Interview with Alice L. Lee, Winning Short Filmmaker (THE GOOD BOY)

Watch the Audience Feedback Video of THE GOOD BOY:

THE GOOD BOY is the WILDsound Film Festival winner for Best Film in 2015.

Matthew Toffolo interviews director Alice L. Lee:

Matthew: What motivated you to make this film?

Alice: “the good boy” is a scene from a feature length screenplay I wrote several years ago when I was a student in the Film Division at Columbia University. It was based on a short story, “The Legend of Pig-Eye”, by Rick Bass, that I had the rights to, but the film never got made. One baby and many years later, I decided to get back into filmmaking by shooting a short film. I tried to take a scene from the feature, but I ended up having to rewrite the scene completely so it could be a stand-alone film.

While writing the feature script, I did some research on boxing and it was clear that all boxers at some point in their career end up fighting someone they shouldn’t, either because their opponent is too good, not good enough, or is injured. Quinny’s limited mental capacity is a variation of fighting an “injured” opponent. I know people have a hard time watching “the good boy”, but I wanted to make a film where the moral question is clear. Quinny is in no way a suitable opponent for Cal. Encouraging Quinny to fight Cal is reprehensible. So how does a whole room full of people end up cheering him on?

Matthew: From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?

Alice: From start to finish, it took about two years for me to make “the good boy”. The longer version is, after I graduated from the Film Division, I was on my way to making my first feature film. Thinking I had the flu, I went to my doctor. Pregnant! Fast forward a bunch of years, the kid’s in high school and not needing me so much. My husband’s mother had passed away a couple years earlier and left a small inheritance. Knowing how much I’d missed making films, my husband decided we should use the inheritance to fund “the good boy”. So with the help of family and friends, I was able to get back to doing the thing I loved most, telling people what to do. My family might say I just get to tell people who aren’t related to me what to do. LOL!

Matthew: Talk about your setting. It almost has a timeless feel. We could be in 1955, 1975, or 2015. Was that done on purpose?

Alice: I believe moral dilemmas are timeless. I’m not a theologian, but I can’t help but feel there’s a universal thread that runs through all religions. Don’t kill, don’t steal, respect a power that is greater than yourself, treat each other as you would want to be treated. Seems simple enough until you add human desires and flaws. I’m a huge fan of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog”, some of the best films ever made about moral dilemmas. They were made in the late 80s, but they will always be relevant because they are films about human beings, their strength, their beauty and their flaws — displayed by Kieslowski without judgment for us to see. I hope the good boy will be a film that isn’t easily forgotten or become dated too soon.

Matthew: To not sound too general, but how does a female direct a superb film about the male psyche?

Alice: For me, “the good boy” is about morality. It’s not about men or women or race, but about the pull between what we know is morally right and our own desires and needs. We can all identify with the need to protect our honor; or the loyalty we feel for our friends and family; or the need to financially take care of those in our clan. It’s when those needs supersede what we know is the right thing to do that “the right thing to do” becomes less clear. I also think it was the amazing actors who made the story feel so true.

Matthew: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Alice: Once you find a good producer (I call Alex Ma a man of infinite patience.), the biggest obstacle to making any film is the casting. Everything depends on how believable your characters are. I love watching foreign films where I don’t know anything about the actors. I go into the film totally open, without any preconceived notions of who is “the good guy” and who is “the bad guy”. I just let the characters show me their truths.

The hardest role to cast for me was Quinny. After searching high and low, I found Alex Breaux at Juilliard. He was performing in “Buried Child” as Tilden and was so mesmerizing I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

Cal is there to fight. I needed an actor who wouldn’t emote, just be. I also needed an actor who looked like he’d gone a few rounds in a ring. Everything from the way Deema Aitken walked in and sat down, to the very quiet, but intense way he spoke his lines was so right. My co-producer Kasia Kruk and PA, Jennah Gosciak and I jumped up and down after Deema left the room. We’d found our Cal!

For Leroy and Ray, I wanted men who looked like they had a few bad decisions under their belts. Robert Kabakoff (Leroy) was almost spot on for the role of Leroy. I say almost because he’s nicer than Leroy.

The first actor I cast for the role of Ray is every director’s second worst nightmare. I had to fire him two days before the shoot because he thought he had been miscast and I couldn’t shake him of this doubt. But that wasn’t the only reason I had to fire him. He was disrespectful to his other cast members and to me. It’s terrible to have to replace an actor so close to the shoot, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Chris LaPanta came in and “auditioned” at the dress rehearsal. We did the scene four times, each time better and more nuanced. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief– especially the other actors.

Matthew: How is the film scene in your city and country?

Alice: The hardest part for a filmmaker in the US is, unless you’ve made a film that gets everyone’s attention, everything is an uphill battle. And why a film gets everyone’s attention is a mystery to me.

As a writer/director, you’re not free to approach producers or actors without a representative. As someone with very few films to her credit, I haven’t been lucky enough to attract the attention of an agent. It’s the “which came first, the chicken or the egg” conundrum.

I have friends in France and they can approach a production company or an actor directly. If the script is good, they’ve got a shot at getting the money or the actor. They also have protection as artists. No one has the right to buy a script then change everything in the script so that it’s unrecognizable. When I see three writers on a film, I know it’s probably had all its uniqueness written out of it.

Matthew: What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Alice: I was very happy that people really seemed to get my film. Boxing films are a hard sell. There’s nothing so visceral, powerful and ugly as two people punching the s%&t out of each other with their fists. But weirdly enough, I think words have as much– maybe even more, destructive power! I wanted to make a film about human beings and the complexity of relationships. And how we can get so turned around because of our relationships.

I noticed that several people mentioned the cinematography. I was really lucky to have found Diego Jiménez. He’s a friend, of a friend, of a friend’s student’s husband. He lives in Bogotá, Colombia. Diego had won Best Cinematography 2012 at Sundance on a film called, “All Your Dead Ones” by Carlos Morano. The cinematography was amazing. His framing is so beautiful, I wrote to him right away and sent him the script. He liked it and said, “Well, I’ve never made a film in NYC. It could be fun. Okay, I’ll do it,” And then I found out what a superstar he is in South America. What’s amazing about Diego is, he doesn’t have a big ego that he swings around on set. I’d say to him, “I’d like to do a Steadicam shot where we’re on Cal as he enters the back room, I want to “dolly” back, then do a 360 with him as he checks out the space.” He’d smile and say, “Okay, let’s see how we can do this.” Bergman said (paraphrasing like crazy) “The most important person to have on your side is the cinematographer. Without him, you can’t do anything.” I really believe this.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most in your life?

Alice: Film of Kieslowski, Kurosawa, Bergman, and Truffaut. Masters of the image.

Oh, I think I didn’t answer this question right. One film, it’s a toss up. “Blue” or “Rashomon”.

Matthew: What is next for you? A new film?

Alice: “the good boy” is part of a trilogy “Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, A Love Story (aren’t all love stories purgatory in nature? LOL!) I’m in preproduction for “Artemis and the Astronaut”, which is the heaven part of the trilogy. Artemis and the Astronaut is about Artemis, a woman who has lost her concert pianist husband to Alzheimer’s. One night, she finds an astronaut in the woods behind her house. Is he real? Who could he be and what does he want from her? This is a film about love, loss and the magic of death.

    * * * * *

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By WILDsound Festival

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