CHATEAU SAUVIGNON: TERROIR played to rave reviews at the 2016 HORROR FEEDBACK Film Festival in Toronto.
1. What motivated you to make this film?
“Chateau Sauvignon: terroir’ was my thesis film for the School of Visual Arts’s Masters in Directing program, which requires their students to complete and screen their shorts at the end of the year in order to graduate. Yet, I was motivated to complete this program because it offered me the opportunity to explore the murderous motivations of a vintner family, characters I had imagined years prior, through the creation of a strong film that could double as a prequel and video pitch for a feature film to audiences and investors, respectively.
2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this film?
The initial concept was for a feature film, and that congealed in my mind about 8 years before the completion of this short film. The short film however took about 3 years from conception to completion (production lasted about a week).
3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?
4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?
Despite some stressful hiccups and kerfuflles during production, the biggest obstacle was in the writing. Getting my ideas onto the page can be an elaborate, time consuming challenge for me, but the real hurdle came from having to choose which story elements from the feature to focus on and which not to, while simultaneously down playing the violence to a justifiable and affordable level of gore. Too often did I use the feature concept as a model for the short rather than treat this project as its own entity; for a good number of drafts, the narrative was convoluted because I was trying to condense all the information from the feature into a significantly shorter script, which themselves called for scenes of unrealistic production value – for example, school buses full of senior citizens, dozens of bodies hanging upside down being eviscerated one after the next, creepy twins who lose limbs during fight sequences in industrial wine making machinery, demonic opiate addicted babies, and so forth. It was difficult to strike an acceptable level of ambiguity wherein I could leave behind enough bread crumbs for the audience to work out the answers and create their own interpretations rather than have every detail spoon fed to them. Which leads us perfectly into your next question!
5. What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?
Watching the Toronto audience feedback video was exhilarating. My initial reaction was extremely positive! It was so gratifying to hear from the audience, which is rarely the case at most film festivals even when I’m in attendance, flattery notwithstanding. The crowd picked up on so many small cues relating to the character’s motivations and back stories that I couldn’t help but feel a sense of relief. For example, they correctly picked up that the film is a teaser to a much larger project, that it felt like ‘Hostel’ and ‘Chainsaw Massacre’ which were both predominantly referenced in our visual treatments of the short, and that this is indeed a family business. I was pleased that people appreciated the story being told from the killer’s perspective rather than that of the victim, and acknowledged one’s arc as a viewer shifting from rooting for our protagonist to “want[ing] him to die too.” A conflicted audience is engaged, I like to think, so its great to create this character who you root for because you like him and feel sorry for his situation, and then reveal he’s a killer amongst killers, and a convincing one! It’s generates a nice twisty roller coaster of emotions that it seemed the WILDSound viewers jived with. I’ve consistently been told not to spoon feed the audience the way Nicolas’ mother is, and this perfectly exemplified to me how successful this short was in doing so. This unique perspective of observing audience members debate their interpretations of the story and discuss their emotional reactions to the film gifted me with a profound sense of pride, validating the notion that filmmakers should always treat their audience intelligently.Thank you for this.
Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:
6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?
Hailing from French wine country, I was always innately going to shoot a movie in this setting. I don’t recall exactly how the idea formed, but I remember having a very vivid image in my head of deep red blood splattering on green grapes. The concept was most likely cemented in high school around the time I first watched Eli Roth’s ‘Hostel’, and was penned my final undergraduate semester at NYU as part of a feature writing class. As I mentioned briefly, the feature script never fully formed, and when I enrolled at SVA a couple of years later, I decided to use the opportunity to explore the characters’ motivations and background story from the feature – why the vintners kill people, how they do it, et cetera – focusing on the point of view of the killers as opposed to that of the victims. Understanding their back story and motivations for killing was somewhat of a grey area in the feature’s outline that I absolutely wanted to flesh out more. This short film acts as a prequel to the feature, detailing the protagonist’s first kill, and shedding light on their medically reliant cannibalistic tendencies. We weren’t able to include the image of the blood on grapes because we shot in Spring (before the grapes grow), but it’ll most definitely be included in the feature!
7. What film have you seen the most in your life?
Hands down Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (the American version specifically, but I’ve seen the German one many times as well).
8. What is next for you? A new film?
Currently I’m busy on both ends of the production spectrum. On the one side, I’ve started developing several short video projects concepts and and forced myself to begin fleshing out (pun intended) and writing my features. Otherwise, I’ve been heavily focused on attending film festivals and networking – “Chateau Sauvignon: terroir” is about two thirds of the way through its festival run.
Otherwise, I’ve produced two other short films recently, one just wrapped a few weeks ago and is being edited, titled ‘My Daughter Yoshiko’, this story follows a Japanese mother coming to terms with her daughter’s Autism diagnosis – here is a link to our post production fundraising page. It isn’t a horror film though, any neither is the second super short “Mariposas”, a 3min story that lives in magical realism and is about a boastful father prattling on superficially about his daughter to another parent in the school pick up line. I can’t wait to share these projects with you, and look toward to what the audience has to say about ‘The Hobbyist’ with eager anticipation! Per chance, do you offer waivers or discounts to returning filmmakers?
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.