Whistler Film Festival 2015 Interview: THE STEPS director Andrew Currie
By Jason Whyte
Posted 12/03/15 11:39:25
"THE STEPS is a comedy-drama about extended families. How we connect with each other, or don't connect, and how more often we just screw each other up. But, in spite of this, how we need each other. We all need to stay connected to each other. We live in a world where that is happening less and less, when it needs to be happening more. Being connected, in spite of our differences, makes us stronger, and happier, and kinder." Andrew Currie on THE STEPS which screens at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival.
I remember you here here in 2006 with your film FIDO at the festival. What is it about Whistler, either the festival or the town itself, that excites you the most?
Whistler is just so much fun! Lots of great people, amazing skiing and snowboarding, and great parties. It is similar to Sundance in some ways, but even more laid back.
How did THE STEPS all come together?
My wife Mary Anne Waterhouse, who produced The Steps, was friends with Robyn Harding. The script was based on Robyn's experiences with her own extended family, so there was a strong foundation in place. We worked a lot on character development, which then started attracting cast, and the whole thing just pulled together.
What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?
Adrenaline. Making a movie is so hard because of the intensity of everything that comes at you as a director. The complicated logistics of the shoot, constantly needing to adapt to change, the needs of the cast and crew, and the creative needs of the story. You literally have to fight to get six hours sleep a night. Usually you get less. The intensity of it all is really exciting, and addictive, and kind of amazing.
All projects are challenging in many ways, some more than others. What was your biggest challenge with making this movie, and the moment where you knew you had something?
Originally The Steps was going to take place in the summer. But finding the right cast is so important, we moved the shoot dates several times. By the time we shot, we were into November. At first the weather was good, but then the snow started, which became the biggest challenge. We were literally shut down because of a snow storm one day, so I lost an entire day from our schedule. But we were also in one location for a lot of the shoot, and because we were isolated up in Parry Sound, the cast was around on weekends, so we would go to the lake house and rehearse on our time off, which was so nice!
I am about to get technical on you, but with the film's strong look and asethetic, I would love to know about the visual design of the movie and how the movie was photographed.
We shot the movie in the wider 2.39:1 scope format. I chose this for a few reasons. THE STEPS is an ensemble film, and with the wider format, you can hold three or more characters in a tighter shot then you can in standard 1.85:1, or 16x9. This is great because it makes the audience more intimately connected to the characters. Over the shoulder shots are different too. In 2.39:1 you get much more than just their shoulder, and so it feels more like you are right there with them. Also, I love having the reaction of one character to another held within the same shot. It's a rule of comedy that having the funny 'moment' between two characters in the same frame, makes the moment funnier. It's because the audience is kept in the perspective of actually being there in the moment, and cutting away jumps you out of that.
As a director, I really believe in the idea that character drives story. The character driven comedy-dramas I love, movies like SIDEWAYS, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK and YOU CAN COUNT ON ME have a few big, powerful moments, but most importantly, many more small, beautifully executed ones. Finding smaller moments, and subtle character beats within the scenes is something that really excites me as a director, and because it's something that evolves through the process of making the film, this means as a director, getting the director of photography helping to create a space for the actors that allows those smaller, subtler moments to happen.
Tell me about your cinematographer, Robert Aschmann, and your past with him.
I went to film school with our cinematographer Robert Aschmann and we have been friends ever since, and collaborated many times. I like to keep things as real as possible. I try and focus on the reality of the characters. We shot everything that wasn't steadicam with a loose head, or where the tripod head isn't rock steady, which I think helps with character driven films, as it is closer to how we really see the world.
The film almost entirely taking place in one location is a really interesting idea too.
Most of the THE STEPS takes place at an idyllic lake house. The setting is great, as it's a strong contrast to Jeff's world in the city. It's a place of tranquility and natural beauty, which becomes an ironic backdrop to the conflict that comes up between the two families, as they struggle with the idea of an extended one. I wanted the landscape to help define and express the characters. So while Jeff is outside trying to get reception on his cell phone, he's unaware of his surroundings. Whereas Marla comes outside and is deeply affected by the same landscape that Jeff doesn't even notice.
After the film screens in Whistler, where is the film going to show next? Anywhere you would like it to show?
We are scheduled to play in a couple of upcoming festivals that haven't been announced yet, but I'm excited about. The theatrical release is going to be in the spring.
And finally, if you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?
The Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. It's a huge open air theatre, that seats nearly 8,000 people! In 1994 I made a short film with my friend Trent Carlson, which Bob Aschmann was the DP of. It played at the Piazza Grande theatre. Trent was the writer and director and I was editor and producer so he went, and I didn't. And I'm still jealous!
See THE STEPS at #wff15 on Friday, December 4th, 9:00am at Rainbow Theatre, and on Saturday, December 5th, 7:30pm at Village 8 Cinema...the latter of which will be hosted by yours truly!
This is one of the many films playing at the 2015 Whistler Film Festival. For show information, tickets and for other general information on films and events, point your browser to the official website at whistlerfilmfestival.com!
Be sure to follow instant happenings of Whistler Film Festival on my Twitter account @jasonwhyte, including mini-reviews of films, comments on festival action and even a photo or two. You can also follow the festival on my Instagram at jason.whyte!
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com