Paul Booth chats to Filmmaker Anna Musso…

Anna is an award-winning independent film director, with experience on big movies as well. I selected Anna for this series because we met three years ago on a movie set in Hawaii. We had this great long conversation about Martin Scorsese, and which one of us liked Goodfellas, Casino or Raging Bull more than the others (comparing films, not ego’s). Happy Aloha Friday, enjoy the interview.

Paul Booth: What films or life event made you want to make movies? Past just loving movies?

Anna Musso: In 1997, I was studying painting at School of Visual Arts in New York City. I was asked by an acquaintance to act in his first student film. I found myself sitting in front of a Bolex all day and I found myself utterly ill-equipped and uninspired in front of a lens. It wasn’t that I did not respect an actor’s job. Rather to the contrary, I did so enough to know I was never going to be great at it. Yet, what was happening behind that camera looked pretty damn good to me. Just like painting, you were still dealing with the white box, but it was beautiful that people needed to do it together. Plus, film just smells good.

PB: Do you see your films has pure entertainment or do you direct to say something? Would you lean towards Spielberg or Truffaut?

AM: I think the cool thing about art is that you can’t say it. I don’t know if two people will ever see the same film anyway? A film is a film plus the person experiencing it. If you try to say something, you’re forced to accept the necessary compromise in asking, “How many people who saw this film heard what I was “saying”? Did they hear all of it? Or, did half of them hear some of it? It’s not that I’m dispassionate or have no beliefs. Any friend I have will assure you (probably more than I’d wish) I’ve got opinions and some things I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face. But anyone can write a thesis statement. Film can do something better.

PB: Did you go to Film School? If not, how many professional sets have you worked on? (you don’t need to name any, unless you choose too).

AM: I am very grateful to have earned a BFA in Film Directing from School of Visual Arts. I’ve been lucky and have learned a lot on film sets too. I work for Alexander Payne, a director that I respect immeasurably. That above all has been the greatest extension of my film education, both on and off of a film set.

PB: I liked your short, L Train, that you showed me in late 2011. You were still editing it. You made fantastic use of locations and character, never drawing attention to your style. What is your process to find such simplicity?

AM: My process was to embrace natural disaster. I had wished for snow and then 21.2 inches of it fell on Chicago the day before we were meant to shoot. It was the second biggest snowfall in the history of the city. Out the window one could see nothing but whiteness. Nine hundred cars were stranded on Lake Shore Drive. There are very few things that knock out the city of Chicago and it was down for the count.

But, not dissimilarly from when trying to “say something”, insisting on making the film you see perfectly in your head can be a little dysfunctional. I had this supposedly fine film in my mind’s eye. Yet, even if a blizzard had not hit, I’d never have been able to make precisely that film. How much differentiation does a director accept between the film in their imagination and the one they’re making in the present moment?

I had read recently this brilliant interview between David Thomson and Walter Murch (The Believer, March/April 2011) in which the latter elegantly suggested (far better than I am here) this concept. When disaster descended I was forced fully into this idea. I knew I needed to make not the film playing in my head, but the one in front of me, in this wonderful opportunity, disguised as hell. After thinking about all this, I looked back out that window and thought, “Wow! All this snow will be great on film!”

PB: What did you do with L Train?

AM: I was very lucky. I would have been very grateful to screen it on your local brick wall (call me, I’ll still do that) but it played around the world in some wonderfully kind venues such as Sundance, Clermont-Ferrand, Chicago International Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest, Cork Film Festival and many others. Women In Film supported us with an immensely kind grant, and Santa Barbara International Film Festival gave us their Best Short Film Award. I am supremely grateful for the encouragement.

PB: Any shorts Produced or Directed since then?

AM: Yes! I’m working on a new short, which I hope to also become a feature, called Run Fast. It’s about a young Kenyan runner who travels to America to compete in her first marathon. Upon arriving, she meets her benefactor, a man betting on her to win. It’s about them. And about running.

It’s an idea I am so passionate about and an amazing team and I are putting the film together now to shoot in the spring.

We will be launching a Kickstarter page in the great hopes financing the project shortly, so if it speaks to you, please keep your eyes peeled in the coming months. We’ll need all the help we can muster to make this film a reality. You can search for us in Kickstarter or please reach out to me directly. (I am on the Facebook.)

PB: What is your goal with filmmaking? And Message for others pursuing a career in film?

AM: My goal is to constantly try to suck less as a filmmaker.

Advice is a tough one because the more I learn the less I seem to know. I suppose my advice is to go make some advice and then please be sure to share it with me.

Interview by Paul Booth

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