Director/Writer Christopher Pinero spoke to The Natural Aristocrat about elements of his life making it to ‘A Dark Place’ and finishing the film in 12 days.
This interview contains spoilers for the film A Dark Place.
The Natural Aristocrat [Nir Regev]: You wrote and directed A Dark Place. I was looking at your Instagram earlier and I didn’t realize you dated the leading lady [Jazlyn Yoder]. So, is this a scenario that’s run through your mind before when you were writing the script? I mean, outside of the murder suicide, of course! (laughs)
Christopher Pinero: (laughs) Yeah, yeah I have to say sometimes when she asks me to pick up after myself when I leave my clothes on the floor! (laughs)
I was wondering about the ending with Shawn [Jay Eftimoski] when he’s sitting in a suit and about to go to jail for three years. Did he admit to being an accomplice or was it that the police found the drugs at the house?
He didn’t admit it. It was a combination of both because he was the one that found the bag and he had his hands all over the hammer and the bag. He wanted to basically absolve his friend Cameron [Christopher Donnellon] of any wrongdoing because Cameron didn’t want anything to do with it from the beginning. So it’s a combination of Shawn admitting to being an accomplice and also the drugs being found.
I like the way you shot the movie, where the plot played itself out kind of in reverse. It seemed inspired by Memento. Was that one of the films that had an impact on you as a Director?
Oh yeah, absolutely! It’s definitely one of them. I love Christopher Nolan and I love how he did Batman Begins where he cuts back and forth past the present. I’m also a huge fan of Manchester by the Sea and I like how they revealed certain pieces of information as the story went along.
When you were writing the script, were you always going to end with the suicide for Alex?
No, actually no, it went through many stages. There were so many different iterations. It was really hard for me to figure out a satisfying ending for all the characters involved. I wanted everyone to get what they deserve for better or for worse.
I sent the script to one of my friends who’s a professional script consultant. I said to him like, ‘Man, I can’t really crack this ending,’ and he read it a few times and was like, ‘Hey, this whole time he’s been on this self-destructive downward spiral. And what what happens when you’ve gone too far? You have to keep going.’ And that’s how his suicide came about.
I thought you really locked into something at the beginning of the movie when Alex went to job interviews and they were just so demoralizing. I thought that really set the whole namesake of the movie. Was that something you went through yourself ever or maybe your friends? That kind of empty feeling job interview.
Yes… Yes. It’s something that I went through when I first came back to L.A. cause I came to L.A. in ’08 for the first time and I had a job for a while. Then I left to go work back east again and when I came back for whatever reason I filled out out at least 60 applications and I didn’t get any interviews. Like none. That was just something that I went through and I was like ‘Man, what if this just another thing that this character’s going through?’ But the stakes are even higher for this character.
I knew Keith [Mike Miller] was gonna perish in the film because he’d been built up as such an arrogant, cocky character. What was the inspiration for him? I’m sure Mike Miller had a lot of playing him.
Oh yeah, and it’s funny because he’s a completely different person in real life. He’s so warm and so courteous, he’s like the complete opposite. Well, we were actually working on the character when I casted him. He said he used to work in Wall Street in New York and knew that whole scene. He knows this character! He’s seen this guy before in real life.
The film is based on different people that I’ve met over the years. I used to work at this hotel for a long time, I was a bartender there. You just get a feel for these types of guys. I wanted somebody that was completely opposite than what we had seen from Alex or the other characters.
Did you picture the whole universe when you did the original short film? Did the short film’s success bring on an investment to make it a full feature?
Definitely not the universe. I didn’t know that it would be expanded to something like this. It took me years actually after I wrote a draft. I needed more experience as a filmmaker and as a writer to really get it to where it needed to be. What you see, only happened within the last year of working on up to shooting the film.
I felt you did a nice job with practicing restraint with the plot. Particularly, with Jasmine [Veronica Diaz Carranza] and Cameron. I noticed A Dark Place ended with bittersweet music going into the credit roll despite a fairly ‘happy’ ending for Cameron. What inspired this choice?
I wanted it to tonally match because I’m big on tone. You know, I didn’t want it to just be overly happy or overly sad. I wanted it to be somewhere in the middle. I feel this movie is like marriage. It’s like shades of grey, it’s not black or white. It operates in that middle area and that’s how I try to keep it throughout the whole thing. You mentioned restraint and one of my biggest inspirations is Jaws.
The idea of not seeing the shark for so long. He’s like holding it back. You see like a little bit, you know little snippets of something. You know it’s a shark but the fact that he’s held it back for almost an hour was one of my biggest inspirations. That’s why in this movie the murder happens exactly an hour in.
I’m curious about the phone that Theresa used. It wasn’t a typical smartphone because you wanted it to be a throwaway burner phone, right?
Yeah, it was like a burner phone because where I grew up back east, I knew a lot of people who sold weed like drug dealers and stuff. When I saw somebody with one of those phones, I immediately thought they were shady. I just knew that if people in the audience saw Alex reach in a bag and it was like this little burner phone… Then immediately you don’t even have to say anything. It’s just like, ‘Oh, that’s shady. She’s up to no good.’
Would you ever revisit the characters? I thought there was a lot you can still write for Shawn.
Yeah, I mean Jay [Eftimoski], he’s amazing. Jay worked on the original short film, and he was the only cast member to make it to the feature. I had a whole backstory scene set up with them that wound up on the cutting room floor. It gave more insight but I think we all figured that it didn’t really need to be there, it just slowed down the first act of the movie. But the idea was that they were all foster kids and they met each other in the foster system and that’s how they became friends.
Is that going to be a bonus scene on the Blu-ray for A Dark Place?
No, because I immediately knew once we shot that scene that we weren’t going to use it. And I didn’t even waste time cutting it together.
What’s it like as a director shooting a scene and then having to get rid of it? Is it hard to let go?
No, it’s not really hard for me because I don’t get too attached to anything. Obviously, there’s things the movie needs that need to be there. But then there’s things that I’m like well, ‘If it doesn’t work, get rid of it! If it makes this like a longer story than it has to be for no reason, then let’s get rid of it. That scene just didn’t add enough to it.
As a Director, do you think a scene can be creatively worked on until it does work or time and money simply doesn’t make it feasible?
Mainly the time, we shot A Dark Place in twelve days and the money came from our family and friends. We had twelve days to shoot the film, and if we didn’t get it done within that allotted time, than that’s it. Like that day that we were shooting that scene we were so behind. It just came to a point where I was like, ‘Let’s move on.’ I didn’t have the time to really craft the scene. As you know, making a film you need X amount of time to shoot scenes.
Do you have to get permits to film scenes in certain outside areas?
Yes, like that little pond lake area where Alex commit suicide, it looks bigger in the cut that you see in the movie because I had visual effects enhance that. It’s kind of a smaller pond, it’s not that big but we had visual effects add some stuff in there.
They made it look like a bigger space but that whole area is part of this movie ranch. It’s outside of Santa Clarita and that’s where we shot the burial and restaurant scenes. We maximized that location as much as we could. We shot all the driving stuff right there.
Did you use green screens then or do you just mean general CG enhancement of the area?
Oh no, not green screen. It was just CG like for instance we added some clouds in the background because when we shot that day it was just blue sky. I thought that giving it some texture, some clouds, some trees, would make a pond look like a lake.
A Dark Place was named Best Thriller at the Manhattan Film Festival (2018), won Best Editing and Best Supporting Actor at the Hoboken International Film Festival (2018) and was the recipient of an Award of Excellence from the Accolade Global Film Competition (2018).
Be sure to read and watch more Interviews with talents across the Entertainment industry by The Natural Aristocrat!
Katharina Kubrick was a featured speaker at the Museum of Moving Image’s ‘Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey’ Exhibit Press Presentation.
Stanley Kubrick’s daughter Katharina Kubrick took part in a Q & A with media attendees during a full fledged presentation of the MoMI’s prized exhibit. Kubrick, discussed Stanley’s legacy, the timeless nature of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a desire to open more such exhibitions around the world. Barbara Miller (MoMI Director of Curatorial Affairs), Ellen M. Harrington (Director of Deutsches FilmInstitut Filmmuseum), Tomoko Kawamoto (MoMI Director of Public Information), and Eric Hynes (MoMI Curator of Film) all introduced the esteemed new addition to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York.
Envisioning 2001: Stanley Kubrick’s Space Odyssey will take over MoMI’s Changing Exhibitions Gallery from January 18 – July 19, 2020. A special exhibit Introductory Discussion with Katharina Kubrick takes place tonight (Jan. 17th) to lucky ticket holders at 7 pm sharp.
Katharina Kubrick answers The Natural Aristocrat’s question at 28:50 (timestamp) about Stanley Kubrick’s brave choice to drop composer Alex North’s already completed 2001 soundtrack in favor of classical pieces he’d used as temporary music. Katharina discussed Stanley’s deep connection to music as a whole, and a certain Waltz he listened in the editing room of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“If you think about the film, everything is spinning and whirling and very slow and graceful. So a Waltz worked perfectly.”
Katharina elaborated further on just how vital the use of music is to a film, naming Spartacus‘ soundtrack as one she wasn’t highly fond of.
“Music is terribly important, and very emotional. I think a lot of people use music badly. I watched Spartacus recently and I thought the music was appalling! And completely overwhelming and in the way of the movie. Stanley’s films used music to enhance the scene or to be the scene.”
Be sure to check out The Natural Aristocrat’s tribute article to Barry Lyndon’s use of Handel’s ‘Sarabande’ as a prominent piece overlaying the film.
Japan Society presented a fresh 4K restoration of 1977 film ‘Tora-san Meets His Lordship’ last month, a picture that truly teeters on the tightrope between comedy and tragedy.
While Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s 4K restoration at Japan Society opened to roaring crowd laughter with a quaint parody right off the gate… The film soon descended into the depths of calamity and ego humiliation that could make a Greek tragedy playwright blush. If Tora-san’s Runaway pulled the band aid of Tora’s hope for love right off, Tora-san Meets His Lordship might as well have taken an arm and leg. It’s teased in the movie that Tora will finally be given a real chance at romance and marriage. That the sun gently dances with him instead of upon him for the first time.
It’s all an elaborate ruse to trick both Tora and the audience as the picture soon pulls the rug out from under its plucky hero and its followers… Then kicks them out the door to a desolate, unforgiving cold world. Their only possession? A non-refundable bouquet of roses with no one to give it to. Though Torajiro ‘Tora’ Kuruma played by actor Kiyoshi Atsumi is happy go-lucky in nature, the ‘loss of face’ in this picture is astronomical.
From his family not so secretly naming a stray dog after Tora, to being made to feel he will never be good enough to win a wife’s hand at the film’s conclusion. That any figurative ring will forever stay in its box, gathering dust… As yet another suitor is forever picked over him. All the while Tora has to pin a smile on his face out of polite civility. A mental torture of an exercise seemingly drawn up in the depths of an imagined Hades. Tora, the perennial vagabond has to eternally watch others enjoy dinner and courtship together through a window.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship’s strategic ploy to game the audienceTora-san Meets His Lordship (1977) – Kyōko Maya as Mariko Tsutsumi – Screenshot/Photo Credit: © Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Mariko Tsutsumi [Kyôko Maya], a widow, is at the heart of Tora’s affections in Tora-san Meets His Lordship. Initially, Tora is asked by a local daimyō (Feudal style Lord) named Tonosama [Kanjûrô Arashi] to help him located his recently deceased son’s widow. At first, Tora takes the search in stride, deciding on a youthful plan to literally visit every residence, house, or store until a ‘Mariko’ is discovered. Just when Tora’s resolve begins to waver after hours of searching the first night, Mariko happens to show up on her own. Tonosama is called upon to meet Mariko while Tora is slowly but surely falling love with her.
Tonosama sheds tears, commenting that Mariko must have taken great care of his son before his passing. In a letter penned later in the film, he invites Mariko to live with him at his mansion-like residency. Even requesting she marry a new husband, with an exceptional specific recommendation. At first Tora’s rage is brewing inside of him, worrying at who this ‘chosen one’ would be… Until a sparkling revelation that the Lord’s recommendation for Mariko’s new husband is Tora himself!
Tora’s sister Sakura [Chieko Baishô] decides to personally deliver the request to Mariko’s work place, sans mention of marriage but with a hint of an additional request. Mariko arrives to Tora’s household to politely decline the request to move to the Lord’s house as she’s recently fallen in love with another worker. Shattering Tora’s heart into a million pieces to be swept off the floor casually, broom in tow, out of civility. Tora and his sister Sakura never mention the Lord’s request of Tora as her new husband. He simply sits smiling out of necessity, nothing left inside.
Tora-san Meets His Lordship ends on a comedic high-note of the Lord Tonosama wanting Tora to live with him anyway even without Mariko… And Tora wanting to leave as soon as possible as he’s chased by Tonosama’s assistant to stay. The real meat and potatoes of Tora’s struggle however, somebody to love him back, remains unresolved. A distant hope, that becomes more dream than reality everyday.
Be sure to read The Natural Aristocrat’s impressions of Tora-san’s Runaway 4K Film Restoration at Japan Society!
NYC locals! Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule and attend a future film screening.
Tora-san’s Runaway returned to the silver screen 49 years later after its 1970’s debut in crisp 4K at New York City’s Japan Society last Friday. The dark overtone message of the comedy film? Hard work doesn’t necessarily pay off at all. Romantic, fairy tale style endings are for the imagination. Tora-san’s imagination that is…
This article contains spoilers for Tora-san’s Runaway.
Tora-san’s Runaway is an exhibit of fallacy in the promise of hard work always paying off. Throughout the film, lead character Torajirō Kuruma is pushed by his sister Sakura Suwa to make an honest living. That a man is meant to toil under the sweat of his brow. She urges Tora-San to stop living day-to-day, lackadaisically wandering through life, with no true planning for the future.
Tora-san takes his sister’s words to heart, knowing she wants the best for him… In fact, Tora-san takes the words so literally, he desires a job where he ‘can sweat and become oily’ over the course of the work day. Thus, Tora-san played by star Kiyoshi Atsumi, decides to reform his street life ways, first superficially through wearing a sharp suit and hat. Then eventually by taking a job selling fried Tofu. More on that later!
Initially, he consults with his uncle Tatsuzō, aunt Tsune, and sister Sakura on the most fitting job for him over dinner. His uncle suggests tempura if he wants to get “oily working” but Tora-san waves the idea off. Making it clear he dislikes tempura. Tora-san’s uncle is already skeptical of Tora-san’s grand, seemingly overnight promise to change…
Lack of uncle Tatsuzō’s blessings for Tora-san
Tatsuzō, played by Shin Morikawa, is not exactly the biggest supporter of Torajirō, outside of getting him out of the house. At the onset of the film, Tora-san’s aunt plays a relatively cruel practical joke on him… Informing Tora his uncle was about to pass on over a phone call.
Tora-san wants to do right by his uncle, and actually sets up all funeral arrangements… Only to discover his uncle is completely fine and well, just sleeping. As a result, his uncle is embarrassed by local town residents arriving to grieve and pay their respects.Though Tora-san’s uncle is mad at his wife for leading the practical joke in the first place, he is furious at Tora-san. Stating he’d rather be dead that have to see him. Even getting a full blown makeshift rope noose around his neck to make a statement. A vulnerable, weakened Tora-san decides to leave but more than hints he’d like someone to stop him, and sister Sakura [Chieko Baisho] obliges.
Why Tora-san really decides to change his life
Tatsuzō later goes to see his old boss, who’s actually dying… And has a railroad conductor son who refuses to see him. At first, Torajiro pushes and pushes for the railroad conductor to go with him and his vagabond street pal to see his dying boss. However, after the railroad conductor speaks of how he went to see his father once in his youth, only to see his dark side, beating on someone… Tora-san gives up silently. This moment changes Tora-san’s life. His boss passes on and never sees his flesh and blood to apologize, which his son called a selfish demand.
Tora-san tells his fellow vagabond street pal to leave, go back home to his father. In fact, hitting him when he wants to stay with Tora-san. From this point forward, Tora-san returns to his sister’s words and wants to be the type of person she spoke of. Instead of drifting through life and ending up like his boss.
Reality Hits for Torajirō Kuruma
After being rejected for several local jobs post-reform, Tora-san leaves in shame to the next town over. There the people don’t know of his reputation, and he gets a job as a bicycle-riding fried tofu salesman. The true apple of his eye, however? His new boss’ peer-aged daughter, Setsuko [Aiko Nagayama] who seems to take a liking to Tora-san. She laughs at all his jokes and visits him each night. Tora-san works harder than ever, and proudly tells his sister he might settle there over the phone.Tora-san’s Runaway – Pictured from left to right: Aiko Nagayama as Setsuko and Kiyoshi Atsumi as Torajiro Kuruma – Photo Credit: © 1970 Shochiku Co., Ltd.
Everything seems to be going in storybook fashion for Tora-san, his sister was right all along… Or was she?
A local tofu costumer arrives for dinner one night when Torajirō is at his most happiest… Torajirō had been asked the prior night if he’d be willing to stay on with the family’s Tofu business on permanent basis instead of as a replacement. When he said yes, Setsuko was grinning from ear to ear, telling Tora-san how happy he’d made her.
Tora-san comments at his most confident that the tofu costumer reminds him a lot of his sister Sakura’s husband Hiroshi [Gin Maeda]. A smiling Setsuko then explains how she and the ‘customer’ (a railroad conductor) had actually been meaning to get married for a while now. However, they needed a replacement at her mother’s tofu shop. Setsuko’s mother Tomiko [Tokuko Sugiyama] tells Torajirō they need to find a nice girl for him too, what type does he like? He replies, “someone like you” joking but crushed.
Moonlight Devastation and a Broken HeartTora-san’s Runaway – Pictured from left to right: Aiko Nagayama as Setsuko and Tokuko Sugiyama as Tomiko – Photo Credit: © 1970 Shochiku Co., Ltd.
The next day, a devastated Tora-san heads back home. His sister chases him down as he leaves his uncle’s residence for a moonlight aimless walk. Tora-san earnestly tells her how he tried so hard but the honest life is not for him, holding back tears. He reunites with his younger vagabond pal the next day on the beach.
The more Tora-san attempted to escape his fate, the more life pulled him right back on track to his destiny. No happy ending to be found. In fact, Setsuko seems partially oblivious why Tora-san left in the middle of the night. Only starting to comprehend the feelings Torajirō held for her… But she does not go searching for him in some kind of audience warming epiphany. Rather, the credits roll just as Tora returns to the comfort of his old life. Hard work failing him.
The 4K Restoration Film Screening of Tora-San’s Runaway occurred on November 1, 2019 in New York City’s Japan Society. A new 4k screening of film, Tora-san Meets His Lordship, will be playing at Japan Society on December 6, 2019 at 7 p.m. EST. Purchase tickets to the event at this link.
Follow along Japan Society’s busy Film Schedule as part of their Tokyo Stories: Japan in the Global Imagination series.