Brian Padian is a writer, director, and creator of The Black Sea film.


The Interview

Ray:
Hi Brian.
Brian:
Hi Ray.
Just getting dressed?
Yeah.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from? Are you a native?
I’m not a native Oregonian. I had one of those patchwork upbringings. I was born in Massachusetts.
Okay?
Great Barrington. Then I moved when I was about … Oh I don’t know, two or three, to Wisconsin. I lived in Wisconsin, in several towns, and then moved in about fourth grade to Atlanta, and completed high school in Atlanta, and a couple years at University of Georgia. Then went to … On exchange, to Humboldt State University in Northern California. Ended up staying there and moved to Los Angeles, and then about ten years ago found my way up here to Portland; kind of all over.
Most recently you lived in LA?
That’s right, yeah.
How was that, moving here from LA?
Well I mean it was fantastic. I have never looked back once. My wife and I moved up here. We lived in LA for about seven years. I went to film school.
Okay.

brian-la

Brian in LA

 
At the American Film Institute, and I worked in and around the movie industry afterwards. We just, at the same time we were both a little over it. Just every day quality of life, and money, and we had some connection to Portland, and Margaret’s family is from here; my wife. We decided to say let’s do it and we just moved up, almost on a whim.
They should call it Whim City; I did the same … I did that … I moved here on a whim too.
You did huh?
Yeah. I don’t know, what the heck. I wanted to have you here to talk a little bit about a movie that you’re making.
Yes.
Now this movie you’ve been making since 2004?
Well, yeah.
Why don’t you tell me about that?
All right. The back story is, in Los Angeles I went to film school for screenwriting. I was pursuing a screenwriting career. When we moved up here I realized I didn’t want to just write scripts, I wanted to direct them also. We came up here in February 2004, and I went out one weekend with a couple friends to a beach house on the Oregon coast and I had this idea that what if I could shoot a movie there.I wanted just a really simple plot to make my first feature; to direct my first feature. I wrote the script based around that and it just changed over the years, and took a long time to finally pull together and make a film out of. Now we’re in the end stages of it.

You’ve been working on this movie for a decade?
True, yes.
Wow. It’s like a Guns and Roses album.
Well, you should qualify or I should qualify that it’s not active working all the time for a decade.
Sure.
There was a period, a year or two where it was just on the back burner and other things took over, but it was always kind of there, so it came back to the front.
Do you mind talking about some of the stuff that put that on the back burner?
No, no, of course, of course.
Okay. In 2005 you were diagnosed with a brain tumor?
Well that’s right. That’s in fact, one of the primary things that moved it off the back burner. I’m in the middle of writing the script and more or less in the middle of it I get diagnosed. I was having terrible headaches and blurred vision in one eye, and I was diagnosed with a very rare kind of brain tumor. This is in 2005, early 2005. I had two brain surgeries to resect most of it, and then proton beam radiation at Mass General in Boston.Then after that whole experience was processed and out of my system, maybe in about late 2006 or 2007, I returned to the movie.

Okay. Did you … Was that hard to come back to the movie after that? Was it emotional for you?
Was what emotional, the whole thing or coming back to the movie?
Well obviously the incident you described is emotional, but it seems like this movie had been … You’d already been sort of in the middle of the active creation. To come back to that, was that …
Right, right. I think I see where you’re going, yes. Because I was in the middle of writing it, I think it was still kind of unformed. My experience, the feel of it, bleed into the movie. It took on a different tone and shape then my original intent.
Okay.

The original intent was that it would just be a by the numbers, plot driven. This story’s about these five friends who go to a beach house on the Oregon coast; one of them disappears. That plot is still intact, but it has a different feel, a different emotion to it, and that’s certainly influenced by my experience.

Hmm. I mean even the title, The Black Sea. Does that have a different meaning then it did originally?
Well, yes and no. I mean originally it referred to one of the characters is a painter, and has painted a series of paintings called The Black Sea. That was in the first draft; the pre brain tumor draft, and it continues in it. I guess maybe that’s what I mean when things have a different emotional heft. It was always titled that. It was always about that. It was always titled that because she was a painter who painted this series, but for me it means different things now.
On the topic of that movie, is it still essentially five friends going to the coast?
Yes very much.
The plot has basically stayed the same?
The plot is exactly the same, but where it deviates a little from the original intent is just … I’ll just say this without giving too much away, is that it begins as a very conventional story and you think you know where it’s headed. It could head in one of several directions, and we’ve all seen those movies, and then it kind of deviates from that and becomes a different sort of experience; film.
Okay.
That sound pretentious as hell. It becomes a different … Just a different movie.
Yeah.
It deviates from that.
How long have you been shooting this for?
Well I’ve been shooting the feature … We shot it last January, January 2013 and February 2013 in Arch Cape, Oregon, which is the coast, and here in Portland. Then since then, we’ve been doing post production working on music and sound, all the things. We haven’t been actively shooting for about a year.
Got you. What did you shoot on?
We shot on super 16 which is just film.

camera-behind-scenes

The Super 16 camera and some behind the scenes.

 
Yeah. Have you been editing on a digital transfer or …
Yes, we had the film transferred at a place in Seattle called Light Press.
Okay.
Then that went onto a hard drive and that went to my editor in Los Angeles, and we’ve been editing it on an avid system.
Now how do you work with an editor in LA?
Well that’s a good question. It adds some snags in terms of just immediacy and availability, but this is … My editor is a friend of mine, Evonne, who I’ve known from undergraduate. She and I by coincidence or not, just ended up going to The American Film Institute. She was in editing and I was in screenwriting. We’re part of the same group of friends so we always kept in touch with each other, and I started directing …When I came up here I didn’t want anything to do with short films. I just wanted direct features and nothing else. Then so I directed a scene from this movie to apply for a grant, and everything went wrong right out of the gate. I realized I should probably direct some short films before I venture into this feature, so I had Evonne help me edit it.

She’s been editing all my short films the past few years. It was very logical for her to do the feature as well because we’ve developed shorthand over the years. Some people prefer to edit their own stuff. I like giving it off to someone else who wasn’t there for production …

I can totally relate to that.
… and is just looking at it with as unbiased eyes as possible.
Yeah. It’s just occurring to me that, that’s a lot like … I’ve thought about that before because I was more of a film fan than anyone who has had any education, but it struck me as doing that editing part, it’s a part of the process where it’s either you really want to do it yourself or you really want someone else to do it. It’s like with web development.At first I really liked to be the person that actually coded the website, put it together from the actual ideas, but I found lately when I haven’t been doing that, it’s actually been a completely different experience, and in a lot of ways it’s better because I mean frankly, having someone look at it with completely new eyes, they might throw out ideas that I hadn’t thought of or …

Absolutely.
… just putting pieces together. You can do that a million different ways.
Absolutely, and for something like editing too, if I’m evaluating a scene I might be looking at it from how poorly I directed it or something I should have done on set. Putting the next scene closer in or letting that shape the actual content of it.
Right.
I want it to be shaped by the narrative, not by …
Right, more objective. Is a more objective.
More objectively.
Yeah, whereas you’re maybe even subconsciously you might be trying to cover up things …
I’ve got baggage.
Yeah.
Yeah, right?
Yeah, exactly. Well, and those are probably … Listen, I was just recently reading a quote from … I wish I could remember who it was. I’ll put it in the show notes, but it may have been Orson Wells or someone like that who said that they couldn’t watch movies because they could always … Every time they watched a movie they could always see right where the slate was being yanked out, right at the beginning of a scene.All the time, they’d just notice one frame where the just edge of the slate was there and it drove them crazy. That’s how I imagine maybe you would view that differently.

No, I think there’s some truth to that. You have to put blinders on sometimes.
Yeah. So, movies are … I mean we’re just coming through awards season here as I’m sure you … Did you watch the …
Some of it. I have two small children you know?
Yeah exactly. It’s so much harder now.
Everything is so hard.
We used to play … What was it like … You used to have parties for these things.
Yeah, you came to one of them actually; two of them I think.
Yes. It’s like now we had the TV on and it was the pre-show, and then it was we’re going to have dinner, and never turned it on.
No.
I guess that’s what Twitter’s for.
I was going to say, I snuck off to the bathroom and checked the Twitter feed.
Yeah, exactly.
Saw who won supporting or something like that but yeah, it’s totally different.
That obviously sheds light on the fact that movies are big business and they’re very expensive. How did you … How could you afford to make a movie?
Well that’s an excellent point. This movie wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t crowd source it. I did it through a foundation called USA Projects. I think they’ve changed their name since then; Flapsource or Crowdsnap or something zippier. Apologies to USA Projects, but the central concede of it versus Kickstarter or the other one Indiegogo was that all the artists got a bigger cut. Scratch that, they didn’t get a bigger cut, the donations were all tax deductible. Where if you gave me fifty bucks for Kickstarter it’s just you’re giving it to me, but if you gave it to me through USA Projects it was tax deductible.
I see.
Anyway, our goal was to raise thirty-two thousand dollars, and we did. After their take we got a check for twenty-six thousand dollars. We were able to shoot the movie on that. Although going into it probably assuming nine to ten thousand dollars of debt on credit cards to finish it up. Then we’re still managing it. It sounds like a lot of money, but to me personally. In terms of a film, it’s a feature film that’s very, very cheap. For a feature film actually shot on film it’s ridiculous.
Right.
I’m proud of that, that’s good, but it’s still a very difficult thing to raise the money. For the next one I would really like someone else to go do that part of it.
Tell me about how you developed these characters? When you were writing it all this time ago did you have the people in mind who would play the characters or have they sort of appeared since?
I guess I’d have to say I had the type, so because it was going to be a plot driven story it’s … The idea is that these three couples go out there, but right from the gate only one person from one of the couples shows up. Instead of six people it’s five. That’s a central question throughout it. You’re wondering why.That led to who these different people are. Since this was ten years ago I had basic ideas who was going to do it, and I had some people in mind. They were mostly friends, not actors. Then over time as the script became more refined I was more able to delineate what each person was going to be, and so we’d casting for it.

Okay. Do you have a place in mind to premiere this movie?
I got to check all that out. There’s still a couple variables because we’re … As of right now I’m flying to Texas this weekend to do the final sound mix. Then we have to do the titles, then we have to do color correction. Which we’ll probably do in Seattle, and then we’re hoping before April 30th to screen it. Some of the variables are, I don’t know exactly when the film will be done so it’s hard for me to set up a screening, but I have a few venues in town that I’m checking out.
Having both written and directed, do you have one that you enjoyed more on this project?
You mean do I prefer to write versus directing?
Mm-hmm.
Well not to be cute, but they’re totally different processes. There’s something great about the writing part because it’s just you, and in the quiet. I typically write early in the morning. Which is great, but there’s also the unknown. There’s a terror involved with that. What if I can’t summon this thing?With the film, I like the directing part, but a lot of it is just very physical and tactile, and moving. This needs to move there now, and things. Which don’t occur to you when you’re in the process of coming up with a feeling or emotion or these characters will say that. In some senses they’re really antithetical, but they’re serving the same vision for lack of a better word.

dinner-directing

Brian directing on the left, and the same scene on the right.

Is it a challenge for your personality to direct?
Very much, very much. As we were saying before, when I was in my twenties I always wanted to direct, but someone else would get all the money and I would just roll up on set and be brilliant and say, “That goes over there,” and whatever. It didn’t work out that way. I had to figure all the stuff out, and that’s not in my skill set, that’s not my strongest thing; is dealing interpersonally and saying do this or that.
Sure.
Some people are real good at it.
Yeah.
I prefer to just be quiet and sit in the corner and just say, “Do that, do that, do it right.”
Ugh-huh.
I had to assume some of that because I produced the movie along with my director of photography Scott Ballard. I mean there’s no way around that social component unless you’re making a film starring yourself, shot on a camera, shot on your iPhone or something.
Selfie movie.
Which could be … Which is not to diminish that.
Yeah.
That could be a good thing but …
I’m curious about shooting on Super 16. How come? Obviously it’s just another cost, an obstacle. There must be some payoff there on your end?
Well the payoff is in the feel. I wanted the movie to have a timeless feel. Not in the sense of eternity, but like a movie that it could have been made in the sixties in Europe or it could have been … I didn’t want any modern signifiers. There’s no cell phones in the movie, anything like that.
Okay.
I felt like the film, shooting on film would contribute to that on some level. Even if it’s subconscious. Then also just the quality of film. There’s a lot of video and HD that looks really good, but I didn’t think it could get close enough. Then there’s also just for a personal vanity. I wanted to be able to say I shot film before film vanishes.
Right. Is that eminent?
It depends who you talk to. Some people say they absolutely … Yes, there’s no question, labs are … Kodak is bankrupt, labs are going away. I think there’s only one lab left in Los Angeles that does motion picture film. Studios are releasing movies entirely digitally now. I guess Wolf of Wall street was the first to be … They didn’t strike prints of it, it was all digitally.

At the same time there are still purists who speak with it sometimes similar to vinyl. You will always have enthusiasts. You will always have revival cinemas. You will always have prints somewhere.

Yeah. I mean it’s easy to say it’s inevitable, but I thought that about vinyl and in the last few years it’s … If you look at a graph it’s shot back up all of a sudden. I thought maybe vinyl was making a comeback ten years ago but it wasn’t. Over the last few years apparently it has.
Seems like it, but then we live in Portland and it’s … That clouds everything.
Right, yeah. Yeah true. You have no idea where I can see this movie when it comes out huh?
Well not yet.
Okay.
I mean you’ll be … I’ll shoot you an email.
Yeah. By the time this goes up yeah.
By the time it goes up, yeah.
Okay.
Yeah.
What do you see yourself doing next? Is it too soon?
Project wise?
Yeah.
I have a coupe scripts that are already done. There’s also a novel that I like, but that’s involved to … You have to procure rights and things like that.
Sure.
I’ve got two scripts that are done, a novel that I’d like to adapt, and I have an idea for another thing that I haven’t written yet.
Two scripts you’ve written?
Yeah.
Oh okay.
I don’t know, there’s different considerations for all of them in terms of location, casts, money etc.
Right, right.
Right now my primary focus is to see this thing thorough because it’s a been a bit of a bear with a day job and two children to …
Right, right, right. Well now on that subject, when I picture someone writing a screenplay. I do picture them up at crack of dawn. I imagine that you’d be smoking a pipe in your reading … In your drawing room with lots of rich mahogany in the air, and definitely a typewriter. How divorce is that from reality? How do you actually do that?
I do it in my office which I share with my wife.
In your house?
In our house.
Okay.
Yeah. It’s just a computer at a desk.
Okay, okay.
I just come in and sit down.
Okay, is this before the children wake up or how do you …
Well since we’ve had two kids I’ve done no writing whatsoever.
Okay, okay. I feel slightly better now.
I’m lucky I’m breathing and speaking full sentences with you. Yeah, I haven’t really done anything creative per se. When things cool off a bit I will probably get up early, maybe around five; a typical morning, make some coffee, go sit down for twenty to forty minutes before my son wakes up. You know?
Yeah, I know.
Alternately you can also, if you have kids, you can stay up late.
That works better for me, but yeah.
You take the hit either way.
Well it’s … Those are your two options basically.
Yup, they’re both bad.
Yeah, yeah. Cool, well Brian, thanks for talking to us today.
Thanks …