Interview: Nick Taylor on IndieNYC.com
by Steve Rickinson - Senior Editor
Paradise East is a dark comedy about a desperately dysfunctional lower middle class family fiercely struggling to make it in the twentieth century. Lucky, not your typical dad, runs a coffee shop and has a difficult time dealing with the idiosyncrasies of his two deadbeat sons. Ernie, the oldest, is a wanna-be pimp and street hustler, forever searching for the perfect angle. Chip, the baby, is unemployed with a passion for French fries and underage girls. This is frowned upon by the pious, slightly unorthodox, parish priest who does his best to interact with the members of his flock, assisting them at times in ways that may surprise you. He kills them! ‘Turn from the Serpent,’ he advises, ‘swim in the Blood of our Savior! Resist temptation!’ Sounds like good advice.
We managed to talk with the film’s writer and director Nick Taylor about its journey, controversial subject matter and how it feels more foreign than anything else. ‘Paradise East‘ is NOW PLAYING at New York City’s Cinema Village.
Can you tell me a little about where the idea for the film came from? Why did you feel the need to make this particular film?
It came from a couple of ideas. When I was young I witnessed a priest beat up a young man who was supposedly doing muggings in my neighborhood in New Jersey. I watched the priest rough this guy up quite intensely and that stayed with me for a long time.
From there it includes all the interesting people I have met and encountered over the years, some of whom I was very close to. This is not the first film I’ve written or directed, but this was one I was very passionate about.
So this film is not about any particular criticism of religion or a religious upbringing?
No. I was not raised very religious and it’s certainly not a criticism of religion. It is a movie about desperation. It is a movie about loss of space. It’s a movie about the loss of hope and identity. We’re dealing with some deeply troubled people in the film. I’ve known quite a few in my life and it’s interesting and makes for a slightly different style of movie. When you see it, it’s quite different from most of the indie stuff that you have seen. I can promise you that.
From what I’ve read about the film, to mainstream audiences (or audiences in general), the film deals with some very controversial subject matter. Did you find funding to be difficult when presenting potential investors with such material?
ABSOLUTELY! There were some people who were very concerned about the topics. There were people who expressed serious interest in the film, then after having an agent look over the script they became very concerned. It certainly isn’t a mainstream movie. I had no interest in making a mainstream movie. It’s something that people will see as dark or troubling. It was definitely touchy and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea and we knew that going in.
Was there ever an instance where someone would be open to helping the film in some capacity, while asking you to compromise something in your original vision?
There was an instance where a happier ending was asked for, but I just couldn’t make that compromise. All of a sudden the person in question bowed out after that decision had been made. Fortunately we were still in a position to get this thing made though.
Despite this, the greatest pleasure I had while making this movie was the actors. The actors came in and just kicked ass and people who see the movie, even if some people are shocked by it, can recognize the actors as being really great.
A lot of the film’s accolades are going toward its acting. What were you looking for from the actor’s when casting their specific roles? Then, while on set what kind of directorial techniques did you use in order to get the actor’s to a place that they needed to be?
What I was always looking for was actor’s who didn’t look like actor’s and actor’s who didn’t act like actor’s. I wanted this movie to be the fly on the wall. I wanted it to be so truly, harshly and brutally believable and truthful that I looked at a lot of people, especially for the roles that were just horrendous to cast. Once I had them on set I would have to bring them down to earth, saying that this isn’t a movie, or play but it’s real life. We have to play it as close to real life as we can. This is something I always look for. When you watch the movie, you don’t think you’re looking at actors and you don’t even think you’re watching a movie. You think you’re peering through someone’s dirty window.
One story, which is interesting, is when we were having trouble finding our key location. I wanted to find a location instead of building a set. I wanted a small, dingy apartment and I looked at many places. The few that I had interest in were just too nice. Finally, I went into one decrepit building and I talked to the super who told me of a unit in the building on the top floor where the tenant had just passed away. She was a heavy duty alcoholic and the place was a mess. I mean, 20, 30 years worth of grime. I saw it and I said, “This is where we’re going to shoot the movie“. My point is that the locations have a personality as well.
What about the humor element of the script? I’ve read descriptions as being a combination between ‘South Park’ and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’. What was your mindset behind adding this element of humor into such a gritty script?
It’s like going to Starbucks, the subject is so strong that you can’t just add a little bit of cream or a little bit of sugar since you’re in for such a rough ride. I always like to add comedy into whatever I do. It’s almost like the 3 Stooges/Hitchcock feel with dark stuff and at the same time, a little theatre of the ridiculous. I started in theatre and I’ve always been a fan of it. This movie is the most ridiculous you’ll ever see, but it also has its very dark areas.
Purely from an aesthetic standpoint, can you describe your directorial approach to the film?
We shot almost the whole movie handheld on a RED with prime lenses. Again, I’m always concerned that while we wanted the cinematography to make an impact, we didn’t want it to look too pretty or stagey. There are so many films, in my opinion, that look a little too theatrical and polished. We really went the extra mile to make this film look beautifully disgusting and hideous. We were very careful with the lighting and how we used the camera so we could get the sense of claustrophobia, neuroses, and rage. We used the camera like a jackhammer so we could dig into the guts and soul of each character.
Finally, with the international scope of the festivals the film has been a part of. With this have you been able to gauge American response to the film in relation to the foreign response?
This definitely has a very foreign feel. It certainly is more of a European movie. I always thought of it as being a guy’s movie as well, however I have been pleasantly surprised by the female reaction, especially given the straight out of the gas station style subject matter.
Interview by Todd Simmons - IFQ Cannes Edition
Nick Taylor has a new film, Paradise East, which is getting attention at festivals around the world.
IFQ: Tell us about your film.
NT: It’s set in Jersey and deals with issues of the lower working class.
IFQ: I saw the film. I think there’s a little more to it than that.
NT: Well, without giving the plot away, let’s say it deals with dysfunctional families struggling to survive in an environment of hate and guilt.
IFQ: Better. I’ll say this; I’ve never seen juicier characters. I’ll bet your actors had a ball.
NT: Actually, they hated working with me but endured because the parts were irresistible.
IFQ: I couldn’t stop laughing, yet some of it was so dark. I could feel the air being sucked from the theater. Does that mean you were an unhappy child who enjoyed laughing?
IFQ: And women?
IFQ: Your movie is very erotic, but tasteful. I’m not sure I can say that about your previous film.
NT: The clown film? You saw it?
NT: You and twelve others.
IFQ: I liked it, but Paradise East is a different kind of movie.
NT: Yeah, more for kids.
IFQ: Right. Your cast is terrific and probably as obscure as you are.
NT: Yeah, nobody knows who we are, but maybe that’s a good thing.
IFQ: I suspect that’s about to change.
NT: We’ll see.
IFQ: Your themes are very religious, both in Paradise East and A Clown in Babylon.
NT: My mother was a Quaker.
IFQ: Right. I’m told you’ll do as many as twenty takes.
NT: If need be. We move on when it’s right.
IFQ: Any instances where you weren’t satisfied with a scene?
NT: Probably not. On occasion I’d leave a scene then revisit when my actors were less stoned on glue.
IFQ: You have an interesting way with words.
NT: My mother was a Quaker.
IFQ: Is it true you’re a Freemason?
NT: Third generation.
IFQ: Is it true you guys are bent on world domination?
NT: No comment.
IFQ: Back to Paradise East. You have quite a few four-letter words in the picture. I lost count at 515.
NT: Yeah, my players are all deviants. I wrote very few of those bad words.
IFQ: And the nudity?
NT: All scripted. And I don’t think overdone.
IFQ: Not at all. And I love the split-screen.
IFQ: And the jumpy camera.
IFQ: Who are your influences?
NT: Actors: Bill Frawley, Bill Demarest, Brando, The Stooges. Directors: Woody Allen, Alan Parker, Hitchcock, David Lynch.
IFQ: All great and I love your score.
NT: Thanks. I had lots of ideas. Then, in post, we refined them and it became what we have now.
IFQ: Cool. What would you tell a young director just starting out?
NT: Trust what you got.
IFQ: Sounds like good advice.
NT: I think so.
IFQ: Nick, thank you.
NT: Thank you.