Q&A with Noah Buschel, Director of “The Glass Chin”
Q: To me Glass Chin was so realized and deliberated by you that the film never falters or loses touch whether it be tonally, story wise, characters, the cinematography, etc. It really all works so seamlessly, is this because you go into shooting knowing exactly what you want and execute that, or are you the type to come across new things here and there while shooting, whether it be problems or things you didn’t plan on happening that surprise you and you just learn to make them work?
A: I pretty much know exactly what I want, yeah. I storyboard every shot. Like, I do a full on big comic book painting of every shot. So there’s the script, and then drawing the whole movie in detail, you pretty much know exactly what you want. And then if you’re working with a good D.P. and lighting and a good location scout and art department… Glass Chin was the storyboards exactly. And some of the stuff we shot on a set we built, which is my favorite way to shoot a scene. I don’t really like location shooting. The authenticity of real locations isn’t that interesting to me. I’d rather the movie feel a little bit like a set, a little bit of a heightened reality. With a set, it’s easier to create the right atmosphere, control the energy, keep it at a certain level. That container.
Q: What was the founding idea and passion that led you to further your interest and write Glass Chin? Was there something specific that made you eager to tell this story?
A: It was a while ago. I know I was in a relationship that was beginning to deteriorate. And she was in the adjoining room when I wrote it. I vaguely recall feeling like a boxer, cornered– so the main character came out as a boxer. And I also felt like a person who was getting framed, made to appear guilty, scapegoated. So the boxer in the script gets framed. I was doing some framing of my own too. It works both ways. So I watched a lot of movies about people getting framed. Movies like Raw Deal, Marked Man, Hell on Frisco Bay, and Stolen Identity. In these movies, you have young medical graduates wrongly confined to prison. Things like that. Innocent people accused of horrible wrongdoings. And so, yeah, none of us get by without being accused of something awful at some point. And a lot of the times we feel like it came out of a misunderstanding. That’s not me, you think. That’s not what happened. That wasn’t my intention. I’ve been misunderstood. I’ve been framed. Something has been taken out of context and is being used against me. I’m being put down unfairly. Sometimes we are even framed for good stuff. And that can be equally uncomfortable. Someone might say how great you are, or how something you did was so great. And of course, you know it wasn’t so great. You know that you’re not so great. And you know that you’re not so terrible either. But often we are being framed as great or terrible. And we have to find a way out of those frames. That’s sorta what the movie is about maybe.
Q: You not only direct your films, you write them as well. It must feel very accomplishing to release something that you’ve conceived and seen through, from your starting idea to the finished product. Can you go further about your writing process, how long it took you to complete Glass Chin compared to your other films, and the importance and meaning that writing your own screenplay holds for you?
A: I probably wrote Glass Chin in a couple weeks, then revised here and there up until the shoot. Honestly, I don’t remember exactly, I wrote it a while ago. But as far as conceiving and seeing through, to me that’s the only way a movie made at a low budget is going to have any worth. If it’s really independent. And not compromised. And that includes casting and editing and the music and the crew hired and everything. Movies are a collaboration. But they’re not a collaboration with random people. To me an independent movie means an independent vision. The movie should feel and sound and look and smell and taste different than anyone else’s. Because we all have one of a kind fingerprints. I never understand how so many movies feel like each other. What’s the point? And how do they do that anyways? How did they get their movie to feel like so many of the other movies that are playing at the festivals? I never understood how to do that, but never wanted to either. And it’s not an ego-ish notion– having it be one independent individual vision. To me, to express one’s own singular voice is not a selfish activity at all. To me, it’s the opposite of selfish. It encourages everyone to be themselves. To me, what is selfish is watering ourselves down in order to fit in.
Q: The actors in the film all gave outstanding performances, providing us with believable characters by truly committing and embodying the roles you handed them. Stoll is outstanding here, proving he can lead a film exceedingly well, Marin’s performance added that touch of realism and perspective from somebody who truly knows your main character, and the scene stealing Crudup indisputably shines here, pulling off this restrained and polished, but eerie and unnerving performance. When writing a film do you already have in mind the actors you want playing each part? What was your influence or objective when constructing the exceptionally interesting character of J.J. Cook? Also, I must know whose idea it was to have Cook give Bud that hauntingly creepy smile? That was brilliant!
A: They’re all really good actors. That’s pretty much all there is to that. I didn’t hardly direct anyone at all. I just tried to make it calm, so that they could do their thing. As far as having actors in mind, I do remember drawing the character of Roberto as Yul Vazquez, consciously or not. It’s clearly Yul in the storyboards. I always used to think of Jeffrey Wright at some point, whatever script I was writing. I even wrote a play with Elvis in it and thought of Jeffrey Wright for Elvis. When I wrote Glass Chin, Wright would have been the right age for the lead, Bud. But by the time I made it, not so much. And at one point I was thinking Michael Keaton as J.J., and he liked the script, I don’t remember for sure what happened with that. But I can’t imagine anyone besides Corey and Billy in those parts now. They own the parts. I wrote sketches and they colored them in.
That was Billy’s creepy smile all the way, I had nothing to do with that. I didn’t know he could smile like a demonic cheshire cat. Working with him, I understood what directors meant about an actor being like a Ferrari. In terms of, he’s going so fast, and you just make the subtlest movement on the wheel and he responds perfectly. I don’t know if that’s fucked up, to compare an actor to a sports car, but I didn’t invent this metaphor.
The objective in writing J.J. was… I was trying to express the part of Bud that is vain and deceptive and always trying to play everyone. The part of Bud that is a narcissist. I enjoy movies where you have the main character, and then all the other characters are different aspects of the main character’s mind. So Marin and Billy and Yul and everyone, their characters are all reflections of the different parts of Bud. You can see the movie on that level, like it’s just Bud’s dream, Bud’s mind. Even the dog, Silly, that’s an aspect of Bud. The puppy part of Bud that eats too much and needs to be on a leash, needs more training. For J.J., I pretty much just wrote all the things I associate with sociopaths. Things like Scientology, heroin chic art, a hipster sheen, a love of snow leopards and passion for all things glamorous and elusive and predatorial. It’s pretty cold stuff.
Q: This is your third feature collaborating with cinematographer Ryan Samul, you two obviously make for a successful and effective vision. How does Samul’s perspective and skills help bring your films to life?
A: I just like seeing through his eyes. There are the fundamental craftsman elements, which he’s consistently getting better and better at. Like, his lighting, his communication, his speed, the guys he brings with him(Dan Gartner, for instance.) And Ryan’s good with letting actors be and he’s a really hard worker and has some O.C.D. like I do. So that’s nice, ya know, because if you don’t have any O.C. D., it’s probably not a good idea to work with me. But I think mostly I just like the way he sees things. He’s a little bit dry and sarcastic, and naturally his shots are never maudlin or sentimental. I never have to worry about him making shit corny. But if you look closely, you see there’s a lot of tenderness in his vision. It’s been my experience that often sarcastic jokers have a lot of heart. And Ryan certainly is like that. And what he shoots is like that. There’s nothing mawkish about it. But it has a softness, and even a delicateness. Basically there’s a lot going on. Lotta contrast and paradox and intelligence to his work.
Q: Do you enjoy re-watching your films, or, are you the type of artist who can’t look back on their work because it only leads to nitpicking and what ifs?
A: Yeah, no, I don’t watch them. The first two I made, Bringing Rain and Neal Cassady, I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet. Although the actors in those movie are all so great, and I think even though I didn’t know the craft yet, there’s some real spirit to those first two. Especially Bringing Rain. I like early films of directors, they’re usually the most honest, in a way. Before the style is learned. Actors are like that too, their early work. And then the last few… I came across The Missing Person on cable once and just thought it was super strange, turned it off after five minutes. I go to a nearby bar when my movies screen at festivals and I have to do the Q and A. I’ve become a real connoisseur of Bloody Marys. Some people say that’s a brunch drink, but I find it to be very nutritious late at night also. You can tell just by looking at a Bloody Mary if it’s made with care or not. If you can see the alcohol, that’s not a good sign. It’s gotta be thick and full of floating horse radish pulp.
Q: What piece of advice or helpful insight do you wish somebody had told you while you were working toward your goal, that you could now share with aspiring film writers and directors?
A: Don’t wait for anyone or anything. Don’t wait for agents. Don’t wait for producers. Don’t wait for money. Don’t wait for the weather. Don’t save your love for a rainy day. Don’t wait for a movie star. Just shoot it. Then you’ll find out if you really need to make the movie, or if it’s just some idea you have. Just make it. Don’t talk about it. Get a camera and make it. Don’t wait for permission from anyone. Don’t wait for a union to sign off. Just make your stuff, say whatever you have to say. And if you don’t have anything to say, then don’t make a movie. Because there are too many movies already. And everything is recorded already.
Q: To say that I’m extremely anxious and exhilarated to see what comes next from you is an understatement, what can you share with us about these upcoming projects?
A: That is very nice to hear right about now, thank you. I made this movie, The Phenom, in Atlanta. And it’s this sports therapy movie, with Johnny Simmons and Ethan Hawke and Paul Giamatti. And it’s the best thing I’ve made, I feel, but at this point the powers that be are trying to force me to recut the movie. For about twelve weeks now the movie has been on hold while I’m told what cuts and edits I need to make, and which songs they don’t like, and, ya know, stuff like that. Even though it’s tight 87 minute movie and I’m using every shot we shot, and there’s no alternative movie on cutting room floor. So, at this point, I’m really not sure what will happen with The Phenom. It’s a strange feeling. You kill yourself for two years to make a movie, you execute the storyboards and script exactly, a lot of the actors in the movie love it and say it’s some of their best work, but I haven’t even gotten to sound mix it or color correct it. Maybe I will get to do that yet. I dunno. Could go either way. I have to remind myself that even if I don’t get to finish it, and there’s no evidence of what we made, it was still a real beautiful time. I mean, we had a great time making it in Atlanta. So… It is what it is. Even if it isn’t.
I had one more script I wanted to make, called The Man In The Woods. It’s a scary movie set at a boarding school in 1963 in Pennsylvania during a blizzard. And it’s the only script I ever wrote that I think might be totally solid. But, that said, I always knew I didn’t want to make movies for too long. For me, it’s not a realistic lifestyle. The constant resistance, it’s not so fun anymore. I’ve been very fortunate when it comes to the talent I’ve worked with, I love the casts and crews I’ve had a chance to work with. And the casting director, Lois J. Drabkin. And this sound mixer, Javier Bennassar, who I’ve worked with a bunch, I’ve learned a lot from him. But I have to remind myself that 99 percent of my life is actually spent on the phone with producers and managers and agents and now lawyers too. And aside from working with Susan A. Stover, who produced Glass Chin, I don’t much enjoy that aspect of the filmmaking, the business phone calls. It takes a toll. So… probably my last movie will be this thing I shot with my friend, Liza Weil. We did it on the blackmagic pocket cinema camera. It was me, the actor, one sound man, one cameraman, and that’s it. It was real clean.
– Written by Jake Garza