Shimmer Lake interview

Rob and Ron are great together. How was it casting those two characters? What were you looking for?

You know, it’s an indie movie. It’s a low-budget movie, so casting is a tricky process, and a lot of people come in late. We actually didn’t have many people falling out, but as the piece just come together and you observe as much control as you can. Zeke was the first person cast, but then Andy is a very needy role for a guy. A lot of the people I met with read for Andy, and then when Andy is cast, it’s like, “Would you be willing to play Curt? Would you be willing to play Kyle?” I think Rob and Ron know each other and are friendly and respect each other. Rob was cast first, and then Ron came second. What’s funny about Ron is I wasn’t expecting to get somebody… I mean, I, like sort of everybody else love Ron Livingston. When he came in to play Kyle, I looked back at the script, and Kurt had way more lines.

I kept having to go to Rob, who I happen to know because our kids go to school together, so I was comfortable enough to constantly go to Rob every morning or the day before and say, “Hey, I got to give Ron some of these lines. I need him saying stuff.” What developed out of that is it became more, I think, in the script as written, it was probably like Kyle was straight up more the dumb one. He didn’t say as much, but by making them a little more equal partners, they do become, you know, they’re finishing each other’s sentence. They’ve been together. They sit in the car all night, and they just know their thoughts before they even get out of their mouths, which is effective, you know, but that’s one of those things you kind of stumble into sometimes. I would make a TV show about those guys because I would love to work with them.

They’re the characters smart enough to know how dumb they are. They know their limitations.

Yeah, they have no illusions. They’re not 25, right? They’re not aspiring FBI guys like, “Oh, one of these days we’re going to be the guys.” They’re in their 40s. They’re like, “We know exactly who we are.”

How did you and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke (The Witch) want to create a sense of atmosphere?

He’s amazing. I think he’s incredibly talented. I saw The Witch and got very excited when he was interested in the movie. There’s two different parts there I guess. One is … We didn’t have a lot of days. We didn’t have a lot of time. The movie had, I realized, you know, because I’m a first time director, I wasn’t looking at the script in the same way, and I realized late like, “Wow, there’s a lot of locations here.” There’s a lot of small scenes in quick spots that we were constantly having to move locations. The result of that ends up being, you don’t get a lot of takes and you don’t get a lot of coverage.

Luckily, I had a very experienced cast that caught on very quickly. You can’t find the theme, you can’t sort of through the scene in the master and expect to find it in the mediums or the close-ups, because a lot of times they’re not coming. When I was working with Jarin, and when we were shot-listing and going through everything, it was a little bit, “How do we find a way to economically get every story beat that we need with as few shots as possible a lot of times?” A lot of the things I think we both like are those sort of, I don’t know if it’s old or current Spielberg, but the way you can kind of start a scene in what would be a master and dial your way into the two-shot or dial your way into the over-the-shoulder shot, and where possible just let them run on the wide, and let the actors just perform and enjoy all of them, and all of their reactions, and all of their gestures and ticks. They’re all so talented.

Then, as far as the writing, you make that decision with a script like that where the tone is a difficult one. It’s a little bit threading a needle. I don’t … In that way that I’m saying that I’m sympathetic to all the characters and I want to humanize all the characters, they’re not goofy, right? It’s not shot as a comedy. It’s shot as a thriller. I want emotion, and you want tension. I think that affects the lighting. Jarin can light like that, you know, like nobody else. The Witch is a perfect example of what he can do with that. The scene with Dawkins (John Michael Higgins) and the meth kid (Mark Rendall) and Andy in his bedroom is, you know, the references for that are like, well, we were looking at pictures from Fur. It’s very moody and sucked the life right out of it and sort of like the entire room, and just feel that kind of dread all over.

I imagine you had a lot of expectations going into Shimmer Lake, being your directorial debut. How did the experience match or defy those expectations?

The biggest one, for me, I was expecting I would constantly be asked questions I needed to know the answer to. I don’t know if this is the nature of this particular production, or crew, or time and place, but I found often that people weren’t asking me questions. I would have to go and get ahead of things more than I expected, because if I didn’t, sometimes something would appear then and I’d say, “Well, I don’t know how that got there.” Nobody asked me about it. I very quickly learned I need to be much more proactive. Every question that I need to know the answer to tomorrow I realized I needed to know the night before so that I’m not finding out about something late.

I had never directed a short or anything. The first week was pure terror. Suddenly, I had this moment of realization that, once you arrive on day one of production, something is going to happen. Whether you’re the worst director that’s ever lived or not, the train is moving. You just have to step on and now you’re directing a movie. There was something very comforting in that. I had bullshitted and bullshitted enough until the machine was in motion. By that point, you might as well enjoy the process and take part. It took away my fears in a great way.

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Shimmer Lake is now available to stream on Netflix.

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