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SXSW '06 Interview: 'Forgiving the Franklins' Director Jay Floyd

by Scott Weinberg

The 'Forgiving the Franklins' Pitch: A God fearing Southern family is spiritually altered by an auto accident, having their deeply rooted shame divinely removed. Who they become puts them at odds with the highly conservative values of their community.

Describe your movie using the smallest number of words possible.
Outrageous, kinky and thought-provoking.

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.
I've never been to SXSW before, but I'm looking forward to it enormously. I keep hearing that it's an incredibly fun festival, and I can't wait to experience a bit of Austin, TX -- supposed to be a great town.

We premiered FTF at Sundance this year and it was a phenomenal experience. The audience responded to the film even better than I'd hoped. My favorite part of the festival experience is watching the audience watch my film -- I mean, I made it for THEM. The only thing about the festival experience that I don't enjoy is dealing with ticketing -- making sure everyone who needs to get in, does. It's just tedious and math-like -- and I do hate math, deeply.

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?
Whatever the child's version of the word 'Filmmaker' is. I'm one of those people who was blessed / cursed with knowing exactly what I wanted to do with my life from a very young age. I started making little Super 8 films around the age of 13. I say blessed, because having a direction in life is comforting. I say cursed, because when you know what you really want to do, anything else can be a bit unsatisfying.

Not including your backyard and your Dad’s Handycam, how did you get your real “start” in filmmaking?
I started crewing on films in the late 80's in New York on the Robert Wise film Rooftops. After moving to LA, I crewed in various positions on various productions, but found that I didn't want to focus on any of the departments on set as a career. I kind of gave myself my 'start' in filmmaking by creating production related business (Now Clear This) which eventually made enough money for me to finance the creation of FTF.

Do you feel any differently about your film now that you know it’s on “the festival circuit?”
The only way I feel differently about the film is in regard to its possibilities. People are seeing it around the country. See, when you're making a brass tacks indie like this film, you don't know if ANYONE will ever see it. Being invited into the festival world makes sure that happens -- and I think that's the goal with any film. It's not a diary that you want to keep to yourself -- it's a movie for Christ's sake. It needs an audience. And festival audiences seem to have something in common with me -- they want something new and interesting in filmmaking. They're great audiences for this particular story.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?
Some days Animal, some days Beaker.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?
I really was 'in the moment' throughout the process. As the entire crew was made up of me and an acquaintance who'd never worked on a movie before, I had an unbelievable workload, so there was little room for dreaming ahead. The whole point was to make a film that I'd want to see, a film that Hollywood would never make. That was my constant focus during production.

I hadn't considered reviews and they're quite something to read. We've received fantastic notices from Cinematical and Foster On Film, and reading them was a satisfying delight. There was this sense of 'they get me!!!', which is nice when you go as far out on a limb as I have with this project. Then we got absolutely trashed in a Hollywood rag, which, after a day of shaking my head, I realized was as predictable as snow in the Sierras. Of course the Hollywood mainstream would bash this film -- it violates everything they hold dear. It's not a cookie cutter genre film, it doesn't value style over story, and the subject matter has never been dealt with in a film before. Hollywood can't afford to embrace this kind of vigilante filmmaking any more than I could afford the cranes and dollies to make my film look like a studio film.

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 started this script about ten years ago, but found that it wasn't coming together. Now I know that I wasn't mature enough to handle the subject matter at that time. Once I sat down to rewrite it from this point in my life, it came quite naturally and without a struggle. My business had a really good year in 2004, so I had the resources to either buy a house or make a film. I chose the latter, for reasons that seem obvious to me.

The production schedule was originally something like 14 shooting days. We ended up shooting around 20 days, including half days and pick ups. We had to re-shoot one scene at the end, because I totally botched the lighting the first time.

Shooting days were a BLAST, but not without their unusual challenges. Because of my work schedule and the difficulty of coordinating the actors, we had NO rehearsal -- something I doubt I'll ever do again. We'd get on the set and they'd run the scene while I was setting the lights. I'd listen and then give whatever notes I had, then we'd start shooting it in a very raw form. See, when you direct something you've written, you've already pre-directed it substantially during the writing process -- you already know how it's supposed to sound. I cast people who I thought had a big chunk of their character in them already, so they usually gave me exactly what I was looking for. There are some very talented people in this film, and I'm a lucky dog for having them.

The highlights of the post process were the professionals that stepped up to help us out. For instance, Pacific Title and Art Studio did our color correction ('digital intermediate'), and they did a fantastic job while treating us like established filmmakers, not indie filmmakers running on coffee and a dream. This was the highlight of post for me.

Now we're in the 'finding the right distributor' process -- which is interesting and very new for me. I know this film has an audience, as evidenced by our successful screenings at Sundance, and I can't wait to meet a distributor with the balls and brains to see in it the potential that I do.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?
Don't hand out vanity titles on your production to anyone, ever, even if they're a friend -- make sure that people's titles reflect the work you actually want them to do for you and get it in a contract before they come aboard.

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 “This! I want something JUST like this …only different.”?
My exposure to the films of Luis Bunuel and Bob Fosse influence my cinematic sensibilities substantially. On FTF, though, I avoided seeing films like Saved and A Dirty Shame until the picture was locked, just in case they mirrored my film in some way. The visual style of the film, though, is a bit American Beauty - ish... on a budget, of course. I'm also a big fan of seventies filmmaking, where the camera doesn't move unless there's a good reason for it to be moving. I think it's often a camouflage for boring subject matter.

What actor would you cast as a live-action Homer Simpson?
From my movie, Robertson Dean (the father of the family), because he can pretty much do anything. From the Hollywood Talent Pool, Phillip Seymour Hoffman...because he can pretty much do anything.

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?
I'm all about new ideas, so re-making old ones doesn't interest me much. I'm still so angry at what they did to The Fog. I loved the original so much it hurt to watch the new one.

Name an actor in your film that’s absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.
I can't answer this question because there are at least three people in FTF that I think have big careers ahead of them. To single out one would be too hurtful to the others I'm afraid.

Finish this sentence: If I weren’t a filmmaker, I’d almost definitely be...
Either a stage actor or completely lost.

Who’s an actor you’d kill a small dog to work with? (Don’t worry; nobody would know.)
Meryl Streep, because she's just the best we've got.

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!”
Not yet. If my film gets distribution and you were to ask me the same question on the set of my next production, I'd say, 'Absolutely.'

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?
To me as a filmgoer, they haven't mattered to me in a long, long time. I very much like to decide what I like for myself. As a director, yes -- they matter, for all the obvious reasons.

You’re told that your next movie must have one “product placement” on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?
Apple Computers, because I'm unnaturally attracted to my Mac.

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?
On FTF, we will have this issue. I say, 'Go NC-17', because it actually helps to make the point of my movie, which will make sense once you've seen it. It's quite sexually explicit at times. Would I refuse distribution on these grounds? Good Lord no -- why would I throw my actors under a bus over such a thing? They need to be seen -- it's why they took a chance on me as a first time feature director.

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?
My only beef with that title is that it leaves out the writer, who is the actual creator of the story. If the film is written and directed by the same person, I think 'a film by' makes perfect sense.

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?
Simple. If you want a film that will make you laugh your head off, get mad, possibly cry, and argue with your friends afterwards, Forgiving the Franklins is a great choice. It will stick with most viewers for a very long time.


Forgiving the Franklins, Teresa Willis, Robertson Dean, Aviva,Vince Pavia, and Mari Blackwell, will premiere at the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival. Click here for film & festival information.

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originally posted: 03/03/06 09:41:27
last updated: 03/03/06 09:42:13
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