Friday, October 25, 2013

The Big Bad's Bryan Enk

Bryan Enk founded Third Lows Productions in his college days, and has been making movies and theatre works ever since. His work includes serialized epics, such as the four-part dark fantasy opus Pink Coffins and the thirteen-episode theatrical period piece Penny Dreadful, and shorter works, including the silent Midnight Days and an intriguing, modern-day production of MacBeth. More recently, he directed the award-winning horror film The Big Bad, a production conceived with collaborator Jessi Gotta. We were happy that Bryan was willing to share his insights into various aspects of the filmmaking process with us, and converse with us on a number of topics both pertinent and not so.

So Dracula's been a huge influence on your work over the years. When did it first enter your life?

I think it might have entered my life as soon as it began. Or at least by the time I was eight. See below.

You read the novel as a kid?

I think I first read it when I was ten, somewhere around there? I've read it around a dozen times since.

Which of Dracula's many cinematic iterations have influenced you most directly? How?

Bram Stoker's Dracula was what first inspired me to start making movies ... and, particularly, my own Dracula. Later on, Murnau's Nosferatu was a big influence on my silent film Midnight Days, and it was actually while watching Herzog's Nosferatu the Vampyre that I was inspired to do the three-part 'Dracula Monologues,' starting with The Curious Case of R.M. Renfield in 2006, continuing with The Final Voyage Of The Good Ship Demeter in 2012 and concluding with The Heartlkess Cruelty of Lucy Westenra, which I hope to have completed by the end of this year.
If I could direct any book-to-screen adaptation, Dracula-related or otherwise, it would be John Marks' Fangland, a modern-day retelling (of sorts) of Stoker's original tale.

You've been working with the serial format for a number of years now, from the four-part horror fantasy Pink Coffins to the sprawling, year-long theatre piece Penny Dreadful. What attracts you to the format?

The four-episode structure of Pink Coffins came late in the game. Pink Coffins spent over a year and a half in post-production, most of which was trial and error as me and various editors tried to figure out how to best present all of this strange material.

In the summer of 1998 I went to a screening of Lars Von Trier's THE KINGDOM II, which ended up being the main inspiration for turning Pink Coffins into an episodic piece rather than a feature. It ended up being the perfect format for a story with a very odd narrative structure -- there are lots of overlapping narratives, flashbacks, flash-forwards and jumping around in time. Plus it gives the audience a break every 30 minutes so they can kind of process what they just saw and prepare for the next chapter.

I think that's what I like about it -- those breaks where you can take a moment and think about it before continuing. Such a structure might ultimately be essential for stories that are as dense and detailed as Pink Coffins and PENNY DREADFUL.

One of your upcoming works, THE PASSION OF PAUL ROSS, returns to the world of Pink Coffins, as well as its four-part structure. Do you think the advent of TV on demand and the Netflix model has made it easier for independent filmmakers to work in the serial format?

I don't know if it makes it easier but it's definitely encouraging. Back in the day unless it was on network television there was really no easy way to score an audience for a story told in serial format. As for THE PASSION OF PAUL ROSS, which is going to be pretty down-and-dirty and run-and-gun like Pink Coffins before it, I imagine it will best be structured and presented as a web mini-series, something I wish had existed back when we did Pink Coffins.

Of course it occurs to me now that digital filmmakers have been embracing the serial format all along, with YouTube series existing by the thousands. Do you suppose the limitations imposed by YouTube and Vimeo are freeing to a filmmaker? i.e. that it's less daunting to make several three-minute episodes rather than a twenty-one minute feature? Or that it's easier to get an audience interested in a project existing in bite-sized chunks rather than the full meal suggested by a feature?

It could be argued that bite-sized chunks are probably ideal for our now extremely diminished attention spans. But I think what works against the serial format, specifically as a web series, is the fact that there *are* thousands of them out there. And really, unless it's got kittens or Iron Man in it, it's hard to get anyone to look at anything at all in the first place.

On some levels, I don't know if it's necessarily a good thing that top-notch filmmaking technology is so readily available to pretty much everyone now -- it's almost as if the flooded market is making Hollywood raise its own bars, just to remind everyone who's still in charge. I mean, our most passive Sunday night TV entertainment now looks like freakin' Lord of the Rings and it seems like it takes a near-impossible technical achievement like Gravity to inspire an audience reaction that is more than just "meh."

How did your collaboration with Jessi Gotta begin?

Jessi and I met doing indie theatre in New York -- we knew each other via various separate productions though we didn't work together on stage until summer 2007, when I played the Polonius to her Ophelia. She had expressed a desire to do an independent horror feature in November 2008; I wrapped Penny Dreadful in March 2009 and was looking to do a new film right after, so we joined forces to produce The Big Bad.

Curious about your process - Did the two of you ever occasionally take on one another's roles? Or is it simply a matter of comfort knowing that at least one other person on set is as dedicated as you are?

It's ever-shifting to whatever the current task at hand might be. What's most important is that you're both making the same movie. THE BIG BAD was a huge project and had a lot of challenges, but we had the same goals and were always headed toward the same finish line. It was pretty organic based on what the particular day required. Jessi steers a steady ship -- she really is a savvy filmmaker on all levels.

THE BIG BAD, gotta/enk's award-winning first feature, is available on disc and Netflix. Are sites like Netflix now an independent filmmaker's ultimate goal? Has the shift from theatrical to online distribution changed the filmmaking process (yours specifically, or the process in general)?

I think the ultimate goal for any feature filmmaker is theatrical distribution. It might not be realistic for some, but it's a desire nonetheless. That's what it's all about, now and possibly forever -- seeing a movie in a movie theater.

However, it's true that now there are more options for distribution and building an audience. It's great that those venues exist -- it makes filmmaking all the more encouraging, even if those venues are second choice. I love that we got THE BIG BAD on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes and DVD, though I also relish the times I got to see it on the big screen at film festivals -- that's the experience I was picturing when Jessi and I were making it.

What films have influenced, and continue to influence, you?

There are a few filmmakers who have made what I call their Pink Coffins -- something that's maybe a little experimental and not very mainstream but is highly personal and passionate nonetheless. Those are the films I seek out, and there haven't been many since the '90s ... or maybe there have been and I'm not as affected by them. I like all of Abel Ferrara's works but I'm particularly fond of The Addiction; I love Wim Wenders' Until The End Of The World; I love Michael Almereyda's Nadja and The Eternal. Recently I really enjoyed Francis Ford Coppola's Twixt -- so wondrously weird and beautiful. Anything that was created with love and passion and a desire to express something deeply felt and personal.

I hate to say it, but I can't really get behind movies like Gravity any more -- it's swell to see what a bunch of computers and a hundred million bucks can do, but I truly believe films like that are making it harder for filmmakers with limited resources to make an impression. There's an argument against that as well, which I acknowledge.

You've said that the voice-over narration that concludes Duran Duran's "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" is extraneous and should be excised, but it is crucial to the story and impact of the song. Why do you insist on taking this unpopular and incorrect stance?

I actually think it works either way. The voice-over narration could be seen as taking you out of this fantastical love story with its real-world context, though it also gives the song a shocking credibility -- wow, some guy actually did this! Either way, I think it's Duran Duran's most moving love song -- I've heard it dozens of times and I still get emotional each time.

To be honest I was hoping to end this conversation on a long fight over this, but your answer was open-minded and -hearted, and well considered. Kudos. Any advice you'd like to give aspiring filmmakers who might be reading this, to sign us off?

Try it if you're considering it, and keep doing it if you love it. Just be aware that a good chunk of it involves carrying heavy shit up flights of stairs at five in the morning and worrying about the fact that the gaffer doesn't like cheese on his sandwiches.

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