IONCINEMA.com’s IONCINEPHILE of the Month feature focuses on an emerging filmmaker from the world of cinema….but we would be disingenuous in categorizing this month’s spotlighted artist as a “new” arrival on the scene as this person as added a significant of contributions to the American independent film landscape.
This October, we feature Reed Morano, an award-winning cinematographer who’s deft craftsmanship can be found in works dating back to Courtney Hunt’s Frozen River and So Yong Kim’s For Ellen to more recent oeuvres in John Krokidas’ Kill Your Darlings and Mark Jackson’s War Story. Morano made the transition to directing, wearing not one but two hats on Meadowland, a soberingly thoughtful examination on loss, grief and an eschewing type of salvation starring Olivia Wilde in a performance that several are calling both fearless and ferocious.
Premiering this past April at the Tribeca Film Festival and this weekend at the Hamptons Film Festival, Cinedigm opens Meadowland in theaters on Oct. 16th and On Demand on Oct. 23rd. Below we briefly touch upon her initial response to the screenplay, her collaboration with Wilde and how the handheld approach ultimately spearheaded the look of the film. Here is our profile and make sure to check out his Top Ten Films of All Time (soon!).
Eric Lavallee: During your childhood…what films were important to you?
Reed Morano: I remember certain films very clearly that we watched as a family when I was a kid — I remember seeing “Splash” in the theater with my family and “Karate Kid” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at the drive in movie theater in New Mexico following an epic sunset. I’ll never forget when I saw “Biloxi Blues” in a theater on my first date. At home, we watched movies nearly every night. I particularly recall going through a phase where I watched “My Life as a Dog” several times over at home on videotape.
Lavallee: During your formative years what films and filmmakers inspired you?
Morano: There were a wide range of filmmakers who inspired me as I was starting out later in film school. I loved and still love Antonioni, Kubrick, Scorsese, Bergman, Malick, Hitchcock, Luc Besson, Wim Wenders, Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson.
Lavallee: At what point did you know you wanted to be involved in film?
Morano: My father was a businessman; and when I was very young, he brought back a video camera from Asia — one of those giant JVC home video cameras that record to VHS tapes. I was probably in first or second grade. He gave me the camera and told me, “You’re going to be in charge of documenting the family.” I was kind of annoyed at first, not really interested. But then he showed how me to press record and how to use the built-in fade in and fade out; and before you know it, I had that camera with me wherever I went. I was always writing stories when I was young; so it was sort of subconscious, but I had found a new medium with which to tell stories.
I started out shooting literally footage of grass growing in the backyard, birds flying overhead, my cat creeping around in the bushes. But eventually that evolved into slightly more interesting videos. I often used my siblings to make commercials and music videos. I never really thought of it as a potential career or a job, it seemed like a hobby. I knew writing was something you did with your life, so at that point, I figured I would become a writer.
When it came time to apply for college, I’d basically stopped writing. My dad suggested applying to NYU film school (Tisch School of the Arts). “You love taking pictures and you love telling stories — it just seems like the perfect thing,” he had said.
At NYU, I began working as a PA. I hadn’t even touched a camera yet. I didn’t know what an apple box was. But from the very first shoot, I became fascinated by what the DP was doing. Everything the audience would see, they would see through the DP’s eyes. I found it fascinating: the light meters, the film lights, the camera movement and composition used to evoke emotion or reaction. I decided on that very first set I ever walked onto that I wanted to be a DP, and I never looked back.
Lavallee: Could you tell me about your very first read of Chris Rossi‘s screenplay. What aspect/facet resonated with you the most?
Morano: Chris is a brilliant writer – and has a very particular strength I gravitated to immediately- he’s excellent at crafting incredibly powerful moments with almost no dialogue. As a visual person, that’s the holy grail for me. There was this one scene in the script where the main character, Sarah, wakes up suddenly in the middle of the night. For example, have you ever had a dream where you remembered something and it was so important you had to address it right in that moment, at 3am? She wakes suddenly, rushes out to her car and finds the stale remains of an animal cracker that was left in the crevices of the backseat from a year earlier. It was such a loaded, heartbreaking moment and for me, and as a mother, I sobbed when I read that scene on the page.
Thematically, what interested me in this story was exploring the different ways people respond to the same emotional circumstance and creating an honest portrayal of grief. Pre-cancer, I had two things I used to relate to Meadowland: Being a mother to two young sons and forcing myself to image the unimaginable: what it would be like if they went missing; and the loss of my best friend: my father, when I was 18.
I was curious how far this experience could go. I wanted to see if I could get the audience to feel everything. I wanted them to feel the pain. I wanted them to feel the shock. I wanted them to feel like they were lost in a dream, and I wanted them to feel the absurd moments of humor and humanity amidst a world falling apart. And after all that, I wanted them to feel hope.
This is a total generalization but in many dramas, more often then not, the mood tend to be very one note. It may be strange, but there actually are a couple of funny moments Meadowland. I wanted that in the film — I needed that. I realized a long time ago, that even when things are really, really shitty people don’t walk around totally morose 24/7. Ultimately, though, the heart of the story is really how these two people are losing their grasp on themselves. The world is totally normal around them and they’re spiraling out of control.
Chris Rossi was an inspiring collaborator and he trusted me and gave me a lot of freedom. The script was evolving even throughout the shoot. I made revisions all the way through prep, and then changes during shooting. But we had to be ready for the magic that can happen on set. I actually ended up rewriting the ending halfway through shooting because of a scene we shot that was particularly amazing. After it happened, I knew we couldn’t go anywhere else from there.
Lavallee: The character of Sarah runs the gamut of very complex human emotions. What kind of process did you employ in working with Olivia? How did you inform her on the character and her performance?
Morano: We didn’t really rehearse, because I don’t like knowing what will happen or giving notes or adjustments before the camera is rolling. As a DP I always noticed that the most honest performances were often the least manipulated ones. If, after a couple of takes, I needed things to go in another direction, then I would give some adjustments here or there. Olivia got to know Sarah inside and out. We could talk for hours about a character. We also got to know each other so well that we could also make a minute adjustment by just sharing a look, even in the middle of a scene. In prep, we each shared our own perspective on why Sarah was doing every little thing she did as she evolved on the page. We talked about who she was before the movie began. We projected a lot on who she would be, after the film was over. There was no aspect of Sarah we left untouched. Olivia would just go for it and I would be right by her side to react as the camera, as the observer and to make sure we were on the right track.
Lavallee: What ideas did you have for the style of the film? What inspirations (other films, location, paintings etc…) did you draw upon for the look/style, aesthetics of the film?
Morano: This may sound odd to some but even as a DP, I believe this: I think you can find more true intimacy and honest moments if you don’t put too many restrictions or specifics on what the shot is, if you don’t say, this is what the shot’s going to be, and stick to it. That’s the real reason why I love verite and shooting handheld. I want the freedom it gives me to react instantaneously off the character’s emotions. I love to fly by the seat of my pants. Maybe that started with when I used to shoot documentary. I think this was the right decision for Meadowland, because prior to a scene, I don’t know think either myself nor the actors truly knew where we were going to go, we were letting it all bubble to the surface the moment the camera began rolling. There’s an intensity to that way of working that is thrilling.
Lavallee: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your production designer…
Morano: I had a beautiful collaboration with Kelly McGehee. She and I had worked together previously on wonderful film by Victoria Mahoney called “Yelling to the Sky“. One of the most exciting things is the attention to detail Kelly has – I gave her color swatches with only 50 colors and said to her, “these are the only colors I want in the film.” She stuck to it more than I could have ever imagined possible on our tiny budget. The color control in the film is so precise and that in turn served the mood and the cinematography.
Lavallee: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your editor…
Morano: Madeleine Gavin was the perfect person for me- she’s feisty- she fights for what she believes in and won’t back down. That’s exactly what I wanted in an editor, someone who has a mind of their own and would open my eyes to new possibilities. That’s Madeleine. She would also never be satisfied. She taught me to tear scenes apart over and over again. That’s how some of our most unexpected and successful narrative discoveries were made.
Lavallee: Can you discuss the collaborative process you had with your sound designer…
Morano: Sound design was a major character in Meadowland. Tony Volante was my sound designer and he blew my mind. When we first discussed the film, I promised him we would do some really trippy shit with sound. I just felt like we needed to in order to really put the audience in Sarah’s head. Tony was onboard and he came up with some incredible audio interpretations of her state of mind, that I had never heard before in films. He exceeded all my expectations for the atmosphere I had imagined.
Cinedigm opens Meadowland in theaters on Oct. 16th and On Demand on Oct. 23rd.