Based out of New Haven, Connecticut, Gorman Bechard has been making a name for himself in both the film and literary worlds for over a decade. With five novels published and another one on the way, Bechard’s latest project is indie film You Are Alone, which will be shown tomorrow as part of Brooklyn’s Digifest at BAM. The sexually powerful, dark film chronicling the interaction between a middle-aged man and depressed eighteen-year-old woman, won a Best of Fest Vision Award and Best Screenplay at IndieFest Chicago and has been shown at the Brooklyn International Film Festival, Birmingham’s Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival and The New Orleans Film Festival, among others. This is the latest in 46-year-old Bechard’s film career, which includes directing his original films Objects in the Mirror Are Further Than They Appear (based on his novel Ninth Square), The Pretty Girl, and Psychos in Love. The extremely busy multi-talented multitasker emailed Gothamist about the escorts who inspired You Are Alone, finding the perfect actress, shooting digitally, his movie-a-day habit, and why it’s best to skip film school.
What was the inspiration for You Are Alone and how long did it take to write and film it? Can you give us a basic overview of the plot?
You Are Alone was born out of research I did for my last novel, Ninth Square. I spoke to a number of escort agency owners, who in turn let me speak to a number of their "girls" who were more than open in their tales of suburban fantasy and fetish.
I wanted to do a film wherein I'd have complete control, which meant a low budget, which meant 2 people in a room talking. I became obsessed with the notion of a depressed middle aged man discovering the high school student next door was working as a high class escort.
From there it was easy. I wrote the first draft in about a week, then once I cast Jessica in the lead role, I kept working it and reworking it.
The story is about the hour these two damaged neighbors spend in a hotel room. The outcome is hardly what you think.
It’s a sexually powerful and deliberately dark movie. Is there a specific type of person you’re trying to target with it? Do you consider what might be popular or attention-getting when making your films, or do you just write what comes to you?
Believe it or not, the film's largest fan base seems to be teenaged girls and that was my true target. Young women who are so repressed by the males in their life that they're afraid to explore the darker side of their sexuality, all because those men in their lives are scared so shitless by sexually aggressive/inquisitive women.
I really don't care about popularity or getting attention. I made this film to please only one person: myself. I needed to prove I could do it . . . my way . . . completely. I was the screening audience, I was the studio head, I was the harshest critic.
Part of the film revolves around this game of SNAP, involving variously-colored plastic bracelets, with each color standing for a different sexual act, from red for a lap dance, blue for a blowjob and orange for a kiss. First of all, how does this compare or contrast with the hanky code, and how’d you come up with the corresponding sex acts and bracelets?
Ooh . . . don't know the hanky code, so not sure. But the bracelet color code exist; it's the same as kids use in middle and high school. Why change what's perfect? I mean, no writer could make up SNAP. Just as all the escort stories are true, so are the SNAP colors.
Jessica Bohl won Best Actress at the Brooklyn International Film Festival for her role in You Are Alone. How did you find her and how did you know she’d be right for the part?
Jessie was my Holy Grail. She sent in her headshot, along with a thousand other actresses from an ad I placed in BackStage. I called her in, had her read. She had 5 callbacks. She just had this amazing quality. You couldn't take your eyes of her. And she was so dedicated to the role. We worked for 7 months on the script rehearsing weekly. We taped all of these ad libs with her in character. That's where so much of Daphne's great dialog comes from. It's why I gave her an "additional dialog by" credit. She made the role hers.
Bohl also wrote some of the additional dialogue for the film. How did that come about? Did you ask her to add to her part or did she come to you with suggestions?
(See above) I promised her when I gave her the part, her first role ever, that I would make sure her every line rang true, and I was not about to let her, or myself, down. I wanted for her to feel comfortable with every word in the script, and if that meant tailoring the dialog to fit her, so be it. She made Daphne come to life. I think she turns in one of the best performances I've ever seen.
Is there a message to the film? What do you hope people will take away from it?
On the lighter side: That they'll stop being afraid of their fantasies. It's just sex. If your wife wants to get gangbanged, make it happen for her. If your boyfriend wants to tie you up and toss your salad, let him. Enjoy, experiment . . . stop being so fucking hung up.
On the darker: I can't really say without giving away too much of the ending.
After the film wrapped, you wrote that for once after finishing a feature you felt exhilarated, and were also glad not to have a producer messing with the film. What’s the biggest challenge of making independent films, and why did you feel exhilarated?
The biggest challenge is making YOUR film YOUR way. Someone (whether a bad producer, an idiot crew member, a difficult actor) will always try to fuck it up, whether intentionally or not. I felt exhilarated because I made the film I wanted to make, never once sacrificing one iota of my original vision. This is the movie I wanted to make.
On the other hand, can you tell me about a particularly bad filmmaking experience?
The film I made prior to this, The Kiss. A $3 million budget, Terence Stamp, Eliza Dushku, and a producer who didn't understand the script, yet second-guessed my every decision.
On You Are Alone, I had the greatest producer known to filmmakers, Frank Loftus, who fought every waking moment for my vision.
You’re an indie filmmaker based out of New Haven, Connecticut. How is the process of making movies either harder or easier not being in the middle of a big city?
Much easier. I'm a very big fish in a very small pond. People still think filmmaking is cool, where as in New York City, it's a major pain in the ass. I can definitely keep costs down by filming in Connecticut.
Have you ever considered living in New York or another big city to make it easier for you to work in film?
No. The cost of living would basically prevent me from working in film or writing a book. I have nine rooms and a back yard for a monthly mortgage that's about equal to a small studio in Manhattan. In a great area no less! And I like having a backyard for my three dogs.
You had rave reviews for the Sidewalk Moving Picture Festival. What makes a festival great for you? Is there a different attitude from the moviegoers at festivals than at regular theaters?
At that festival especially. Talk about Southern Hospitality! The fans stayed for the Q&A . . . had amazing questions: my favorite: "what did I fantasize about when having sex with my wife?" They laughed in all the right places. And many came back for the second screening to catch what they missed. It's completely different that going to the cineplex. Talking is replaced by respect for story and filmmaking. They get it completely!
Speaking of festivals, You Are Alone is part of Brooklyn’s Digifest Film Festival, showing exclusively digital films. What sets digital films apart, and why do you prefer it? Is there a stigma against films shot digitally, and if so, do you see that changing in the near future?
The stigma is ending. The last Star Wars was shot in HD. If the story is well written, well acting, if the filmmaking rocks . . . that's what matters. And honestly, if you know what you're doing, you can make digital look as good as film. I'm very proud of the way You Are Alone looks.
I prefer digital because on a limited (very limited) budget, I can shoot a 20 to 1 ratio and stay on budget. With film that would be down to 2 or 3 to 1. It allows me the latitude I need in the editing room.
I first heard about the film through the band The Reputation, who are on the soundtrack and in the film in the form of a CD purchase, and you thank your favorite bands in your novels, as well as directing videos for bands in your films. How does music interact for you with filmmaking?
Music is my biggest influence. It all starts with The Replacements, my novels, my films, everything. When writing I give each project a soundtrack. In this case it was the Archers of Loaf and Crooked Fingers as I wrote the script. Eric Bachmann's music just fit. When I want a song in a film, I edit the scene to the music, not visa versa as many do.
You Are Alone is being released on your new What Were We Thinking Films, which is using digital video to make films with affordable budgets. Can you tell me more about What Were We Thinking and what’s unique about it?
I can't say we're completely unique, as we're modeled after the InDigEnt model, making quality films from great scripts on a low budget. It's all about the script, finding the story. But we do treat filmmaking like a business, not a frat party. We have investors to answer to. We know where every dime was spent. We finished You Are Alone a half day early, and on budget. During our 18 day shoot we only went over on one day, a few hours over.
You write and direct films, write novels, and have other artistic endeavors. How do you balance these various crafts? Do you have a typical schedule in a given month, or does it depend where in the film’s life cycle it is?
The films definitely take over my life. But I always try to write 2 projects at once, because if you get stuck, the ONLY way to clear your head is to work on something else. I like having a book and a script going at one time. But when I'm in the middle of a film, that's it.
You’re going to be adapting your first novel, The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, into a film. When you were writing it, did you envision it as a screenplay as well? Do the cinematic possibilities enter your mind when writing fiction, or does that come later?
I didn't envision it back then. I tend to keep books separate, and I love the freedom of not having to worry about three acts, and fitting in a 120 page limit. But that said, I rarely picture actors in my roles as I'm writing, books OR scripts. I let the words speak for themselves, the pictures/actors come later.
You watch a movie a day. What have you seen in the past week, and what did you think?
Well, I just got back from Sidewalk, but instead of commenting of unreleased indie films, I'll go one week back. I saw Pretty Persuasion in New York, loved it, except for the last 30 seconds which really angered me because it let the audience down; Born Into Brothels which had me crying for the last 20 minutes; Crash, which I truly loved; Sin City, which I so wanted to like, but truly detested, despite Jessica Alba; and Prozac Nation, which just completely blew. But that said, the best thing I've seen recently is the new season of Survivor. I'm a complete Survivor junkie. Stephanie fucking rocks! I love her. (She might even become the answer to the earlier question about fantasy!)
How does this movie-watching inform your own screenwriting?
It teaches me to be very careful to work the dialog, to make sure people can actually speak the words. Rehearse until you bleed!
Do you have any advice for budding filmmakers out there? Should they bother going to film school? What’s one major lesson you’ve learned that you wish you’d known when you started out?
Skip film school. Take the tens of thousands, but a Panasonic DVX100a and make your own movie. You'll learn a lot more by doing than by watching. Remember the old Woody Allen line: those who can't do, teach. (And those who can't teach, teach gym.)
The one major lesson . . . just one, huh? Well, it's not about being popular, or making friends. It's about making your film.
Why should people come out to see You Are Alone on Saturday?
Two brilliant performances: Jessie and Richard Brundage in the lead roles. Dialog that you'll be talking about with your mate for days. And an ending that will blow your mind, and make you think twice about everything that came before it. They won't see a move provocative film this season.
What are you working on now?
We've just put the funding together for Second Greatest Story and hope to be filming in 6 months so my life is about to get crazy.
Oh, and I'm trying to finish up my next novel. It's only 2 years late. Damn films . . . they take over your life.
You Are Alone will be shown on Saturday, October 1st at 4:30 pm at Brooklyn Digifest at BAM, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn. Visit GormanBechard.com, YouAreAlone.com, and WhatWereWeThinkingFilms.com for further information.