g The Film Panel Notetaker: 46th NYFF Press Screening: "Wendy and Lucy" - Sept. 15, 2008

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

46th NYFF Press Screening: "Wendy and Lucy" - Sept. 15, 2008

46th New York Film Festival
Wendy and Lucy – Press Screening & Conference
Monday, September 15, 2008
Walter Reader Theater – New York, NY

(Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt.)

Monday I attended I my first press screening and conference at the New York Film Festival. I had always gone to the public screenings in the past where I would take notes at the Q&As, but this year I was finally able to make it to a press screening, so it was a new and fun and experience for me.

The film was Wendy and Lucy starring Michelle Williams, a great actress who could be taking parts in big blockbuster movies, but instead picks more quiet and understated roles such as this giving a bare bones performance of a young woman who’s down on her luck when her car breaks down in Oregon en route to Alaska. Thankfully, she has her trusty canine companion Lucy with her, until Lucy goes missing, and Wendy’s hardships deepen further as she meets every day people who are either completely humble and generous towards her or downright creepy and menacing. The film gives the feeling of what it’s like to be all alone in this world. Wendy and Lucy opens for a limited theatrical release at Film Forum in New York on December 10.

Film critic J. Hoberman moderated a discussion with Wendy and Lucy director Kelly Reichardt, and then took questions from the press in the audience. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion and Q&A.

Hoberman: Is it true Lucy is your dog?

Reichardt: Yes, she’s my dog. She’s a great dog. She can never be left alone.

Hoberman: Was she easy to direct?

Reichardt: It’s just about hiding the stick in the right place.

Hoberman: And your other star Michelle Williams?

Reichardt: Much harder.

Hoberman: She’s in virtually every scene. I couldn’t imagine her agent bringing her this project. How did you get her the script?

Reichardt: The producer on the film had just worked with Michelle on I’m Not There. He read the script and thought Michelle would be great for the part. She had seen Old Joy. She was looking to do something outside of L.A. or New York. She was really game. It’s a very scaled down way of making films where there’s not a lot of separation between the cast and the crew. She couldn’t wear any make up or wasn’t allowed to wash her hair for 20 days. She was down with all of it. You’d do a scene with her and ask her to grab a light, and she’d do it.

Hoberman: How long was the shoot?

Reichardt: It was a 20-day shoot, which was really not enough time. I lived in New York and we shot out in Portland, Oregon. I did drive home sort of knowing that I didn’t feel that I quite had the movie. It was sort of more intimate shots that I needed. I felt like I had the meat, but I didn’t have the potatoes sort of. Poor Michelle, she tried to go twice on vacation to Portland and we just put her back to work and she was game again. She and I and the DP, a local cinematographer went out and did the shots in the car and went around to some of the locations we’d been to got shots. I cut for six months in my apartment. As I went along, the local DP out there kept shooting for me like the trains and things that I needed. I made a few trips back. It kept building while I was editing.

Hoberman: Did you always intend to shoot the film in Oregon?

Reichardt: The writing that I’m working with John Raymond…the film comes from his stories. He writes of the great Northwest. He has a novel called The Half Life that takes place there. We always wanted he to be close to Alaska. It takes on a whole new meaning now. Back in August of last year, Alaska didn’t seem so hideous. I wanted to think about shooting somewhere else, because I made this other film in Portland. I left New York in January. I spent almost seven months driving around the country looking at parking lots and gas station bathrooms and at some point had an epiphany in Butte, Montana in a Safeway parking lot in the middle of this snow storm, I’m going to get killed looking around for these locations. Todd Haynes said the whole point is that all these places look the same. Just come back and make the film where you can afford to make it. We ended up shooting in the locations about a block away from John Raymond’s house.

Audience Question: Was it a problem to edit the film all by yourself?

Reichardt: No, I cut my last film Old Joy. Before that there was 13 years before my first feature and my second one and I was making shorts during that time. They were getting their form in the editing. I was sort of able during that time just working on other things got really into editing. I can’t picture giving it to someone else at this point. And now with Final Cut Pro, it’s not expensive. It runs up your electricity bill, that’s about it. There’s no good reason for me to hurry. For all my films, I found this process of driving around before shooting where you’re alone and had my dog with me and think about how the film is going to look like and how to shoot it. You have that alone time in writing. And then all of a sudden, there’s all these people involved in the production. In these last films, that drive back to New York after shooting, it was really a feeling like I’m looking forward to getting the film back to myself and being alone with it.

Audience Question: In the scene where there’s a powerful tracking shot of all the dogs in the pound, did that come from any personal experience?

Reichardt: No. We already had the script. At Christmas one year, I was up in Vermont visiting family. I was packing up the car and Lucy disappeared for two days. There was that thought where I thought, ‘I fucked myself over for writing this script. I jinxed myself. I’m never getting my dog back.’ I did have the experience of the dread of time passing and searching. Actually, what I got from that experience was a lot of people out in Vermont were saying, ‘leave your clothes out where you last saw your dog…leave a trail.’ That’s where the trail of clothing came. That was like a four-star pound. If you had to be in a pound, that’s a great pound.

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