"Five interwoven stories each explore a different facet of life without memory in a future that has no past." From EMBERS Website.
Click through for our email questionnaire with Co-Writer/Director/Producer/Editor Claire Carré and Co-Writer/Producer Charles Spano.
Interview with Director/Producer/Editor/Co-Writer Claire Carré and Producer/Co-Writer Charles Spano:
1. As an Israeli-born Texan raised fella, I'd love to start our chat by asking about your traveling highlights. What places and people have impacted your journey in life?
Charles Spano: We’ve literally circumnavigated the world twice now, and travel is really important to both of us. Meeting people in places like Nepal and Sierra Leone when we were shooting a PSA for a post-conflict NGO was a profound experience. I made a documentary about breakdancers in Uganda and I was really inspired by the PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) among the Ugandan breakdancers. Nicaragua had the most interesting statues and monuments. Papua New Guinea was a mind-blowing experience in every way.
ClaireCarré: Like Charles said, we both love to travel. I’ve been to 44 countries so far, and hope that list will continue to grow!
2. You both are New Yorkers though, how has the Big Apple impacted your film careers?
CS: The New York independent film community feels like a real community, because if you are a part of it, you’re there for the love of film, not for the money. There’s a lot of support and rooting for everyone’s success. And I’ve also found when you introduce yourself as a writer from New York for whatever reason it carries some weight – people expect different types of scripts from New Yorkers.
3. Speaking of locations, can you tell me about the wonderful places you found for EMBERS.
CC: I spent a lot of time searching the internet to find our shooting locations. Two of my favorite shooting locations were an abandoned church in Gary, Indiana and an underground bunker in Poland. The bunker was built as part of the Nazi east wall line of defense during WWII. It’s 10 stories deep with over 33 km of underground tunnels. Fun fact: it’s also Europe’s largest bat sanctuary! I think shooting in real abandoned locations added a kind of weight of authenticity to the experience of being on set, and I think seeped into everything. You really feel the passage of time, walking through these spaces that people once lived and worked in that have been collecting dust for years. It’s what I imagine being an archeologist must feel like sometimes. I think that had an impact on the actors, because they could respond concretely to the feeling of being in these spaces.
4. Y'all split the shooting process into three portions, can you dissect for me the feel of each shoot and how this helped or hindered your post editing?
CC: Our whole process was pretty unusual. We were simultaneously in pre-production, production and post-production for about 9 months! After our first shoot in Gary, Indiana in April 2014, I cut an assembly of everything we had shot so far – which was the Lovers story, the Chaos story, and the first half of the Boy story. Basically the city sections of the film. It was about 45 minutes long. We did some rewriting based on the edit so far. In July 2014 in Upstate New York near where we live, we shot the rural sections of the film – the rest of the Boy story and the Teacher story. Then I cut that into the assembly. We did more rewriting. Finally we shot the Miranda story in Poland in November 2014. We also shot some additional scenes with Girl, which I would not have known that we would need if I didn’t already have an assembly cut. Once we were finished shooting I could get into the edit with all the pieces to play with, but at least I was digging in having already been experimenting with some of the scenes for months. Because the film is made of of multiple stories, there were a lot of different ways they could weave together. Figuring out how to structure the edit between the stories was the biggest challenge, and it ended up very different that the original script, which was mostly in large chapters.
5. Cast wise this is an amazing group of talent! What was the casting like for you both? Working with an ensemble was easy or difficult? A lot of the characters are paired together, like the Lovers. How did this impact the shoot?
CC: We were very fortunate to work with such a talented group of actors! In terms of casting, most of the actors were friends or friends of friends. We did hold auditions for the child role of Boy in New York and Chicago, and worked with a casting director in Spain to find our two Spanish actors for the roles of Miranda and Father, and you’re right, there are a lot of pairings in the film, so even though it is an ensemble film, because we shot in sections over several months, there were rarely more than two actors on set at any time. This allowed us to limit the number of days any actor was shooting, which helped our small film fit into the actors’ schedules. I think the most days any actor was on set was Greta Fernández who plays Miranda, she had 6 shooting days.
6. Research wise, what things stood out to you both about neurological diseases or impacts from outside forces? What in your personal backgrounds has pushed you to look into these intriguing subjects?
CC: I did a ton of research, looking at different neurological case studies, and specially looking at the lives of people with amnesia, like Henry Molaison (HM) and Clive Wearing. The characters in the film suffer from symptoms similar to the type of brain damage you might get from viral encephalitis. They have two types of amnesia – retrograde and anterograde amnesia. Retrograde amnesia is like your classic can’t-remember-your-past amnesia. Anterograde amnesia results in the inability to consolidate short terms memories into long term memories, basically to form new memories. People are usually most familiar with anterograde amnesia from the film Memento. I could go on about it for a long time – I find the nature of memory fascinating.
7. Which of the characters stories was the first to pop into your mind? What was the writing process like for EMBERS?
CS: I think the Lovers’ story came first.
CC: Agreed! The lovers story was the first story we came up with, and the bunker story was the last story added.
8. You've worked with your Cinematographer, Todd Antonio Somodevilla, before. What do you most appreciate by his style and work? There are two feels to the film. The handheld movement of the top side characters and than the (what feels like) tri-pod set shots in the bunker. How did you tackle these two ways and what was it like shooting with mostly natural light?
CC: Todd is really incredible at using his technical expertise in the service of the creative vision of the film. We started out working together in music videos, and have been collaborating for years. Well before the shoot, we spend a lot of time talking about the mood and feel and looking at visual references, and then figure out a shooting strategy from there. For Embers, as you pointed out, we developed two distinct looks – one for the world without memory, and one for the bunker. The outside world was all shot handheld using natural light. It’s a world without electricity, so there would be no working lights so usual natural light sources felt the most authentic. At night we used fires and flares to light the scenes. Shooting on the Arri Alexa was key to making that possible. The handheld aspect was also important because it adds a subjective feel of being there with the characters, after all the camera is being held by a living breathing human – Todd! We shot a lot of the scenes in long takes with little coverage, so it was essential that I trusted Todd to find the right timing for the camera movement following the actors in the moment. In the bunker, we wanted it to feel stagnant, like Miranda is trapped in the frame. So all those scenes were shot on a tripod or dolly, moving into steadicam only towards the end. Unlike the outside world, the lighting is all artificial and was built into the set. Todd came up with the idea to use different sets of lenses for each look as well, to further heighten the difference in tone.
CS: I can only add that Todd is an incredible DP, we’ve been working together for a long time especially on short form projects, and as a fan of his work I am really excited to see what he does in his upcoming features.
9. I was blown away by the umbrella scene. It was such a moment of levity and humanity. Is that based on any particular moment in your lives? Can you talk about the overall emotional feeling you're hoping audiences gain from the movie?
CS: That is probably both of our favorite scene too!
CC: I’m so happy you responded to that scene. It’s one of my favorites. I love that The Guardian can have this moment of playful expression and joy in the midst of this bleak environment. It isn’t based on any particular moment in my life, but that scene definitely takes inspiration from three films: Ivan’s Childhood, Mauvais Sang and Singin’ In the Rain. Overall, I’m hoping that audiences walk out from the film in a kind of contemplative mood, thinking about the role of memory in their own lives. There are moments where the characters in the film feel love, feel wonder, pause take in the warmth of the sun on their faces – and even though they won’t remember those moments, I think those experiences still have value.
10. What does this film say about Society today and how'd we would react to chaos?
CS: I think Embers is less concerned with how close human society is to collapse than the strength of the human spirit if faced with collapse. Society is entirely unprepared for this possibility, but humanity would soldier on through the perseverance of individuals.
11. If you only had one memory in your life to hold on to, what would it be?
CS: For me, sensations and feelings. Faces. Moments that Claire and I have shared. I think saying one memory is impossible, but thinking about “things to remember” is a powerful idea.
CC: There are too many to choose one or even 20. My memories are so precious to me, I don’t know who I would be without them. I made Embers to explore that question.
For more information on EMBERS please go, HERE.