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Interview: Brian Metcalf Talks Fading of the Cries

Independent film production encompasses many challenges as well as an inherently skillful touch with the necessary art of compromise. But you wouldn’t always know it from interviews with filmmakers, many of whom have a tendency to latch on to one or two good anecdotes or merely fall back on thematic talking points when discussing their project. Refreshingly, writer-director Brian Metcalf is not of that ilk. His feature debut, the sci-fi-tinged adventure “Fading of the Cries”, faced many bumps and hurdles over the course of a 10-year period from initial conception to its eventual theatrical release this week, but perhaps none quite as rocky as a production cycle beset with fire, a compacted schedule, and on-the-fly script revisions. We had a chance to recently chat one-on-one with Metcalf, and the revealing conversation is excerpted below:

ShockYa: You have a visual arts background, which is interesting and different [than a lot of other directors]. When and where did your vocational interests sort of pivot to film?

Brian Metcalf: I guess since I was a little child I was always interested in film, but I didn’t have a movie camera, or access to one. So I used to make my own little comic books growing up, and from there I went to an art school that focused on comic book storytelling. I guess I thought that comic art and illustration was really important, because you’re laying out the shots and you’re visually telling a story in the same way that you are in filmmaking, in a lot of ways. So I just found that to be very important. Then I did everything I could to try to get into the film field. I got a certificate of photography as well, and studied the 35mm camera when it was film — everything I could before getting into film itself. Even my study of visual effects was so that I could get closer to learning everything about making movies.

ShockYa: When you have that background, it probably fairly necessarily sets you up for a directorial debut of this type (with lots of special effects), but do your natural interests in film — the types of movies you enjoy watching — align themselves with those more rooted in effects?

BM: Strangely enough, no. The thing that’s most important and key for me is telling a story, not just doing visual effects. It sort of ended up working out that way because having [visual effects experience] was an asset to investors. I had given a number of different options as to what film to possibly make as my first film, and they chose Fading of the Cries because they liked my visual effects background and the story, and so that’s what they wanted to see. But I have film ideas and projects that aren’t so heavily based on visual effects.

ShockYa: Tell me, then, about that lift, as it were. You had a well received short film, but when you’re transitioning to feature directing I imagine it’s very difficult to find the right investment team, to secure that production money. What is like trying to shake the trees and set a film up?

BM: It’s an extremely difficult task. The problem is that you’re at the whim of investors, and a lot of time you have to do what you don’t necessarily want to do in order to get the project. Making Fading of the Cries, I’m very happy with the investors who gave me a chance to make this film. At the same time, there were a lot of production problems and other issues that came up that I wish hadn’t happened. But it is what it is. You’re given a chance to make your first film, so you do whatever you can to make it, because nobody knows who you are, nobody cares — you have to prove yourself. And more than anything I wanted to do this project really badly because I wanted to get an agent and manager, and the chance to make more movies in the future.

ShockYa: The problems that you alluded to — what were they chiefly a result of?

BM: We had an extremely short production window, we shot in a very short amount of time. We had very short pre-production time as well. When we finally got the go-ahead to go, it was “Boom! You have to go really quickly.” And it wasn’t as much time as I would have liked. On top of that, when we were shooting on location, we had almost every problem imaginable. For example, we were shooting in Santa Clarita, and we had a fire out there. So we had to scramble to rearrange with actors, and some actors we couldn’t get back. It was just a nightmare. But you have to make do with what you can. My goal was to finish this movie, regardless — no matter what changes we had to make along the way. And a lot of this stuff I wasn’t really allowed to talk about until we got distribution for the film.

ShockYa: When you’re blocking for a film with a lot of visual effects components, how does that effect your work on set with actors, and is it difficult keeping straight in your head what you want and need physically from actors versus what’s going to be augmented or filled in later?

BM: We had storyboarded the entire project out initially, and done animatics and everything like that. But a lot of the stuff ended up getting thrown out, and we had to do it on the spot due to changes in a number of things. There were a number of locations where we’d been planned for longer and they said, “Oh, you need to leave today.” And we had to rush for different things, so the original plans we had for the project went out the window, but I refused to give up on the project. I said, “I’m just going to go forward.” I think a lot of it has to do with what’s going to work well in the moment. For example, if it’s emotional shot then you want close-ups so you can see the emotion on the actors’ faces, and if it’s an action shot you want to have a wide master shot so you get everything, and close-ups that you can push into. You want to have some variety to be able to cut with, and part of the reason that it was so visual-effects-heavy is because we ended up not being able to finish up certain scenes on location so we had to recreate certain scenes in digital and shoot them on green-screen or take B-roll of actors and slap it into the scenes to make it work, if that makes sense. So it was quite a complex problem that we had. But if we did our jobs properly, there will be a number of scenes in there that people won’t even know are visual effects.

ShockYa: That sounds pretty harrowing.

BM: It was. It was an extremely headache-causing time. We had to make changes to the original script, too, just because of running out of time and not being able to shoot certain things and still trying to make it consistent and coherent.

ShockYa: What about the modeling of the film’s three evil minions? They seem to represent different elements or genres in and of themselves, but we don’t get as firm of a read on the shape-shifter.

BM: That one came through a process of evolution, if that makes sense. How’s the best way to describe it? I can’t tell the full reasoning for that right now, but the initial character designs of Malyhne and the other creature who turns into the crows had been done. I think the characters have their own reasoning for what they are and why they’re the way they are in the script. There’s a lot of stuff I wished I could have told more background on, but with lack of time and budget [that wasn’t a possibility].

ShockYa: As the evil Mathias Brad Dourif is certainly a great get. With all love and respect, he has a face made for genre films. Was that wealth of experience he has a benefit for the project?

BM: Brad has been nothing but good for the project in so many ways. He’s become a really good friend of mine, and has years of experience working in this industry. He always came up with really good ideas, and seemed to know his part very well. This role was actually created for him; I had him in mind when I came up with the original idea for this, just because I’d been a fan of his for so many years. And so it was a great thing to actually get him on board. We didn’t have much time with him at all, but it was still amazing to watch him work live. We had so many issues that came up in terms of trying to schedule for him, and of course he has make-up and other stuff like that, but it was great to have him on board when we could get him.

ShockYa: Actor Thomas Ian Nicholas also took a producing credit on the film. Was he on board from the get-go?

BM: He was. I created a trailer for this back in 2001, a long time ago. He was actually set to play the lead character of Jacob, and so basically we were working on the project together for quite some time. There were a number of times it was going to get greenlit, and then it didn’t happen — it was a whole back-and-forth, over and over again. I’d always promised him that if it happened then he would come on board as a producer for it, and that’s why we did that.

ShockYa: Is there anything definitive you have on tap next?

BM: I’m currently working up other projects. I’m being sent on meetings by my agent and manager. This industry is really interesting. It’s very organic. There is one project in particular that was going to happen, and then the investors pulled out on it because they’d lost money in the stock market. I ended up getting another script optioned, and I guess it’s just the whole back-and-forth of waiting to see what [happens].

ShockYa: So going back to visual effects work — is that definitely a step backward and something you’re looking not to do, or if a project with interesting collaborators came along would you do that?

BM: I don’t think anything is a step backwards as long as it’s creative, if that makes sense. I mean, I enjoy all aspects of being creative. There are times I might be like, “Thank God I’m not directing this project because it’s so stressful, trying to get all the shots you need done in a certain amount of time!” But in addition to that I’m trying to focus on anything and everything that comes along. I only worked the visual effects on this project because I didn’t have the budget (for someone else), but I would love to do another film where I don’t have to worry about the visual effects supervision, and I have other projects like that.

Written by: Brent Simon

Fading of the Cries

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A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International and Magill's Cinema Annual, and film editor of H Magazine. He cannot abide a world without U2 and pizza.

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