Charles de Lauzirika Talks Crave and More
Charles de Lauzirika has probably been involved with some of your favorite behind-the-scenes footage and DVD extras on classic films like Blade Runner and the cult series “Twin Peaks”.
With Crave (review here) he’s graduating to a new level of filmmaking by directing his first feature about an eccentric photographer who begins to walk down a very dark path. Moving into directing is a good move and a brave one (for anyone) but especially for Lauzirika since DVDs are dropping off more and more and extras are now harder to come by as studios don’t put the effort into new releases quite like they used to.
Crave is certainly a decent first effort but also an effort that Lauzirika himself isn’t completely satisfied with. For anyone looking to direct themselves one day, the below interview should offer some insight and advice for any first-timer.
Dread Central: Working on a lot of behind-the-scenes documentaries over the years from Blade Runner to "Twin Peaks", you've certainly shown yourself to be a fan first and foremost. You've mentioned wanting to delve into the making of Star Wars at some point. If you had the chance, would you prefer to focus on the original trilogy or look into the films to come as well?
Charles de Lauzirika: Well, of course, it’s not up to me… but in some alternate universe where it was up to me, I’d want to build an anthology template that spans all the existing films in such a way that future films are simply added to that template, while also embracing the unique historical phenomenon of these films along the way. I would want to embrace the human story of these movies while also lovingly fetishizing the details. If you could take the journalism of those superb J.W. Rinzler “Making of” books, fuse that with the spirit of the vintage “Art of” books and transform that into a video documentary experience somehow, combined with all versions of the films presented with the best picture and sound quality possible, I think you’d really have the definitive home video exploration of the Star Wars universe. And it would be an inclusive experience that brings all different types of Star Wars fans back together under one tent.
In a way, that’s what I tried to do with Blade Runner. We gave the fans all five versions to the best technical standards we could, along with hours and hours of really in-depth and geeky content that was built upon an epic and fascinating behind-the-scenes narrative. Basically, if you gave me Star Wars, I would give each one of the films the Blade Runner or Alien Anthology treatment. Yes, even the Prequels. But this… all of this is academic.
DC: How has the transition been from researching and compiling behind-the-scenes material into directing your first film? Is it the actors that are hardest to deal with or the logistics?
CL: Well, you also have to deal with actors when you’re making the behind-the-scenes content because you’re either shooting them on set or you’re interviewing them, and even though they might be perfectly nice to you, you’re still considered somewhat of an intruder. So working with actors as the film’s director was certainly more creatively and personally stimulating and meaningful. But of course, both you and your actors are basically speaking a different language than when you’re dealing with them as a documentarian. It’s more fun and creative as the director, but the responsibility and pressure is greater. In a way, you could almost say the same about the logistics, except the scope of those logistics is also much greater. I don’t know if one is harder than the other because in theory, if you want to make films, you should enjoy all of it, including the headaches.
DC: Can you talk a little bit about the Philip K. Dick story you originally wanted to make as your first feature and why Crave ended up being your first endeavor instead? Is it politics or did you find a passion for the material as well?
CL: When I was working on Blade Runner, I got to know some of Philip K. Dick’s family, including his daughter, Isa Dick Hackett, who runs the film side of the Dick Estate with their production company Electric Shepherd Productions. I mean, I’ve been wanting to direct since I was seven years old and saw Jaws. I always had directing in the back of my mind, even when I was doing other things. So when I met Isa and we became great friends, I asked her if I could possibly direct a short film based on one of her dad’s short stories. She said yes and sent me five stories from which to choose. But in reading those, I came across a sixth that I was instantly hooked by. It’s called “I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon”. So I brought that one up with Isa and it was a story that’s particularly special to her. So she allowed me to develop it, but after some consideration and my imagination starting to run wild, it quickly became something closer to a feature-length adaptation. And the possibilities of this particular premise almost gave me too many ideas… so many that I pretty much short-circuited.
So I started working closely with Kalen Egan, who is Isa’s development executive at ESP, and after months of some truly enjoyable back-and-forth, I suggested to Kalen that he write the script with me. But as the scope and ambition of the film grew, Isa eventually asked me if I would consider directing something smaller in order to prove that I could direct a feature of this size. After all, if we were going to try to raise the money it was going to take to realize this story, wouldn’t it be helpful for me to have something to show? So that’s exactly what I did. I reached out to my neighbor at the time, Robert Lawton, who had recently directed his own first feature, Sex and Sushi, which was ultra-low budget but had tons of confidence, and I asked him if he had any ideas for a script that I could make lean, mean and fast. Rob pitched me “Travis Bickle meets Walter Mitty.” I took the bait and soon we were quickly developing a script off Rob’s original idea. That took some months, and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye, but out of all that, we ended up with a script and several months later, Crave was up and running in Detroit.
DC: Did you walk away from the edit of Crave wholly satisfied, or did you want to keep coming back and improving it? Since it was your first, was it harder to walk away and not want to keep improving, and do you think you’re better prepared now for the next project?
CL: I’m definitely not completely satisfied with the final edit of Crave. It wasn’t an ideal situation by any means. But it rarely is. Now that I’ve seen it screen with an audience several times, and I’ve had some time to let it breathe, I would probably go in and trim some more, and maybe shuffle some moments to make a couple of the more conventional scenes a little more unusual and interesting. I would also take another pass at the sound mix, too. But at some point you just have to finish, or you’ll be working on it forever. It’s not that I would ever run out of enthusiasm to keep refining it, but I’m pretty sure everyone around me would! But you know, I made a lot of mistakes on this… mistakes I kind of had to make. Sometimes you have to stick your hand in the fire and get burned so that you never do it again. And I got burned more than a few times on Crave. But so long as I use those lessons on the next one, the pain will probably have been worth it.
DC: You must be exhausted after maintaining your day job working on behind-the-scenes footage and balancing that with making your first film. Also, how did you first find yourself working on bonus features in film? A lot of fans would love to do that.
CL: Surprisingly, making Crave while doing the behind-the-scenes work wasn’t as taxing as I thought it was going to be. The Crave shoot itself luckily landed smack-dab in the middle of a gap in my DVD schedule, and then all the post-production on Crave limped along for a couple years as I would go and do some DVD work, then come back to Crave, then do some more DVD work, and then come back to Crave again. Like I said, it wasn’t ideal. But it did provide me with a little more perspective on the film as we were finishing it.
As for how I ended up working in the behind-the-scenes producing job, it’s a story I’ve told many times. It was really a ‘right place, right time’ situation. I read on The Digital Bits that Fox was planning a DVD box set of the Alien films, and this was back in 1998 when Fox wasn’t investing a lot of enthusiasm into their DVDs. They seemed hesitant about the format, so since I was working for Scott Free at the time, working in development, I approached Ridley Scott about getting involved in that first Alien DVD. After I briefed him on what the format was capable of, and how big I thought it was going to be, he basically put me in charge of all of his DVD special editions. Then I started doing that for Tony Scott. And then other directors asked for me. And eventually I started making full-blown documentaries and had my own company and a regular team of collaborators and so on. It’s not a job I would recommend anyone pursue right now. It was the Wild West back then so anything was possible. Now it’s kind of a ghost town. Back then the studios were aggressively trying to create the best product possible and there was a lot of support and enthusiasm for the format. But those days are mostly gone now. Occasionally you still see an elaborate special edition, but that’s generally because it’s for a movie by an A-list director who gets what he wants. However, I can’t really complain because I’m still lucky enough to be doing it. It’s just that there used to be a bunch of us in this job, and now those of us who are left at this party are looking around and wondering, ‘Where did everybody go?’
DC: It was great to see Ron Perlman and Edward Furlong in the film. Were they some of the first names you had on your list?
CL: Ron was certainly a name who came up early on, amongst several others. We had a whiteboard in the production office which I would occasionally draw storyboards on or write down actor names. The day I wrote down casting ideas for Pete, I think the board was pretty much covered in ink. But that’s how you start, just by throwing ideas out to see what clicks. Then you narrow that down into a more realistic and reasonable list, and then you reach out to the representatives of the actors you’re most interested in to see who’s available and if any of them are interested. At that point your list gets shorter still. But of all the names that survived, Ron was ultimately the one I thought was best for the role and best for the film.
As for Eddie, I hadn’t really considered him at first. But Oakley Stevenson, our costume designer, knew him and made the connection. When she mentioned his name, it was kind of an epiphany. He was so perfect, I hadn’t even thought of him! As it turned out, Eddie was absolutely a blast to work with. He came out to Detroit during a week-long break in his Green Hornet schedule. He worked so hard and always gave me more than I needed. I’d love to work with both him and Ron again. And of course Josh [Lawson] and Emma [Lung] as well.
DC: Was it difficult filming in Detroit on a limited budget? Were you forced to cut corners or did it help with being creative?
CL: Actually having a limited budget is the first reason I considered Detroit. I don’t know how it is now, but back in 2009 it was relatively affordable and gave you a lot of bang for your buck thanks to the willingness of the city to work with you on what you needed, for the most part anyway. And the tax incentive they had back then was essential to making this film the way it was made. The most difficult thing about Detroit was simply the bitter, bitter cold weather. And we were only there in early fall. I can’t imagine what it’s like in full-blown winter. But the cold weather took its toll on the production for sure. I feel like we were working at only about 60% efficiency because of how damn freezing it was. You could only work so long before you’d have to find warmth somewhere, and then those hour-long lunches just ended up getting stretched a bit longer every day as people cherished the warmth. No one wanted to go back out into the cold, least of all me. Starting the film as late into cold weather as we did wasn’t my call, and that’s one of those lessons I’ll be very aware of on the next film I do.
I was forced to cut corners here and there, but then on the other hand, I feel like we had too much of other things. It was a strange production that was kind of out of balance. The priorities were off in some ways. Money being wasted on some fronts, preparation and communication taking a back seat on others. But in other ways the crew was fantastic and very loyal to the production. I met some amazing people on this production who I’m still friendly with today. When the Blu-ray of Crave comes out, there’s a pretty candid video production journal on there that I think will be very interesting for new filmmakers and even non-filmmakers. It’s not quite Hearts of Darkness, but we also don’t shy away from much either. I wasn’t expecting to have a fully-loaded special edition for Crave done right out of the gate, but when I realized this might be the only opportunity to do it, I said, ‘Why not?’
DC: I would think that seeing a lot of other directors and the way they shoot when you're putting together special features would be helpful in showing you how to stage action and control a set. Was it almost like its own film school?
CL: Definitely. I mean, I went to USC Film School and came out of there with a lot of great connections and friendships, but not so much in the way of filmmaking knowledge or experience. I think back then I learned more about filmmaking from having made my own Super-8 and VHS films and reading magazines like Cinefex, CineMagic and American Cinematographer, all of this before going to USC. But outside of USC, when I was interning or doing P.A. jobs for production companies like Lightstorm, Lucasfilm and Silver Pictures is when I really started to learn some practical film industry lessons. But still, it was all most political and procedural knowledge I was gaining. It was still knowledge obtained from some distance. It wasn’t until I started working for Ridley and Tony Scott at Scott Free that I started to really get under the hood of professional A-list filmmaking, and I was exposed to what it really takes to make a major motion picture. And fortunately, thanks to Ridley and later Tony, I was able to start witnessing their process with enough trust and access that I really learned some incredibly valuable lessons. The way they handled problems and politics was important, but more importantly, it was how they paced a shoot, or covered a scene, or how they would let go of unimportant things in order to get very important things. How they would negotiate their way through a minefield every day to make sure they were capturing their vision. And just picking up little tricks and bits of advice that became helpful later on as well. I remember on the set of Domino, Tony Scott told me it was always important to change your shoes once a day while you’re directing. I didn’t always get to do that on Crave, but whenever I did, it really worked. Just like the “fists with your toes” thing in Die Hard. It really gave me a little extra steam. But that’s just the little stuff. I mean, when you’re on set and you get to observe not just the machinery of the production but also how that machinery is being operated by a world class director, you can’t help but file away certain memories and observations for your own use later. There were a few times on Crave when I didn’t have an immediate answer to a question or a problem, but I would think back to something I saw Ridley or even Michael Bay do and kind of run that through my own filter, my own sensibilities, and it would help. The key is to be decisive. Own your vision. Own your film. That really gets you through a lot, especially when the crew has faith in you that you know what you’re doing, even if deep down you might have doubts. But that’s okay. That’s part of the process. Just keep marching forward and try to keep your eyes and ears open for ways to make your film better than what you originally had in mind.
DC: Did you always plan on having a more open-ended finale where the audience isn't really certain what happens to Aiden? Is it harder to come to terms with the fate of a character like him who is such an antihero? He's not a cut and dried character so it's harder to have a definitive ending I would think.
CL: I love ambiguous endings, or at least endings that leave you wondering not so much about what it all means but more about what happens next. And given how fractured Aiden’s psyche is, especially at the end of the film, there are bound to be fragments left behind. Would it have been satisfying to know the answer to the question the film leaves you with? I don’t think so. And I want the viewer to be there with me participating in the narrative. We know what has happened. We know what should happen. We know what could happen. The audience has plenty to work with. So I think it’s better to let them work with that rather than just hand it to them. I want them to keep talking about the film after it’s over. This isn’t like getting a haircut where at the end you’re either satisfied with the haircut or you’re not, but the haircut is over until the next one. I’m asking the audience to enter into a relationship with the film and even though there are ups and downs, I’m hoping it’s a more meaningful and long-lasting experience than just being provided with a common everyday service. And to me, all of this is because Aiden is not the usual protagonist. He’s more complicated than that. And he deserves a better, more interesting ending than just tidily winning or losing the day. He’s uncertain about his own future, so the ending should reflect that, I think.
jDC: Is filmmaking something you're certain you want to continue to do? Was it more taxing and overwhelming than you had initially thought? So long to the day job?
CL: When I was packing my bags after we wrapped in Detroit and I was on my way to the airport to return home to L.A., I was intensely sad because I wasn’t on my way back to set. I really was. I was already missing the circus of it all. So I think that’s a good sign that I definitely want to continue directing features. Like most people, I have bills to pay, so I will continue with the day job for the foreseeable future, but not just for the money. I actually enjoy traveling the world, documenting the work of amazing filmmakers and actors, and working on exciting new films. I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s a film geek dream come true. And hopefully, I will continue to do that… just with my own films as well, so I can tell my own stories. That’s the goal, anyway.
Crave is now available to rent or purchase across all VOD platforms including Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube.
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