Monday, November 4, 2013

Josh Wolff and His North Shore Hiccup

Josh Wolff, director of 'Hiccup' - playing
at the 16th Rehoboth Beach Ind. Film Festival
The last time 32-year-old Josh Wolff graced the shores of Delaware, it was about two years ago. He visited Bethany Beach, which is more toward the southern end. During his childhood, his family vacationed in the First State's beach resorts every summer. The Silver Spring, Maryland-native now lives in Chicago. He will be showcasing his short film Hiccup, which is playing at the 16th annual Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

Hiccup was shot at Wolff's grandmother's house on Chicago's North Shore. It's a 6-minute story about two men who both have hit rock bottom and who are now forced to interact. Not only have both moved back to their parents' homes but also both have separated from their female companions. It's a piece that's built largely on the performances of the two actors: Michael McKeogh and Mark Lancaster. When I talked to Wolff, he spoke mostly of his actors' work on screen rather than his own work behind it.

This might be because Wolff is himself an actor or at least he used to be. He told me how got the acting bug at a young age. He said it started around 4th grade. That probably would have made him around 9 years-old. It may be a coincidence, but his bug might have come as a result of seeing The Big Chill, which Wolff said he also saw at the age of 9. He said he watched a lot of Saturday Night Live and mimicked it, probably with the camera his dad gave him. He did a lot of skits, and eventually when he grew up went into theatre.

Wolff graduated in 2003 from Bowdoin College in Maine. It was the same school his brother Ben attended. His brother is three years older. During Wolff's junior year, he went to a 4-week film camp in Rockport, ME. Actors from New York City were invited. It was a real networking event, and it was such a great experience that when he returned to the Washington, DC area, he still wanted to be an actor on the stage. He worked as an Arts Administration Apprentice at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

Again, that was a great experience, but afterward he thought he really wasn't getting anywhere. Like most who work for the stage and screen, Wolff loved to tell stories, but he started to feel burned out as an actor. He wanted more control, and, to him, simply acting gives you the least amount of control as a storyteller, particularly when it comes to film.

He started attending DePaul University. He got his Master's in Digital Cinema. He took part in a directing workshop with Tommy O'Haver, the director of An American Crime. The workshop lasted for 10 weeks. Wolff had his pick of 3rd year actors from the DePaul MFA acting program, and it was out of this workshop that Hiccup was crafted.

He wrote a 5-page script. It was molded around McKeogh and Lancaster. Fellow classmates gave him feedback. He rehearsed it. He shot it over the course of 2 days, again at his grandmother's house on the North Shore. He only had a crew of three people, including himself and his brother Ben, and he used a Canon 7D.

Mark Lancaster (left) and Michael McKeogh
in Josh Wolff's 'Hiccup'
Wolff adds that while it was difficult dealing with the time constraints on set, he said his actors' ability to deliver good takes or consistent takes again and again, even ones that required emotional breakdowns, helped him in the shooting process. He also had challenges structuring the movie in editing.

He talked about the fact that movies can significantly change in the editing process. That's why he remarked earlier about actors having the least amount of control in films. Actors can gave consistent performances, but the director can order scenes or add music or flourishes that can change the meaning of things sometimes drastically.

Wolff said something that I found interesting. He said, "I see movies as a Rorschach  test." The Rorschach test was an inkblot design that Swiss psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach in the 1920s invented. The test had someone interpret something they see in order to reveal his intellectual or emotional psyche.

Wolff went from acting to directing because he wanted to control how the story is told. He wanted to be able to shape and mold it. Yet, the point of the Rorschach test is to present a black-on-white blob that is essentially shapeless, so that the person looking at it can project whatever they want on it. It's creating something non-specific to get at something specific. Most movies, and stories, tend to do the opposite.

This isn't to say his movie Hiccup is an amorphous blob or some abstract thing. There is a story here that he wanted to tell, but he wouldn't be opposed to a viewer or even all viewers interpreting it in ways he hadn't intended.

Wolff enjoys movies and television about people and their relationships. He cites favorites as being Sideways (2004), Blood Simple (1984), In the Bedroom (2001), Diner (1982) and Six Feet Under. A through-line might be that he often enjoys, as he says, comedies told as dramas. Hiccup possesses a lot of that.

Hiccup plays Sunday, November 10 in Rehoboth Beach.
Josh Wolff will be in town for a Q & A.
For show times and more information, go to:
http://www.rehobothfilm.com/festival_film_schedule_descriptions.html

No comments:

Post a Comment