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South By Southwest 2011 Interview - "96 Minutes" director Aimee Lagos

96 Minutes - At SxSW Film
by Jason Whyte

"96 MINUTES is the harrowing story of four kids caught in the terrifying maelstrom of a carjacking. The story builds to a hair-raising climax as it intercuts between the car and the beginning of that day, following the separate stories of each kid – where they come from, who they are, and how they all ended up in one car on this fateful night. Their worlds are starkly divided along class lines, but on this one night, their lives slam headlong into each other in one shocking moment that will change everything forever." Director Aimee Lagos on "96 Minutes" 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 attend the festival screenings?

This is the first time I’ve had a feature film at SXSW, but my short film, UNDERGROUND, played in SXSW in 2004 and won a BAFTA Award for Excellence here so I’m very excited to be back and premiering my first feature at SXSW. I will definitely be at the screening. I wouldn’t miss 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?

I’m not one of those people who knew as a young kid that they wanted to be a filmmaker; becoming a filmmaker was more of a journey for me. But at the heart of my desire to make movies is my belief in the power of storytelling and the potential for change that exists when a person spends a little time immersed in the sights, sounds and feelings of a life that isn’t their own. For me, the possibility that through that experience someone can change how they see themselves or something about the world around them is incredibly exciting.

My journey towards filmmaking began in theater. I got interested in directing theatre at a very young age and began studying it seriously when I was 16, but it was really my experiences traveling and seeing the world that sparked my desire to direct film. I spent a lot of time in my early 20’s traveling, and I lived for about a year in a small Mayan community in Guatemala. Living in places and with people who were so vastly different from myself was absolutely transformative for me. I think a similar transformation can happen when watching a film; a piece of your mind can open up and you start to see things and even yourself a little differently. Seeing new parts of the world and different ways of life makes you realize that, contrary to what is often said about every story having already been told. When it comes to the specifics, most peoples’ stories haven’t been told at all. My choice to become a filmmaker was fueled by an interest in telling the stories that often don’t often get told, to present a different perspective or shed light on things we usually just leave in the dark. Film is an incredibly powerful way to do that.

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

I think as a kid my response to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was more often than not some unsatisfying answer like, “I want to be me!” I wasn’t much for convention.

How did this whole project come together?

This project was a long time in the making. When I first wrote the script it got a lot of interest both on the studio and independent levels. We got close to making it a couple of times, but it was a really difficult film to get greenlit. It has a young, multi-ethinc cast and is an intense suspense drama; not exactly a financial sure thing from a pure numbers point of view, but a reality that just made me all the more determined to get it made. I had gotten busy with other projects and although I’d hoped that I’d make "96 Minutes" at some point, I wasn’t actively pursuing it until I got a call from a manager who was a fan of the project and she said, “What about Brittany Snow?” I was already a fan of Brittany’s and when she and I met, I was sold. I knew she had the talent, the depth and the passion for this story that was necessary to pull this kind of role off. I met with Evan soon thereafter and suddenly we had a great cast, but no money. From that point on it was pretty much brute force, giant leaps of faith and an incredible group of passionate and talented people that got this movie made.

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

From start to finish, the making of this film was a wonderful and adrenaline filled challenge. From moment one, we were trying to do something that far exceeded our means so it was all an uphill battle, constantly pushing to get the best resources we didn’t have money to buy and trying to get the most out of them in less time than we needed. But the amazing thing about this project was that we had the most incredible team working with us in every phase. Everyone involved in this movie from beginning to end had a passion for the project that had them pouring everything they had into it. It was a truly inspirational and humbling experience.

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.

Once we finally got through all the challenges of financing a film with a young, multi-ethnic cast, we had some serious creative and technical challenges to tackle. Truth and authenticity in every aspect of this film were paramount to me. I knew that if there was one false moment in the movie, the entire thing would all come undone like a sweater unraveling from a pulled thread. That meant everything had to ring true, from the casting to the locations to the set design to the camera style.

My cinematographer, Michael Fimognari, and I had a tremendously collaborative relationship. He is an incredible talent and we could not have been more in sync on how we saw this film and what it needed to be visually. We spent a long time in preproduction developing the style in which we wanted to shoot this film in order to create a sense of authenticity and immediacy in the telling of this story.

Atlanta was the perfect place to shoot in terms of capturing this kind of authenticity and the way we used the camera was often all about letting the locations inform the stories of each of the characters while creating a kinetic energy that made it feel like life was just happening right in front of us. However, this perspective posed a particular conundrum in how to approach all the interior car work. A good portion of the film takes place inside a moving car and it was crucial that those scenes felt absolutely true. Often times car work can feel false; the lighting doesn’t look authentic, the perspective out the windows is bizarre because the car is mounted on a process trailer and we wanted to find a new way of doing it. The first essential element to cracking it was the right camera. Most of the film is shot Super 35mm, a choice we made because the wide screen format would really highlight the space in which our characters lived and the influence that their worlds had upon them. But for the car work we needed something that had a lot of light sensitivity so we didn’t have to over light, and something that was small enough to allow for our kinetic hand-held camera work to carry through these scenes. We did a bunch of tests and found that, given our specific needs, the Canon 7D outfitted with cinema lenses was the perfect camera for the car work, and with the use of Technicolor’s LUT designed specifically to give it a film-like quality, it cut beautifully with the 35mm footage. So we had our cameras, but there was still the question of how to design the car shoot.

One of my producers, Justin Moore-Lewy, had the idea that we could build a rig for a car that would allow us to drive it from the roof so that the actors, the cinematographer and myself could all be inside the car shooting take after take as we drove through the streets of Atlanta. Amazingly he found a guy to build us what soon became known as the “Franken-Rig.” We scouted driving routes that would give us the lighting scenarios we needed for the different scenes and on the day, we drove these routes over and over again, doing take after take without stopping. It really helped to create an amazing intensity inside that moving set that I think really comes through in the performances.

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

I really believe in staying open and being influenced by everything you see. The things I love and the things I can’t stand are equally powerful influences on me. There are lessons and inspirations in all of them. Although I have to say, for this film in particular, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s work had a strong influence. I love the vibrancy with which he paints his worlds and his approach to telling stories of interconnected lives and the randomness that can bring people inextricably together in a single moment.

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 want to keep telling stories; good stories about complex characters, stories that challenge me and hopefully challenge the audience. I think there’s a place for those stories in both studio and independent film so my hope would be that both are in my future.

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

It would probably be a much shorter list for me to say what other work I wouldn’t be interested in! I am fascinated by so many things which is ultimately why I think film is a good fit for me. It gives me the chance to explore so many different ways of being.

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

I think the critical/media response to a film is hugely important in the life of a film. As a community, we all rely on each other’s opinions and thoughts to help us decide what to spend our time and money on and the media has a far reaching voice that can inspire people to go see a film or choose to skip it. Critics and reviewers put a lot into building their reputations and I think that builds a lot of trust in their readers so their opinions become even more powerful. Ultimately a review of any work is just one opinion, good or bad, and shouldn’t define the work entirely and certainly shouldn’t dissuade an artist from doing what they do the way they do it, but there is no denying that there a lot of power in a published opinion.

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

I would like most to screen this film in a place where people don’t get a lot of access to movies like this. I remember being in Guatemala and watching "Titanic" on a tiny TV set powered by a car battery with a bunch of kids from the school where I taught. They were in awe and utterly transported in that moment. I’d like to be a part of something like that.

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

You’ve never seen anything like this. It’s good to try something new!

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

Less the business and more just the making of the movies – I love every aspect of that part.

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?

Find your story, the one you have to tell, and then don’t take no for an answer.

This is one of the many films screening at the 2011 SXSW in Austin, Texas between March 11-19. For more information on the film’s screening, point your browser to

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte Facebook: jasonwhyte

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originally posted: 03/10/11 06:53:20
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