Upstream Color's Shane Carruth on Why He and Hollywood Don't Mix: "I'm a Real Problem."
Dallas moviegoers this weekend will finally get their chance to see Upstream Color, the sophomore film from DFW-bred filmmaker Shane Carruth, whose first film, a time-travel movie called Primer, won the top prize at Sundance nine years ago. The movie, which is roughly about mind control, opens in Dallas on Friday.
Carruth's films are strange, experimental, anti-Hollywood tales, making him a minor cult hero among film nerds. So with a near-deafening buzz building around the movie -- he broke a record for advanced ticket sales at one New York screening -- we spoke with Carruth about his filmmaking philosophy, filming in Dallas, and his attitude toward Hollywood, his failed project in between Primer and Upstream,and his next project, called The Modern Ocean.
Read our story here, and see the full Q&A below.
You filmed Upstream Color in and around Dallas, including outside your house in Plano. That must be fun.
It's funny. Up until we started talking about where we shot it, I would get a lot of questions -- people thought that it was Seattle or Portland for some reason. They were always saying, 'So what was it like shooting in the Northwest?' 'What? Are you kidding me? No, it was all Dallas.'
I don't believe there's a corner of Dallas we did not shoot in. I mean, we are running the gamut as far as inner cities, alleyways, suburbs, trains, outdoors, nature. There's a large part of what looks like nature in this film that's pretty much in the suburbs. You would just have to focus in one direction and not look around.
I guess it's fitting that it's unclear. This isn't exactly a traditional narrative.
What I feel like narrative is best at is not trying to deliver answers, it's trying to do a really thorough job of exploring the questions and where the questions are nuanced.
What are those questions in Upstream Color?
The film is attempting to be really universal in what it's exploring. So if we talk about all the things that can make up somebody's subjective experience or their personal narrative or how they might feel pushed around -- to me that means that it can be somebody's political beliefs, it can be their religious beliefs, the way they view their relationships or the way they think others view them. ... All of these ways that are difficult to necessarily point to or comprehend or know for a fact, that yes, that is what is happening right now. That's what this exploration is meant to be about. Taking that away and having that rebuilt and potentially rebuilt wrong.
You had a lot of trouble trying to make A Topiary, the movie that was supposed to be your follow up to Primer, even though you had Steven Soderbergh and David Fincher on board. Will you engage Hollywood that way again?
A: There isn't a way for me to do it traditionally. Like, that's not really an option for me, just because I know -- I'm a problem. I'm a real problem. I have an inability to function well. It's not even like I'm stubborn or have a personality problem. I don't know how to function in that way where the story can be pushed around by anything other than the filmmakers or the storytellers at the center.
[Soderbergh and Fincher] were so gracious to have lent their names to [A Topiary], and it was one of those things where, the sheer fact that I was never able to raise a dollar for a project that had kids controlling, more or less, robots, executive produced by those two guys? I'm stunned. That to me means, that's it. That was the sliver of common ground there might have been, and now I know that wasn't actually there. Even saying these words I'm baffled as to what the hell's wrong with those people out there.
A: It's called The Modern Ocean. It's set at sea with a group of people that are trying to perfect trading routes for trading commodities and make them more profitable. It essentially becomes a tragic romance because all of our characters are chasing down goals that are at odds with each other and there's a history that starts to unfold. And then we wind up being in sort of an adventure with pirates and privateers and ships at war, and all of these other things.
That's a lot of locations for what will be another low-budget movie.
A: I think hopefully I'm a little bit better of a filmmaker and have the ability to visualize a lot of different options, whereas in Dallas, and with Upstream, that wasn't necessarily -- that didn't need to happen, because I say 'Okay, great, we're on a train. It's gotta be the DART train. Let's go figure which car on the DART train is most appropriate and how to block this.' It sort of corridors you into a set of options. Whereas, on the world's stage, everything up for grabs, all choices are available.
We somehow need to be representing the open sea and foreign ports and exotic locations and even some weird European financial structures. So yeah, there's going to need to be probably necessarily some travel, but who knows exactly how we'll make that happen. It will probably have a lot to do with tax rebates, actually.
On Primer and Upstream, you did everything yourself -- writing, directing, editing, etc. At this point you could probably bring in some experienced, talented help. Why not?
When you see a film that's got a ton of names at the end, and you know, maybe it's been through five or six rewrites through different teams of writers, it's really difficult to have a work be challenging. I'm speaking as an audience member. It's really difficult for me to care too much about something that might be challenging on screen, because I don't know for certain that if I were to pull it apart it would mean anything. It could just be an artifact from one of the rewrites. You know? Who know's why it's in there. So I'm trying to sort of embrace being a control freak and hope that that means the work is earnest.