Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Patrick Meaney and Nicolette Norgaard talk THE BRINK OF (2022)

I have been in a constant conversation with Patrick Meaney about his movies since 2016. It seems that every time he releases a new film we have to talk about the latest one. I’ve spoken with him about every film from 2016's NEIL GAIMAN DREAM DANGEROUSLY  right up to his current film THE BRINK OF. If you read the interviews in order they read like one continuous career spanning interview that covers films, comics and everything else under the sun (They can be found here) We keep threatening to meet in person and have a real sit down chat over dinner but it has yet to happen.  I know there is no rush because there is always another film coming. 

Speaking of things that haven’t been rushed, I spoke with Patrick via email about his current film THE BRINK OF starting back in February and because of life, festivals and general madness the conversation lasted three months. For something that took that long we somehow managed to remain focused just on THE BRINK OF. And along the way we also pulled in the film’s star Nicolette Norgaard as well. 

For those who don’t know THE BRINK OF is a the story of a musical duo who disappeared on the verge of superstardom. As the film opens they have gotten back together and are explaining to an interviewer what happened. Its magnificent film with music you’ll fall in love with and want more of. It was a film that kicked me in the ass. With the film playing at the Vero Beach Film Festival this weekend I’m presenting the long time in coming interview. 

Thank you to Patrick and Nicolette for doing this.

For tickets to the Veo Beach screening go here.

STEVE: The first question I have to ask is how do you go from documentaries and horror films to love stories? It’s not a typically intuitive jump and you make it perfectly.

PATRICK: It was a bit of a winding road. After I completed House of Demons, I worked on a few different scripts that were in the horror genre and were bigger budget, and had a lot of progress and almost got them made, but nothing quite came to fruition. So, I decided to work on something I could just go off and shoot easily, and started shooting shorts for an anthology project that had a general speculative fiction/genre vibe, but each of them was a bit different, and generally a lot more grounded than House of Demons.

One of the shorts involved music, and I cast Nicolette in it. She created an original song for it, and we were gearing up to shoot right as the pandemic hit, and everything stalled. But, as time went on, I kept thinking how cool it was to have this musical idea come to life, and still in lockdown, I floated the idea of doing something on a grander scale involving music.

I was thinking about what would be an interesting concept to structure the film around, and I thought back to how fascinated people were by Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s relationship was in the promotion for A Star is Born, particularly when they performed at the Oscars, and you couldn’t tell whether they were playing characters who were in love, playing up a relationship for the camera for promotion, or actually were in love and were using this performance as an excuse to act it out. Those sort of layers were fascinating, and thinking back on bands like Fleetwood Mac, it’s the same sort of thing.

So, it seemed like a great foundation for a story. And, on a more general scale, I wanted to do a movie that people could really latch on to. In doing House of Demons, I was surprised by how many people said they just wouldn’t watch horror movies. And I’d say “It’s not that scary,” or “It’s really a drama with horror elements,” but still a no. So, I liked the idea that I could create something a little bit more accessible, and get to really showcase two great actors.

STEVE: How did you get mixed up with Patrick?

NICO: Back in early March 2020, Patrick was looking to cast a role in a short film he was working on and needed an actress who sang and played instruments. A mutual friend of ours referred me to him, so I auditioned and got the role the day before COVID-19 lockdown. I ended up writing a song for the short film, which was Patrick and I’s first collaboration. Because of the pandemic, the short never made it to production but several months later, Patrick came to me with the idea to make a music film with a small cast and minimal locations that could be shot safely in the pandemic. And the rest is history!

STEVE: How did the film take shape? What I mean by this is that you are listed as writing the screenplay but Nicolette Norgaard and Tim Hoffman wrote the songs, and they drive the film. The songs are vitally important to the story (as in Hedwig and the Angry Inch) Was this a traditional written script with a rigid structure or was this a kind of improvised script? And Nicolette and Tim look a bit too in love. Are they a couple and is this based on them?

PATRICK: The movie came together very fast. Nicolette and I started talking about it in January, and we worked through initial story outlines, and as the characters started to come together, I asked her if she had anyone she thought might be a good fit for the character of James, and she immediately suggested Tim. They had gone to college together, and actually put on a production of the musical The Last Five Years as their senior thesis together. I hadn’t written the character with him in mind, but it wound up being a perfect fit.

In terms of the script, it was a traditional script, and we actually stuck a lot closer to the script in the finished product than in some of my previous films. Some lines are changed, and some moments added, but what’s on screen is very close to the script as written.

Tim and Nicolette are not actually a couple in real life, but do have a really deep connection, and I think the process of writing and producing the songs was definitely similar to what you see in the film, where it’s a mix of great chemistry writing together, and the occasional argument. There are a lot of parallels between real life and the film, but they are in many ways more coincidental, as I wrote the script before I even knew who Tim was, than intentional.

STEVE: And while I'm asking about the writing did you have any input into the music?

PATRICK: In the script, I wrote out where the songs would go, and my ideas for what they would entail on a pretty general level. So, Nicolette and Tim had the mission of needing to create six or seven songs that would fulfill these various roles in the narrative.

We created Spotify playlists, and would discuss comp songs to give a general sense of what each song would entail, and the overall sound of the band.

Then they went off and pretty much created them on their own, and would come back to me with rough drafts as things came together. I’d give notes, but it was mostly them doing this, and I was consistently impressed and excited when new song drafts would come in.

With the final song, “The Cliff,” we talked a bit more about structuring it in a specific way to give the right peaks and moments of payoff as the movie came to a close.

STEVE: Did they come up with more than just the six or seven songs and if so will we ever hear them? Actually will there be a release of the music and are Nicolette and Tim going to tour?

PATRICK: There’s one additional song that Nicolette wrote that we wound up cutting from the film. Nicolette and Tim as the band - The Brink Of - are planning to release songs featured in the film starting this summer! And they are currently working on more music together. You can follow them on TikTok and Instagram @thebrinkofband for band updates and show dates.

I’m really excited about the possibilities of how having the two of them out there as a band can help get people hyped for the film, and just be cool on its own terms.

STEVE: How did you shoot the performance pieces? Some of the concert sequences involve larger crowds, did they go to a location and perform, say at an open mic night or was it specifically put together just for the film?

PATRICK: Everything was put together for the film. We shot about half of the songs live, and half were pre-recorded and synced to. I think it’s a real testament to how talented these actors are that I don’t think most people would notice a significant difference in quality between the different approaches.

Going into a movie, you’re not really sure how it’s going to go, and I think crew members in particular don’t really know what the deal is when you’re a low budget indie. But, I think once Tim played his solo song at the end of the first day of shooting, people were like “Oh wow, this is going to be something really cool.” And the songs definitely got stuck in peoples’ heads as we were going through the shoot days.

The big thing for me was to figure out how to convey the romantic chemistry between Lena and James that is discussed so much in the film, so we rehearsed and figured out some different ways to do that, and how to make each song feel a little bit different, and position it within the narrative arc.

While the film isn’t a musical in the traditional sense, I wanted it to feel integrated, where each song really moves the story forward, and reveals something new about the characters. So, one of my favorite parts of the process was talking that over with Tim and Nicolette and rehearsing the performances before we did them to make sure that comes across.

STEVE: How did you come about writing the songs for the film? Did you write for their place in the film or did you just write the songs and then try and fit them for a specific spot? Is your writing of the songs for the film different from how you write songs for yourself? How did Tim figure into all of this?

NICO: We didn’t start working on the music until after we had a rough outline of the script, so we had a pretty good idea of where each song was going to fall plot-wise. But once we started working on the music and the script, they began to inform each other pretty fluidly!

There was an early draft of the script and one song written when Patrick asked me if I knew anyone who would be right for the role of James. I immediately thought of Tim not only because he’s perfect for the role, but also because he’s an incredible musician and collaborator. He was living in Switzerland at the time, and I FaceTimed him at probably 3am Swiss time and manically explained the situation. I sent him the screenplay, the song, and he liked both so much that he decided to move back to LA to come on board as an actor, producer, and musician! From that point forward, Tim and I made all the music together.

STEVE :I’m curious how you actually write your songs? I’m asking because I have friends who do it in different ways, some scratching things out on paper and some workout things on a computer.

NICO: Most of the songs started from Tim and I just playing around acoustically on guitar and piano and finding some chord progressions we liked. Then we would write lyrics from the perspective of the characters by thinking of what they were going through in their cinematic universe at the time they would’ve written each song. Once we had written the songs acoustically, we would go into our DAW on the computer and produce them out with more instrumentation and vocals.

STEVE: It may sound like a cliché but I am curious about what music you listen to? I’m asking because I’m curious about how what you like to listen to informs the music you wrote for the film.

NICO: Tim and I made dozens of playlists while working on the music– we both have pretty different music tastes (I am a pop-head and Tim rarely listens to music released after 1980). So the beauty of The Brink Of is that we had to find where our taste intersects, and I think what came of it is pretty unique and special. We listened to a really wide range of stuff while writing, from Beach House and Sylvan Esso, to Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell, to Taylor Swift and Maggie Rogers. 

Getting back to the script. There is the scene that shifted everything for me where Nicolette and Tim basically bleed out all of their emotions to each other. It's the moment where they basically say “But I always loved you”. It’s this wonderful summing up of everything that has happened in the film up to that point. You have the call backs to the various themes and ideas, such as having a lover who is someone to fall back on. And the notion of going to college. It all comes together. When you were writing the film did you know that everything was going to crash together in that one scene? And what I want to know is how did you manage to write up the scene so that it all feels natural and not like exposition or someone going down and hitting the required bullet points?

PATRICK: This film was kind of an anomaly for me because so much of it was really set right from the initial outline and first draft script. I looked back at the very first draft after we had finished editing the movie, and almost all the scenes are there, and even a good percentage of the dialogue is exactly like it is in the film.

That’s super unusual for me, since I’m more of a write a draft quickly and revise a bunch type of writer. That’s a long way of saying that this big blowout type scene was always the intent, but of all the scenes in the film, this one did have some critical changes shortly before we shot.

If there was one big switch as we dove into shooting the film, and in late scripting, it was really centering the film in Lena’s perspective. So, James is a bit of an enigma throughout the film, and we tried to seed these elements in the scene with Lena’s mom and elsewhere that he’s very concerned that he might ruin Lena’s life by doing this. But, she doesn’t know that, so this scene becomes an opportunity for the audience to say “Oh, this is why he did all this stuff,” and hopefully tie all these disparate thematic elements together.

The whole movie is about the intertangling of their personal and professional feelings about each other, so the scene was about laying out the very real stakes that they face. I’ve seen a lot of people who’ve chased their creative dreams and wind up giving up, being stuck in debt and falling behind their friends who had regular jobs and regular lives. There is no guarantee of success, and I wanted to explore that and feature it in the film, since I think most movies inevitably feature a moment where everything just clicks and the person has “made it,” but for 95% of creative professionals, it’s an up and down of doing a big project, then going back to a random gig for hire, or a shift at a bar.

The big change that happened in the scene was at the very end. In the original script, it had been James asking Lena to jump off the cliff with him, and she has to decide whether to face her fear of a risky future and go for it. Nicolette pushed the idea that she had already made that decision, and it is more exciting for her to take the action and ask him, so all three of us worked through the script and basically created the version that is in the film, and I think it was a really key change, to the point where we get to see her growth and self actualization by her actively taking the risk.

This scene was an intense one to shoot, since we ran it as basically seven single long takes for about five minutes each, which I then cut up. But, I think it made the scene really sing, and let Nicolette and Tim really shine together.

NICO: I think it was the right thing to have Lena to ask him to jump. I think it works better because it perfectly sets up how much he loved and loves her and how much he was holding back essentially to keep her “safe”.

STEVE: How much variation was there in each take? I’m curious from the standpoint of the camera set ups as well as the performances.

PATRICK: The way we did it was to basically block the actors’ motion, with the idea that we would be shooting it with a lot of rotating around, then we had a little convoy of crew going around following them, with camera, boom, a reflector, etc. all running around to avoid being spotted as we rotated around.

It was a good trial run for a similar setup we used later on when we shot the one take party scene, that was even more complex. But, for the end scene, as we went through, we would wind up turning different ways or grabbing different details with each take. So, there was a bit of freedom is capturing different moments and angles. But, the scene was not covered in the traditional fashion, so in editing, it was about bringing that jumpy energy to it.

All of the previous cabin scenes are on tripod, which was by design to make the move to handheld and a more chaotic energy hit harder when it does arrive.

STEVE: Jumping backward to earlier when you said that the film didn’t change from the outline/first draft. I know you said it never happened to you before, but have you ever heard of this happening to anyone? I don’t think I have. To me it sounds almost as if the film has willed itself into existence.

PATRICK: It definitely felt that way for us sometimes as well! Nicolette and Tim had never done a feature before, so I was always telling them that it was unusual for things to move this fast, or for things to just click.

I actually flipped back to the first script now that you mentioned this, and 90% of the scenes are in there, and 40% or so of the dialogue is verbatim, which I have never heard of before, certainly not for a script that was written in less than a month.

I think part of it was being in lockdown, and not having as much to do, so I really just dove hard into the script, and was excited to have something to focus on.

Part of it was also that I was deliberately trying to write something more straight forward after the craziness of House of Demons. And I think just working with Nicolette, we were able to iron out a lot of issues in the outline stage that sometimes trip up a script.

Who knows why it all came together on this one, but I’m very thankful that it did.

STEVE: I’m wondering if you’re going switch back to documentaries and follow Nicolette and Tim if they do more performances of the music? I think it would be interesting to see a film about how a film spawn s a musical duo.

PATRICK: That’s the general plan, not necessarily to do a full fledged documentary, but to put this band and these songs out in the world, and document the process as we do in web content and social media and things like that, that could ultimately form a fun companion piece short doc for a blu-ray release or additional content when streaming.

There are a lot of interesting meta layers of watching some of what happened to the band in the film happen in real life.

STEVE: Are you looking forward to touring in support of the film and the music? Are you going to perform just the music for the film or are you going to perform other songs?

NICO: Yes! We are so excited that this film brought us together as a band, and we are already playing shows and making new music. Follow us @thebrinkofband on Instagram and TikTok to stay up to date on what’s next!

STEVE: What is the next step for the film? Where are people going to be able to jump onboard? Additionally are you planning on doing some screenings and performances together?

PATRICK: In the short term, the focus is on starting to put the songs out there, creating music videos for them and pitching that first. It’s so hard to get attention on an indie film, that trying to get some profile for the songs and band will hopefully be a big help in making the film stand out.

And along the way, we’ll be doing a bunch of screenings and hopefully some more festivals that will also feature performances. The plan is to push the film in this manner for a while, and then do a wide release in the Fall.

I’m really excited to get the movie out there ASAP, but also think that building the profile a bit in advance will let us make a bigger splash and help the movie find an audience. It’s not something I’ve really seen done before, so I’m excited to dive in and see what happens.

THE BRINK OF plays at the Vero Beach Film Festival this weekend. Details here.

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