AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2012
By Don Simpson | October 28, 2012
Eric Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse (1967) serves as a purposeful point of reference for writer-director Will James Moore’s Satellite of Love — not only does Moore cast the lead actor of La Collectionneuse (Patrick Bauchau) as Samuel’s eccentric friend, but Moore even mimics the tranquil Mediterranean atmosphere of La Collectionneuse by setting Satellite of Love in the vineyards of the Texas Hill Country.
While the fourth of Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales functions as a sharp criticism of the lack of morality in the youth of the 1960s, Moore allows his characters to criticize each other and refrains from stamping any sort of directorial judgment on them. The script lives up to the classic intellectualism of Rohmer without ever feeling too stilted or forced; while, visually, Satellite of Love maintains the vibrancy of the French New Wave, particularly with its impeccably crafted mise-en-scène. Satellite of Love is absolutely gorgeous, from the oh-so-beautiful cast to Steve Acevedo’s masterful cinematography. Rohmer would probably be very proud that he inspired Moore’s film.
Moore and I have been in correspondence ever since the film’s world premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival; but it was not until the 2012 Austin Film Festival that I finally had a chance to sit down with Moore, Jonathan Case (co-writer and music supervisor), Shannon Lucio (Catherine) and Zachary Knighton (Blake) to chat about Satellite of Love.
Don Simpson: What attracted you to Eric Rohmer, specifically his film La Collectionneuse (1967), as an influence on this film?
Will James Moore: I went to Jonathan [Case] with the idea for a film that I wanted to make. This was about ten years after Jonathan, Mike Lutz and I had lived together in Santa Monica; I was reflecting on where each of us were in our lives. I was married and had a kid in Austin, while Jonathan was touring the world playing music, and Mike was married and living in Santa Monica as a costumer. So, I was thinking about the different paths you can take in life; the idea was to make a film about friendships and how the choices we make in life affect us long-term. I brought this idea to Jonathan and I told him that I wanted to keep it very simple. I wanted to keep it mostly at one location. The other two films that I had directed [Wesley Cash (2004), Cowboy Smoke (2008)] were very big — well, big in terms of being low budget but having a lot of action. So, Jonathan said that I had to see La Collectionneuse. I couldn’t find it anywhere, but I eventually found it on YouTube and watched it in five minute increments. That gave us the idea to base the film at a vineyard and create the love triangle. That is where the similarities of the scripts end.
Jonathan Case: We just used La Collectionneuse as a reference point in terms of vibe and trying to tell a story as simply as possible.
DS: And then visually, Satellite of Love conveys a very European aesthetic. You essentially transform the Hill Country of Central Texas into a Mediterranean oasis.
WM: My favorite director is Terrence Malick. All of his films are very meditative, very visual and visceral. You feel because of the images, rather than the action of the film. Steve Acevedo is an amazing Director of Photography and Director, and when we work together we are able to talk in short form on set. He knows exactly what I want. We spent a lot of time on locations. We weren’t going to use a space only because it was available to us, we are going to find the best locations we possibly could. We had such a short schedule, and we were shooting eight to ten pages per day, with multiple locations.
DS: How did you approach the structure of the script?
WM: We wrote the ending and the beginning of the film last. We had written the rest of the script, but the beginning wasn’t right. It started with Samuel (Nathan Phillips) being on tour. The original ending of the film was a confrontation in which Samuel tells Blake (Zachary Knighton) that he slept with Catherine (Shannon Lucio); then there is a fight. Blake and Samuel leave. Catherine is left there by herself. Someone comes back, Catherine goes to the window and the film ends. We both didn’t think that felt right. I was going to Santa Barbara for a wedding and had one night in LA, so I got a room at the Standard Downtown. I had registered as Dr. Moore, and when I checked in, they didn’t have any rooms available so they upgraded me to a suite. We had 12-14 hours to figure out the ending. We drank a lot and finally figured it out.
JC: I remember Will coming into town and saying that we had to figure out the ending. That’s all I remember. When Will left, we had the ending. I remember us being on the roof drinking mojitos.
WM: Luckily I had my computer and had written it all down.
DS: This film deals with a lot of the existential issues that people tend to deal with during their post-collegiate years. How does this film reflect your personal realities?
WM: We really turned the mirror on ourselves and used that as source material. I am definitely Blake and Jonathan is definitely Samuel and there was never any attempt to hide that. That was our goal, to dig into the experiences that we’ve had and the choices we’ve made, and try to understand them. It was a discovery mission as much of a process for writing the script.
JC: I had some real difficulty going from what we had written to seeing what we were filming. There were just so many necessary compromises that we had to make, and that troubled me greatly. I thought we were going to lose the essence of the screenplay. Then, Shannon [Lucio] had seen an early cut of the film and said something like “it feels honest and it feels human.” The actors brought so much real truth to the film, and even though a lot of the scenes were slashed and burned, it still has the humanity and honesty that was in the spirit of our original conversation. It does feel autobiographical for both of us. I think of it as Will and I having a conversation on film.
DS: How did you approach working with the principal actors to convey your own personal story?
WM: Me and Shannon actually talked a lot about that last night. A lot of it had to do with casting and making sure we had the right actors. We really didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Zach [Knighton] or Nathan [Phillips]. I met with Zach in LA and knew he was perfect; and Nathan was so perfect too. Zach helped us set up some casting and we spent, what two to three weeks?
JC: Yeah, about two to three weeks of having beautiful girls come in and out of the room for hours at a time.
WM: Once we had the right people, we put them in a situation where they could go play, and just let them play. One of the reasons that I wanted everyone to stay in the same house is that I wanted everyone to acclimate to each other first, but I also wanted there to be real chemistry.
Zachary Knighton: I had done a movie with Nathan that was probably one of the worst movies ever made and Shannon and I used to date back in the 80s. [Laughs.]
Shannon Lucio: Zach wishes! And I had worked with Janina [Gavankar] on a television show called The Gates.
ZK: Less people saw that show then saw the terrible movie I made with Nathan. [Laughs.]
WM: I remember the first conversation I had with Zach. We were hanging out making initial chit chat conversation and he had told me about the really horrible movie he made with Nathan.
DS: How much backstory were you given that wasn’t part of the script?
ZK: For us, we were just feeling it out and getting to know each other pretty quick. At the time, we were both in long-term relationships, so I think — and I can’t speak for Shannon — I know what that feeling is like when you’ve been with someone for several years. So we had our personal backstories to bring into it.
SL: Yeah, honestly, in terms of backstory in the traditional sense, there wasn’t much given. We worked off of the script and we worked off of each other. There was some connection that was already there that was strong enough — that’s all you really need.
JC: Those guys just jumped right into it. Right off the back, they brought their own personalities to the characters.
SL: We had a really good first day — at the carnival.
JC: That was an amazing way to start a whole shoot.
SL: It was fun and silly.
JC: I love the way that stuff looks.