What Happens When a Hurricane Hits Your Indie Film? A Chat with 'Lily & Kat' Director Micael Preysler
Director Micael Preysler had a unique set of circumstances for making his debut feature film, going from the creation of a simple teaser to the now nearly completed film. Hurricane Sandy proved to be a challenging obstacle, hitting the film's 16 day shoot right in the middle, destroying key locations and making transportation impossible. Read on to get the full scoop, see how they rose to the challenges, and watch the new theatrical trailer for Lily & Kat:
NFS: How did the project come about?
Micael: After graduating I was really frustrated with internships and stuff, I'd been interning for a year. There was this realization that there's the whole world in front of me and no freedom to navigate it, so I wrote the script channeling all of that frustration. I was probably not going to be able to make a feature film for a few years because people wanted someone with experience. It was really depressing to think I'd have to wait that long, It was terrible. Everything that I was thinking at the time I channeled into the character of Lily, who is in this transitional period in her life, in between college and the real world, still finding her place.
NFS: What is the story?
Micael: The story follows Lily, a recent fashion school graduate and she's in an exploitative relationship with her photographer boyfriend, and she's stuck in this terrible job at this monotonous boutique, which is pretty much the stand-in for my time with internships. The only thing that's an anchor in her life is her best friend Kat, and early on in the film she finds out that Kat is moving away back to London. Kat serves as the catalyst for the world forcing Lily to move forward in her life and step away from this purgatory that she's in.
NFS: Do you think that making this film helped you bridge your own purgatory?
Micael: Yeah, definitely. Just finding out I was actually able to make the movie was that step for me.
NFS: Making a feature is no joke, so I commend you for getting it done.
Micael: It was a lot of convincing. A lot of showing people that you know what you're talking about. And knowing exactly what you want, being really specific.
NFS: So you had the script, how did you find a producer, did you pitch it around?
Micael: It was all emails. I sent [the teaser] to a few people, and they would ask for the script, but the only person that came out to meet me was the producer that is on the project. I just cold contacted him after seeing a music video that I liked that he produced.
NFS: How did you finance it?
Micael: After I wrote the script I went through all my family contacts to find an executive producer, so through that we found a bunch of investors that had no history in film before.
NFS: How important was the creation of the teaser for the rest of the process?
Micael: The executive producer wanted to see something from me, and something to show investors. So I sent him a budget and he gave me the funds to go out and do it, we shot over 2 days in the lower east side. I imagined it being this really small project when I did the teaser, and it just snowballed and got bigger and bigger with every person that we hired.
NFS: What was your casting process like and how did you settle on your final cast?
Micael: It was pretty crazy. The casting director really believed in the script, and he believed that if we send it to some name actors that they could bite. So I just started making shortlists for my dream cast, we started with Kat, and Hannah Murray was the number one choice on my list. It was pretty amazing to get an actual email response from her and see her enthusiasm for the project. It was crazy.
NFS: How was the collaboration with your actors? Did you do a lot of improvised dialogue, or was it all scripted?
Micael: It went extremely fast. We were constantly moving. I was adamant about having a week of rehearsal time, except Hannah's stuff with Game of Thrones got pushed, so the scheduling got messed up and needed to set up her visa. So we didn't get that rehearsal time. But I did want a lot of improv in the movie and as we went I found those moments. I found times for straying from the script and letting the actors just go. There's a bunch of those moments where there was no script.
NFS: How was it working with an actor who's established like that? Did it add difficulty?
Micael: I think having someone established on your cast brings an energy because it gives people the feeling that they're working on something that's a little more substantial. I think.
NFS: How many days did you shoot for?
Micael: It was a pretty ambitious schedule, we just had 16 days for the whole shoot. Our DP and Hannah had hard-outs at the end, so we needed it to be short.
NFS: Do you wish you had more time?
Micael: I do and I don't. On one hand fighting against the clock gives you no time to second guess yourself, it's always just jumping right into it and getting what you need. But at the same time you want to be able to do enough takes. So it's good and bad.
NFS: Were you able to find that balance? Are you comfortable on set, working within those parameters when you have a crew waiting on you?
Micael: That was completely new to me. I'm used to just being in my head, it was extremely fun to get into it. To have that amount of control is a lot of fun.
NFS: You strike me as someone who has a strong command of the editing process. Did you feel good once you got to the editing room?
Micael: Actually it's kind of strange that I enjoyed the production more. Even if my demeanor is better suited for the editing room, I liked the adrenaline that comes with shooting.
NFS: You say you're influenced by the John Hughes era, how did you bring that to the film and what other influences did you incorporate?
Micael: It's that combination of slightly campy humor and also treating the plight of young people with respect. Just showing them find their place in the world. I really wanted Lily to be like the Anna Karina that's in Godard's films. I looked to films like A Woman is a Woman, and borrowed that female character that's at the core very sad but externally she carries herself with whimsy, and a playfulness. I also wanted there to be a lightness that you find in Truffaut's films. It's easy to get bogged down in dramatics, I wanted there to be a good balance between the lightness and the dark. At the time I shot the trailer the story was probably 80% in that dramatic space, I think that wouldn't have made for the most enjoyable film. It would've been practically two girls in mourning for 85 minutes.
NFS: As the director, what unique perspective do you think you brought to the table for this story?
Micael: I just wanted to bridge a gap between an art film and a commercial coming-of-age story where the performances are way too staged and the dialogue is way too quippy and strip that stuff away. Make the performances a lot more natural and slowed down.
NFS: What did you want the film to feel like? Do you think you achieved what you wanted?
Micael: Yeah, I wanted something that was energetic and exciting and fun, and those things are definitely there.
NFS: How did you choose your DP and what measures did you take to decide on an image?
Micael: It was really about finding someone who understood what was at the core of the script, which was getting in this girl's mindset. Out of all the people that we went to, Todd Antonio Somodevilla understood it completely. His initial email was actually pretty strange to read because he listed a bunch of films that I wanted to use to get into Lily's head, like Martha Marcy May Marlene & Black Swan.
I definitely consider myself more of a visual director than an actor's director. I loved the look of Chungking Express, so we went with diffusion filters. I thought it would suit nighttime in New York perfectly, even though the lighting conditions are pretty different. I just wanted to capture that same energy, that frantic nature of night life.
NFS: What did you shoot on?
Micael: We shot on the Arri Alexa with Zeiss Master Primes and a handful of diffusion filters. The lowlight conditions are amazing. You could shoot down a street that kind of looks crappy, but through the viewfinder it looks more beautiful than to your eyes.
NFS: Hurricane Sandy really hurt you guys. Can you talk about how it affected your production?
Micael: Right in the middle of shooting, we hear there's a hurricane coming, but when you hear hurricane in New York you usually just brush it off. But as it got closer and closer, we starting hearing how serious it would be. I'm the type that becomes dead calm during a catastrophe, so that helped. The best thing to do is not to panic.
The main thing we had to do was finish the movie because our lead and DP had hard outs. So we looked for ways to get around the problems. With the gas crisis, we sent people to Connecticut to buy gas, and public transportation was also shut down, so we made a shuttle plan that would pick up cast and crew and bring them to set. One of our locations in Tribeca didn't have power, so we used our generators. We also found out that some of our biggest locations were completely flooded. Locations that we scouted and were really excited about were gone, and we just had to scramble to find replacements -- replacements that weren't favors from friends, locations that we had to pay for.
I remember one of our big shots had the Williamsburg Bridge in the background and it didn't have power, so it wasn't lit. We just needed to shoot the scene without it. Thankfully, the Alexa is so good at nighttime shooting that the bridge was perfectly visible! I think there's a lot of small disappointments in making a movie, but there's also these miracles that keep things afloat. This production really showed how important having a contingency is.
NFS: So you're doing a Kickstarter to help mitigate the damage of the storm?
Micael: As the director, I don't think it makes sense for me to say "this film is special, therefore you should fund it," but I made this putting together all of the things I wanted to see in a movie. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who like the same things that I do, so I know there's an audience. It's just a matter of them rallying around something that they want to see. Thankfully resources like Kickstarter exist. And I hope that people see the teaser and they see the people behind it and find that they really want to help this movie get finished.
NFS: Besides Hurricane Sandy, what was the biggest struggle for you in the making of this film?
Micael: I didn't have a frame of reference for much of what the process was because I had never worked on a production with an actual crew of more than like three people. So just getting into a groove and just getting used to it was probably the biggest struggle. It was crazy but it was fun to be a part of that craziness.
NFS: Are you more prepared for the next time?
Micael: Yeah. Lily & Kat is the frame of reference that I have, so now I know where I'm going to go from here. I know I wanna be a lot bolder with my choices. Because it was my first film and I know first-time filmmakers tend to show a lot of style, I wanted to show a certain restraint for my age, but I think it's going to be even more rewarding to work on something where it could potentially be a disaster. That's not to say that Lily & Kat doesn't have those bold choices, it does stray away from the norm in a lot of ways.
NFS: What is your release plan for the film? Obviously festivals, but have you looked at self-distribution at all or are you hoping for a sale?
Micael: Selling it to a distributor is the goal. There are people who have put a lot into this, they are expecting something. I want to say something enlightening about those other venues but I don't think this is a film suited for that because the investors are expecting a return.
NFS: I'm stoked you made the film, I've been following it for a while. Are you happy with it?
Micael: Yeah. It's more than I could've ever asked for. When I think about when I was in the writing stage, coming from me it means nothing but I do think it's special. And I do think that everything that I set out to do came out successfully. But I'm not going to say, it still needs to be seen.
NFS: What's next for you?
Micael: I'm currently working on something new that I'd like to finish as soon as possible just to go through the wire again, because it was really enjoyable the first time around.
NFS: Lastly, any advice for other filmmakers out there?
Micael: Don't be afraid of putting yourself and your work out there. At first it was scary for people to be reading and judging something I really believed in. Especially because I didn't have a strong background of work to stand behind. But if you're lucky, someone else will believe in it and little by little it snowballs until you're on day 1 of production and you have a whole cast and crew that are there for the movie you wanted to make. It's surreal. But it really comes down to getting your script to people and showing them you know what you're talking about.
A hurricane hit their production, and the director is still happy about the final product. What more can you ask for? We can all take a page out of this book, be sure to follow this film and keep you eye on its development. I know I can't wait to see it. For those who are interested in helping the film get finished, Lily & Kat is currently raising money on Kickstarter for finishing funds in lieu of the damage done by the hurricane.