Columns, Interviews


By • Jan 23rd, 2017 •

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By Michael Tierno


There’s a joke about drive-in theaters: projectionists would sometimes screw up the order of the film reels and show them out of sequence and this mistake would enhance the B-picture stories they tended to screen. An attendant theory is that this mistake also gave rise to “non-linear” storytelling in filmmaking. Whether this is legend or not is moot because it’s rare that you even see 35-millimeter films in theaters anymore. Most films come as a complete digital package that runs from beginning to end without separate reels that can even be run out of sequence. Filmmaking, especially independent fare, has gone digital and for good reason…it’s more affordable. Consider this: the average cost of 35-millimeter film stock developing and printing for a feature film shot in 35-millimeter is roughly a quarter of a million dollars. This sum represents the entire budget of many digitally shot indies. So, it stands to reason the cheaper digital option is used for most indie works and even most Hollywood films are following suit. Contributing to this trend is the fact that film schools, movie theaters, and movie audiences all seem compliant in bringing about this permanent change to the art of making and watching cinema. It’s no wonder many great filmmakers like Martin Scorsese are publically lamenting that cinema as an art form is dying.

Enter Dennis Hauck, an independent filmmaker in Los Angeles committed to shooting (and screening) his films in 35-millimeter despite the impracticalities of doing so. He just won’t have it any other way. Perhaps it’s best to think that shooting and screening in 35-millimeter is to filmmaking what making records in vinyl is to music. Regardless, it’s lucky for us that Hauck is so adamant about the artistic necessity to shoot and screen in film because his film TOO LATE is a wonderful contribution to the celebration and revival of motion pictures being shot and screened in film

The plot of TOO LATE is simple. It’s a modern detective story about a man searching for a woman that he had briefly met in the past. Without giving too much away, suffice to say she’s disappeared and then contacts him again. He goes in pursuit to try and reconnect with her and in the process, encounters different people who interacted with her and might know something about her disappearance. It’s a classic missing person story but develops into one that has keen emotional and dramatic depth culminating with the title of the film TOO LATE making ultimate sense. In a literal way, the title is also a commentary on watching the middle of the film at the end as we the audience know the hero is too late to change the action of the plot. That’s all I can say without spoiling the ending (or the middle in this case). The detective is played with brooding sensitivity by John Hawkes and the entire film is shot in five single take 22-minute scenes – each as long as those 35-millimeter reels would allow. All five scene/shot/sequences constitutes an “act” of the film and unspools as a dazzlingly choreographed visual feast that follows characters moving effortlessly through interiors and exteriors, aided by elaborate but dramatically motivated blocking of actors.

Predecessors to this style is Hitchcock’s “Rope,” “Birdman” and the legendary scene in “Good Fellas” where Ray Liotta and Loraine Bracco enter the Copa in one long take through the underbelly of the club. By using the continuous take (the ultimate linear device) to tell a non-linear plot, Hauck sets up a brilliant dialectic of form and content at play in a film that serves to push non-linear storytelling a little further as an art form. The two elements of form and content beautifully complement each other, allowing Hauck to present a fresh take on the tired trope of creating irony through non-linear storytelling.

I had a conversation with Hauck recently as I wanted to know more about the project:

MT: Where did the inspiration for your plot come from?

DH: There are aspects of my personal life in the film but disclosing them would create a spoiler for those who are intent on watching it. But I was also influenced by classic detective fiction I was reading at the time. These elements combined for me to come up with the story. I also wanted to work with John Hawkes and given the kind of detective fiction I was immersed in – Chandler, Ross McDonald, all 20 Lou Archer novels, – this led me to envision John as a private eye. While I do have a lot of conscious influences that are literary – especially the private eye genre – I don’t regard my film as “film noir.” I see it more like a crime story, a work of detective fiction.

MT: Can you talk about how and why you worked your story in non-linear format?

DH: The non-linear aspect of the story feels emotionally linear to the John Hawkes detective character to me because crucial information that emotionally effects the Hawkes character is held until the end and the reveals make the rest of the story make sense. Using a non-linear format also allowed me to play a little bit with expectations of the detective genre by putting the second scene of the movie last whereas most detective films play out straight ahead as the linear ambulation of story reveals tend to build chronologically. By switching the order of the scenes, it allowed for an emotional climax that wasn’t necessarily attached to the linear climax of the narrative.

MT: Yes and that structure gave your film a lot more depth and emotional impact than a typical noir film. Can you delve a bit into the specific cinematic influences of TOO LATE as far as auteurs and/or films?

DH: There are a lot of them.

MT: I felt some Godard and Altman.

DH: I’ve heard reviewers say Altman before. I love Godard, but I’m curious as to how you see the connection?

MT: A few ways. Of course, there’s his classic quote, “you have to have a beginning middle and end, but not in that order” and your film certainly utilizes this concept well. Also, there’s a great deal of cinematic self-reflexivity as the film is about filmmaking as much as it’s about anything, which is very Godard-like to me. For example, there’s a whole drive-in theater scene where we go into the projection booth and get to see an actress operate the big 35-millimeter film projector and the movie playing is “Carnival of Souls,” which serves as a great counterbalance to your story, underscoring the whole “high art” of “cinema” versus “low art” of B-films like Carnival.

DH: “Carnival of Souls” is an achievement as far as what those filmmakers accomplished in terms of atmosphere. And regarding using Carnival in my film, it was interesting how that all worked out. We had to playback the movie without the sound and then when we layered the sound back in via editing, it seemed to compliment what was going on in the action of my story. The creepy organ music of Carnival momentarily became the score of TOO LATE in a very effective way. And the actress in the scene had to learn to thread up a 35-millimeter film print, which added to the realism of the moment.

MT: Speaking of the actors, they were wonderful. John Hawkes holds the film together in that once the complete plot is revealed his performance makes even greater emotional sense as you think back on his actions in the story. Crystal Reed as the woman he’s seeking to reconnect with brought nuance and depth to her role as well. Of course, there was also the idea of the “objectification of women” raised, especially in the scene where an actress is completely nude during the entire 22-minute one take scene. Even though we don’t always see her whole body during the scene, we always know she’s naked. It plays as a great demonstration of nudity as vulnerability.

DH: Yes, she gets naked early in the scene, she answers the door that way, and continues playing the whole scene naked. This was the best physical representation of her breakdown – “I’m staying nude like this because I don’t care anymore.”

MT: What special technical challenges did you have given the film’s long takes?

DH: I had to find a great focus puller who could manage such complicated shots. And my lighting budget was greater than I thought it would be because all the interiors had to be lit completely for the long take. In other words, normally you’re shooting “coverage,” meaning you shoot many different short shots during a scene and you can move around lights for different setups. I couldn’t do that in this film…I had to light whole interior sets up at once.

We also had to use a variety of lenses, some wide-angle primes and a zoom lens for the opening scene that took some testing and searching to find. We wound up using a broadcast sporting events telephoto lens for the opening scene. During that scene John Hawkes had to leave an apartment complex and drive through traffic in real time to drive to the park and finish the scene with Crystal Reed and the other actors. The complex shot had to be coordinated and it was challenging because John Hawkes had to drive to the park on time, and the LA traffic he was driving through can be very unpredictable. But in the end, we got a good take.

MT: How do you feel about audiences preferring to watch episodic TV instead of feature films and what’s next for you?

DH: I do have some favorite episodic television that I watch too, and I hope audiences continue to see independent feature films in movie theaters. My next project will be from a script I wrote entitled “Sunny Gables.”

Hauck professed to me by the end of the interview that he will continue to shoot and screen his films in 35-millimeter despite whatever challenges that format presents. He’s committed to a certain cinematic aesthetic and judging from TOO LATE, it’s worth the extra effort for him to keep working this way. And it was certainly still worth it to screen it on Netflix.

Disclaimer, this is not a “new film” it was released in 2015 but I just caught up with it on Netflix (another “disclaimer but despite Hauck’s insistence that the best way to see his film is in a 35-millimeter theatre I still enjoyed it streaming it at home!)

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