"Meet the Filmmaker" Q&A: Director Paul Gordon

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Paul Gordon

Paul wrote, directed, edited, and plays the lead in THE HAPPY POET, which screened widely at festivals around the world (Venice, SXSW, Tokyo, etc.), won both audience and jury awards, was released theatrically in New York and LA, and is available on Netflix, iTunes, Hulu, Amazon, VOD and DVD.

Q: Why would you do something like decide to be a filmmaker?

A: I enjoy telling stories and collaborating with people. It can be hard work, but also a joyous experience.

Q: Why do you choose to do it in Austin?

A: All my friends live here, and I like it here.

Q: Your films feature a lot of characters that are adrift, or you could say, are on a bit of a search. Is that right? What draws you to those characters?

A: Art, religion and science are all ways that humans try to explain or figure out the world around them. I think human beings have an inherent need to find meaning in life or feel that their lives have meaning, so I’m drawn to characters who are searching, who aren’t know-it-alls. Because we know very little.

Q: Your last film, “The Happy Poet,” was a little bit on the front end of the food-trailer explosion in Austin. Did you basically predict the current food-trailer culture in Austin?

A: I think it did capture a do-it-yourself zeitgeist that has exploded over the last few years, with the global economic crisis. The food stand in the movie is not unlike the do-it-yourself nature of making an independent film.

Q: You’ve been directing feature and short films for several years now. How has the process of creating an independent film changed over the last 10-15 years?

A: Making films/videos is of course much more accessible now, with the high quality/low-cost camera and editing technologies.The only thing that has really changed for me–as far as process–is that there is slightly less pressure when shooting on HD or video, versus film. So you can do more takes, longer takes, without all the pressure of hearing film/money running through the camera. That was exciting though–shooting film–and it forced you to be more prepared for each shot. I kind of miss that.

poet
Still courtesy of “Happy Poet”

Q: Your films always have a very specific voice. Is that something you’re conscious of sticking to when you’re writing the screenplay, or does the tone come from natural choices?

A: I don’t consciously think about the tone, especially when writing a first draft; it’s just my sense of humor and personality. As I work on subsequent drafts and get feedback from friends, I hone the tone more, as it is often a tricky combination of humor and sometimes darker or dramatic elements. The tone usually starts off being more comedic, as I’m having a lot of fun writing the first draft.

Q: Happy Poet is fairly stealthy in how it presents the ideas of being socially conscious about what you eat and how folks profit from that. Are you already working from those bigger ideas when you start a script?

A: No, I think it’s hard to start out with a big idea. For me, I have to start with a simple concrete idea, a premise–characters in a situation– and then any bigger ideas come out of that naturally or are discovered along the way. I think starting with a big idea and trying to build something concrete around it runs the risk of coming off contrived. Writing from personal experience or genuine feeling is a lot easier and comes off more real.

Q: What other filmmaker or films would be a good introduction for viewers before they watch your films?

A: Robert Altman, Yasujiro Ozu, Jim Jarmusch, Aki Kaurismaki, Gus Van Sant, Hal Ashby, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, The Blues Brothers.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m working on a drama/comedy about a homeless couple that moves in with a young idealistic woman.

Q: …A final important question for all Happy Poet fans…What’s in your Netflix queue right now?

A: How about a list?
The Burbs
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Holy Motors
Rubber
The General
The Grifters
The Donald Rumsfeld documentary — Errol Morris
Highway Patrolman
La Vie de Bohème

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