Like Drinking Buddies? You're Next? Well, then you're a Joe Swanberg fan, and you should listen up!
Proxy, the fourth feature film by writer-director-producer Zack Parker (Scalene), premiered last night at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars mumblecore king Joe Swanberg. The film follows the pregnant Esther, played by Alexia Rasmussen (Our Idiot Brother), after she is viciously attacked while walking home from a doctor's appointment. Disfigured and traumatized, Esther joins a support group, hoping to come to terms with her assault, but what she finds there is much more intriguing.
Before the premiere of PROXY on Tuesday, we were able to chat with Zack Parker about high frame rates and high tension.
SJ: Where were you first introduced to your female leads, Alexia Rasmussen and Alexa Havins?
Zack Parker: Inadvertently through Margo Martindale. Margo was the lead of my previous film, Scalene. We had a great time working together and, when it came time for me to start casting Proxy, she kind of vouched for me at her agency, basically saying, "You need to help this guy out." The agency responded well to the script and started sending me a ton of client suggestions.
I met with several actresses over three or four months about the roles "Esther" and "Melanie". I had a pretty specific physical look in mind for both characters, but I also knew I needed to cast someone that trusted me and the script. Both roles deal with some pretty heavy stuff -- some of which is pretty disturbing. I needed actresses that had the courage not to hold anything back, and almost revel in how challenging the roles could be. Essentially, I needed them to love the film for all the right reasons, and be willing to try anything.
I felt that excitement, energy, and little bit of fear from both Alexia and Alexa. That's how I knew they would both be perfect for it.
SJ: Joe Swanberg has become an MVP of sorts within the genre filmmaking community. What was it like working with him?
ZP: I also met Joe through somewhat inadvertent circumstances. This time through Adam Wingard. Adam and I had met back in 2007 when he was going around with Pop Skull, and I with my second film, Quench. We dug each other's work quite a bit and just kept in touch over the years. I was pretty familiar with Joe from his own films, but really started paying attention to his stuff with Adam, like in Autoerotic and A Horrible Way To Die. So, I just looked him up on Facebook and we started talking.
About a year later, when we were starting the script for Proxy, I just kept thinking about him and that this character of Patrick we were writing could be a cool contrast to other things he had done. Once we finished the script, I just [private messaged] him that I wrote this thing and kind of had him in mind. He said, "Cool. Send it to me." A few days later, he wrote me back saying, "That's some fucked up shit," and that he was in.
In regard to working together, it was pretty easy. I'll admit I was concerned about him trying to put on a director's hat on my set, but he never did. He had just wrapped Drinking Buddies, so, he was off editing that during most of his downtime. But while we were working, I felt that it flowed really well. He took direction easily, and because he's a filmmaker, he has a good understanding of making things work and adjusting for camera, sound, lights, etc.
SJ: Your 2011 film, SCALENE, and PROXY both deal with women recovering from grief after a vicious attack. Do you feel like female grief and retribution are underplayed in film?
ZP: I think I just feel that women are more fascinating to watch. They seem to be able to portray a complexity and depth of emotion that you just don't typically see in men.
I actually have three children and have been a stay-at-home dad for over eight years, so, I've been around a lot of young mothers at playgroups, birthday parties, etc. I should also mention that my writing partner Kevin Donner has been a stay-at-home dad for six years. So, we are both kind of immersed in this world of women, observing how they talk about their children, their lives, their husbands, each other. Proxy is basically a warped perspective of that world, greatly magnified and filtered through two damaged minds.
SJ: I don't think I've ever seen more slow motion sequences in a thriller than in Proxy. What prompted you to use slow motion, especially in such pivotal, violent scenes?
ZP: It's going to sound corny, but I'd like to think that I've just grown to trust my instincts. That moment in the film was always intended to be shot at a super high frame rate. In fact, we rented the Phantom camera to shoot just that sequence; The rest of the film was shot on the Arri Alexa. There was just something about the tone and the momentum that had -- hopefully -- been built at that point that just lent itself to being done differently. It's really the part of the film where everything changes -- for all of the lead characters. I felt I needed to dedicate a specific sequence to this moment. Extreme slow motion just felt right.
SJ: Do you have another project on the go?
ZP: I do. I have been very fortunate thus far that every feature script I've ever written I've been able to get made. But, I have one script that I've been working on for nearly 13 years. It's definitely the most complicated story I've ever tackled, and after writing the first 30 pages in 2000, I knew I wasn't smart enough to write it. Not as a writer, filmmaker, or human being.
Kevin and I have now been working on it off and on for the last two years and we've just recently cracked it. I'm pretty confident that it's the next thing I'll do -- or at least try to do. It's quite a bit more expensive and has more scope than anything I've ever attempted, so, it's intimating, but that's what excites me about it. As of today, it's called Inversion.
SJ: What films are you looking forward to watching at the Festival this year?
ZP: A ton. 12 Years a Slave, Life of Crime, Only Lovers Left Alive, Southcliffe, Young and Beautiful, Almost Human, The Green Inferno, Blue Ruin, The Sacrament, Horns, and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.
Zack Parker's Proxy stars Alexia Rasmussen, Alexa Havin and Joe Swanberg, and premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival within the Vanguard programme. Further information about the film can be found on the Festival website, as well as on the Proxy website, Twitter account, Facebook page, and IMDB page.
PROXY screening times:
- Thurs., Sept. 12, Scotiabank 1 5:00 PM
- Sat., Sept. 14, Scotiabank 9 8:00 PM