Experimental Filmmaking and Other Mysteries —an Interview with David Leidy

Interview by Ananya Jana

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen it comes to experimental filmmaking, David Leidy is at the top of his game. He’s an award-winning filmmaker with a long list of accolades all due to his creativity with experimental filmmaking techniques.

His awards include —

Best Film Noir, Best Cult Classic Film, Best Story, Best 48 Hour Film, Best Experimental, Best Editor, and Best Director award winner at multiple festivals.

First, I’d like to express my congratulations to you for the huge success of your film “Platonic.” Recently, it won the Best Cult Film award in the Cult Critic Movie awards.

I’ve studied your film career and see that you’ve produced several different genres of movies. This openmindedness is the heart, and soul of experimental filmmaking —

What kind of movies inspire you?

Ones that play with structure and try to tell something different —Something the viewers have never seen.

The story has to be worth following. But I really magnetize toward films that push the boundaries on convention and senses in a revelatory way.

Upbeat thrillers, mysteries, and noirs inspire me. If the story is simple, the characters have to be eccentric and upbeat. And the visual storytelling has to be highly stylized for me to enjoy it, generally speaking. There are plenty of examples of films that do this such as “True Romance” and “Le Samourai.”

How did you get into film directing?

My mom would rent and buy films for us to watch and we would sit through all the behind the scenes and commentary together. At an early age I loved writing (screenplays, novels, and whatever else). At around eight years old, I asked my parents to get me a video camera.

Then, I made a stylistic suspense mystery called ‘The Scare” — with me going through supernatural physical changes.

That was really when I began making films with friends and family. It was just something that was in me; I think since I have an older sister who was never really interested in that stuff (at least the filmmaking aspects).

Looking at an actress on the camera screen, experimental filmmaking in a blue atmosphere.

Courtesy of David Leidy

Experimental Filmmaking Script to Screen

Please describe the thought process behind writing a screenplay versus taking a screenplay and making it your own as a director.

They really are two different processes which sort of blows the minds of people who don’t know much about the craft. I always tell people that when you’re doing multiple roles on a film —

Writing, directing and editing specifically —

You really have to adopt a multiple personality mindset and think about each role as a different personality. When a writer directs, it’s ideal in my opinion because the screenplay and film will likely marry easily to one another, which is what you want.

When I’m writing, I don’t know where I’m going with the characters and the story.

On the other hand, when I’m directing, I have already figured that out to some degree. So I’m trying to figure out how to bring that to life. Directing includes fixed variables that you have to work with, meaning you have to figure out the best way to make something while considering the variables in play.

The art of experimental filmmaking

You may have to alter aspects depending on what you have. If you write in a fish, but you can only get a dog, you have to work with that to some degree.

Also, work with what you have, come up with a creative solution or prolong the shooting (if you’re lucky enough to have the budget and the cast and crew’s time, which generally you don’t).

So you’re building something based on all the types of blocks and toys you were able to acquire. It’s better not to be too married to the screenplay because you’re no longer in the idealizing stage, but in the stage of figuring out how you can remain true to the overarching idea, with the resources you have at your disposal.

I’m revisionarily minded. But directing forces me to make concrete decisions quickly. Luckily, most of the scenes where I was the cinematographer were just me and Dasha in our New York apartment. Or they were between her and one other actor.

Time to explore with experimental filmmaking

Thus, there were a lot of real personal moments where we had the time to rehearse and explore several takes. Because we didn’t have the pressure of wasting the time of other cast and crew.

The shot where Dasha wakes up at the end and realizes her body has transformed was so involved, but it was just her and I there that day. I owned a cheap mini crane and Blackmagic — and had been storing some of my friend’s tungsten lights at the time.

Every time we did that shot I had to turn on the lights individually (only a few at a time). Then adjust them based on sunlighting changes from the window. I also had to turn on the fog machine and camera, and operate the crane myself — all while directing.

There were eight lights in use for that shot. They were mostly cheap quality thus overheated quickly. Consequently, I had to save the gels on most of the lights before they burned. I could have asked for help, but it was the most personal way to shoot and gave me the time I needed to get everything just right.

Writing is freedom

When writing, you don’t have to worry about any of these things. You can just write whatever pops up in your mind. It helps to have some idea in the revisionary stages of writing, or in your basic premise of what you’re making, budgetary-wise.

The freedom of having few boundaries can be what’s so enticing for me and other creators. It’s all about being able to adjust to the circumstances and remain true to your overall vision.

It’s All in the Direction

What skills do you think makes a good director?

Communication is the primary thing that makes a powerful director. How you communicate with the cinematographer, set designer and so forth is a bit different than how you communicate with the actors.

On set with David Leidy experimental filmmaking.

Courtesy of David Leidy

Getting other people to convey the things you want on screen, the way you want, all comes down to how you interact. There’s no one way of doing things, and others communicate better in various ways.

Whether that be more emotionally, verbally, or visually doesn’t matter as long as we convey the ideas and emotions on the camera.

It depends on the story; what you’re going for —

Strong senses particularly auditory, intuitive, visual and emotional senses are a must for directing. The stronger one’s senses in these areas the more likely they will be able to create a visual story that resonates with the viewers.

For me, the best directors are ones who are highly aware of how they compose the frame in each shot — including the sound, and music at any given point, as well as the lighting within that shot. At the same time, they must discern (whether in casting or on-set) authentic emotions from inauthentic.

The best directors should be involved in (but not necessarily do) all the primary roles of their film because a big part of being a director is in controlling the overall vision.

In that, however, often resides in controlling the uncontrollable such as the performances of others. Therefore a big part of being a director is in picking reliable, talented people to work with and figuring out the best way to utilize their abilities.

Family, Inspiration, and Making Movies

Where did you get the inspiration and how did you develop the concept for “Platonic”?

My wife was pregnant with our daughter. And I began thinking of all the history that’s connected with bringing a lifeform into this world; how our actions change the course of that history. Not to mention how the cycles fall into place so easily and can be so hard to break free from when we’re blind to what’s truly going on with ourselves and our past.

What was the most difficult artistic choice you made in making the film “Platonic”?

The most difficult choice was in casting another actress to do the voice for the Mysterious Woman, rather than using the actress’ voice who played the part. I realized in post-production a foreign accent would make more sense and hint at there being similarities between Aubrey and that character early on. The foreign voice would also allow for people to recognize the distinct voice that calls on the phone as being the same woman.

Story-line in experimental filmmaking

Possibly the connection of the Mysterious Woman to Aubrey and her role in the story went over many viewers’ heads. However, going with the highly talented actress, and voice actress Alexandra Davies helped bring more things to the story. Plus, the intensity of those scenes lights up in a way that may not have been as resonant with another voice.

I had already moved out to Los Angeles when I was editing the film, and the actress was in New York where we’d shot it, so there were also logistical issues that just made hiring a voice actor make more sense.

It’s always really unfortunate when you have to make a choice like this though because ideally, the actors get to have their own voices in the final cut. But sometimes you have to do what’s best for the project, which actors and other crew generally understand.

Fortunately, the actress who plays the Mysterious Woman, Lesley Solarte (in the college corridor scene and at the end) is a talented actress who is confident enough in her own abilities to have been extremely understanding about the whole thing.

What was your strategy in showing the pregnant woman in the professor’s house? Also, why use this plot twist in the film?

I wanted something jolting that would throw people off when I first wrote this part to the film. A pregnant woman is probably one of the last people you would expect to break and enter into your house.

I loved the absurdity of that —

When I wrote that part of the story, I didn’t know where I was going with it until eventually as things unfolded with the characters. For me, it’s an ingrained part of the film.

The only person that could have opened the door and be inside her house was a pregnant woman (I won’t say why to avoid big spoilers). Or there would be no story. There would be no meaning behind the title and the events themselves.

It’s one of the most satisfying feelings when you are able to connect those dots between a seemingly outlandish plot twist and an essential element that must remain in the story.

Fortunately, I was able to find that with “Platonic.”

I noticed that you experiment with the sounds throughout the film. What do you believe sound’s role is in filmmaking?

Sound’s primary role (at least in how I generally utilize it) is often to subconsciously string the emotions of the viewers along for the ride —

Whether that be through diegetic sounds that are seemingly a part of that world or nondiegetic sounds that bring you into foreign lands through nonphysical elements alone.

Sound is half the world you’re creating — the unseen mood

Our emotions are very connected to how we interpret the visuals on the screen. Sound mends our mood and how we think about actions. It brings about new meaning or grips us in a way where we would not have been engaged, leaving us on the edge of our seats.

The unveiling

What response have you received thus far with your film “Platonic”?

The response has been surprisingly positive overall. I was unsure if we’d screen this film at a single festival. Or get any type of recognition at a festival because the whole style and concept are so out there. The whole thing is so bizarre I did worry a bit that it would not resonate with many people. But oddly enough this has not been the case.

Now that I’ve had time to think it over — I think it’s because, at the heart of the story, it’s about how our actions affect our family’s actions down the road. And how they alter who we are in a weird way. There’s more to it if you want to unpack it, than simply that, but at the heart that’s what’s there.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Dreamyshade, Laemmle theater, Image via Wikimedia

With the success of my last film “Faded Love,” particularly at your festival and similar ones, I did feel a bit better about unveiling this one. Though still really had no idea what the reaction would be. The composer Ezra Reich and I would joke about how we thought it would be received, pretending it would either be a big success or not get into a single festival.

But yeah, it has gone on so far to win several awards at several festivals including more recently Best Mystery at Olympus Film Festival. The film is even set to screen at a Silicon Beach Film Festival in early June, at the Cinemark 18, and Laemmle theater in July. We are so fortunate to have this opportunity.

A Future in Experimental Filmmaking?

Is there anything else you want us to know? For example, what other projects are in the works, are there additional plans for Platonic? Etc.

As mentioned “Platonic” will screen at Laemmle’s Noho 7 theater for the week of July 19-25 between 7-9pm alongside other films. Tickets will be available to the public at the door.

I would like to use “Platonic” (depending on how it continues to be received) as a stepping stone for getting a feature off the ground with the working title “Indigo Child.” If not that script, then another more micro-budget feature to shoot beforehand.

I am trying to keep my steps simple and realistic enough to be within reach. A part of that I’m realizing is in being able to flow with the tide a bit and ride the wave when all the other variables are in place.

Where can we find out more about you and your film projects?

Check out more about me and my work at davidleidy.com or message me directly at muse@davidleidy.com. Thank you so much for the awesome questions and interview!


Ananya Jana

Ananya Jana finished her master degree in Journalism and mass communication. She is the event coordinator. She loves to explore different genres of movie. Ananya is a passionate writer and believes that real writing equals authentical writing without the veneer and excuses in order to reach the audience at a heart level. She believes that when she writes she comes alive and the energy zaps. Her passion for writing focuses on character-driven plotlines.

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