with cost but also because of time restraints, so I shot 90% of the movie hand-held and the rest on steady-cam. I made a virtue of this style as a large chunk of the film takes place in a comedy club and I wanted the audience to feel as if they part of the audience also. The DOP, Martin Radich, is somebody that I have known for a number of years but had never worked with before. He is a talented director in his own right but also a wonderfully creative DOP and like me, he wanted to push the boundaries of his own experiences as well as that of what could be achieved with the equipment. I couldn’t have chosen better.

Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? If this is your first screening premiere, what do you hope to expect at the screenings of the film?

From developing the whole project with cast through Improvisation workshops, raising money for production without a script, Sales Agent, distributor to shooting it in 18 days, entirely on location in the middle of a Scottish winter, has been a very enjoyable, creative, challenging and collaborative first feature experience. Festival screenings and reactions have been beyond what we had hoped for such a low budget film and the buzz created by them means we have now attained UK and US distribution deals and a ROW Sales agent. The most rewarding but initially challenging audience reaction I have to date is from people who have actually suffered abuse, coming up to me after screenings and being incredibly open with me about their experiences, while also thanking me for making the film and for portraying it in such a real way.

Who would you say is “the audience” for this film? Do you want to reach everyone possible or any particular type of filmgoer?

I am in no doubt that because we have chosen to challenge the audience with a lead character who is incredibly abusive from the off, to himself and people around him, and the fact that black comedy is deliberately mined from difficult subject matter, that we will inevitably polar an audience or lose a section of the mainstream audience At the same time we always felt that because of the thriller genre, the thought provoking humour and the setting of a comedy club we could tap into a sizeable cross-section of the cinema going public and that they would appreciate what were exploring and saying. I’m pleased to say we have been right to date, with a large section of festival audience really connecting with the film. Who they are exactly is hard to tell, but I would definitely say that this film would play well to university students, more liberal minded people, and fans of stand-up comedy and lovers of the thriller genre.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?

Undoubtedly Robert Altman’s approach, processes and body of work inspires me all the time. For this film I would say his Western, “McAbe and Mrs Miller” was something that I made the cast watch as part of the development and that I drew inspiration myself from. Beyond Altman, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows are two UK directors that I really admire.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I treat every project that I do as if it might be my last and don’t usually have any big game plan beyond the next gig I am developing.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?

I might just go back to the Abattoir and belatedly take them up on that offer of a 5 year apprenticeship as a killer.

Please tell me some filmmakers, actors or other talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, he is such a fantastic actor, and Barry Ackroyd because of his amazing cinematography in improvised situations.

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

Love or loathe them it’s all about awareness, and with it being so easy to promote via the internet these days or post what you want, more and more people are going to want to find info from a trusted source, so they are very important.

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

All of them.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?

What do you love the most about this business of making movies?

Seeing it all come together in front of the camera.

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Play to your weaknesses, you’ll learn a lot more.

And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

I don’t have one, I have many, from different periods in my life.

This is one of the many films screening at this year’s South By Southwest Film in Austin, Texas between March 12-20. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 03/10/10 04:48:46
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