What was the genesis of “Until the Night”? Is this the first feature film that you directed?
The genesis of the film goes back to 1997 when after six years working in the industry, I realized that I had never attempted to direct a film before, which was the reason why I chose to go into the industry in the first place. So I started writing the script loosely based on my brief experience in therapy. I wrote the lead character as a therapist, who involves himself in co-dependent relationships with his patients until he gets beaten up by the husband of one of them. Not knowing much about the psychotherapy field, I quickly scrapped the idea but kept the situations and changed the characters to people/types that I was familiar with. So Robert (the lead character) now became a struggling screenwriter who tries desperately to make some form of emotional connection with those around him, who, unfortunately all turn out to be jaded actors and other artists.
It was during this period that Phaedra Cinema, the distribution company I was running, took off in a very positive way. But unfortunately, this meant I couldn’t give focus to my film. I would cast the film based on an unfinished script, practice shooting scenes here and there on weekends and would find myself generally unhappy with the result. I think I must have had at least three different casts lined up as the film/script evolved during this period, when in 2000, very demoralized, I decided to give up on the project. At that time, I had cast myself as the lead in the film, an obvious terrible choice, having had no experience in acting whatsoever. And for that reason alone, I am glad that I never proceeded with the making of the film at that time.
Though Phaedra was very active as a company, releasing a number of films into the marketplace, the whole distribution climate became depressing as companies went under and into bankruptcy after encountering sudden and great financial problems as a result of the dropping revenues for indie films. Theatrical releases became incredibly expensive and risky to launch. I just found myself so focused on the business side of things that I lost any creative impulses I might have had. This all culminated in August 2001, when I too, was forced to close Phaedra down. I fell into a depression and then 9/11 occurred, leading to further reclusion for me. When I emerged from the rubble, I realized that I had lost touch with everything I ever believed in and made a vow that I would change all that. So I completely re-wrote the script, getting rid of all the pretentiousness and ended up with something that I think was much more honest than it ever was before.
During this time, I became Head of Distribution & Acquisitions for Pathfinder Pictures and I was able to get them to commit to produce the film on a very tiny budget. I won’t say exactly how much but far, far, far under $1 million. I sent the script over to Elise Konialian and Beth-Holden Garland who run Untitled Entertainment, the talent management company, who handle among others, Naomi Watts and Ashton Kucher. They liked the script so much that they agreed to help package the film with their clients. I am forever grateful to them for putting together such a wonderful cast on my directing debut: Norman Reedus, Kathleen Robertson, Missy Crider, Sarah Lassez, Michael T. Weiss, Sean Young and Matthew Settle.
Your leading man is Norman Reedus, who is a fine actor that seems strangely underappreciated by the industry and the moviegoing public. Did you conceive this role specifically for him? And what was it like working with him on this project?
Well, apart from the faux pas of originally casting myself in the lead some years before, I hadn’t had any strong idea of who would be appropriate for the role. When Elise at Untitled responded well to the script, she suggested that she send it to Norman for his consideration. I would have never expected that he would have done a film on so low of a budget, but he liked the character and I feel like he brought a lot to the film. Norman’s played these young, misunderstood drifter-type roles in the past (“Six Ways To Sunday”, “Floating”) and I think this is quite a different role for him. It’s a very mature, adult role, which to me, is what Norman is really like in person. He has this real Alain Delon-like presence about him, very assured.
Sean Young is also in the film. She has a reputation, for better or worse, as being something of a character. What was it like working with her on this film?
Sean shot for one day on the film and she plays this Heidi Fleiss-like madam. She was fun to work with and it was great to have her years of experience with me on the set that day.
How did your background as a distributor serve the conception of “Until the Night”? Were you writing and directing and casting in a way that would specifically aid in the film’s commercial viability?
Well it helped and mostly didn’t help. I had past experience in putting together a project, so I knew how to structure the production deals with the talent and so forth. I also knew what types of indie films were selling well on DVD and to television. But I never wrote the script with any sort of market in mind. The film is an intense drama with no real commercial elements such as sex or violence. Sort of a modern take on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and “Days of Wine and Roses.” And so going into production, I would be fighting with myself constantly on many of these issues. If I add some nudity, I might be able to sell it to TV, if I get so-and-so actor, they’ll buy it in Germany, if I put more action in, etc. But in the end I disregarded all this and set out to make the most honest and truthful film I could, with the best people. I think the performances are excellent in this film and I hope that people will relate to these characters and their struggles.
Will you be directing more films in the near future?
I have a couple of scripts I’m working on. And like every filmmaker out there, I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the phone calls from the festivals saying if I’m in or out. I’m waiting to hear back from the distributors of their interest. Day to day I keep busy with distribution activities at Pathfinder or else I’d go crazy, I really don’t know how full-time filmmakers deal with the anticipation and the rejection. It’s very devastating because every film to its filmmaker is personal on some level. But somehow, you pick up, and keep moving on.
Get the rest of the interview in part three of GREGORY HATANAKA: TAKING NIGHT INTO DAY>>>
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