An Optimist at Heart: an interview with filmmaker Zak ForsmanFebruary 9th, 2012 | Posted by in Uncategorized
ne of my favorite films in the IndieFlix library is a short called “I Fucking Hate You.” It tells the story of a relationship that suffers from a case of engine run-on: Carol has moved on–in fact she’s wearing another man’s engagement ring. Ron, however, is not willing to admit defeat. He hatches a clumsy plan to win back Carol’s love: he’ll hide her favorite mug, which is all that remains of her in the apartment they used to share. If he tells her it’s going to be donated to the poor in less than an hour, then she’ll have to come and get it. And while she’s there, he’ll sing for her the song he wrote in order to win her back, a song titled “I Fucking Hate You.” Awkward, sure, but also touching, funny, sweetly sad, and beautifully acted and filmed. A real gem all around.
Since I’d decided to include “I Fucking Hate You” in our anti-Valentine’s Day feature, Love Stinks, I hatched a plan of my own: I would interview the director of this remarkable short film, Zak Forsman.
Charley Cvercko: I gather “I Fucking Hate You” was made in kind of a non-traditional way.
Zak Forsman: We had just come off making Heart of Now and were a little depressed by the prospect of returning to our regular lives. So we decided to do a short. I had a half-idea about a guy trying to win back an ex who was about to get married, and the actors came to me with this ridiculous song. The two instantly synced up. We didn’t write a screenplay, but instead had the story beats and objectives for the characters to pursue. The entire thing was done through guided improvisation and shot in four hours.
CC: You say you were a little depressed after finishing Heart of Now. Do you think affected your choice of subject matter?
ZF: The subject matter was connected to the fact that I was about to ask my girlfriend to marry me. And the notion that past failed relationships have a hand in shaping the person you are, into someone who is ready for that commitment, was what appealed to me at the time.
CC: OK, so now you need a man and a woman to play the couple. How did you choose these two actors, Marion Kerr and John T. Woods?
ZF: Both had roles in Heart of Now, my first feature. Marion Kerr in particular played the lead and is an endlessly skilled actress, writer, and director. John T. Woods on the other hand had a small role that, regretfully, was cut out of the picture. So I was eager to find another opportunity to display his unique presence and organic approach to comedy. There is something about him onscreen that is very easy to empathize with.
CC: We don’t see Carol’s world much, but I noticed it was blue, while Ron’s world is that kind of underexposed gold. And then when Carol leaves at the end, that shot is almost completely colorless. Was that intentional?
ZF: Yes, I wanted there to be a visual contrast between their worlds. Partially, as a reflection of their emotional state – hers being one of a calm coolness, and his being fiery and intense. But also to help the audience identify these as separate locations because there weren’t really any establishing master shots to give that info. I was looking to color to do that. Seems to have worked. And rather than light each shot, we lit the spaces so the actors had a certain amount of freedom to move around and adjust their blocking if the moment called for it. And with regard to the camerawork, I sometimes like to play little games. On this, I instructed the camera operators to turn their monitors upside-down to make it difficult for them to anticipate where the characters might go or look. It’s definitely overdone, in my opinion, but the “experiment” was a fun one to play with.
CC: Yes, the handheld camera, which is overused, works in this case: it gives the film a kind of voyeuristic quality. It almost emphasizes the idea that we’ve all been there — “let’s watch and see how they handle it.”
ZF: At the time, i was very much into the idea of treating the camera as a human eye, and letting the action dictate what its attention. It’s not too dissimilar to Walter Murch’s philosophy on editing, which is to cut when you would naturally turn your attention to something else in the scene if you were sitting there in the room as a spectator.
CC: So you set up the situation, and then the three of you workshopped the scene?
ZF: Well, we workshopped it in the days leading up to the shooting day. There was a certain amount of discovery on the day, but we had the beats of the scene pretty well established beforehand. I think the biggest change was the take where Marion decided to leave the mug behind at the end. I asked her why she did that and she told me that she felt like she needed to give him something back.
CC: Have you used this workshop technique on other films?
ZF: Yeah, Heart of Now is a feature that our distributor is releasing on February 21st and that, while scripted, had a lot of opportunities to throw away part or all of the written dialogue while we pursued the underlying intentions and objectives that each character had. A largely improvised endeavor was a tremendous education as my first directorial effort that helps me find ways to bring the same authenticity to scripted material.
CC: OK, so now you have a great little short film, which is automatically kind of outside the traditional distribution channels. How did you hook up with IndieFlix?
ZF: I submitted to and was selected to be a part of the From Here to Awesome film showcase of which IndieFlix was a key partner. It was the springboard that launched me into the world of DIY distribution opportunities. Thanks to them I was even selected to bring IFHY to Power to the Pixel during the London Film Festival, which remains one of the highlights of all my festival experiences. This was at least three years ago, but I’m eternally grateful to Scilla Andreen and Lance Weiler for their continued guidance over the years.
CC: Has the title been an obstacle at all? Do you have a standard way you censor it if someone insists on it for marketing?
ZF: I usually star out the U. But it hasn’t really been a problem. Some people have gone into it expecting a very hateful film. And it’s quite the opposite.
CC: Has it ever been outright rejected because of the title?
ZF: Not that I know of. Maybe.
CC: OK, this is supposed to be a Valentine ’s Day feature. Let’s do some Valentine ’s Day glurge. “I Fucking Hate You” is a sweet little film, but it does fit our “love stinks” theme. Do you ever see yourself doing a straight ahead, happy-ending romance?
ZF: You know, I love all kinds of movies. And wouldn’t turn my nose up at doing something because it had a happy ending. I would of course give it a good hard look to see what we could do to bring about the most entertaining — truthful or revealing — ending. I’m an optimist at heart. I like to see people succeed and I like stories about people who continually get knocked down, but have a plan they are revising, so they stand right back up and try again.
CC: Do you have any favorite romantic movies? Tearjerkers? Romcoms?
ZF: Of all time, I like to revisit Casablanca at least once a year. And of course there is the movie I saw on my first date with my now wife, Lost in Translation.
And on that sweet note, we concluded the interview. Be sure to watch “I Fucking Hate You.” Despite a title that might seem startling to some people, it really is a very touching, sweet little movie. In my opinion it’s one of the very best films in IndieFlix’s library of 3,000+ titles. (For a free trial, use the promocode lovestinks here.)
And please list your favorite V.D. movies in the comments section. Mine would have to be: