An Interview With Franklin Fehrman

Franklin Fehrman has been called many things. Some have called him a joker; some have called him a charmer; others have simply called him “strange”. At least one person has called him “a manipulative boozehound”. But there’s one title, above all else, that the 26 year old New Orleanian from Wisconsin prefers: director.

Fehrman is the visionary behind such classics as the neo-minimalist Man Smashing Bottles and the 2009 48 Hour Film Project hit, Green Gardens (in which I admittedly starred in). Last week, he also directed the inaugural film of Fair Folks & a Goat’s Verite Film Nights, 80 Odd Years of Verite Films. He agreed to be interviewed by me at his St. Claude Avenue home, a beautiful apartment above a green liquor store that doesn’t have a sign. Nobody was home when I first arrived, but I waited patiently, only to be greeted by Fehrman some twenty minutes later when he arrived with a forty ounce malt beverage in hand. “Oh, is that tonight?” he said, echoing a line from Green Gardens. He drank continuously throughout the interview.

David Bear: Franklin, I’d like to say thank you for letting me interview while you drink that beer.

Franklin Fehrman: No problem (takes an extended gulp).

DB: When did you start directing films?

FF: January, 2006.

DB: Had you always wanted to direct films?

FF: Um…I always enjoyed films. Growing up, my dad would spend all of his real disposable income buying used VHS tapes from the local supermarket. I would watch those over and over again. By the time he sold them, he had some 1200 films. So watching those, I would imagine different settings from my own life and how they would end up in a movie that I would make.

DB: Was there a movie in particular from that period that made the “I want to be a director” light bulb go off?

FF: I guess that would either be A Clockwork Orange or Pulp Fiction. I was in high school when I saw those films, and I remember my mind being blown and those just making me think “I need to be a director.”

DB: Is there a director who has been particularly influential?

FF: Francis Ford Coppola more than any. I should also say Fellini and Pasolini, and Stanley Kubrick. But Coppola, more than any, mixed the artistic side of making a film with the art of telling the story. Where Fellini tends to follow whimsy more, and Possolini followed obscurity more, Coppola stays true to the cinematic art while maintaining a strong, cohesive storyline.

DB: I spent some time the other day watching your collected works that are available on Youtube. Watching your earliest work, Man Smashing Bottles, and your most recent, Green Gardens, two very different pieces of work (Fehrman laughs), I started thinking about the progression of an artist, or a filmmaker in particular. Would you say you’ve grown as a director?

FF: I think so. As I’ve made more films, I’ve realized that you can’t focus on one specific area of film-making at the expense of others. For example, when I first started making films, it was a very personal endeavor, and the most important thing was my creation, which was beautiful shots, since I was behind the camera. As I continued, I started realizing the importance of the work everyone else in the process was doing, the actors in particular. Through the actors, I realized the story is just as important as the beautiful shot. And that comes through in the directors I’ve had respect for: seven or eight years ago, I would have said Stanley Kubrik, but now I say Francis Ford Coppola.

DB: One thing that has set you apart from a lot of other young directors I’ve met in New Orleans is that you not only didn’t go to film school, but you sort of wear that as a badge of honor. Do you have any advice for the other young filmmakers who are eschewing the school route?

FF: Hmmm…when I first started out, I had nothing but a pocket full or ideas. That took me to New York City, where I imagined I’d find someone to follow me around with a camera, and we’d make movies. Of course, that didn’t work out at all (laughs). But I had no idea what I was doing.

DB: Sure.

FF: But anyways, my advice would be to get access to a camera at any cost. For some, that will mean going to school. Or it might be working a bunch and saving money to buy a great camera. Or it might be posting a craigslist ad and finding someone with a camera who wants to make films. I wouldn’t advise just buying the cheapest camera possible though. At the end of the day, you’ll just end up with a shitty piece of film.

DB: Right. Anyone who spends any significant amount of time in New Orleans will notice the exponentially growing number of filmmakers relocating here, both professional and amateur. As a New Orleans filmmaker, what makes New Orleans a great city to make a film?

FF: Locations. Shooting locations. You can do period pieces here, urban pieces, um…..

DB: You can drive just outside of town and do a rural piece.

FF: Exactly. You can shoot in the bayou, in a field. There’s opulence and decay on opposite sides of the track.

DB: Where’s your favorite place to shoot in New Orleans?

FF: Chartres Street in the Bywater.

DB: Interesting.

FF: I really like the background of decay around Dr. Bob’s place (a studio/artspace/abandoned dumping ground on Chartres Street in the Bywater).

DB: Where do you see yourself going in terms of film-making in terms of the next five or ten years?

FF: I’d like to get my hands on some more money and acquire more tools of the trade, if you will, and making more movies with a great stable of actors, focusing on telling a great story.

DB: What makes you most excited about the Filmmaker Nights at Fair Folks & a Goat?

FF: What excites me is the ability to bring filmmakers from the area together to make films on a regular basis. Because I think New Orleans lacks that. It lacks a cohesive, open filmmaker community. In New Orleans, there’s always been different cliques of filmmakers, but rarely do they overlap. There’s the 48 Hour Film Project and the New Orleans Film Festival, but those are annual events. And there’s different filmmaker networking events happening more often, but nothing where people of different castes and disciplines are working together. But these Filmmaker Nights offer a chance for that to happen regularly, a couple times a month, rather than a couple times a year.

DB: Are there any moments from the first Filmmaker Night, where we made 80 Odd Years of Verite Films…are there any moments from that experience that stick out?

FF: I guess it would be shooting in St. Louis Cemetery #1.

DB: The Easy Rider scene.

FF: Yeah, the Easy Rider scene. Not even necessarily because Easy Rider is one of my favorite films. Its not. I like it a lot, I own it, but as a New Orleans filmmaker, its such a historical spot, sort of holy ground. It’s sort of a cherry in the cap.

DB: You mean a feather?

FF: No, I mean a cherry.

DB: Hmmm. Okay, lets say you get to make your dream film, with your dream team of filmmakers. Who do you work with? What actors? What cinematographer? Who does the soundtrack?

FF: The cinematographer would be John A. Alonzo, who was the cinematographer on Scarface and Chinatown. As far as actors….

DB: Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds?

FF: (laughs) No, no….

DB: Good. I hate Ryan Reynolds.

FF: I know you do. No, I’d use Denzel Washington and Sigourney Weaver. And it would be a romantic drama. It would be just before the apocalypse, like right now, in the United States. And for the soundtrack, I’d use Erik Satie.

DB: Erik Satie? What did he do?

FF: A song called Flower Duet (ed. note: It appears Fehrman is wrong. It seems ‘Flower Duet’ was actually written by Leo Delibes, not Erik Satie). It goes like this: (whistles)

DB: I’ll have to look that up. So John A. Alonso, Sigourney Weaver, Denzel Washington, and Eric Satie.

FF: Yeah. Shit, that’d be a good film.

DB: I’ll take your word for it. Do you have a favorite moment from your film-making career thus far?

FF: Yeah. We were scrambling up the side of a giant hill just outside of San Francisco, right by the Golden Gate Bridge, filming a scene where the actor is running right towards the sun (Reality #56). We got the shot on the second take, and the clouds are rolling over the hills on either side of us, and just this stark beauty….to put it simply, it was fucking awesome.

DB: That sounds unforgettable. What’s your favorite thing that’s happening in the film-making community right now.?

FF: I like the idea now that people can buy their own cameras, which is creating a class of directors that are their own cinematographers.

DB: Like Steven Soderbergh?

FF: Sure. But the price of cameras being as low as they are has created this new class of filmmakers which has never existed before, at least in the numbers they exist in now. I think its an interesting time because you have even more of an auteur than you ever have before, because you have this class thats a writer, a director, and a cinematographer.

DB: Is there one thing you see that you think needs to change in the film industry, or among filmmakers?

FF: First off, I think we need to quit making remakes of classics. I think every American citizen who respects film should go burn effigies of the actors who are starring in these remakes in front of the theaters they’re playing in. Secondly, I’d like to see reemergence of capital and creativity that existed increasingly through the eighties and into the early nineties that created more room for error. To me it seems, and I put emphasis on seems because I don’t know the behind-the-scenes stuff, but there was more room for a Repoman or a Critters. It seemed there was more variety because there was more interest in making a film an investment, and their was more risk-taking. These days it seems there’s a just a handful of formulas that are rarely deviated from, and unless you prove yourself first, via Youtube, or whatever other means, you need to adhere to that formula to get that backing. So I guess I hope investors start taking more risks.

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Franklin Fehrman’s latest short, 80 Odd Years of Verite Films, debuts tomorrow at Fair Folks & a Goat, before our free screening of Sita Sings The Blues. It will premier on the web Friday.

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Until next time folks,

David

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3 responses to “An Interview With Franklin Fehrman

  1. I love Sigourney Weaver so much. I fully endorse any project that will bring her to New Orleans so I can hang out with her.

  2. I meant something like Gymnopedie No. 1 by Erik Satie. Whoops.

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