How did Spike Lee get involved with this?
Dalio: He was my professor at NYU. He’s a great mentor. He’s executive produced one of my classmates’ films: Manos Sucias, which was at Tribeca last year. From the beginning he mentored me. Originally on a different script that he was going to executive produce, but my wife really pushed me to make this one instead, so I wrote it. And I felt she was right. I felt that it was more personal, and for a first-time filmmaker it’s good to start with a personal story. I wrote that script and I showed it to him and told him I wanted to do it instead. He liked it and he agreed.
How was it working with two actors who are so talented for your first feature?
Dalio: It was great. I first wanted to prepare myself as a director to work with people like that, so I took an acting class to help empathize with the actor. Then I worked with an acting coach to go over the script and to brainstorm it. I read a lot of Stanislavski and I really got into the headspace of an actor. I wanted to prepare myself with a lot of materials to give the actors before we even started shooting.
So there was a three-week pre-production process where we just did a lot of discussions about the characters. I would give each of the actors a dense vivid backstory on their characters from infancy to now, but somehow every detail was related emotionally to the scenes that were going on in the film and every present moment that was going on in their story.
At first it was giving the actors all that material, talking about that material, having a lot of discussions. I would go for walks with Luke and I would spend time talking to Katie so they would really know their characters and we would really be on the same page about their characters. Once we talked about the arc within the film itself then we would talk about the arc within the scene.
We didn’t rehearse the scenes too much since I didn’t want to kill all the spontaneity. We would just rehearse the scene enough to see that they were going in the right direction. Then we could find spontaneous moments. On set, there was a lot of room to trigger emotions based on the backstory that we shared. Another thing that I did was when I was going over the script with them I would ask, “How does this dialogue feel to you? Does it feel natural? How do these scenes feel to you?” A good actor has great instinct since they’re used to living in the skin of characters. More so they live in the skin of the character than the director does since the director has to step into the skin of all the characters. When you have an actor who is open with you and smart, they can offer you insights about if it’s smart or natural. There were a lot of good rewrites that came from the discussions with the actors about the script.
In going on set I would encourage them for at least one take to improvise. I’d encourage them for a couple takes, as long as they hit all their dialogue that was written, to feel free to improvise around it. By doing that it allowed the written lines to come to life. They had a life. A spontaneity that came from their natural impulses as actors. Even though most of what you see on screen is what was written in the script, there were some golden moments that were improvised. Just from them knowing the character and living in the skin and doing something totally unexpected. It was an intense process and a very rewarding one.
That concludes our interview with Paul, but we’d like to thank him very much for taking the time to talk!