Director Charles de Lauzirika talks his feature directorial debut Crave, in theaters December 6
Some filmmakers often have various different professions in the film industry before that directorial debut, whether it be writing, editing or working in visual effects, to name a few. Charles de Lauzirika had the opportunity to observe countless A-list filmmakers on the set while working as a producer and director of behind-the-scenes documentaries that are found on the bonus features of Blu-ray and DVD releases, before making his directorial debut with Crave. This indie thriller stars Josh Lawson as Aiden, a freelance crime scene photographer, who makes his living by capturing gruesome murder scenes on film, while he slips into his own equally-dark fantasy world to escape his reality. I recently had the chance to speak with Charles de Lauzirika for Crave, which co-stars Emma Lung and Ron Perlman, about his first feature film, debuting in theaters December 6. Here's what he had to say.
Can you talk a bit about the origins of the screenplay, and when you really started delving into this story?
Charles de Lauzirika: Well, this is kind of a long answer. I had been attached to direct an adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story, I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon. While we were developing that, we realized it was becoming a much more ambitious film than a lot of first-time directors get to do. So, Isa Dick Hackett, who runs Philip K. Dick's company, asked if I would consider doing a smaller film first, to prove that I can make a feature. So, I said sure, let's get going on that. As it turns out, my neighbor at the time, (co-writer) Robert Lawton, who is a filmmaker himself, had just finished his first feature, so I asked if he had any ideas for something we could make quick, fast and relatively affordable. He pitched me this idea of Travis Bickle meets Walter Mitty, which I thought was very cool and interesting. We developed that for several months, he wrote the first few drafts, I wrote the last few drafts, and it came from there. It was sort of a necessity for another film, to come up with this other idea real quick. A lot of the origin to the story, especially with Aiden's character, partially comes from Rob, who I think is very interested in a vigilante take on the world, and what are absolute depictions of right and wrong. We have a character who really really wants that clarity, morally in life. I had the side of, well, what are the human ramifications of such a psyche, basically? I was going through a bad break-up at the time, so I took that experience and fused it into the story a bit, to make it not just strictly a vigilante, Charles Bronson type story. That's the sloppy description of where the idea came from, but yeah, that's basically it.
You said you wanted to get this moving fairly quickly. How long did the writing process actually take, between both of you?
Charles de Lauzirika: Ultimately, it took several months. The first draft took a few weeks. Rob knocked out a very rough and dirty draft, which is very different from the finished film, but it was a place to start. I worked with him on subsequent drafts, and we just kind of reached a respectful, polite impasse, where he was going in a different direction that I felt the movie should go in. That's when we kind of parted ways, in a friendly way, and I steered the script more towards what the final movie was, which is based on a psychologically and emotionally honest voice-over. Less of a narrator, more of a direct path into Aiden's mind. I indulged more into the relationship part of the movie, and I rewrote the third act, because Aiden makes so many unfortunate decisions in this film, I felt the film could not have a tidy ending. It was going to be sloppy and sort of comically challenging. That's what I brought with my take to Rob's original script. Yeah, it took awhile, to be honest, probably longer than I thought it would, but I also had to find a window in my schedule to make the film, and get the money together and figure out where we were going to shoot it. It flowed fairly naturally. I would say it took, from beginning to end, from the script to shooting, maybe a year, I think.
You talked about the voice-over, and it's really this inner dialogue he's having with himself. It's interesting how you pulled that off, because he's constantly sparring with himself.
Charles de Lauzirika: Thanks for pointing that out. I do that, in real life, and I'm sure a lot of people do. I'll often have arguments in my head, not like I have multiple voices in my head, but it's like a lawyer going to trial. You want to know what the other side's argument is going to be, and you want to be prepared for the other side, so you play devil's advocate a lot. You start to think about what's there, so I can strengthen my counter-argument. I do that, and I think a lot of people do, even if they don't recognize or record it, I do think we rehearse future conversations, and think about past conversations, how we could do them better. I just applied that sensibility to Aiden's voice and tried to be honest and open. There are a lot of things that Aiden says that I have personally thought or dealt with, just out of boredom. If I'm driving down the road by myself, I start to think about these unusual fantasies, like if I had a billion dollars, my life would be so much better, things like that. I think it's a pretty common thing that people don't recognize.
I thought Josh Lawson and Emma Lung were so right for this. I loved their chemistry together. Was it a long search to find the right people to play Aiden and Virginia?
Charles de Lauzirika: Somewhat. Whenever any filmmaker approaches a casting process, they have their dream cast, if everyone was available and you had all the money in the world, and everyone loved your script, who would you pick? The reality of the situation, with a low-budget independent film like Crave, you're not going to realistically have access to everybody, for all of those reasons. You start to sketch it out with the actors you think are right for the characters as you've envisioned them, and then you start to reach out and get reactions, see if they like the script, and then, can we afford them? Are they available? And a million other things to consider. We considered a lot of other actors, but Josh was interesting to me because he's a filmmaker, not just an actor, and he got the script, beyond just being an actor's interpretation of the role, he got it from a writing standpoint, a directing standpoint, he got it on multiple planes. I thought that would be a really good partner to have, not just in playing Aiden, but in telling the story of the movie. It turned out to be true. Josh brought a lot to Aiden that I was not originally considering. I thought Aiden was going to be a much darker, twisted, misfit of a character. Aiden is certainly that, but what Josh did is he played him more likeable and more relatable. That is a very interesting dimension to enter into because, you're now rooting for a guy who is making some really catastrophically bad decisions, and he's doing some harm to people, even thought it might be good intentions, and we're now in a position of rooting for him, and you're hoping he doesn't do these things, whereas if he was this dark, twisted character, you'd be more distanced. The way Josh played him, we're more invested in the decisions and we feel sorry for him, hopefully. Then, with Emma playing Virginia, it was just finding a nice balance of an interesting, mercurial character that would intrigue Aiden and challenge him quite a bit, but would also be alluring and seductive in many ways. It was just complete coincidence that Josh and Emma knew each other previously, as they're both Australian actors. It's funny they're both Aussies playing Americans, but that's just total coincidence. Her and Josh have really great chemistry together.
Can you talk about the decision to set and shoot this in Detroit? The city has such a unique history and look.
Charles de Lauzirika: The script was originally written for New York. I scouted New York twice, once in the summer and once in the winter, just to get a sense of what would be right tonally for the film. Then we even thought about shooting it in L.A., because a lot of my resources are here, and the cast and crew are from L.A., so that would have been the easy thing to do. However, when you really boil down to locations, equipment, crew, union issues, things like that, L.A. and New York were kind of prohibitive to shoot in. At the time, Michigan had a pretty aggressive tax incentive, that was encouraging film production. The idea of Detroit came up, which I was originally a little bit hesitant about, but then, the more I thought about it, I realized that Detroit, much like Aiden, is sort of a deteriorating ruin, to some degree. I thought it would be a good match for Aiden, but on top of that, Detroit is such a photogenic city, the architecture and interesting neighborhoods. It's a series of American ruins, these beautiful buildings that are abandoned, and nature is kind of reclaiming them. There are trees growing in these buildings. It was like this amazing other world, but there is also this vibrant life there, in terms of food and music and art and people. It's a really tremendous city, I think, and I just wish it could catch a break. I think it could really enjoy a revival, if there was a way to support that, economically. I think that the film industry could have really been it, but, unfortunately, political decisions were made and now it's kind of floundering again. I'm rooting for Detroit. I hope it can find a way to prosperity, but it seems like it gets knocked down every time they try.
How did your background as a DVD producer and documentary director help you make the transition into features?
Charles de Lauzirika: Well, it's interesting because I wanted to direct features before all the DVD work, so that impulse was always there. What the DVD work did was expose me, first-hand, to some pretty amazing filmmakers, so I can actually watch them work and deal with big problems and big challenges on big movies. When you see it on that scale, it's like being a bat boy for a major league baseball team. You're there, and you're kind of helping out, but you're not on the field and you can observe and learn a lot. I sort of feel like that was the best film school I possibly could have had. It certainly helped in terms of logistics and politics and the structure of dealing with cast and crew and the production sequence, but, creatively, not so much. I think creative represents what I love about movies and, frankly, life, and that goes back to my entire existence on this planet. I think that the DVD work certainly helped me on the day-to-day production side of things. There were days when I was faced with a question or a dilemma that I didn't quite have the answer to, and I would channel or project myself into situations that I had seen, say, Ridley Scott in, and how he dealt with certain things. It was on a far, far smaller scale, but you can still apply the same logic to it. I think the key to being a director is you just have to be decisive. The crew just wants to do the best they can for you, and if you're indecisive and don't know what you want, then they start to lose confidence and they can't do their job. Being decisive is the number one thing, and that's what I got from Ridley. I saw him in many situations that I'm not sure it might have been the best decision that he made, but it was the decision he made to get the job done. That's because he's such an experienced filmmaker, it comes second-nature to him. He's so battle-tested, that it comes very naturally to him. Me, I'm kind of a newbie, and I'm virtually borrowing that confidence from my own tiny little experience. Yes, the DVD side of things helped logistically, not creatively.
Is there anything that you're developing now that you can talk about?
Charles de Lauzirika: Well, I have three or four projects that are all in fairly active stages in development, with an eye towards shooting one of them next year, but the one I'm certainly the most passionate about and focused on, is the one I mentioned before, the Philip K. Dick project I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon. We have a really great script I'm really happy with, and the reactions to the script have been very, very positive. It's just, how do we find the money, and how do we make an affordable film that's pretty bold and challenging? It's a futuristic film, it's an ambitious film, but it's the kind of film that reads like a $200 million movie, but we have to do it for a tiny, tiny fraction of that. We're looking in the Looper/District 9 neighborhood, budget-wish. That's where I'm at right now, trying to figure out I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon, and if that is going to be pushed another year while we figure it out, I want to do something else in the meantime.