I have no personal experience with alcoholism. But I understand insatiable craving on a fundamental level. A reckless compulsion to quit a well-paying job and move to China, simply to continue making and teaching film. A complete and utter disregard for anything that doesn’t contribute to the creation of this core communal vision.
I realized I was addicted to the process of creation, and this fascination with film had impacted every aspect of my life. As I taught cinematography at a university in China, far away from the people I love so that I could do what I love, the concept of the film was gestating.
And then I watched Bergman’s masterpiece, “Persona.” And I was struck by the realization that filmmaking isn’t my only addiction; there was also heartbreak. Not an addiction to heartbreak, but to one girl from years back, a girl with whom I hadn’t spoken in years, but who still inspired and terrified me. A girl about whom I am still uncomfortable to think, much less write. Addiction can also be to a person.
I delved into research. Alcoholism had clear narrative potential. I read scores of books on the subject; I needed to understand. The Amazon algorithm has suggested just about every 12-step and recovery book in the world. I saw as many documentaries and narrative features as I could find. I read memoirs and blogs. I threw myself into the heart of addiction, and I saw myself staring back.
I also read the fascinating and maddening novel “Infinite Jest,” a book about everything in the world but mostly about addiction. The narrative possibilities bloomed before me. I would have an incredibly small budget, but we could make this work. If only I could figure out how to make a “talking heads” movie visceral. The goal, from the outset, was clear. I wanted to make a movie that showed my heart.
Our brilliant Executive Producer, Felicia Stallard, is one of my closest friends. She read the script and instantly knew it didn’t ring true. Her story is not mine to share, but it does have experience with the visceral pain and ugly realities of addiction. We re-wrote. Then my friend and collaborator William McGovern (who plays Ed) introduced me to Jared Bankens (Charlie). His life experiences have also encountered the horror of addiction. His contribution would be invaluable and his talent essential. The team was forming.
We wouldn’t be able to afford stars, and I knew everything from our G+E package to our camera would be “well-loved.” But the producers, the talent, and I had a goal: make a film with a voice. We would express our experiences visually. I have something to say, and I was committed to shouting it. And we all became addicted to the process of creation.
Why did I make this film? Because I had to. I couldn’t not. What did I learn? I was right; I feel like I am living up to my purpose only when I’m making a movie. And now that it’s finished, I can only think of the next one.
Inspirationally, I feel that WATWS has a serious debt of inspiration to “Requiem for a Dream,” although I haven’t seen that film in over two years, as I didn’t want to copy from it deliberately. Stylistically, I feel that I owe much more to Danny Boyle, specifically what he did in “127 Hours.” (FWIW, I think he’s the most visually interesting director working today.) Our color choices were made in close collaboration with our brilliant colorist Bradley Greer, though we were fortified in our decisions watching Russian master Tarkovsky do similar things in most of his later works.
In terms of editing, I owe the largest debt of gratitude to Sergei Paradjanov, a Soviet Bloc director who has been mostly forgotten but who revolutionized film editing as much as Eisenstein or Godard. Of course, it helps that our editor, Eva Morgan, is a genius.
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