Friday, November 6, 2009

An Interview with Jeffrey Goodman, director of The Last Lullaby

Yesterday I reviewed a film that I think is one of the best surprises of 2009, The Last Lullaby. The director Jeffrey Goodman has been nice enough to answer some questions about the process of making an independent film, some of the influences on his career, what it was like working with Tom Sizemore, and just the overall experience of making a different kind of thriller. My thanks to Jeffrey for taking the time to answer these random, off-the-top-of-my-head questions. Please check out my review for the film, and take a look at Jeffrey's blog that contains info on the film and its DVD release. As most of you know, it's so very important to support independent film. Interview comes after the jump...

Jeffrey, first let me just thank you for taking the time to do this. I guess the first thing I want to ask you is what movies inspired you as a young cinephile? What filmmakers interested and inspired you growing up and made you say: ‘Yeah…I wouldn’t mind doing that for a living.’?

Thank you, Kevin.

You know, I actually got into film relatively late. Never growing up, I mean as a kid, did I think about being a director. It wasn't until my junior year of college, when I was living in France, that I started having those thoughts. It all started with Godard and his film, Pierrot Le Fou. From there, I started getting into some of the other films of the French New Wave (Shoot the Piano Player, My Night at Maud's, Les Cousins). Then, it was guys like Wenders, Jarmusch, Bresson, Moretti. And from there it just became this obsession, you know. And it was like I just wanted to catch up all on these films I had missed.

Is there one particular moment in a film that you can point to as the catalyst for the vocation you chose?

Wow, that's a good question. Probably, seeing those journals in Pierrot Le Fou. I've kept a journal most of my life and when I saw those scenes of Belmondo writing in his journal, it was the first time that I realized, «Movies could be as intimate and personal as some of the other artforms.»

Filmmaking in general seems like a tough gig, but it really seems now more than ever that Independent film is getting harder and harder to finance. How would you describe your journey in trying to get The Last Lullaby made? Was there interest immediately following the short film you made?

It was a long road, for sure. I was living in Los Angeles when I first started on the project (I ended up being out there a little more than seven years.) And, I tried to go through some of the normal channels. But, whenever someone expressed interest in the project, they weren't really interested in having me direct it. Or they wanted to change it in ways that no longer really worked for me. So, I finally decided to come back to Louisiana and try to raise the money myself. And, fortunately, I ended up finding the support. I have 49 investors in all, 48 of whom live within a 30 mile radius of my hometown of Shreveport, LA.

About the film: I think it’s one of the best films of the year, are you happy with its theatrical run? What has the initial reaction been? Have major critics had a chance to see it?

Wow, first off, thank you so much for saying that. I'm very, very proud of the film.
Am I happy with the theatrical run? Yes and no. In some ways, we lasted out there longer than I expected. Ten weeks in all. But I wish I had been able to get more people in the seats. We didn't have a lot of marketing money for our theatrical run. And, if I had to do it all over again, I'd change certain things. For instance, I'd make sure we had a theatrical trailer, which we didn't for Lullaby. I also would have gotten our trailer up online much sooner. And, there are a few other things I wish I had done, in an effort to get more people to see it. But, I think, given our resources, we did quite well.

People respond very favorably to the film. I wasn't so sure they would. I think it's a film that wants to challenge certain things. And I'm not sure it always gives of itself in a warm and fuzzy way.

A few of the major critics have seen it, and a few of them (Scott Foundas, Richard von Busack, Luke Y Thompson, Pam Grady, among others) have said great things. There are still a few people out there that I would love to see it – Manohla Dargis, Amy Taubin, Jonathan Rosenbaum, David Thomson, J Hoberman, and the people at Cahiers du Cinema and Les Inrockuptibles.

As I was watching the film I was reminded a lot of other neo-noir films that exist in small towns, films like Red Rock West and the recent The Lookout, was your intention to keep the film in a small town, away from a big city backdrop?

It's one of the things that first jumped out at me when I read Max Allan Collins' short story «A Matter of Principal», the basis for Lullaby. As opposed to most noir fiction I'd read, Max's work was rural rather than urban noir (San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles). And I really wanted to respect that aspect of it.

I’m assuming you wanted the film to take place in small town because it fits with the quiet mood of the film. Talk about your experiences making a subdued film about a hitman in a time where these types of films are so hyperactive. Talk about how that feeling fits with your decision for the film’s beautifully haunting score.

I really wanted to get back to the feel of some of those small-scaled human genre films from the seventies, both in terms of pacing but also in the way they used sound and music. I'm talking about films like Straight Time, Night Moves, Klute, Killing of a Chinese Bookie. I love how many of these films let the natural sounds of the locations drive the scenes forward and use music, but only in an intermittent and slightly spare way. Even films like Shampoo or Five Easy Pieces fit into this. There's a realism that comes with this approach, I felt, that I really liked and wanted to take with Lullaby.

I also think the thing that first hooked me on noir was its penchant for realism. You know, the European guys, like Lang, Wilder, Tourneur, Siodmak, who had just fled their countries and wanted to talk about how grim life could be. I felt like some of the formal decisions on Lullaby were a way of respecting that honest, raw, noir spirit.

I was reading the liner notes for the soundtrack and it sounds like it was quite the journey for you to find the right musician to score your film, did you ever lose hope during that process? And obviously you care a lot about the music to your film, something that not everyone thinks about. I’m always saying on the blog how much I value music in a film and how sadly it’s becoming an overlooked quantity in film, what are some of the best scores in film you can remember and how did it make those movies memorable for you?

It's true; I was becoming a little nervous during our search for a composer. I just couldn't find anyone with the exact qualities I was after. And after awhile, you know, you start to doubt whether what you're wanting even exists. And whether or not, your difficulty simply stems from the fact that you've grown so attached to your movie sounding a certain way (temp music, etc) that nothing else quite works.

But once I heard track one on Ben Lovett's reel, I knew he was it.
I appreciate you saying that about the music. I really feel that my ear is probably stronger than my eye. And I've always felt that movies were 50% aural, 50% visual. And many of my favorite filmmakers seem to maybe share that feeling – David Lynch, Godard, Michael Mann, Jean Renoir, David Gordon Green, and Roberto Rossellini.

Some of my favorite scores have to be Taxi Driver, Blue Velvet, Shoot the Piano Player, Contempt, Marnie. The music in these films, for the most part, isn't wall-to-wall but is so intertwined and organic to the imagery that they seem to, I guess, take on a mythic quality.

Tom Sizermore has always been one of my favorite character actors, did you have him in mind for this role all along, or was he someone a casting director suggested? What was it like working with him? It was nice seeing him go for a more subdued effect in this film, was that something that was hard for him considering he’s an actor who often dials it up?

Tom was always on my short list for Price. It was important to me that Price be middle-age, Midwestern-looking, and believable as a hitman. And there weren't many people that had all three of those traits. Tom's a phenomenal actor, and I still marvel at some of the things he did in his performance. He's one of these guys that has so much inside of him that he's interesting even when he's doing very little. It really wasn't hard to reign him in. Tom and I agreed, during our pre-production conversations, that low-key was the appropriate place to take Price. And once we had those talks, I really just let him do his thing. He's really such a talent.

I think the film looks amazing (something that can't always be said about smaller films)'s obvious you took a lot of care with intricacies of the film. Talk about the behind-the-scenes aspect of making this film, and who worked on the film with you?

The guy I credit with that, more than anyone, is our cameraman Richard Rutkowski. Richard's really talented, and the hardest working guy I know. The way we started with the look was I put together a folder for Richard and Beth Mickle, our production designer. In the folder, I included a DVD of The French Connection and a two or three page document on the look of the film, as I envisioned it. I knew certain things. For instance, I didn't want any jump cuts. And if we moved the camera, I wanted it to happen in smooth, unobtrusive ways. I also knew that I wanted to use the zoom and static pan, as well as some of the other techniques Roizman used in the Friedkin film. I singled out the Friedkin film because I loved its mix of painterly and raw. I thought it combined these two opposites as well as any film I'd ever seen. And that's what I wanted for Lullaby.

Once I gave Richard and Beth these folders, and we talked a little, it was very clear to me that we were all on the same page. After that, I just let them do their thing, which both of them do so well.

Often times I read about filmmakers who finish a project and then are just ready to be thinking about the next thing, does making The Last Lullaby feel like something you did a long time ago? Do you look back on the process of making the film fondly? What major lessons did you learn from your first film? What's next for you, Jeffery?

Filmmaking is a slow process. So, I do look back and think, «Wow, it's been three years already since we shot Lullaby.» And I have new things I want to explore and I want to make other films. But I'm also very proud of Lullaby and have had no problem taking this much time to put it together and put it out into the world.

Because it's so infrequent that I actually get to make films (and really such a privilege), I think the making of each film will probably be something I look back on with a certain amount of fondness. But, Lullaby was special. Aside from it being my first feature, I had an unbelievable crew. And in spite of extreme conditions (short shooting schedule and unusually cold weather), the morale was amazing. I'll be lucky if I ever have such a unified and committed group again. Dave Koplan, my producer, really put together a special team.

Major lessons, so many. But most important, probably just the confidence that I can actually pull off a feature. Other lessons…probably the most alarming has been to learn how difficult it is to monetize a finished film right now.

Next…I'm still working on trying to find a home for Lullaby on cable and a domestic DVD deal so that people can purchase it at Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Amazon, and rent it from Netflix. Otherwise, I'm slowly taking steps towards my next feature. It's a project that I have with Peter Biegen, one of the two writers of Lullaby. I already raised the first round of money to pay Peter to write the script. Now I'm about to start calling on people, to try and raise the remainder of the film's budget. It's both very different and somewhat similar to Lullaby. It's called Peril, and I'm really, really excited about it. I'm hoping it has a little Kes, Germany Year Zero, and Pialat's L'enfance nue. But really more than anything, I'm just hoping I get to make it.


  1. Absolutely fantastic Kevin! This superlative interview (great questions, by the way) is a boon to Hugo Stiglitz and a most intriguing showcase for a film that apparently deserves more than a little notice! I know I will be looking for it. Most interested to read about Ben Lovett's selection as composer and of the director's favorite scores, which are indeed great ones. Sizemore is a great actor too.

  2. Thanks, Sam! This was a lot of fun to do, and Jeffrey was a real sport for answering my questions. I think he's a real talent that people should be keeping an eye on, and I can only hope that The Last Lullaby find a home on cable and DVD (right now the disc is only available to buy off of the films website). I really hope you seek this film out, Sam; I think you'll love it.

  3. Just read both your review and interview. not only a great opportunity but you did a excellent job. A facinating interview. As a fan of film noir I

  4. Thanks, John. I'm a big fan of this film, and it was an honor to conduct this interview. I'm glad you stopped by and read it.

  5. Hey, just had a chance to finally read this. Great interview questions on your part and Jeffrey sounds like a really smart guy who knows his film history, has a good gauge on his talents, and seems like a generally cool, nice guy.

    I haven't had a chance to watch the movie yet, but it's in the rotation.

  6. Thanks, Troy. Let me know what you think of it when you get around to watching. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on it.