SolPix Interviews
   An Interview with Kari Skogland
   by Michael Neff

Named as one of the "top 10 directors to watch" in 2001 by the Hollywood Reporter, Kari Skogland has worked extensively in film, television (both series and TV movies) and music videos in Canada and the U.S. Her TV series credits include Queer as Folk (Showtime), Family Law (CBS), and Global La Femme Nikita (USA). Television films include The Courage to Love (Lifetime, with Stacey Keach and Diahann Carroll) and White Lies (nomiated for 6 Gemini awards). Series pilots include The Crow (Polygram), Riverworld (Sci Fi Network). Kari's feature films include Men With Guns (w/Paul Sorvino), Zebra Lounge (w/Stephen Baldwin), and her latest, Libert Stands Still (w/Wesley Snipes, Lisa Fiorentino, released by Lions Gate Entertainment).

Neff: Kari, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. We're trying to keep our readers aware of directors to keep an eye out for, and you definitely fit in that category.

You started in TV, working as a director for both series and movies of the week. What made you decide to venture out into independent film?

Skogland: It is a natural step as my writing seems to want to bust out and leap all over the screen!

Neff: As woman in a male dominated field, what have been the challenges? Do you think being a woman brings any advantages to your role as director?

Skogland: There have been lots of challenges, most of which I have just "put the blinkers on" and blasted through. Sometimes the toughest is the crew -- it's a very macho world and some have issues to work through (that of course I get the thrill of slamming into). TV is particularly bad
-- there are not many women directors in that domain -- but, these days I am pretty good at sidestepping most problems and keeping my eye on the prize. I have the advantage of having a strong commercial background where I did lots of male domain stuff -- beer, race cars, cowboys, etc. -- so moving into the male world of action was easy. Also, I knew my stuff so the crews soon learned to trust me.

I hope I bring a different face to the action I've done -- slashing or shooting has no value unless there is a realistic human element attached -- and of course, because I am inherently afraid of violence (as perhaps we all are), I want the message left that violence doesn't ultimately work. So, I lean toward the tragic rather than the heroic "gun".

There are lots of advantages. As a female I am immersed in the emotional side of filmmaking which bonds me with the actors who are dealing with that arena in their work. The guys particularly seem to feel a little free to experiment and dig because the male/female dynamic can be more forgiving.

Oddly, sometimes women are a little more leery of a strong woman as they are more used to that role being male (which is comfortable territory), but we usually get past it and then of course I demand they work as a real woman, rather than as a woman as seen through a man's perspective. At the end of the day, the female actors seem to get a real empowerment from it and we are able to do some great work.

Neff: I was particularly fascinated by your tackling the issue of violence in your film LIBERTY STANDS STILL, and how you apparently were inspired to finish the script, in part, in reaction to the Columbine killings. Can you talk a little bit about how the script evolved?

Skogland: I had started the script a year or so earlier, but got busy on other things.

Then Columbine happened and my guts were suddenly in a knot about the future and how we might be screwing it up.

Although the event sparked debate in the news media for a short while, it has not shown up in a meaningful way in other forums. Why are we so hesitant to stir up the debate? Our apparent collective belief that guns are integral to our notion of freedom as an interpretation of the 2nd Amendment -- that needs to be discussed.

As a documentarian, I learned debate was my place as a filmmaker. I hope this film (LIBERTY STANDS STILL) will make people think about the terror we have come to live with every day when we send our child to school, or drive on an open road, or work in an office whether public or private. We wonder how people live in conditions of war in so many other countries, yet, how closely does our own situation mirror theirs?

I could go on about the politics and the corporate agenda's of huge business -- where there is a lot of money at stake -- but hopefully the movie says enough.

I will say that fallout from gun violence has reached epidemic proportions according to the Department of Health -- and yet, we still cling to aging rhetoric while our children's mental and physical safety are at risk.

My intention was to cast and execute this film with an irony that resonates, and a tension that makes you feel. I hope, along with all the others who have supported this movie, that we make the audience think, no matter what side of the issue they are on.

Neff: You shot your film sequentially, in 19 days, using multiple cameras. I was wondering if you saw TIMECODE and were inspired by that film at all? Of course that film was shot absolutely real time, with 4 cameras… but the concept is similar. What inspired you to take this approach to shooting?

Skogland: Yes, TIMECODE was a direct inspiration, and I even considered shooting a similar process -- completely real time -- I would have loved to try it but, that is a scheduling nightmare and my actors had conflicts. So we opted for a more traditional approach where we had a little more control.

Neff: Editing must have been a challenge. It seems like with all those cameras it would be almost like editing a documentary. Who was your editor and how did you approach the editing of the film?

Skogland: Jim Munro edited and he is amazing. In fact, he found elements and emotions in the footage that I didn't know we had -- and it was a deck of cards. To change one thing meant to change everything, and he diligently went down many roads. We had a budget challenge in post production, or I would have used more split screen. But that gets expensive so we stuck with the traditional back and forth approach, which meant rhythm and pacing were critical for such a dialogue-heavy film. Jim has done lots of work in commercials so he is great at making every second count. The great thing about post production is you get to "redirect" your movie, and if you have an editor capable of surprising you with the new possibilities that they uncover in the footage, then it becomes a fantastic journey of discovery. Wes (Wesley Snipes) in particular was really happy with how Jim edited his performance.

Neff: I've also heard you describe LIBERTY STANDS STILL as being "like a play." What do you mean by that?

Skogland: It is a morality play, and staged as such. I wanted the actors static so we weren't so distracted by the environment or "action." This also allowed me to shoot it in a faster schedule, as the actors were doing twenty pages a day. The play within the play was no accident -- it mirrored us in our dualistic lives -- and it was a play about war just to drive the point home... but I won't go into subtext now!

Neff: I understand you prefer an organic approach to directing. With Wesley Snipes and Linda Fiorentino that apparently meant they had a lot of input, and also a lot of pages of dialog per day (as you already stated). Please explain a little bit about how you work with actors.

Skogland: I am very collaborative. My job as a director, while keeping the vision, is to allow the process to work toward a common goal. Everyone wants to make a better movie, so that makes everyone's opinion valuable. I have to weed out the most relevant and use what I think is best, all within the context of time, budget, as well as producer/distributor concerns. And they are not always in agreement. Sometimes I have to take the chance that I know best and that once everyone sees it, they'll agree. Yet I'm not infallible, so I need lots of butt coverage. I love to hire people who are gifted in each department -- "surround yourself with people better at what they do than you could ever be" is my motto -- then there is a lot to mine from.

Actors spend their time preparing their character (and hopefully thinking about them) in ways that have not occurred to me. Sometimes, if we are not in agreement, then we need to find a way to see the same character just as we need to make the same movie -- but that has never been a problem for me. I like things to evolve and move forward, so letting the character live and breath is expected. I am not rigid about much, so that when I dig in, people pick up on how important it is to me and often come around. Communication is key and when I get it wrong, or have a bad idea, I am the first to cop to it. That helps to open up an environment where people are not afraid to make mistakes. You can't live outside the box unless you are willing to try stuff. That is scary and sometimes that means you'll fall like a brick -- but, if those around you are supportive, out of that (more often than not) comes discovery. And that is exciting.

Neff: I was curious if you cast your film prior to going to Lion's Gate, or the other way around? In other words, would you have moved forward with or without a distributor in place? Or did Lions Gate also produce?

Skogland: No, we had cast interest first, then Lions Gate backed it up.

Neff: I'd like to turn back to the theme of the LIBERTY STANDS STILL. Was there anything in your personal life that made you feel compelled to speak about the responsibility of the individual when it comes to violence? How did you become concerned about this issue?

Skogland: Oddly, no. I have had little connection with guns other than some close members in my family hunt -- and I have some issues with killing wild animals. It was more that as a member of the film community -- where we use violence to sell box office in the same way advertising preys on our fears to sell product -- I was compelled to go down the road of social responsibility.

Maybe it is the mother in me. One woman changed how we think about drunk driving and has spearheaded a social change that spawned laws etc., and now we feel socially conscious about getting behind the wheel of what amounts to be a weapon (if used irresponsibly). That is how we need to start thinking about guns, and I don't think entertainment has yet had the guts to really dive into it. We generally don't let actors smoke anymore, as they are role models (particularly in TV), and we are very politically correct about race issues etc., yet, we are happy to let someone blast away with a gun as if there are no consequences. What is that about?

Neff: And yet, LIBERTY STANDS STILL has many "commercial" elements to it, with your producer Gary Pearl really seeing the film as a marketable suspense thriller. Do you find yourself most attracted to suspense, or would you like to explore other types of genres. I understand your first film was a comedy.

Skogland: I love comedy and period. I have eclectic tastes and I find crossing genres exciting and challenging. I bring my experiences with me which allows for richer characters and hopefully fewer missed opportunities as I allow myself to mix it up a little. Life is like that -- sometimes we are funny in the face of adversity, or tragic in the face of hilarity. With the experience to draw from, I try to bring a scene to life with ingenuity.

Neff: I hear you're developing a film titled WILLIAM THE BASTARD. Can you tell us a little bit about that project?

Skogland: The greatest story never told. The Battle of Hastings in 1066 -- the one time the French beat the English and changed England forever. Two men, one a reluctant king, and the other a man who believed he deserved to be king, had to face each other in the field knowing that one would die. They were friends and respected each other so it made victory bittersweet.

Neff: Finally, a "literary" question for our SolPix readers who love both film and literature -- if you were to have the chance to adapt any book you wanted into film (that you haven't already done, of course), what would that book be and why?

Skogland: Ahhhh. I have just adapted The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence. A wonderful book about false pride and how it rules us -- I hope to shoot that in the next year or two. And I have another personal favorite, American Gods by Neil Gaimon or My Life as Pi. As you can see, my tastes are rather hard to pin point other than they all involve grand themes, I guess!

Discuss this article on the nextPix FORUM by going to its discussion thread: [click here]

Buy LIBERTY STANDS STILL, the film referenced in this interview: [click here]

Copyright Web del Sol, 2003

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