Interview with Filmmaker D.M. Night Maire (CHATEAU SAUVIGNON: TERROIR)

1. What motivated you to make this film?

“Chateau Sauvignon: terroir’ was my thesis film for the School of Visual Arts’ Masters in Directing program, which requires their students to complete and screen their shorts at the end of the year 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 film in two words!?

Savage terror!

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 downplaying 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 breadcrumbs 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 audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Watching the 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. A conflicted audience is engaged, I like to think, so it’s 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 generating a nice twisty roller coaster of emotions that it seemed the 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. When did you realize that you wanted to make films?

In high school! Our history teacher was kind enough to allow my friends and I to submit video projects rather than essays, so we’d dig up our backyards and recreate WWI trench-ware scenes with plastic pistols and lots of ketchup.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Hands down Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” (the American shot-for-shot remake, but I’ve seen the original many times as well).

8. What other elements of the festival experience can we and other festivals implement to satisfy you and help you further your filmmaking career?

I’d love an agent or manager. Any assistance in that regard would be greatly appreciated 🙂

9. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway. How has your experiences been working on the festival platform site?

It holds a monopoly on the American market, and perhaps it’s only true international competitor is FestHome, so we make do with what is available. Its interface is simple to use, but it’s algorithm clearly promotes certain festivals more than others. It also doesn’t do a very good job of policing it’s festivals, having allowed for a plethora of fake, scammy events pop up since WithoutABox was eliminated. That being said, if an event doesn’t happen, they’ve always been very quick and kind in reimbursing the submission fees. The one thing I would like adjusted on their platform is the feedback element, which should be completely anonymous to offer filmmakers a safeguard to provide worthwhile comments, rather than incentivize them to offer unhelpful brownnosing pleasantries.

10. What is your favorite meal?

A full Omakase sushi dinner.

11. What is next for you? A new film?

There are currently several short films I’ve produced that are currently making their way through the film festival, including three directed by women. These include “The Call of Water” which is a fantasy student thesis from director Kaya Tone that follows post adolescent Nadia as she is flung into the astral plane, and must face ancient forces in order to realize her responsibility to her homeland. The second is Carrie Ann Quinn’s directorial sci-fi debut short “Launch at Paradise” wherein the lines between life and death become blurred for John as he takes the risk to live forever. The third, which has yet to premiere, is “Antisemite” directed by Michelle Bossy, which follows Seth, a college senior home for winter break, who is confronted by an Orthodox Jewish on the street, leading him to a profound spiritual experience with life-changing implications. Otherwise, there are two short films I’ve recently directed that are being pushed through post, including cosmological sci-fi horror “Horologium” and a Victorian portrait of grief titled “Morning Vigil,” both of which I hope will be available by Halloween next year.

Directed by D.M. Night Maire
‘Chateau Sauvignon: terroir’ follows the isolated adolescent son of a storied vintner family who finds himself torn between obeying his father’s callous restrictions and preventing his ailing mother from deteriorating further. When a doting woman and her indifferent son arrive seeking a tasting and tour of the winery, Nicolas sees an opportunity to help care for his mother, as well as prove his worth to his choleric father. However, his wayward plan quickly takes a turn for the worse, and his missteps puts his family’s secretive murderous ways in peril of being unearthed.


By matthewtoffolo

Filmmaker and sports fan. CEO of the WILDsound Film and Writing Festival

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