LADIES OF THE HOUSE: The John Wildman and Justina Walford Interview Part 3
If you missed either of the previous parts Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.
Steve: How much did you take into account if the...one of the actors would go, "Let's do it this way, let's do it that way."
John: Well, here's the thing. You know I started out as an actor. I feel beyond comfortable talking to actors about acting. But if you you had four or five people in the scene, each of them would reach that peak performance that you wanted at different times. One of the things I found interesting in directing was balancing each one and trying to orchestrate each one to get there in a different way.
Giving a little hint to one person or giving more of a direct stage direction to another person or having emotional talk with some...everybody who needed something else different. And that was a fascinating process to learn what everybody needed to get there.
But there weren't very specific conversations because of that, because everybody's process was different. Some, had a big need to have a full back history discussion. You know and, um, I saw this, it's somebody...It was like the Louis CK routine where he's talking to his daughter and it's like, "Why?" And he answers it and she goes, "Why?"
And he answers that and she goes, "Why?" And it keeps going. And there were some conversations with a couple of our actors where it was like that.
And you go, "Jesus, how, you know, how much further back do we have to go in your character to get to do this?" All right. And then there were time where in the moment of a scene, an emotional scene, like you know uh one of the actors would go, "I'm just not, I just don't get it. I'm just not there. That doesn't make sense to me."
I think there's one scene in particular, I took three different tacts and it was like, "Well, I'm gonna see if this works on you." And we do that, and we shoot. It is like, "No." And then we talk to, you know, to one of the actresses, again I'd say, "OK, well let's talk about this."
And we'd have this other discussion, and then we shoot it again. They're like, "No, not quite." And then we would do something else. And it was all in an effort of getting that person in the right head space to do that. And yes, you know, those discussions sometimes you know, then took a direction of, "Well, wouldn't we do this instead?"
And you know, and a couple times, we absolutely applied that and it works.
Justina: I come from theater, so, so theater is a a different process actually even in in pre-production. So for me when I would have a play, I would cast, and then we spend two or three months rewriting together. So actors are actually part of my rewriting process when I do theater.
So it's, it's interesting because I saw that in film actors just go, "I guess this is the Bible." And that's good, because most of the time that it should be the Bible. I think that if we had all the budget in the world, it would be like, uh, we would have like a month long retreat where the actors and the editors and everyone just hung out and talked about it and rewrote the script together.
I thought that will be the most amazing process. No one ever can afford that.
John: Conversations happen before you start shooting, and then a day or two before, or the morning before, or or what have you.
But more often than not, it's happening on the set as you're blocking, and as lighting is being set following that initial blocking. The discussions are really happening there, that you're then applying to you know, pull off that scene.
We shot the film in 18 days. So you're shooting a lot of pages every single day. And in this case we were also combating the deadly Texas heat. I mean, we shot night shoots the entire film, and shot in a studio, and it still was unforgivably hot.
So you're shooting scenes, and in the back of you're mind you're thinking I need to get this scene done, because I need to get these actors off this set and into an air-conditioned room, so then we can set up the next scene, and they won't collapse on you.
So you're not in a perfect situation on a film like this, where you're shooting one scene a day, and you're you know, and you're really, you know, like you know, you know having these these summit meetings of how you can perfectly execute this this one scene or this one moment. You're like going, "You know, I've got nine of these, and that's before lunch."
And as you're watching, you know you're on these headphones watching a monitor and you're going, "Oh, OK great, I got it." Let's do one more just to make sure, but I got it and we can move on. And and you and everything is moving that quickly.
Steve: Did you do a lot of takes, or you just did like you know one, two, onto the next?
John: We do not do a lot of them. I think the most takes we did on one shot was like maybe six. More often than not we were in a happy place of like three or four takes, we weren't doing one take wonders anything. I certainly did not have the confidence that I was gonna nail it on the first one, and then I was gonna be secure in that.
So there was, there was always an insurance take. And what's also interesting and you say you're fine, a lot of amazing moments that you utilize in the editing process are not even in your filming.
You know, you know people are relaxing or they're just at the beginning of of of a take, or they're just at the end of a take, and sometimes that's where where you find these like little moments that you can work in that you know are are brilliant, and they are very, very happy you know, accidents.
So that's another thing is that you know, you, you adapt to knowing that everything's on the table. Everything could be used at any time. And if you're an actor, then you go "well then I'm not gonna stray to far from what I'm doing performance wise", because who knows what they're gonna capture on camera and you're not able to use it.
And as a director you have your eye on every specific moment, but you're also very, very aware of everything in the background, and everything beforehand or whatever. You should just take it all in and go, "That might be useful. That might be useful. That you know, that works, and this take I'm good. Let's move on."
Steve: Are you in the film? Because if you are I didn't see it.
Justina: Wrong. He's actually in it. He has a Hitchcockian moment.
John: Yeah. I'm in the, uh, Crystal's notebooks of her victims if you look closely you can see I make I make it cameo as one of those victims.
Justina: And I, I wrote Lin for myself, but something that I've learned is that you can't be very direct with a spouse if you want to be cast. So, so Farah got Lin.
John: Yeah, so Farah got Lin.
Steve: Are you in the next one?
John: She is, she actually is in my short.
Justina: You're now my manager.
John: Yeah. [laughs] Justina actually plays in the short film I did and I am also in the short film I did. And in fact, that project, one of the, um, one of the goals of it as the experiment was to see how well the shooting process would work if I was actually acting as well.
And, uh, and it turned to off famously. So, so likely either or both of us could make appearances in the next project or the next project after that, yeah.
Steve: Is this going to be, uh, the next one's going to be "Ladies of the House Bounty Hunters?"
Justina: Yes, yes, I, I would like that, too. But I haven't finished the script, so I shouldn't say, but "Ladies of the House Bounty Hunters."
John: [laughs] The next one, the next couple will not be a sequel. Um, but you know, you never know. You know, we could always come back to that world, but, um, but no, we, we have a few ideas, scripts that have already been done that we are anxious to, uh, to take a shot at first.
John: Genre, yes.
Justina: Yeah, I think, I think we've found a home.
John: You know, my thought on getting the chance to make films, is that it's, it's so difficult to get financing, on these for film makers working on the level and the kind of budget that we're doing and what have you, so, the idea is if you do get that money, if you do get someone who has faith in you, you know, it's a financed film, then, don't just make your version of some film. Don't just go, "Well, this is my romantic comedy" or "This is my message," or...
Go make a film that when you talk about it, when I tell you about it and you go, "I can't wait to see that. I've never seen anything like that," like you're describing it. Make that kind of film because who knows if you're going to get another shot at it. Every chance you get, every opportunity, just seize that and make something that at least nobody can say, "Oh, it's another one of those. Oh, you know. Yeah, it's another cannibal lesbian movie. It's like the fifth one we've seen this year."
Justina: Although actually, as...I was writing this morning. And I actually, as I'm like writing like a tree and like my first, my first skeleton of it, at some point I'm like, "And then they eat the guy...Oh, I already did that once."
Steve: How long does it take to write...
Justina: How lon-, oh, you know, LADIES OF THE HOUSE took quite a bit because we had rewriting and doing table reads and rewriting. I'm the kind of person that when I worked at the theater, I wrote a play like in a weekend, like. So, I'd be writing the first draft usually in about three days. Um, but the rewriting is actually the...
John: Justina can churn them out. When she, when she locks into something, then she becomes very maniacal and jealous over time and, and she's just like nonstop falling asleep with the laptop on her lap. And, and you know, and then waking up and writing more, you know, every moment.
Then I will come in and add my portion to it afterwards. When we tag team, sometimes we can get into rhythm and work very, very quickly. But the time, the extended time, does come in the rewriting process and, and the development process.
Justina: Like the fights and, you know, that type. We need time to fight...
John: Yes. [laughs]
Steve: I can't see you guys fighting.
John: Only on creative stuff.
Justina: I, yeah, I once locked myself in the bathroom. I'm not that kind of person, but there's one time where I locked myself in the bathroom or the bedroom. So it must have been before I went to New York, where we had a bathroom and a bedroom that had doors. And I just said, "I'm not talking to you."
But I think it's because you said something about how you were Scorsese and I was a newbie or something. So...
John: This makes me sound terrible.
Justina: ...I had, I had to a right.
John: This is...this is, this is a terrible way to present our story...
Justina: ...something about... [laughs] Something about the writing, something about the first draft I did, like...
John: You know, again in real life, as I make the quote signs, we never, hardly ever, argue, but creatively we do. Colors of wardrobes, ... arguments that would, would go to like two in the morning ...
Justina: Our fight, our writing fight is actually"the wizard did it". The wizard-did-it fights are where I'll say, "That doesn't make any sense. Why would that character do that?" and, and he will look at me like, "Well, because it's cool.Because it looks cool, it's going to look cool when I direct it. That's why it's in there."
I'm like, "Well, a character doesn't care about being cool, blah, blah, blah, blah," and basically then we both scream, "The wizard did it," and we, we table it until later.
John: , Justina is unforgiving when it comes to suspension of disbeliefs.
Steve: At the risk of getting punched in the nose or getting your drink thrown at me...
Steve: I'm going to side with him on one thing. Raymond Chandler...Do you mind if I call up Raymond Chandler on you? They were doing a movie based on a Chandler novel, it was um, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, uh, murder, um...
John: MALTESE FALCON
Steve: No, uh, (remembering) BIG SLEEP. At some point in the book one of the characters is shot and when they were adapting the book they didn't know who shot him, They were trying to figure out who it was when they were doing this script, and they called Chandler up and he goes, he goes, "Why did it happen? Because, because I needed it to happen to make the story go."
Steve: That was his story. You had to...like, out of left field. It doesn't have to make sense if it was a good story.
Justina: That is true. However, when you're low budget and you, and you can only do it once...
Steve: Oh, no, no, Only once.
Justina: No more than once!
Justina: Now, now, now that's going to be added to our conversation, like this is your Raymond Chandler moment.
John: Yeah, we'll, we'll be talking about this now.
Justina: This is your Chandler moment.
John: Thank, you, Steve. Thank you.
Justina: You get one unexplainable gunshot.
John: We do go through that debate on things where you create a world...Oftentimes with genre films you're creating a world, and you have your own rules and regulations in that world.
And sometimes those rules and regulations stretch the imagination or, you know beg that kind of, thing. But, as much as possible, you want to at least go, "Well, it's because of this," then you go, "Well, science doesn't really bear that out," and we go, "The science in this movie does!"
You know, you at least have to do that, and Justina is very fiercely protective of that. I'm a little but looser on it because, again, I am looking at it as a movie viewer, as a film fan, like, going, "I'll forgive that."You know, oftentimes, you can do some, some wild stuff and I go, "Alright, I'm fine with that. I'm enjoying the movie. I'm fine with that."
Justina: I think it is...The reason I'm fierce, is before I write the script, I have an Excel spreadsheet, thats, color coordinated. It has,every beat that has to happen and every emotional thing.
And the reason is I know that when I make this exceptionally detailed chart of an emotional arc and and character development, and I use "Dungeons and Dragons" alignments to, like, you know, decide how a character reacts to things, I know that as we go down development lane, it disintegrates...
I think it's actually just a way productions work is that, you know, your budget, some things fall away, and then you're shooting and you lose the whole days footage because, you know, lighting didn't work out... It falls away so that by the time you get to the end result, you really only have. this much to work with at the end of the day or the end of the film, and that's why it feels so...
And now that we've done our first film I feel even more protective of it, of, like, no, we have to have everything at the start because we're going to lose half of it and...
John: Right, right.
Steve: Well, I would think if you, if you...If you at least build a strong backbone for the film for everything to hang off, you can do a moment. You know, the one, the one Raymond Chandler moment where, you know, where you can go outside of it as long as it's not too far outside of, you know...
John: Or...You know, and a big lesson we learned on this film also, there's a moment in, in the film where someone escapes, in a situation, and, and because of the way it's set up some people in the audiences go, "Well, he could not have, you know, done that because of this," and you go, "Well, actually, if you think about it, no, that is, that is set up to be, uh, you know, a, a very reasonable thing of how that happened."
And there's an immediate explanation, but, visually, because of the way it's presented, some people are still confused by that even after we explain it. You go, "Well, this person is here. This happened here. That's how that was, that was OK."
And so even when you take great pains to make sure that everything has an explanation or everything has a reasonable science behind it the optics also need to fall in line with that.
John: James Brooks talking to Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, while they were editing together, BOTTLE ROCKET and, apparently there was, there was a shot of being poured in a cup, and James Brooks told told Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, "There better be poison in that coffee. Otherwise, I don't see why you're showing me that damn coffee cup." You know?
And it's, it's that kind of thing where you go, "Everything has to be there for a reason," because, as an audience member, you're going, "Why am I, why am I looking at that?" or, you know, "Why didn't I see that?"
Justina: Until, until you become iconic and then everyone will put whatever meaning onto it that you want.
John: Yeah, we've got, we've got several films before that happens.
Justina: Yeah. That, that'll be exciting.
Justina: I just read a whole thing about...
Steve: I always thought that all youneed is a big enough and you're iconic. That's all. You know, that's all. Give THE LADIES a little bit of time, OK, to get some traction.
Justina: Yeah, that's right.
John: Yeah, cult classic.
Justina: Cult classic.
Steve: [laughs] Hopefully that's this.
Do you have something planned where you go much darker?'Cause you balance the humor and the lightness, a lightness and a darkness. Is there a point where you would just throw all the lightness away and just go balls to the wall hard?
Because I'm sitting, I'm watching the film, and that was the one thing where I'm going like, "If this didn't have the humor, if this was played straight I'd walk..." If you did wash out the color, the color scheme and stuff, and you did this straight this would be almost unbearable at times.
Would you want to do something like that?
John: Well, I mean, I...I think the situation would dictate that. Justina and I have a specific sense of humor, each of us do, that just kinds of comes out of our pores.
So it would take an effort in what we write, let alone what we, what we shoot, to excise that. Now, in some specific instances, yes, I think, you know, there are moments of dread, there are moments of relentless terror, that, you would want to do that, and I would want to do that, but there would be specific moments.
I don't know what the idea would be where we would just put an audience through that, you know, just keep hammering at them.
Justina: In drama writing when you go into a dark place or a sad, or a very sad place. And you create characters that will react in a human way, at some point, the character needs a joke. The character will say a joke.
But even as a writer,writing the dark scenes I get too depressed or too scared and I need a joke. So I think I couldn't help but put something in there that would I would say in that, at that moment if I were in that moment.
John: Yeah, I think a couple of the, a couple of the likely suspects that will become our next film, are filled with characters that entertain us...um, and, you know, and some are badasses, some are cruel, uh, you know, terrible characters and some are cocky bullshit artists.
They're personalities that we want to see on screen, and they're personalities where parts of them come out of both of us in, different characters. And that, that's why I think it, it's natural for us to write either a funny thing that comes out of somebody's mouth or write a situation that has an absurdist humor to it because that's inherent in us.
We have a friend, who is also a filmmaker and she doesn't have this about her, and, and we kind of, we kind of chuckle to ourselves sometimes. When we're visiting her or vice versa or seeing her at a film festival, you know, we're always amused when we have conversations with this woman because she does not see the humor in that way.
And so when she talks her projects or the themes, you know, our natural inclination is to make a quip or say something, and it'll either go completely over her head or there will be a complete lack of appreciation for the funny that we've just made, because she is deadly serious about what she's talking about. And we talk about it afterwards where we go, "Holy crap! I was just kidding!" You know? [laughs] And, but, but that's the thing is, you know, for us, it's just a natural thing.
I feel like just we're bombarded with serious horror and, and dark...like, like...
Was it THE BUTCHER that we saw? That I was like, I was just like, "I can't. I can't keep watching," 'cause it was just like, it's just like butcher scene after butcher scene after butcher scene.
Steve: I didn't like it.
Justina: I can't, i can't keep going with it because I'm kind of like, "Can I take a break for just one, one scene?" [laughs]
John: You're an audience member. We can place you or you can be placed in a terrible, terrible, unforgiving world. But, at least for me, I want some kind of hope. Now, I may be thwarted, but I want some kind of hope that I can get out of this thing, you know, because, otherwise, yeah, you're signing... You go, "OK, so let me understand. So I'm signing up for two hours of unrelenting misery and unforgiving torture and, terrible things, and I'm going to pay you for this. What's going on here?" You know, I don't know how many people want to take that.
Justina: Well...I wouldn't mind if they're like MARTYRS. Like, I guess that kind of underlines I kind of would enjoy.
Steve: 'Cause to me, MARTYRS to me is I different...I hate movies where it's essentially torture porn, but there's a point at which MARTYRS flips and you suddenly go, "There's a point to this!"
John: Exactly, there's your difference.
Justina: That I could get into, yeah.
John: There's your difference where you go, "OK, all of this does have a rhyme or reason." I think that is your clear difference. Even FRONTIER(S) which is just a batshit crazy movie, [laughs] even that one, you have moments where it's a terrible, horrible, horrible thing that's happened, but it's so absurdly gross and so absurdly terrible that, that there's almost a humor to it.
Steve: Oh, yeah.
John: You know, INSIDE is, is like that where you go, "Really?" Like, you know, you go, "You had to do that?!" You know? And, and, again, you know, it's, it's a, a monstrous, destructive, overwhelmingly bad thing, but it's so monstrous and so destructive and so overwhelming that there's actually a humor to it. You go, "Oh for heaven's sakes! Well, what are we going to do now?"
Steve: Yeah, it's like, "Alright,"...The ridiculousness of over the top, you know, where are you going with it? [laughs]
John: So, you know, again we've got lots of ideas, we got a lot of stuff that,we want to follow this one up with and like I said, LADIES is a very good introduction into what is in Justina's head and what is in my head. But that's just the introduction, you know, so...
Steve: And I'm still talking to you!
Justina: Just stay in public places.
Steve: Yeah, that's just where I'm going. When we were setting this up I was was like, "Where, am I going to meet them and what's going to happen? Will I ever be seen again?"
Steve: Oh no.
John: That's right. Keep it public places. Keep people around.