Filmmaker David Spaltro is Winning Awards with “Things I Don’t Understand”
The first Filmmakers Notebook Q&A of 2013 is with a young, exciting filmmaker named David Spaltro, who has written and directed the drama “Things I Don’t Understand”, which has screened at the Philadelphia Independent, Northwest Ohio Independent and Whiskey Blue Independent Film Festivals and has won awards at the Laughlin International and Indie Spirit Film Festivals, David shares his thoughts about his film and offered several suggestions for other screenwriters during this interview, which is going to be published in 3 parts and I hope you enjoy.
How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a filmmaker?
I don’t think I realized I actually wanted to make film until I was twenty-four and on the set of “…Around”, but I remember the first time I was really inspired to tell stories through a film medium or that it was something you could do. It was the Summer of 1989 and watching Tim Burton’s “Batman”. I remember waiting on line forever to get into the theater and then somehow during the film, realizing for the first time that there were other people creating the world and making choices for things to happen, that the movie wasn’t actually reality but a collection of all this work of several artists. I’d dabbled in other forms of storytelling like writing or comics, but the collaborative nature of film and working with all these kinds of people was what always drew me to it.
Was it different making your first project “….Around” compared to “Things I Don’t Understand” and if so how was it different?
On “…Around”, even after going to film school and working as an editor, I was so blissfully young and naïve, and the whole thing was kind of a kamikaze mission of shooting so many locations in such a short time all over NYC funded mainly on credit cards, that I wasn’t even a hundred percent sure was going to work out. With “Things” I’d grown as a person and filmmaker so much from my experience and also felt like I needed to step it up greatly both in terms of the story and in production. Making “Things”, during the production phase, was harder just because of what I’d learned and was trying to do compared to the experience of the first one and it was definitely a difficult but rewarding process.
What gave you the idea for “Things I Don’t Understand?”
I’d originally come up with the scenes between the two women in the hospice during my junior year of college in the winter of 2003. I was trying to come up with a short for my senior thesis film, but it was just an excuse for two people to sort of discuss life, death and other philosophical bents and there wasn’t much of a story or arc. I was also too young and inexperienced to really hit the story home, so I shelved the pages until after we finished “…Around”. I was a bit burned out and emotionally drained and started working on those pages as a purely cathartic exercise for writing, never really intending it to be anything else. After working on it and bringing the last few years of life and experience to it I found a new story I waned to tell that spoke to where I was at and also as a vehicle to work with Molly Ryman again in a completely different role and some other great people.
Which part of the story do you find gets to you the most as a person?
I think the idea of home, whether finding or protecting it, and the relationships we form along the way in friends, lovers and pseudo family and how that informs our lives and decisions and beliefs is something that is very representative of my own experiences in my 20’s and in this city. The Thanksgiving dinner scene with this small misfit group of people and how they’re connected is very much a universal NYC experience for so many and it seems to transcend to other places as well connecting to that time when you’re building your own life and connections with new people.
Was it difficult directing a project that you had written?
No. I find it’s all a process and as the writer I’ve already built the skeleton. I’ve produced a bit on the two films I’ve done too so I’m usually involved in all aspects of building the team (actors, crew, production) that will help add to the skeleton and allow people to collaborate and bring there ideas, but also keep them on the same page as to what the overall vision of the piece we’re trying to achieve is. Working as an editor on the projects as well as sitting in with the sound designer/composer and colorists is like doing the final revision of script of the film with all the pieces in place. I’d love down the road to find a script I didn’t write and see how I could adapt it or bring my own sensibilities as a filmmaker to it.
Is there any advice you’d like to pass along to other filmmakers who are in the process of writing and directing their own projects?
Just keep chipping away and pushing to get your project done. Technology is ever changing as are the forms of distribution, which leaves a lot of cool new doors open for people. Be honest about what you’re really trying to achieve because filmmaking can be a heartbreak guaranteed experience and emotional rollercoaster of many years, but if you love it and have a story you have to tell it will always be worth it to keep pushing on. I also recommend really trying to find your own particular voice or way of telling a story, something that is original to you and how you express yourself. You’ll always find your best work will come from that place in whatever genre or form it takes. Make your own mistakes. Treat the people with respect, gratitude and allow collaboration to happen and you’ll get the best possible results.
For more info about “Things I Don’t Understand” visit the film”s website at http://www.tidu-film.com or check out David on Twitter @thedavidspaltro.