SxSW 2015 Interview: FOR THE RECORD director Marc Greenberg
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/12/15 12:56:15
"Who sits closest to the President of the United States during the State of the Union Address? The Vice President? The Speaker? Take a look...it's the court stenographer. A job so relevant, so integrated into our every day lives, yet it flies so low under the radar. In our courtrooms and captioning our television shows, providing the written word for the hard of hearing community, it's a silent profession that speaks volumes about the importance of capturing the spoken word." Director Marc Greenberg on FOR THE RECORD which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you going to attend your screenings?
First time experience. I'll be attending the first two screenings along with a couple stars from the movie. We will also be captioning the first Q&A session after the movie on the big screen with a stenographer performing live on stage! I also plan on doing a lot of barbecue sampling while in Austin too!
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?
From the age of about nine, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Once I saw JAWS, thanks to a horrible parental decision by my father, I knew I wanted to write screenplays. I was one of those "If the writing is good enough, people will find it" writers for a long time. After several years of filling my file cabinet up with so-so scripts, I started working for a TV production company. We made HORRIBLE shows for cable TV. One day I would be setting up the tripod for the cameraman. The next day I'd be in the editing bay. The next I'd be portraying a "concerned onlooker" in a bad UFO reenactment. As much as I didn't appreciate it then, it really exposed me to a little of everything, which I used when making FOR THE RECORD. Of course I had to leave "Hollywood" for 20 years first. Once I left the TV job, I started working with my sister in the court reporting field, keeping screenwriting in the back of my mind the whole time. Finally, three years ago, after 17 years in court reporting, I felt the need to merge the things I knew, production and steno, and create a movie about a career that I feel flies way too low beneath the radar.
Interesing backstory! Now how did FOR THE RECORD come together with you directing?
I went into the experience without much experience in terms of directing. My basic philosophy was "Shoot the shit out of everything, then we'll figure out how to edit it later." But I could only do that because I already knew the foundation storylines I wanted to tell. That said, I was treating it like a narrative movie. Not a good plan when you're filming a documentary. You can't control the story...you have to roll with it. So there were some growing pains along the way, but I think it came together in the end. I knew I didn't have the funds to complete the movie by myself, so I spoke with several companies in the court reporting field, asking them if they would contribute. I was blown away by the generosity. Four companies ended up covering about half the movie budget through Kickstarter. I filled in the rest myself. In terms of production, I was lucky to meet a husband and wife team, Eric and Vanessa Mortinson, who traveled around with me and "shot the shit" out of everything we saw! Then I worked with editor Robert Haydon once we had the footage. That was an interesting process in the sense that I had to teach everyone involved about court reporting...how it works and what reporters do. It was a crash course for all involved.
What was your #1 challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?
I was delusional to think I could script a documentary. You can't script life. No matter how much you know a subject inside and out, things change or go off in another direction. So there were several times I just stood in the middle of nowhere...lost...thinking I was screwed. "How am I going to complete this thread?" The reality of those "loose threads" actually ended up working to our advantage. We had to look a lot deeper in the editing room. And it really forced me answer what seems to be an obvious question..."What's this movie about?" Because things didn't go as planned, I think we actually came up with a better movie.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be? The moment where you thought “I had something”?
It's funny that that moment actually isn't in the movie! When I first saw footage of a court stenographer sitting in front of the President, taking down his words, it hit me as to just how important this field is and how much history is behind it. Because of security purposes, I couldn't actually interview that stenographer. But it made that impression on me. And in the last few weeks I've actually opened that door to interview that stenographer, so I hope to add that to the completed film.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? How much caffeine?
For me, during this experience, it was a combination of nerves, fear of failure and 5-Hour Energy shots. My heart was racing for three years, terrified I would let down those around me. This was to be the first movie dealing with court reporting and I didn't want to screw it up. Now that I'm done, my heart rate has gone down; I feel like I haven't failed, but I'm still hooked on 5-Hour Energy.
For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography and how it was photographed.
Everything we did came down to budget. I basically just trusted my husband/wife camera crew to get good footage. Is it wrong to say I don't even know what kinds of cameras they used? I would just suggest things like, "Eric! Stand here and film it low. Vanessa, get in her face in case she cries." Probably not the typical director/crew relationship, but it worked.
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?
It will be great to show the movie to people outside my circle. Great and terrifying. And to have it at SXSW is just beyond what I can grasp. I'm told it's nuts, so I'm expecting nuts!
After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen?
We have been selected for a few more film festivals to be announced at the end of March, so that's where we're headed. In terms of distribution, I see something like PBS as a realistic venue.
Alamo Drafthouse and Paramount theaters in Austin aside, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
It may sound corny, but I'd show it at the Winnetka Drive-In Theater in Northridge, California. And that would really be a trick, since it's no longer there. But that's where I watched hundreds of movies. That place shaped my film world.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?
I'm not much for confrontation, but they'd get some serious stink eye. Then again, you only get one World Premiere, so I may go Rambo on them.
There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?
Pick a subject you love, and surround yourself with people you trust. It's very tempting to work with your friends, but keeping your friends employed really isn't the point. You want to make a good movie. Give your friends front-row seats at the premiere, but hire people who know what they're doing for the creation of the film.
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?
RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, to me, is perfection. The story barrels forward and takes you on a ride. It's beautifully shot. Perfectly acted. Funny. Charming. Exciting. I can't imagine a better movie experience than sitting in a theater, popcorn in my lap and watching RAIDERS...which I did 3 times in one day. And this was before I discovered 5-Hour Energy!
Be sure to follow FOR THE RECORD online at CourtReportingMovie.com and on the Facebook page!
We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our 35+ filmmaker interview series. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!
This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 13-21. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte