My Film Education Has All Been Through Hands-on, Real-world Experience: Dir. Henry Loevner
Director Henry Loevner of ‘PEAK SEASON’ (Instagram: @hloevner) shares with Ms. Divya Jay (Facebook: @djwritings) of Team 21st CIFF about his first experiences on a professional set and how he caught the filmmaking bug!
What inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I grew up in New Jersey, but spent much of my childhood in Wyoming. Like many 2000s kids, I had a little mini-DV camera that I used to shoot comedy sketches and home movies with friends. But I didn’t seriously pursue film or consider it as a possible career until after college. I lived in Shanghai for my first few years out of school, working as a PA for a small production company. That’s where I learned the basics of production, had my first experiences on a professional set and caught the filmmaking bug. I moved to LA soon after and eventually wound up making short form YouTube videos for BuzzFeed, which is where I met Steven (co-director of PEAK SEASON).
What inspired you to make ‘PEAK SEASON’?
I grew up visiting Wyoming every summer, living and working on a dude ranch. My family has lived in Jackson for the last fifteen years. I observed the strange and often hilarious social dynamics that play out in towns like Jackson. Teton County now has the highest per capita income in the country. So, the conflicts between locals, transplants and tourists make for great drama. I have also gotten to know many mountain guides like Loren – outcasts and oddballs who eschew the normal 9-5 for a life of outdoor adventure. Jackson also happens to be one of the most spectacular places on the planet and a dream location for a filmmaker. Point the camera in any direction and you’re bound to capture something stunning.
Your favourite filmmakers?
I have a particular love of character-driven, comedic and humanist films. These include the works of filmmakers like Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise), Paul Thomas Anderson (Phantom Thread) and Noah Baumbach (Marriage Story). I also enjoy fresh takes on genre films, like the Safdie Brother’s crime drama ‘Uncut Gems’ and Patrick Brice’s horror-comedy, ‘Creep’.
What makes you both like those filmmakers so much?
These filmmakers stand out to me in large part because of their prowess as writer-directors, resulting in stories that feel especially potent and well-realized. Also, despite these directors working in different genres, there is always a strong sense of humour in their works – something I look to incorporate in my films.
Would you try your hand at other roles than direction?
I also love to shoot and edit. I am lucky to have a talented group of filmmaker friends in LA who are constantly making things. So, I have plenty of opportunities to lend a hand on their sets as a cinematographer. But my real passion is writing/directing.
In a movie can the writer and director be 2 different people or should they always be the same person?
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Of course, the writer may have a specific vision for how the story should be executed. Singularity of vision can be hugely beneficial to some films. But then again, there are times when a director with a fresh perspective can elevate a script far beyond what’s on the page. There’s no one right way to do things.
Would you direct a movie written by someone else?
I really enjoy the process of writing my films but if I came across a script that spoke to my sensibilities and felt like a great fit for me, I’d absolutely pursue developing it further as a project to direct.
Would you write a movie which would have a different director?
I am definitely open to the possibility. But so far, I’ve functioned as an auteur duo (Steven and I) in which we always direct what we write. It would be hard to surrender directorial control of a script to someone else.
How has the journey of filmmaking been till now?
At first, I had no intention of being a director. I wanted to be a comedy writer. But the only way my sketches could get made is if I produced and directed them myself. Eventually I learned to shoot, edit, light, etc. and to my surprise I found that I loved the physical process of making a film just as much as the writing. I also learned that my interests extend way beyond just comedy. It’s all been a gradual evolution of learning new skills and discovering new interests. Nothing has happened in a planned or predictable way.
Give us a background about your formal education.
I didn’t go to film school – I studied political science and Chinese in college. My film education has all been through hands-on, real-world experience. But I was also extremely lucky to find a job at BuzzFeed where I had access to camera gear, was forced to make a lot of films and met a ton of other collaborators. This basically functioned as my film school. I don’t think you need to get a formal education in film. But it is essential to find your community of collaborators and make a lot of bad art to refine your skills. That’s what film school is for some people.
Support from friends and family necessary to become a filmmaker?
I am very lucky to have family and friends who support me in pursuing this insane career path. I have some artist friends who aren’t so lucky – maybe their family wants something more stable and traditional for them. This business is extremely difficult. So, any little bit of encouragement goes a long way.
What’s the difference you see between making a short film and a feature film?
In terms of production and editing, both approaches are similar. But from a writing standpoint, I think there’s a notable difference between shorts and features. While a feature film affords time to explore character arcs and secondary characters, I believe that shorts often require a much more distilled and brief exploration of a singular moment in time and an individual character. It can be tempting to develop a short film as if it were a feature, but I think it better to view them as two distinct types of stories, each with their own needs and considerations.
Tell us about the cinema scene in the US.
We live on the eastside of Los Angeles, which must have more filmmakers per capita than just about anywhere in the world. On any given day you’re bound to see amateur filmmakers shooting on the sidewalk or screenwriters penning scripts in a coffee shop. Being surrounded by fellow creative people is inspiring and overwhelming at the same time – it depends on whether you see them as collaborators or competitors. With such a high concentration of filmmakers in one place, you see the same kinds of stories retold again and again. So, it’s refreshing to see work from filmmakers based elsewhere in the country and the world.
Would you try making films in different genres?
Even though my first two feature films have been grounded romantic comedies, I also write in many other genres. I hope to make a horror film as my next project.
Who are your favourite Indian filmmakers?
Mira Nair is one of my favourite Indian filmmakers. Monsoon Wedding has a beautiful realism to it – the performances are so grounded that the film almost feels like a documentary. It’s a quality that I try to capture in my own work.
How different are Indian movies from movies you make?
The scale and design of Indian movies I’ve seen is definitely at a different level than the films I make. So far, my films have been smaller and more realistic in their visual approach. That being said, I would absolutely love the opportunity to make a film with the incredible stylization, energy and production design I’ve seen in Indian cinema!
Movies from which country motivated you during your filmmaking?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one country or language as the most impactful on me as a filmmaker. Obviously, I’ve probably had the most exposure to English-speaking productions, but I believe that a great film, being a visual medium, transcends language and culture. The universality of a great human story, no matter the background or nation, is what inspires and drives us to tell stories ourselves.
If you could go back in time and become a popular filmmaker from the past, which filmmaker would you be?
Richard Linklater is that guy for me. The variety/breadth of his work makes me very jealous.
How do you feel about your film participating in the 21st Chennai International Film Festival?
I am delighted and honoured to participate in the 21st Chennai International Film Festival! Even though ‘Peak Season’ is set in the Teton Range of Wyoming, the story explores universal themes that will resonate with a global audience. It’s a humanistic story about the conflict between love and professional responsibility, personal desires and family expectations.https://www.instagram.com/hloevner/