Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Riske Business: Interview with Morgan White (Writer/Director of The Rep)

After seeing (and loving) The Rep, Adam Riske tracked down writer/director Morgan White for an interview about how the movie came to be, the process of making it and the future of repertory theaters. Enjoy!
Tell us about the project. How did it start?

Originally it was my intention to do a fun web-series set at The Toronto Underground Cinema (the main focus of the film). I had never met the three guys running The TUC, so I had no idea if they'd be receptive to idea. I set up a meeting and went in; to my shock, they were all game. From there I just started hanging out filming everything I could. The evolution from web show to documentary wasn't a particularly conscious decision, and only came to be because of all the footage I was accumulating. My intentions were always to have fun with the web show, but as things went on I was accumulating footage that I could never put in to a 10 minute webisode. I just decided I was gonna make a feature and tell the true story of what was happening at The TUC.
Why did you want to make this documentary?

Repertory cinema is not something I grew up with. I was a video store kid, as my home town didn't have a rep. When I moved to Toronto for school, I found a cinema here called The Bloor. My first experience there was a revelation. I couldn't get enough of it. It was that enthusiasm for the theatrical experience and the guys at The TUC that made me want to make the film. I became so wrapped up in it that I couldn't not tell the story.

The doc is about the theatrical experience, but the movie is going to reach a share of its audience through VOD. How do you feel about this as a delivery system for independent movies?

The irony certainly isn't lost on me. Ultimately, we live at a time where theatres only account for a small portion of the revenue of a film, and in many cases aren't accessible to many filmmakers. Online distribution is an excellent venue for filmmakers to share their product and get it seen by the general public. VOD is proof that filmmakers don't need the backing of a studio to get their film out there. That being said, nothing's perfect. While VOD is an excellent way of making your film accessible, finding an audience is the hardest part.
What do you like/dislike about the modern theatrical moviegoing experience? Do the positives outweigh the negatives?

In general, I'm not a big fan of the multiplex experience. It's expensive, the tech isn't always up to standards, almost no one working cares, and the audience tends to be a pain. I get very angry when some dolt takes out their phone in a cinema, and this seems to have become a norm. Almost every time I go to see something I end up getting annoyed with the audience. Of course nothing beats the cinema, and I wouldn't stop going for anything. I love seeing a film on the big screen, especially one I've seen countless times at home. The cinema makes everything grander and creates a sense of wonder that nothing else can.

What mistakes are rep theaters making?

That's a very tough thing to answer. Ultimately, each theatre has its problems, as all business do. Heck, it's not like the big guys know what they’re doing all the time, either. I don't think the mistakes necessarily lie with the theatres, but with the patrons. People have become so used to things being done their way, on their terms, that they have a hard time when something isn't perfect. I also feel like the things that are killing rep cinemas aren't always their fault. An example would be the digital conversions that studios have imposed on all cinemas. It's very hard for a cinema to fork over the money to put in a digital projector, and that's hurt (and killed) a lot of cinemas.

In your opinion, what is the most sustainable programming/promotion model for a rep theater in 2013?

On the whole of rep cinemas, that's something I can't answer. Each cinema needs to program to their audience and listen to the suggestions of their patrons. Direct contact is always a great way of engendering a following.
Did you ever want to step in and offer advice to the guys in the movie? Like if you saw them doing something (e.g. programming) you felt wouldn't work?

Over the course of making the film, I developed a very strong relationship with all three guys. They became my friends and I cared deeply for their plight. I would, on occasion, offer a suggestion in passing, but other times I'd keep my mouth shut. Suggesting a film to program was fine in my head, but not telling them what to do with their business. I'm no expert in running a cinema and so I never thought it was my place. Ultimately, it can be hard to distance yourself from what's going on around you. When I was shooting, I'd be there every day for weeks on end, and not always with a camera in my hand. Sometimes we'd all just hang out. Those were the times the documentary took a backseat to my friendship with them, and sometimes something would come up. I never overtly tried to change the situation. I wanted to capture it for what it was.

(POSSIBLE SPOILER) What was your favorite/most standout memory of the theater depicted in the movie that didn't make it into the documentary?

There's a couple of that come to mind. One would have to be the night we did a private screening of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids. I bought a 35mm print of it from a collector and we had a bunch of friends come down and watch it. I can't even begin to tell you how great that movie is on the big screen! Another would be the night the theatre closed. I filmed it, but on 16mm (and I haven't had a chance to process it yet). They showed Night of The Comet and The Last Waltz. Alex and I are huge fans of The Last Waltz, and it seemed the perfect film to go out on. Nothing beats being in a nearly full theatre with people clapping, dancing, and singing along to The Last Waltz, soaking it all in. That was one of the happiest and saddest nights of my life, and one I will never forget. For the rest of my life, The Last Waltz will mean something very special to me. I couldn't be happier about that.
(POSSIBLE SPOILER) What are the subjects of the doc doing today?

All three are working, but not together. Alex works at a video shop, Nigel is at TIFF doing theatre management, and Charlie is working at a corporate theatre here in Toronto.
 
Where do you see the rep theater experience going in the next 5 years?

Ultimately I don't see it going anywhere. While many theatres have closed, and a few more will probably go between now and then, there will always be a handful of people who will fight to keep it alive.

Do you have any other projects coming up?

I've been working on a new documentary, but I haven't reached a point where I'm sharing what it's about. All I can say is it's about the movies, as it's a subject I care very much for!

In your travels, what are some of your favorite rep theaters still operating?

That's tough. I got to go to so many great theatres, and missed out on a few, too. There's so many excellent cinemas still operating, and we should all be thankful they’re fighting to stay alive!

Thanks to Morgan White for the interview. Everyone check out The Rep on VOD and continue to support repertory theaters!

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