Director Talks: Dorian Tocker – “Everyday Saturday”
I had the chance to sit down and chat with Everyday Saturday director Dorian Tocker about everything from what inspired him to his future 3D endeavors (jokingly, of course). The Q&A which took place in a friendly crepe café in Hell’s Kitchen (Café Jolie, I seriously have to recommend the butterscotch softserve.)
IndiePix: So Dorian, I loved Everyday Saturday.
Dorian Tocker: It’s just this little movie that I needed to make. The plan was: there wasn’t one, let’s make it and see what happens.
IP: So, what inspired you? It seems like an incredibly personal film.
DT: It’s interesting in terms of how personal it is. It is very much fiction, not like recollections of anything I’ve lived, but I designed the narrative based on this very real circumstance that I saw my mom struggling with. So, it’s difficult for my family in particular because they conflate the reality and fiction often. My dad passed away when I was 14 and my mom just really struggled with that loss. She and my dad had retirement plans, and being with her while I was in high school and watching her have to parse through all of this it really tore me up and I came back from college, moved back home, and she was still doing the same thing, same emotional turmoil, but this is now six years later. I saw the hardships of it, and it was very hard for me. I was in the
process of forming my own path and I felt guilty that I was doing my own thing. It’s amplified by the fact that my mom was a single woman, so it’s sort of where it became complex in my mind, she very much wanted me to pursue my own life, but also in some way was sort of dependent on me. I was there and filled the void, the loneliness, so that battle of wanting to have your child there because you love that person but also wanting them to go their own way. I found that to be the base for the emotional complexity of the film and I had that idea when I was graduating college because my mind had retired and I thought, what is my mom doing? And I think she had this veil of happiness and amongst her friends, everything was ok, and I saw the flipside of that. She would go out to dinner with her friends who were married and come home by herself and be torn up about it.
IP: How much are Evelyn and Asher (mother and son) based on you and your mom?
DT: I wanted to create fictionalized versions; I wanted to create characters that would represent the emotional circumstances I was trying to portray. Asher, who is the son character, is really not like me in a lot of ways, I would say that he is sort of insensitive to his mother’s situation in a lot of ways. [He’s] just a young person in his own head. I’m so not like that. I’m so much more like Evelyn in terms of wanting everything in it’s own place. In terms of casting, I didn’t give the actors any certain direction. I gave them a lot of freedom and intentionally minimized the amount of information I gave them. The actress who plays Evelyn, Deborah Hedwell is a veteran and she called me and we discussed the character and she just kind of knew it. And I don’t know that the situation in the movie is the situation in her life but she so understood the vulnerability of having to put yourself out there in a way after already having a life, being 60 years old or however old you are, and sort of being a new person again. How scary is that? All the time; the idea of losing weight, it’s like, we put up these defenses, because it’s so scary, succeeding is scary.
IP: Was asking Deborah to strip down difficult?
DT: She was really cool about it, she totally understood why it was there, she totally understood why it was in the script and why I wanted to do it. And we cleared the set, did a few takes and she just nailed it. She just—it was interesting, that was one of things I anticipated being difficult and she was so game for it. As an actress she was very interested in showing a person who was ignored not only cinematically but also sort of in our society so she was very willing to go there for us to show her face without makeup and be in unflattering situations. Really brave.
IP: Most of the film doesn’t have much dialogue, so how was it writing the scenes that did have dialogue?
DP: It was incredibly difficult; my personal interest is in telling things visually rather than saying them. And also I wanted to explore that empty space of being alone. I had quit my job and was spending a lot of time alone so it was really like very real in terms of emptiness of the space and I was just observing that. And in writing the dialogue, I think I had a tendency to overwrite, I was giving away too much and then I had to reel it in and have more mystery. And that happened in the editing, it was so clear seeing it, because there was such little dialogue, every word had such weight.
IP: I’m thinking of the second to last scene, where Evelyn and Asher have this final confrontation.
DT: That was incredibly difficult to write. Also, when they go to the botanical gardens and they discuss the father, the scene prior to that, Asher has made her pancakes and in the script there was another discussion of the dad, and it was clear during the edit there was too much, it just became clear, it had too much gravitas. My intention was to relieve the film of sentimentality. It’s a very difficult task to infuse your narrative with enough information but not too much that it’s boring. I was personally interested in obfuscating a lot. We did it visually, and by not giving away all the details of these people’s lives and having an element of mystery. You don’t even know what Evelyn retired from, and that was in the original script, but it just didn’t matter. It was definitely simplifying.
IP: You mentioned that Chantal Akerman was huge inspiration. How did she impact the sound for the film?
DT: The first mix that happened in the sound, our sound guy Doug Walters, he made everything sort of soft, and actually when he first came to the house to check out how he would need to treat it for sound, he was so freaked out by the floorboards creaking. I was like, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna add character to this empty space. And fortunately I wasn’t wrong, fortunately it worked out. And that was very important to me, that she is so intimately tied to this structure, she is sort of enveloped by this empty space. I wanted to showcase the way empty space can be claustrophobic and grating and irritating. There was no music, so the sound had to create its own kind of rhythms and its own soundtrack.
IP: Was this a complete departure from your past work with music videos?
DT: It’s interesting because a lot of work I’ve done as been musical in some way. I’ve done music videos, and I made this web series, Grooveable Feast about musicians meeting up around New York and sitting eating and then playing music. So music was always on my mind. I was very conscious from the beginning I didn’t want to create a score. I didn’t want to prescribe an emotional palette for this movie. The creeks and the bumps and what’s going on next door, how that would create a kind of music especially because the movie is based on repetition and habituation, I knew the sounds of the space would create this sort of like rhythm.
IP: How was it filming in your childhood home?
DT: It was really weird, it was so weird. You know on some levels it’s really comfortable, because I knew the ins and outs, and the neighbors were really cool and were really supportive of this thing happening but simultaneously it helped me release my home because I knew I would have to sell it. So it helped me have this experience of intense release, where it was very suddenly not my home anymore and I guess that relates to what I was anticipating not too far down the line. So it was very cathartic in that way and it was a set. There was a lot of gear and Kraft service all over the place. I’d go to sleep as the last person was leaving and I’d wake up to people coming in, it was truly bizarre.
IP: Was it emotionally difficult?
DT: Filming there made it much easier to sell the house. The original compulsion was oh shit, I’m overwhelmed by these losses and I want to do something positive. I captured this document of the house, and there’s that very superficial sense of ‘I can see that space, I lived there forever,’ it captured a lot of memory. There’s like history written in those wall for me.
IP: How has your family reacted to the movie?
DT: They have been incredibly supportive and are so happy that I had the gusto for whatever reason to make this crazy feat happen. But, they can’t even really see the film because it’s personal for them. They kind of need to watch the movie with a box of Kleenex its so hard in so many ways because it represents the loss of my mom and my dad and the house which contains memories for everyone. But you know simultaneously they are all very pleased to have this document.
IP: You mentioned you felt catharsis filming at your own childhood house, is there catharsis for the characters in the film?
DT: Good question, you know it’s intentionally vague, I would say. And you know again it goes back to not wanting to prescribe exactly what it’s about or what you should feel. Some people have said it feels very hopeful, others have said it’s a really sad ending. And I think both are very valid. So I’m interested in leaving it up to the viewer to decide how it all accumulates in the end. And I was also interested in terms of the structure of the movie, it’s a narrative film but it’s also got a lot of structural experimentation and I wasn’t interested in having a three-act narrative with a clean conclusion. So cinematically, I wasn’t interested in having a clear ending.
Things are just never really resolved in my life, I wanted to examine things truthfully I don’t know if the movie feels realistic to me, it feels a little understated, quieter than our lives. I was spending all this time by myself and putting that into the script, I talked to myself a lot. That wasn’t in the film and there were moments in the script where Evelyn would talk to herself and it didn’t feel right. It was very interesting to capture reality in terms of how it works cinematically. The way time works, I was on the phone with my producer the night before the cut was due, the final cut because we had to go to color, and we were discussing frames because it makes such a difference in your perception of time. The first cut of the movie was three hours long because I wanted everything to play out in real time and it was a really interesting learning experience to see how it works and how it doesn’t.
IP: How were you able to sacrifice almost half of that?
DT: A lot of that didn’t work. I could see clearly that a lot of that wasn’t working. I just had to question for myself, I was making this thing that was antithetical to classic Hollywood structure. I drove myself mad, why isn’t this working for me, is this conditioning, or is it currently inarticulate about this moment.
IP: You mentioned there were two non-still shots, which are they?
DT: The first is when Evelyn goes to have dinner with her friends and it pans from the island where Albert is mixing greens and pans over to the dinner table and the second is when Asher has left some hair on the sink and it tilts up.
IP: What were the reasons for shooting these two scenes differently?
DT: I think that the first scene is pretty clear. To be a static camera it represents being static in your life, there’s no movement and then the pan sort of infuses a little more energy in life for these two people who are having dinner. They have a little bit more richness. So I wanted to give more life to these two friend characters, whether that comes across subliminally or not.
The second shot, there are sort of subtle changes in the repetition of what’s happening cinematographically, the camera just moves over a little bit and basically I wanted to give the impression that things are breaking down. All the things that she’s put into place so neatly have fallen apart.
IP: So where are you going? Where is Everyday Saturday going from here?
DT: I would love for people to see the movie. It’s a really personal expression and it feels like something I could never say in conversation so it feels like a very intrinsic part of who I am. So, I’m just thrilled that anyone will have the opportunity to see the film.
The next screening is at NewFilmmakers at Anthology Film Archives July 10th.
IP: How long was the film in production?
DT: I wrote it last February, shot in July for 13 days, and finished the edit in October, finishing sound sort of sporadically until February. And it’s been, I would say, a real challenge for us because first of all, it’s been an unusual movie, formally rigorous, and it’s slow, quiet, and I’m sort of this guy coming out of nowhere.
IP: Where did you go to school and how did you get involved in film?
DT: I studied film at Boston University. And since coming back I’ve been working, doing things, it’s sort of crazy to have this feature all of a sudden and I knew it would the case, I had to make the movie. And I originally thought it was going to be a short and the more I thought about it, the more I thought I wouldn’t be doing justice to it if it were a short. I had to give it more time.
I was really lucky and went to a great school in Brooklyn Heights and they had a film class when I was in eighth grade and at that point I thought I wanted to be an actor, and I’m very happy I didn’t make that decision. Something just clicked. I remember watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and just being blown away by the magic of the craft. I took other classes all throughout high school and we shot on 16 mm reversal, cut it and put tape on it. It’s an experience that very little people have anymore. It’s sort of sad but I understand the way things are moving digitally, so I get it. The next movie is in 3D, I’m going to invent a camera to shoot it on.
IP: What do you see yourself making next?
DT: My mind is literally flooded with ideas, and I think it’s going to take a little sitting down, I’m so hyper focused on literally finishing this film and getting it out to the world, because it’s just us, myself and then two producers and we all have pretty busy lives, and we don’t have a lot of money so we can’t hire a PR person to handle it for us. It’s just me sitting in front of the computer.
IP: Did you use KickStarter to fund?
DT: I have a bit of an aversion to Kickstarter. In some ways it’s really great, but it’s a modern age panhandling tool and I have a very mixed view on it, but who knows I may use it in the future. So yeah funding this movie, I had no money but I had a friend, a very generous friend who was in a very similar situation. He had also lost both of his parents and I had known him since I was four years old. He’s not in the movie, but I was very hesitant to ask him even though I’d known him so long. I drunkenly asked him, ‘Hey I wanna make this movie, how would you feel about funding this?’ He was all about it and he was very supportive of it. So he loaned me the money, I sold the house and paid him back. It’s a very meta type of situation.