“Too Late” is a film about private investigator Mel Sampson (Academy Award nominee John Hawkes, “Winter’s Bone,” “The Sessions”) is tasked with tracking down the whereabouts of a missing woman from his past. “Too Late” takes the spine of the classic private eye genre and tears it to pieces, weaving it back together into a tapestry of Southern California and the menagerie of eccentric personalities and lost souls who inhabit it.
On Wednesday, the film played before a packed audience at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. The film was shot in five 20 minute continuous takes on 35mm film. Writer/Director Dennis Hauck did a Q&A after the screening with the audience. I had the good fortune to talk with Dennis after the event.
Mike: What was your inspiration for this film?
Dennis: It wasn’t just one thing but a lot of things coming together at once. It’s based in some part on some personal stuff that I was going through at the time, and that filters into John Hawkes character. On a technical note, it was the crazy idea of doing a film with really long, extended takes on 35mm film. It’s nothing I had ever done before or even seen done in a movie. I thought it would be an interesting way to make a movie. It’s was also just wanting to work with John Hawkes, who is one of the greatest actors we have. I wanted to write something for him that I hoped he would do. I was also going through a phase of reading a lot of old “private investigator” novels from writers like Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald. I thought that John would be a great modern day incarnation of that kind of iconic character.
How did you get John Hawkes to do your film? That’s quite a “get” for your first feature film!
Dennis: Yeah, it was, and it wasn’t easy. John takes his time deciding on whether to do something or not. I think that’s why everything he does is great because he really does take his time selecting his roles. He doesn’t care about money, and I know that because while he was deciding on taking this role, he was turning down projects that would have paid him our entire budget. He just wants to do films that he finds interesting. It was a long drawn out process where he would read the script and then we would sit down at lunch or over drinks and he would have a whole notebook of questions about the film. I would answer his questions, and he would nod and tell me, let me read it one more time. He would read it again, and we would meet for me to answer more of his questions about his character and the plot. We did this dance like five or six times before agreeing to do the project.
What really sets this film apart from other films is its five long takes. Talk about shooting this film and how you were able to do 20-minute continuous takes, instead of the standard 10 to 11 minute takes.
Dennis: The only reason we were able to do that is that while we shot it on 35mm film, we shot it in a format called Techniscope. With a typical format for 35mm film, you can get about 11 minutes of shooting on a roll. With this format, you can get around 22 minutes on a roll due to the frame size is a little smaller. The downside is that it is a little grainier when projected, but the upside is that you can get more minutes out of a roll of film. This is a format that was invented in Italy in the 1960’s by the Italian Technicolor group. It was used for a lot of the “Spaghetti Westerns” of the seventies and then it sort of died out. When I found out about this unique feature of the Techniscope process, I knew that no one had done a 35mm film where each section was one long, continuous take for 20 minutes.
Music is critical in this film; whether the characters are listening to it or its just part of the background of the movie.
Dennis: There is a lot of music going on in this film. My favorite piece of music in the film is the song that John Hawkes sings on screen. To me, that’s the heart and soul of the movie. I had written a song that I wanted him to sing in this scene. John came to me and said that it was a lot of lyrics to remember, especially at the end of a 20-minute scene and he didn’t think we could remember them all. He had written a song that he wanted to sing. He sang it for me, and I soon realized that it was so much better than what I had written. The song said so much with so little and I am so glad we went with his song instead of mine. Frankly, it’s so good that I think he deserves an Oscar for Best Original Song. I feel that category was made for his song. We also have a musician in the film, Sally Jaye, who plays herself. She does a number on screen with her band. She is a Georgia native, from Lawrenceville, that now lives and records in Nashville. Her music has such a prominent place in the movie. And I looked for a lot of songs that captured the tone of the characters. Our composer, Robert Allaire did an incredible score for the film. A lot of independent films use electronic music for their scores but I didn’t want music just to fill in the gaps. I wanted a score that would be the heart of the film. There were already a lot of songs in the film, but we worked together and found a way to put in a score that felt organic and enhanced the scenes. I am proud of the score that Robert did.
You’re from Georgia, right?
Dennis: Yeah, I wasn’t born here, but we moved here when I was three years old, so I was definitely raised here. I lived here for 20 years. I grew up in Roswell, but I went to Catholic school here in Atlanta, so I know the city well. I had friends from all over the city, so I feel like I really know Atlanta well. And I graduated from Emory University, majoring in film studies and creative writing. In fact, my production company is called Foe Killer Films which is named after Foe Killer Creek that runs through my old neighborhood in Roswell. I even have John Hawkes character talk about a creek in the film, and I am sure when I wrote it I was thinking of that creek in my childhood neighborhood.
It must be a great thrill to be showing your film here in Atlanta at Landmark Midtown Art and having it projected as a 35mm film, not a digital copy?
Dennis: Yeah, showing it in the 35mm format was crucial to us. It took us so long to make this film that the whole landscape of theatrical projection changed, but we decided that we didn’t have to change with it. Most independent films don’t even make it to theaters anymore, so we weren’t looking to do a wide release. So we looked around the country and found a lot of great cinemas, like Midtown Art, that held on to their 35mm projectors and the projectionists that know how to operate these things. Those were the theaters that we wanted to play in and we knew that they were the theaters that would also be excited for our film to play on their screens. We call it the “35mm Tour” and we even had t-shirts made that say that, with the theaters the film is playing at on the back.
Thank you so much, and I hope the film is a big success.
“Too Late’ starring John Hawkes, Dichen Lachman, Joanna Cassidy, Rider Strong and Robert Forster opens at on Friday.
Writer/Director Dennis Hauck will do a Q&A after the 7 pm screening on Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23 at Midtown Art. Musician Sally Jaye will be playing a short set after the screening on Saturday, April 23rd.
For more information and tickets, go to Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
For more of Mike’s interviews and reviews click here