The Loft Cinema is running its first Loft Film Fest right now with films running all day today, featuring appearances by filmmakers such as Kirby Dick, Bobcat Goldthwait, Tom Barndt, Lisanne Skyler, Michael Swingler, and Judith Levine in person. Joining this impressive group is independent filmmaker and screenwriter Nicholas McCarthy, whose film Chinese Box will screen in The Shooting Range Short Film Showcase, Sunday November 14th at 8:30PM which has eight films from some of the most innovative filmmakers working today, many of whom will be in attendance tonight. I was able to talk with McCarthy, whose work has been shown in places such as The Sundance Film Festival, AFI Fest, and many more, recently about the film, independent filmmaking, and his journey here. The interview provided so much great information that it was split into two parts with the first part available here or in the links at the end of the article. In this second part, we begin by picking up with McCarthy, who at the end of the last part was talking about the role of Mike Plante’s LunchFilm program in making Chinese Box.
Talking more about Plante’s LunchFilm program, I was curious if Plante gave him specific elements or a specific story that he wanted him to use and moreover, why did he choose to tell this story, to make this film Chinese Box. McCarthy began with a telling explanation of how things often work out when making a film. “You know, Mike came with this idea ‘Just make a film’, and he had a few things he wrote down that we had talked about, and he said try to incorporate these into the movie, I didn’t (McCarthy laughs), but actually, when the film was done, I realized that I had, perhaps subconsciously.” It’s weird how it often works out that way as a seed can make its way into things.
He continued on this track saying, “The last film I made had been so busy, I had a huge cast, I had a camera that was constantly moving, I had special effects, it was just a really complicated movie, the most complicated I had ever made. So approaching this next film, Chinese Box, I guess what I really wanted to do was completely remove myself as a director as much as I could from the film and make the movie about these two characters. The idea was that in a way, it was a personal experiment to see if I could keep people interested in these two characters that I had written for a ten minute movie, then I could perhaps move forward as a filmmaker.”
McCarthy, who in addition to making his own films does work as a screenwriter in Los Angeles, continued on as I kind of just let him talk since he kept offering such great information and setting it in my lap. “I had been writing screenplays, I hadn’t made a film in three years, and I was sort of wondering where my voice was as a filmmaker, and as it turns out, I think I found it with Chinese Box, because it really was an amazing experience working with those two actors (Sam Ball and Petra Wright). You know, it’s a movie that I think I knew was never going to land squarely in the middle of the audience, where everyone would sort of understand what was going on in between these two characters. But, I felt like I succeeded at the end of the day in capturing these two characters that I had in my mind and putting them on screen, because people would come up to me after the screenings, and on more than one occasion, say to me that they knew someone like the guy in the movie.” This is a great look behind how filmmakers grow and enhance their craft as McCarthy has clearly done.
We talked a little more about this idea of simplifying things for a film, kind of stripping it down to the essentials of the story. McCarthy said, “It’s kind of comparable to someone playing in a band, and it sounds good amplified, but does the song sound any good with just an acoustic guitar? So for me, this movie was sort of the filmmaking equivalent of a song played on acoustic guitar because, well for example, how I worked with my DP (Bridger Nielson) was I said that the focus should be so shallow that it is about their faces, in that we see a little bit of what is behind them, but the movie is only about who these people are.” He changed gears a bit talking about the speed of the production, saying that “it was done so quickly, from the moment I sat down to write it, to when we were essentially done with it, was like six weeks.” McCarthy continued saying that working fast can have sometimes sloppy results, and you should stop more, but in this case “if you start with a simple idea that you sort of know in your soul that you’d like to see on screen, and you don’t have time to over think it, over analyze it, you can get the results you are looking for, as for me, it can be easy to overcomplicate things.”
Another influence for Chinese Box that Nicholas McCarthy talked about was one of my favorite films that is truly underappreciated which is Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. More specifically, McCarthy spoke about the scene where Tom Cruise, who plays a doctor who makes house calls, goes to the house of a man who has just died, finding the widow at the bed side. A true scene of cinematic triumph ensues as the woman comes onto Cruise. McCarthy said, “That’s just such a powerful scene and the actress (Marie Richardon) did such an amazing job. I always really liked in that movie, how that moment was kind of a mini-movie. In a way, that’s what I was thinking about when I was making Chinese Box. In that film (Eyes Wide Shut) it’s a palpable moment between the characters within this full movie, and her character is really dominating that moment, but then you never see her again, and I like that quality for a short film, where there is sort of no context for the characters so anything can happen, as opposed to features where you have some rules that are a little more set in stone.”
We wrapped up talking about what’s next for McCarthy, for Chinese Box, and any other projects he has upcoming. McCarthy began talking about what’s going on with Chinese Box, “It’s played at Sundance, and at AFI Fest, it was nice to see it at those fests, and then Mike (Plante) has played it all over, and maybe most important, it was a movie that introduced me to some collaborators who I have since gone on to do more work with, and plan to do more with as well. So it really opened up some doors for me and gave some confidence as a filmmaker.” He continues to write screenplays as well, constantly working on this and his own projects, furthering his growth as a filmmaker.
Be sure to head over to The Loft Cinema on Sunday night for The Shooting Range Short Film Showcase beginning at 8:30PM, where Nicholas McCarthy’s short film Chinese Box will be screening and McCarthy will be in attendance for a Q and A after the film along with several other directors whose films are art of this program including Bobcat Goldthwait. The Loft Film Fest continues today with a host of films and events, as well as filmmakers and personalities in attendance, so head over to their website to browse their selections, as there really is something for everyone in this amazing slate. The screenings begins at 11:30AM today with all screenings at The Loft Cinema. Look for more on several of the films coming to the festival including interviews, more previews, and recaps of the fest highlights. If you are interested in following along with The Loft Film Fest, the film happenings in Tucson, and local filmmakers, you can receive these articles directly as they are published by clicking on the “Subscribe” button at the top of this piece. You can also follow me on Twitter by searching for ericshlapack or by clicking the link below.
For more info:
The Loft Cinema
The Loft Film Fest
Shooting Range Short Film Showcase
Part One of Interview with Nicholas McCarthy
Sundance Film Festival
Follow me on Twitter