SxSW 2015 Interview: UNCLE JOHN director Steven Piet
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/13/15 15:46:22
"UNCLE JOHN is a thriller about John, a well liked small town man who commits a murder. We the audience knows that he did it, and everyone around town is talking about it, but nobody seems to suspect him. Simultaneously told but seemingly disconnected is a story that revolves around two young, hip co-workers at a Chicago graphic design studio, Ben and Kate. While John works to navigate the increasing tension of revenge from his victims brother, the young city couple decides to take an impromptu trip to visit him and the two worlds collide." Director Steven Piet on UNCLE JOHN which screens at the 2015 South By Southwest Film Festival.
Is this your first SxSW/Austin experience and are you coming to your screenings?
Yes to both!
Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker.
I went to film school in Savannah, Georgia. Following graduation, I returned to my hometown of Chicago. I have worked on a variety of productions since, mostly for documentaries, commercials, and music videos...some of which are up on our site wtnss.com!
How did your movie come together as a director and who did you work with?
We made UNCLE JOHN on a micro budget with a skeleton crew that gave unending energy. All of our limitations only encouraged our creativity and I couldn't be prouder of the finished film.
Erik Crary is the producer and co-writer on this film. We have been production partners for a while now and we just trust each other and work very well together. Take either of us away and this film doesn't get made. It doesn't matter how many ideas you have, if you don't have a good producer, they'll never see the light of day.
The rapport seems really good. Would you say you had any key challenges with UNCLE JOHN?
FINANCING. The first thing Erik and I did was acknowledge the challenges before writing the script. We knew it was going to be our biggest hurdle, so we wrote a story that we could properly capture on a limited and scalable budget. If you're careful, you can achieve a lot with a little these days. It's tough to find that line, but the last thing you want is to spend your production days in a constant state of compromise.
If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?
The moment when my shoulders really relaxed was when I saw John Ashton perform a scene as the lead character for the first time. It was the first thing we shot, there was no dialogue in the scene...just John looking out at a rural vista. His character internalizes his emotions and I'm looking at the monitor, watching John perfectly embody that idea on the first take. You end up holding your breath so much during pre-production, it felt so great to have that moment when you're finally allowed to exhale.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? May I get you a coffee?
We shot this movie so fast it was really a sprint more than a marathon, so adrenaline can take you pretty far. When that fades, coffee... it's the best.
For the tech fans out there, talk about the look and cinematography behind UNCLE JOHN and who you worked with on the film.
If you look at my original storyboards you'll see a completely different style to this film. A lot of master takes, a lot of dolly movement. But, Erik and I decided that it wasn't practical with our limitations so, again, we chose the approach that would help us to avoid living in a constant state of compromise during production. I settled on a composed hand-held approach for two main reasons. First, because that style removes some of the gloss of filmmaking, which would help our story tonally. Second, with this approach we'd be able to set up and move quickly since we weren't dependent on dollies and tripods. Our cinematographer Mike Bove was such an asset to this style of shooting. He has worked on a variety of documentary-style productions where he honed a variety of skills that this production benefited from. We all came from the same school of "lets try and do a lot with a little," so that was a natural fit. We shot Uncle John with the Arri Alexa!
What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?
We are so excited to be apart of SXSW and we can't wait to hear people's response to the film.
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 got a few more festival opportunities coming together after SXSW, and we'll be keeping the main site updated with official news on those in the near future. It would be great to get a chance to screen in Europe as well, which we're hoping to get a chance to do.
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?
The theater I use to work at in high school. I would wear the same tuxedo and red clip-on bow tie that was my uniform, and I would ask if I could give the soda fountain a spin for old time's sake.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?
Tell them that there's a call waiting for them in the lobby, direct them to a door that exits the theater, and automatically locks from the outside.
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?
Find a story that you want to tell and tell it in a way that is unique to you. Then, pick shooting days and don't change them for anybody or anything!
And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?
This is an impossible question!
Okay, then! How about any festival movies that you have loved?
I saw Sam Klemke's TIME MACHINE at Sundance this year and I hope a lot more people have the chance to see it. Sufficiently dodged?
Be sure to follow UNCLE JOHN online at unclejohnfilm.com and on Twitter at @UJFilm!
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