After a successful film festival tour which included winning Best Short at the Milledgeville Film Festival, Pascal Leister’s LONE HUNTER is not only available on Vimeo, but it enjoyed a reign as the Daily Short “pick” just a week or so ago. And there is good reason for that. The film dramatizes a tragic true-life race-related shooting a few years back and manages the delicate process of threading the needle when showing the plausibility of bad decisions mixed with cruelty and heartbreaking emotions that in a blink of an eye can’t be fixed or erased. Bottom line is that it’s a powerful piece of storytelling done on the smaller canvas of a short film, and it deserves an audience.
1 At what point what the script/development of the idea from Tom Choi when you came on? Was it completed pretty much or did you help him shape it from your viewpoint as the director?
Tom approached me with the idea, which I found intriguing and we pretty much developed it together. He wrote, I gave notes and we work shopped a couple of scenes with the actors before shooting.
2 Racism is about as big a target as one can aim for, but one of the things that makes this short special is the nuanced approach it takes on the side of the aggressors and the lead character. How difficult was it to zero in on the performances you needed from your actors in order to pull that off?
Thank you, that comment makes me very happy, as I strive for getting nuanced performances. I think the old adage – it’s all in the casting – worked for us as well. Most of our actors are very experienced and friends of mine or Tom’s, so we knew who to approach for what role. After we talked about the roles and what I was looking for, they all pretty much nailed it right away. We had a workshop style rehearsal for the big scene in the woods, where we worked on their characters and their relationships and that really helped inform everybody’s performance.
3 Anytime you film gunplay/gunfire there are unique challenges to the staging and filming. And in this case, you were dealing with something that actually happened. Did you utilize court records and reports to duplicate it as precisely as you could or was that not a concern?
Yes and no. We did extensive research and we watched some documentaries about the case, so we had that as a background. One problem was that to this day there is no clear answer as to who fired the first shot. The details of actual events in the woods are somewhat murky. So we went for our interpretation and took some artistic license to fit it all into the dramatic arc of a short. We weren’t necessarily trying to retell the actual events to the tee but we tried to create an authentic, plausible story.
4 What is more “fun” for you as a director – the technical aspect of setting up shots/lighting/etc. or pulling performances from the actors?
For me it’s all part of why I love filmmaking so much and I think it’s all part of a whole. I like figuring out coverage, shots and other technical aspects, always keeping the story in front and center. Then, when you add actors and their performances to the mix it creates a whole new level of magic and that’s really when it all comes together for me. I do think performances trump everything else. I can watch a movie with great performances any time, even if I don’t care about the subject matter, or if it has subpar camera work. But the other way around? You have to woo me with major eye-candy, like top notch CG and special fx, to even somewhat enjoy a film that’s not acted well. But when you get the best of both – that’s a dream come true.
5 Tom Choi, who plays the lead in the film, wrote the script himself. So, seriously, how much of a diva was he? How many times did you go over schedule because he demanded one more take?
Gawd. Only green m&ms for Tom … just kidding. Tom is great to work with. He’s been doing this for a long time and he is a total pro, we also have a history of working together. So we never went over schedule because of him. We actually never went over schedule. Since the story was so close to him, growing up Korean-American in Iowa, with a dad who was a hunter, and he wrote it – I respected that and I did involve him in my process a lot more than on previous collaborations.
6 Popcorn or Candy?
Saving the toughest question for last, I see. Chocolate!