Independent Film Week - "Medicine for Melancholy" - Sept. 15, 2008
Independent Film Week
Monday, September 15, 2008
Clearview Chelsea Cinemas – New York, NY
Before the screening of Independent Film Week’s opening night film Medicine for Melancholy, New York State Governor’s Office For Motion Picture and Television Development Commissioner Pat Kaufman announced the winner of I Love New York’s New York City Regional competition, “Love in New York.”
Filmmaker Magazine editor-in-chief Scott Macauley introduced Medicine for Melancholy and its director Barry Jenkins, one of the magazine’s 25 New Faces of Independent Film (which by the way is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A party was held later in the evening at Strata for the commemoration).
Macauley said he first saw Medicine for Melancholy at SXSW at its premiere screening and thought it was fantastic with “a real visual imagination” and is also “really smart about politics.” Macauley said of the middle sequence in the film that “a lot of other people would have maybe not been bold enough to include this sequence. It’s a little digressive from the main story, but for me it’s one of the things that really made the film.”
The following are some highlights of the post-screening Q&A with Jenkins and one half of the film’s stars, Wyatt Cenac who plays Micah (Tracey Heggins who plays Jo was not there). By the way, the Q&A was done almost entirely in the dark, as the house lights had yet to come on, which made for a rather fun discussion.
Q: What camera did you shoot on?
Jenkins: Panasonic HVX.
Q: What was the budget of the film?
Jenkins: We can’t really talk about the budget. If you drove a car here tonight, the car you drive probably cost more than the total budget of this film.
Q: What was your inspiration?
Jenkins: I moved to San Francisco after living in L.A. I met a woman in San Francisco. She broke up with me. I need to prove myself as a filmmaker, so I’m going to make a movie. I channeled all the energy from the break up and living in San Francisco. I wrote the script really quick in about three weeks. I wrote it to be shootable for myself and five friends. Once the script was together, I raised enough money to do this.
Cenac: There’s no greater motivator than hate. That’s a lesson you should all take out. Hate something enough.
Q: What was your casting process? Did you have Wyatt in mind?
Jenkins: I had no idea who he was. We wrote the movie and tried to cast in San Francisco, but San Francisco was 7% African-American. 1% of San Francisco is actors. If you take 1% of 7%, we couldn’t find anybody in San Francisco, so we went to L.A. Tracey was the first one we saw. We saw other women, because I’m a director, and I can’t make up my mind. And then we saw 50 guys. None of them were working. A friend of ours happened to know Wyatt. Justin, our producer, sent me a clip on YouTube called “My Best Black Friend.” It was a weird pilot that Wyatt was in about a white guy who has a reality show with a best black friend.
Cenac: Not just his best black friend, his only black friend.
Jenkins: Months later we were casting and Justin said, what about that one guy? So we called Wyatt.
Cenac: You didn’t call me. I got a Myspace message.
Q: Can you explain your choices of music?
Jenkins: Everything in this movie is kind of designed to be doable. We need to get the rights to these songs. I had a playlist from iTunes. 80% of the music in the movie is from that playlist. The rest of the music was pulled together by Greg O’Bryant. It was important to have music I thought reflected the fact that this black guy living in this quote-on-quote un-black world. Also being able to make the movie really fast, we wanted to music know ahead of time what the scenes were going to be cut to.
Cenac: This is on a complete side not, but there’s a woman in the third row who’s either completely passed out or dead. (Huge LOL from the audience)
Q: How much rehearsal time did you have?
Jenkins: None. Wyatt and Tracey were both SAG ultra, ultra low budget actors, but we still had to pay them for every day they worked on the movie. We couldn’t afford to pay them any money, so we couldn’t bring them out to San Francisco for rehearsal. So they got there literally 12 hours before we shot the first shot. But we shot it in sequence, so it worked. We got two people who don’t really know each other. As we were making the film, they kind of got to know one another.
Q: How much of it was improvised?
Jenkins: Really not much of it was improv’d. There’s certain jokes in the film where I would write a joke and Wyatt would take the liberty of extending it. The only completely improv’d scene was the Bill Cosby scene.
Q: How long did it take you to shoot film?
Jenkins: We shot 15 days in November (of 2007). And we had the rough cut by New Year’s Day, and we mixed in February (2008). It was a really quick process.
Q: Can you talk about your style. A lot of your sequences seemed like a hybrid of experimental and documentary.
Jenkins: James (Laxton, director of photography) and I lived together in film school. We shot designed about half of the film. As an exercise, we wanted to kind of figure out ways to shoot it. As far as the color, we decided really early on that we wanted reflect the title, Medicine for Melancholy. We wanted that melancholy reflected in the actual image. We knew we were going to de-saturate the colors palates. We super saturated in production, and de-saturated in post to kind of protect their skin tones. There’s certain places in the movie where the characters just react with one another and all these issues with race, and at those moments, it’s the most color. Karina Longworth of Spout.com wrote one of the first reviews of the film. She said the film is 93% saturated and it’s reflective of San Francisco’s 7% African-American. If you look at our color files, the film is 93% saturated. We didn’t do that intentionally. We really tried to reflect what was the emotional connection with the characters.