Sunday, June 14, 2009

"Ask me no questions..."

(an interview with Mitchell W. Block)

Mitchell W. Block's short bio on his blog (found HERE) doesn't mention the work that brings him to the Film of the Month Club, " lies". He's had a long successful career as a Distributor and Producer of hundreds of films and is the President of Direct Cinema Limited. But don't think he's forgotten about his film school gem.

I reached Mr. Block, via telephone, in his Santa Monica office.

Peter Rinaldi: What was your reaction when you heard that I wanted "…no lies" to be the film of the month?

Mitchell W. Block: I thought it was a great idea. It was perfect timing because I’ve been trying to find ways to put my films up so people could see them.

What was your reaction when it got into the National Film Registry?

Well, it had been up before, so I was pleased when it finally made it past the bureaucracy.

When in the course of this film’s life did it start to be used as a public service tool?


Did you ever expect that to happen?

No. Because I was, like most film students, in a program, like virtually all programs, which never talks about how a film is used, or how films make money. You make films without regard to audience or market. When the film came out, a number of very smart film distributors said “This is a classroom film that can be used for training.”

That’s really ironic considering, and I don’t want to make any assumptions here, but I am assuming you made it with the intention to kind of throw the audience off once they realize it was not real.



No, I had to make a movie to get an MFA. And I only had seven weeks of prep time. So, I’d been a producer for a long time and if you think about it, the easiest kind of picture to make is a film with one location, two actors and so on. So the form was very much the function of being just a smart producer and the content was trying to figure out what I could do with the form. So it’s like all my pictures, where I work backwards, because my brain works that way.

Surely you must’ve realized, after the film is made, that what you have here is something that people might take to be not so much fiction, as, perhaps, a moment caught on film that was real. That really wasn’t the goal? To cultivate these performances to make them appear, for lack of a better word, “real”?

Well, they are real. I mean, the performance, everything about it, is real.

Well, (laughs) this could turn into an interesting discussion, but what I am trying to say is that, yes, she may have been playing “herself”, but the situation certainly wasn’t real.

Well that’s the joy of making a fictional movie. You create something on the screen that, because of the form, people read as real, when in fact it is fiction shot to make it look like it is vérité.

What was the reaction when it first screened? When it played at someplace like the Flaherty Film Seminar, where everyone expects a documentary, was there controversy?

Well there generally is controversy because people get pissed off at “the cameraman” for treating a woman like that. That’s inappropriate. And people get pissed off when they find that they were fooled.

So they are pissed off at the cameraman and then, when they realize there is a “filmmaker”, they are then pissed off at you.


I read that Shelby Leverington watched rape victim tapes to get some back-story material to work with, but what kind of work was done to help her get into the place she needed to get into to sustain this performance through these long takes?

The back-story was something she used to help create that character, which is really a pastiche of her. I mean she’s really that character, who had not been raped, and, being very much a trained New York actor, could draw upon her Method approach to pull that performance together. The other thing is that Shelby and Alec (Cameraman) were very good friends and remain so to this day. So we have the benefit of that relationship already being there, which is almost like a boy/girl relationship between them, which is the idea of the film-- this guy that has a girl “friend”, which is not necessarily a date, and he has this camera and he has to do a cinematography assignment and he sets up the equipment in her place and she says she’s going out with friends to see a movie, “I’ll let you shoot me.” He says “Okay, I only have one magazine, one load, ten minutes, so just let me film you getting ready”, etc.

There is a fine line between a good film with great performances (that no one actually processes as having been an actual moment that was captured in reality) and a film like this that most people, having no preconceptions, would, due to the level of performances, process as being a “real” moment captured in reality. For this reason, this performance, to me, is something beyond just exceptional. She reaches a truth that people find a hard time processing.

We’re looking at an actress who came out of method acting in New York. Her whole approach was to be the character, to be real. So Shelby simply succeeded in creating this 15 1/2 minute character that people read as real. And you have to just say “What a good piece of work”. And it was done in multiple takes, just like a movie. So there’s no magic, it’s just being professional.

You relayed the story of the police captain that asked you for the name of the police officer who interviewed the woman in the film because he believed it to have actually occurred. When you see a reaction to the film taken that far—

That’s not a surprise. People used to contact Robert Young for medical advice. I think the audience reacts to any program and believes there is a transformation of the actor into that character. And that’s not at all surprising.

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