THE WEDDING SONG was the winner of BEST FILM at the February 2018 ROMANCE FEEDBACK Film Festival held on Valentine’s Day in downtown Toronto.
Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?
Rex New: I grew up in south Louisiana, and Thia and I had been talking about shooting something in New Orleans for a while that my close friend David Lee (our cinematographer) could shoot. He has such a phenomenal eye and aesthetic. He and I made a couple of short documentaries together down in the bayou a few years ago, and he wanted to try his hand at a narrative film. During a trip home for our friends’ wedding, Thia and I came up with the idea for the movie.
Thia Schuessler: Aside from our inherent desire to make a movie in a place we love with people we love, my personal [re: selfish] motivation is always to write something that I can star in. I went to school for acting but have become a writer/director/producer out of necessity, really. The acting game is so incredibly competitive, and it took me too long to realize that I have to make my own work.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?
Rex: I think it took about six months from conception to shooting. We wrote a script fairly quickly after our friends’ spring wedding in New Orleans, but we had to wait until October to shoot so that the weather would be more hospitable.
Thia: And then post production took a good 9 months, which is another story in and of itself. When you’re creating something on this budget with friends who are working for little to no pay, who have other jobs, it’s hard to keep a strict schedule. In the end, it was about a year and a half from the idea to our final cut.
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
Rex: Uncomfortably musical
Thia: How about… bittersweet symphony
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Thia: Normally, I can’t stand to watch footage of myself, so Rex has taken the lead on post-production on our previous films. But, for some reason, I could not wait to put this thing together. I spent the two weeks following our principal photography in bed with my laptop, obsessively editing a half hour director’s cut —including everything single moment that we shot. I was in that post-shoot honeymoon phase, married to every scene, which is no good. We knew we had to bring in another editor who hadn’t read the script and wasn’t on set to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. Cue Al Rahn.
Rex: As we started cutting scenes for time, we were losing some of the tension that we needed for the film (and their relationship) to build. Our editor Al pointed out that, other than the bachelorette party, the film could take place anywhere. We knew we were going to have to film something new, and that it would have to show off New Orleans somehow.
Thia: So we went back during Mardi Gras to shoot what became our favorite montage of the film. It was just the actors (Will Dickerson & me), director Rex, and our DP David, running around Uptown New Orleans with our little Sony a7s ii, trying to grab shots of different locations in different outfits to indicate the passage of time. Will and I were literally changing our clothes on the street. Because we were shooting it MOS, we didn’t have any bulky boom mic giving us away as a film crew. We rather looked like a group of tourists taking photos, so we got a lot of locations we probably should have paid for — like the street car. It was guerrilla shooting at its finest. When we got back to LA, my co-editor and I chopped 20 minutes out of my director’s cut, and we added the new montage footage, which became our picture lock.
Rex: Later, Thia, her sister Sarah (who also did the costumes and played the Maid of Honor), and our composer Ben Stanton wrote an original song to go over it. Our editor Al actually provided the vocals.
Thia: As you can see, we really milked our multi-talented friends for all they’re worth.
Rex: It was a great learning experience and made the movie a lot better. The second half of the movie has more music than we’d originally planned, and David really got to show off in that montage. We had a little joke going where we’d make sure we got what we called our “Malick” shots — handheld, lens flares, lots of trees! Maybe that explains why there’s so many trees in that montage.
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Rex: There was a guy who said that someone needed to give us a bucketful of money to make the feature.
Thia: So if there is anyone reading this who has such a bucket…
Rex: I loved seeing how people disagreed on the ending or felt like it left them hanging. Short films can have so many structures, but we always envisioned the movie as having an ending that would be open to interpretation.
Thia: Choose your own adventure-style.
Rex: The great thing about doing something music-based is that you can do so much through performance. It’s all acting, of course, but it’s a different way of conveying emotion. Ending with a song really emphasizes the ambiguity, I think.
Thia: Right. Neither of them speaks after the final song, so you’re left with the lyrics playing in your head.
Rex: A few people during the audience feedback mentioned that this is a complex situation playing out. I’d never thought of it that way, but it’s true. This isn’t a movie about having feelings for someone; it’s about realizing that you do. Wrestling with those feelings comes later!
Thia: In Act II of the feature… wink wink
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
Thia: The Mardi Gras before we decided to make a short in New Orleans—
Rex: Isn’t it great that we can measure life by Mardi Gras?
Thia: Yeah. Mardi Gras is apparently our definitive point of reference. Anyway, a friend introduced us to her family friend, Willie (as they call him). He was a talented musician living at his parents’ house, playing gigs and driving a pedicab on the side.
Rex: He even played the ukulele one-handed while pedicabbing, as you see him do in the film. He has since moved out of his parents’ and no longer drives a pedicab, but Willie IS Johnnie.
Thia: At the time of this film’s conception, Ben, our composer (who is also my sister’s boyfriend and my good friend), was teaching me how to play a song on the ukulele for an audition for another project. I had never touched a ukulele before, and I found the learning process entertaining. So when we were thinking of shooting something in New Orleans, I don’t remember what came first… if my newfound ukulele skills or Will’s actual life was the chicken or the egg, but clearly we put everything we knew about “Willie” in the script, and I wrote down everything I could remember from my ukulele lessons with Ben. (I definitely tried to make vertical playing “a thing.”)
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Rex: The Big Lebowski, probably. Is there really another answer?
Thia: It’s gotta be either Moulin Rouge or Wet Hot American Summer. But I’ve always been a sucker for a rom com, which clearly seeps through in most of my work. My childhood sleepover MVPs were Clueless, Can’t Hardly Wait, She’s All That, 10 Things I Hate About You, Never Been Kissed …sometimes we went “classic” with When Harry Met Sally. I fancy myself an indie darling, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I went full Nancy Meyers by the end of my career.
8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are your feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?
Rex: It’s so simple and easy. I remember the days of mailing DVDs to offices. I’m glad those days are over! Now if we could just get into more festivals…
Thia: Yeah, I want to blame the insane number of submissions these days on the simplicity of the FilmFreeway platform. (That and the advances in technology making it so much easier for the amateur filmmaker to get behind a good camera.) It’s too easy!
Rex: The film festival world has become so much more competitive since I first started submitting projects at the beginning of this decade.
Thia: Yeah. I’m sure I’m being hyperbolic, but it seems like festival programmers are consistently saying that their submission numbers double or triple every year. It’s great to know that so much work is being created and shown, and I credit FilmFreeway with helping so many filmmakers and festival programmers find each other.
9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?
Rex: The songs from The Wedding Song!
Thia: That actually might be true for me. Not only did I spend countless hours of my life editing The Wedding Song, but I also have had to quality-check every export myself, as Rex can no longer stomach watching it. I, on the other hand, can still watch the whole thing and still go through the whole roller coaster of emotions. I blame Will and those sensitive eyes of his. If you want a real answer that isn’t a humble brag, I’d say anything by The Civil Wars. In my research of songs by male/female acoustic duos (for The Wedding Song), I discovered The Civil Wars and became truly obsessed. I actually cried when I learned that they have been on “hiatus” since 2012. But the two albums they created together before they broke up are an absolute gift to humanity. Buy them on iTunes, then watch the many live recordings of their concerts on YouTube. Adele herself said that they are the best live band she had ever seen. Their harmonies will absolutely melt your heart.
10. What is next for you? A new film?
Rex: I write features with a friend from college, Nick Turner. We were both in the screenwriting program at USC. Along with a director pal of ours, we’re finishing up a feature that we’ll hopefully be making this fall.
Thia: My sister Sarah’s presence on set for The Wedding Song reminded us how much we like working together. (We used to produce student theatre back in college, also at USC). Right now, we’re taking a feature that I wrote years ago and turning it into a mini series. Sarah is already picking out costumes.
Rex: If you’re in New Orleans, go see Will play! You can check out his artist page here: https://www.reverbnation.com/willdickersonmusic
Thia: And you can watch our previous work at http://www.vimeo.com/shyruby
Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.