THE LORD OF CATAN is a thirteen-minute film that stars Amy Acker and Fran Kranz as, respectively, Krysta and Todd, an apparently happy couple whose marriage hits the crisis point during a game of SETTLERS OF CATAN. LORD has its East Coast premiere Thursday, May 29, at the New York Shorts Festival at the Landmark Sunshine Theatre inManhattan; actor Kranz will be present at the screening for a Q&A follow-up. The West Coast premiere is two days later at the Los Angeles-based Dances With Films Festival at the Chinese Theatre, where Acker and writer/director/producer Stuart C. Paul will engage in a Q&A.
“I hope that any Amy/Fran/CATAN/Joss fans will find the time to come out and support us,” filmmaker Paul says. “It’s tough to get people out for a short film, but this is a really great opportunity to see it in the best possible presentation at the Chinese Theatre. Dances With Films has been absolutely great. They really care about putting on a quality presentation and it’s in a big theatre, the film is going to be in competition. The 5.1 sound mix is kind of reason enough to come out. Obviously, I’m biased, but at certain key points in the film, it benefits greatly from being enveloped in what the sound is doing.
By phone, filmmaker Paul talks more about THE LORD OF CATAN.
ASSIGNMENT X: Which came first, the idea of the films, or your interest in the actual game SETTLERS OF CATAN?
STUART C. PAUL: I was a SETTLERS fan first. Actually, my friend had it on her iPad, so the iPad app was the first thing I played, getting addicted to it. I bought expansions and then basically my wife and I played the iPad app, because you can do it with two players. I know that in the latest, TRADERS AND BARBARIANS, you can play with two players, but it’s easy to set an iPad for two people, and we were just going at it and things got a little tense, and I saw something that I could shoot. I thought, “There’s a movie here.”
AX: For those unfamiliar with it, what is the basis of the SETTLERS OF CATAN game?
PAUL: It’s basically this pre-industrial, vaguely feudal society, where you’re settlers, colonizing this paradise and trying to exploit its natural resources of wood, sheep, ore, brick, wheat and building a road, trying to expand your dominion and have complete economic superiority over your fellows. It’s got a nice grounding in economics, which is important for any game.
AX: As you and your wife argued, was it similar to the argument that’s in the film, or did you expand on it?
PAUL: No, we definitely didn’t reach the fever pace and the burning gates of Hell that they reach in the film. It was just mocking each other with rejecting trade and blocking roads and constantly putting lava on someone over and over and just generally being a d**k, but no, it didn’t get to that stage.
AX: How does your wife feel about your characterization of her in the script?
PAUL: She is supportive and amused and I asked her, “Are you cool with me taking certain things and putting them in here?” And she was, “Yeah, write what you know.” And there is an element of I guess honesty that I hope shines through and I think pretty much anybody can relate to the things the characters argue about. At the time, they may seem like these epic domestic battles, but in retrospect, they’re fun to laugh at.
AX: When you did decide, “This is a film,” what was your next step in the filmmaking process?
PAUL: I wrote the script and it went pretty fast. I revised constantly. In terms of how quickly I had a draft that I felt good about, that was a couple of days, and I guess the next thing I did was, I tried to find a d.p. My wife was actually going to Korean-language classes and there was a cinematographer taking it with her. I started to gather a small crew and hooked up with a producer, but then the project kind of fell apart. It ended up being a bigger commitment and much larger in scope than the producer had initially thought, and so I ended up having to delay the project and it ended up being a good thing, because I got more time to revise my storyboards. I had more time coming up after doing this other project. I started looking for a new producer, and a couple good producers [Lisa Barrett McGuire, Amanda Cryer, Jason Dolan, Hal Duncan, Andrew Napier, James Szajda] became involved and they started helping me gather the crew and finding a different d.p. [Pawel Pogorzelski], and he was great. So it was pretty much script, storyboards, producers, cinematographer, actors.
AX: Did producer Jason Dolan suggest Fran Kranz because they knew each other, or because you were all Joss Whedon fans?
PAUL: Yeah, we were Whedon fans, but I had no idea that [Dolan] knew Fran and so I was just vetting him on the phone. [Dolan] asked me, “Who do you have in mind for the male lead?” I had ideas for actresses, but the guys, I had a vague outline and I knew the qualities I wanted, but I hadn’t figured out the exact person, and then when he said, “Fran,” it clicked into place, and I said, “Oh, my God, yes. That’s who it is.” I didn’t realize it until he said that. Luckily, Fran liked it and was available to do it.
AX: And Amy Acker?
PAUL: Again, just luck of scheduling. We didn’t end up getting her until maybe a week before we started the first day of principal photography, so we were kind of nervous – we weren’t sure what was going to happen with the actress, but again, I think certainly having Fran on board, and them having worked together on MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING and DOLLHOUSE and CABIN IN THE WOODS, that helped. So she came on board and liked the script, thought it would be fun, discovered it was going to be kind of an intense four days, a little more crazy than she expected, but she was awesome.
AX: You said it became much more elaborate. How did it do that?
PAUL: Well, the point was to not just shoot two people in a room – yes, it can be interesting to just shoot two people in a room – MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, for example; the acting and the writing are so good, it takes you to a movie in your head – but in terms of doing a piece like this, the whole point of it for me was to really embrace the thought of directing and camerawork and using that to tell the story of the characters’ journey and their emotions, and so the camera was kind of the oracle of their emotions, and so that meant every scene had a different feel and approach and it still has their emotions, and the camera gets much more sophisticated and evolved, just in terms of the camera language. And so that meant a lot of rotating head jib dolly shots, it required a lot of coordination and just a lot of different angles that I had planned, and hallucinatory sequences. So it was written in order to make this bedroom feel like an epic location. We were turning the topography of the actors’ faces into the cliffs of Middle Earth. I wanted things built on an epic scale, while keeping everything contained in this one environment. When we saw the storyboards, we realized there was going to be a lot more going on than any normal sane person would have expected.
AX: How much of the game do we see?
PAUL: It was important for me to see the characters’ reaction, so the game is shown as little as possible, but there are moments when it’s necessary to the story, or it’s added to those character beats. So I think we have about three or four times that we see it in different contexts. We’re having my friend Richard Moyer the animator drawing up art for us that involves all the hexes and the resources of our take on it. It was a question of how much to go into letting the game bleed into real life, and how much to let the hallucinatory grip of the game that engulfs them and wraps them up and how much to deal with that.
AX: Where did you shoot?
PAUL: We shot in Huntington Park at this old weird building that used to be doctors’ offices in the Twenties, and they’ve got a [sound] stage there. I needed a lot of room in order to make the camera moves that I needed to tell the story, and that meant where you’d normally do something like this in just an apartment, it was out of the question. So it needed to be a big stage. A stage turned out to be too expensive, and so we went and we were looking at lofts, and we ended up finding this place, and our production designer brought in flats to cut it in half and dressed it up and made it their world, and so I was really happy with where we ended up.
AX: You have a major makeup effect in the film. How did you achieve that?
PAUL: It’s difficult to talk about without [spoilers], but that was a tense thing, because that was our last day of shooting when we did that effect, and it was a night shoot, and so we were trying to get the actors out of there. We were running out of time and Fran had an audition the next day, and we had the last two scenes of the film to shoot, and we were starting out the scene, and it was a big long shot also, so there were a lot of complicated moving pieces and it basically took the entire half of the shoot day to work on that shot, and it wasn’t quite working. Something funky would happen every time we went to make a take, or the angle and certain things had to be just right. And we broke for our meal, and everybody kind of took a breath, and then when we came back, we did one more take and it worked beautifully. So that’s I guess one of those things, when the pressure’s on, luckily it worked out. I feel like generally that’s how it goes. You only have a certain amount of time, and when the pressure’s on, people tend to step up their game.
AX: What was your budget?
PAUL: It was fifty thousand, basically. When all is said and done, and I add up all the receipts, I’m not exactly sure what it’ll end up coming in at.
AX: It was budgeted at fifty thousand, and then other things happened?
PAUL: Well, no. It was budgeted at ten thousand, and then other things happened.
AX: How did you get the funding?
PAUL: My wife’s savings account.
AX: You had a Kickstarter campaign as well. What did that money finance?
PAUL: Post-production. Some things were more expensive than we initially had thought and so just covering color correction, sound mixing, titles, vfx, festival submissions. And then also just to soften the blow of production expenses.
AX: How did the Kickstarter campaign work out?
PAUL: Great. We ended up making our goal about midway through, and so then we were able to get more above and beyond that, and it just ended up giving me more latitude to invest in visual effects and color timing and really taking time to make everything the way I wanted it.
AX: Subsequent to the festival run, where do people find it? Do they purchase a DVD or a Blu-ray from you?
PAUL: There’s not a whole lot of distribution outlets for short films, but if by some happenstance we hook up with a distributor, we may end up getting on iTunes in the Kickstarter Room, but short of that, I’m planning to sell it directly as a digital download and on my website, hamster valhalla.com, and it will be available at conventions.
AX: What are you working on now?
PAUL: Right now, I’m working on a bunch of different projects. One is a deal with [a major studio] – it’s kind of amazing how different in terms of the studio system, how different people’s perception is if you have sold something to a major studio or not. One [project] is a treasure hunt set in prison which I wrote a couple years ago and I’ve been working on different iterations of it since. And then I’m working on a project about Lee Harvey Oswald, I’m working on a samurai film and I’m working on a handful of heist and sci-fi ideas. I tend to get fascinated with a certain area and dive in and then exhaust myself on it and move on to something else. And I’m also working on a feature comedy about AIDS. It will be hilarious and riotously inappropriate. But for a certain audience that loves OBSERVE AND REPORT or OLDBOY, it’s like a merging of those two – it’s that area that I’m flying in. I like doing things that are a little left of center and potentially off-putting, but I always prefer to find a core audience that’s embracing what I’m doing rather than trying to appeal to everybody.
AX: Is there anything you’d like to say about THE LORD OF CATAN?
PAUL: Ff you are from the same world that I am, I think you will love the film. The influences are everything from FURI KURI, a Japanese anime, that and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. It moves around. There are a lot of movies passing through this movie. Where you begin and where you end are vastly different places and I think that the audience will really be surprised and shocked and horrified and gratified along the way, so if you’re inL.A. orNew York, we hope to see you out in the theatre to see what the hell this thing is. We got some great support out of the gate at Kickstarter and now it’s just about getting the word out and getting support from the people. That’s what it’s all about – the audience. I hope you’ll all enjoy it.
The trailer for THE LORD OF CATAN is now up at hamstervalhalla.com
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Article: Exclusive Interview with Writer-Director Stuart C. Paul on THE LORD OF CATAN