As Clevelanders, we are fortunate to be the beneficiaries of a very rich film community. From the International Film Festival to theaters like the Cedar-Lee that straddle the line between art house and quasi-commercial cinema to the countless film clubs hosted by bookstores, cafes, and the occasional art gallery, one need not lookfar in the 216 to find excellent cinema opportunities. The institutional crown jewel in all this is, without a doubt, the Cinematheque program, hosted by the Cleveland Institute of Art. Led much more than ably by John Ewing and Timothy Harry, the Cinematheque does a truly incredible job of bringing in a diverse array of film that spans the globe and as manygenres as you can imagine. In a given weekend, I've seen seminal French New Wave films followed by underground horror-schlock followed by painstakingingly beautiful contemporary Asian film. For me and thousands of other NEO cinephiles and enthusiasts, the publication of the Cinematheque schedule every other month is cause for both celebration and deep study, and by the time I finish looking over the document, both it and my hands are covered in ink from circling dozens of films that look great. Time and time again, Ewing and Harry score big for us, but sometimes they go above and beyond even their own level of success.
Such is the case with the upcoming screenings of Monty Miranda's SKILLS LIKE THIS (Friday at 9:55, Saturday at 8:10). Since I first heard my friends in Austin fortunate enough to attend the film portion of SXSW buzzing about this film (where it one the audience selection award), I've been intrigued. Along with Medicine for Melancholy, SKILLS LIKE THIS is the best hipster art film of the year.
Did the word "hipster" just make you recoil? Don't worry, it shouldn't - by hipster , I am just referring to the importance of music, image, and consumption of culture to the film's narrative and key actors. You know, there is a reason people call certain folks hipsters, and it isn't just as a way of making fun of their jeans and haircuts.
I'm very excited to see this film this weekend, even more so after reading Monty Miranda's responses to the handful of questions I sent him a few days ago. And, honestly, you should be, too. I make lots and lots of suggestions about what you should do with your time, probably well past the point of obnoxiousness, but this is one of those times you should listen to me. Cool?
1) Other than other films/filmmakers, where do you find your influences? I mean, is there a certain type of art or artist, idea, spirit, etc.
I have always embraced the punk rock DIY spirit. There is something about just going out there and doing that which maybe you are not supposed to do or haven’t had the opportunity to do based on certain qualifications, expectations or opportunity.
The influences are so many; I love all types of films, music and literature. My influences come from what I have devoured through my life as a film and music geek. Filmmakers who consistently make great movies that do not linger in the same genre or style particularly inspire me. Someone like Danny Boyle is a filmmaker that goes from Zombies to Family to India. That is exciting. I guess like with any great art, I become really obsessed and try to study and discover as much as I can from that entire body of work.
2) If you were asked by a younger filmmaker about to make his/her first serious and hopefully commercially viable film, what advice would you give him/her? Or is there a better (earlier?) time to give sage advice?
Make the film you would like to see. Tell this story in the most economical way. Give your characters strength and keep them moving forward. Get into scenes late and get out early. Never stop preparing and try and have more than 17 days to shoot the movie.
3) What is the film festival circuit like? What's the best thing and the worst?
The SXSW Award was a highpoint; SXSW was our world premiere and sitting in the theater experiencing the film with audience for the very first time is an unforgettable and anxiety inducing experience.
I never thought I would do so much travel. SKILLS LIKE THIS has screened in festivals from France to Thailand. Traveling around the world with the movie was amazing and getting to meet and get to know other directors is something that is very cool and inherently unique to the film festival experience.
Not so great. On the festival circuit I would usually come into the theater at the end of the film as the credits roll for a Q&A. During one Q&A an audience member once asked what was my intended meaning of flickering the image through certain key scenes. This was a new addition to the film for me. The meaning of this was that the projector was jacked and apparently this flicker had been happening sporadically throughout the entire movie. You feel like shit then. Fortunately this only happened once.
4) What's your favorite moment in SKILLS LIKE THIS?
Maybe it’s the Drive-Thru scene. I really tried to create a scene that goes from fatuously funny to surreally saturnine. It is a key scene where Max goes off the rails while the other characters are enjoying their stupor. I wanted this scene to play out in unexpected ways. I wanted the scene to start consistent with the a raucous silly tone and veer into dangerous chaos, then move to this ethereal tripped out finale. I think we get into Max’s head there a bit and that is really important to the story at that point in the film.
5) Music is obviously very important to you. Can you describe the role indie rock plays in your film and your thought process behind it?
My idea was to use rock and pop music versus a traditional score. I wanted a kind of upfront sound that the characters of the film are hearing to be this soundtrack.
My hope is audiences hear the music as the soundtrack to the characters and hopefully this helps put the viewer in their world. This in many ways was also the soundtrack to my life of living in Denver.
The music is made mostly of songs that I’ve hand picked or have had created specifically for the movie. At the very early script development stages of SKILLS LIKE THIS wanted the soundtrack to be a character in the film that creates that sound in the life of characters.
Rock and Roll, Punk Rock, Ska, Country and Western, Hip-Hop and Electonica make a rather eclectic music mix and paralleling the film, I believe they share a common independent spirit.
Bands from around the world contributed music to SKILLS LIKE THIS. Some songs come from well-known bands like New Order. Their song Krafty is the song that in a lyrical sense embodies the end of the movie for me.
The Wedding Present with their janglely punk rock guitar (Ringway to Seatac) and then their beautiful Max and Lucy’s love theme (I’m From Farther North than You) arcs with the character of MAX. Graham Lewis, of the seminal art punk band Wired, with his new band 27/11 and their proto dark reinterpretation of the 60’s Monks classic (Oh How To Do Now) follows MAX and friends in their worst moments.
Much of the music, however, is created by unsigned musicians from Denver. Bands like Halden Wofford and the Hi*Beams who play the rough and aging rock band in the bar scene, Andy Monley, who cameos in the light rail scene, with his trippy infectious roots rock, and the Wheel with Nathaniel Rateliff’s his ethereal vocal talents create some atmosphere in SKILLS LIKE THIS. You can get most of the soundtrack on itunes.
6) The city of Cleveland has made some noise recently about wanting to make this a more film-friendly city. In your opinion, what are the most important things a city can do to encourage that kind of industry attention?
I think the first and most important is local filmmakers. Once you get a local filmmaker with a voice and people start to notice the work then those barriers start to come down and this brings more filmmakers out hopefully.
Incentives help a lot too. You can see how they have had a positive effect in areas like New Orleans, New Mexico, and Michigan. We didn’t have government tax incentives in Denver when I was making SKILLS LIKE THIS. These other cities and states become more attractive to filmmakers because of how much money can go back into the movie if the location is offering incentives. Basically everyone wins because a film crew or unit is a money-spending machine. It all goes back into the local economy when the crew is in the middle of production.
7) Last but not least, any previous Cleveland experiences worth sharing?
I hear there is a pretty cool rock and roll museum in Cleveland that I really need to check out. Thanks for the questions and for checking out the film.
SKILLS LIKE THIS will play on 35 mm at the CIA Cinematheque (11141 East Boulevard, Cleveland) on Friday, 6/26, at 9:55 PM and on Saturday, 6/27, at 8:10 PM. The film is 88 minutes of awesomeness.
3 years ago