With Cold Weather on DVD this week, director Aaron Katz talks mumblecore, collaboration and werewolves.
Credited as a founding member of the Noughties mumblecore movement, director Aaron Katz has made a name in crafting heartfelt examinations of the human condition. His previous films Dance Party, USA and Quiet City exhibit a reserved exuberance free from the contrarieties of Hollywood’s heroin chic hyperbole, both proving refreshing explorations of youth in all its neurotic glory.
As mumblecore becomes resigned to cinematic folklore with its best known exports the Duplass Brothers and Greta Gerwig now earning mainstream recognition, Katz looks to have also outgrown the movement with his latest feature, Cold Weather. LWLies spoke to the director recently about moving on from mumblecore and what the future holds.
LWLies: You’ve stated how alien the term ‘mumblecore’ feels to you. After making Cold Weather do you feel as though you’ve shed the mumblecore tag and you now have a much stronger personal identity as a filmmaker?
Katz: I’ve made all three of my movies with the same small group of people, most of whom I went to college with in North Carolina. I’ve always felt that we had our own point of view, which is the reason that ‘mumblecore’ feels alien in the first place. When we made Dance Party, USA, our first film, we had no idea what we were doing. We made it completely isolated from the notion that other people were trying to do anything remotely similar. It’s not that I necessarily dislike mumblecore as a term, although it has come to have a pejorative ring to it, it’s just that it feels completely outside of the process of conceiving of or making movies.
How do you feel about Cold Weather in comparison to your previous films, is it an extension or a complete departure?
I think it’s an extension. Obviously the inclusion of genre elements is surprising to people, but I’ve always been a big fan of crime fiction. The idea of having characters that feel real interacting with genre made a lot of sense to me.
When you were making Dance Party, USA and Quiet City were you always conscious that you wanted your future films to have much stronger sense of narrative and genre or did it occur naturally?
In a way, neither one. There are a lot of different types of films I’d like to make. Some projects require a tighter narrative and some don’t. One script I’m working on is a 1920s high society safecracker movie. Another I’m working on with Brendan McFadden, one of my producers, is a werewolf/buddy cop action comedy. That one has a much tighter narrative than Cold Weather even. It came out of our love for Hollywood summer movies and our feeling that there aren’t very many truly funny ones these days. On the other hand, I could see, depending on the project, doing something even looser than Quiet City.
Since Dance Party, USA it seems like the characters in your films have matured from picture to picture, is that a reflection of yourself both personally and as a filmmaker?
I don’t think so. Each film is about different people in different situations and I don’t see them as parallel to me as a filmmaker.
Cold Weather has such a great balance between plot, characterisation and its stylistic elements but which interests you the most as a filmmaker?
All three are essential to make a movie I would be proud of. I try not to get preoccupied with one thing to the detriment of another. That said, to me, characterisation and performances are the most important. I think it’s possible to transcend aesthetic shortcomings with strong performances, but if the performances aren’t there nothing else matters.
Many of the previous relationships depicted in your films have focused upon romance, what made you explore the relationship between siblings in Cold Weather?
Exactly that. I was thinking about what to start writing and I wanted to explore a different kind of relationship. Brother and Sister is a relationship that’s not often explored, especially without melodrama of the, ‘I’ve resented you for the last 10 years’ variety. It’s an interesting dynamic because on the one hand you’re closer with a sibling than almost anyone else and yet you lead completely separate lives most of the time.
How important of a role does Portland play in your films and what prompted you to revisit the area after Quiet City’s departure to New York?
I wrote the script with Portland in mind and many of the locations in the final movie are in the script. Part of what prompted me to want to shoot in Portland is that Dance Party, while we shot there, is not very city specific. I don’t know if that’s a fault, but since making that movie I’ve come to feel strongly about location. I think location should always be a big part of any film, just how location is a big part of how anyone lives life.
You’ve highlighted the influence of detective novels upon Cold Weather specifically Hornung’s Raffles series what were your main filmic influences?
[Director of photography] Andrew Reed, [producer] Ben Stambler, Brendan and I intended to revisit a few films during pre-production for inspiration. As it turned out we didn’t have any time at all for anything not 100 per cent essential so we didn’t watch a single one. Still, I think that, in spirit, we were inspired by films like Touchez Pas au Grisbi, Le Cercle Rouge, Point Blank and Bullitt. We also thought a lot about genre-bending films like McCabe & Mrs Miller and Let the Right One In. But like you said, books were probably the biggest part of the inspiration. Ben and I are such huge fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories. It was really fun to make a nod to those.
Is collaboration an integral part to an Aaron Katz film; for example working with composer Keegan DeWitt?
Collaboration is the most important part. It’s a cliché to say that film is a collaborative medium, but it truly is. Without people I trust I don’t think making movies would be possible for me. It’s so important to have strong collaborators with different sets of skills so that all of the best ideas get on the table. Also, without trust the inevitable disagreements of any creative endeavour become about what it is you’re even trying to do not how to get there. Especially because I write, direct and edit, it’s important to have people like Ben, Brendan, and Reed involved in every part of the process. We’re always working together to head off bad ideas that seem good at 3am and find the ways to make the most of our opportunities.
The collaboration with Keegan was interesting and different than how a score is normally composed. He read the script very early on. We wanted to come up with music that was fitting for the genre, but playful and not an imitation of things we’d heard before. Keegan came up with the idea of using almost entirely non-traditional instrumentation and before we even started shooting he was sending us samples. Once we were about halfway through the editing process he came up from Nashville, where he lives, to Brooklyn, where we were cutting the movie. Sometimes the scenes would change because of what Keegan was coming up with. Often Keegan would sit and watch us work and we would talk about what role music was going to play in a scene that was still in the process of coming together.
After delving into the detective genre and leaving your own distinctive stamp upon it are there any other genre’s you’d like to explore and make your own?
Well, there are the previously mentioned werewolf and safecracker movies. The movie I’d like to make more than anything though would be an adaptation of ‘Mr American’ or ‘Flashman and the Redskins’, both novels by George McDonald Fraser. Ben is, at the moment, taking a break from filmmaking and I know that the surefire way to get him back into it would be to make a movie based on a George McDonald Fraser book.
Finally what’s next for you?
We’ll see. It’s been a while since we actually shot Cold Weather, so we’re excited to get going on something new.
This piece was originally published at Little White Lies and can also be found here
Aaron Katz Interview by Brody Rossiter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.