ND/NF- "Ballast" - March 30, 2008
Walter Reade Theater – New York, NY
March 30, 2008
On Sunday during New Directors/New Films, a joint program between the Department of Film at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Lance Hammer took questions from the audience following his narrative feature film Ballast, about the effects of a suicide on a family in the Mississippi Delta. The Film Society’s Marian Masone started with the first question.
Masone: You used no music as the soundtrack. That’s a really ballsy move. So many times, music is used so badly. Why did you choose not to have any music?
Hammer: From the get go, I realized there would be no music. I played with it for a while. My intuition was to capture the experience of the Delta. To fully communicate the Delta, nothing could construe against the sound.
Q: What inspired you to make your film in the Delta?
Hammer: I was from Los Angeles and visited the Delta 10 years ago. It was an experience of being overwhelmed emotionally. I let the film articulate what I was feeling. The history of racism is a sadness that’s literally a part of the landscape. I’m an outsider. I was interested in capturing the sorrow and grieving. I had to figure out a narrative element to base it on. My girlfriend told me about a story of identical twins brothers, one who killed himself. I thought that would be an interesting place to start. Over two years ago, I wrote the script. The more time I spent there and people I met, I realized how little I knew of the racial relationships there. It was important for me to cast people from the region. There’s a ratio of 9:1 blacks to whites. The people we cast would bring their own experience with them. We improvised a lot. The emotions in the scenes come from the actors. I hope it was communicated. All were non-professionals except for the white neighbor. I did the most work with him.
Q: Did the improvisations change the script?
Hammer: I never showed the script to the actors. I gave them a contrived scenario and they filtered it themselves.
Q: Did you always plan to have the story reveal itself slowly?
Hammer: I did in the writing process by structuring the cadence and pacing. The films I enjoy are the ones where I’m confused. You piece together the clues of someone’s life slowly. I’m offended by films that properly tell the back story. That’s not the way it works in reality.
Q: Did you choose the climate to shoot in?
Hammer: It took 45 days to shoot. I wanted rain and cloud cover. The film was shot with a handheld camera for two reasons. First for aesthetics and second because it was important that the actors could do whatever they wanted. The camera had to follow them. Setting up lights doesn’t give you 360° capability. I wanted to make something as beautiful as possible without the limitation of film.