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Raindance Film Festival: Incredibly Small - Dean Peterson interview

Dean Peterson directs Incredibly Small

Interview by Rob Carnevale

WRITER-director Dean Peterson talks to us exclusively about his debut feature film, Incredibly Small, which describes itself as a 300 square foot love story, and which is showing at London’s Raindance Film Festival on Saturday, October 9, 2010, at 6.45pm.

He also talks about some of the challenges of getting a film made, the lessons he’s taken away from the experience and what he hopes to do next.

Q. Hi Dean, so where did the idea for Incredibly Small come from?
Dean Peterson: I was watching TV one day and saw a listing for a show called Incredibly Small, which was a documentary about primordial dwarfs and for some reason that title sparked an idea in my head for a movie about a couple that moves into an absurdly small apartment. That was the initial idea, and from there I fleshed it out by using inspiration from things that were going on with me personally or people around me.

Q. How challenging/fun was the 14-day shoot?
Dean Peterson: It was equally the most challenging and most fun thing I’ve ever done. We made a movie with not enough money or time so it was a constant struggle. We were all overworked and stressed out, but at the same time it was really fun. Every once and a while I would just look around and say: “Wow, we’re actually making this movie!” I felt like we were pulling a fast one on somebody.

Q. What were you looking for in your cast members – and how easy were they to find? Did you enjoy the casting process?
Dean Peterson: The main things I looked for were being comfortable improvising and bringing a lot of personal details to the character, and also how they meshed with the other actors. I didn’t want to just make this movie with mannequins who were reading my lines, I wanted them to personalize the characters and make them their own. Which meant adding personal touches to things like wardrobe and also telling me if they didn’t feel right about certain lines. For the most part, casting was a breeze. Most of the cast members were friends of friends. I wanted people to be comfortable with each other and blend well on screen.

Q. Is your film as much a comment on the housing situation in America as it is an examination of modern relationships?
Dean Peterson: I wasn’t attempting to make any political statement about the housing situation. It would’ve been an interesting subtext though if Anne and Amir’s landlord was involved in the sub-prime mortgage scandal.

Q. What was the biggest lesson you took away from the experience of making Incredibly Small?
Dean Peterson: Everything. I always heard people tell me that you have to make a movie to learn how to make a movie and I never believed them. But it’s true. It’s as much a learning experience as it is actually making a movie. I learned so many things from this experience; things I’m not going to do next time, things I forgot to do, things I should’ve done. It would honestly take me a whole day to list them out.

Q. How has the film been received in America?
Dean Peterson: Raindance will be our premiere so we actually haven’t screened it yet in the US. We did a rough cut screening last year in Austin, which went very well, a lot of people said they really liked it. One woman walked out in the first 5 minutes, but I think it’s because she was in the wrong theatre.

Q. What does it mean to be accepted as part of the Raindance Festival in London?
Dean Peterson: It’s an incredible honour. I really admire Raindance and the programming they do every year and it’s great to be a part of it. I’ve never been to London and I am extremely excited to be attending.

Q. What’s been the most pleasing and/or surprising reaction you’ve had to the film so far?
Dean Peterson: I think some people kind of write the film off because they assume it’s a certain kind of film or because of my relative youth. I’ve actually gotten lectures from people about how they can’t believe we shot it like we did with so little money and we didn’t have a script supervisor or whatever. And then they watch the movie and they’re like: “Oh wow, it’s really good!” I like surprising people who go into it with a pre-conceived notion about what the movie will be like.

Q. How important are film festivals like Raindance in getting your film out there?
Dean Peterson: Festivals are a great way to get attention for your movie. There’s usually a lot of press and people attending that maybe wouldn’t necessarily have seen your movie otherwise. I think they also lend an air of credibility to your film. If you have a lot of laurels for your film people seem to take it more seriously. Festivals are also usually a good time. It’s fun to meet other filmmakers and see their work.

Q. I take it you’re influenced by the likes of Woody Allen and John Hughes, particularly in the production of Incredibly Small? Who else was an influence?
Dean Peterson: Whit Stillman was a big influence. Particularly Metropolitan. I watched that movie a lot in pre-production to get ideas for how to shoot certain scenes because that movie is basically just people sitting around and talking, and yet it’s really entertaining. The same goes for Éric Rohmer. Another movie that had a big influence on me was 2 Days In Paris, which I think is a really underrated movie. I really liked the dynamic between the characters of Adam Goldberg and Julie Delpy and tried to emulate it a lot in my movie.

Incredibly Small

Q. You quote Francois Truffaut on your website… is that how you see filmmaking, as an act of love? And can I assume, therefore, that the studio system is far removed from that ideal, in your opinion?
Dean Peterson: I think that quote by Truffaut very brilliantly summarizes the current climate of independent film today. These days, a lot of people are grabbing a camera and making these very small, personal, independent movies that aren’t hindered by years of fundraising or 40 person crews. You could call them acts of love, if for no other reason than you are probably going to have to do most of the work for the movie yourself for a few years.

Making the movie and getting it out to people, printing out the fliers and selling DVD’s yourself. It had better be something you love because you’re probably not going to make any money or be very glamourous

Q. Would you like to make a film the studio way?
Dean Peterson: Right now, I enjoy making movies independently and having total freedom. I like being heavily involved in everything from shooting the movie to helping design the poster to running the Twitter account. But who knows, some day it might be nice to have more money and a lot of people to help you make a movie. I have a few script ideas that I wouldn’t be able to make the way I made this movie.

Q. What do you think of the independent movie making scene in America – is it thriving or diminishing?
Dean Peterson: With the economy being what it is, there just isn’t a lot of money to go around right now. But people are adapting and finding ways to get movies made. I think the technology is a key contributing factor to the thriving independent scene. The cameras these days are astounding, they’re getting so inexpensive and they’re so portable. You can use minimal lights so it allows you to shoot on the go, which I am a big fan of.

Q. How difficult is it to get a film made and seen in this current climate of flagpole releases and financial restraint?
Dean Peterson: I think that’s the biggest problem these days for filmmakers. With the digital technology, making a movie isn’t the hardest part anymore. It’s getting it released. The old model of distribution totally collapsed and it’s left everyone puzzled as to what you do with your movie. How it used to be is that somebody would buy your film and release it for you and it doesn’t really happen that way anymore, so more and more it’s becoming the filmmakers job to get their film out themselves which is costly and difficult.

Q. What’s next for you?
Dean Peterson: I’m currently co-writing a script with two other guys about a couple of traveling coffee salesman who travel around the Midwest. I’m also hoping to some day soon find a way to not be broke all the time.

Q. What other independent movies have impressed you over the past 12 months?
Dean Peterson: Oh man, 45365 was really good. Mystery Team was hilarious. Alex Karpovsky made a great documentary called Trust Us, This Is All Made Up. I really liked Easier With Practice, The Overbrook Brothers. Truthfully I’ve been so busy this past year I’ve fallen really behind. You’ll have to ask me next year once I’ve caught up.

“View photos from Incredibly Small”:

Incredibly Small is showing at the Raindance Film Festival on Saturday, October 9, 2010, at 6.45pm at the Apollo Cinema Piccadilly Circus. It can also be seen on Sunday, October 10, at 10.30am.