||The Spinning Image (TSI): Gavin, I'd like to begin by asking you about the script for Expiration. How much of it is autobiographical? Things experienced by you or your friends?
Gavin Heffernan (GH): Little of the script is autobiographical. But, that’s not to say that the film itself isn’t a reflection of myself and others involved in the production. Much of the story evolved throughout the filming process. The longer the shoot stretched, the more we started seeing reflections of ourselves in the actual product. It got to the point where I couldn’t tell if the film was becoming us, or we were becoming the film..
TSI: You obviously like to make your audience think, rather than bombarding them with graphic images. Were you ever tempted to beef things up to create a visceral, rather than emotional reaction?
GH: Some of my favourite movies are Fantasy Stories set in a Realist world - Unbreakable, Field of Dreams etc. With Expiration this was really something we pursued constantly. But in order to ground the narrative in a realistic world, I wanted to focus the film’s fantasy elements in the lighting, costumes and music rather than in the screenplay or the acting. I kept telling Sebastian Grobys, one of our cinematographers “more colour”, “more colour” until he was completely convinced I was insane. But once we became clear on the kind of movie we were trying to shoot, those things fell into place.
TSI: The wonderful rooftop scene will, I'm sure, be cited as Expiration's crowning glory. Did you feel a sense of elation when this scene wrapped? Are there any other scenes that give you an even greater sense of accomplishment?
GH: Thanks. Glad you liked it. That scene was really the ultimate challenge for us. We had shot many difficult scenes leading up to the roof, but for a vast number of reasons, the roof was the most complicated. The biggest obstacle was racing the sun. We had seven pages of script to shoot in approximately 45 minutes - which for us, was just about unthinkable. We storyboarded every shot and went up a few nights prior to time the location of the sun. We had about 1 or 2 takes per shot, and it was a footrace between setups (some of that madness is caught on the documentary). But yeah, when it was done, we felt amazing - a real sense of accomplishment. Had we shot that scene at the beginning of the production, we would have failed, but with the experience gained from our previous shoots, we knew what it would take, and everyone pulled it off.
TSI: You were involved with the filmmaking process on more levels than most directors: actor, scriptwriter, editor. Which of these gave you the most enjoyment?
GH: I like them all. I also hate them all. It was a lot of fun getting the chance to step into your imagination - but at the same time, it was incredibly difficult and frustrating. I had great problems focusing on acting because my mind would be on the lights, or the mic, or the shotlist. I’d often need a lot more takes than everybody else because it would take me so long to just let go of everything else and fall into the scene.
TSI: Do you see your career developing solely as a director, or do intend to continue on both sides of the camera?
GH: I’m going to be a director - but my passion for writing, acting and editing is strong enough that I’ll continue them as much as possible.
TSI: I'd like to ask you about casting, now. Did you see any of your cast in other films or stage-plays, or was it a case of auditions and screen tests?
GH: We auditioned 150 people from just about everywhere in Montreal. It was an exhausting process but a fascinating one, and we got to meet an incredible array of actors willing to give everything for no pay. I was friends with a lot of people in the theatre circle at McGill University and first saw Laen Hershler, Margaret Garrard and Yetide Badaki in local productions. I actually wrote the part of Naomi with Yetide Badaki fully in mind. We videotaped all the auditions so that later in the production, we were able to cast supporting roles from our earlier principal readings.
TSI: In the DVD documentary, Janet Lane recalls her audition which took place in front of other hopefuls. Was this designed to find a strong female lead who could deliver under what may be somewhat daunting circumstances to some?
GH: Its true - we designed our callbacks so all the performers would be doing their readings in front of everybody else. If I was giving some direction on Niki’s character, I liked that all the actors interested in the part could listen to my notes and learn from the other actors vying for the parts. And yeah, what you say is true. We knew that the shoot was going to be crazy, and that the actors were really going to be pushed very far. If they didn’t have the balls to let go in front of a room of competitors, then this trip wasn’t for them...
TSI: Is this a process you will use again in the future for certain roles?
GH: I don’t know. It worked out well but I’ll likely never be making a movie under the same circumstances again. I guess the procedure reflects the circumstances...
TSI: Denise Depass mentioned in her interview that she originally hoped to win the part of Rachel. What gave you the feeling she'd be perfect as Julia?
GH: As an actress, Denise has a quiet, almost regal strength. But she also has the ability to show emotional contradictions. She can stand tall, strong and firm but show you an internal vulnerability in her eyes.. That’s what the part needed, and that’s what she brought to the table. That’s a common trait amongst most of the cast, that idea of concealed weakness, hidden emotion..
TSI: It's clear from the documentary, and from your commentary track, that Expiration was the result of blood, sweat and tears. Were there any moments when you were on the verge of yelling 'Uncle!' and simply walking away?
GH: Yeah there were moments. Any mention in public was mostly in jest, but when I was alone, the notion was considerably more serious. There’s something about being alone with your ideas, and your faults and your life that can bring the reality of a situation down on your head like a pile of bricks. Near the end I explained to a friend of mine that it felt like I was trying to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. I’d got about 75% across and run completely out of breath. My three options were:
1. Turn back to shore and repeat the 75% swim
3. Keep going, swim the last 25% and live.
And That’s how it really was, but mostly when I was alone.
TSI: I hear that two lead actors were replaced mid shooting; can you expand on circumstances around this? Did you have to bin everything you'd shot up to that point?
GH: Yeah, 2 central parts were recast in mid-shooting. The circumstances were completely different for each. The first came very early, for the girl playing Niki’s character. The first actor we cast was a friend of mine, an incredibly talented girl that got along with everybody. But it became clear very early that our visions of the character were out of synch. Had we more flexibility, more rehearsals, more time to iron everything out, she would have become an amazing Niki, but the unrelenting nature of the shoot left no days for that work. Because the part was so big, and because of the daunting, complex shooting schedule, we couldn’t make it work - so we parted ways about two weeks into the shoot.
The other replacement came much later, for the part of Jeremy, which had become for me the most important part in the film. That was a different story. Here we had a talented guy who just didn’t believe in us and didn’t believe in the film. He was unable to look past the present, unable to see what the story could become. And because of the lack of faith (the very thing his character had to embody), his performance was affected. We needed someone to walk into the room and become this character, in every sense of the word. So we relieved our actor, and found Paul Rogic ten days later. And everything began to make sense.
TSI: Also, it's said that the script evolved massively on a day to day basis (and that the entire projected lasted 29 months!). Were you ever really sure of where the picture was going and how does the finished work compare to your original script?
GH: The picture really did evolve throughout the shoot, and this was a conscious decision made early in preproduction. Because of our limited means, it was incredibly important for us to be flexible within our own creativity. As the film transformed from the original screenplay, it began to reflect the experiences, emotions and conflicts of the shoot itself. And the central question of destiny that structured the whole narrative of the film, became the question of the cast and crew. Were these insane events, schedule changes, actor replacements, legal crises and mental breakdowns just a chaotic scattering of events...or was there something else going on, something we could feel but not see? Was everything happening for a reason? For me as a director, the central idea I grappled with was “faith”... Was my belief in the story, in my abilities, in God, strong enough to withstand the madness being thrown in our direction... Was the cast and crew’s faith in me as a director strong enough to withstand their own fears... A lot of questions. A lot of issues. And instead of ignoring these, we pounded them into the film, and the movie became what was surrounding us all along... maybe you had to be there.
TSI: What was your own lowest moment of the shoot?
GH: I drove a car into a ditch.
TSI: Could you explain the process involved regarding obtaining the rights to include other artists music in films?
GH: With the exception of the roof, all the music in the film is originally recorded. To really taste and feel the city of Montreal, we fused an awesome original score by film composer Jon Day, with the best local acts in town. We were amazed by what we found. We put the word out that we were searching for local musicians and by God, they came. And my expectations were blown out of the water immediately. The talent, and enthusiasm we found from the Montreal musicians immediately raised the bar of what we could accomplish. During the film’s end credits we listed websites for the bands and if you check them out, you’ll be blown away. We’re planning to add a Musician Section to Expiration website in the near future so that’ll also be a good showcase for them too.
TSI: I think your commentary track will prove invaluable to aspiring filmmakers, and to those who enjoyed your film. Were there any commentary pitfalls you tried to avoid, and how well do you think you succeeded?
GH: Great. That’s inspiring. I’ve learned so much from commentaries and I think they’re truly one of the best parts of DVDs. I tried desperately to avoid sounding pretentious. I tried to avoid explaining the story, and I tried to embrace the date/time of the commentary rather than make it some anonymous time and voice... My favourite commentaries are those where you feel like the speaker is sitting in the same room with you, cracking open a beer and talking his head off. Some good PT Anderson ones, Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams commentary...the Good Will Hunting commentary... I love all those.
TSI: Was it your original intention to involve other cast/crew members in the commentary, or did you always intend to go solo?
GH: The biggest reason I avoided doing a group commentary was this: There’s a lot of secrets and tricks in this movie. There’s a lot of walls that aren’t really there, scenes that were shot years apart, and much, much crazier things - as I’m sure there are on every movie. I know if we got a bunch of us together, we’d inevitably start pointing out all the tricks, all the secrets, and any kind of narrative flow would be just about impossible to accomplish. However, with the benefit of time and objectivity, we’ll be recording a group commentary in November as part of a Special DVD Sunchaser is making which will include additional features and subtitles in French, German and English..
TSI: It's a given that many worthy films fall by the wayside, due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What do you have planned to ensure this doesn't happen to your film? Any festival screenings, at home and overseas?
GH: We will apply the same force to getting this film seen that we did in getting it made. We’re submitting to many important festivals over the coming months. With these screenings, the incredible press response and a massive effort by Sunchaser Pictures, we’re achieving our goals at a great pace. We’re doing whatever it takes to play the film for as large a global audience as is humanly possible. Its a lot of work but this is the harvest - and we’re enjoying the hell out of the ride.
TSI: We hear you spent 7 years in London as a child. Does London hold any attraction for you - is it a goal to see Expiration released there?
GH: That’s right. I lived in London for some of the best years of my life. The biggest influence that city had on me was the incredible submersion in the arts. I don’t know what my life would be like now if I hadn’t spent those years growing up in the London culture. We’re looking for the right festival to hook up with over there - and when that happens we’ll be making the trip and seriously looking into UK distribution options. I think a UK audience will really dig this movie - for some strange reason.
TSI: Can you tell us anything about future projects? What do you plan to work on next?
GH: I’m writing the script for a much bigger project. I can’t really tell you much about it yet, but if it comes out right, its going to be like nothing anyone’s ever seen before - and if it doesn’t come out right, I’ll write it again until it does...
TSI: We seem to be living in an age of remakes. If you could choose one film to remake, which one would you select and why?
GH: That’s a damn interesting question. I’m not the biggest fan of remakes. I think the only movie that should be remade are the ones that didn’t quite make it..., the ones that could have been great. Buuuuuuut, If I had to make one, I’d say..................damn... I really have no idea..... I don’t think remakes are for me...
TSI: And who would you cast?
GH: This is easier. I’d cast Charles S Dutton, Richard Schiff, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn and Denzel Washington... That’s the fun part.
TSI: Could you tell us when the DVD will be on sale, and where people will be able to buy copies?
GH: Sunchaser’s working on distribution details but in the meantime, they’ll send you a press copy for about $10 US to cover shipping and handling. Just send them an email at email@example.com and they’ll get ‘em to you right away.
TSI: I'm sure there will be a demand for a CD soundtrack. Anything in the pipeline?
GH: Yes. Time is tight right now, but I know someone’s currently working on a cd soundtrack to give out for free at the November New York screening. If the response is right and the demand is there, we’ll go to the next level. Honestly, the music these guys did is incredible, and the bonus of a soundtrack cd is that you get to hear the entire songs, instead of the 1 or 2 minutes that could fit into the pace of the editing etc...
TSI: Thank you for taking time to talk to us, Gavin. I hope we can chat again as your career blossoms. Good luck with Expiration.
GH: Thank you guys. Those were some great questions, and it was fun looking back on it all. Keep up the great work with the site. You can really tell that this is a site for movie lovers, it just shows in everything you do. And that’s refreshing. Best of luck with everything and I hope to catch you all in the UK sometime soon! See ya.
We’d also like to thank Samantha Gutterman (Sunchaser) for arranging this interview.
Don’t forgot, you can own a copy of Expiration now.
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