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SXSW '06 Interview: 'The Lost' Director Chris Sivertson

by Scott Weinberg

'The Lost' Pitch: It started on an unseasonably warm autumn day four years ago. Ray, Tim, and Jennifer were just three teenage friends hanging out in the campgrounds, drinking a little. But Tim and Jennifer didn't know what their friend Ray had in mind. And if they'd known, they wouldn't have thought he was serious. Then they saw what he did to the two girls at the neighboring campsite--and knew he was dead serious.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.

Is this your first trip to SXSW? Got any other film festival experience? If youíre a festival veteran, let us know your favorite and least-favorite parts of the ride.
This is my first trip to SXSW (and my first trip to Austin, which Iím very excited about, Iíve been wanting to visit the city for years.) This isnít my first festival, but Iím hardly a veteran. I love the excitement of festivals. I love the sense of potential discovery Ė discovery of new films and new friends. My least favorite part is the rampant competition and backstabbing that goes on between young filmmakers. Unfortunately, many young filmmakers take any type of success of a peer as a direct threat to themselves. This is a phenomenon Iíve seen a lot of since film school and thereís always varying degrees of it at all festivals, big and small. Itís lame.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be ďWhen I grow up I want to be a ÖĒ what?
...race car driver.

Not including your backyard and your Dadís Handycam, how did you get your real ďstartĒ in filmmaking?
My ďreal startĒ in filmmaking came at film school at USC.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know itís on ďthe festival circuit?Ē

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Animal. Itís been forever since Iíve seen the Muppets, but heís the dude who plays the drums, right?

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
Maybe during pre-production I would occasionally think about that stuff but during production I didnít have time to think about anything except for what was happening in front of me. Thatís why production is the best part of making a film. Itís nearly impossible not to be living in the moment while youíre shooting. Itís like being a kid.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.
I read the novel by Jack Ketchum and freaked out. I was raving about it so much to my friend, Lucky McKee, that he said ďwhy donít I option it and then you can make it.Ē Well, he did and I did.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
To realize that if something can go wrong, that it WILL go wrong. To be prepared for catastrophe at any moment. If youíre expecting problems, they wonít throw you off track, youíll just accept them and immediately figure out how to solve them.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition? Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell ďThis! I want something JUST like this Öonly different.Ē?
Wow, I could go on and on about this one. The first filmmaker I was conscious of as a kid was Alfred Hitchcock. His movies have continued to amaze and inspire me (and luckily for filmmakers, Francois Truffaut published one of the handiest film guides ever with HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT.) Then a bit later, slasher movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th really made me understand how cinema works. The POV shots of killers stalking people set off a light bulb in my head. Suddenly I got it Ė the camera was literally showing what the killer was seeing. Before that I just experienced movies as stories. Now I was becoming conscious of exactly how the camera was telling the story.

Then around age 13 I discovered Scorsese movies and the idea that I wanted to be a film director finally came to the forefront of my mind. Here was a guy who was using the tools of cinema to their utmost potential in order to tell deeply personal stories. After that thereís an explosion of films and filmmakers who have dramatically influenced me. These include (but are not limited to): Brian De Palma, David Lynch, Francis Ford Coppola, Tobe Hooper, Quentin Tarantino, Ingmar Bergman, Lucky McKee, Stanley Kubrick, Tim Hunter, Werner Herzog, John Waters, Shelli Merrill, Paul Schrader, John Carpenter, Sam Peckinpah, Walter Hill, Roger Corman, Truffaut, Lucio Fulci, Dario Argento, Clint Eastwood, Sergio Leone, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, George Romero, Abel Ferrara, Paul Verhoeven, Takashi Miike, David CronenbergÖI could keep going on forever, Iím sure Iíve forgotten key influences, oh wellÖ

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
Ed OíNeill. To me it seems that Homer was really inspired by Al Bundy, so OíNeill seems the perfect choice.

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?
Well, hopefully I would adapt a book I like. Iíd rather not say which ones because I donít currently have the rights. The idea of remaking a film makes me want to go to sleep. The idea of making a sequel is slightly less boring.

Name an actor in your film thatís absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
The Lost is chock full of amazing talent, but letís look at our lead. His nameís Marc Senter. Youíll be hearing it a lot. I canít think of any actor his age who is better.

Finish this sentence: If I werenít a filmmaker, Iíd almost definitely be...
...a musician.

Whoís an actor youíd kill a small dog to work with? (Donít worry; nobody would know.)
Air Bud.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
I donít know. Ask me again a few months from now and Iíll probably have an answer.

Youíre told that your next movie must have one ďproduct placementĒ on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?

Youíre contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene thatís absolutely integral to the film or youíre getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?
Just cut the scene and release an unrated version later on. I donít have any sympathy for filmmakers who make a film under certain terms and then complain about those terms later on. If you want to make an unrated film, donít sign a contract that obligates you to turn in an R-rated film. The alternative is to do what the studios seem to do: leave the scene in and pay off the MPAA to give you an R-rating.

Whatís your take on the whole ďa film by DIRECTORĒ issue? Do you feel itís tacky, because hundreds (or at least dozens) of people collaborate to make a film Ė or do you think itís cool, because ultimately the director is the final word on pretty much everything?
I understand why people do it Ė it pays off to make a name for yourself. I donít personally take that credit but thatís probably because Iím not very bright.

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?
Watch my movie and youíll get laid. I promise.


The Lost, starring Marc Senter, Shay Astar, Alex Frost, Michael Bowen, Ed Lauter, and Dee Wallace-Stone, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for festival information, and be sure to check out the official The Lost website.

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originally posted: 02/16/06 23:02:42
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