In an effort to make the world believe that their lives are better than they actually are, people have steadily altered and edited the videos, pictures and information they post on the Internet. Over the past few years, as accessibility to social networking sites, smart phones and personal cameras has accelerated, the public has relied on their falsified public personas to validate their personal existences. This growing trend of relying on cyber confirmation to raise their self-confidence is thought provokingly explored in writer-director William Dickerson’s new metafictional satire comedy-drama, ‘The Mirror,’ which officially launches today on Vimeo On Demand.
‘The Mirror‘ follows Dickerson as he tries to answer who Taylor, a quirky and charismatic lifestreamer, really is as he sets out to chronicle every aspect of his life on video. Taylor is an open book who magnetically draws others into his world where public and private are one and the same. He tries to find the answer as to why he always pushes people away, and can never seem to develop meaningful personal relationships, when he meets Ellen (Hannah Levien) for the first time over coffee. But as Dickerson pushes Taylor to delve deeper into his traumatic past, the story takes an unexpectedly dangerous turn.
Dickerson generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘The Mirror’ over the phone during an exclusive interview. Among other things, the filmmaker, who served as a writer, director, actor, producer and editor on the comedy-drama, discussed how the movie is part-documentary, part-scripted because so many people edit the information they post about themselves online and claim that it’s their reality; that as a director, he feels it’s important to understand the acting process, so he’s able to communicate his ideas to his actors; and how he thinks releasing films On Demand allows independent filmmakers the opportunity to maintain creative and distributive control over their movies.
ShockYa (SY): You both wrote and directed ‘The Mirror,’ which is a metafictional film about a quirky and charismatic lifestreamer, Taylor, who continuously shows his world to the public. Can you discuss your inspiration in making the film, and exploring Taylor’s reasoning for wanting to show the world his life in the film?
William Dickerson (WD): Well, when I was making my first feature, ‘Detour,’ it was a very long process. It took about three years to actually make the movie. It then took another two years to find additional funding, as well as a company to buy it and finally distribute it. We finally got great distribution through Warner Brothers Digital Distribution.
But it was a long journey-five years of making an indie film outside of Hollywood, and then selling it back to Hollywood. In many ways, that was more difficult than making the movie itself, which was an incredible task.
During this period, I wanted to start shooting something again. My writing partner (Dwight Moody) and I came up with this idea that literally generated from that frustration of all this time spent on this one project, and making an indie film in Hollywood.
So we started brainstorming ideas, and we always wanted to make a movie about a lifestreamer. A lifestreamer is basically a person who films themselves 24 hours a day, and they have webcams set up around their house. If you want to see what they’re having for lunch, you can go to their channel and see what they’re firing up on their stove. We thought it would be nice if we could shoot something on consumer devices, something that would cost little to nothing to make, and the aesthetic works for the story.
I knew a friend of mine who filmed himself quite often. We started developing this and filming him, like a documentary. Essentially, the movie’s part-documentary, part-scripted. We started following Taylor around. Taylor’s thing is that he’s a lifestreamer, but he likes to recreate scenes from famous movies.
That inspired me, as a filmmaker. I saw passion in this guy that I had lost along the way, so I thought I should start filming him. I thought, I’m a real “filmmaker,” so I’m going to help him out with his scenes. So we went down this path, and as we started filming these things together, I began connecting the dots of the themes of these scenes, such as troubled relationships between family members. Later in the movie, it’s revealed that there’s a traumatic event that happened in Taylor’s past. I don’t want to give it away, but it leads to the reveal of this moment, and the recreation of it leads to the climax of the movie.
SY: Speaking of the fact that the movie is an exploration into Taylor’s journey as a lifestreamer, how did the film’s story influence the film’s cinematography?
WD: We wanted it to feel and look the way a lifestreamer would film his life. So we used webcams and laptop cameras GoPro cameras that we attached to people’s heads, as well as iPhones. Then when we filmed the big climatic scene, we shot it with the RED camera, which we shot ‘Detour’ with.
I wanted the film to have a whole plethora of different looks. The way people live now, people are filming everything. They’re filming on their phones, cameras and laptops, and they’re putting their lives online. It’s all these different looks put together; there’s not one specific look that videos have anymore. I really wanted to make that point in this movie, by incorporating as many consumer looks as possible.
SY: Recently, there have been a variety of movies, including ‘Catfish’ and ‘The Social Network,’ that explore how people’s personal lives influence their public lives, and vice versa. How is ‘The Mirror’s exploration of how people’s personal and public lives impact each other compare and contrast to similar films?
WD: Well, I think there a few things that are unique about our film. One of them is that I really wanted to merge reality with fiction. That’s why I say it’s very much a documentary, and we’re listing it as a documentary, as this is real life.
People who post videos and pictures of themselves online, whether it’s on Facebook or Twitter or Youtube, say it’s reality. But they’re still posting what they want people to see. They’re editing themselves, so who’s to say that it is real? When I see people, even in a documentary or through the eyes of the most objective journalists or photographers, even in the guise of reality, it ceases to be objective. It becomes subjective, as they’re taking a point of view.
I wanted to make that point of using real interviews, and using some stuff that was scripted, and some stuff that wasn’t. I play myself, and Taylor plays himself, in the movie, but I really wanted to blur the line of reality and fiction. I’m not sure if that’s been done before, at least not in this way.
We’re trying to make it as relevant as possible, with the idea of people creating their own persona, and putting it out online. We question if that’s more real to people in their daily lives. Everyone’s always on their cell phones. You can argue that people spend more time online than in the real world. Is that any less real than their everyday, tangible lives? So that’s what we’re getting at in the film.
SY: Speaking of Taylor appearing in the film, how did you come to cast him, and why did you feel it was important to tell his story?
WD: Well, he’s a friend of mine, and I’ve known him for awhile. We needed someone who was already kind of doing this, but also because we shot this over about two years, I needed someone who would invest the time into lifestreaming.
We needed the person to really get into the character in an immersive way that you can’t really do in a tightened indie shoot. This wasn’t something that we could shoot in three weeks. To sell the authenticity of the film, we needed someone to really live it for awhile, and you see it on the screen. You see time pass throughout the film; you see snow in one scene, and it being hot in another scene. That’s what a documentary is; we’re following the lives of these people, and we wanted it to feel organic. So we needed time for it to play out naturally.
SY: You also appear in ‘The Mirror’ as a filmmaker who helps Taylor reflect on his what type of persona he wants to portray on the Internet, and who he really is. What was the process of working with Taylor on screen, and did you feel it was important to feature your side of the story in the film?
WD: Yes, I think so. At first, Dwight wanted to find an actor to play me, so I guess he wasn’t really confident in my acting talents. But I wanted it to be as real as possible. I’ve acted before, but I would not classify myself as an actor.
As a director, I feel it’s also important to act. You need to understand the acting process, so you’re better able to communicate ideas to the actors. I felt that to really understand Taylor, why do it through a third party? Since it was my idea and I’m asking the questions, why use a third party, who would dilute the idea? So I immersed myself into the film.
There were a lot of scenes I shot myself, with my laptop camera or iPhone. I definitely didn’t use the first take; I did take after take. Once I found the one that I liked, I used it. That’s what we all do; people upload videos to Facebook and Youtube, and edit them to make sure they look okay. So I wanted to live that process, and I think that helps convey a more authentic world onscreen.
SY: Why did you decide to name the film ‘The Mirror?’ Do you hope the subject manner will allow audiences to reflect on their own lives, and what they’re posting for the world to see?
WD: Yeah. That wasn’t my intention, but if that were to be the case, that would be great. I don’t know the long-term effects of us being addicted to the Internet. This is relatively new, as people being glued to their phones and computers has only been the case the past few years. Does people posting pictures and videos of themselves online disconnect them from the “real world,” or does it enhance it? That’s what the question we’re getting at. I don’t know if there’s an answer to that right now.
But it certainly will have an effect. The way we live our lives through the Internet now is drastically different than how we lived our lives 10 years ago. We all have two different lives now; we have our lives when we walk down the street, and when we see people when we go to work. That’s one life we have now, and the only one people knew 10 years ago.
But now, we have a second life, and that’s the life we have online. We have carefully molded and edited personas we put on Facebook, and in the videos we post. How close are these two people? Is there a similarity between these two personas, or are they different? I find that fascinating.
The documentary allowed us to explore that idea, but didn’t put a definitive punctuation at the end. It’s an ongoing conversation, and is what the film touches on. Hopefully it will provoke some thought, and will have people thinking about the significance of it.
SY: What do you hope audiences will learn, and take away from, ‘The Mirror,’ and how their public persona online can affect their personal lives, and vice versa?
WD: I don’t know. I don’t have an agenda with the film, but I think the public sphere is really overwhelming the private sphere. What I mean is that privacy is almost coming extinct and a myth. With the Google glasses coming out, everyone’s filming everything.
I guarantee that a time in the not-so-distant future, there will be nearly impossible, especially in populated areas like cities, to walk around and not be filmed, with satellite photography alone. So where’s the line, and when do we say, this is too much, as we really need to protect privacy?
The other side to it is, we’re doing it to ourselves. We’re filming everything and putting it all out there. We’re recording our entire lives, but what’s the point? Do we record our entire lives for our prosperity and our families, or do we want to record our memories?
You can’t go to a concert nowadays and look into the audience without seeing people recording it on their iPhones or iPads. But the act is right there, and you’re paying $80 to watch whoever on stage in the moment. But you’re watching it through a screen. (laughs) It’s the craziest thing. You pay all this money to go to this concert, but you’re not enjoying the experience first hand. You’re more concerned about recording it through an electronic device, which is disconnecting you from the moment.
I personally think that’s dangerous. I want people to think about the fact that it has on people’s lives. ‘The Mirror’ shows that, as Taylor’s living his life primarily through the Internet. You could say it has an adverse effect on his personal life, and his relationship with other people. The movie is about him giving up some of that, in order to hold onto his privacy and humanity.
SY: Besides writing and directing ‘The Mirror,’ you also served as a producer on the film, and you made the film on a small budget. Did making the movie independently influence what you could include in the final film?
WD: Yes, absolutely. I produced my first short film a long time ago, but this is my first credit as a producer on a feature film. But you could say that I helped produce ‘Detour.’ On the independent level, you’re always a producer. But with this film, I acted as a producer to get it made.
It all came down to DIY, do it yourself. We wanted every single thing, from the scenes to the story to the way we shot it to the budget to the scheduling, had to be do it yourself. That’s why I produced it, and it was a great experience.
As for control, it kept me in 100 percent control of the film. The final cut of the film is my cut, and we don’t have executives or studios looking over our shoulders, keeping tabs. The era of micro-budget filmmaking, while intimidating, is very liberating.
The technology’s out there that if you have a good story, it doesn’t take that much money to tell it very professionally. You can film it great and get great actors. Or you can make a documentary and edit it on your computer. They can stand up to some big studio films. So I felt I had to be on the ground floor with every position-I produced it, starred in it, directed, helped write it and cut it, as well.
SY: Speaking of cutting the film, you also worked as the editor on ‘Mirrors.’ How did being the writer, director and producer influence your final edit of the film?
WD: I’ve made enough movies by now to be objective. I may not have been able to do this-star in it, direct it and write it-a few years ago, because to a certain extent, you love everything. When you get to the editing room, you have to be very detached. You can’t look at the guy on screen as though it’s you.
If a certain line doesn’t work in the editing room, even if you loved it when you wrote and directed it, it has to go. So you have to become extremely objective about the process. I think that comes from doing this a long time.
You can always be in love with an idea, and it will be there forever, but once it became a script, it died a little bit. Once it’s filmed, it dies again. Once it’s edited, it dies yet again. It’s an organic process. It’s not like a novel, when you write it, there’s the finished product. When you’re making a movie, the end isn’t when you write the screenplay. You write it, and then you cast it and film it, and you’ll be able to edit it.
I love seeing how everything changes, and that organic process of the art form. We cut tons of stuff-probably about half-an-hour-from the film. It was stuff I really liked, but if it doesn’t work in the final product, or if it bored audiences in the test screenings, which I think is extremely important, we had to cut it. The film isn’t for me; it’s for other people. It’s entertainment; we want to make a point, but we also want to make sure other people enjoy the final project. As an editor, that’s my goal.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘The Mirror’ is your second feature film, after your directed, wrote and produced ‘Detour,’ and such shorts as ‘Shadowbox’ and ‘Confessions of a Dangerous Mime.’ How did your experiences on your previous films influence the way you made ‘The Mirror,’ and are there any lessons you learned from your earlier movies that you brought to this movie?
WD: Certainly, it taught me to harness all the resources that I had, because ‘Detour’ is also a micro-budget movie. We had a little bit more leeway and money, but not that much. We had a lot of favors. It taught me how to craft a story that could be done manageable.
I knew I couldn’t make a sci-fi or space movie. Even though it may be great to script, I wouldn’t be able to make it myself. If you want to make a micro-budget film, you have to write with budget in mind. Dwight and I became quite adept at doing that. Crafting ‘The Mirror’ was no different, even though it was kind of a documentary, it still had to be manageable, and we had to be tight with the resources.
The way we were distributing it, which is something I learned from ‘Detour,’ we’re entering a whole new world of distribution. ‘Detour’ was a day-and-date release; it was released theatrically and On Demand at the same time. That’s great for indie filmmakers, to see their films on the big screen, but that’s not where the process comes from.
The process comes from On Demand. There are all these different worlds; ‘Detour’ was out on at least 40 different outlets, including iTunes and cable providers. But you still have to promote it yourself. We thought if we had to promote this one ourselves, let’s distribute it ourselves. So we decided to go the route of Video On Demand.
Another film that one of my friends produced, called ‘Some Girl(s),’ starring Kristen Bell and Adam Brody, was the first film they distributed. I don’t know what happened, but they didn’t strike a deal with traditional distributors, so they decided to it it themselves. They’ve been doing very well with it, and it’s a 90-10 split. It’s 10 for the distributors, and 90 for the filmmakers. It’s been doing very well.
With ‘Detour,’ we’ve been promoting it directly, and we keep 90 percent of the profits. So it’s a very exciting time for independent filmmakers, who can make their movies and get it out to the world. Keeping with the themes of the movie, I wanted everything to be DIY. This was a movie we made outside the system, and it will be forever outside the system.
SY: Speaking of releasing films On Demand, are you personally a fan of watching movies on VOD, and why do you thing the platform is so important for independent films?
WD: Well, it’s certainly create for exposure. But I love going to the movies; I would be lying if I said I only watch movies on Video On Demand. I feel in love with the movies by watching them on the silver screen. I grew up watching movies, and that was part of my youth and childhood, and that’s why I wanted to become a filmmaker. I think there are a lot of filmmakers like me, who want to make a movie for the big screen.
However, unfortunately, it’s becoming so expensive to see a movie. For people my age, or a little older, you have to get a babysitter for the kids, and then you go out to dinner and a then get popcorn at the theater. Plus, the ticket is over $10. So for a night at the movies, it can be $100-$200, and the movie might not be very good. Then you wasted a whole night out.
Now, movies are coming out the same time they’re coming out in theaters. So now you have a choice-you can either go to the theater, or put the kids to bed and open up a bottle of wine and get a pizza, and watch a movie On Demand. I can pause it and take a break. It’s a lot less stressful.
The way our home entertainment systems are now are a lot better than they were 10 years ago. For not much money, you can get a beautiful, 50-inch plasma TV and have a great sound system. While it’s not the same as watching a movie in the theater, it’s certainly better than watching it on a 20-inch screen 10 years ago. So I like watching Video On Demand.
I do think ‘The Mirror’ would be great in the theater, and we just saw the premiere over the weekend, and it looked great on the big screen. But this is a movie about the Internet, so what better way to watch it than through the Internet? It all makes sense on that level.
SY: What lessons did you learn while making ‘The Mirror’ will you bring to your next film? Do you have any ideas for your next project?
WD: Wow, lessons. Well, ‘Detour’ took five years to make, and ‘The Mirror’ took two years to make. I’m going in the direction where it will hopefully take less and less time to make a movie. (laughs) So I hope the next time will be shorter than two years. So my goal is to generate more content and be more efficient.
We have lots of irons in the fire. It looks like I may be hired for the first time as a director-for-hire. I may make an indie film in December, but that’s not 100 percent; it’s just in the works. I didn’t write it, so I may be hired to just direct it.
As far as other films that I’m writing, Dwight and I have been working with Neil Hopkins, who starred in ‘Detour,’ on another project. I can’t really say too much about it, but it may feature the reincarnation of a dead rock star. It’s very exciting; it’s also going to be micro-budget, but it will also have a sci-fi element. That will be very exciting to pull off on a low budget, but I’ve had a lot of practice, so I’m optimistic.
Written by: Karen Benardello