A Conversation with the Filmmakers of the Award Winning Film, "Wake"
by Jacqueline Plaza
ROY AND SUSIE LANDAU FINCH
An intimate portrait of four brothers struggling to come to terms with their past and present, WAKE offers riveting performances in a richly developed character driven tale. Starring Showtime's "Queer as Folk's" Gale Harold and Oscar winner Martin Landau, WAKE is Henry LeRoy Finch's writing and directorial debut. Co-produced by Finch's wife, Susie Landau Finch, WAKE combines vibrant cinematography with subtle pacing and a strong literary narrative.
At the 2003 Queens International Film Festival, Finch received the Best Director award and Blake Gibbons won in the Best Actor category. WAKE also received a 2005 PRISM Commendation for its accurate onscreen portrayal of drug and alcohol addiction. WAKE is currently available at Kaboom, Greencine, Movielink, Amazon, Ebay, CinemaNow, and Netflix.
WAKE DEFINITELY HAS A LITERARY FEELING, A FEELING OF A WELL-CRAFTED PLAY. YOU MENTION PLAYWRIGHTS THAT HAVE INFLUENCED YOU OVER THE YEARS: SHEPARD, ALBEE, O'NEILL, WHO ARE SIMILAR IN THE THEMES AND TONE IN WHICH THEY WRITE. WHY DOES THEIR WORK RESONATE WITH YOU?
Henry LeRoy Finch ("Roy"): I think they were dealing with themes that have always interested me, the way families interact, how people are bound by common memories, even when each person in the family remembers things differently. Playwrights like these know that a family member can push your buttons with just one phrase. These writers don't base everything on exposition; even if an event or a trauma is referred to, it isn't spelled out. The audience has to figure out what they are referring to and what it means to the characters.
Susan Landau Finch ("Susie"): Both Roy and I come from literary families. Roy's dad was a professor of philosophy, his mother is a poet, continued from page
and my parents, of course, were very involved in theater. I fell in love with theater at around thirteen when my family moved to London and there was so much great theatre. I met Roy working on a Beckett play on the East Coast. When Roy was writing WAKE, we talked about how you would write a screenplay that felt like a play that was performance-driven.
FAMILY DRAMAS INDEED PROVIDE PLENTY OF RAW MATERIAL FOR STORIES. WHAT LED YOU TO CREATE A FAMILY OF FOUR BROTHERS?
Susie: (laughing) Well, Roy has four sisters
Roy: Right, I didn't have any brothers. But my mother and father each have all brothers, so I did grow up with lots of uncles. Some of my mom's brothers were very colorful, sort of creative, eccentric types and some of WAKE is very loosely based on what I imagine they might have been like in their younger days. I do have friends from being in bands for many years, and in the music business, who really are like brothers to me - and so I have my observations on the way "brothers" interact from those relationships.
Another reason I wanted to write about brothers was that I'm very interested in families; I've written three related screenplays: Sleepwalking, which will star Martin Landau and which focuses primarily on a father and son, another called The Drowning Room, about two sisters, and then WAKE which explores brotherly interactions. They're not necessarily interconnected character-wise, but each examines family from a different vantage point. I think of the three screenplays as a loose trilogy.
HOW DID YOU APPROACH PRESENTING THE WAY MEN IN A FAMILY COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER? CERTAINLY DIFFERENT FROM THE WAY WOMEN AND MEN COMMUNICATE, OR FROM THE WAY WOMEN COMMUNICATE WITH EACH OTHER.
Roy: Absolutely. It takes almost the entire movie for Kyle to look Ray in the eye and say, "I was proud of you..." when he [Ray] stood up for them against the father. And brothers - men, generally - tend to talk around their deeper feelings or to act out in strange ways instead of confronting the emotional reality of what's happening. So of course these guys have to raise hell and start drinking under the same roof where their mother is dying.
Naturally, I wrote and developed the characters with this in mind. As for my approach as a writer to the brothers' interactions, though, I really just like to put the characters in a room and watch them interact. The director is really more of a facilitator.
YOU ORIGINALLY THOUGHT TO SET WAKE IN MEXICO. WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO CHANGE THE SETTING TO MAINE?
Roy: A combination of factors, really. Actually, it was more the concept of basing a story around a particular house and the memories it might contain. Susie and I had been on vacation in a house down in Baja, sort of this giant party house, with decaying '60s-era décor, and I just had this idea to center a screenplay around the place, with the house almost as one of the characters. Much later, we were in Maine, where I'd spent summers growing up, and were struck by this rustic, historic home, built in 1745. It seemed to lend itself even more to this idea of a place itself leading to the story, and we shifted the project to Maine.
CAN YOU ELABORATE ON MEMORY AND PERCEPTION IN THE FILM?
Roy: The nature of storytelling is in itself somehow artificial. What we experience is different from what we remember, what we perceive. You and I can experience the same thing, but our recollections are very different. This is a kind of through-line in the film.
The trauma the brothers were subjected to, or those they subjected each other to. It's a familiar pattern; in families where the father is abusive and alcoholic, he tends to pass this on to his sons.
WHAT ABOUT CASTING MARTIN LANDAU? OF COURSE, HE IS YOUR FATHER-IN-LAW, BUT DID YOU SEE HIM IN A DIFFERENT LIGHT WHILE WORKING TOGETHER?
Roy: That transpired in a roundabout way. He had committed to doing my other script, Sleepwalking, and came to the reading of WAKE to observe and to support us. At the end of the reading, our executive producer Michael Donaldson asked Martin to play the role.
It is unbelievable to watch him work. Every fiber of his being is so focused; there's such a transformation that happens, as he becomes the character. He gives these very subtle variations in his performance; he doesn't need a lot from a director, which made my job very easy.
SUSIE, YOU HAVE WORKED WITH YOUR FATHER JUST ONCE BEFORE. WHAT DID YOU LEARN ABOUT HIM ON WAKE?
Susie: He's just so present, he's learned to truly "be" in each moment. He stayed and watched the other actors, watched Roy direct. I worried at first that some of the actors might be intimidated, but he was a very supportive presence. They all enjoyed talking with him.
IT MUST BE A CHALLENGE WORKING ON A FILM AS DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER, BUT ALSO BEING HUSBAND AND WIFE...
Roy: It was surprisingly relaxed. Of course, we were working along different avenues, director and producer, so we weren't constantly together every second. Susie complements my efforts, I see her as making the film stronger by what she does.
Susie: Roy has this unique ability that I sensed, even in pre-production, of being open to contributions from the cast and crew, but simultaneously maintaining his own vision throughout. He's very open.
I think also that literally being family - Roy, me, my father, Margaret (Roy's mother), - and knowing some of the cast before instilled a mood of trust. Maine is a place that Roy has always gone back to explore and to create, but this time he was inviting everyone along with him to collaborate. Yes, Roy and I are husband and wife, but beyond that, we all, cast and crew, became extended family.
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