Frank V. Ross: Audrey the Trainwreck

"Frank V. Ross" drawing by Douglas Pollard.

Audrey starts in the middle of a party, everyone is talking and there really is no time to gather your bearings before the story begins. I caught up with writer/director/editor Frank V. Ross and his cinematographer David Lowery in much the same way. So it seemed to make sense that I should speak with them five days into a festival that seems forever in motion. This was a day after the film premiered to a very vocal reception from the satisfied festival audience. Both of them were pleasant to speak to, but what surprised me was their nonchalant attitude to their filmmaking process.

Cinemalogue: So the screening went really well yesterday, what were your thoughts?

Frank V. Ross: People were laughing. They laughed a lot, when they should’ve, you know. Laughed out loud. You know, violence is funny. When the credits came up and everyone laughed and applauded, I was like, yeah okay. Good. [both laugh] I sort of welled up.

C: It was a really infectious screening.

David Lowery: I didn’t have a lot of expectations for it, it is not one of the buzzed about films.

C: One of the things about the film that worked so well was the piecing together of the cast, which made for a very strong sense ensemble in the supporting cast. It is a very big little film in that way.

FVR: The idea of the film was to have one of the lead characters be judged and then looked at through all the people in his periphery. How work friends sort of trail off into real friends, and real friends have their friends and they know him. It was just creating a strong periphery. Okay, because when you see him in his world that’s when you’re judging him as opposed to how he sees them.

C: As a contrast there is one scene where it is definitely from his perspective, when they are playing volleyball, or in other scenes when he doesn’t want to take the phone call…

FVR: But that’s half an hour into the film, and we’ve already seen the other side, and then it sort of switches over, in an ever so subtle way.

C: Really, I guess that’s because the film moves quick. While those transitions are subtle, the opening is really jarring. I thought it was mistake with the projector until the opening title came up, and then came up again, and then this other title. Is that something of a trademark with your work?

FVR: I don’t know I just like to start them and get them rolling and I felt the idea of the movie was really abstract. So I wanted to call it these two different things. Like Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions or Goodbye Blue Monday, and everyone calls it Breakfast of Champions. Yet, the “or Goodbye Blue Monday” is such an awesome part in the book, so I just wanted to do that specifically. That was it.

C: Since so much of the film is this chaotic dialogue, it really feels like a writer’s movie. It’s very literary while at the same time, it still feels real. Was this a script that you had for a long time before you shot it?

FVR: No. I had the script for maybe three months before we shot it, I think. I really wanted to do it in October. Cause it is really pretty with all the leaves. So it’s October make or break it, David…

David Lowery: I read it in August.

FVR: And that was right after I finished it. David was on board whether we had money or didn’t have money. So it was more, let’s shoot this movie.

DL: Regardless of how much people say about the ad-libbing that goes on, this film was the script 90%.

FVR: [nods] It is, it is. A weird thing happens and [the audience] thinks that [the actors] made it up. But that’s when its like, it works. They’re like, [he has] enough credit.

DL: But that was there, word for word.

C: Last night I ran into one of your actors, Danny Rhodes, and I complimented him on what was a really nice bit of improv, but he then informed me that his rant towards the end of the film was completely scripted.

DL: That was a scene where ad-libbing caused great stress. Cause we had to re-shoot it.

FVR: The first time we shot it they tried to sort of dance around it, but [the scene] is so specific. And its such a difficult, finite rhetoric that you can’t waver. Plus if you waver it’s going to take twice as long, which is like twenty minutes.

DL: Exactly.

C: There is a sort of episodic nature to the film, don’t get me wrong, it really flows, it doesn’t feel like the film is starting and stopping, starting and stopping. In fact it is quite the opposite.

FVR: That all comes from the laying out the outline of scripting it out and everything.

C: There doesn’t seem to be a way for a film to feel so controlled and then turn around and say it was all made up on the spot.

FVR: It probably could, but I couldn’t do it. Someone could pull it off for sure, but not me.

C: Can you walk me through creating one of these scenes, because in all of them there is  a density to them.

DL: Well like for the first scene, in the garage, we would just talk about what was going on. I guess I was like, here’s how I see it happening and often times that’s how you’d see it. And then we’d shoot it.

FVR: Yep, I think we think similarly.

DL: We think cinematically very similarly. So it is more just, here’s a scene, but there were a few times where I could not understand what you wanted.

FVR: [laughs]

DL: Or where, I remember being surprised at how I envisioned something, one or two times where I envisioned something differently, and then it was, oh this is how you wanted it. It occurred to me during the screening, but I don’t remember what they are now. But the opening scene is really complex in a lot of ways, but as I remember it was really easy to shoot. We shot it really fast.

FVR: That’s how I know how to shoot.

DL: There is so much that makes sense here, but I know we talked about how Ron was always in the background. Just hanging out, and you just said that at the very beginning of the shoot. We just went with that, and that was sort of the centrifugal idea. Around which we built the rest of the movie. He’s always just kind of in the background a bit.

I don’t know. [trails off] I guess we just made it…

FVR: Terrible answer. Its all on real locations they can only be in so many places in the house so it’s like, you’re in the front room. [acts it out] Okay, you get on the floor, okay that looks good. You know David, the table looks better here, okay good. And then you just get the coverage. You know what I mean, the actors don’t play to a camera, ever. And sometimes David would find a shot that looks so good, that it eliminated what I wanted. Like the scene where he’s eating the chips. When we shot that, we didn’t shoot any coverage. No, that’s it. I want to watch that. Or when the train is going by and all that, we just shot all the masters every time there was a train, and then when there wasn’t a train we went for a close-up.

C: What about with the ambulance? Did you call 9-1-1?

FVR: We heard it coming off in the distance. “I hear and ambulance, I hear and ambulance!” Okay, then we just waited for it. We only shot like three takes of that part because it was like, it’s got to be the ambulance. [laughs] We could sit here and wait for another one, but it won’t happen.  You know, because the reason why the answer is bad, is because we work fast and quick and instinctively. So we really didn’t second guess ourselves.

DL: We’ve gotten to a point where we can trust our instincts enough to be able to work fast and not really think about it. Now is the first time where we are actually talking about it.

FVR: I’ve never had the opportunity to not work fast. It’s how we work.

C: Even then there is a comfort here with all the chaos.

DL: There is one thing I noticed that I don’t think we really talked about, maybe we did, but, like [the material] so intensely confrontational. At the beginning and then from the cutting to the way we shot it, it was all really relaxed.

C: There was one scene where I was a little frustrated when I watched the film, at this point we discussed the philosophy behind it, but could you talk about the realtor scene with Kris Swanberg. In the scene the main characters meet for the first time in a cafe, but then this realtor comes in with a customer and sits near to them. The direction of the scene rather jarringly then places the realtor and the customer at the forefront. Both conversations remain audible, but the realtor’s is mixed slightly louder.

FVR: That was directly from the script, and I thought it was a good idea. There’s a version of the script where it’s much more typical, as far as first dates go, and I felt it was really, really boring. But I think as it is, it makes a good point about how you can BS with anyone. You know, you can talk with anyone. That it’s really easy to talk to people, but there’s other people you just feel a certain connection that doesn’t have anything to do with what you are saying. I thought it would be funny to show those people talking about relationships, but they’re just there for business.

C: It was a nice unexpected gag when they then pull out the housing listing after having this very nice conversation.