R. Alverson Interview
Director R. Alverson’s first feature film, THE BUILDER, is a lush, experimental, melancholic, and unnerving cinematic experience. The following interview looks inside this extraordinary picture.
BC - How and at what point in production or post did the unique distribution deal with Jagjaguwar come about?
RA - I’ve had a relationship with Jagjaguwar since 1996 and have been in two bands on the label. I approached Chris Swanson, one of the label owners, with a synopsis and clips and he took an enthusiastic leap of faith.
BC - You wrote, directed, shot, edited and sound designed your first feature film. Do you believe in collaboration or artistic control? Or was it a part of the challenge, making it yourself?
RA - There is certainly the element of conquest and experiment in any production of that term or size. The thing necessitates a certain amount of control, a fixed environment in which the collaboration can occur. It’s my responsibility to maintain those parameters, to negotiate and then nurture that environment.
BC - What camera did you shoot the film on? How did you approach audio capture?
RA - It was shot on a Sony EX1, with a LETUS35mm adapter. Sound was run straight to camera with available boom operators.
BC - What was your approach to lighting?
RA - Available lighting only. Lack of interest in “good lighting” or “movie lighting”.
BC - How long were you shooting? Editing?
RA - We shot over the course of a year. The edit took about 3 months, mostly struggling to find competent post people for little money.
BC - What was the response to the intimate screenings Jagjaguwar lined up for you and Colm?
RA - People seemed to respond well to them.
BC - What was your experience financing a small, personal film? In contrast, what was it like finding resources for NEW JERUSALEM?
RA - The Builder was essentially an intimate endeavor between Colm and myself. An experiment in writing and a confrontation with the impulses written into us by youth’s fed on sitcom television and Hollywood phantasm. It was a wonderful investigation into an artistic collaboration. How does one write and why should one? What do movies do to us? Are they useful in our lives? How can they be?
BC - How do you feel your songwriting informs your filmmaking?
RA - Capturing images and creating the conditions for their capture just seems a more direct expression of my musical interests in the inconsequential, minute details of life.
BC - The builder seems far more comfortable communicating on telephone or through voicemail. What are you saying about the human condition?
RA - Well, I set out, as did Colm, certainly not to make commentary on the “human condition”, to not attempt to create any meaning, if anything to work against those impulses so that the film can talk to us, so that it has the space to breath and be endowed with some actuality, particularly if it is un-movie-like. If we succeeded, it’s possible that meaning can be found there-it’s just a controlled watching, a fixed environment in which the same meaning (or lack thereof) exists in daily life. Having said that, my opinion, and that’s all it is, is that we have lost touch with native capacities for necessary and immediate interaction. Essentially, we, like the builder, have become separated from our utility as creatures, divorced from it. Now we live in the approximation of it only, and that seems the source of so much of our discomfort as creatures.
BC - What is your opinion of hope?
RA - I am an ardent pessimist. I believe in the liberation that limitations and a clear comprehension of our situation as people, as animals in a society, can afford us. It is not a depressed or nihilistic viewpoint. It is a protest and rebuttal to the danger of Utopian though so prevalent in our world. If we clearly understand the facts of the limited potential of our lives, we understand their shape, their possible shape, and only then can we utilize that form to the fullest.
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