Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Road to Sundance: L Train, directed by Anna Musso

Tell us about your film. What inspired you to make it? 
L TRAIN was conceived in Hawai’i. I was there working on a film, THE DESCENDANTS, as assistant to the director, Alexander Payne. I’ve been very lucky to work for Alexander and to have the extension of my education that comes with watching him make films. Yet, for a young aspiring filmmaker, sometimes it can also be torturous watching someone else live your dream every day, waiting for your chance.

One day we got to talking during one of our long car rides through the islands. He sensed in me what I was just about to discover: I needed to stop watching and make my own chance. Thus began a series of conversations in which I’d throw out ideas. After a litany of disconnected ramblings, I began to really think about why it was that I needed to make a film. We spoke about great filmmakers who have this thing inside them, this wonderful “Sit! I must tell you about this.” quality. Film can be a beautiful tool for social consciousness and I couldn’t help but think about those things that I needed to tell stories about, people that I felt needed to be seen on a screen. Finally, I found myself talking Alexander’s ear off about these two women to whom I felt the world owed its attention. Two women to whom I owed my own attention. And their story is our film.

How long did it take you to make your film?  
About a year from soup to nuts.

How did you finance your film? 
I begged, borrowed and stole.  I took loans from kind and generous people and I saved as much as I could.  I also received amazing donations from Ad Hominem, The City of Chicago, FotoKem, Kodak and the extraordinary Fletcher Camera of Chicago.

What was the most challenging part of the filmmaking process and how did you overcome it?
I woke up on the morning of the Third Worst Blizzard in Chicago History and looked out the window. Whiteness. Nothing else. The streets, shut down, the 'L', shut down. I cursed the Film Gods and all twenty-two people who sent me text messages congratulating me on getting the snow I'd wished for. I looked out the window again in a panic. My mother called me and the first words out of her mouth were, "Hope you got a good alderman." What? What does the alderman have to do with this? In Chicago, a lot. The only way to get our truck down any street would be a city plow. We'd have to spend the day digging out a spot and wait for the plow. It's funny where our fate sometimes rests.  And then I looked out the window again only this time, I realized something: "Sure I don't have a camera, I don't have a crew, I can't open my front door. But holy cow look at all this awesome snow!!! This is going to look amazing on film!!!"  Before the storm was over we would get 21.2 inches of snow. And the plow did come. (Thank you, Alderman Levar.) And let's just say, the irony is not lost on me every time someone asks if the mounds of snow in the film were created by visual effects.

Tell us about your experience getting into Sundance. Are there any pointers for filmmakers for getting accepted?
Sundance is a dream come true.  It's like getting to the top of some mythical mountain you've been thinking of forever.  Except getting to the top of any peak one instantly turns around and discovers there is some other higher peak.  But Sundance is a dream come true.  My advice would be, "Only have fun and have no stress at all."  And, "If you figure out how to do that, tell me how."

If you had to make the film all over again, would you do anything different?
How much time do you have?!  No, really, there were lessons learned.  It was a giant extension of my education.  I can honestly say though, that, at the end of the day, I would not alter a single frame.  The mistakes ultimately turned into my film and directing is, I think, sort of the process of discovering the film through the experience, warts and all. 

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