SxSW 2015 Interview: THE INVITATION director Karyn Kusama

By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/13/15 16:44:09

"THE INVITATION is a 70s-style suspense drama. It's a grown-up take on a paranoid domestic thriller." Director Karyn Kusama on THE INVITATION 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?

It is my first SXSW! And I will definitely attend my screenings!

As this is your first SxSW what have you been recommended to try out drink-wise?

I haven't spent much time in Austin but my husband Phil says "Shiner Shiner Shiner" when it comes to beer.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

I went to the undergrad Film and TV program at Tisch School of the Arts, and I worked in film as an assistant to the independent filmmaker John Sayles. I have directed four features (previously GIRLFIGHT, AEON FLUX, JENNIFER'S BODY) including this one!

I am a fan. For your new movie, how did it all come together from your perspective?

My husband Phil Hay and his partner Matt Manfredi wrote a great script and when the time was right I said I'd like to take a crack at it. We worked for more than a few years to get it made, and it's nice that it's been a family affair; that camaraderie made the feelings of struggle a lot more bearable.

Martha Griffin, who I have worked with on two other films, produced the movie along with Phil and Matt and our other producing partners Nick Spicer and Lindsay Lanzilotta. In many respects everyone who works on your movie is a key collaborator; you certainly can't make a movie without a lot of people lending you their time and expertise in various areas. But in terms of my long-term creative relationships, I look to Phil and Matt, my editor Plummy Tucker, my composer Teddy Shapiro, and my music supervisor Randy Poster. They are a huge part of how I shape a film.

What was your biggest challenge with THE INVITATION?

The biggest challenge was probably the long-term process of putting the cast together, as it's a large one. But as one actor came on board it was easier to find the next one. The next challenge was staging all those actors in a limited space!

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

There's a scene halfway through the movie where our main character, Will, has an intense outburst in front of some of his oldest friends. Logan Marshall-Green, who played Will, really brought a fury and a truth to that scene, and as we were filming it I felt myself get goosebumps with the power of his mistrust and the agony of his sorrow. Watching that performance that day, take after take, along with the performances of Logan's fellow actors, made me feel like we were getting at something authentic with our story. I'm very grateful to these actors for bringing so much of themselves to every day of shooting.

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you? Any coffee?

I am driven by the urge to complete something. In each phase, whether it be prep, shooting, or post-production I want to experience the process as fully as I can and feel good about moving on to the next phase. It doesn't always work that way of course, but the goal is to be present with what's happening in front of me. For me it's the sense of "I'm making something!" that keeps me going. To be able to make things for a living, and to hone and finesse the result of that thing, is a very privileged space to occupy and I am constantly humbled by that. I am also a lover of dark chocolate and probably consume a lot more of it when I'm working on a movie!

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, what the movie was shot on and all that techie fun stuff!

My cinematographer Bobby Shore and I talked a lot about finding a balance between a very subjective visual style; one that grows out of the main character's point of view versus a more objective and all-inclusive approach to the other characters and their realities. I think we found a nice balance between those interior and exterior realities. We shot on the Alexa, which was a first for me as my other three features were shot on film. I am still not sold on this whole digital cinema craze, but that's a very long conversation. (Author's note: I would be more than happy to have some Shiner with you and discuss!)

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie at SxSW and in Austin?

Seeing it with an audience, and seeing it on a big screen in a dark theater. This is the way movies should be watched...home entertainment systems be damned.

After the film screens at South By Southwest, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to screen? Any dream spots?

We're waiting to hear about a few really great opportunities at other festivals. We'll let you know once we get more info! As for dream cinemas, either Film Forum or Bam Cinematek in NYC, because those were the places where I learned the most about filmmaking.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

That's a tough one because it drives me bonkers when people do this. I'd probably start with the super-polite approach until that stopped which point it's anyone's guess what I would do.

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?

Stay present, stay curious, and try to enjoy the process of getting things made even when the going gets rough. If the process isn't mostly enjoyable, then making movies will be a constant and unending struggle.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen? Or film fest movie?

I will go with the film festival angle; I was really lucky to see Jacques Audiard's A PROPHET at Sundance in 2010. It's a beautiful film that reminds me of the humanistic potential of genre forms and it remains one of my favorites to this day.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview in our now 40+ filmmaker interview series for our site. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. 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 or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.